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Thursday, September 5, 2013

I commissioned a portrait of my puppy

I’ve always had a dog but I never considered myself a “dog person.” That is, until I met Walter. He’s 12 pounds of Chihuahua/Cairn Terrier mish mash that gives new meaning to the phrase “ugly cute.” I love him more than a person probably should love a dog. But there’s something about that tiny smirk and warm, fuzzy body that he curves into a comma against my side while I write, that makes me feel loved in a way that I’ve never experienced before or since.

Walter adopted me 4 years ago. So it wasn’t until very recently that I ever seriously considered the whole pet portrait thing. I liked the idea of it. But it also sort of freaked me out. Was I really “that girl”? Apparently, yes.

A friend posted a painting that Denise Kemp from Iridescent Moon Gallery had done of this handsome German Wire Haired Pointer and I was hooked. I commissioned two pieces, one watercolor and one acrylic. I love them both but the watercolor in particular really captures the spirit of my little man.

Maybe it’s the eyes or his quiet smile. Or the way she captured his disobedient fur, whose true nature is almost hidden by his haircut. Maybe it’s the way he’s laying down in the piece, face flat to the floor, like always. There’s something about Kemp’s eye for detail and the tenderness with which she guides her brush. I don’t know what the magic is. But I know she worked it on Walter.

The piece inspired my girlfriend so much that she commissioned one of her late and long-adored cat, Coco, and of her mother’s beloved puppies, Jackson and Pearle, who passed this year as well. The likenesses Kemp created are uncanny both in appearance and spirit.

I suppose there’s no fighting it now. I’m officially a dog person.

You can find Denise and her work at:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ecuador by train!

I don't generally post press releases. But I had to share this one. I love the idea of traveling by train. Would you take a journey like this? 

Since 1994, Tropic Journeys in Nature has led tours through the country’s most engaging landscapes. Now it is hosting four-day/three-night journeys on Ecuador’s Tren Crucero (cruise train) that launched in early summer 2013.

Already Tren Crucero is being singled out to join a pantheon of the world’s top train journeys. Guests experience Ecuador’s stunning landscape using vintage transportation, enroute enjoying accommodations at hand-selected haciendas and colonial lodgings that immerse them in regional cultures glimpsed from train windows.

The per person rate is $1,270 inclusive of a bilingual naturalist guide, daily train and bus excursions, three nights lodging and all meals. While on the train guests can enjoy drinks and tapas while seated comfortably or reviewing the landscape from an open-air car. An on-train safe is available for storing valuables. Departures are from June through early September and from December through February.

The luxury journey begins in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Andes crowned by majestic Cotopaxi Volcano, and ends in Guayaquil on the Pacific. Traversing 450 kilometers along the Avenue of Volcanoes, an early 20th century steam-engine locomotive pulls passengers to heights of 3,600 meters and down to sea level.

Tren Crucero rolls out of Quito’s Chimbacalle station at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, stopping at El Boliche where a modern coach ferries guests to a hike near Limpiopungo, a glacial lake in Cotopaxi National Park that shelters a variety of Andean wildlife: Andean gulls, Andean dear, wolves, the unique bear of South America, and the magnificent Andean Condor. Overall rising 6,000 meters above sea level is Cotopaxi volcano. After an hacienda lunch, guests view a dance festival at Lasso train station and overnight with dinner at La Cienega Hacienda once lodged Simon Bolivar who led four countries to independence from Spain.

On Wednesday from Latacunga train station guests travel southward to explore a rose plantation and learn the history of Ecuadorian roses, a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product. Lunch follows later at Roka Plaza hotel, an ancient colonial house, in Ambato. Conditions permitting, there will be views from a safe distance of the very active Ttungurahua volcano that is currently spewing ash and gas daily. The afternoon presents Urbina at 11,840 feet above sea level, the highest train station in the country. Here an ice trader will explain his daily craft of digging ice from a glacier on the Chimborazo volcano. Overnight and dinner are at Abraspungo Inn.

Riobamba was once Ecuador´s capital. Thursday’s departure from here is via an impressive restored steam locomotive pulling guests across fascinating Andean landscapes to the Colta community. There’s a short stop at Balbanera church, the first Christian landmark made here some 500 years ago. The destination is Guamote’s indigenous market, one of the last authentic markets in the Andes, with traders exchanging products as they did 4,000 years ago. Impressive geological formations begin in Alausi as the train zigzags 535 meters in altitude over 12 kilometers down Devil’s Nose, the track itself an engineering feat hailed as the most difficult in the world. The overnight in Huigra. a small village between the Andes and the coast is at Eterna Primavera lodge.

Friday transitions from the Andes to the coast along the Chanchan riverbed, stopping in Bucay to visit the Shuar community that migrated many years ago from the Amazon basin. The journey continues to Durán, passing through banana, sugar and rice plantations. The final destination is Guayaquil near the coast.

Monday, July 29, 2013

On Being Skinny Fat

I've gained nearly nine pounds recently that have been making me very unhappy. I don't feel good in my clothes. I don't like how I look naked. I feel self-conscious about what I imagine other people are seeing and thinking. So sue me, I care what I look like and I care what other people think. I want to be attractive. I'm not alone in that. At all. Although I certainly feel very alone in admitting it.

Although nine pounds might not seem like much, it's a lot on my 5' frame. It's 10 percent of my body weight, 10 percent that I simply don't need to be lugging around. I'm a Lifetime member of Weight Watchers. I have been for more than 10 years. I went on WW after I had my daughter, at which point I weighed 176 pounds. I was beyond miserable.

I tried to convince myself that I was fine with it. "I have a great life and a beautiful, healthy family. That's all that matters." "You are the only one who cares about your weight and why should you care?" "You are not defined by your weight." But the truth was I wasn't healthy. I did care. And, in some ways, I am my weight. Whether I want to deny it or not, how I take care of myself is a big part of who I am.  And based on my build, that number on the scale, at least in terms of my body make-up, meant I wasn't taking care of myself.

The thing is, we can only really know if we're healthy if we get a truly accurate assessment like a DEXA scan, for example. (Too many of the other available tests, like caliper testing, are painfully inaccurate.) Dexa is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, which uses X-rays of two different energies that scan the body. Fat absorbs one more strongly than the other allowing a computer to determine body composition, body fat percentage, and bone mineral density.

I finally had one of those scans and it has changed me. Completely.

I went to Canyon Ranch Miami to do a four-day detox program. You know, no alcohol, healthy eating, some yoga classes, a few spa treatments, some detox juices, and meetings with a nutritionist and a doctor. Honestly, I didn't expect much more than a pampering weekend that would give my system a break from my usual less-than-healthy habits that included tons of Splenda, too many sweets, and skipped meals in an effort to make up for my sins.

What I got was a whole new way of looking at my weight, my health, and how I eat. I wasn't planning on getting a DEXA while I was there. But when I heard they had one, I was really anxious to check it out. You lay on a table and the machine moves slowly down the length of your body, x-raying every inch of you. You can't hide from the DEXA and that's what makes it so great.

It doesn't judge you. It doesn't have any preconceived notions about you or about weight in a social context. It doesn't care about anything except your age and the make up of your body. As I lay on the table, listening to the machine whir above me, I tried to chat calmly with the guy operating the scan, my exercise physiologist at Canyon Ranch Miami, Jeffrey A. Dolgan, MS, CSCS, HFI, RCEP. But I was too nervous about the results to focus on the conversation.

It wasn't designed to detect a specific and defined life-threatening medical issue like a brain tumor or a blocked artery. But it was going to tell me my true body fat percentage and distribution as well as my bone density. And there would be no way to deny the results. I think I was equally afraid that it would tell me I was fine just as I was terrified that it would say I needed to lose weight.

Before I saw the scan, my goal was to lose eight pounds and some change and, go figure, that was precisely what the results of the scan recommended. There’s a name for this phenom - "skinny fat." I’m skinny fat. I look "fine" but my body fat percentage is 37 percent, which means I am only 1 percent away from being in the "unhealthy" range according to Dolgan.

Two things struck me at that moment.  One, it's true: You cannot tell a person's health just by looking at them and, two, I know my own body. I also felt incredibly empowered by having the facts. I have every right to be unhappy with my body because my body was unhappy with itself. And frankly, I felt relieved that I have every "right" to express my discontent because now it has a medical backing. I'm not just whining about being too fat. I am too fat. I may not be overweight. But I am overfat.

Who would have thought that hearing someone call me fat would actually be a happy thing? Ok, I wasn't happy exactly, but relieved. There was no guessing. There's nothing "just in my head." I need to lose eight pounds of fat and, ideally, gain eight pounds of lean muscle as well (although the latter is going to take me significantly longer). Dolgan recommended a series of strength training exercises to do every other day, as well as advised me that I needed to get some kind of cardio every day for 30 minutes.

But that was only part one. Then it was time to talk to the doc and the nutritionist. I was scared to death of what they'd say and they both said exactly what I didn't want to hear. I had to change the way I eat. I had to.

After I revealed all of eating habits and digestive complaints, my nutritionist at Canyon Ranch Miami, Larisa Alonso, MS, LN, CNS, insisted that I give up Splenda because it is effectively making holes in my digestive system. She prescribed a two-week hiatus from sweets because of my addiction to them. She gave me a list of veggies that I needed to buy organic. And she drew a picture of how my plate should look at lunch and dinner -- half veggies, one quarter (3 ounces) of meat and one quarter (half a cup) of starch.

She told me no more skipping meals and no more fruit binging. She recommended food sensitivity testing due to all of my stomach issues and suggested staying away from BBQ and fried food. I could have cried. I love Splenda and sweets and carbs. And I hate veggies. She told be everything I didn't want to hear. She called me an addict and a disordered eater and it felt like a relief, once again, to hear it out loud. It's my truth and pretending it isn't wasn't helping me.

The doctor, Karen Koffler, M.D., had, not surprisingly, remarkable similar things to say, adding that I should avoid microwaving things in plastic and should start using a "green" dry cleaner.  She also suggested taking probiotics, eating more cruciferous vegetables, and talking to my doctor to see if my body is estrogen dominant. In other words, I needed a complete overhaul.

I moped for a couple of good hours. Why should I have to do all of these stupid things? Why can't I just eat what I want? Why does it have to be so hard? Then I got over myself and decided to commit. Seriously commit. I wasn't hurting anyone but myself with what I was doing. But I was doing some serious harm that was only going to get worse as time goes on.

So here I am, almost eight weeks later. I haven't touched Splenda or sweets and 85 percent of my lunch and dinner plates look like her Alonso's drawings. I've only had alcohol on two occasions since my visit and fried food has only twice made its way from my dish to my stomach. I am still working on the daily cardio and every other day strength training. But I am getting darn close to the schedule prescribed.

I'm already down to 101.8 pounds and I already feel totally different, both because of being lighter and because my digestive system is so much happier with me. It hasn't been easy, especially since I went to Disney World and Sea World the days following my time at Canyon Ranch Miami. But I have already learned to simply say, "No, thank you" to what I would have usually said, "Yes, please." And I have learned to ask for less of what I shouldn't have and more of what I should.

Am I giddy about it? Not at all. I hate it. But I hate feeling uncomfortable with my weight even more. Sure, it would be great if being healthy was my main or only focus. But looking fit and being happy with the numbers I see on the scale and on the tag inside my jeans is important to me. And even my nutritionist said that she doesn't care what keeps me eating healthy, as long as I do it.

When it comes to our bodies, it has to be about whether our body fat percentages fall into the healthy or the unhealthy range. When it comes to food, it can't just be about what we want, it has to be about what our bodies need. When it comes to our doctors, it has to be about the truth, even when it hurts.

I feel better than I have in a long time, and I cannot wait to lose the rest of those eight pounds of fat and gain some lean muscle. I can already see the changes in my body and the muscle delineation beginning to show itself.

I look forward to checking back in at the Ranch and getting gold stars from my doctor and my nutritionist. I look forward to lying on that scanner table again and having my exercise physiologist remove the "skinny fat" label and replace it with "healthy." I, of course, am the only one who can then apply the "happy" label. But that should be no problem when those extra pounds of fat are a thing of the past and nothing but good health is waiting for me in the future.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Social Media Tips and Tricks you can't - or shouldn't - live without.

1.     Open a Facebook page. Use it. That means posting daily – pics and posts.

2.     Open a Twitter account.

3.     Connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

4.     Set up a blog and/or website.

5.     Open and use a Pinterest account.

6.     Invite everyone you know to like your FB page and to follow you on Twitter.

7.     Include buttons on your website to your Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In accounts. Include your contact info, as well as links to your Facebook and Twitter in your email signature no matter who you are emailing or what you are emailing about.

8.     If we want people to notice you, you have to have content and we have to have content worth noticing. Sharing what you do and what you offer is not just about sharing it with people who know you. It’s also about sharing it with people who don’t yet know about you and/or what you do.  

9.     Blog. If you have one, use it. If you don’t, start one. Blog daily, just for a few minutes about what inspires you, what work you do, what things you’d like to do, etc. And there are great platforms out there like WordPress and Tumlr, among others, that make it easy to use.  

10. Share. Share, share, share. When you write or post, be sure to add appropriate tags. Social media is all about linking. If you read something on the web that connects to your work, like it, comment on it, share it. If you read something about the work you do on someone else’s page, share it with others on FB. Friend people you know on FB. Follow people on Twitter and they will likely follow you back. Anyone interested in the kind of work you do would be a good bet.  The key is to constantly be expanding our networks.

11. Talk about the work you do. I know that sounds simple. And it is. But somehow we still forget to do it. Tell your friends, your family, your dentist, the person in front of you in the grocery store line. Give out your cards. Order more if you’re out. Invite people to visit your site.  

12. Work your connections. Know someone at your local paper or television station? Maybe someone at a national magazine? Talk to them about what you do and how you might be able to partner. The media is a powerful machine. As soon as we get a few dogs on board, even little ones, the big ones will come barking for sure.

Don’t settle. No matter how many customers you have, remember that there’s always more out there for the taking. But you have to reach out and grab hold if you want it.

And if you’re worried about juggling all of this, look into a social media dashboard like hootsuite to help you keep it all simple and streamlined. And, don’t worry, there is so much info online about how to use all of these programs. It’s all about taking a deep breath and diving it. Trust me, once you get into it, you’ll be hooked. It really is exciting and empowering to be connected.

It is crucial that you look outside of your general circle of influence and see where else you may be able to discover new audiences for your message. It's easy to fall into a rut and continue to do the same kind of marketing to the same kind of people over and over and still wonder why you aren't gettng anywhere.

Well, Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." So, why make ourselves crazy when, instead, we can make ourselves successful.

The key is to talk about your business in a way you haven't before to people you haven't talked to before. Go to a different Starbucks. Chat up people you generally don't. Reach out to friends and family to help you spread the word.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where George finally decided to do the opposite of what he would normally do and he got the girl and the job? Pull a Costanza. Do the opposite. Go where you haven't been. Try what might even seem scary or strange - that is where the new and the exciting lies.

Will it take time and energy? Yes. But hopefully it will become part of the fun too because you are sharing something amazing with the very people who need it the most - the people who have never even heard of you and the work you do.

Just talking about what you do isn't enough anymore in this crowded market. People don't know why what you do and how you do it is better until you tell them. You need to let people know what you can do that specifically meets their needs now and at a great price. 

For more, like me on Facebook here!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Big Wedding - Preview/Review

I went to see it because it's packed with heavy hitters - Robert Dinero, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams. And they certainly didn't disappoint. With lots of twists and turns - even one or two unexpected ones - the film is quite funny. But it also manages to carry some weight too.

The adopted son of a divorced couple is meeting his mom for the first time at his own wedding, his very Catholic mom from who doesn't believe in divorce and doesn't speak English. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that everyone is quite entangled with one another, including the family of the bride to be and there are some messy familial relationships that beg resolving.

But, as you might expect, all's well that ends well.

I wasn't too thrilled when one character announces that she's sexually interested in women, calling her desire a fetish. It makes being a lesbian or being bisexual sound naughty or taboo. Not really what we need right now. I know the definition of fetish, and I suppose she could simply be implying obsession. Still, I think a better word could have been chosen.

Regardless, The Big Wedding is definitely worth checking out. I don't see any Oscars in its future. But I can certainly see it gaining a permanent place on the don't miss romcom/dramedy shelf.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Going Renaissance at Scarborough Faire

After living in Dallas for almost eight years, we finally made it to the Renaissance Festival at Scarborough Faire. We had a blast and looked pretty damn good, if I do say so myself thanks to our killer Renaissance costumes.

For the whole scoop, check out my guest blog at CraveDFW!

Friday, April 19, 2013

There's a new Salata in town!

I'm not always a salad girl. But when I am, I like them fresh with lots of topping choices.

A new Salata opened yesterday on Blackburn in Uptown and it fits my salad bill perfectly. I like my salads like I like most of my foods - with an Asian flair.

So, I opted for the Salata mix, which has a nice variety of lettuces, cabbage, and spinach. Then I added snow peas, bean sprouts, cranberries, oranges, almonds, pita crisps, and herb-marinated shrimp.

My salad maker was very nice about adding as much - or as little - as I wanted. Next time I'll remember to ask for more oranges. And the shrimp weren't very exciting. They were a tad bit overcooked and the seasoning didn't do much for me.

When I hit Salata again, I'll go for the chicken instead (of which there are four varieties - Herb Marinated Grilled, Pesto, Spicy Chipotle, Asian BBQ). My colleague over at the Cleansed Palate said the Spicy Chipotle was delish.

I tasted a couple of dressings and went with the Ginger Lime. It was awesome but a little fat heavy for me. So, I asked for a smaller portion. Next time I'll likely go fat-free mango.

They also offer salad wraps and soups.

Considering the size of the portions and the options, Salata is very nicely priced at $8.00 for salads  and $7.00 for wraps. Adding chicken adds $2 to the salad ($1 to the wrap) and adding seafood (they also have salmon, krabmeat, and seafood mix) adds $3 ($2 to the wrap), a little pricey for the latter to my mind.

Bite size brownies and cookies round out their menu, and although I was a good girl and steered clear this time around, I have to say they looked very tasty.

The new Salata is bright and well-staffed and ideal for a quick bite at a nice price. And if their first days are any indication, this is going to be yet another busy Uptown eatery.

3000 Blackburn
Dallas, Texas 75204

 (214) 599-8507
Mon-Fri: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Sat-Sun: 11:00 am - 8:00 pm

Monday, March 18, 2013

Savor Dallas 2013 - International Grand Tasting

Saturday night we made our way to the Irving Convention Center for Savor Dallas' International Grand Tasting and it was well worth the trip.

I had never been out to Irving really and was surprised at how groovy looking the Convention Center actually is. And it wasn't nearly as far as I had expected.

This year's event seemed to have more alcohol than food. But that may have just been an optical illusion. Either way, that doesn't mean that there wasn't plenty of food. Not at all.

There was a ridiculous amount of bites and tastes and treats to be had. Some of our favorites included the ahi tuna tacos from Del Frisco's Grille; the avocado soup from Parigi's, and the pizza from Urban Crust.

One of this year's themes appeared to be pork belly, which was being served in various and sundry ways. And you won't hear any complaints from me on that. Another theme seemed to be tacos. Being as they are one of the world's most perfect finger foods, tacos are ideal for an event like this.

The portions were way to big, as always.  But I was very happy to be handed one of those handy dandy food trays that have a holder for your wine glass, an accessory that is nearly impossible to do without at one of these events.

I was disappointed not to see any highboys where one could balance one's goodies while taking a bite or a sip. The trays were great. But sometimes a girl needs a table too.

We were able to get our wine glasses etched with our names by the incomparable Ken Brown at the vent. That was a really nice surprise. And we added to our growing collection of Stella Artois and Hoegaarden glasses, something we need to reign in before it gets scary...

Savor Dallas is definitely something we will attend again next year. Even if the event didn't have such an incredible selection of food and libations, it would be well worth the trip for the people watching alone. We saw it all.

Next year though, I think we might finally make it out to some of the other Savor happenings which we never seem to get to. If you have gone to some of those in the past, I would love to hear your thoughts on which events are not to be missed.

Pillow Bar - Can the right pillow help you sleep?

I had no idea how much I didn't know when it came to pillows until I met Pillow Bar founder Merrimac Dillon. I'm kind of a lousy sleeper. So I've been on the prowl to find out why. Turns out part of my problem might be my pillow. I went to talk to Dillon, to inquire if that really could be part of my problem. Turns out it was a huge part of it.

First lesson I learned was about down itself. Much of what is passed off as down is actually just feathers, or mostly feathers anyway. Those things that poke out of your pillow or coat are actually feathers, not down. The pillows from Pillow Bar are 100% Hungarian goose down and you can tell as soon as you feel it. If it's 100% down it's 100% soft and fluffy from the breast of the bird, with nothing to poke you. "Feathers are like the breadcrumbs in meatballs," Dillon explains.

Lesson two - size and shape and fill matter. When it comes to pillows, size and shape and fill are not at all equal. Everybody needs a different size, shape, and fill when it comes to a pillow. What you need for a good night's sleep is based on how you sleep combined with what your build is.

A side sleeper needs the Dr. Mary, which is L-shaped. Someone with a smaller build needs less volume in the pillow. An athlete would require a more dense pillow. You get the idea. And Pillow Bar makes all of their pillows custom, right down to the protector and cases which are made from 300-thread count sateen. And the protector can be personalized with a monogram or saying of your choice, like "Sweet Dreams" or "I love you."

Dillon started Pillow Bar because she couldn't find a pillow that afforded her the night's sleep that she craved. So, she invented a machine that would create precisely what she was looking for and then sourced all of the highest quality materials with which to make the pillows. The secret to the machines is that the down is sucked up into the case instead of shoved down into the case. The result is the softest, fluffiest, most luxurious pillow I've ever laid my head on. Dillon calls it, "Luxury with a purpose."

The pillows contain a little sachet of lavender too to help bring on the sweet dreams. Dillon, naturally, imports the best possible lavender she can get her hands on and has the sachets made in Dallas where the Pillow Bar studio is located.

Aside from the standard sizes, Dillon's pillows also come in travel versions (which come in grey cases so you don't leave them behind lost in a hotel's white linens), as well as smaller shapes and sizes.

Dillon's machines are located in a number of high-end linen stores where customers can walk in and have their pillows made by someone that Dillon and her staff personally trained. If you venture into a location looking to buy one for someone other than yourself, a back sleeper with medium fill is generally a safe bet. But the more info you can give the pillow maker the better. You can also buy the pillows online. Each one will then be custom made and sent out within 48 hours.

Dillon tells me that Pillow Bar has a number of celeb fans, including Whoopi Goldberg who is quoted as saying about the Dr. Mary, "If you're a side sleeper this is the pillow for you, baby" and named it one of her favorite things. 

I had the chance to test out the Dr. Mary pillow myself. I'm both a side sleeper and a back sleeper. So it was tricky to determine what would work best for me. It took me a few nights to adjust to sleeping on an L-shaped pillow. But, once I did, I was amazed at how much happier my back and neck were.

The pillow is so soft and so perfectly filled that I don't find myself punching or pounding or squishing it to make it behave. Of course, I guess that's also because I am - finally - asleep.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Camp Starlight - on its own and strong as ever

If you want the truth, it's important to go to the source. That's why I wanted to share this press release from Camp Starlight, a camp for kids affected by and infected with HIV.

My sister is a long-standing member of the camp's leadership team. And, last year, I was the camp's dance teacher. It was a life-changing experience.

Camp Starlight began as part of another organization that unfortunately went under. Shortly thereafter, camp found an organization to serve as a fiscal agent to process donations for one year while they figured out what to do. At that point, because they believed it was in the best interest of the kids, instead of becoming their own organization, they partnered with Cascade AIDS Project (CAP). 

Recently it became apparent that the partnership was no longer in the best interest of Camp Starlight or the kids they serve. So this year, by their own choice, Camp Starlight has parted ways with CAP and there is some confusion about what that means. Hence, this release.

The good news is - nothing will change for Camp Starlight! It's alive and well. The old gang running the show is still in place and hopefully all of the volunteers will be back as well. I know I will be. I can't wait to be back with the kids. For some of them, Camp is the highlight of the year for many of the kids.

Of course, same goes for many of the volunteers too.

Camp Starlight is a family and although CAP now has nothing to do with camp, nothing has really changed. Camp Starlight is still Camp Starlight. So don't be fooled by the rumor mill or other camp imitations, Nothing will dim the shine of Camp Starlight.


PORTLAND, OR (Feb. 18, 2013) – A thousand stars will shine again this August as Camp Starlight proudly announces our 15th year of providing a safe, secure, and fun summer camp experience for children in Oregon and Southwest Washington whose lives are affected by HIV/AIDS. We are excited to announce that Camp Starlight will once again take place the week before Labor Day – August 24 through August 30, 2013 – and with many of the same caring, dedicated and passionate team of volunteers that our campers and their families have come to know and trust.

“The week of Camp Starlight has always been a magical experience for everyone involved,” said Angie Raffaele, Camp Director and co-founder of Camp Starlight. “And the source of that magic has always been rooted in the long-term friendships and trusting relationships that have developed over the years between our campers and our community of volunteer camp counselors. Camp Starlight is in many ways like a family reunion that happens each and every summer.”

After 15 years of growth and successful operation of our summer camp, Camp Starlight recently incorporated as an Oregon nonprofit corporation and is in the process of applying for its own 501(c)(3) status.  We have also ended our 7-year relationship with Cascade AIDS Project (CAP), with whom Camp Starlight has partnered since 2005.  These changes will permit supporters of Camp Starlight to make donations directly to Camp Starlight and to ensure that any contributions made to Camp Starlight will be used exclusively for Camp Starlight and the children we serve.

Camp Starlight’s core group of knowledgeable, compassionate, and devoted volunteers – which includes medical, educational and mental health professionals – will continue Camp Starlight’s mission to provide children whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS the opportunity to enjoy a caring, safe, recreational, spiritual and fun week-long summer camp experience. Our leadership team will continue to include:

·       Angie Raffaele, Camp Director – A co-founder of Camp Starlight, Angie has served as Camp Starlight’s Camp Director since 1999.  She is certified by the American Camping Association, is a former camp director at Camp Howard, and also currently serves as camp director for Girl Scouts of Oregon & SW Washington.
·       Dr. Rebecca G. Block, Mental Health Director – An assistant professor at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute working in adolescent and young adult oncology, Rebecca has been part of the leadership at Camp Starlight since 2000.  She supervises the team of mental health professionals who are on-site throughout the week of Camp to assure that the health and safety of our campers remains our #1 priority.  Dr. Block is a licensed clinical social worker holding both her Masters and Ph.D. degrees in social work.
·       Melanie Smith-Wilusz, Programming Director – Melanie (or “Mel” as our campers call her) is also a co-founder of Camp Starlight and has served Camp since its earliest days.  A former Programming Director for Camp Howard, Mel has a Masters degree in special education with expert knowledge and training in behavior management.  She has years of experience working with children of all ages, and has been a special education teacher at Sweetbrier Elementary School in Troutdale, Oregon, since 2003.
·       Kit Noble, Operations Director – Another founder of Camp Starlight, Kit has over 20 years of experience overseeing the daily operating functions of summer camps on both coasts of the country. Since 1999, Kit has made sure that every meal at Camp Starlight is served on-time and that Camp runs like clockwork. She also maintains “Kit’s Kaboodle,” our on-site “store” where our campers can go “shopping” for free clothes, books, games and other items that have been donated to Camp.
Camp Starlight also maintains relationships with many of our long-serving volunteer camp counselors – individuals who have committed themselves for many years to being a part of the Camp Starlight experience and who are familiar faces to many of the children we serve. We are also happy to invite new volunteers to be part of our community. Anyone who is interested in volunteering at Camp Starlight again or who wants to volunteer for the first time, please contact Camp Starlight at 503-964-1513 or  More information is available at our website:

Camper applications for attending Camp Starlight this year will be available shortly and will be distributed at that time to the families of our previous campers, as well as to HIV/AIDS-related agencies and case workers throughout the region.  Just look for the familiar blue-and-yellow Camp Starlight logo!

We look forward to another terrific week of summer camp this year, as Camp Starlight shines on during its 15th year of swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, singing, playing and making friendships that last throughout the years.  For more information about Camp Starlight, or to help support our mission, please contact us at 503-964-1513 or

Catch Me If You Can at the Music Hall at Fair Park

The truth is I didn't know what to expect. Musicals created from movies can really go either way. And even with a good book and a good score, the wrong cast, designers, choreographer, costumer, and/or director and you've got a guaranteed flop.

Lucky for Catch Me If You Can, none of that is a problem. The book is very cute and the music fun, although you won't necessarily leave singing. The story, of course, is based on the film by the same name, which is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a fraud and con artist who managed to work as a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and a college teaching assistant. He was also known for kiting and forging checks.

It's a serious subject. But both the film and the musical take a mostly light-hearted view. Although the musical does have its dark moments as well.

The show begins at the end with Abagnale being caught and asking to be allowed to tell his story. The arresting officer says he won't allow Abagnale to put on a show, which of course, ends up being exactly what he does. Literally.

The show is great fun from the costumes, of which there are many, especially for the supporting cast, to the set and lighting design, which allows the stage to become everything from a police station to a hospital to an airport.

But what makes this show really tick is the cast. Both Stephen Anthony as Frank Abagnale, Jr. and Merritt David Janes as Carl Hanratty are nothing short of stellar. Anthony's singing voice will literally knock your socks off and Janes is impeccably convincing as the tough cop with a heart.

And the ensemble is amazing. They have more costume changes and dances to perform than seems possible. But they do it. And it's hard not to smile when they do. And the choreography is delightful to watch. Although it does make it a little tough to sit still!

It's equally tough not to be sad when Abagnale, Jr. is caught at the end. It's funny how a show can make you root for the "bad" guy. This is a clever, witty, light show that is definitely worth seeing. Word to the wise: it is a little bawdy for the younger set. But I sat next to a precocious sixth grader who loved it.

Just as an aside, the orchestra, which is also pitch perfect, is on-stage throughout the show. So, it's possible to get seats in the pit. Do it if you can. I thought it would be too close. But it was actually an amazing POV from which to watch the show.

An excellent start to the Dallas Summer Musicals season. Looking forward to what's to come!

Il Cane Rosso - Dallas

I love good pizza. And I wanted to like Il Cane Rosso. Many of my friends and colleagues are huge fans. It's in a super cool Deep Ellum location. It offers a zillion different pizzas, and has an inviting brunch menu. But I just didn't care for the place. Let me count the ways.

First, there's nowhere to park. We drove in circles to find an open meter space. You shouldn't have to pay to park in a lot in order to pay to eat somewhere.

Second, there was a long line and a long wait and plenty of tables open. The very sweet hostess explained that they were short on help. So get more help.

Third, as one might predict, the service was slow and spotty. The waitstaff was all racing around. You had to flag them down to get their attention. I do not like that. At all.

Fourth, the pizza was exceptionally mediocre. It didn't taste like much and it was limp. Not fold-over floppy. But bodiless limp. Granted I had very high expectations. Regardless, it was subpar.

Finally, it was freezing in there. The ceiling fans were whirring at top speed and our pizza turned to ice in an instant. I do not care for cold pizza. At all.

There are too many other good places to eat in Dallas to bother with this one, including great pizza places. I will go back once more however, because everyone deserves a second chance. But this time I will be going without the high hopes.