Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Very, Merry, Happy, Joyous Day for All

South African Nativity set made from hand-carved ebony. Photo from Magellan Traders Web site.

JOY to the world!
The Lord is come:
let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth!
the Saviour reigns:
let men their songs employ
while fields and floods rocks hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground:
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousnes
and wonders of his love, and wonders of his love,
and wonders and wonders of his love.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pageturners for the Individual With Discerning Tastes

A Tiffany Amber design featured in "New African Fashion." Photo by Justin Polkey.

HEAD’S UP: Here it is past mid-December and holiday shopping isn't yet an item on the to-do list. What’s a body to do? One option is to give money. Everybody needs money, right. Well … almost everybody does. Yet the idea of gifting money seems a bit slapdash and last-minute, which it is, of course. Never fear. The elves at VEVLYN’S PEN are here to help in what has become a tradition. Continuing through 24 Dec., we will introduce one or a series of products, items and brands that we believe is worthy of consideration as a holiday gift(s). And … we’re off !!!!

Gift Idea(s), THE FINALE:

lovers, gardeners, green thumbs, gourmets and those with a jones for gems – your attention please. We’ve come across a few books that you’ll want to add to your library. Do make room on the bookshelf or coffeetable for “New African Fashion,” “A Time to Plant: Southern-Style Garden Living" and “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: Deluxe Limited Edition Boxed Set.”

New African Fashion
As Africa continues to move out of what Yours Truly describes as its approximate 500-year-old Dark Ages, one signpost along the way will likely be New African Fashion (at this writing as low as $21.98 at Amazon), by "Arise Magazine" editor Helen Jennings.

The book’s introduction, with a foreward by the redoubtable Ike Ude, serves as a competent overview of how the fashion world has been influenced by the Continent and how Western designers through ignorance or education have exploited or gotten it right as it regards African fashion. The introduction winds down on how things are being set to rights and the challenges that African fashion faces if it is to reclaim its rightful place in the fashion universe.

The picture book that is New African Fashion is set apart in its focus on the creations of a new crop of fledging, establishing and established African designers who are making their mark on the world stage. Seemingly tacked on, a few pages are dedicated to “Faces” or “It” models, and “Art,” focusing on “It” photographers.

The bulk of New African Fashion is thankfully dedicated to the designers. Suggesting how far Africa must come to be taken seriously as a fashion hub, virtually all of the designers were trained in part or wholly in the West. Some still reside in the West; a good deal reside in the Motherland. Just about all, like so many of their ilk, grew up observing stylish folk in their living rooms or in fashion glossies. A leitmotif is that the culture and textiles of the rich, vast lands of their birth or that of their parents is a strong reference point in their designs and aesthetic.

Some names/lables are familiar such as Brit Ozwald Boateng (pp. 58-63), born in London of Ghanaian parents and who brought color – in more ways than one – to Savile Row. A prints of a man is New York-based Duro Olowu (20-25). The Nigerian is also one of the few designers who can claim the current First Lady as a client. He made his first big splash a few years back when Vogue saw fit to spotlight his plunging and flowing dress based on the Yoruba boubou. The feminine, flirty flock would become famously known as the “Duro Dress.”

Through Xuly Bet (pp. 26-29), Malian Lamine Badian Kouyate embodies the truth that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Many of his unique street-style creations are born of Western castoffs that find their way into any number of African countries. LBK gets bonus points, too, for sustainability in a world that needs it in reams.

Lesser known names in New African Fashion include Tanzania’s Anisa Mpungwe, who designs the new label Loin Cloth & Ashes (pp. 90-93). AM, the daughter of a diplomat, had a vivid imagination along the lines of “Alice in Wonderland” and Salvador Dali, which is evident in some of the designs shown in the book. More recent influences such as the “Transformers” seem to inform a beige-zippered tunic w/puckered shoulders and long sleeves.

Getting a lot of buzz now is the Tiffany Amber (pp.96-101) line designed by Nigerian Folake Folarin-Coker. The designer made a splash during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York Spring 2010 during the Arise: Africa Promise Collection ( show. In New African Fashion, it is noted that on Sundays the favorite after-church activity in Nigeria is a cruise on a yacht. To that end, Tiffany Amber “offers resortwear and soft, floatly dresses for ladies who lunch, work and sail." Exhibit A is the photo (p. 97) of a model wearing an empire-waist floral belted skirt and print bra. She is standing on a rock that seems melded to her getup. Is she waiting ashore for … a yacht?

A Time to Plant: Southern-Style Garden Living
Cook, landscape designer and third-generation Georgia gardener James Farmer III (yes, Farmer is his surname) has delivered in “A Time to Plant: Southern-Style Garden Living” ideas and tips for cooking and decorating with what grows in the garden. Bringing his ideas to life are the scenic backdrops that are the homes of family and friends.

The garden living that JF promotes in “A Time to Plant: Southern-Style Garden Living” (at this writing as low as $19.93 at Amazon) is environmentally-friendly because it is local and little goes to waste. For instance, the blooms and stems from cutting beds can be used to decorate the home (p. 106). A autumn centerpiece (p.143) includes Mexican sage, aster, pomegranates, blood oranges, colored leaves other than green – think fall foliage – as well as pheasant and quail feathers.

Included are recipes for in-season fruits and vegetables. In fact, there are full menus for every season of the year. Blackberries and peaches, can combine in a Blackberry and Peach Crisp, p.104. The squash taking over the garden can be pressed into service as Squash Spoonbread, p. 108. At Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes can be used for Sweet Potato Souffle, (p. 138). During the heat of summer is Farmer’s Skillet Corn, p. 131.

Taking a page from Ecclesiastes, JF reminds readers that there is a season and a time for everything. That sage advice informs every section in the book. As JF notes in the book’s introduction: “Timing is everything in the garden.”

To that end, “A time to …
Make a Plan”: before starting a garden, create renderings of the garden; label and graph out cutting beds; map out a spot for vegetables.
Cut and Arrange: Take hydrangeas, JF’s favorite flower. Cut them early in the morning or at night so the blossoms don’t wilt during the hottest part of the day, especially in high-humidity climes such as Georgia. Submerging the stems in deep water also prevents premature wilting.
To Plant: Foxgloves like fall, while Mums, (aka Chrysanthemums) Asters and Daisies like spring.
For Tea: JF declares that, “Tea is the house wine of the South.” Rather than Lipton, he recommends Chamomile, Lavender, Mint and Rosemary.
Harvest and Eat: “A major aspect of the garden living lifestyle is the understanding of each season’s produce,” JF says. That is, knowing when fruits and vegetables are in season. Late spring and summer in Georgia bring blackberries, then the famous peaches and pecans in the last quarter of the year.

The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: Deluxe Limited Edition Boxed Set
So, you don’t own have any of the baubles from the Bvlgari Emerald Suite that was given to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton. The suite was famously auctioned a little more than a week ago at Christies’s auction of “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor." (

Neither do you own Le Peregrina or the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond or the Taj Mahal or the Mike Todd Diamond Tiara, for that matter. You can, however, own the Deluxe Limited Edition Boxed Set ($600.00).

Christie’s grossly – perhaps intentionally – low-balled the haul that would be generated by the jewels in “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor.” It included not only the actor’s famous jewels, but also film memorabilia, decorative arts and fashion. Christie’s estimated that the jewelry would take in “well in excess of” $30 million. Sure, it did. But $60 million would qualify as "well in excess of." It was the greatest take ever for jewelry at auction, coming in at about $116 million. The entire Collection, including the nonjewelry items, netted more than $150 million.

The box set includes ET’s out-of-print book “My Love Affair with Jewelry” and Christie's auction catalog for “The Legendary Jewels, Evening Sale.” Alas, the “The Complete Set,” which includes all of the auction catalogs and “The Gallery Guide” is sold out. At this writing the individual catalogs are still available.

Visit http:// to purchase both “New African Fashion” and “A Time to Plant: Southern-Style Garden Living. Visit to purchase “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: Deluxe Limited Edition Boxed Set.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chance to Do a Star Turn on the Great White Way

Be a Broadway Star is designed to be played by two to six competitors. Photos from Be a Broadway Star Web site.

HEAD’S UP: Here it is past mid-December and holiday shopping isn't yet an item on the to-do list. What’s a body to do? One option is to give money. Everybody needs money, right. Well … almost everybody does. Yet the idea of gifting money seems a bit slapdash and last-minute, which it is, of course. Never fear. The elves at VEVLYN’S PEN are here to help in what has become a tradition. Continuing through 24 Dec., we will introduce one or a series of products, items and brands that we believe is worthy of consideration as a holiday gift(s). And … we’re off !!!!

Gift Idea(s) Pt. 6:


you can’t yet make it on Broadway – maybe, just maybe – you make it on Be a Broadway Star, the board game.

The new game ($39.95) joins Charades, Monopoly, Clue, Chutes and Ladders as a fun and entertaining way to spend time with family and friends. Unlike in Charades&Co., though, players can find an agent, go to an audition, get the part, win a Tony, sign lots of autographs ... Perhaps even be inducted into the Broadway Hall of Fame.

Players of Be a Broadway Star can win auditions, roles, Tonys and more.

Show business is tough, so no one expects to be an overnight success. Perseverance and luck go hand in hand with talent in hoisting a name up on the marquee. For some aspiring stars, dedication to honing their craft is almost like a calling. For Be a Broadway Star players, it’s just plain fun.

Be a Broadway Star is designed to be played by two to six competitors as young as 8 and as old as they feel.

Visit to learn more about Be a Broadway Star, the board game.

'Girl with a Dragon Tattoo' Sets and Keeps a Pace

Lisbeth and Mikael have a meeting of the minds in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures.

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" takes its time in the telling. It’s not at all the type of film that the mainstream of U.S. audiences is accustomed to sitting through.

At 158 minutes (actually around 10 of those are credits), it will not be rushed. The first in a trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” tells the story of both disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and dysfunctional, psychologically troubled, tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salande (Rooney Mara).

The duo is retained to investigate the long-ago murder of a member of the eccentric, prominent Vanger family. The film opened Wednesday and is expected to do good business at the box office. (See trailer:

A colleague strenuously suggested that Yours Truly should see director Niels Arden Oplev version of “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo,” which has the distinction of being the highest grossing European film of 2009. But would that be fair to the American “Girl?”

Indeed, it is a U.S. production, judging by the product placements: 7-Eleven, Purell Hand Sanitizer, Coco-Cola and Marlboro. Apparently, the Swedes have/had a love jones for the cancer sticks. That would explain their presence in a film set in Sweden. But 7-Eleven? Purell Hand Sanitzer!?!?

In any case, I digress. I will not be seeing the Swedish production (“Män som hatar kvinnor”), so my comments must be confined to the version I screened. “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” opens on Mikael’s big indiscretion. In essence, he "libeled" a corrupt industrialist when he could not prove the facts behind the story that he published in the “Millennium,” the investigative rag that he runs with his lover/married colleague (Robin Wright). The publication is sued within an inch of its life.

It is also around this time that Mikael is being considered to investigate the murder of Harriet Vanger by an uncle (Christopher Plummer). Pressed into service on the downlow to look into Mikael's background is none other than Lisbeth. She gathers much of her intelligence by hacking into his computer. For all of her brilliance, the State thinks the young woman is incompetent to conduct her own affairs. Without doubt, she lacks basic social skills. Possibly, she is a menace to society, which is why she is an adult ward of the state with a kindly guardian, lecherous social worker (Yorick van Wageningen) and money that is out of her control.

Mikael (Daniel Craig) agrees to investigate the murder of Henrik's (Christopher Plummer) niece in “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo.”

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” might have been better left on the page rather than being adapted to the big screen. The film takes its own sweet time in the telling, overlapping what’s going on with Mikael and what’s going on with Lisbeth, giving insights into their background to explain why they have arrived at this common place. Or why they will arrive at this common place – working together to solve a long-ago murder.

Too much time is devoted to their respective investigations. It is extremely difficult to produce engaging material out of the act of looking into a computer screen, typing furiously on its keyboard, poring over documents and considering a list of photos on a storyboard. The result is that a good chunk of the film is plodding – and frankly – boring

The action and interest do pick up immensely when the protagonists finally meet about half way through the film. Mikeal and Lisbeth are opposite that are compatible in more ways than one. It is almost possible to see the electrical currents when they are in a room together. DG comports himself competently, credibly portraying an experienced, investigative journalist instead of James Bond in the guise of a journalist.

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo,” however, is RM’s film. Not only because she is the character of the title. Her Lisbeth approaches everything she does with extreme gravitas. She rides that motorcycle like a bat out of hell regardless of the importance of the destination. She appears to be angry at the world and will unleash her wrath at the least provocation. Lisbeth brooks no false sincerity, she’s above it all. Just the facts, please, let’s not pretend that we are friends or care for each other.

Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) tells her social worker, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), what she really thinks about him in “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo.”

Whenever RM is on screen, even in the scenes amongst the archives, the eye is riveted to her. She is cool, calculated, armed and dangerous. The scenes with the tattoo paraphernalia and the blond wig are painful proof. It’s a taut, intense performance.

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” ends on a surprising and satisfactory note. The second half of the film makes up a good deal for the slow pacing of the first.

“The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” is rated R for brutal violent content, including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Get Your Swagger on in a ... Swacket? Yes!

The Harputs Own wool swacket ($425.00) for women and lightweight wool swacket ($500) for women and men are designed with strategically placed fasteners that tranform them into different shapes. Photos from Harputs of San Francisco Web site.

HEAD’S UP: Here it is past mid-December and holiday shopping isn't yet an item on the to-do list. What’s a body to do? One option is to give money. Everybody needs money, right. Well … almost everybody does. Yet the idea of gifting money seems a bit slapdash and last-minute, which it is, of course. Never fear. The elves at VEVLYN’S PEN are here to help in what has become a tradition. Continuing through 24 Dec., we will introduce one or a series of products, items and brands that we believe is worthy of consideration as a holiday gift(s). And … we’re off !!!!

Gift Idea(s) Pt. 5:

days a body just wants to mix it up.

That’s what convertible clothing is all about – one frock worn several ways. Of course it’s also about more space in the closet and more dollars in the wallet. And with the airlines charging for everything from soup to nuts, the lighter the suitcase the better.

Hence, convertible clothing. Once barely a cottage industry, it has transformed into a full-blown niche category. Leading the way, of course, are the various wrap dresses. Popular ones bear names such as American Apparel, Donna Karan, Target and Etsy. In the category, too, are pants, tops, shirts and accessories such as jewelry, cowls and scarves.

The market, though, is lacking anything approaching a glut of stylish outerwear jackets. This is good news for the West Coast label, Harputs Own. The line also includes coats, dresses, tops, pants, rompers, vests and so on.

The American Apparel cotton spandex jersey bandeau pencil dress ($41) can be worn at least a dozen different ways. Photo from American Apparel Web site.

Made from cashmere, wool, nylon and cotton, Harputs Own jackets ($375-$800), or swackets, are small wonders. Put one on and wear it open and it is an ordinary, yet stylish shawl-collared affair. One of the secrets is the placement of snap fasteners.

Grab the hem of the jacket and wrap it over the shoulders and snap. The result is a jacket with an asymmetrical cowl-neck and lapels. Put it on upside down to create a cowlneck-peekaboo/crisscross-at-the-waist effect. Yours Truly, who sports the Black Wool Swacket ($425.00, pictured above at left) can not do it proper justice in mere words. See the You Tube demo:

The swackets are designed to be worn in more ways than are shown in the video. Each individual owner is encouraged to unlock the secrets to his/her jacket. The brains behind the outfits is Gus Harput, who sells his creations out of his shop, Harputs of San Francisco, located in the city by the bay.

What inspired Gus to create the line? … More shortly.

Visit to learn more about Harput’s Own.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fighting the Cold War With a Chill Collaborator

The double-wall thermal insulation of the skybar Wine Cool Cover keeps pre-chilled wine cool for hours. Photo from skybar Web site.

HEAD’S UP: Here it is past mid-December and holiday shopping isn't yet an item on the to-do list. What’s a body to do? One option is to give money. Everybody needs money, right. Well … almost everybody does. Yet the idea of gifting money seems a bit slapdash and last-minute, which it is, of course. Never fear. The elves at VEVLYN’S PEN are here to help in what has become a tradition. Continuing through 24 Dec., we will introduce one or a series of products, items and brands that we believe is worthy of consideration as a holiday gift(s). And … we’re off !!!!

Gift Idea(s) Pt. 4:


all been there before. The wine-cooling dilemma: to chill and drip-drip-drip or to keep dry, eventually warming the wine, especially if a fireplace is nearby.

Absolutely maddening. Completely wrecks the whole purpose of opening a bottle of wine to relax in the first place!

Now there’s no need to lose your cool. Practice aerobics some other way than running to the refrigerator. Forget the art of swaddling the wine bottle. Don’t even think of sticking a cold silver doodad in a handblown crystal goblet. Toss those icky ice-and-water chillers aside. (Besides, the more beautiful they tend to be, the less they tend to work anyway.)

Find relief in the perfect marriage of elegant form and fine function with the skybar Wine Cool Cover (on sale online for $39.99).

The sleek, double-insulated aluminum sleeve fits snuggly over a chilled bottle of bubbly or wine, keeping it frosty for hours. Literally. No more wet patches all over the holiday linens.

No more jarringly frozen fingers grasping slippery bottles.

Wine ... It's in the Bag, a Rather Nice One

The gold-tasseled velvet wine bag comes in six colors. Photo from Way More For Less Website.

A velvet wine bag harkens back to a time when wrapping was as significant as the gift itself, and was never, ever made of paper.

Explore the world of velvet, that noble winter wrap. Lower a bottle inside, and watch the transformation take place, as if by magic. The thick dark velvet wine bag’s cord winds securely around the bottle, a glint of gold dangling along the shapely silhouette, mysterious and seductive.

People nod and smile at an upright velvet sack, held up by nature or a special force from within. Soon their eyes begin to tell another story. Is that for me? What could possibly be inside?

Only one hand will extend the richly encased treasure. Only one other hand will greet it. The fingers will brush against the plush softness. A gentle caress will ripple along the palm. The weight of the bottle will recall the hand from its daydream, as it grips the softened glass. For a while, all is still. Suspense lurks. The wine (or spirits) inside must be special to merit such careful presentation.

The velvet bag is a pleasing package in which to present a bottle of wine or liquor. Photo from Way More For Less Website.

Fearful that the bag might cost as much as the wine? Not to worry. This little find is a best kept holiday secret ($11, including shipping). It’s also available in six colors: royal blue, purple, red, plum, burgundy, and hunter.

Shhhhh – tell no one. Just between you and Vevlyn. Happy Holidays!

to learn more about the skybarTM Wine Cool Cover, and http:// to learn more about the velvet wine bag.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prescribing ‘Raw For 30 Days’ & ‘Forks Over Knives’

"Forks Over Knifes" merchandise such as totes and jackets are available for purchase. Photo courtesy of "Forks Over Knives" Web site.

HEAD’S UP: Here it is past mid-December and holiday shopping isn't yet an item on the to-do list. What’s a body to do? One option is to give money. Everybody needs money, right. Well … almost everybody does. Yet the idea of gifting money seems a bit slapdash and last-minute, which it is, of course. Never fear. The elves at VEVLYN’S PEN are here to help in what has become a tradition. Continuing through 24 Dec., we will introduce one or a series of products, items and brands that we believe is worthy of consideration as a holiday gift(s). And … we’re off !!!!

Gift Idea(s) Pt. 3:

By JANET COOK NYC Healthy Chick

will inspire you to change the way you eat, thereby significantly improving your health and prolonging your life?

No, not simply to eat healthy for as long as it takes to look better in a bathing suit or to lose those extra pounds or to knock a few numbers off the blood-work results and blood pressure. Are you prepared to make a lifelong commitment to it? What if watching a film could actually save your life? Really. I'm not kidding.

Two insightful and powerful documentaries address the health crisis in the United States (and increasingly the world) and offer solutions. They reveal how processed foods are making us sick and what we can do to take back our health – to live healthier, happier and longer lives naturally. Every day, individuals are improving their health and seeing how their lives are transformed by simply eating the way nature intended.

Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days ($29.99) chronicles six Americans with diabetes who for one month switched to a diet consisting entirely of vegan, organic, uncooked foods. They are challenged to give up meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, soda, junk food, fast food, processed food, packaged food and even cooked food. The remarkable journey of each participant is tracked as s/he experiences the medical, physical and emotional transformations brought on by this radical diet and lifestyle change. Witness moments of struggle, support and startling clarity that diet can reverse disease and change lives.

Forks Over Knives ( $19.99) documents the personal journeys of a pair of pioneering researchers, T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn. The film examines the profound claim that most – if not all – of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed by not eating animal-based and processed foods. Leading experts on health examine the question "why we don’t know" and tackle the issue of diet and disease in a way that will have people talking for years. It’s a film that can save lives.

“Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days” and “Forks Over Knives” are simple and affordable cures to what ails so many who face ever-increasing healthcare costs. If you, a loved one or friend is challenged with any chronic disease or illness, first consider these particular prescriptions.

Reclaiming and retaining health never felt and tasted so good!

Visit and to learn more about the DVDS and to see trailers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Paul Taylor's Democratic Offer to Potential Patrons

Choreographer Paul Taylor, right, in rehearsal with dancers. Photos by Paul B. Goode.

HEAD’S UP: Here it is past mid-December and holiday shopping isn't yet an item on the to-do list. What’s a body to do? One option is to give money. Everybody needs money, right. Well … almost everybody does. Yet the idea of gifting money seems a bit slapdash and last-minute, which it is, of course. Never fear. The elves at VEVLYN’S PEN are here to help in what has become a tradition. Continuing through 24 Dec., we will introduce one or a series of products, items and brands that we believe is worthy of consideration as a holiday gift(s). And … we’re off !!!!

Gift Idea(s) Pt. 2:


at the creation!

Here’s an affordable opportunity to finance a piece from a master of vibrant dance.

Commissioning a dance work can cost in the many thousands of dollars. Once, only royalty could afford to be patrons of the arts, investing heavily to have masterpieces produced for their pleasure. Now, commoners have that opportunity through January 2012.

Paul Taylor, the creative force behind the renown Paul Taylor Dance Company, will be at work on his 136th dance soon, and anyone can “Create With Taylor.”

An investment as small as $5 buys behind-the-scenes views of PT creating his special brand of magic. Not surprisingly, the greater the investment, the greater the goodies. A $25 investment, for example, also comes with an autographed photo of PT.

Paul Taylor, right, with Annmaria Mazzini and Michael Trusnovec.

At the $100-plus level, patrons get all of the aforementioned, plus PTDC merchandise and a DVD of “Dancemaker,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about the company.

Patrons will be issued a password to log-in and watch as the dance progresses over the six-week creative period and subsequent weeks of rehearsal. The project culminates with the world premiere of the dance at Syracuse University in March 2012.

Visit http:// to learn more about “Create with Taylor.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Painting Churches' Despite a Jaundiced Eye

Kathleen Chalfant and Richard Easton are the subjects of “Painting Churches.” Photo courtesy of Keen Company.

HEAD’S UP: Here it is past mid-December and holiday shopping isn't yet an item on the to-do list. What’s a body to do? One option is to give money. Everybody needs money, right. Well … almost everybody does. Yet the idea of gifting money seems a bit slapdash and last-minute, which it is, of course. Never fear. The elves at VEVLYN’S PEN are here to help in what has become a tradition. Commencing today right through 24 Dec., we will introduce one or a series of products, items and brands that we believe is worthy of consideration as a holiday gift(s). And … we’re off !!!!

Gift Idea(s), Pt. 1:


excitement and anticipation of the curtain rising offers an invaluable experience. And shared experiences provide the best kind of memories.

The Keen Company production of Tina Howe’s “Painting Churches” will begin a limited run on 14 Feb. (through 7 April) with a cast that includes Kathleen Chalfant, Richard Easton and Kate Turnbull.

“Painting Churches"($58.50), the first New York revival of the Pulitzer finalist, is a nostalgic look at a New England family. The Churches – Fanny and Gardner, a poet heading quietly toward senility – are the aging parents of Mags who has returned home to help her parents pack up their Boston townhouse to move permanently to Cape Cod. Now a New York-based painter, Mags wishes to attempt an honest portrait of her parents despite past resentments that could threaten her efforts.

Visit to learn more about “Painting Churches.”

A Little Less of 'Nutcracker'&Co. Goes a Long Way
The New York Theatre Ballet produces truncated versions of ballets, including "Nutcracker." Photo by Richard Termine.

CHOREOGRAPHER Keith Michael’s “Nutcracker” is a great way to start a holiday tradition with 3- to 10-year olds. The New York Theatre Ballet specializes in family-friendly, compact versions of classic ballets.

The “Nutcracker” keeps all the drama and flair of the longer versions around the country. Of course, the story takes place at Christmas when the toymaker Drosselmeyer brings the nutcracker in question as a gift for the daughter of the household. After the excitement of the holiday party, with its dancing and games, the young girl dreams about her Nutcracker prince. In this dream, she and her prince ride into the Sugar Plum Fairy’s wonderland where they are entertained by dancers from all corners of the world.

While the “Nutcracker” plays through today at Florence Gould Hall for the year, other fairytale ballets are on offer for the younger set. In January and February, NYTB will be peforming the Alice in Wonderland Follies. In March, comes Sleeping Beauty. (Tickets are $31 for children and $36 for the adults who accompany them.)

Visit to learn more about the New York Theatre Ballet’s abbreviated versions of classic ballets.

Want Teen Drama? Here's Team Play (Harnessed, Thankfully!).
Team Play is an opportunity for teens to do something productive with their drama. Photo courtesy of Primary Stages.

HERE’S an opportunity for that dramatic teen to strut his or her stuff in front of a captive audience.

Team Play is a seven-session, intensive workshop from Primary Stages workshop. It encourages students to unleash the performer buried deep inside or residing just below the surface. The class, which is geared to 14- to18-year-olds and begins in January, is led by working theater artists.

Playwright-director Eric Holmes and actor-musician Chesney Snow will guide participants through exercises meant to generate theatrical ideas and unlock their skills.

Team Play ($250) culminates with a showcase, allowing students to present their work to an invited audience.

Visit or email Sarah Matteucci at to learn more about “Team Play.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to Store Wines, Pt 2: A Tale of Woe and Love

It's not exactly the 1994 Conn Creek Cab Sauv Select Reserve, but close enough. Photo courtesy of Media Uvinim.

NEVER underestimate the role of chance and luck in storing wine. Even those “in the know” sometimes get shocked or pleasantly surprised.

The Bottle
In 1997, my husband’s boss gave him a bottle of a 1994 Conn Creek Select Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet. Not being much of a wine geek, he stored the wine on its side in a heavy velvet gift bag under his bed in various apartments – for the next 13 years!!! When I found out I groaned. In addition to lying around for more than a decade, the wine has lately been lazing about in an apartment that tends to the bone-dry and very hot. So much for three of the six wine storage tips in “How to Store Wines Pt. 1 (

I just knew this beautiful wine would be skunked. All my wine-geek friends and professionals were ready to pronounce a requiem for such an unnoteworthy demise. Funny, because everyone knew it was “already long gone” there was no real incentive to uncork it and prove the obvious. So, believe-it-not, the wine stayed dormant for yet another year .

The Woe
Last night, with a back-up bottle in the wings just in case, my other half and I uncorked the Napa Valley Cabernet. The minute the foil wrap came off, an ever-so-slight vinegary waft arose from the cork. Not a good omen. Oh well. Out comes the trusty bartender’s corkscrew. Then, as if the threads have been stripped, the corkscrew pulls up crumbs. The cork is disintegrating right before my very eyes! Merde. I put the corkscrew in reverse, unwind it fully, cup the top of the bottle, close my eyes, and blow gently. Cork fragments breeze everywhere. Look again. Where to aim the next surgical strike? Uggggh, along the wall of the bottle. Not the best place, but not too many choices left.

Wait a minute: “Hey Hon,” I asked my husband, “did we ever get the two-pronged corkscrew, the one I said I always hated?”

“You mean the one you threatened to throw out if I did?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“Of course not!”


He looks perplexed. I don’t understand. Must be a guy-thang. Back to the drawing board.

Attempt #2: No luck. Pulling up cork fragments again, but at least they’re damp. The cork hasn’t dried out entirely. A marginally good sign. Cork fragments do not smell moldy. Slightly vinegary, but not moldy. Another marginally good sign.
Attempt #3: Same as before.
Attempt #4: Just as with football, sometimes ya just have to go right down the center. OK. Making a bit of progress, the remaining cork starts to edge up the bottle, and then begins to crumble.

The two-pronged corkscrew can come in handy with a broken cork. Photo courtesy of Corkscrew.

Oh to hell with it! I push the remaining ¼ cork into the bottle. Initial pour (with strainer): very dark, but a slightly brownish tinge. Looks a little rusty. Oxidation? Perhaps, and oxidation means vinegar. This bottle is going to be shot. Not even going to bother sniffing it.

First taste: What?!?! Can this be real? This is un-effing-believably good! The Napa Valley Cabernet is a little past prime, but not by much. An oaky smoky bone-dry whisper on the tongue, and then a small rush of fruit flavors and spices roll in, followed by a long, rich, neverending finish. And my husband, who knows not of wine, says, “Oh, so this is what a wine can be!” Yes, indeed, dear. It can. What a revelation.

Long story short: Red wines are like cats – relatively unpredictable beasties. Another bottle from the same lot could have behaved more “typically” and turned to vinegar.

The moral of his story: drink. Wine is meant to be drunk, not buried away, or at least, not buried away until forever. Grab a few friends and family, enjoy the holiday season, but do drink responsibly.

Next Up: David Bouley and the Beaujolais

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Not in Their Back Yard in 'Neighbourhood Watch'

Martin (Matthew Cottle) and company push back against hooliganism in "Neighbourhood Watch." Photos by Karl Andre Photography.


to the shrill noise of fear-mongering can make vigilantes of even the most mild mannered.

In “Neighbourhood Watch,” a Brits Off Broadway production at 59E59 Theaters through 1 Jan., it’s the pacifist Martin (Matthew Cottle) who has turned activist.

Matthew has just moved to The Bluebell Hill Development with his sister, Hilda (Alexandra Mathie), who mobilizes his neighbors against the threats of lawlessness from the nearby housing project, or “estate” as the British more grandly call it.

Martin, egged on by Rod (Terence Booth) who is a “retired security bloke,” organizes a crime watch with his neighbors. “It’s either a fence or a dozen yobbos coming up the hill,” Rod says, “intent on vandalizing the place.”

Fueled by this paranoia, the newcomers overreact, setting up committees for self-defense. They also issue identity cards to the tenants and have industrial fencing installed about the perimeter. Martin and Hilda even put Gareth (Richard Derrington), an out of work engineer, to work building stocks and other deterrents to bad behavior.

In “Neighbourhood Watch,” the acting is universally intelligent and understated. Frances Grey as the resident tart, Amy, is a cheerfully welcome complement to the bachelors and loners in the cast of characters.

The play moves a bit slowly in the first act through what seems like endless committee meetings. Perhaps, though, this is playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn’s way of demonstrating the tedium of such proceedings.

Alexandra Mathie as Hilda and Frances Grey as Amy in "Neighbourhood Watch."

By the way, the headline in this commentary could be that this is AA’s 75th play since 1959 when he started writing at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in North Yorkshire. He was also the theater's artistic director until his retirement in 2009. At the age of 72, the Knight and recipient of both the British Olivier and American Tony Awards for Special Lifetime Achievement, has not lost his touch at very British humor.

As “Neighbourhood Watch” progresses, it comes as no surprise that Martin’s plan to defend life and property falls apart, creating more mayhem than it foils. The way that everything unravels in the play is hilariously pulled together so that in the end it earns its standing as bittersweet farce in the AA canon.

To learn more about “Neighbourhood Watch” visit http:// or

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thinking Your Way to Saiety and a Thinner You

Friends can get together over a hardy smoothie that is rich in nutrients and lower in calories than a full-on meal. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

By JANET COOK, NYC Healthy Chick

making resolutions to be more fit, healthy and lose weight in 2012? Historically, has it been a problem keeping them?

Creating success is not an accident. It begins with a well-conceived plan. More can and will be achieved in 2012 than in the past once a disciplined plan of action is in place. By investing your efforts into a New Year’s Resolution you give yourself a launching pad for starting a new year and new life.

The hardy protein breakfast shake is a high-nutrient, low-calorie way to start the day. Photo courtesy of All Recipes.

In accordance with creating a successful plan follow NYC Healthy Chick’s New Year’s Action Plan For A Healthier You.

Stop Die-ting, Start Intuitive Eating

Starvation and caloric deprivation only lend themselves to weight gain and yo-yo dieting. Why not give Intuitive Eating a shot. What’s this?

According to Wikipedia, “It’s a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body's natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods. It's a process that is intended to create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body. Intuitive eating, just like many other dieting philosophies, goes by many names, including non-dieting or the non-diet approach, normal eating, wisdom eating, conscious eating and more.”

A homecooked meal with family can nurture body and soul. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

In other words, Intuitive Eating is the opposite of dieting because the latter is externally driven.

Today, we are triggered externally to eat food all the time. These triggers can be emotions, "because it's time," opportunity, and/or perceived rules of eating. When there are rigid rules for so-called healthy eating, we are more likely to succumb to overeating as a consequence of breaking well-meaning rules.

To learn more about this approach, get a copy of “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The two prominent nutritionists focus on nurturing the body rather than starving it, while encouraging natural weight loss and identifying the natural weight. The step-by-step approach rejects the diet mentality and at the same time promotes the idea of feeling feelings without using food. This way of eating allows us to honor our hunger and feeling of fullness through a safe relationship with food and our bodies.

Two nutritionists provide a roadmap for a functional relationship with food in "Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works." Photo from Amazon.

Breakfast Shakes: Drink Yourself Skinny
Dr. Mehmet Oz aka Dr. Oz endorses drinking the right protein shake for breakfast as a lesson in how to eat less, lose weight and raise the metabolism by 25 percent. Other benefits include:

– reduces or eliminates fatty foods, which can save an average of 400-500 calories per day;
– keeps blood sugar levels balanced, allowing the body to burn stored fat as fuel;
– increases energy levels, which allows for increase in activity and automatically burns more calories.

Replace the 750-calorie bagel and orange juice meal with a 240-calorie protein shake and save 510 calories a day. The results will show up on the bathroom scale in no time. Drinking a protein shake first thing in the morning is a simple, foolproof weight-loss method.

Dr. Oz orders the right protein shake first thing in the morning to get started on the right foot. Photo courtesy of

Eat Out Less, Eat Home Cooked Meals More
First of all, there is nothing like a homecooked meal. There are so many benefits to eating at home. Meals prepared at home are gifts of nourishment to the body. Dining out too often can sabotage a rational eating plan because we eat things we don’t normally eat at home. Take note of the following saboteurs:

– Multiple courses in huge portions
– Free bread
– Dessert menus and coffee
– Excessive alcohol
– Tasty dishes loaded with salt, sugar and fat

Even NYC Healthy Chick and the most disciplined individuals can succumb to the temptations if externally triggered. Consider the following benefits of not dining out when temptation strikes:

– Saves time and money
– Less salt, trans fats and caloric consumption
– More balanced meals
– Decreases likelihood of food poisoning
– Better energy
– Improved weight management
– Control over portions

A recipe for good Intuitive Eating is the colorful roasted fish, vegetables and quinoa combo. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

Some good dishes
Of course, kicking off a new plan for a healthier you also requires some great recipes. Fire up the metabolism first thing in the morning with a protein shake loaded with strawberries and bananas. Blend the Strawberry Banana Protein Smoothie with a favorite protein powder. This combination is loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein that will help cut calories while delivering a delicious meal that will fill most tummies for hours. (

Also filling and fabulous is Roasted Fish and Veggies With Quinoa and Pine Nuts. Not only is it flavorful, it’s colorful. The combination of basil and almonds or walnuts is bound to knock your socks off. (

Unwrapping the best gift ever just got easier. With the Intuitive Eating action plan becoming fit, healthy and lighter in 2012 is a no-brainer.

“Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works” is available at Amazon. com for as low as around $5.,

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

At Christie's, 'The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor'

The Elizabeth Taylor collection of jewelry, fine arts, textiles, fashions, etc. is on display and will be auctioned at Christie's. Photos courtesy of Christie's.

THE great late Elizabeth Taylor is as famous for myriad marriages as she is for iconic film roles as she is for her eye-popping jewelry collection.

The latter has arrived in New York after a several months-long mini world tour in time for the exhibition, “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor,” that opened Saturday at Christie’s and shutters on 12 Dec. The jewels, along with decorative arts, film memorabilia, costumes and couture pieces, are to be sold over four days in five online and offline auctions at Christie’s commencing on 13 Dec.

The auctions are broken down in categories under the “Collection” rubric:
The Legendary Jewels, Evening Sale (I), 13 Dec.
Jewelry (II), 14 Dec.
The Icon and her Haute Couture, Evening Sale (III), 14 Dec.
Fashion and Accessories (IV), 15 Dec.
Fine and Decorative Art & Film Memorabilia, including costumes (V), 16 Dec.

A tiara befitting a queen of cinema.

This will be no ordinary exhibit or auctions, of the jewelry in particular, for two reasons. First, ET is an iconic figure. Second, because she is well-known for having a keen eye for good jewelry (and art) her collection is thought to be by those in the know one of the best private collections ever to be auctioned.

“From her most jaw-dropping diamonds, gems, and one-of-a-kind historic jewels, to cherished ‘It's Tuesday, I love you gifts’, and never-before-seen keepsakes, Elizabeth Taylor's magnificent collection of jewels promises to captivate the auction world this fall, Marc Porter, Chairman and President of Christie's Americas said in a press release before the jewels made their first stop in Moscow.

The emerald set is among the pieces and ensembles of jewelry that Elizabeth Taylor received from Richard Burton.

Continues MP, “This is without a doubt the greatest private collection of jewelry ever assembled in one place, and Christie's is honored to have been entrusted with the global tour of the collection this fall, and the sale of the collection in its entirety this December.”

Indeed, it is an eye-popping, jaw dropping collection. If not the centerpiece, quite near it is the famed Bvlgari Emerald Suite (Est.: nearly $4 million) from two-time spouse Richard Burton. It comprises a necklace, pendant, ring, bracelet and earrings. From another husband is the Mike Todd Diamond Tiara (Est.: $60K-$80K) reportedly for the director’s “queen.” ET wore the tiara to the 1957 Academy Awards in Los Angeles where MT’s “Around the World in 80 Days" won the Best Picture statuette.

The Valentino gown in signature red is one of many couture pieces that the designer created specifically for the actor.

Another gift from RB, who probably presented ET with more jewelry than any other man in her life, is the 8.24 carat Richard Burton Ruby and Diamond Ring (Est.: upward of $1.5 million). It was designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, which earlier this year staged an exhibition that included ET jewelry. (

According to Christie’s, the 269 pieces of jewelry are expected to fetch “well in excess of” $30 million. On the auction block will be more than 2,000 items, including the nonjewelry items for which Christie’s has not disclosed a fetching price. For the first time in the history of the auction house, Christie’s will accept online bids.

Roughly half of the items in “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” will be available for online bidding. A portion of profits from admissions, events and select publications related to the sales will be donated to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF,

An autographed photo from Elizabeth Taylor's most famous friend.

In The Icon and her Haute Couture is another treasure-trove utterly worthy of an exhibition. The actor was a close friend and big customer of Valentino. Among her purchases is a red gown; not doubt it matched RB’s ruby and diamond ring or his Ruby and Diamond Necklace (Est. up to $3 million) from Cartier.

David Hockneys and Andy Warhols figure among the items in the Fine and Decorative Art & Film Memorabilia category, as well as a Michael Jackson (Est.: $2K-$3K). The photo by Jim Yuckich is from the cover of the single, “Liberian Girl.” It is signed “To My True Love Elizabeth, I love you forever, Michael Jackson!.”

A sale of the actor-activist’s Impressionist & Modern Art is planned for February at Christie’s London.

Visit to learn more about “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor,” including admission to the exhibit.
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