Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Catching Up With An Old Flame

Last night, I caught up with my Aussie old flame Jason, for the first time since our romantic encounter back in his native Perth in 2002.

Over a delicious dinner at one of my favorite neighborhood Italian bistros, Zucchero e Pomodori, the conversation flowed freely as we filled each other in on the last six years.

Zucchero e Pomodori: One of the best Italian bistros on NYC's Upper East Side

I told Jason about the fulfillment I’ve found since leaving the gypsy world of TV news behind for public relations, and the amazing places (Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica, among others) my job has taken me to. He mentioned his own travels as First Defence Secretary Liaison for Australia's High Commission, including a stint in Iraq that had him wanting to return as a tourist.

Eventually, we got onto the subject of romance. It turns out Jason has someone special back in Australia who will soon be joining him up north in Ottawa, his new hometown. Interesting that this never came up during our email exchanges over the last six months, but then again -- men are nothing if not full of surprises.

After dinner, we headed over to Irish pub Doc Watson’s for drinks and talk about the differences between U.S. and Australian sports (baseball lasts for a few hours, a game of cricket usually stretches across several days). A few beers later, it was time to call it a night.

As we parted company, I couldn’t help thinking about the curious juxtaposition of an old flame with a New Year -- and feeling even more that this is a time to look forward and not back. I can’t wait to see what 2009 has in store.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Aussie Has Landed

Tonight, I’ll be reunited with my favorite old flame from Down Under, Jason. Along with a few of our friends, Jason and I will be ringing in 2009 together.

When he called a couple of hours ago after he arrived, we fell right into the easy banter that was very much a part of our time together back in ‘02. Jason and I met through a mutual friend during my visit to Perth. He showed me the sights -- including a stunning sunset on Cottesloe Beach that remains the most memorable one I’ve ever experienced.

We reconnected six months ago through -- of course -- Facebook. I was delighted to discover that the geographical gap between us has narrowed, since Jason is now working as a diplomat in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa. It amazes me that, after so many years, we’ll have the opportunity to catch up.

I’m wondering if we’ll manage to rekindle the old spark between us. Regardless of whether that happens, though, I have no doubt we’ll have fun. After all, it’s impossible not to when you’re ringing in a New Year in the Big Apple.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Tea-rrific Christmas At The Lowell

On Christmas, I joined my friend Tiffany and her friend Jen for a delightful evening at one of NYC’s top boutique hotels, The Lowell.

As soon as we walked into the Lowell’s Pembroke Room, I felt transported by the old world elegance and impeccable five-star service. It was like we had entered a private dining room from centuries ago, with rich tables adorned by crisp white linens and colorful china, and a mantel festooned with Christmas decorations.

Old World Elegance: The Lowell’s Pembroke Room served up a memorable Holiday High Tea

The Lowell’s Holiday High Tea menu featured a special selection of hand picked leaf teas and herbal infusions, assorted tea sandwiches, fresh pumpkin bread and, of course, classic blackcurrant scones with berry preserves and Devonshire cream.

The charming and knowledgeable maitre’d had me appreciating in a new way how, much like wine, tea is a beverage of numerous delectable varieties and flavorful fusions. All of the staff made us feel at home while we lingered for nearly four hours, savoring the festive surroundings.

Topping it all off -- a cup of traditional German Glühwein (sweet wine) and a tiered silver tray of petit tarts and pastries.

As we exited the Lowell, I was happy to have discovered a new addition to my list of favorite neighborhood haunts. And I found myself in complete agreement with the Henry James quote on the Lowell's holiday menu --

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

By The Numbers: Auld Lang Syne Edition

During a recent conversation with longtime family friend Helen, she recalled a New Year’s Eve when she donned a cocktail dress -- only to end up at a hockey game with her date.

Her tale of dashed expectations got me to thinking of my own New Year’s highs and lows. As articulated so poignantly in the “Sex and the City” movie, it’s a holiday that can be fraught with peril when you’re single.

Thankfully, in addition to the January countdowns I’ve experienced with significant others, I’ve shared several with family and friends that have made New Year’s Eve an occasion to remember. Here are some of the standouts -- By The Numbers:

Number of New Year’s Eves spent with significant others: 2
Number of New Years spent in Vegas with a boyfriend who later revealed he disliked crowds: 1

Ringing in '97: I donned a balloon animal hat during a new year's double date with my sister and our then-beaus, New York, December 1996

Number of New Years spent watching “The Princess Diaries” after an old flame cancelled at the last minute: 1
Number of New Years spent lining up in the cold with an Aussie galpal before partying at Central Park’s legendary Boathouse restaurant: 1
Number of New Years spent doing an SATC viewing marathon with my cousin and loving every minute of it: 1

Every so often, it's a welcome change of pace to ring in the new year doing something low key with family or friends. This year, I’m not sure what’s on the agenda for ringing in 2009, other than spending it with an Aussie old flame in town for the occasion.

If his visit is any indication, ‘09 is shaping up to be a year full of surprises -- including a few of the romantic variety.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Opening The Vault: Part Twenty One

When you’re in a long-distance relationship, where you spend time with your significant other becomes almost as important as how often. So it was for me and my California sweetheart Mark (a.k.a Sparky).

Our first few encounters took place in my world. We met in New York, fell in love in London, then reconnected back in the Big Apple when Sparky came to visit in July of 1994. A month later, it was time for me to start racking up the frequent flier miles and head out to L.A., for our first rendez-vous in Sparky’s home state. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the Summer of ‘94...

Granada Hills, CA
August 26th, 1994

Dear Diary,

Yesterday, I had a glorious night view of L.A. as the plane descended. There was something so meaningful about the moment. Sparky and I were about to be in the same time zone again. That we had both traveled so we could be together made our love seem magical.

The Look of Love: Sparky took this picture of me during a visit to Disneyland, August 1994

My best friend Lisa had asked me earlier in the day what I was planning to say to Sparky when I saw him. I told her I wasn’t planning anything. I was finally at the point where I didn’t have to think about what to say. The only thing I had to think about was how quickly I could run into his arms.

* * *

Upon entering the terminal, I searched the crowd for him. Suddenly, I spotted Sparky a few feet away.

He quickened his pace as he approached me and we fell into each other’s arms. We shared the most perfect kiss and I could feel my entire body tingle the way it always does when Sparky touches me.

Our lips reluctantly parted and we gushed about happy we were to be together. Sparky kept telling me how beautiful I looked and we talked about my trip, holding onto each other tightly the entire time.

While we were waiting for my luggage, Sparky didn't stop looking at me.

“Look at you,” he said. “You’re just gorgeous.”

We kept kissing -- in the airport, next to his car -- the surge of adrenalin I felt was incredible.

Sparky left it up to me to decide how we would spend the evening. Needless to say, I opted for going back to his place.

At one point, he pulled over to make a turn -- and we melted into another kiss. Mmm.

The drive to Granada Hills was wonderful. We drove with the top of Sparky’s convertible down (until the wind started wreaking havoc on my hair). Beyond the freeway, I caught a glimpse of the city lights and mountains. I felt so happy…and anxious to get close to Sparky.

When we finally arrived at Sparky’s two-bedroom condo, I have to admit, I was kind of disappointed. The modern, bachelor pad décor (black leather couches, sleek black furniture, etc.) bothered me. Why? Because I was wondering if our tastes would be compatible if we ever get married!

Before I unpacked, Sparky and I began to make up for lost time. The explosive chemistry between us, compounded by the time apart, was more intoxicating than ever. I felt dizzy as he kissed me over and over. I couldn’t get enough of him and I could feel that he felt the same way…

* * *
Yes, that first night together again with Sparky was blissful. And, in keeping with the trajectory that would come to characterize our relationship, it kicked off an emotional roller coaster that made my inaugural West Coast visit a very intense one.

Coming up…afternoon tea at one of NYC’s best boutique hotels and Saturday night on the town with one of my favorite soul sisters.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Girls Night Out In SoHo

Last Saturday, my friend Bobbi and I headed down to SoHo for night of eating out and live music.

Our evening began at Petrarca, an Italian bistro and wine bar right across from the Tribeca Grand Hotel. A surly hostess notwithstanding, I enjoyed the restaurant and its inviting atmosphere (high ceilings and shelves with wine bottles lining the walls).

Petrarca: Delightful Italian fare in SoHo with an extensive wine menu

As I enjoyed a delicious plate of fettucine bolognese, Bobbi and I talked about the romantic possibilities of ski weekend getaways, the question of whether size really matters (um…yes) and the joint celebration plan for our 35th birthdays next month.

Then, we were off to one of my favorite nightspots, the Canal Room, to enjoy the sounds of two great cover bands. We caught the tail end of Almost Queen, and their energetic takes on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love” and, of course, “We Will Rock You.”

I was most excited for the headlining act, Unforgettable Fire. The longest running U2 tribute band (born 14 years ago), UF recreates with gusto U2’s distinctive sound.

Unforgettable Fire: Powerhouse vocals and musicianship, and the ultimate U2 tribute experience

Led by vocalist and Bono doppelganger Tony Russo, UF blazed through some of U2’s best -- from classics including “America” and “Helter Skelter” to more recent hits like “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation.” Bassist Craig (Adam) Kiell, drummer George (Larry) Levesanos and guitarist Mick (Edge) Normoyle complete the powerhouse band.

I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing U2 live. A guy standing beside me who’s seen both U2 and Unforgettable Fire said UF is the closest you can get to an actual live U2 show. I’m even more excited now about seeing Bono perform -- and about catching UF again next time they’re in town.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas In New York

New York is known for being a winter wonderland during the holidays, mostly because of the city’s unparalleled Christmas decorations. For as much as I love all the seasonal glitz, it was a different, more human side of my beloved Big Apple that I found myself appreciating today.

Though the streets were a little less crowded, there was plenty to look at and listen to -- from friends, older couples and young families strolling around to the soulful sounds of a trumpet player performing holiday tunes.

Sounds of the Season: This trumpeter put a big smile on my face as I people watched on NYC's Upper West Side

As I listened to his pitch perfect medley featuring all the classics (“O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy To The World,” “Jingle Bells,” etc.), I thought of Decembers past with my late and beloved parents.

With my dad being Jewish and my mom being Catholic, the holidays were pretty festive in our household because we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. The highlight of our interfaith festivities was a big holiday party with family and friends.

It’s a festive tradition that I miss dearly, but I’m comforted by the new traditions that have come along in its place. Like the intimate annual Christmas Eve gathering with my aunts, uncles and cousins in Long Island. And, for the second year in a row, spending Christmas Day with good friends.

Mom and Dad gave me years of holiday memories that I'll always cherish. I know they would be happy that I’m making new memories and trying to honor the spirit of the season they exemplified so well.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Australia Countdown Begins

In about two weeks, I’ll be heading to Australia on business, visiting the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef and then stopping over in Sydney for a combination of work and pleasure.

It’s been three and a half years since my last trip Down Under, a ten-day jaunt to Sydney that I spent brooding over my then-boyfriend not being Mr. Right and what I was going to do about it. I’m so thankful that I’ll have the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite parts of the world, this time with a clear head.

Along with my excitement about seeing the Great Barrier Reef and great state of Queensland for the first time, I’m eagerly anticipating my reunion with the two people responsible for my love affair with Australia -- my dear friends Suzanne and David.

All Smiles in Sydney: Australian friends Sue and Dave during my first trip Down Under, January 2002

I met Sue and Dave back in ‘94, during a whirlwind Contiki bus tour across Europe that covered something like 18 countries in about as many days. We all hit it off immediately and managed to stay in touch over the years.

After Sue came to New York twice -- including a memorable New Year’s Eve that found our faith in humanity restored when a cab driver returned the wallet she left in his car -- the time finally arrived for me to go Down Under. For the first time in seven years, Sue, Dave and I were all together again, effortlessly picking up where we had left off.

When I said goodbye to them at the end of my January 2002 Australian jaunt, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be for long. Sure enough, I returned in May -- just in time to celebrate the birth of Sue’s daughter, my gorgeous goddaughter Isabella. My five month stint as a Sydneysider brought us even closer and afforded some great times with Dave in Canberra, Australia’s capital, with his growing family.

I can’t wait to see Sue and Dave again. In the meantime, I have another reunion to look forward to -- with an Aussie old flame who’s heading this way for New Year’s. I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Holiday Soirée

One of my favorite things about this time of year is sharing it with good friends. Friday night, I had about 15 of my closest compadres over for a little holiday soirée.

All Decked Out: A bevy of candles added a nice touch to my Christmas decor

While enjoying cocktails (white wine and vodka mixers) and assorted snacks (mini chocolate cupcakes, chips and dip and a cheese platter), I caught up on everyone’s news.

Editor/tango dancer/diva extraordinaire Heidi mentioned her new weekly gig as a vocalist with the Steve Marshall Band at Mr. Biggs Bar & Grill. Fellow PR maven and blogger Lyla introduced me to her delightful husband David, and filled me in on their interfaith holiday festivities (she’s Jewish, he’s Catholic). And travel writer Amanda told me about the progress she’s making with her upcoming book, The Lost Girls, and plans to spend Christmas with her boyfriend in his Kansas hometown.

That’s What Friends Are For: Celebrating the season with Amanda and Jonathan, good buddies since we all went to Barbados on a press trip back in ‘05.

The only downside of the evening -- my eternal worry as a hostess that there was enough food and drink. I invariably tend to overcompensate, putting out a bigger spread than necessary (and somehow managing to get a post-party refund from the supermarket when I return liters of soda and bags of chips).

Once again, there was plenty left over. This time though, I didn’t mind. I knew my friends were too busy having fun to overindulge.

As the party winded down around 1am, my dear friend Tiffany stayed behind to help me clean up, and talk about our plans for Christmas Day. Let the seasonal merrymaking continue!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Remembering Dad

Today marks the second anniversary of my father’s passing. Dad died following a lengthy battle with prostate cancer, just a few weeks after celebrating his 90th birthday.

Dad packed a lot of living into those 90 years, leaving an indelible mark on the lives of those who know him. He charmed with his legendary wit and storytelling ability, and inspired with his generosity and understanding.

Dad and Me: Matching smiles at our annual family holiday party, December 1996

I’ve lost count of how many heart to hearts we had. Sometimes, Dad and I would talk for hours -- usually about life and love, often about the amazing experiences that his hard work and desire to see the world had given him.

It was from Dad that I inherited a passion for travel (not to mention food, one of his other great loves). A global jetsetter during his entrepreneurial days, he never lost his wanderlust, continuing to rack up frequent flier miles well into his 80's.

I remember perusing a list of destinations served by an international airline with him, amazed when he said that he’d been to nearly every single one (including London and Rome upwards of 30+ times). I considered it a great accomplishment when I finally traveled somewhere he had never been – Australia – and was able to share it with him in the same way he had regaled me with tales of his own journeys to the far corners of the world.

As for his gastronomic pursuits, Dad would have been the first one to admit he lived to eat. While somehow managing to stick to a very disciplined diet, he thoroughly enjoyed the pleasures of a good meal.

Many times, after dining out with friends, I would call Dad to give him a blow by blow description of each course. He invariably responded with enraptured sounds of delight.

It felt fitting to spend tonight having dinner with friends. Many of the best meals I’ve ever had were with Dad. I know he was there in spirit -- just like he always is whenever I need him.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Celebrating The Season With My Colleagues

Thursday night, I attended Quinn & Company’s delightful holiday party, held upstairs at Angus McIndoe’s, a cozy restaurant in the heart of NYC’s Theater District and just a few blocks up from our office.

As always, it was a treat to kick back after hours with my colleagues, a truly fun and spirited group of people. An added bonus was getting to see my good friend Morty, who left Q&C a few weeks ago to pursue his phD in psychology.

Pick Me Up: Morty’s arrival at Quinn & Co’s holiday soiree elicited big cheers and hugs all around

One of my favorite things about Quinn & Co’s holiday soiree is getting to know a little more about the people I share my work week with. I learned that real estate PR whiz Steve has an Aussie boyfriend and that fellow travel publicist Ashley is a master at crocheting.

The award for best anecdote of the night goes to the always affable Li, when he was reflecting on the consequences of working in an estrogen-heavy environment (35 of Quinn & Co’s 40 employees are female). He recently found himself spending time with Steve and real estate VP Greg -- at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Once we settled in our seats for a delicious three-course dinner (I chose the Caesar salad, lasagna and chocolate cream pie), our fabulous president Florence gave an inspiring speech about the challenges of this year and her confidence in the talent and creativity of everyone who works at Q&C.

Group Shot: Me and my travel colleagues. That's our president Florence (in purple) on the right, and behind me (in red) is Q&C partner Carla, the person responsible for me entering the blogosphere!

Following a few more speeches from the higher-ups, it was time for the annual tradition of Secret Santa. My boss John surprised me with London in a Bag building blocks and a greeting card cutout of the London skyline.

As John spoke about my passion for travel and for a handful of cities in particular (Sydney, Rome and Paris round out my top 5), I felt a surge of delight. Not only do I work for someone who knows me very well, I get to do my job in a place that allows me to follow my bliss every day. What a perfect gift to be reminded of at a company holiday party.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Opening The Vault: Part Twenty

As you leave your teenage years behind, one of the things you learn is that growing up means making decisions for yourself. Along the way, you also discover that parental disapproval isn’t necessarily reason enough to make a different choice. I was twenty years old when a long distance love led me to this epiphany.

It was the summer of 1994 and I was eagerly anticipating my first visit to California to see Los Angeles-based beau Mark (a.k.a Sparky). Because my parents were (very) traditionally minded, I intended to let them think I would be sharing a hotel room with a college friend who happened to be visiting L.A. too. But the day before my departure, I decided to come clean.

I now Open The Vault and take you back to the summer of 1994...

New York, NY
August 25th, 1994

I woke up yesterday with a very difficult task in front of me -- telling mom the truth about where I’m staying in California.

After all of these weeks of planning to have Li-Shean cover for me, I finally decided that lying would only jeopardize the trust between my parents and me. And no man is worth that.

Trust Your Instincts: That’s the advice that my college roommate and friend Li-Shean gave me about where to stay during my California trip

So, taking a very deep breath, I ambled bleary-eyed into Mom and Dad’s room, where I found Mom and proceeded to tell her exactly what I’d rehearsed about a dozen times the night before -- that given the already-limited amount of time Sparky and I will have together (re: his work), it made more sense for me to stay with him and skip the expense of a hotel room.

Mom’s expression immediately changed.

“I don’t think it’s proper or appropriate,” she said. “You’re not married to him.”

She told me the choice was mine, but pointedly added that she would have to tell Dad if I ended up at Sparky’s. I pleaded with her not to.

After calling my sister-in-law for some advice, I returned to Mom and said that I would stay at a hotel. I also told her flat out that Sparky and I were going to be traveling up the coast (i.e. sharing a hotel room), making it clear that it was not open for discussion.

* * *

After running around to do some last-minute errands, I called Li-Shean. She told me that I needed to do what was right for my relationship with Sparky and for myself.

With some anxiety but a sense of determination, I went into Mom’s office and told her the torment I’d gone through in making my final choice -- to stay with Sparky.

Mom maintained that she feels it’s improper, but acknowledged--

“You’re a woman now and you need to make your own decisions.”

Mom also said we’re bound to disagree and that I shouldn’t beat myself up over it.

I felt a sudden sense of relief come over me knowing that Mom didn’t think less of me and that -- hoorah!! -- she wasn’t going to tell Dad I’m staying with Sparky.

* * *

My accommodations quandary wasn’t the last Sparky-related impasse for me with my Mom and Dad. Sparky would become a great test of the shifting boundaries between me and my parents, as I struggled to balance my relationship with them with a growing need to stand on my own.

Coming up…celebrating the holidays with good friends and a long-awaited U2 tribute band concert.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Small, Sociable World of Travel Media

When you work in the travel media and PR universe, you quickly come to discover what a small world it is.

While attending a recent birthday party for Adam, a prolific travel writer, I was struck once again by this – and by how much easier it is to meet fabulous gay men than it is to meet equally fabulous straight ones.

I initially connected with Adam, the ex-boyfriend of another travel writer I took on a client press junket a few years ago, through my former colleague and good buddy Morty. At Adam's party at Nowhere Bar in NYC’s East Village, I also met Darren, the editor of a magazine that Adam freelances for.

“I’m sure you’ve sent me many emails that I’ve ignored,” Darren quipped apologetically.

Laughing, I assured him that I know it’s an occupational hazard and didn’t take his cyberspace silence personally.

While catching up with one of my favorite Travel + Leisure contributors, I clicked immediately with his friend Michael. The two had just come from a soiree with a snooty Abercrombie & Fitch-esque crowd – all of whom were aghast when someone inadvertently hit the light switch and ruined the flattering effect of partying by candlelight.

Michael and I talked about the holiday shopping rush and the ups and downs of being single. When I revealed that I’m just one month away from turning 35, he asked—

“Are you worried about your ovaries?”

Amused, albeit somewhat taken, by the question, I told him that I’m not really feeling the urge to procreate this minute, but I became a bit anxious when I received a promotional flyer in the mail from Extend Fertility. The flyer featured the egg freezing company’s founder boasting that she had frozen hers at the tender age of 28.

Michael reassured me I have plenty of time to meet Mr. Right. We parted with a big hug and plans to, of course, become friends on Facebook.

I had a big smile on my face as I made my way home. Sometimes, the best kind of fun with the opposite sex happens when you’re surrounded by men you know you have absolutely no chance with.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Evening With The Clintons: Part Two

From family memories past to her future as the likely Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton opened up on a wide range of subjects during a campaign debt fundraiser that my good friend Tiffany and I went to Monday night.

An Evening of Inspiration: Tiffany and me at the Hillary event

“Ugly Betty” star America Ferrara did a great job asking Hillary questions previously submitted by audience members, including the inevitable hindsight inquiry – would the senator run again, knowing how it would turn out?

“In a minute,” she said. “In a New York minute.”

An engaging conversation: Actress America Ferrara and Senator Hillary Clinton

Clinton went on to talk about the joy of connecting with supporters on the campaign trail. Like the cancer patient who proudly showed off her bald head --- with Hillary’s campaign button emblazoned on it.

Asked about the senate achievements she’s most proud of, Hillary mentioned working with 9/11 victims and loved ones and making it legally possible for military widows to remarry without losing their benefits.

Serving the Empire State, she said, has been great preparation for new role on President-elect’s national security team.

“Representing New York is like representing the world,” she said. “I’ll be doing a job that’s well informed by the hopes and dreams of people here.”

Speaking about the work she hopes to do in her new role, Clinton said a renewed focus on women’s rights and increased resources for diplomacy will be among her priorities. She’s also benefiting from the experience of her predecessors, having spoken with all of the living Secretaries of State.

During a recent dinner, Condoleezza Rice recently shared her perspective after eight years on the job and a rigorous personal schedule that involves rising daily at 445 a.m. to exercise for an hour. With a smile, Hillary quipped—

“I’m gonna see what the world looks like from a later perspective.”

Continuing to strike a lighthearted tone, Clinton laughed about the time when she and Bill struggled to open a coconut in front of a curious young Chelsea (the president tried smashing it against a wall, Hillary opted to use a hammer).

When asked about the few things the public doesn’t know about her, limited singing ability and her first job -- cleaning gutted fish in Alaska topped the list.

“Sliming fish,” she said wryly, “was probably the best preparation for Washington.”

The best advice she received as a senator?

“Stay as connected with people as you can -- and keep listening.”

Hillary did exactly that after the Q&A was over, lingering for nearly 30 minutes to shake hands and pose for pictures with the dozens of supporters who stuck around.

All Smiles With the Secret Service Nearby: Hillary poses for a picture with one of many supporters after the event

As Hillary waved goodbye to the crowd, I felt like I had seen a different, more personal side of the woman who put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling with her history-making presidential run. I look forward to seeing how she tackles her new role in America's next chapter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Evening With The Clintons: Part One

Monday night, my good friend Tiffany and I had the pleasure of attending a special event with two of the most dynamic political figures of our time, Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The sold out fundraiser, aimed at retiring Hillary’s presidential campaign debt, featured some Hollywood star power and an excited crowd of about 1,000 people.

After a stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by American idol finalist Kimberley Locke…

American Idol: Singer Kimberley Locke sung the national anthem

….”Ugly Betty” star and Hillary supporter America Ferrara took to the stage, sharing her experience of campaigning in seven states and introducing President Clinton.

America The Beautiful: Ferrara introduced President Bill Clinton

I was especially thrilled to see the former president in person – I signed up for a 2004 event with him that was cancelled and he was a no-show at a Hillary event I went to during the summer of 2007.

Looking fit and drawing the audience in with his legendary charm and candor, Clinton told us his wife’s day had started at 5am and included a trip to Chicago for a meeting of President-elect Obama’s national security team.

Hello, Mr. President: Bill Clinton told the enthusiastic crowd about his wife's busy day

After praising Obama for the transition work he has done, Clinton focused his remarks on the economic crisis.

He cited the sobering statistic that 27 trillion dollars have disappeared in the last couple of months, twice the annual GDP of the United States, and encouraged everyone to allow the new president to get his job done.

“We owe him the breathing room and the chance to work through these problems,” Clinton said. “We have maximized the chances that a recovery will begin as soon as possible. When we come out on the other side, people will make money.”

On that optimistic note, with another wave of thunderous applause, the former president introduced his wife.

All Smiles: Senator Clinton happily greeted her many supporters

Ferrara returned to the stage, for a Q&A with Hillary based on questions submitted by audience members. Senator Clinton made it clear right away that, even when she becomes Secretary of State, she’ll always be connected to the Empire State.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “I’m a New Yorker -- I told somebody the other day, I want it on my tombstone.”

Up next….Hillary shares memories from the campaign trail and reflects on her new role on the national stage.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

By The Numbers: More Than Friends Edition

When it comes to relationships, the question of whether a man and woman can be just friends is one that tends to come up time and time again.

I’ve experienced my fair share of friendships that veered into mutual attraction territory -- and navigated the equally tricky terrain of attempting to cross back over the platonic line with ex-boyfriends.

Inevitably, I suppose, the latter transition is more difficult. After all, as one of my favorite post-breakup books says, it’s not easy being just friends with someone who once saw you naked.

Still, many of my most memorable moments with the opposite sex have come from rekindling old flames or discovering there’s one worth igniting with a friend. Here are some of the relationships that have straddled the more than friends line -- By The Numbers:

Number of male friends I ended up locking lips with: 3
Number of disastrous flings that resulted in the end of a friendship: 1
Number of post-breakup friendships that led to a romantic reprise: 5
Number of successful ongoing post-breakup friendships: 1
Number of evenings with a friend of five years that have ended with a kiss: 3

The most recent of those evenings, a last-minute autumn encounter when my hunky friend breezed into town, was an exhilarating reminder that some mutual attractions are too strong to deny and worth the potential complications that accompany them.

Coming up…an evening with Bill and Hillary Clinton and a double dose of holiday partying.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Friday Night On Broadway

On Friday, my friend Cindy and I got the weekend off to a fun start with dinner and a Broadway show.

Our cozy table upstairs at Osteria al Doge in Times Square offered a perfect view of the bistro’s festive holiday decorations and bustling pre-theater crowd.

Cindy and I made it easy for our waiter, both ordering a tasty spinach salad with orange dressing and pan roasted Italian sea bass with celery root, sweet roasted garlic & manilla clams. For dessert, we indulged our respective sweet tooths with chocolate mousse and cinnamon ice cream. Delicious.

After dinner, it was a short, brisk stroll to the American Airlines Theater, where we had twelfth row seats for “A Man For All Seasons” starring Frank Langella.

The Martyrdom of Sir Thomas: Frank Langella pulls out all the stops in "A Man For Seasons"
(photo courtesy: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

The 1960 play by Robert Bolt takes place between 1529 and 1532 and tells the gripping story of Sir Thomas More‘s martyrdom. One of the British monarchy’s most loyal subjects, More fell out of favor when he refused to sanction King Henry’s divorce and England’s subsequent split from the Catholic church.

“A Man For All Seasons” examines what it means to be true to yourself no matter what the cost -- and raises the question of how far a man will go to honor his own moral code.

As Sir Thomas, 70-year-old Langella turns in a heroic, powerful performance, offering a revealing glimpse into the psyche of a great historical figure. By the play’s end, you definitely feel like you’ve been on an existential journey. Though act two drags on a bit -- mostly because of the show’s three-hour running time -- Langella never falters. He delivers every line with searing intensity, particularly during the climactic court scene when Sir Thomas is sentenced to death.

This isn’t the only historical figure in Langella’s current repertoire. He’s generating Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.” With his amazing turn in “A Man For All Seasons,” it's a good bet the veteran actor can also look forward to adding another Tony Award to the three he’s already got on his shelf.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Very Happy Hour At Spitzer's

Thursday night, I had the pleasure of catching up with my former colleague Kim, during a fun happy hour at Spitzer’s on NYC’s Lower East Side.

Over a bottle of Riesling, Kim filled me in on her new life as a London resident and plans for a cross-country USA road trip with the British beau who inspired her to move there.

A fellow blogger and true digital media goddess, Kim laughed at my continuing cluelessness about Twitter. I brought her up to date on recent doings at Quinn & Co., including Morty’s recent departure and my exciting business trip to the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef next month.

Along with meeting a handful of Kim’s fabulous friends -- including a charming forty-something guy who’s run three of the world’s top marathons -- her get together gave me the opportunity to learn more about three of my favorite colleagues.

All Smiles: Marisa, Kim and me at Kim's Farewell to NYC party

Fellow travel PR maven Dee and I discovered a shared passion for writing. It turns out that Dee is an award-winning poet and avid sketch artist too. Real estate PR gal Marisa told me that her professional work with Global Green has led to becoming an active member of the renowned environmental group.

Danielle, also a real estate specialist, had me getting nostalgic for my junior year in London when she mentioned the year she spent there. Danielle brought along her charming former roommate, Australia-born psychologist and fashionista Ann-Marie.

The three of us enjoyed a spirited debate with one of Kim’s male friends about why women don’t go for nice guys. We maintained that sometimes nice means no backbone (a definite turnoff) -- and that there are just as many nice guys who go for bad girls.

Speaking of the opposite sex, there were plenty of men filling the bar and long tables with benches at Spitzer’s. Marisa and I perused the possibilities, then laughed as we decided we weren’t in a manhunting mood.

Still, as a single gal always intrigued by venues with a healthy male-female ratio, I’m excited to add Spitzer’s to my list of places that are perfect for mingling -- and even more excited for the next time I cross paths with Kim, hopefully across the pond.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Opening The Vault: Part Nineteen

When you’re in the throes of new love, you feel like you always have something to look forward to. This was never more true than during the summer of 1994, a couple of months into my involvement with California native Mark (a.k.a Sparky).

As I struggled with adjusting to life back in New York after my junior year in London and a local beau who didn’t exactly light my fire, Sparky provided a much-needed distraction. And my excitement about him grew once I made plans to go visit him in L.A. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the summer of ‘94...

New York, NY
August 13th, 1994

Today, I went out to take care of two Sparky-related errands.

I stopped at Tiffany's, to get him a beautiful sterling silver golf-themed key ring -- no doubt, the most extravagant item I've ever purchased for a man But I figure, between the diamond band he gave me, the bi-coastal phone calls on his bill, and everything else, Sparky deserves a little bauble!

Tiffany & Co: During the summer of '94, I stopped in the famed luxe retailer's flagship Fifth Avenue store to pick up a little something for Sparky

Next, I went into Victoria's Secret to try and find a pretty nightgown. No such luck. Unless you have a figure like Cindy Crawford, it is very difficult to find the kind of flattering lingerie I’m looking for (floor-length and silky, but with sleeves to hide my flabby arms).

* * *

August 14th, 1994

Organized some of my London mementos today. As I glanced at various ticket stubs and notes from my Commonwealth Hall buddies, I found myself saddened that these items, along with my diaries and photos, are all that remains of the most incredible experience of my life..

Later, I headed down to [my college roommate and friend] Li-Shean’s abode. Chatted with her summer roommate and another Mount Holyoke senior. A couple of Coors Lights had us pleasantly buzzed.

I called to check my messages and just as I hoped, Sparky had called.

“I love you,” he said on my voice mail. “And I can’t wait till you get here. Hope everything is wonderful, Bye.”

He’s so wonderful.

* * *

August 18th, 1994

I spoke to my sweetheart last night. We’ve spoken every night so far this week! It still amazes me that Sparky is so besotted. I never thought I would affect a man so deeply at this stage of my life, at least not one whose feelings I would reciprocate. Lord knows I’ve had my share of over ardent guys I felt no attraction for.

Yes -- I am ridiculously excited about our pending reunion.

* * *

As I anticipated my first visit to California to see Sparky, I couldn’t wait to finally be with him in his world. I had no idea that my inaugural West Coast jaunt would introduce me to one of the greatest obstacles in our way -- his job.

Coming up….an exhilarating night out with a visiting former colleague and a review of Frank Langella’s mesmerizing Broadway performance.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Review of Baz Luhrmann's Australia

Last Saturday, my friend Tiffany and I went to see “Australia.” Though the much-publicized epic has garnered mixed reviews, I ultimately found myself swept away by Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic love letter to one of my most favorite places.

After a slow start that feels as campy as Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge,” the 2.5 hour tale finds its footing, with the story unfolding through the eyes of Nullah (newcomer Brandon Walters), a young Aboriginal boy.

Set during World War II, “Australia” follows the unlikely romance between English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) and an Aussie cattle Drover (Hugh Jackman). Suddenly widowed and facing bankruptcy, Lady Sarah draws both Drover and Nullah in to saving her husband’s cattle farm, which leads to a complicated, dangerous trek across the Outback.

Romance Down Under: Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman find love in the Outback in "Australia"

With lush, sweeping photography of the Northern Territory and lots of dreamy closeups of Kidman and Jackman, Luhrmann evokes films in the grand tradition of “Gone With The Wind.” A key scene that finds Lady Sarah and Drover causing a stir at a high society ball reminded me of Rhett and Scarlett’s scandalous dance at the Atlanta Bazaar in GWTW.

Though “Australia” doesn’t consistently reach those same lofty heights, the chemistry between Kidman and Jackman is enough to make up for it. Jackman has never been more engaging or movie-star handsome and Kidman becomes more sympathetic and vulnerable as the movie progresses. But it is really Brandon Walters who ends up carrying the movie on his more than able young shoulders.

A Star Is Born: Newcomer Brandon Walters lights up the screen in "Australia"

The 11-year-old is a revelation, delivering a powerful, heart wrenching performance that lifts “Australia” well above just another big love story to a tale of abiding connection with one’s country and kin. Nullah’s fate is the film’s lynchpin and the reason I got choked up more than once.

Bottom line, Luhrmann delivers an affecting big-screen epic worthy of the hype that will leave you with a lump in your throat and a desire to explore the majesty of Australia for yourself.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Girls Night Out At Sato

Sunday night, my friend Bobbi and I headed over to Sato, a new Japanese bistro on the Upper East Side.

Given how many Japanese eateries are in the neighborhood – there’s one on nearly every block – it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. Sato succeeds, earning high marks for ambience with an inviting, low-lit space, and delivering a fresh take on sushi.

Welcome To The Neighborhood: Sato's inviting, Japanese inspired setting sets it apart from nearby competitors

As I enjoyed seaweed salad, shumai and some heavenly hand rolls, Bobbi and I talked about how we’re going to celebrate turning 35 next month (a spa day and big night out with friends) and about quirky male behavior we‘ve recently experienced. Like the possessive guy who acted jealous then regularly cancelled plans, and the man who began a date by saying he knew I was approaching because of my limp.

On the bright side, we both agreed to step up our socializing in ‘09 by attending fun upcoming events like the gala preview for NYC’s Auto Show. Because, much like trying out a new restaurant, taking the Big Apple by storm is twice as much as fun when you have a good friend to do it with.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Power of Suggestion

During a recent conversation with my PR client Tourism Queensland, I found myself reiterating how working with an Australian entity has been in my vision for years. While talking about making dreams a reality, I couldn't help thinking about the very mighty power of suggestion.

When Dreams Become Reality: My first trip Down Under (in 2002) launched a love affair with Australia that eventually led to my current work with Queensland

As the authors of “The Secret” articulated to great success, there really is something to the idea that what you seek, you will find. Back in ‘03, after deciding to exit the TV news world, I wrote a want ad for my ideal job. In the ad, I described a spirited, creative company that would tap into my dual passions of writing and travel -- a fortuitous description that summarized perfectly what I have found at Quinn & Co.

More recently, around this time last year, I decided that 2008 would be the year of finding Mr. Right. Within four weeks, I ended up in a whirlwind ship to shore romance with Jimmy, an adorable New Yorker I met on my first cruise.

Though we dated for only three months, the time I spent with Jimmy gave me a much clearer picture of what I’m looking for in a mate and led to something even more important -- being completely okay with singlehood.

That’s the thing about the power of suggestion, sometimes it delivers in a way that’s even sweeter than what you anticipate.

A few days ago, I mentioned a new optimism about the potential for romance during the holidays. The next morning, I heard from one of my favorite old flames that he’s heading this way for New Year’s Eve.

Like it did many moons ago during my Sydney job search, my Down Under preoccupation seems to be working its magic -- my old flame just happens to be from Australia.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Friday Night In The Flatiron District

Friday night, my friend Leila and I met up in NYC’s Flatiron District for dinner and some bargain shopping.

Our evening began at hip home goods boutique Fish’s Eddy, which drew us in with the following sign – Economy Sucks Sale. Sure enough, there were markdowns galore. My favorite find of the night was a $32 pink pitcher on sale for $8.

Fish's Eddy: colorful housewares at recession-friendly prices

If you’re looking for fun gifts this holiday season (think polka dotted plates and Brooklyn-themed mugs) that don’t break the bank, Fish’s Eddy is the place to be.

Having satisfied our inner recessionista, we headed across Broadway to Lunetta, a cozy Italian bistro that retains an intimate feel with leather banquettes offsetting a majestically high ceiling.

As I enjoyed duck-filled agnolotti and chicken with lemon and rosemary, I shared with Leila my joy over being (almost) fully mobile after foot surgery two months ago. We also talked about the tricky conundrum of taking initiative yourself versus allowing a man make the first move.

Our verdict -- don’t be coy when dealing with a shy guy, but let him close the deal and ask for a date. After all, some ’rules’ are worth hanging onto.

Coming up…a review of Baz Luhrmann’s challenged yet riveting epic “Australia” and a new addition to the Upper East Side’s crowded Japanese restaurant scene.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Shopping For Romance

This morning, for the umpteenth time, I saw a Christmas-themed “every kiss begins with Kay” jewelry ad. As I watched the canoodling TV couple, I couldn’t help thinking about real-life romance during the holiday season.

My good friend Tiffany believes this is the perfect time to be on the prowl. Between holiday soirees and other festive functions, she says, there’s no better season for scoping out the dating marketplace.

Tiffany's perspective gave me food for thought, as December has always found me either on a dating hiatus or ensconced in my romance du jour with Mr. Right For Now.

During past relationships, the holidays have generally fallen safely within the honeymoon period -- i.e., 4-7 months into dating someone. Having been like that kissing Kay’s couple (minus the surprise diamond) more than once, I’ve come to associate this time of year even more with nurturing established ties rather than forging new ones.

With my 35th birthday just five weeks away though, maybe it’s time to rethink the potential of Christmastime for surprises that have nothing to do with unwrapping gifts. After all, I’ve always believed that a new year brings with it new beginnings. Why not get a jump start on that by enjoying some holiday mingling?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Transporting Experience At Aureole

Every once in a while, a restaurant comes along that delivers much more than fine dining. Earlier this week, my friend Cindy and I enjoyed a truly transporting experience at Aureole.

Aureole: This five-star restaurant has a deserved reputation for epitomizing Classic New York

Nestled in a two-story brownstone on NYC’s Upper East Side, Aureole is celebrating its twentieth year as renowned chef Charlie Palmer’s flagship restaurant. The sublime menu -- American and French fusion with rich, unexpected flavors and combinations -- is only part of this elegant venue’s story.

Cindy and I marveled at Aureole’s solicitous staff, elevating food presentation to an art form. Our decadent three-course meal (worth the $100+ per person tab) was served by four people, each of whom described in enticing detail what they were bringing us.

A view of Aureole's inviting two-story space (photo courtesy: Shanna Ravindra/New York Magazine)

After enjoying a slice of seared tuna compliments of the chef, we moved onto appetizers of oxtail broth and Kobe beef carpaccio. For our entrée, we both chose the pan roasted monkfish with lobster and autumn squash risotto and vanilla infusion. Heavenly.

Over dinner, Cindy and I talked about upcoming trips (Brazil for the holidays with her beau, Australia for me on business in January), the concert we most want to see (U2) and shared gratitude for job security in these tough economic times.

Somehow, we managed to find room for our decadent desserts -- warm brownie sundae with spiced chai ice cream and extra dark chocolate sauce, and a trio of apple infused sweets including funnel cake and pie.

Cindy and I were also given individually wrapped mini pumpkin coffee cakes to take home -- a delicious souvenir of an unforgettable evening at one of my new all-time favorite restaurants.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Opening The Vault: Part Eighteen

It's often said that love is in the details and I don’t think there’s a truer example of that than a long-distance relationship.

When there’s thousands of miles between you and your significant other, the small stuff becomes even more important and harder not to sweat -- as I discovered when I dated California native Mark (a.k.a Sparky).

Romance on the brain: During the summer of 1994, I longed for the happiness I felt a few months before, when Sparky took this picture in London.

Despite the distraction of a local romance with vegan brainiac Frank, the geographical constraints separating me from Sparky became more difficult as my feelings for him deepened. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the summer of 1994...

New York, NY
August 15, 1994

Dear Diary,

Last night, I called Sparky. He politely blew me off so he could have dinner with his best friend Anthony. I was peeved but figured, okay, he’s entitled to be too busy to talk every once in a while.

Tonight, he calls at a rather inopportune moment for ME -- Frank was here. Of course, this time Sparky was oozing sweet nothings, saying I’m “magnificent,” that he loves me and can’t wait til I get to California in a few weeks, etc., etc.

I had a legitimate reason for bringing the conversation to an end and, I must confess, I rather enjoyed it. Still, before our two-minute chat ended, I told Sparky that I really wanted to talk to him before the night was over, and that I planned on being asleep by midnight (about two hours from when we hung up).

So Frank departs and I leave a message on Sparky’s machine. He calls me back as he’s sitting down to dinner with Anthony, then proceeds to tell me how “tight” the week that I am coming is going to be in terms of his work, and that he had to go because he was on his cell. Why did he even bother to call if he was just going to blow me off AGAIN?

I learned several important things from this little episode. First and foremost, I have to keep our relationship in perspective. It cannot be the end all be all, not at this point anyway. Second, I will definitely continue to date other men, specifically, Frank.

I rediscovered the merits of juggling more than one man tonight, when Frank greeted me with a long-stem red rose. While Sparky upset me, Frank was there to put a smile on my face.

Someday, when I’m settled into married life, I will look back on all this co-ed game playing and laugh.

* * *
Though that marital someday hasn’t yet materialized, I am definitely laughing as I recall my dating antics of yesteryear. Back then, it was all about fun and games, and guarding against getting hurt.

I still had to learn that when Cupid’s arrow strikes, trying to maintain the upper hand in a relationship can be a losing battle. Sparky would become the first man to teach me that.

Friday, December 5, 2008

By The Numbers: Front Row Edition

Imagine attending more than 700 concerts in your lifetime. Earlier this week, I learned that’s what my friend Cindy’s boyfriend Jason has done (733, to be exact) – which got me to thinking about my own love affair with live music.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing more than 50 concerts, a dozen of which have been my beloved Ricky Martin. Here are some of my most memorable live music moments, enjoyed with and without the opposite sex, By The Numbers:

Number of concerts attended with significant others: 4
Number of Maroon 5 concerts that figured prominently in reconciling with an ex: 1
Number of ‘farewell’ concerts attended of performers who later toured again: 2
Number of times I ended up within the first 20 rows despite having a nosebleed section ticket: 1 (Tina Turner, June 2000)
Number of times I saw Ricky Martin during his 2007 Black and White tour: 4
Number of miles flown to see Ricky perform in Puerto Rico: 3,206

Worth The Trip: Ricky Martin sizzles during his Black and White tour, San Juan, August 2007

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Ricky and some of my other favorite performers (e.g. Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band and Tina Turner) multiple times. The band I most want to see but haven't yet -- U2.

Jason has seen U2 five times. I look forward to catching up with him on that front – and, of course, to whenever Ricky hits the concert circuit again.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Special Sendoff For A Best Friend

Yesterday marked the end of an era at Quinn & Co. with the departure of my adored colleague and very dear friend Morty. Tonight, my co-workers and I surprised him with an intimate dinner at Lazzarra's, a cozy bistro in NYC’s Garment District that serves up delicious thin crust pizza.

BFF: Morty and me at his farewell dinner, photographed by fabulous fellow Quinnling, Danielle

Morty is leaving to get his phD in psychology, a field that is a perfect match for his intelligent, analytical mind and compassionate, insightful understanding of how people think and feel.

“I’m sorry that you’re leaving for a lot of reasons,” Quinn & Co. president Florence told Morty. “For your specialness, for your personality like no one else’s that makes everybody feel so good.”

With his infectious wit and effervescent charm – not to mention a knack for effusive, adjective-laden emails and a spot-on Tracy Chapman impersonation -- Morty brightened up everyone’s workday, mine especially.

All Smiles: Morty with the mug I gave him to eliminate the coffee cup pileup at his desk!

It’s no accident that I’ve affectionately called Morty my work husband. For the last three years, he has been my number one office confidante, the person whose sage advice and heartfelt hugs I’ve grown accustomed to enjoying on a daily basis.

After dinner tonight, Morty and I walked arm in arm through Times Square. As we hugged and talked about getting together next week, I could feel us beginning a new chapter in our friendship. Though it was a bittersweet one, I felt comforted. Because I know, even with all the wonderful memories we’ve shared already -- the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tina Turner: Simply The Best

Tina’s back – and she’s still simply the best.

Monday night, I had the great pleasure of seeing Tina Turner at Madison Square Garden. Eight years have passed since I last saw Tina perform, but the legendary singer –who just turned 69 a few days ago – proved once again that she still knows how to bring the house down.

Still Rockin' At 69: Tina Turner kicks up her heels at MSG

In an energetic two-hour show packed with dazzling choreography and special effects that included pyrotechnics, risers and ninja characters, Tina took all of us in the audience on a nostalgic journey spanning her five decades in show business.

After opening with vintage hits like “Steamy Windows” and “River Deep, Mountain High,” Tina delighted with a string of more recent classics, including "Better Be Good To Me," “Private Dancer” and one of my all time favorites, “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” Tina called on everyone to sing along, playfully pitting the women in the audience against the men. When the guys failed to deliver, she said playfully--

“We’ll give you another chance -- like we always do.”

For her movie power ballads “Goldeneye” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero,“ Tina pulled out all the stops, with film clips and theatrical staging.

Aunty Entity Returns: Tina revisits her role from 1985's "Mad Mad Beyond Thunderdome"

A montage of photos and videos of Tina through the years, the perfect segue way to a heartfelt, bluesy rendition of The Beatles’ “Help!” and then two of her most exhilarating signature hits -- “The Best” and “Proud Mary.”

She's Got Legs: Tina struts her stuff as she sings "Proud Mary"

During her encore, just as she did during her 2000 tour, Tina soared over the first 20 rows on a cherry picker while she sang “Nutbush City Limits.”

What A View: Tina soars over the crowd during her encore

She drew thunderous applause when she urged two special audience members -- Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes -- to sing along.

As Tina took her final bow, the large screen behind her rolled a list of producing credits for her fiftieth anniversary tour. I marveled once again at the fact that this dynamic diva is approaching 70. If a fountain of youth exists, there’s no question – the ageless Miss Turner has most definitely found it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holiday Shopping For A Worthy Cause

Tonight, my friend Cindy and I attended an after hours holiday shopping event at luxe jeweler Judith Ripka on Madison Avenue. The by invitation only event was a benefit for North Shore Animal League, with 10% of sales going to the non-profit humane society.

As Cindy and I browsed the stunning baubles on display -- from teardrop diamond earrings to opal pendants -- we enjoyed Champagne and passed crudités that included mini salmon quesadillas and a tasty eggplant and cream cheese concoction.

I also had the pleasure of catching up with another good friend, veteran PR maven Cyndee. Cyndee and I met years ago, when we were both slogging away as writers working the overnight shift at WNBC-TV here in New York.

PR Gals Night Out: Cyndee and me at Judith Ripka's Holiday Shopping Night for North Shore Animal League

Our paths crossed again after we both found ourselves working in travel PR. She’s one of my most in-the-know single gal pals when it comes to what’s happening in the Big Apple -- and a big sweetheart besides.

Cyndee introduced me to North Shore’s delightful PR manager Dianne, who told me that tonight’s event brought in a few sales. Founded 54 years ago, North Shore Animal League is the largest animal adoption agency in the world, rescuing and adopting nearly 30,000 animal orphans annually.

The league is supported 100% by voluntary donations. I’m looking forward to including them on my holiday gift list -- and to attending more fun events benefiting man’s best friend.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Bendable Rules of Dating

Last night, during a family getaway in Jacksonville, my cousin C received a random text message from a guy she met recently at a bar. The “Happy Thanksgiving, Beautiful” missive was a surprise, given that he had abruptly told C it wouldn’t work between them because she wasn’t available on the night he wanted to get together.

As I listened to C’s tale, I couldn’t help thinking about some of the unexpected communications I’ve received from the opposite sex -- and how some dating rules seem to bend the longer that you’re single.

Like my cousin, I received a text message out of the blue in September from H, a 40-year-old real estate lawyer (and my ex’s best friend) who disappeared after we had reconnected two months before. The message was a last-minute invite to a Mets game. I laughed, amused by the brazenness of his request.

Strike Three: A last-minute Mets game invite led to another go-round with my ex’s best friend

A few days later, I opted to give H another chance -- something the more rules oriented me in my twenties probably wouldn’t have even considered.

With my 35th birthday less than two months away, I like to think I’ve become more open minded about giving chemistry some time -- specifically, a maximum of three dates -- to develop.

Most recently, I’ve gone out three times with a journalist of British descent. All of those evenings passed without any attempt by either of us at a kiss goodnight. I’m happy to exceed my three-date rule and see what happens on a fourth date. If no sparks materialize, then I’ll say sayonara. Because some dating rules, especially those governing the laws of attraction, can only be bent so far.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Family Fun In Jacksonville

On Friday, I continued my dual destination holiday weekend and flew down to Jacksonville for the celebration of my cousin Logan's Bar Mitzvah.

Yesterday's festivities began with a moving two-hour service at Beth El Synagogue. The rabbi spoke at length about his pride in calling Logan not only a friend but an inspiration. A smart, sensitive young man who exults in other's triumphs, Logan is and always has been a joy to be around.

Family Reunion: Me and (from left) my cousins Carla, Dana, Logan and Shannon celebrate Logan's Bar Mitzvah and 13th birthday

After the service, Logan's celebration continued at Maggiano's, an inviting Italian restaurant located in Jacksonville's St. John's Town Center -- one of the most sprawling and well-appointed outdoor malls I've ever seen. The sublime menu began with fried mozzarella, stuffed mushrooms, and zucchini fritters. Family style entrees included chicken parmigiana and a four cheese ravioli in pesto sauce that was to die for.

The intimate gathering of nearly 100 family and friends was extra special for me because it reunited me with maternal relatives I hadn't seen in years. My beloved late mother had 18 first cousins, and five of them were at Logan's party. There was lots of reminiscing, and of course, lots of picture taking.

As everyone danced to the Hora and then a medley of Spanish music, I couldn't help thinking of family occasions past. Since Mom was Catholic and of Hispanic descent (my grandparents were from Ecuador and Puerto Rico) and Dad was Jewish, I was lucky to grow up experiencing many interfaith and bicultural traditions.

Logan's Bar Mitzvah reminded me of how fortunate I am to have such a rich heritage -- and to have a wonderful family with whom to continue my parents' legacy. And I have no doubt that yesterday, they were celebrating too.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Opening The Vault: Part Seventeen

After you go away to college, there’s always a readjustment period when you return home. Getting used to being under my parents’ roof again was especially difficult during the summer following my junior year in London.

Thankfully, I had the welcome distraction of my California-based long-distance love Mark (a.k.a Sparky). A visit from Sparky in July left me yearning to see him again.

Given the newness of both my romance and my return from London, Dad had his reservations about me taking a trip to the West Coast. Thankfully, Mom helped convince him that he had nothing to worry about. I now Open The Vault and take you back to August of 1994…

August 8, 1994
New York, NY

Dear Diary,

I commented on the weather and asked Dad about his next game of golf. He smiled as he puffed away on his cigar, knowing I had more than meteorological matters on my mind. As if on cue, Mom came in and asked what we were talking about.

With a voice like butter, Mom began to tell Dad the real reason for our conversation. She was just about to do so when he interjected with--

“I know -- she wants to go to California.”

My heart sank when he added—

“Didn’t we say that she’d done enough traveling for awhile?"

Mom concurred but gently added that this time, I would pay for my plane ticket instead of using frequent flier miles from our family account.

“What are you -- attorney for the defense?” Dad quipped.

California Here I Come: A visit to the West Coast to see Sparky was on my agenda during the summer of 1994

After Mom exited, Dad asked when I was planning to go and where I would be staying (I opted not to tell him I would be staying with Sparky). He reached behind him and pulled out the form that would procure me a free miles-earned airline ticket.

Upon receiving the good news, I couldn’t wait to tell my sweetheart. I left a message for him and later, he called back.

“I want to hear you say it,” he said adorably.

“I’m coming to California!” I exclaimed.

“You’ll be on
my turf now,” he said.

“Yeah,” I answered quickly, “But you’ll have to deal with
my scruples [about remaining a virgin]!”

* * *

August 12th, 1994

I just spoke to Sparky. He had been trying to reach me all day. I was tickled pink to hear this because I had tried HIM to no avail the night before.

He said he is “very excited” about our relationship and that, since his visit here last month, his thoughts about me are “more of a constant thing.” I know exactly what he means.

* * *

While Sparky remained on my mind and I looked forward to seeing him on his ‘turf,’ I had other things to contend with on the local front – including a well-intentioned Granola-type beau who had me missing my California love even more.

Coming up…Tina Turner’s return to NYC and farewell festivities for a beloved exiting colleague and friend.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Friend's Playwriting Debut

Monday night, after swinging by the NYC premiere of “Australia,” I headed down to the Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea for the Hyperion Theater Project’s Fall One Act Festival.

My playwriting friend Diana headlined the series of vignettes with “The Bookstore,” a compelling, witty take on the passions and insecurities that go along with being a writer.

Inspired by Diana’s brief stint working for Barnes and Noble, “The Bookstore” introduces us to book clerk Matt (Nate Weisband) and first-time author Julianne (Lori Sommer). When no one shows up for Julianne’s signing, Matt tries to soften the blow of disappointment, offering to buy all 75 copies of her memoir.

Literary Aspirations: Matt (Nate Weisband) and Julianne (Lori Sommer) muse about the writing process in Diana Rissetto's "The Bookstore"

He distracts her with anecdotes about his worklife, from the old lady who calls the store weekly for personal advice to staffers recommending The Bible with a placard reading “Now a hit film!” when “The Passion of the Christ” came out – moments Diana experienced herself at Barnes & Noble.

Matt eventually reveals that he was once a writer with dreams of getting published, until his day job made him question whether he could ever join the ranks of legendary authors like C.S. Lewis.

Suddenly the roles are reversed, as Julianne becomes the cheerleader, encouraging Matt not to give up on his literary ambitions. Both Weisband and Sommer deliver heartfelt performances, beautifully directed by Nina Ashe.

“The Bookstore” does a great job of portraying with intelligence and honesty what it means to be a writer. With crisp dialogue and engaging story, Diana’s playwriting debut was a home run. I’m already looking forward to her next production.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I'm Thankful For

When it comes to having a gratitude attitude, I’m a big believer in finding something to be thankful for every day. On this holiday dedicated to doing just that, I’m lucky to have a very long list of reasons for Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful for the joys of being single. From enjoying evenings out on the town solo to girls nights out galore, this is the year that I rediscovered the fun of being unattached.

Along the way, I’ve also found myself appreciating all over again the blessings of good friends. From my work husband Morty to my Kansas City-based best friend of twenty years Lisa and beloved buddies in Australia, Canada and England, my inner circle make the highs higher and the lows infinitely more bearable.

My friends have helped carry me through the journey of recovery from foot surgery six weeks ago. I’m especially thankful for the healing powers of the human body – and the soothing effect of a good, purple-tinged pedicure.

As I celebrate today with my brother Ray and sister-in-law Barb in Delaware, I can’t help thinking about holiday celebrations past.

Holiday Classic: My beloved late grandfather (and culinary whiz) cooks up a big bird, Thanksgiving circa 1978

I think of my adored and very-much missed parents and how they brought our family together year after year. I’m thankful for the happy memories they gave us and for how their spirits continue to guide and inspire me.

Finally, I’m thankful for planes, trains and automobiles. This holiday weekend, I’m using all three modes of transportation. The latter two brought me here to the First State and tomorrow, the first will take me to Jacksonville for the celebration of my cousin’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. That means twice as much family bonding – what better way to kick off the holiday season?

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NYC Block Party: Australia's Stars, Emmy's Honorees and Macy's Cheerleaders

Monday night, I headed over to the Ziegfeld Theater for the NYC premiere of “Australia.”

Despite barricades and cranky security guards, I managed to catch a few fleeting glimpses of the eagerly-anticipated epic’s stars. This was my view of Nicole Kidman…

….as she posed for the throng of photographers under the media tent.

That Aussie Magic: "Australia" co-stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman (photo courtesy: Wire Images)

Nicole’s dashing co-star Hugh Jackson made a heroic entrance, stopping to sign a few autographs and greet his fans. With a dazzling smile and heaps of Aussie charm, it’s easy to see why Hugh was chosen as this year’s Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine.

Hugh and his fans (photo courtesy: Getty images)

I jumped on a barricade to get this shot of Hugh on the red carpet!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, a smaller group of photographers were snapping the nattily dressed folks arriving for the International Emmy Awards.

As I walked away from the Hollywood hubbub, I noticed a big group of teenagers lined up in front of the Hilton hotel, all wearing Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade sweatshirts.

Ready For Their Closeup: HS Cheerleaders gearing up for their performance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Turns out they were part of the Mike Miller & Associates troupe of 650 cheerleaders from high schools all across the U.S. One of their chaperones told me the group was heading to a rehearsal for their two numbers. You can catch them in the Macy’s Parade’s big opening sequence tomorrow at 9am EST, then again at 11am.

As I hopped into a cab to begin part two of the evening’s festivities, I marveled at all that was happening on one square block. Just another quiet night in the city that never sleeps!