Saturday, September 29, 2012

A quick stop at Sycamore Grounds…

Benjamin mixes my latte
…and back in time for kick-off!

As usual, well worth the trip. But today, National Coffee Day, it’s especially worth it because with a bag of primo beans you get a FREE latte! For me that’s one heck of a deal. I picked up a bag of Amaya Finca Culpan, which barista Benjamin kindly ground for me (Husband can’t abide the noise of the coffee grinder) after which I indulged in a masterfully made caramel cappuccino.

Oh – and something new this time: to-go entrees in a refrigerator case. I was delighted to see shepherd’s pie among them. I have a cousin back in Indiana who’s famous for it, but she never brought it family reunions. Now at last I get to try it!
Back home, with University of Houston Cougars playing neighboring Rice U Owls in the annual Bayou Bucket game, I now know what shepherd pie tastes like. And I LOVE it!

So again, Happy National Coffee Day…and GO COOGS!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Did you know? It's National Coffee Day!

Yes, September 29th is officially designated as THE day to celebrate that all-inspiring cuppa joe.

 My publicist, Miranda Spigener, knowing my love of java, just clued me in. Well, I had to check it out, and yes indeedy it’s all over the internet. My favorite article so far is Tiffany Hsu’s of LA Times. And I quote:

“Get ready for a full weekend buzz – National Coffee Day is Saturday and there are freebies and bargains aplenty.
“Coffee consumption is up 7% from 2011, according to a report from the National Coffee Assn. Researchers this year found that java drinkers who average several cups per day have the lowest risk of death during the study. Another study this month found evidence that the brew can reduce physical pain.

“To help deliver a caffeine boost, several coffee companies are offering up drinks cheap or gratis through Saturday.
“Convenience store chain 7-Eleven is launching its CofFREE Day on Friday, giving visitors who arrive by 10 a.m. a free 20-ounce coffee at participating locations. Doughnut purveyor Krispy Kreme will give customers a free 12-ounce cup of joe on Saturday.

“Party-planning website Punchbowl is offering free digital greeting cards to celebrate the made-up holiday. Einstein Bros Bagels is selling Vanilla Hazelnut Lattes half-off.”
Wow. I had no idea. Do any of you remember this from last year? Well, I for one will be heading off to Pasadena, TX to the SycamoreGrounds coffee house, my fave haunt for gourmet coffee and trendy treats. You remember it. I blog about it all the time.
And so, dear readers, here’s wishing one and all Happy Coffee Day!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Franklin D. Murdock, America’s Man of Vision

Special broadcast honors his contributions and wishes him well
Normally it’s the inspirational words of the venerable author and poet himself you hear on BlogTalkRadio at 6:30 EST on Tuesdays, but for several weeks now he’s been recovering from an undisclosed illness. Producer Miranda Spigener and Joyce Lest (“Momma Joyce” of Messages of Hope on the same network) have been filling this space to keep the prayer chain open toward his recovery.

This week, as one of the few people to have heard him speak in person, I was invited to join them.
I first met Franklin Murdock two years ago. We were both attending the massive and chaotic Book Expo America, BEA we call it, an international convergence of publishers, publicists, writers, media, celebrity authors, and every salesman even remotely connected with the industry. It’s held in the cavernous Jacob Javits Center in New York City. Mr. Murdock, in his 90s and all but blind, had made the arduous flight all the way from LA. Fortunately his granddaughter, a darling girl also named Mary, came with him.

What’s really neat is that the home where he lives in LA also operates a home in Battery Park, which is sort of  near the Javits Center, and they agreed to assume his care while he attended the BEA.  
It was the last day of the Expo. Mr. Murdock had gone to rest up for a press meeting to be held at the home later on. I stayed behind with Miranda and Nick Delarosa to help break down and pack  up the VerveStar booth. Since my own meeting was to be after Franklin’s at another location, I decided to just tag along with them.
Franklin Murdock with granddaughter Mary at the BEA
Well, we finally collapsed into a cab with all our stuff, and headed for Battery Park.  I didn’t know what to expect of a place called Battery Park. The name conjures up crumbling ramparts with rusty revolutionary war canons, or worse, an AC Delco factory. But it was absolutely gorgeous – tree-lined boulevards, classic red brick buildings, and a lost cabbie who showed us quite a bit of it.
Inside the home it was all dark, polished wood, Persian carpeting, mirrored walls and stylish floral arrangements. Really lovely.  We wandered down a labyrinth of corridors until we found the conference room. Mr. Murdock and Mary were waiting for us. There was also a nice gathering of residents and staff. The kitchen had even put out a pretty tray of fresh fruits and veggies.

Frank has a very commanding voice, and when he stepped to the mike he was instantly in control of the room. When you realize he couldn’t really see us, that’s pretty remarkable. All he actually sees are blurry figures about 10 feet in front of him. Nevertheless he looked right at us – definitely making us a part of it.

I wish I’d taken notes instead of just sitting there in an enthralled stupor. As I recall he began with his more technical achievements with the Douglas Aircraft Company and later with the A4 Skyhawk. He described in detail I can’t remember the many engineering projects he either headed or was closely involved in. But because I have a number of relatives who were military pilots, that certainly held my attention. It really blew me away to know he was behind the HUD – or heads-up-display so vital to pilots today. What he did led to the iphone and all the other gizmos in our lives today.
Then, just as in his last broadcast before being hospitalized, he went into his childhood. I’m so amazed at the memories he recalls so vividly. He didn’t go into the detail then that he did on the radio. He went on to his working years, confessing how absorbed he was in his career to the detriment of family life. By the time he got to the way God touched him and called him to inspire others I was completely ready to hear it. He closed with that wonderful prayer he shared on his last broadcast. In fact, he handed out copies of it to us afterward.

Please get well soon, Mr. Murdock. We’re all ready to hear more!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The LAX landing of Endeavour

 A live look with Miranda and Pete


 Pete Freeland, actor, TV host and bona fide rocket scientist, was the man on hand at LAX to field questions from the press. The more than 20 live interviews were scheduled and coordinated by Miranda Spigener, the publicist we happen to share. It was fun getting her exuberant tweets and FB posts as events unfolded.
Freeland (right) in a live interview
with KFI 640 AM Radio
At one point she even attempted to record one of the interviews. Of course, she was using her phone from an unobtrusive distance, so the audio was a wash. But, hey, she was there! You can catch more on her blog at Skirt! Magazine.

My own live look came as the Endeavour, mounted on the 747, passed overhead on its way to nearby Ellington AFB. The greater Houston area was treated to several long, circling flyovers allowing those of us who worked the program from Johnson Space Center - as well as so many other local space fans – to say goodbye to three decades of shuttle history.

Not that we begrudge California a space shuttle. The JPL and the Boeing plant that produced it are out there, after all. But, dang it, the program, not to mention Mission Control, was here at the JSC. Seems like we should be able to say: “Houston, we have a shuttle!” (And since it would be housed where it landed, no tree would be harmed transporting the thing. Just saying.)

But there’s no faulting the reception given the Endeavour by thousands of eager Californians.  A welcome ceremony was held in the United hanger for donors and employees of the California Science Center, NASA, and local foundations.

Endeavour flew its final mission last May (See pictures from space shuttle Endeavour's final mission.) It will spend retirement as the centerpiece of a new space shuttle display at the California Science Center (CSC) in Los Angeles. CSC president Jeffrey Rudolph said that Endeavour's arrival marked the fulfillment of a 20-year dream for the center.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The official launch of Cayman Heat was a soirée to remember

View from the Garden

Held at the gracious estate of Susan Kohn and Patrick Gehm, the event was picture perfect. (Not my pictures, unfortunately. I was stuck with only my rather faulty cell.) Happily, a professional photog was there to preserve the evening in crystal clear HD. Wish I had them for you!
A glimpse of Susan Krohn (foreground)
Milling about the spacious halls and anterooms was a veritable who’s who in Houston. Author Connie Reeves Cooke, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, is a former magazine and television society columnist and is still active in Houston’s social and charitable fundraising scene. This not only gives her an impressive list of Facebook friends, but provides considerable scope for her thrilling mysteries. She really knows this world of movers and shakers!
Perfect example of tropical chic

Even at a hundred strong (at least!) it was a warm and friendly bunch. The convivial atmosphere was enhanced by “Tantalizing Tropical Attire” as specified on the invitations.  Colorful, casual and comfortable. Brilliant move on the part of the planners!

Yes, I know I should be dropping names right and left. Of course I recognized some media celebs, and certainly the famous hostess of Charlie Wilson’s War, but undoubtedly there were too many other vital bold print folks I wouldn’t recognize. So…let’s leave it at that.
Husband Clayton
and BFF Margaret
I did have a chance to chat with Clayton, Connie’s husband – a steady and thoughtful sort. Next I met a wonderful character named Margaret who, it turns out, is Connie’s BFF and tennis buddy. We had a great visit - while checking the circulating trays of hors d’oeuvres for delectable tidbits we’d yet to try. There were cocktails, too. Some looked quite frothy and delicious, but I abstained. One does not negotiate the mind-boggling interchanges of the River Oaks area if one is the least bit impaired.
Connie, looking lovely but somewhat tired after a recent heart attack, was constantly surrounded and wearing her little fingers to the bone signing copies of Cayman Heat. I understand there were a hundred sold, some of the proceeds going to The Knowledge Arts Foundation, a project that helps children succeed in school. 
Connie Reeves Cooke (center)
 signing her books

Sometime, someplace, I fervently hope I have the opportunity to get acquainted with this fascinating fellow author.
But for now, I wish her a long, recuperative rest at their lake house...and productive sessions working on Cayman Wind! (Should never have closed Heat with a cliff-hanger, dear!)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Divine Love

Jahnavi Foster shares a fascinating depth of insight through a unique format

The full title is Divine Love – an interview with God…the source of attraction. In Q&A form, she raises the timeless questions we mortals always raise - along with God’s responses, gleaned from years of study and meditation.
The premise she seeks to impart is simple and painfully obvious: In this material existence we have become alienated from our true selves.  All of us possess an intrinsic divine loving nature. It is following the whims of our mortal lives that lead to the more familiar self-serving and brutish behaviors.
In her introduction, Foster points to a time of transformation; a time for humanity to reawaken to their true nature.  “Great spiritual teachers are acknowledging the shifts that are taking place place…” and, thanks to the impending expiration of the ancient Mayan calendar, much of the rank and file is tuning into it, too.

Divine Love is an easy read. No clichés, no popular religious buzz words. In fact, as the narrative cuts through the dogmas of disparate religions to reveal bare-bones Truth, it’s actually a relief to read. “During this pivotal moment as humanity is reawakening, we are remembering the essence of who we truly are…to recognize our Oneness, the connection we have to one another.” Isn’t that refreshing and hopeful?
And this from Part III, in a discussion of the letter vs. the spirit of religious law:  “If the letter of the law fails to align you with your natural loving qualities, then such a law is futile.”

Here’s a gem from Part V: “If people value temporary enjoyment more than their true well-being, then there will be a problem.” Especially relevant in our pleasure-seeking culture, this addresses everything from sex to overeating!
I found perhaps the most powerful passage in Part VI, “Letting Go of Fear,” in which God responds: “I am within every living being, allowing (you) to reconnect with the Divine at any moment.”
Jahnavi Foster

For much of her high school and college years, Jahnavi Foster was a serious student of the world’s religions. This journey taught her that wisdom, compassion, love, morality, and true ethics define an authentic spiritual path, and are not the properties of any one particular religion.

She went on to spend twelve years in ashrams in Spain and North Carolina. She is now a practitioner of Eastern Vedic philosophy, and is certified in bhakti, jnana, and hatha yoga. Wait – there’s more! She’s also a licensed massage therapist and empowerment coach – educated in alternative medicine and integrative wellness.
Jahnavi puts these skills to good use at her B&B, Quiet Mountain Sanctuary, a private retreat in the Catskill Mountains where guests are inspired to live more balanced and meaningful lives.

So is this lady some mystic floating above us in the spiritual/intellectual stratosphere?  She could be, but she’s not. When I met her back in 2011 at Book Expo America in New York City, I found her not only well grounded, but beautiful, vibrant, and a whole lot of fun. In fact, I could show you photos of her singing on Times Square with another author at the 2012 BEA. Oh, yes. She’s real.
I’ve been feeding on her wisdom ever since via her radio show Living Well with Jahnavi, her blog, Facebook and emails. Fans can also look forward to the nationally televised debut of Living Well on the Learn It Live network (

No less than two luminaries wrote forwards to Divine Love, and the book jacket is covered with comments by various authorities and reviewers.  My favorite summation comes from the Los Angeles Times: “Jahnavi’s candid approach on this topic is like a loving embrace.” Amen.
A view from Quiet Mountain Sanctuary in the Catskills

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001?

I thought it was just a persistent promo for a new disaster flick.
The image of two furiously burning towers stayed prominently on the AOL home page while I checked my email before heading to work.

At the time, I was living in West Lafayette, Indiana, looking after my folks in their beautiful rural home. It didn’t sink in until I saw the same thing on the TV as I headed out the door. By the time I arrived at the office in Purdue’s Research Park, the whole world was in shock. Voices were hushed. Every TV and computer screen showed variations of the same thing. I remember that after an hour or so of numbly staring at each other, we closed up and went home.

Pulling into the long, curving driveway, I met a sight that brought it all sharply home. Dad, a veteran partially paralyzed from a recent stroke, had laboriously made his way out to the flagpole by the giant sycamore…and was raising the American flag to half-mast.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Houseplant Homicide

 It’s not like I don’t have anything else to blog about. It’s just that I’m at a point of frustration that wants venting. Here’s the deal:

I love having plants around. That’s the way I grew up. My mother, sister, grandmother, aunts, etc. all fill their homes with lush greenery: Boston ferns, pothos, African violets, Swedish ivy, schefflera, peace lilies, bromeliads, dieffenbachia, and a bunch of others I can’t spell. But me? Forget about it!
Climbing the walls in the kitchen
Oh, I do have successes every now and then. There’s an ivy turning the kitchen into a jungle. And those cheap poinsettias I picked up at Walmart last Christmas are flourishing like gangbusters out in the Texas heat. No kidding.  Three times I’ve had to move them to larger containers.
My last remaining weed
But just let me try to get something going in my office! With my attempts becoming a prohibitive expense, I began casting about the hiking trail on my morning walks. Any weed with a pretty leaf would do, I decided.  I’m talking about the plain old everywhere-in-the-backyard kind of thing you can’t even kill with freakin’ Roundup®!

But it didn’t work. I killed them. No matter how tenderly potted with Miracle-Gro, they all shriveled and died within hours.
A lucky succulent and a
new jade plant
So what about succulents, I asked myself. They’re hardy. Indeed, they are hardier, but not Mary-proof. My moss rose bloomed madly for a week before turning jaundiced and spindly and croaking shortly thereafter.

Pothos and some sort of succulent
with brown side turned away
And so, dear friends, what I’m going to do is use this blog to memorialize such weeds, succulents and ivies as are with me at this moment. It seems the least I can do to reward their tragic sacrifice.

Next week I’ll get back to business.
Thank you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Emily Dickinson

"My hair is bold like the
chestnut burr; and my eyes,
 like the sherry in the glass
that the guest leaves." 
Emily Dickinson
Most of you remember having to study the works of Emily Dickinson in high school. Thought about her much since? Neither have I, even though I found her verses breathless and haunting:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

But lately I’ve been encountering references to her right and left, in online searches gone awry, in an article in the reverently satirical (how’s that for an oxymoron…) magazine “Mental_Floss,” and even on Jeopardy! Obviously it’s a Sign. I was destined to blog about this worthy poetess.

Like most exquisitely talented artists, Emily Dickinson was a bit, uh, off. As a child, she was described by her aunt as “perfectly well & contented – she is a very good child & but little trouble.”  See? Not normal.
Letters to
 Thomas Wentworth Higginson
of the Atlantic Monthly

Emily was born in Amherst, MA, on December 10, 1830.  Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, in later life, even leave her room. This prolific but private poet did, however, carry on prodigious correspondence with several literary luminaries she considered mentors.

 Fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime. Not until her death on May 15, 1886 at the age of 55 was the collection of nearly 1800 poems discovered.  The first volume was published four years later and her works have been continuously in print ever since.

Daguerrotype taken December 1846
“Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

So…which Maguire started Labor Day?

And Samuel Gompers is also in the mix
Labor Day Parade, Union Square,
New York, 1882

According to the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark, Matthew Maguire (1855-1917) was not only a force to be reckoned with in the formation of the American labor movement, but quite probably behind the creation of Labor Day. Maguire, in his fervor to improve working conditions, led his first strike for shorter working hours in the 1870s.
The first Labor Day parade was held in New York City on September 5, 1882 with participation estimated to be 10,000 strong.  It was led by Matthew Maguire and his wife, who shared the carriage with the famous social reformer and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher.

Now we come to Peter Maguire (no relation).  Peter was instrumental in forming New York’s Central Labor Council, and in 1897 he claimed to be the founder of Labor Day. He did, in fact, make a speech on that first Labor Day. So what’s up with that? Enter Samuel Gompers.
Ted Watts, author of a booklet The First Labor Day Parade, suggests that Matthew Maguire’s radicalism was simply unacceptable to the labor mainstream in general and Samuel Gomper’s American  Federation of Labor in particular. Thus, Matthew Maguire’s efforts were “swept under the rug” to make the movement seem more moderate and less political.

It all hit the fan when President Cleveland declared he was giving the pen that signed the holiday into official existence to Samuel Gompers. The Paterson, NJ, paper The Morning Call immediately hit the streets with a blistering editorial, “Honor to Whom Honor is Due.”  The souvenir pen, it cried, “should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a Holiday.”
Grace-Ellen McCrann of the New Jersey Historical Society, concedes, “It looks as though Matthew Maguire of Paterson, NJ, just really might be the true ‘Father of Labor Day”!