Archive for February, 2011

My Dinner With Jenna

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

That would be Jenna McCarthy.

Photo: Renee Vernon

Take a look at the links list under “My California Writing Buddies” and you can check out her web site. In the meantime, I’ll just say that Jenna is a flat-out funny writer. She’s been a mainstay of women’s magazines for years – from Shape and Prevention to Glamour and Ladies Home Journal – coming up with articles on every conceivable subject. She continues to write for mags but is now the author of books on motherhood and parenting too. And, coming this fall, she’s tackling marriage. I cannot wait for the book to come out because she is hilarious and her husband Joe is a great sport about being “material.”

Tonight they joined Michael and me at a restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara called Jane’s. (No, I don’t own it. It was my first time there, in fact. Cute place.) Their kids were at a sleepover, so we had plenty of time to trade stories and get to know each other better. It’s always a treat for writers to escape the computer and meet up with other writers, and tonight was no exception. We laughed. A lot. And we said over and over how lucky we are to be doing what we do, despite the occasional aggravations.

Tomorrow we’ll be back at our computers, buried in our writing caves, but tonight we were like civilians, enjoying a night out on the town with our husbands.

Here we are, outside the restaurant, vogueing. (My spell check isn’t letting me write VOGUE-ING. Oh well. What we’re doing is striking a pose.)

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I Did It. I Crossed Over.

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

(Courtesy: Galley Cat)

I feel traitorous for having bought a Kindle the same week that I was moaning about Borders’ bankruptcy, but it had to happen. Not only was I curious about e-readers after so many people had written to me saying they had just downloaded this book or that book of mine, but also I thought that owning a little device would be practical for me. I buy a lot of books, both for pleasure and research. My local independent store doesn’t always have what I need in stock and my Borders has closed, as I’ve mentioned. I can order from amazon but I hate paying those shipping costs, and who wants to wait for the books to arrive?

So now I’ve joined the club and will be purchasing my very first e-book soon. Of course, there’s one tiny problem. I don’t know how to “work” a Kindle. I’m not especially tech savvy, so this should be interesting. I’m assuming you just order the book, it appears on your screen and you hit “Read?”

I didn’t think so. OK, so maybe it comes with a manual. Or more likely there are instructions on amazon’s site. I hope the thing is waterproof. It’s supposed to be delivered outside my door tomorrow and we’ve got a 99% chance of rain. Maybe I should have ordered one of those snazzy cases for it.

(Courtesy: geeksugar.com)

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Writing Isn’t Just About…Writing

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

It’s also about interviewing. For every book I’ve written I’ve had to venture out of my cave to research settings and careers and lifestyles by asking questions of people who’ve been there and done it.

Interviewing requires a whole different skill set than sitting alone creating stories out of thin air. It demands a curiosity about the subject, a lack of timidity about approaching people you don’t know, an ability to be patient and persistent when a subject gives monosyllabic answers but also to wrap things up if an interview just isn’t working.

When I freelanced for Waldenbooks (see previous post about Borders) and edited their consumer magazines, I interviewed a lot of authors, many of them celebrities. Some stand out as exceptional experiences.

Like the time I went to Katharine Hepburn’s Manhattan townhouse to talk to her about her autobiography, Me.

It was a hot August day and I was wearing a pair of pretty sandals. As we settled into her den, she said, “You have the most beautiful feet!” I laughed and said I hadn’t been told that before. And we were off and running. She was a delight, not the least bit reserved. In fact, as I was preparing to leave, she asked me to keep in touch with her and I did, and we had a nice little correspondence for awhile.

On the other side of the coin, I interviewed Joan Collins. Her book, Past Imperfect, was an international bestseller and she was at the height of her “Dynasty” fame.

Her publicist had arranged for me to call her on the set of the show during one of her breaks. She was curt, to say the least. I began with a softball question. She said, “I’d rather not talk about that.” I tried another softball question. “I’d rather not talk about that either.” And a third. “No, I don’t want to talk about that.” I took a deep breath and said, “Miss Collins, this isn’t working for me. I’m not an investigative reporter. I’m helping you promote your book. But since you’re not cooperating, I think I’ll just say, ‘Have a nice day.’” And I hung up. Five minutes later, her publicist called to beg me to give her another chance. I did, and she was much more – shall we say – responsive.

I’ve interviewed several Presidents; a few First Ladies too. And the one thing I’ve learned is this: Some people are easier to interview than others, and it has nothing to do with the level of their fame. It’s about me knowing what I’m doing.

So as I move forward with my caregiving book, I’m about to begin the interviewing process. Some of my subjects will be medical people. Some will be other caregivers. And some will be celebrities. It’s time to dust off my inner Barbara Walters and hope I don’t make someone cry.

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And I Thought I Was Snarky

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Has anyone else noticed how mean people are lately? I don’t want to make myself out to be a saint here; I’m hardly that and can trade bitchisms with the best/worst of the snark artists. But I do have the compassion gene when it comes to the misfortunes of others. I wouldn’t be writing a book about caregiving if I didn’t.

Case in point. Yahoo posted an excerpt of Esquire‘s interview with Liam Neeson, who opens up about the sudden death of his wife, Natasha Richardson. Who wouldn’t be sympathetic to a man getting a call saying his wife had hit her head while skiing and was in a coma? And yet commenters on Yahoo were critical of Neeson because of the following:

“I walked into the emergency — it’s like 70, 80 people, broken arms, black eyes, all that — and for the first time in years, nobody recognizes me. Not the nurses. The patients. No one. And I’ve come all this way, and they won’t let me see her,” Liam recounted to Esquire. “And I’m looking past them, starting to push… I know my wife’s back there someplace. I pull out a cell phone — and a security guard comes up, starts saying, ‘Sorry, sir, you can’t use that in here,’ and I’m about to ask him if he knew me, when he disappears to answer a phone call or something. So I went outside. It’s freezing cold, and I thought, What am I gonna do? How am I going to get past the security?”

They focused on the fact that he seemed upset that no one recognized him. Right, but he was trying to get in to see his wife who, as far as he knew, was at death’s door! I mean give the guy a break!

I couldn’t believe the remarks about how celebrities think they deserve special treatment and the like. The story wasn’t about that, as you’ll see if you read the whole excerpt. It was about how an actor threw himself into his work so he wouldn’t have to face his loss.

And then there’s the local CBS reporter in LA who appeared to have a mini-stroke on the air while covering the Grammys the other night. By now, I’m sure everyone has seen the video of her speaking incoherently.

I found the video terrifying, because whatever was going on with her could happen to any of us. All anyone at CBS will say is that she underwent medical tests, but doctors have been all over the airwaves with possible theories involving a brain malfunction.

What are people saying on Twitter, on the other hand?

“She was drunk.”

“News people speak gibberish all the time.”

“Send her to rehab with Charlie Sheen.”

Seriously? She’s a young, beautiful woman who suddenly lost control of her ability to form words. I’ve volunteered in hospitals long enough to spot a medical problem when I see one. It wouldn’t occur to me to mock her (unless, of course, it turns out that she was drunk, in which case I’ll delete this entire post).

And then we come to CBS News reporter Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted covering the events in Egypt last week.

(Photo: CBS News)

The comments have ranged from “Well, she’s hot” to “unprintable.”

Have we lost our way or what?

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Sad About Borders

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I keep meaning to write about this, but I guess I’ve been blocking it out. So here goes. Yes, it’s about Borders Books.

(Photo: Daily Sound/Victor Maccharoli)

It was gut-wrenching enough when our store in downtown Santa Barbara closed last month, but now the company is preparing to file for bankruptcy? Not really a surprise since they haven’t been paying their bills, but I really hoped it wouldn’t come to bankruptcy and re-structuring and closing stores and laying off people and….Well, what it means is that there will be fewer brick-and-mortar stores where readers can find the books they want to read.

Don’t get me wrong. Independent bookstores are wonderful. Libraries are essential. Amazon and other online retailers are convenient. But one less chain is not a good thing for the book business – or for us authors.

Besides, I always liked Borders. I remember when one of my publishers flew me to their headquarters in Ann Arbor to meet with their buyers, who were all book people as opposed to bean counters. They were young and well-read and didn’t treat me like an interloper. They cared about my opinion and said flattering things about my novels and didn’t sit there judging whether a particular book cover should have a different background color. In other words, they weren’t full of themselves the way I’d always found the Barnes & Noble executives to be.

Before I became a writer of books, I actually worked for Borders as a freelancer writer and promoter – only the company wasn’t Borders then. It was Waldenbooks and they were based in Stamford, CT. I used to interview authors for their consumer newsletters and come up with articles about various genres. Walden stores were small stores, like B. Dalton stores, and they stocked mostly just the bestsellers. Then Borders came along and bought Walden and everything changed – for the better, I thought.

But now look. Barnes & Noble is said to be eying Borders for a possible merger. How would I feel about that prospect?

(Images.com/CORBIS)

Yeah, that’s how. I’ve never been wild about putting all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. We need Borders to get healthy again so they can function on their own. I’m rooting for them. Clap clap clap.

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I Missed The Grammys Tonight

Monday, February 14th, 2011

If you’re reading this and you watched the show, please give me your favorite moments! (I already know Lady Gaga showed up encased in an egg.)

The Grammys aren’t my favorite awards show, since it’s the Oscars and Globes that really float my boat, so I wasn’t all that crushed about missing it. Besides, Michael and I had a date with friends to make dinner here and watch a screener of the prize-winning documentary “When I Rise.”

The feature-length doc tells the story – much of it in her own words – of Barbara Smith Conrad, a black music student at the University of Texas in the late ’50s, just after the school had been desegregated, who had been barred from performing in the drama department’s opera production. The movie describes how she overcame prejudice and forged a career as an international opera star. Very moving and inspirational and highly recommended.

Also recommended was the brisket Michael cooked yesterday, giving it 24 hours for the flavors to really get going. Wow. Was it ever good. He used a recipe from Tyler Florence from the Food Network.

Ingredients

  • 4 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, needles striped from the stem and chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 (4 pound) beef brisket, first-cut
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 large carrots, cut in 3-inch chunks
  • 3 celery stalks, cut in 3-inch chunks
  • 4 large red onions, halved
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 (16-ounce) can whole tomatoes, hand-crushed
  • 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

On a cutting board, mash the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt together with the flat-side of a knife into a paste. Add the rosemary and continue to mash until incorporated. Put the garlic-rosemary paste in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil; stir to combine.

Season both sides of the brisket with a fair amount of kosher salt and ground black pepper. Place a large roasting pan or Dutch oven over medium-high flame and coat with the remaining olive oil. Put the brisket in the roasting pan and searcrust on both sides. Lay the vegetables all around the brisket and pour the rosemary paste over the whole thing. Add the wine and tomatoes; toss in the parsley and bay leaves. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 3 to 4 hours, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices, until the beef is fork tender. to form a nice brown

Remove the brisket to a cutting board and let it rest for 15 minutes. Scoop the vegetables out of the roasting pan and onto a platter, cover to keep warm. Pour out some of the excess fat, and put the roasting pan with the pan juices on the stove over medium-high heat. Boil and stir for 5 minutes until the sauce is reduced by 1/2. (If you want a thicker sauce, mix 1 tablespoon of flour with 2 tablespoons of wine or water and blend into the gravy).

Slice the brisket across the grain (the muscle lines) at a slight diagonal.

The sauce that results from this recipe is to die for. It comes out carmelized, like candy. I’m so glad we have leftovers. Oh, and I made my chocolate cake with gluten free flour for the first time, since our friends are wheat sensitive. It didn’t quite have the same consistency; the cake was more like a brownie – not a bad thing, just denser.

Anyhow, Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! May your day be full of romance.

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“The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Chocolate”

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

For those who aren’t as addicted to the Food Network as I am, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” is one of their shows. Not just any show, mind you. The chefs aren’t teaching you how to cook and nobody’s competing against anybody for a cash prize. Instead, the network’s personalities describe for you in luscious detail where you can go for the best….burger, fried foods, breakfasts, seafood, whatever. They share their favorite menu items in various categories and then take you to the restaurants where these gems are prepared. Talk about living vicariously. Every time I watch an episode, I literally have to force myself to stop drooling. Here’s a promo.

The other night they went beyond my wildest dreams and offered up “The Best Thing I Ever Ate – Chocolate.” I nearly licked the TV screen. Seriously. We were treated to the best chocolate pudding, the best molten lava cake, the best chocolate chip cookie, even a multi-course chocolate tasting menu.

Why am I bringing this up, other than I’d rather write about chocolate than almost anything else? Because they’re re-broadcasting the episode tomorrow. That’s right – Sunday, February 13th at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. I thought it was my civic duty to let you know. If you’re into chocolate – or any desserts, for that matter – don’t miss it. You’ll thank me.

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Is Lady Gaga Just Madonna Redux?

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Big doings today with the release of Gaga’s new single “Born This Way.” I haven’t seen such excitement in the music world since….Well, I was about to say something about Justin Bieber but I’ll stifle myself. Anyhow, I happen to like her music and, aside from her raw meat outfit, thinks she’s an interesting performance artist.

The question a lot of music critics are asking today is this: Is Lady Gaga merely a ripoff of Madonna, who, years before there was a Gaga, wore shocking outfits and sang provocative lyrics and wrote very danceable tunes that became huge hits?

My take? “Ripoff” is way too strong. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I just think Gaga is this era’s version of Madonna, an artist she’s said to admire. The music business has always had artists who sound like other artists, going back to Bob Dylan who was later imitated by the Byrds and then Tom Petty. Isn’t Beyonce a newfangled version of Diana Ross, both having started out as lead singers of three-girl groups? And going back many years ago, weren’t Simon and Garfunkel a couple of guys with perfect harmony who reminded people of the Everly Brothers? Wasn’t Jerry Lee Louis a white version of Little Richard?

My point is that it’s very unusual to have a wholly original sound and look. Lady Gaga may owe a debt of gratitude to Madonna, but Madonna owes the same debt to somebody, doesn’t she? Who?

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Court Attire

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

No, I’m not talking about Venus Williams’ most recent fashion statement at the Australian Open – the one she said was inspired by “Alice in Wonderland.”

(courtesy: Huffington Post)

I’m talking about Lindsay Lohan’s body-hugging white number – the one she wore today to her latest gig in a courtroom.

(courtesy: Flvnet A)

She said she wore white to express her “innocence.” Nobody was buying it. The media has been all over the inappropriateness of her wardrobe selection. Apparently, people expected her to dress for church.

I’m not about to get into what celebrities should wear to their trials or arraignments or whatever; when Michael Jackson was on trial here in Santa Barbara County he wore pajamas, remember?

(courtesy: womendonthavefriends.com)

Hard to top that. What’s amazing to me is the absolute craze Lohan’s dress has started. Women have been ordering it in record numbers and sales have gone through the roof in the past 24 hours alone.

It’s a cute dress. Fine. But are women really desperate enough to make Lindsay Lohan their fashion role model as she tries to wriggle out of yet another date with prison?

I can’t help thinking about the women in Egypt, because I’ve been glued to CNN for hours watching the demonstrators and wondering what tomorrow will bring for them. What the women in that country wouldn’t give for the opportunity to wear a cute little white dress if they felt like it. On them, it might actually stand for something.

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Is There Anyone Who Doesn’t Have A Fragrance These Days?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

When I was a kid, women wore perfumes like Chanel No. 5, Shalimar, Arpege and (if they really wanted to spend a fortune) Joy. My teenage self practically took a bath in Jean Nate, and in college my friends and I wore the same stuff that the boys wore for some reason: Canoe and English Leather. And in my 20s and 30s, many of us dabbed a little of this behind our ears.

(courtesy: mccormick.com)

I don’t remember when it became fashionable for every remotely famous person to have fragrance. Maybe when Elizabeth Taylor launched her White Diamonds? All I know is that the whole industry has gotten ridiculous. Actors, designers, models, athletes – they all have their own “scent” now. I bet even Snooki has her own perfume, and I don’t want to think what it might smell like. If I walked down the fragrance aisle at Bloomingdale’s, I’d be overwhelmed by all the products and end up buying nothing. There are way too many choices, and as a result I’ve stopped wearing perfume altogether.

Michael, too, has stopped wearing after shave, but then he’s a total curmudgeon when it comes to trying anything new. When we met, he used to wear a product I loved.

(courtesy: perfumezilla.com)

It was citrus-y and fresh, not heavy at all. He claims nobody sells it anymore, but I found it on Amazon today. I’m buying him a bottle and he’s promised to start wearing it again.

As for me? I’d like to find my fragrance, but where would I begin the search? I have a friend who swears by Princess from Vera Wang and another friend who uses Calvin Klein’s Obsession. Both are too sticky sweet for me. I’ve checked out all the different brands that get inserted into magazine ads, and they make me sneeze. So if anyone has any suggestions for me, please let me know. Thanks.

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