Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fade to Dark

Connie Reeves Cooke’s first novel is a ride and a half

 No, this isn’t the Cooke novel in the spotlight at the moment. As you probably know, that’s Cayman Heat. I ordered both. Fade to Dark just happened to arrive first. And I'm not sorry.

 After a disturbing but intriguing prologue, and a tragic Chapter One, the reader is suddenly propelled into the glittering, fast-paced world of super models, fashion, corporate empires, ruthless billionaires, and twisted criminals. Character after character is introduced and developed, each with a separate, game-changing agenda. Plots and subplots come to light; dark secrets are hinted at. Everything moves head-long toward a main event: the Winter Ball at the Vail mansion of Houston billionaire Taylor Stockwell.

The story centers around two rival super models preparing for a photo shoot at the famous Vail ski resort. Adding to, or attempting to control, the chaos is a complex cast of agents, a photographer, the staff of a prominent fashion magazine, an assassin snubbed by one of the models in high school, a Houston detective, thieves planning a heist during the ball, the wealthy Taylor Stockwell, his mistress, and a mysterious woman privy to his past. 

Connie Reeves Cooke
Too much to follow? It should be, but I gotta tell ya, Connie Reeves Cooke never lost me.  All the elements are skillfully interwoven with as much clarity as suspense. And you’ll love the dialog, even the characters’ thoughts, because Cooke holds nothing back. She writes with real punch.

Cooke knows whereof she writes. She is a former model and society columnist who numbers many of those bold print names among her Facebook friends. Currently she chairs fund-raising events for education, the arts, and medical organizations. But most exciting to me is that she lives right here in Houston! Would you believe my audacity? I’m having lunch with her on Thursday!

Friday, July 27, 2012

What a novel idea! Unique Pens Make Great Exclamation Points

And it all started in a high school woodworking class
Two samples of the craft
  On my last flight back from Sarah’s mountain, I happened to notice my seatmate making notes with this extraordinary wood pen. When I exclaimed over it, she kindly handed it over for closer inspection.  I’d never seen anything like it. It was smoothly and artfully shaped. The finish beautifully enhanced the natural grain. She then unzipped her planner and drew out several more such pens – all different, but all equally amazing. I couldn’t get over it.
My seatmate introduced herself as Sheri Painter, from Coronado, CA, traveling on business for Premier Solutions International. The artisan responsible for these remarkable creations was her son, Merrick.

Here’s the story:
Merrick Painter
Merrick, aged 15 at the time, had to come up with a project for woodworking class. He didn’t say how he happened to think of making wooden pens, but he turned out the first one for his mother. "She started getting so many compliments and even requests to buy them that I decided to see if I could turn it into a business." 

At first he simply gathered wood on family walks through the coastal forests and along the California shoreline. Now, with increased demand, he buys from woodworking suppliers.  Still, as is the nature of wood, each pen is unique. No two alike.

Sheri told me Merrick’s pens are stocked by some shops in Coronado, and he and his dad were working on a webpage. Since Sheri mentioned that her husband is in Afghanistan, my next question to Merrick was how they were accomplishing this. "He has internet access and the 'know how'. We communicated via Skype and email."
It’s finished now:  http://merrickspens.com/, and I’m happy to report it includes the PayPal option.

Why I chose redwood
My pens were by special order. My husband has unusually large hands and has trouble finding pens that offer a decent grip. I described the problem to Merrick, who then produced an oversized, ridged barrel that filled the bill nicely. For myself, I wanted to match my book covers – a neat way to show off at signings!
Browsing through Merrick’s website, I saw that he’s also working with acrylics - and achieving some pretty wild effects. How did you discover it, and how do you work with it, I asked.  "I saw it on the web and loved the colors and patterns available," he replied. "You work with it the same as wood but it takes more time because it's a harder material."

So…whether you’re an author wishing to add style and statement to your signings, or looking for that novel and unexpected gift, I give you http://merrickspens.com/.
What does the future hold for this enterprising young man? "I am deciding between the military and college. As far as my pen business goes, I would like to keep it up if we can help it grow."

I don’t think that will be a problem, Merrick!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Air New Zealand to Offer Hobbit-Themed Flights

 Complete with pointy-eared flight attendants!
Yes, I’m a huge J. R. R. Tolkien fan, but this totally blows me away.  It’s a great gimmick, though; since New Zealand’s breathtaking scenery provides the setting for both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. My friend Glenis Thomas of Wellington, NZ, has been keeping me up to date on the filming progress. Director Peter Jackson makes a video after each filming block, and Glenis sends me the links. I’m already thoroughly re-immersed in Middle Earth.
Wait til you see her big, hairy feet!
CNNGo reports that while the official launch date is not confirmed, Air New Zealand has decided that a Boeing 777-300 will focus on "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," while a Boeing 777-200 will set the backdrop for a flight centered on "The Hobbit: There and Back Again." Changes will be made in safety briefings, flight attendant uniforms and airline social media contests to coordinate.

Now I really, REALLY wanna go to New Zealand!

Friday, July 20, 2012

As Seen on TV

Yes, tortilla bowl molds work as advertised

Usually Husband and I aren’t the sort to fall for the extravagant claims of bombastic  (“It’s aMAY-zing!”) TV hawkers. (“But wait! There’s more”!) This item, however, was cute and practical enough to be worth the gamble. Well, I confess I’ve fallen prey to sales screamers before – ordered a 60’s music collection for Husband’s birthday – but it never came.
These arrived on the doorstep less than a week after ordering. Imagine the shock.

And they were perfect. Thin, deeply glazed shell molds that have thus far proven impervious to scratches and burns. I’ve used 6”, 8” and 10” tortillas to good effect, although the big ones tend to brown rather deeply on the edges. The 6” yellow corn shells are particularly good for holding breakfast fare. I like the garlic/herb ones for tuna or tossed salads. But for deep-dish Mexican, I go with the super-sized tomato/basil tortillas.
The colorful instruction book that comes with them says to bake from 5 – 7 minutes at 400˚, and up to 12 minutes for extra crispy 10” tortilla shells, but I find that all sizes are ready in only 5 minutes, even baking two at a time. As I said, the big ones tend to get too dark on the edges. Let cool 5 minutes in the mold after removing from the oven.

My first husband-approved taco bowl featured strips of marinated chicken. Today’s was seasoned lean ground chuck. Both were accompanied by the usual layers of onions, peppers, shredded lettuce, fresh tomatoes, shredded cheddar jack, frijoles, red and green salsas, jalapeños, cilantro, and avocado.  Oh, it was so pretty!
My finished product
Won’t they be fun at Super Bowl parties holding picante sauce or guacamole? Or baked with cinnamon to hold ice cream sundaes? I wonder if they would hold up under gazpacho.

Soon, I suppose, the novelty will wear off. As much fun as it is to use these things, it’s a heck of a lot of chopping, mincing, mashing, shredding, sautéing, slicing, simmering...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Back to the Silver Sycamore

Look what they’ve added now: a coffee house!

    The Silver Sycamore Tea Room in Pasadena, TX has long been a favorite place of mine. Lately, however, I never seem to get out that way until something amazing gets added - and this certainly qualifies!

Beautifully rustic interior
It’s turning into quite a village: a Tea Room, Event Center, B&B rooms and cottages, outdoor wedding gazebo, massage therapy, floral shop, a very unique boutique, and now a coffee house! I am SO there!
I went early hoping to have the place to myself for a while. The barista, a geophysics student named Chase, took it in stride as I poked around everywhere snapping pictures.  He was a sharp kid, an interesting conversationalist, and can he ever produce a glorious caramel latte! (The prime-time barista, Ben Ashton, makes an art form of foam.)

Finally I settled in with the latte and a spinach/garlic Danish. What a delightful, flakey piece of heaven that was! I also got two cupcakes, one labeled strawberry cheesecake and one red velvet to go. Then my curiosity got the best of me and I tasted them. And ate them all gone. Sigh.
  While the red velvet featured an exquisitely delicate cream cheese frosting sparkled with red sugar, the strawberry cupcake was the main surprise. There were serious strawberries in there, folks! And I’m not talking about a dollop of preserves. Real, live strawberries! Chase says the pastries are delivered fresh each morning by Sweet LaLa’s Cupcake Company. So at the time of my sampling, they were very, very fresh! To die for. (Which could very well happen. I should never have gone there so hungry!)

I should mention that a variety of teas are also on the menu, and that they sell coffee beans. I left with a very aromatic bag of Amaya’s Santa Rosa roast.
  The Sycamore Grounds Coffee House is across the street from the main Silver Sycamore compound. It’s another in a series of 1930’s era homes that Jackie and Gary Spigener have bought and refurbished into a strip of home style businesses. “We love the quaintness of the old houses and what you can find, the little hidden treasures in each one of them,” says Jackie. “I wouldn’t even think about doing it all new.”
Jackie Spigener
In every house the Spigeners have rehabbed, they take care to utilize everything possible from the existing house to keep an organic feel. “We reuse everything,” said Spigener. It should be noted here that the 1930’s represents a highpoint in the history of homebuilding. Top quality construction; solid wood throughout.  They will long outlive the age of plywood and drywall!

The Sycamore Grounds Coffee house is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Ode to Ernest Borgnine

This one is personal. I’ve had a crush on Ernest Borgnine for as long as I can remember. It didn’t matter what role he played. It was that big, gap-toothed smile. Those intense, sensitive eyes. That well-upholstered build that just looked too warm and snuggly. I adored him.

But I never watched McHale’s Navy. That was deplorably silly - the worst possible use of his considerable talents. The fever-pitched overacting, the stupid story lines…how could an Oscar-winner like Ernie stoop to such a thing? Yeah, I know. Everyone needs to work.
Years later I was thrilled when he picked up a much more substantial action role in Airwolf with Jan-Michael Vincent. At last he was back – and in something I could enjoy watching! There were other things since, but regretfully, not much.

On Jan. 24, 2007, Borgnine celebrated his 90th birthday with a party for friends and family at a West Hollywood bistro. During an interview at the time, Borgnine complained that he wanted to continue acting but most studio executives kept asking, "Is he still alive?"

"I just want to do more work," he said. "Every time I step in front of a camera I feel young again. I really do. It keeps your mind active and it keeps you going."

I loved these reader comments from the Huffington Post:
A truly superior actor! He was unique in his style and character. He could make us laugh or cry. He possessed the timeless acting skills that allowed him to successfully play any role.

What a powerhouse of an actor! He was the benchmark for a good male actor - always commanding in each of his roles, no matter what script he was given.

Sistagirl Young:
Loved him in Marty.
Hated him in From Here to Eternity.
Mark of a great actor to engender those emotions.

Ernest Borgnine passed away Sunday, July 8, at the age of 95.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gentle Wisdom; Confident Common Sense. We'll Miss You, Andy!

Andy Griffith, with very few exceptions, gave us characters that were decent, moral, and strong: qualities, it seems, that are no longer permitted

With most tributes focusing on the iconic Sheriff Andy Taylor and Matlock, I gotta ask: how many out there remember Salvage 1? It was a short-lived (16 episodes) sci-fi series that debuted in 1979 – warm, ingenious, and a real hoot.

Andy played Harry Broderick, a junkman with astronautical ambitions:
Narrator: [opening narration] Once upon a time, a junkman had a dream.
Harry Broderick
: I want to build a spaceship, go to the moon, salvage all the junk that's up there, bring it back, sell it.
Narrator: So he put together a team. An ex-astronaut. A fuel expert. They built a rocket ship, and they went to the moon. Who knows what they'll do next.

I loved the pilot episode better than any that followed. Putting together a rocket ship using salvage from his junkyard, assembling his team of misfits, and actually launching was vintage Andy Griffith hilarity. The flight, however, had its heart-stopping moments. They hacked into NASA’s navigational systems, see, and…
Look it up. You’ll love it!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dog Day Afternoon

Or, Chico’s First Day on the Job

Friendswood Health Care Center
 It was our vet’s idea. The veterinary hospital/kennel where Chico stays when we travel has long said he would be a good therapy dog. “He’s the perfect house guest!” Dr. Kivney enthused. He must be, since he never wants to leave when we come back for him. Spoiled rotten to boot.

So I called the Activities Director at the nearest nursing home. Her name is Rose, and she was delighted. In fact, she’d declared the entire month of July as Dog Days and was actively seeking volunteers.
And so, with no training or any idea what to expect, I duly reported to Friendswood Health Care Center yesterday, July 4, at 3:15 PM with Chico in tow.

A bustling commons area opened directly off the entry foyer. A boom box blared patriotic music while Rose served coffee, ice cream and red, white and blue cookies. Chico, rebelling against the unaccustomed harness and leash, anxiously headed for the action.  Immediately he became entangled with table legs and between spokes of wheelchairs. On hands and knees I struggled to extricate him, ultimately having to remove the harness assembly completely.  And he was off, eagerly seeking people to pet him.
A nurse quickly called a halt to that. Things must be under control in a nursing home, after all. Understandable, but it would’ve been better for Chico to choose his own petters. Handing him from person to person made him wary, and the shaky hands that reached out evidently reminded him of the jerky motions of grandsons. He actually snapped twice at residents who would’ve loved to hold him. I was shocked and mortified, but the folks were forgiving. No one wanted him to leave.  Finally I learned how to gauge an encounter and Chico did score some quality lap time.

It was better going into residents’ rooms where it was dark and quiet. Rose pointed me toward patients who were lucid but immobile. I politely knocked, and was granted the acquaintance of an amazing 95-year-old. Chico nestled in next to her with no hesitation while we visited.  He was more fidgety with the next lady, but then she was sitting up and didn’t have much of a lap.
On the way out he garnered more attention at a nursing station, which he ate up with no reservation whatever. 

I stopped at Sonic for hotdogs. It was the Fourth, after all. But once home, Chico showed none of his usual frenzy for people food. He went straight for his bed.