Saturday, May 28, 2016

Simply Barbra

Steven Brinberg
Theater LaB, Houston's premiere off-Broadway theater, is presenting the show, Simply Barbra, this weekend. And, luckily, despite the fact the show was totally sold out, I was able to secure a pair of great tickets for tonight's performance at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MAtCH).
Simply Barbra
 is a one-man show, featuring Steven Brinberg, the best of the Barbra Streisand impressionists. 
Brinberg does not lip-sync in his performances. Instead, he accurately portrays Streisand with his own (and incredible) Barbra-like voice!

He also sang a few songs Streisand did not record, in the way Brinberg believed she would have recorded them. I especially liked Brinberg's interpretation of Barbra singing Tomorrow from the Broadway show, Annie, as well as his comments (as Streisand) about not understanding why she was never offered the lead in that big hit.

Simply Barbra
was one terrific show. If I could, I would go see it again!

Tonight he sang a dozen of my favorite Streisand tunes, including Don't Rain on My Parade, No More Tears, You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore and, of course, People.

In between the songs, Brinberg sprinkled other spicy bits of humor and good-natured fun, all the while taking on some of Streisand's most recognizable characteristics and making them his own!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Shopping in Ocean Springs

During our recent stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Biloxi, my son, Matt, and I learned about the small town of Ocean Springs, situated two miles away, on the other side of the Biloxi Bay Bridge.
As it turned out, nearly everyone we talked to who worked at the hotel lives there and, they encouraged us to set aside time for a visit - even if only a short one!

They mentioned Ocean Springs' location along the Gulf Coast and its reputation as an art community, its quaint downtown area with unique shops and galleries and great ethnic restaurants. All, of course, whet my appetite for a bit of exploring.

Downtown Ocean Springs
So, last Saturday morning, after a delicious breakfast at the Hard Rock Hotel's amazing brunch buffet, Matt and I ventured out.

We found our way to downtown Ocean Springs quickly and easily. There, we found streets lined with beautiful live oak trees and charming old brick buildings. Housed inside were all those shops and galleries and eateries we were there to see.

Admittedly, Matt wasn't terribly excited about shopping with his mom, but he indulged me - serving as my chauffeur and carrier of packages (should help be needed).

We parked at one end of Washington Avenue and began to walk and window shop. The first place we ventured into was Polly's, a wonderful shop filled with jewelry, decorative home accessories, gifts, local art and gourmet food items.

The owner, Gayle, was there, so Matt and I were able meet and chat with her. 

I asked if the store had a single "best-selling item." 

Gayle said, "Yes," and, then, quickly led us over to a display of lovely silver and pearl bracelets. 

"We sell more Blessing Bracelets than anything else," she said. "It's been that way ever since we started carrying them."

Gayle went on to explain that the bracelets were handmade and designed to remind wearers of their blessings and to encourage them to be grateful. 

Each of the four pearls (or colored bead) on the bracelets represent a different blessing -- like family, friends, good health, etc. 

Gayle said, "Our customers really love these bracelets. Many buy several - some to wear themselves and others to give to as gifts. Some of our customers have bought several bracelets to wear together. The multiple bracelets represent many blessings - the abundance of life."

I like that. I like that a lot!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Shaggy's in Biloxi

This morning, my son, Matthew, and I took the 90-minute, United Express flight from Houston's Bush Airport into the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. We arrived at our destination about noon - ready to make the most of a three-day, two-night getaway to the Hard Rock Hotel in Biloxi.

Immediately, we picked up a rental car from the Enterprise office and headed towards the picturesque beach road between Gulfport and Biloxi. Plan was to stop for lunch at one of the area's ever-popular seafood restaurants. We wanted to dine, of course, at one that boasts great food and a great view of the Gulf of Mexico. Shaggy's, we thought, would meet our expectations!

The red, two-story building was delightfully fun-looking and welcoming. So too were the brightly colored signs out front, and the over-sized, turquoise-painted beach chair. All seemed to "beg" us to stop and take some photos. So, like most first-time visitors, we did! 

The interior of Shaggy's was whimsical too. There were lots of rustic wood tables and chairs and cute signs. Festive lights were hanging from the walls. And, best of all, some of our favorite country music filled the air.

The crowd was a mix - groups of men and women friends, as well as families with children of all ages. All were dressed in shorts or jeans and flip fops or sandals. Comfortably, to be sure!

Dining Room at Shaggy's 
Matt and I loved the menu too. Lots of great seafood options, as well as some Southern favorites (like Fried Green Tomatoes and Fried Pickles). 

Looking around, we saw that the servings were large, so we ordered a couple of starters and then shared the fried seafood platter. 

The food was good; we really enjoyed it. 

The service, however, was a huge disappointment - not at all what we had expected. 

Our server - a young, ponytailed female who has (clearly) never learned the importance of "listening" to one's customer - was a mess! She brought us beverages we did not order and starters that were meant for another table. Her lack of focus was frustrating! 

Finally, I suggested to our server that she simply "show down a bit and listen more carefully." She did not take my comment well. Clearly, she thought I was rude and told me as much.

The unpleasant exchange with the server was a shame. It overshadowed all the good things Shaggy's has going for it - all the things the owners have worked hard to bring together.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Berryhill Tamales

It all started in 1928 with Walter Berryhill, his bicycle and his personal recipe for homemade tamales.

For years, Berryhill sold his tamales from a pushcart on the street corners of Houston's posh River Oaks area. When he retired in the 1960s, Berryhill took his cart, tamale press and recipe and went home - much to the dismay of his loyal clientele.

The famous recipe and the little tamale cart sat in a warehouse until 1993, when the first Berryhill restaurant was born. It was a little taqueria, lovingly called Berryhill Hot Tamales.

Today, the Berryhill family boasts 14 restaurants and a reputation for serving some of the best Mexican food in Houston.
The generously packed tamales - offered with fillings of beef, chicken, pork, spinach and corn, or bean - are still the crowd favorite. Choosing which type of tamale to order is tough, so most regulars (like me) order a variety - getting a few to eat onsite; extras to take home.

Today, my son and I went to Berryhill in The Heights for lunch. As usual, I ordered a plate of tamales, along with sides of Spanish rice and charro beans (Mexican equivalent of ranch-style beans). And, as usual, everything was delicious!

Next time I go to Berryhill, I will consider ordering something other than tamales. (I hear the Fish Tacos too are the best in town.) 

Of course, I say that very same thing every time I head over to Berryhill. However, when I actually walk back in there, I always want the tamales! Most often, the ones filled with pork!

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Kitchen at Dunlavy

The Kitchen at Dunlavy opened back in December and, though it is located close to my home and office, today was my first opportunity to dine there. I went for lunch, with my friend, Minerva, at noon.

The restaurant is located on the north side of Allen Parkway and sits on a beautiful tract overlooking Buffalo Bayou and Lost Lake. It serves breakfast and lunch daily (from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and hosts special events at night.

The dining room is a spacious "green house" overlooking the park. Hanging from its ceiling are dozens of antique crystal chandeliers, creating an atmosphere that is both funky and beautiful.

In the dining room, there are a variety of large round and rectangular tables, designed to accommodate as many as six diners coming in together or two or three small groups sharing the space with strangers when they get there (as Minerva and I did). In this dining room, a solo diner will never have to sit or eat alone. Nice!

A covered, outdoor patio deck is situated on the restaurant's backside. Today, though there was a slight breeze in the air, the overhead fans were in spin-cycle mode, assuring all diners sitting there were cool and comfy. 

The Kitchen at Dunlavy is a pet-friendly environment, and evidence of that was a pleasant sight. From our vantage point in the dining room, we spotted four four-legged guests lying quietly at the feet of their owners. 

I couldn't help but think about my next visit here. I will bring Winston the Wonder Dog along and see how much he likes the patio. I can only pray he behaves as well as the pooches I saw today! 

Ah, the menu at The Kitchen at Dunlavy! It is influenced by southern California, for sure, and lists lots of tasty-sounding snacks, salads and sandwiches, as well as vegetables and sweets. The produce, I discovered, is sourced from three on-site gardens.

I ordered the veggie sandwich, which featured multigrain bread, tomato goat cheese, hummus, cucumber, tomato, avocado, radish, spinach and sprouts. It came with steak fries, which were prepared with roasted russet potatoes, rosemary, sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper and olive oil. The sandwich and the fries were unusual and delicious! 

Minerva ordered the Chinese Chicken Salad and loved the mixture of romaine, red and green cabbage, mandarin oranges, basil, cilantro, ginger vinaigrette and wonton crisps with rotisserie chicken and peanut sauce.

Just before we finished our meals, the hostess stopped by our table and gifted us with a small dish of sweets - two small brownies and a large lemon cookie with white icing. Just a sweet gesture, but not at all necessary. The food and ambiance at The Kitchen at Dunlavy were treats enough!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner presided over his first Mayor's Literacy Leadership Award Breakfast this morning at the River Oaks Country Club. 

The grand event, presented by the Houston Center for Literacy, attracted more than 350 Houstonians, all there to support ongoing efforts to improve literacy rates in our city.

As it turned out, Turner was a wee bit late to the party. When he finally arrived, stepped on stage and up to the microphone to make his opening remarks he apologized for and explained the delay (with a chuckle).

"Even a mayor's car can break down," he said.

Later in the program, Turner shared a bit about his childhood, including growing up with eight siblings and parents who (unfortunately) were not educated.

Turner commented, "My parents couldn't help us with our books, but they knew how important it was to work hard, always do the best you can and get a good education. They wanted all nine of us to go to college and grow up to have better lives."

He also told us about going downtown as a kid, looking up at the tall buildings and thinking, "One day I want to work in one of these buildings." 

Then, with his special brand of humor, the mayor added, "I didn't know what the people were doing in those buildings, I just knew I wanted to grow up and work there too!"

Also at the event, The Houston Center for Literacy presented its first-ever Literacy Leadership Award to Gina Luna, Chairman, Houston Region and CEO Middle Market Banking for J.P. Morgan Chase. 

I am most grateful to Beth Wolff, president of Beth Wolff Realtors, and her son, Ed Wolff, vice president of the company and a board member of the Houston Center for Literacy for inviting me to join them this morning. I learned a lot more than I previously knew about the Center, heard some very inspirational stories and left wanting to get involved myself. 

I have no doubt the others attending the Mayor's Breakfast did too!

Monday, May 9, 2016


I am adding the word, novaturient, to my vocabulary, even though it has not yet been added to the Mirriam-Webster or Oxford English dictionaries. I plan to start using it immediately and often - in my speech and in my writing.

"The middle-aged men and women who took early retirement are novaturient people."

I like this new word because it uniquely describes so many people -- all seeking a change in their lives, behaviors or situations. 

Novaturient is of Latin origin. Nova means new; turire means "the desire to or desire for." Thus, novaturient is a great new adjective that means the desire for something new. 

No doubt, I will use it often to describe myself.

"I am a publishing entrepreneur who has been self-employed for 30 years. I've done a lot of this and a lot of that. Still, I am a fickle, novaturient woman."

Yep, that's me!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers and Manners

My Mother
Things would be better for me if my Southern-born and highly civilized mother had raised more people. If she had, more individuals would be products of their environment (the same as mine) and see things the way I do. They would behave in ways I can appreciate.

Often, as I sit at my desk at the end of an especially tough day, I think about this a lot and of those who make my work needlessly difficult. I end up wishing my mother (and others like her) had enjoyed greater influence.

The workplace would be different, for sure. And, different too would be the “professional” people who currently frustrate me!

For one thing, if raised by my mother, they would realize the telephone is not yet an outmoded communication device. They would return (my) phone calls. They would do so by putting a telephone receiver to their ears — not by pecking out another impersonal email or text message. Even though it takes a nanosecond longer, they would call back. They would know that if someone (me) calls them, that person (me) really and truly wants to speak to them. They would know that returning telephone calls is simply the polite and appropriate thing to do.

If raised by my mother, they would keep commitments. When they schedule appointments, they would show up and on time. They wouldn’t leave others (me) sitting or standing around waiting for them. They wouldn’t waste (my) precious time. They would know that doing so is rude and downright disrespectful. They would know that not keeping commitments says volumes about how very unprofessional they really are! They would know they are making the other person (me) angry! Very, very angry!

If raised by my mother, they would take “no” graciously and without making the deliverer of that message (me) defend the negative position. They would know that, sometimes,  a “yes” is simply not possible or appropriate.

If raised by my mother, they would stop using networking events to ask (me) for favors and free stuff — especially the “stuff” I sell to make a living. Instead, they would know the best way to network is to sincerely say, “What do you do? What can I do to help you?” They would know generosity opens doors and fosters relationships.

If raised by my mother, they would say “thank you” when given good service! They would show their appreciation and know that providing good service is not always easy. They would acknowledge the extraordinary efforts and expenditures of time of others.

Ah, if mothers like mine had raised more people, the world would be different!

If mothers like mine had raised more people, we would all view our jobs and careers less often as “work” and more often as great opportunities to interact with very nice people!

If mothers like mine had raised more people, every day would be Mother’s Day, and we’d all be celebrating!

Note: I wrote this article for Houston Woman Magazine in May 2007, nine months before my mother passed away. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

"I and You"

The regional premiere of Lauren Gundeson's I and You has opened at Stages Repertory Theatre, and tonight I had the pleasure of going to see this terrific new play.

I went without finding out much about the play. I did not know, for example, that it was a one-act play, running continuously for 85 minutes.

I did not know its cast consisted of just two characters -- a teenaged boy and a teenaged girl. I did not know - at all - what the play for about.

This lack of information made it all the more fun to settle in and watch patiently as the actors appeared on stage and the script was played out with such skill and talent.
"On the night before a high school assignment is due, Anthony arrives unexpectedly at his bedridden classmate’s house to seek her help with the project. They awkwardly join forces to plumb the mysteries of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass -- unaware that a deeper mystery has brought them together."

As I discovered, "I and You is a quick-witted mashup of poetry and punchy slang, adolescent uncertainty and profound beauty."

As the story unfolds, the characters become more and more connected with each other, and the viewer becomes more and more invested in them - silently praying all will work out well with for the duo.

Then, almost suddenly, I and You comes to a surprising, jaw-dropping end. And, with that end, comes the realization of what this play was really about. Something we all need to think about!

I am recommending this play to my friends and family. It is, for sure, one not to be missed.

World Labyrinth Walk Day

"A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools."

Today is Saturday and World Labyrinth Walk Day - the ideal time for me to break away for a couple of hours and learn about the origins of labyrinth walks, find out where some are located in Houston and experience first-hand their spiritual powers. 

So, I joined a small group this afternoon at the Bishop John E. Hines Center for Spirituality and Prayer to participate in one of Sarah Gish's First Saturday Labyrinth Walks. 

Gish, who has been leading labyrinth walks in Houston since 2003, started the session by giving us specific information about the Hines Center and its indoor labyrinths walk. She also told us about the types of labyrinths and where others are located in Houston.

Sarah then shared an inspired reading that took us all to that sacred place within ourselves. Afterwards, in silence, she led the way through the labyrinth walk just steps away.

She had told us to enter the labyrinth when we were ready, leaving space between ourself and the person walking ahead. She said to walk at our own pace, telling us some might complete the walk in 15 minutes; for others, the walk might take be much longer. The word, "intention," was mentioned - and how it had a lot to do with how we approach all things in our lives.

She told us some people walk along the circling path with hands down by their sides; others put their hans together, as they would in prayer. Still others, she said, might be seen with their arms outstretched.

All of the labyrinth walking options she mentioned were evident this afternoon. Each of us seemed to approach this exercise in meditation with serious intention and being true to her own rhyme and reason. 

For me, the labyrinth walk was a very special experience - one I plan to repeat from time to time. Today, I learned there are dozens of labyrinths in Houston; most of them are located on the grounds of local churches. I am eager - very eager - to find them all.