Posts Tagged ‘LinkedIn’

Barrio Cafe in Phoenix-Not your Average Bodega!

March 31, 2015

The absolute best meal we had in Phoenix, hands down, was our first one at the Barrio Café on the corner of Thomas and North 16th Streets. From the outside, Barrio looks like just another unpretentious neighborhood eatery, just our type of place. But appearances can be deceiving! Once inside, we quickly discovered why this establishment has earned the reputation of being one of the trendiest and most authentic Mexican restaurants in the area.

Barrio Cafe

Barrio Cafe

Though it was past lunchtime, the friendly spiky-haired waiter told us there would be a short wait and invited us to sit at what must be the smallest bar I’ve ever seen. My husband and I took two of the three seats and (rather boringly) ordered Mexican beer. We then proceeded to ogle the man in the third seat’s lunch, which was a work of art, with the various colors and texture on the plate effortlessly complementing each other. Perhaps feeling dismay that we hadn’t ordered one of the Barrio’s signature margaritas, an older man came behind the bar, went to work mixing, and presented me with a small glass of a seashell pink beverage. Though I don’t really care for tequila, I didn’t want to offend him so I took a sip. Muy delicioso! Called “Organica Margarita” it contains Tierras Organic Silver Tequila, and agave nectar, pomegranate, grapefruit, and fresh lime juices. When I return I’ll definitely order a whole one for myself.

Our entrees were wonderful. Mine was Suiza-a Mexican City-style enchilada with layers of chicken and cheese and a delicate creamy tomato sauce topped with crumbled chorizo and red onion. Neil got pork tacos with tangy pickled red onions which contrasted nicely with the sweet and smoky pork, giving your taste buds an unexpected little “zing”! But what really blew me away was the “Esquites” which I’ve sampled before in Dallas, as “street corn”. It was this amazing, tongue-pleasing combination of firm, yet extremely juicy, bright yellow corn kernels that were so sweet that each individual one literally exploded in my mouth. The corn was topped with crumbled cotija cheese and completed by a generous drizzle of chipotle cream sprinkled with cilantro and fresh lime juice. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven with each tiny bite and my eyes threatened to fill with tears as I spooned the last succulent morsel into my mouth, scraping the sides and bottom of the crystal goblet it was served in to make sure I didn’t leave a single crumb behind.

Don't miss this!

Don’t miss this!

I am 99.9% sure that I could never make any of these dishes at home, making them the perfect vacation food. The two of us left with the mutual understanding that this restaurant was at the top of our all-time favorites list.

The second-best meal we had in Phoenix was at Joyride Taco House on Central Avenue. The food and drinks were fresh and tasty, the atmosphere upbeat, and the servers friendly and enthusiastic. For those of you on a budget, they have Happy Hour prices too!

Tucson-A Word Lovers Paradise!

March 25, 2015

The Tucson Festival of Books exceeded my wildest expectations, despite occasional frustration of long lines for many of the author conversations and panels and the limited seating in others. I could write pages about the six discussions by famous writers that I was able to participate in, which included:

  •  Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
  • Ridley Pearson and Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Gail Sheehy
  • Ally Carter, Jenny Han, and Sarah Mlynowski
  • Marja Mills

But, because today is Arts Advocacy Day, my Festival post is going to highlight The Tucson Youth Poetry Slam (TYPS). Attending a poetry slam has been on my “to do” list forever, so TFOB seemed like as good a place as any to finally do it. Billed as “Young Voices of Southern Arizona” and with an irresistible call-to-action, “Youth! Voice! Equity! Power!” this one, under the umbrella of the group “Spoken Futures, Inc.”, seemed particularly appealing.

Tucson Youth Poetry Slam participants

Tucson Youth Poetry Slam participants

My friend Melissa and I took our seats with anticipation, unsure what to expect. We knew the basics of a slam; that it’s a spoken word contest with a time limit and no censorship, though poets are encouraged to choose their words for the greatest impact, rather than shock value and no “hate speech” is allowed. The Tucson group welcomes all languages and styles of poetry and the group’s goal seemed to be building community rather than tearing it down, which appealed to both of us. We were blown away! If you want to hear what’s on teens’ minds these days, in no uncertain terms, this is the place to find out. They’re not professional poets but their concerns and observations are spot-on when they speak about things that are important to them and their futures. Here’s a few lines to illustrate this:

On getting a GED: People roll their eyes and tell me “Good luck with that”.

On undocumented immigrants: We fight every day and we barely make a sound.

On health and family issues: I was dealt a hand that might cause others to fold.

On self: I hold onto things that break too easily, like pencils and people.

On school budget cuts to the arts: You already have 24% of our life; what more can you take from us? Art-there’s no money in it, only numbers count. You steal the only color we’ve got.

And, on why they write poetry: I don’t write to be questioned. I write to be understood.

Don’t we all…April is National Poetry Month and I’d like to encourage you to put aside a few hours and attend a youth poetry slam in your town or city. Don’t go alone, take a friend, young or old. I promise, it will be worth it!

What’s in my Phoenix, Arizona Travel Journal?

March 20, 2015

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Southwest. I prefer cool weather, lush vegetation, and lots of bodies of water over spiders, cacti, and heat, even if it is “dry heat” as we are constantly reassured by those who call The Grand Canyon State home! However, I now have two friends from elementary school living in the Phoenix area so I have decided that I need to broaden my horizons and discover some ways to make my time in Arizona as enjoyable as possible. While planning my trip there, I realized that, with the Tucson Festival of Books taking up the majority of my stay, I would only have time to visit two attractions. Here are my choices:

The Phoenix Zoo

My husband and I haven’t been to a zoo without kids in years, so this was a very different experience for us. The Phoenix Zoo, established in 1962 (the year of my birth!), and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is one of the nation’s largest non-profit zoos. The Zoo prides itself on its commitment to conservation, as well as its ability to inspire visitors to become supporters of, and stewards for, the living creatures who reside there. We began our journey on the Arizona Trail where I learned a few new facts. For example, Arizona is the only state to have four deserts within its boundaries, all unique in their own ways. Interpretive signage also taught us about convergent evolution. This concept highlights species that are from different lineages or that live in different countries or continents, who develop similar traits. Sidewinder snakes, like rattlesnakes, are a great example of this. Though they’re miles apart, sidewinders in Arizona, the Middle East, and Africa all use a similar method of locomotion which give them traction on shifting desert sands. We were able to see dozens of types of desert snakes up close and personal, along with lizards, spiders, and mammals. My favorites were the self-important chuckwalla, the feisty javelinas, and the lurking vultures.


The Arizona Chuckwalla

The Arizona Chuckwalla

There was also an Africa Trail where we strolled through “Monkey Village”, the only walk-through squirrel monkey exhibit in the United States. It’s an open exhibit where tiny monkeys scamper through bushes and trees just inches away from you. As expected, they’re playful and adorable! My very favorite exhibit however, had a literary connection (surprise!) In the Zoo’s “Forest of Uco” dwells a pair of bears that many of you will remember as a single young bear who arrived in England from “Darkest Peru” with a note attached to his coat that read, “Please look after this bear”. The Andean bears that reside in the Arizona zoo can only be found in the tropical Andes (South America) and are currently an endangered species. They are soft-furred, shy, and lovable, just like the much-adored bear created by Michael Bond. The only difference is that the real bears don’t constantly crave marmalade!

The inspiration for Paddington Bear!

The inspiration for Paddington Bear!

The Phoenix Zoo allows coolers and has a picnic grove which will appeal to those on a budget, since the adult admission is $20. If you’re not watching your pennies, there are plenty of extras for all ages, including a 4-D Theater, Camel Rides, and a Giraffe Encounter. I recommend that you allow yourself at least half a day to fully experience the zoo and don’t forget water, a camera, and sunblock!


The Musical Instrument Museum

This relatively new Museum, which received a Travelers Choice mention on Trip Advisor in 2014, was another $20 well spent, though we initially balked at the price. MIM is open daily and is another place you’ll want to allow yourself at least four hours for. Even with this amount of time, it’s unlikely that you’ll make it through all the exhibits; there is simply too much to see, hear, and do. Once you’ve paid, you’re given a set of headphones which allow you to wander around listening to the plethora of musical selections that accompany each section. A musical performer or genre is featured in each exhibit, along with their instruments and costumes or accessories. The Artists Gallery on the first floor was wonderful. Some of my favorites were Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Pablo Casals, John Lennon’s “Imagine” being sung all over the world, and a brand new discovery, ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro. Check out his incredible skills at . We both liked the special exhibit, “Beyond the Beat: Drums of the World, open through June 21 of this year, and the Mechanical Music Room, featuring things like calliopes and music boxes. No one was working in the Restoration Gallery, but I was able to see a video of a woman who worked on restoring Elvis Presley’s guitar which was fascinating. Most surprisingly, what we didn’t enjoy at all was the Experiential Room. There were too many rules and the volunteer kept hovering over, and scolding, everyone there. Sadly, we ran out of time so we’ll have to return to visit the second floor.

Mechanical Music Room

Mechanical Music Room

The breadth of musical history, past and present, contained within MIM’s walls gives you a sense of the impact that many talented and committed musicians have had on all of us over the years. Additionally you will be reminded of how music continues to have the ability to move and unite us all.

Toby Keith's guitar

Toby Keith’s guitar

The Tucson Festival of Books is Almost Here!

March 11, 2015

In the past, I’ve posted about supplies to take to writing events. But this evening, I’d rather focus on what I hope to accomplish at the 2015 Festival. Besides hearing famous authors speak about topics they’re passionate about, attending the Rock Bottom Remainders literacy-benefitting concert Friday night, and being surrounded by some of the best books of this century, I hope I have the chance to:

  • Reconnect with some of the authors and writers that I’ve met (Southwest Valley Writers Conference), interviewed (Rochester Teen Book Festival), or heard read their work (Cornell University Creative Writing Talks)
  • Learn some new writing techniques and gain some different perspectives on ways to become a better writer, both in terms of entertainment and for social change
  • Discover a whole new batch of LinkedIn and Twitter connections
  • Be as prepared as possible so I don’t have to waste precious time standing in line to get water, dealing with sunburn, or trying to find food
  • Make some contacts in the publishing field, both fiction and nonfiction books
  • Buy as many books as I want, both for my own reading pleasure and as gifts for others, and have the authors autograph them whenever possible
  • Discover all sorts of blog posts just waiting to be written
  • Spend the entire weekend luxuriating in the world of books, just like the proverbial kid in the candy store

Tucson, here I come! I’ll look forward to sharing my adventures with all of you along the way!

All Work and No Play? No Way!

March 4, 2015

Much of what we write is serious. News stories, feature articles, newsletters, and press releases should be compelling, but also accurate. Though these are all challenging and rewarding writing projects, sometimes writers, like anyone else, need to let off a little steam, to add a bit of frivolity to the mix. This is not a waste of time. Attempting to write in all different styles stretches you creatively and makes you a more flexible, and overall better, writer. Plus not everything you do needs to be life and death serious. We all enjoy reading humorous pieces and most of us like to be entertained. Skip the sitcoms once in a while and seek out a few opportunities each month that will allow you to express the wacky and witty sides of your personality! Sometimes you can even get paid to do this.

One of my favorite writing assignments is penning theatre reviews. Reviews allow you to speculate, make connections, and interpret characters and their motivations in ways you don’t usually employ when writing for newspapers. They also require you to use all your senses and to be attentive to detail, as they need to include information about the setting, directing, and sound and costume design. Another bonus is that you get to use language in a different ways than you may ordinarily. Words that you haven’t thought of in a long time tend to come out of the closet, adding a dash of spice to your commentary and analysis.

In my Valentine’s Day post, I mentioned that I was going to work on a poem for the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest. I finally finished it this weekend and I spent most of the afternoon in my corduroy chair snickering and chortling and guffawing to myself. My family couldn’t figure out what was the matter with me until I offered to do a dramatic reading of my efforts. Soon they were rolling their eyes and snorting with laughter too. The consensus was that my poem was so ridiculous that it actually stood a chance of winning at least an honorable mention! One of my friends asked with horror why I would want to write a “bad” poem. To that I say “Why not?” Everything is worth trying at least once. If writers were afraid of failure then there wouldn’t be much for us to read.

So dare to play with your writing occasionally. Try a haiku or a limerick. Experiment with fan fiction, using favorite childhood characters. Write a silly song or a melodramatic soap opera episode. Most of all, have fun!

February Inspiration for Writers

February 28, 2015

Two more days of “the cruelest month” and we will be heading for spring. This time of year it can be tough to find things to write about. My solution for free writing practice arrived in the form of the February edition of “O” The Oprah Magazine. The article “20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself: Part Two”, serves two purposes, to get to know yourself better and to jumpstart your writing every morning. We know a lot about ourselves on the surface. In fact I bet you could easily name your least favorite foods, the television shows you enjoy most, and what types of music you listen to. You could probably even list your greatest strengths and weaknesses after thinking about it for a few minutes. But how often do we really take the time to delve deep within ourselves, to explore our darkest thoughts, our secret fears, and our true beliefs about how we, and others, really feel about us? You may not feel drawn to all of the questions, but even just writing two to three pages about each one will open up your heart, and your writing, in ways you might not have thought possible.

I’ll give you five of my favorite questions but after that you’ll have to go out and buy the magazine if you want to take this exploration of your psyche into the month of March!

  •  Do I Enjoy My Own Company?
  • Am I Waiting For my Real Life To Begin?
  • Have I Made Peace With My Past?
  • What Is My Blind Spot?
  • Am I Overthinking Things?

Give these a try. Self-discovery can be intimidating but it can also be quite rewarding!

Lift Every Voice

February 20, 2015

In these days of multimedia presentations, sound bites, and constant sensory bombardment, we sometimes find ourselves feeling depleted and at a loss for words. We writers can feel empty and unfocused and in desperate need of something, anything, to spark our creativity and inspire us to return to the page. Yesterday I found a wonderful way to fill my empty creative well and it didn’t cost a penny or require a single scrap of technology! I attended a Black Heritage Worship Service at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and it was just what I needed. I left refreshed and rejuvenated with a new sense of purpose. On the way home I thought about the different ways words were used, out loud, throughout the worship program, which gave them a whole new dimension.

The Sermon

Given by the nationally recognized Dr. Forrest E. Harris, President of American Baptist College in Nashville, the preached word was a true auditory treat. Have you ever noticed that many of our great speakers have some connection with the ministry? I’m pretty sure it’s not a coincidence. Dr. Harris started off slowly but gradually built to a crescendo that had many of the congregants on their feet, shouting along with him. A few of the literary devices he used to make his sermon so compelling included imagery, repetition of key themes (Push the Pendulum!), pauses and change in tempo and volume, and metaphor. Though I may not remember all the details of the talk, I will retain the key points and, perhaps more importantly, the jubilation I felt.

Poetry Readings

The poetry selections “I Too” by Langston Hughes and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou were read aloud by two young women. Though I’m familiar with both of these poems, you perceive them on a different level when they come through your ears rather than your eyes. This reminded me of the importance of taking the time to read your written work aloud before you hit “submit”. Trust me, you will immediately tune into words or phrases that just don’t sound right.

Musical Selections

The Heritage Community Choir was amazing and the Chapel was the perfect space to allow their collective voices to soar. The beat of the music and the words of encouragement in the songs filled me with a sense of elation that I haven’t experienced in some time. “Lift Every Voice And Sing” was introduced by James A. Scandrick, Jr. with the reverence it deserves.  Something I hadn’t realized was that James Weldon Johnson had originally penned it as a poem but liked it so much that he then set it to music, where it became known as the Black National Anthem. If you really listen to the words you are singing, you’ll realize how strong and evocative the prose it and how well the unusual melody meshes with it, giving the song a twist while keeping you slightly off-balance, similar to a story with a surprise ending!

I think what was most impactful about the service was how the various components of it, were not only strong on their own, but also fit seamlessly together to give you a much grander and more unforgettable experience. Given this, my afternoon at CRCDS was not only personally pleasurable, but I feel like I learned something as a writer as well.

Valentine’s Day is for Writers

February 13, 2015

Valentine’s Day isn’t just for lovers. It’s a day writers should take advantage of too, no matter how many, or how few valentines you have. Here’s a few suggestions:

Treat yourself to something special

The child in all of us likes to receive a small token of appreciation on Valentine’s Day, no matter how corny we try to pretend the holiday is. Give yourself one of those chocolate sampler hearts (and permission to poke a hole in every one so you can eat the ones you like first!). Or buy yourself an orchid, a bunch or irises, or a bouquet of sunflowers, anything that will help you forget the snow piling up outside. You can always buy a book of love poems or a love story to read for good measure.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way was the importance of being kind to your inner self and of occasionally buying small treats just for you. What better reason than this February holiday to practice this?



Make a list of three things you appreciate about yourself as a writer

You can even draw hearts around them! Post them by your computer to get you through the rest of the longest month of the year.

Be playful!

To me, that means putting aside some time to write something that will make you laugh out loud. Sit down and draft a piece of work that gives you heartfelt pleasure to write, even if it never gets published or you never show it to another living soul. This year I am planning to enter the Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest. In case you haven’t guessed by its name, this humor contest is specifically for very bad poetry. And I have the perfect piece to pen. I actually began it as a serious nature poem last year but it was clearly so gag-worthy that, when I attempted to read it out loud, it had my son Russell and I rolling hysterically on the ground. This morning, in anticipation of St. Valentine, I printed it out. Luckily, it’s just as awful as I remembered! Here’s the link if you want to try WF as well:



What’s on my Bedside Reading Table?

January 31, 2015


All sorts of good stuff!

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

I have read this book over and over and it still gets to me every time I pick it up. Set in the 1950’s, it’s a memoir of Toby Wolff’s childhood with his mother, a series of men she’s involved with, and an absentee father and brother. The most compelling aspect of this story is how clearly it shows the disparity between how teens act and speak on the outside and how they view their “real” inner selves, hidden and carefully protected from others. Though he’s clearly an intelligent and imaginative kid, with a wonderful sense of the absurd, Toby is always getting into some kind of trouble or hatching up ridiculous scheme. He rarely has money, his friends are they type characterized as “losers”, he drinks and smokes and plays hooky, and he refuses to live up to his potential. But inside, Toby remains convinced that he is destined for greater things than life at Concrete High School and one day he decides to make this belief a reality. The sheer audaciousness of how he does this will undoubtedly make you laugh out loud in disbelief but, at the same time, you won’t be able to stop hoping that, against all odds, Toby will be able to escape the life he’s stuck in and enter the life he was really meant to have. Things don’t turn out quite the way he wanted them to by the end of the memoir but they are better than they were. And, today, all grown up, Wolff is a published and highly regarded author, a recipient of the Pen/Faulkner Award for fiction and a finalist for the National Book Award.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book is the dedication in the beginning when he says his first stepfather always told him that what he didn’t know could fill a book, and adds “Well, here it is.” The message that, as long as you believe in yourself, your potential is endless is one that bears repeating.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills.

Who could resist this title? I can’t even count the times that I’ve sat down and opened up the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird once again.  I’ve also seen the play and the movie and listened to the book on tape. It’s like having an old friend over for coffee, always the same in some ways, completely different in others, depending on my mood and the life stage I happen to be in. It’s the only book Harper Lee ever wrote and, since she and her sister Alice Finch Lee were notoriously close-mouthed with journalists, I decided this might be my only chance to learn more about the Lee’s and To Kill a Mockingbird. Besides, I was really curious about how Mills was able to, not only interview the Lee sisters, but get enough material to write a book about them. Now that’s some savvy reporting! It all began in 2001, as part of a feature story for the Chicago Tribune. When To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen for the “One Book, One Chicago, city-wide reading program, Mills and a photographer journeyed down to Monroeville, Alabama (which Maycomb is based on). Mills was granted an interview with Alice and things snowballed from there, with the reporter being admitted into the Lee’s inner circle of friends and receiving an education about Alabama that it’s unlikely she could replicate anywhere else. Mills ends up moving next door to the Lee sisters and beginning this book. Her story is a rare inside glimpse into the lives and minds of two Southern ladies who were as typical of some parts of the old South as they were atypical of others. In the twenty-first century, some may say To Kill a Mockingbird didn’t go far enough in challenging the Jim Crow attitudes and practices prevalent in the south. But I believe the book’s longevity speaks for itself.

Harper Lee was willing to tackle a difficult issue and to begin a conversation that is still continuing today, through characters we can all identify with on some level. For example, Atticus Finch is someone I think of when I’m tempted to not speak up because it would be easier to remain silent. To learn more about the woman who penned his story (based on her father and sister, both lawyers) was a rare and enjoyable opportunity.

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

This book is just for fun but it has a serious side as well. It’s about a clash of values between a human sexuality teacher at the local high school and an Evangelical Christian youth soccer coach. Both are battling their own personal demons, in addition to each other, and Perrotta is wickedly funny while exploring the spiritual versus sexual impulses that Americans often keep under wraps, while simultaneously provoking readers to think about their own moral positions on certain issues.

Read any good books recently? Feel free to send them on!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day-Where Do We Go From Here?

January 23, 2015

I spent last Saturday and Monday immersed in MLK Jr. Day celebrations and activities, some for my job, others because I had a personal interest in what was going on. What did I come away with? It’s apparent that we still have a long way to go to achieve racial and socioeconomic equality. But, though there are many people invested in not seeing America live up to its ideals and potential, there are as many, or more, who are committed to seeing positive social change occur during their lifetime, if not sooner. I wasn’t surprised to hear a lot about the importance of all African-Americans receiving a good education so as to gain access to a wider range of opportunities. I agree wholeheartedly with this. However, I also heard a number of black men and women saying that they were tired of “having to educate whites about us” or “needing to explain everything to white people” before any forward movement could occur on certain issues. This was sometimes referred to as “racial fatigue” a term that was new to me.

Given this, I’d argue that perhaps African-Americans aren’t the only ones who need an education. It sounds like whites need to educate themselves too, about black history and the black experience in America, unfiltered through a Caucasian lens. Tell the truth now. How many books have you read by African-American writers that weren’t assigned to you in high school? I had always considered myself a well-read individual, across many cultures, until this summer when I stumbled across a 588 page paperback at a book sale in Brewster, MA that challenged this view. I picked up the hefty Masterpieces of African-American Literature, edited by Frank N. Magill and published in 1992, wondering what could possibly be in the tome. Were there really enough African-American writers and poets to fill the pages I naively wondered? And, if there were, how come I had never heard of many of them? I began to peruse the essays, written about 149 works of literature from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, and then I trekked to the library and checked some books out and began to read. As I write this I just finished an intense story by Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go that I absolutely could not put down. Chester Himes was criticized when he wrote this book, both readers and reviewers found the tone of the novel to be “too angry”. After you read what the main character, Bob, goes through, physically and emotionally, over the course of several days, I dare you not to feel angry too at how much of Bob’s day is taken up negotiating race-related situations when all he wants is to do his job and spend time with his girlfriend Alice.

Then there was Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson, the first novel written by an African-American woman, copyrighted in 1859. Though it was a dramatic, well-written, and compelling story, the book had to be rescued from obscurity by none other than Henry Louis Gates in 1982, . How did this happen? The reviewer in Masterpieces of African-American Literature speculates that Wilson’s book was dismissed (and sent to a literary graveyard), because it dealt with several subjects that were uncomfortable for white liberal readers, interracial marriage and the fact that racism and exploitation were just as prevalent in the “free” northern cities as in the south. Also, these same liberals didn’t like the shades of irony in the title…

Talking about what needs to change and taking positive steps towards these changes on Martin Luther King Jr, Day, and all year-long, is important. But before you act, take the time to learn more about the black experience in the United States. You may be surprised at what you discover.


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