Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hanging out at LAX

Though my Continental flight to Houston wasn't leaving Los Angeles until nearly 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the airport shuttle was set to pick me up at the Simpson House Inn at 9:40 a.m.

It was late enough to be able to enjoy a nice big breakfast but, alas, too early to do anything else before leaving Santa Barbara.

Instead of dwelling on how much I didn't like this schedule, I decided to focus on the opportunity to spend some time at LAX, look around and see what all was there. I was hoping, of course, to come away thinking of LAX as a really great airport — the kind that's fun to hang out in. Well...!

To me a really great airport is designed to entertain passengers and distinguished by a few key things: Directional signs are easy to find and follow. Security  lines are short. The bathrooms are clean. The restaurants are trendy and feature good, regional fare. Retail shops are plentiful and sell both national brands and local specialities.

I was flying out of Terminal 6, so it is my point of reference. What I found there is the reason I do not, at this moment, consider LAX a great airport.

The terminal was old and tired-looking. Fortunately, it was undergoing a much-needed, major renovation, But, getting around the construction was difficult. Finding the which-way-to-go signs was too. The bathrooms were unkept, as if abandoned. There were no stores to shop in.

The options for dining were limited. I had hoped to find a good locally owned restaurant and dine leisurely on something that included fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, I had to settle for an Italian BMT on whole wheat from Subway. The sandwich was good, and it satisfied my need for nourishment. But, what a missed opportunity!

I can only hope things change soon at Terminal 6. Right now, the place is depressing — and just not any fun to hang out in.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Santa Barbara Sites

Santa Barbara Courthouse
Several years ago, a copy of a beautiful coffee table book on Santa Barbara showed up on my desk. The writing was done by Barnaby Conrad; the photo-graphy was the art of Marc Muench. I knew neither of the men, but their collaborative effort sparked a desire in me to travel to Santa Barbara and take in all the beautiful sites I could.

State Street in Old Town
Santa Barbara Mission
Naturally, I was eager to see Santa Barbara's Pacific coastline and its heralded harbor — home of hundreds of large boats and yachts. I looked forward to walking down historic State Street and strolling in and out of the small boutiques and restaurants. I couldn't wait to see the red tile roofs of the homes and public buildings, especially the really old ones — built two and three centuries ago.

I had seen pictures of the Santa Barbara Mission, for example, and knew it dated back to 1786. Seeing it (inside and out) was high on my list of priority stops. So too was the Santa Barbara Courthouse — considered by many to be the most beautiful courthouse in America. I could imagine the interiors of both — original Spanish tile work! I could imagine praying in the mission and showing up for jury duty at the courthouse.

Today's agenda was perfect. It permitted me to see all these sites and more. It permitted me to enjoy a most beautiful and memorable city! It gave me lots of great experiences to share with the readers of Houston Woman Magazine later on, when it's time to pen the story I came here to write.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dinner at the Wine Cask

Doug and Mitchell
I connected with other travel writers and our hosts from Santa Barbara about 7 o'clock at the Wine Cask restaurant for what turned out to be a delightful evening of great food and wine.

The Wine Cask, located in downtown Santa Barbara in the El Paseo complex, is a popular gathering spot, well-known for its style and atmosphere, excellent service and creative, farm-to-table menus.
Chef Brandon Hughes
We gathered first in the tasting room and met owners Doug Margerum and Mitchell Sjerven. Both were friendly and engaging. They educated us about the history of the place and inroduced us, via a series of tastings, to Doug's namesake Margerum wines. My favorite was his M5 (a Rhône-styled red blend). I was delighted to learn that the M5 is available at Spec's in Houston.

We also met and chatted with Chef Brandon Hughes prior to experiencing one of the highly praised Chef's Table Dinners in the main dining room.

By talking to the chef, I learned that some of his training had taken place in Houston — at Tony's. I couldn't help but think, "small world."

Apparently, the thought stayed with me. For the rest of the evening the song, "Small World," was singing in my head.

Demetria Estate

Demetria Estate
The last stop on the Sustain-able Vine Wine Tour today was at the lovely Demetria Estate, a family-owned winery founded in 2005.

Getting to the winery was inter-esting. It called for a long drive to a hilltop and  maneuvering delicately up and around a narrow winding road. At its end, we found ourselves perched high above the beautiful vine-filled valley below.

The building on the property was as lovely as it could be. It featured sun-colored stucco walls, arched doorways and rich touches of stained wood throughout. To its left was an outside terrace for simply sitting and sipping wine.

While there, we met both John Zahoudanis, the owner of Demetria Estate; and Michael Roth, the winemaker.

From John, we learned a lot about his long-time interest in owning a vineyard and making wine. We also learned Demetria Estate was named for his daughter.

John and Michael
Michael led us on a tour of the winery and told us a lot about the Demetria Estate wines and himself, including how he came to be the accomplished winemaker he is today.

He told us that Demetria Estate produces two "separate portfolios" of wine, including Burgundian varietals and Rhone-style blends. He explained that "the Burgundian offerings comprise of manifestations of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc."

He told us about the Rhone blends too. These are farmed biodynamically on the estate vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The red Rhone blends are styled after the famous Chateauneuf du Pape in the Southern Rhone region of France. They are made from varieties of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache. The white Rhone wines are blends of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc.

To enjoy all of these Demetria Estate wines, we sat at a long rectangular table on the terrace. There we were able to fully appreciate the beauty of the scene and share our thoughts on a whole lot of very good wine!

Ampelos Cellars & Vineyards

The second stop on our Sustainable Vine Wine Tour today was at the Ampelos Cellars & Vineyards, situated on one of the loveliest rolling hills in the area.

Important to note: Ampelos was the first vineyard in Santa Barbara County and one of the first in the United States to receive all three certifications — sustainability in practice, organic and biodynamic.

Ampelos, which translates to "vine" in Greek, is owned and operated by Peter and Rebecca Work, former corporate types who gave up one life to pursue one that was "a dream come true."

The Works planted the initial 15-acre vineyard in 2001, with10 acres of Pinot Noir (clone 115 and Pommard) and five acres of Syrah (Estrella and 99) and about one-fifth acre of Viognier in a classic Rhône  tradition.

In 2004, the couple expanded the vineyards and selected eight separate, small areas on the property to plant 10 additional acres, lovingly called "baby blocks." The Works continued their focus on Pinot Noir and Syrah but added a small block of Grenache. In 2008, another adjustment was made. The Works grafted the one acre of Syrah clone 99 over to Grenache.

This morning, Peter led us around the vineyards, stopping often to tell us about some of the technicalities of growing grapes in harmony with nature. We learned about why rows and vines are spaced as they are, how the planting area is kept clear of weeds, how the vines are carefully pruned by hand, etc. Fascinating!

Mid-day we all sat around a long table under a big shade tree and enjoyed a gourmet picnic lunch, all the while tasting more and more of the Ampelos wines.

I couldn't help but pause and reflect as I sat there: "I can't think of anything in the world more delightful to be doing on such a bright and beautiful spring day! Gosh, I love my job!"

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards

My trip into the wine country today was set up by Sustain-able Vine Wine Tours of Santa Barbara County. Our driver was Brian Hope, its owner.

Hope promised a six-hour, behind-the-scenes look at organic winemaking and drives through some of the most beautiful parts of Santa Ynez Valley. And, he delivered, big time!

Sharing the experience were seven California-based travel writers — two males and five other females.

The first stop was the Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, owned by the husband/wife team of Richard and Thekla Sanford who strongly believe nature and agriculture should co-exist in sustainable harmony.

Richard came to the Santa Ynez Valley more than 40 years ago to create wines that would rival the best of France. He was the first to recognize the potential of the Santa Rita Hills —  now an officially accredited AVA (American Viticultural Area) as Sta. Rita Hills. He was also the first to plant Pinot Noir vines here.

The Sanfords founded Sanford Wines in 1981 and for 27 years produced award-winning wines sold in 50 states and 16 countries. (It was this wine that the characters in the movie, Sideways, tried first on their wine-tasting adventure.)

In 1983, the Sanfords planted their first 100% organic vineyard at Rancho El Jabali. The Rinconada and La Encantada vineyards followed, and in the year 2000, all Sanford estate vineyards were the first in Santa Barbara County to be certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers.

It was an unexpected delight this morning to get to meet and taste wines with Richard.

The first thing a woman like me noticed about Richard was his appearance. Tall and tan with light hair and a face that could only be described as "very handsome." The next thing about Richard that made a strong and very positive impression on me was his great smile and friendliness. The third? How much he loves planting grapes and producing wine!

It was great hearing Richard talk about each wine as I sipped my way through six or seven varieties. It was great too to hear him say, "Alma Rosa Wines are now available at Spec's in Houston."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Simpson House Inn

Getting to Santa Barbara, California today was no easy feat. First, there was the three-hour flight from Houston's Bush Airport to LAX and then the 90-mile drive west on SH 101 (which took an unexpected three and one-half hours).

By the time I got to the  Inn, I could not have been  more ready to rest and relax.

I had read a lot about the Inn before I got here.  I knew it was built as a private home in 1874. I knew it was tucked away behind tall shrubs in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. I knew it was the only Five Diamond Bed and Breakfast in North America. And, I knew staying there was going to be more than a wee-bit special.

After being warmly welcomed by the Inn's general manager, I was escorted across the extensively landscaped backyard to the Weathervane Room, located on the second floor of what was once a barn.

What a joy it was to walk in and see this beautifully designed and decorated room with all the comforts of home.

The Weathervane Room features white wood plank walls and high ceilings, and both make the large spaces seem even more so. Multiple windows, french doors opening to a small balcony and skylights throughout flood the room with natural light and keep everything inside bright and cheery.

I was thrilled to see the finely dressed king-sized bed, large and luxurious bath, a dining table for in-room service and a sitting area with comfy seating, reading lamps and wood-burning fireplace. The room also came equipped with wireless internet access, cable TV with VCR/DVD player, mini fridge and wet bar. I liked that too!

Yes, staying here for the next three days and nights will be a treat — a very special one!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dealing with PR People

The days of a magazine editor and publisher are all different. Often, I liken them to a ride on a roller coaster. Lots of ups and downs.

Yesterday was one of the down days - at least it would have been if I had let "annoying" situations get to me. Lately, I've noticed many of the "down" days are caused by PR people who seek complimentary space in the magazine I produce but do nothing to create a good working relationship with me.

Example One: I had placed a call to the 30-something public relations director of a large hospital here in Houston a week ago. Since that hospital gets lots of "free publicity" in Houston Woman Magazine I thought it was time the two of us met. (It would have been nice for the overture to be initiated by her, but that's another story.) Anyway, almost a week after leaving her a voice message, I receive a call from the PR director's "12-year-old" assistant, asking, "I work for 'so-in-so,' she wants to know what you want?" Needless to say, I no longer wanted anything. Not a single thing!

Example Two: I had a conversation (via email) with a very nice woman with a large PR firm in town - in fact, one of the biggest in the country. I had just published an article about one of her firm's clients. When I suggested the firm order a subscription to Houston Woman Magazine, so she would see what we had printed, I was told: "We will consider, but we cannot possibly afford to subscribe to all of the publications in Houston."

Considering a one-year subscription costs $30, and the space I just devoted to her client would cost a paying customer (advertiser) $3600, her response was not well-received. Neither will the next press release I receive from that firm.

Example Three: I got a call yesterday from a woman with another well-known Houston PR firm. An article about one of the firm's clients had run in Houston Woman Magazine last fall. She was just now getting around to trying to get some copies. She called to see if I would mail her two copies - and her client five copies.

I responded by telling her, "I can do that; back issues are $10 each."

She replied, "Wow! That's $70. Can you waive that for me?"

These situations wouldn't be so annoying if they were isolated cases. But, they are not. This sort of thing happens all the time. And, not just to me. All editors and publishers complain about the lack of professionalism in some parts of the PR community.

So, instead of getting upset about it, I've put in place a new policy: If a PR professional doesn't subscribe to Houston Woman Magazine (and actually see what we print), we will no longer be working with her/him.

This policy may not increase our subscription base, but it sure will cut down on the amount of mail I read each day.

Bottom Line: Mutual respect and professional courtesy still matter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Speaking in Beaumont

It was my distinct honor today to deliver the keynote address at a special mid-day event, "Hospital-i-Tea," at the Reaud Guest House in Beaumont, Texas. In attendance were Beaumont businesswomen and community leaders, including the city's mayor, Becky Ames, who I was able to meet and sit next to during the meal. 

I always enjoy talking to groups, but being able to speak on the topic, "Living on Purpose," was great! I was able to share my story: how I discovered my passion for writing and being in the field of journalism, how a couple of early experiences as a journalist inspired me to do what I do in a meaningful and purpose-driven way.

During my talk, I asked the group to pair up. I asked them to take turns quizzing each other about their passions. Immediately, the noise and energy levels in the room changed. The "folks" changed from an attentive audience of gracious listeners to a group of talkers on fire. Clearly, talking about their own passions got them all excited!

I overheard some of the comments. "I love painting," said one woman. "I love working with kids," said another. " I love to garden. You should see my roses," said a third.

I loved it!

Next,  I encouraged those assembled to treasure those passions. I encouraged them to make sure those passions were part and parcel of their daily lives. I encouraged them to view their passions as gifts that can — and should be — shared with others.

Note: The Reaud Guest House was built by the Beaumont Foundation of America, Reaud Foundation and Baptist Beaumont Hospital to provide low-cost accommodations for out-of town familiesi with loved ones receiving care at any of the Beaumont hospitals. It is named for Albert E. and Gena Reaud.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Golf and Me

This afternoon I watched The Masters and, as always, the tournament reminded of my 20-year relationship with golf. My infatuation with the game started when I was dating a man who played golf and thought playing often was important.

Not wanting to be left behind when he headed to the golf course on Saturdays, I decided to take up the game myself. I took lessons from a pro in The Woodlands, had custom clubs made, bought the cute clothes and shoes and called myself a golfer.

It didn't take long for my boyfriend to realize I wasn't really a golfer, but he rewarded my efforts by giving me extra mulligans for trying.

After we married, we purchased a painting of the 12th Hole of The Masters course. I loved the watercolor then, and I love it now. The landscape, with the contrasting colors of the dark green grass and the various shades of pink and purple azaleas, is beautiful and awe-inspiring.

It was the play on this hole in 1958 that Arnold Palmer "won" The Masters for the very first time. I say "won," because runner-up Ken Venturi challenged the win for decades.

It was also during the '58 Masters, that the 11th, 12th and 13th holes were first referred to collectively — as the Amen Corner.

Later on, I added another piece of art to my Masters collection — a beautifully framed black-and-white photograph of Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan. In the photograph, the two are standing near the first tee of The Masters course. Both are shown with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths — a classic image to be sure.
I've been told the photo was taken in 1960 — the year Palmer won The Masters for the second time. I like thinking that might be true.

Over the years, I've become a bigger and bigger fan of golf. I play golf (when I travel and in charity scrambles). I visit the driving range when the weather is perfect. I watch the pros on television.

I still have custom golf clubs, a great-looking golf bag and new trendy golf shoes that look like sandals. I like buying light pink golf balls and tees, golf clothes and putters. (I now have three.) I still like riding around in a golf cart and hanging out with friends at the 19th hole. I even welcome suggestions on improving my drive or short game from tipsy duffers.

Nowadays, I know a whole more about golf — enough to know better than to call myself a golfer. Instead, I simply call myself a fan of the game and all things related to it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tarte Tropezienne

Our last stop in St. Tropez, before heading back to our "home base" at the Four Seasons Provence, was a charming little pastry shop on the Place des Lices, the city's main square.

The cafe, situated in an ancient, two-story building, is a not-to-be-missed spot for visitors to St. Tropez. It was opened in 1955 by Alexandre Micka, a Polish pastry chef.

Later on, during the making of the movie, Et Dieu...créa la femme (And God Created Woman), Micka began selling sandwiches and pizzas to the film crew.

The actors became especially fond of one of Micka's large, cream-filled tarts. Brigitte Bardot, the star of the film, suggested Micka give the dessert a special name. He liked the idea, and it was then the now famous Tarte Tropézienne was born!

The Tarte Tropézienne is prepared with brioche, French pastry cream and butter cream. The ingredients are relatively simple: eggs, flour, powdered milk and butter. Combined they make a truly delectable (and very sweet) dessert.

Shopping for Sandals

We didn't have a lot of free time for shopping while we were in St. Tropez, but one of our group, Henley, a travel writer from New York, made great use of the limited free time.

While strolling along rue Georges Clemeneau, she spotted Atelier Rondini. Since 1927, people have been coming to this little shop from around the world to buy custom-fitted sandals.

Pictured here, sporting a huge smile, is Henley being measured for a trendy pair of red Sandales Tropeziennes.


Our merry band of travel writers just had lunch at L'Escale, an upscale and highly fashionable restaurant located directly across the street from the St. Tropez pier and its impressive line of yachts.

Walking into L'Escale, the first thing you notice is the floor — or should I say "lack of floor." Instead of walking on stone tiles or wooden boards, we took off our sandals and sank our toes into a thick layer of cool, white sand.

Given that fact, one might expect the decor of the restaurant to be ultra casual, but no, it wasn't. Instead, tables were covered with white starched cloths and adorned with silver candelabra, crystal and fresh flowers. Beautiful! And, yes, it truly was a uniquely perfect atmosphere for some of the finest Provencal fare in St. Tropez.

I asked about the name and was told, by our local guide, that the word, L'Escale, means "port of call." L'Escale, a name quite fitting, to be sure!

St. Tropez

When I saw the itinerary for the press trip, I was absolutely delighted. I viewed a day trip to St. Tropez on the French Riviera as an extra special treat — one I didn't want to miss!

The hour-long drive to St. Tropez from our hotel was wonderful. The road took us by some of Provence's most charming medieval villages and in sight of picturesque hills and valleys. The journey was the perfect prelude to our arrival to a dreamy destination!

Over the years, I had heard a lot about St. Tropez, its white sandy beaches and stunning architecture. I knew St. Tropez  attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year — including many of the world's most celebrated and elite. Calling St. Tropez the playground of the rich and famous would be, if anything, an understatement.

The famous folks, like the rest of us, go to St. Tropez to work on their tans, drop money on unneeded things and take in all the sights from behind their trendy Foster Grants. They hang out at sidewalk cafes, hoping to see or be seen by some of their favorite film stars.

In the 1950s, St. Tropez became a popular destination for many of the world's finest artists too, so it was not unusual to bump into the likes of Picasso, Francoise Sagan or Jacques Prévert and others.

When Brigette Bardot came to St. Tropez in the 60s, the city's reputation as a popular vacation spot for chic Parisians and the jet set was undeniable.

Now, I am here too. Writing about this special place for successful women in Houston. Who would have thought it possible?