Two Musts for a New Year’s Eve Party

Two Musts for a New Year’s Eve Party

If you’re going to a New Year’s Eve party this year, be a sweetie and bring two important things that every hostess needs. First, a yummy appetizer that doesn’t need reheating; second, a couple bottles (one champagne, one not champagne).

The Appetizer

This is one of the easiest, tastiest, and most surprising appetizers that I’ve ever run across. I was introduced to it via my good friend Kristin Reeves. Some day I must do a post about her, because she introduced me to so many tasteful, joyful, easy and luscious things that she’s truly made her mark on my life, even though we’ve lived across the continent from each other for over 20 years. I had this dish as a part of an impromptu afternoon snack, with white wine and…well, that’s a story for another day.

Lox, Cream Cheese, and Onion Spirals  Ingredients: Lox, cream cheese, onion, 8-inch soft flour tortillas.   Take four ounces of good quality lox (found in 3 or 4 ounce packages near the butcher case in the grocery store) and add to your mixing bowl. Add an 8 ounce block of cream cheese (not the pre-whipped stuff). Cut a good sized onion in half, and chop half of it finely. Add to the bowl. (If you have small onions, use the whole thing.)

Turn your mixer on low; mix until well-blended, stopping to scrape the beater at least once. When it’s done, the lox and onion will be well-incorporated into the cream cheese.

Take out a flour tortilla; spread about a third of the cream cheese mixture over the tortilla. Roll up tightly and place in a large ziplock baggie. Repeat with the rest of the mixture and two more tortillas. (I had some left over; made a lovely snack on crackers.) Put the rolls into the refrigerator and let rest for an hour.

Prior to the party, cut the rolls into 1/2 inch thick pieces and lay them flat on a plate that you don’t mind leaving at the party (I usually pick up a festive one at the dollar store). The rolls will show bits of salmon and onion and look very festive. Wrap the plate with plastic wrap, and add a festive note on it describing what is in the dish (for those who may be allergic or sensitive). Voila – you’ve made your hostess very happy!

As for the bottles… if you like champagne, bring the bottle you prefer. That way when the

Mumm Napa Valley

Mumm Napa Valley

 time comes, you’ll have the one  you like to sip on as the year turns over. If you don’t have a champagne that you prefer, do yourself and your hostess a favor and stay in the $10 to $20 dollar range; there are a lot of more expensive bottles on sale right now that will make you look like a hero. For “brand names”, I like Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa Valley, and Korbel. As I don’t like sweet champagnes, I go for the ones that say “Brut”. For an explanation on levels of sugar in champagnes, go to this post here.

Trader Joe's Sparkling White Chardonnay Grape Juice

Trader Joe’s Sparkling White Chardonnay Grape Juice

For the non-alcoholic sparkler, my sons really liked Trader Joe’s Sparkling White Chardonnay Grape Juice, and I must admit it was very tasty. Not overly sweet, but just sweet enough, and with a nice sparkle to it. As a matter of fact, I need to hustle over there and grab a couple bottles for New Year’s Eve…

What are your plans for the New Year? We’re most likely staying home and enjoying family. Whatever you do, do it with gusto and love, and you can’t go wrong.

Okay, so there you go. I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, and may 2014 be your best year yet! Sending love and hugs, from my home to yours.


Back to the Barre, Week 2

Back to the Barre, Week 2

…two steps back…

My body isn’t happy with me. Oh, it doesn’t care that it’s 6:15 am and I’m headed to the gym; no, it’s more that I haven’t been to the gym (and more importantly, done the stretching or the ballet work) for three days so far.

Last week? 6 out of 7. This week? The 23rd, we went to San Diego for an early Christmas with my Dad. On the way home, we dropped by the Chocolate Bar in Carlsbad, and got hugs from Tameri Etherton and her fantastic hubby Dave (not to mention chocolate, and coffee drinks). Then, On Christmas Eve, there was a class from 5:30am to 6:30am. We’d gotten to the gym early. I wasn’t about to wait around for the room to be free. Plus the gym was closed on Christmas Day. Three days into the week and no ballet.

It took too long for my back to warm up this morning, another nasty side effect from not working out for three days. I spend thirty minutes on the treadmill instead of twenty, hoping to get everything even more warmed up than usual.

I finally go into the aerobics room and do my stretches. Ten minutes of stretching, then it’s time to get back on my feet. At my makeshift barre, I look in the mirror. Whether it’s the placement of my grey tee shirt or what, I catch my breath at my reflection, with only one thought on my mind.

WHY AM I SEEING MY MOTHER’S HIPS ON MY BODY?  The very hips I used to be so dismissive of, so smug – my hips would never look like that. Ever. (Now I just want to bonk my head on a cement wall and curse genetics. Unfortunately, no cement wall handy.) I look again, and there they are. My Mother’s hips, somehow attached to my body.

Oh, the horror! I squinch my eyes and go about my workout, avoiding looking at anything in the mirror other than my white-socked feet. The workout ends up being brutally short, as I’m sweaty and panting after just tendus. Which is not a good thing. Mentally, I’m wailing. I’ve only been away for three days. THREE. DAYS.

Shit. This getting into shape via ballet workout is not going to be a) easy or b) fun or c) pleasant. But damn it. I’m committed. I know I’m not going to get where I was (who does?); but I’d like to get closer to her, in the photo below. Except the hair. I’ll be happy to skip the perm.

Christine Ashworth, circa 2001. Photo by Jackson/Kristofferson & Associates, Los Angeles

Christine Ashworth, circa 1981. Photo by Jackson/Kristoffersen & Associates, Los Angeles

 So. What are you up to? Hope your Christmas was a merry one!


Back to the Barre, 30 Years Later

Back to the Barre, 30 Years Later

The room feels the same. Wooden floor beneath my feet, the floor to ceiling mirrors. It’s dark, though, the only light coming in through the huge windows facing the main part of the gym. It’s early, not quite seven in the morning, and I’ve come to see what I can reclaim from my youth.

The last pair of pointe shoes I wore. These are 30 years old at least.

The last pair of pointe shoes I wore. These are 30 years old at least. Not so pretty up close, are they?

I’ve already warmed up on the treadmill; the ballet barre is too strenuous for me to do without a warm-up at this stage in my life. I put the mat down and do some stretches, as my back isn’t what it used to be. Sitting wrong for so many years, as my husband will tell you. At any rate, I’m here to reclaim the ease of movement I once had, so. Stretching.

It’s the third day in a row that I’ve rolled out of bed and come straight to the gym, stopping only for a shot of espresso in my kitchen, quickly downed. My stretching today is easier than it had been earlier in the week, and yet I’ve started to sweat. I stand up and put the mat away and my heart pumps in anticipation. There isn’t a barre in the room, that would be too heavenly; instead, I hang onto the red support pole toward the back of the room.

Just standing in first position is a workout, if you do it right. Back straight. Ass tucked in. Stomach tucked in. Chest up, shoulders down and back. Chin up, but not forward. Somehow, when I stand in first position, my body remembers. Flows to the right position.

The view in the mirror is wrong, though. Indistinct, a bit blurry. I’m not wearing pink tights and a black leotard; instead, a grey t-shirt from Aspen, Colorado, cut out at the neck and hem and a pair of black yoga pants, with white socks on my feet.  My hair sticks out any old way, the cap I’d worn to the gym earlier discarded, along with my sweatshirt and tennis shoes.

"Innovations"  ballet, choreographed by Greg Smith. From left to right: Karen Gabay, Patrice Dabrowski, Christine (Me), Anne Dabrowski

“Innovations” ballet, choreographed by Greg Smith for California Ballet Company’s Junior Company. From left to right: Karen Gabay, Patrice Dabrowski, Christine (Me), Anne Dabrowski (1976?) Back when I could dance.

I start with tendus. (Usually plies come first, but my knees can’t handle them yet.) Simple, four to the front, side, back, side, all in first position. Soutenou to the other side and repeat.

I stare at my feet as I work. My feet look the same. High arch. Beautiful feet. I’ve always been proud of them and now, as I move from tendus to degages, I focus on them, gleaming white in the dark of the room.

Next, ronde jambs. Circling outward is fine; circling inward hurts my standing knee, and I resort to a demi plie to pamper the knee a bit. The rhythms are there, the muscle memory is there, and when I close my eyes, I almost feel seventeen again. I change sides and chance a look into the mirror; the body is not the same, and reality breaks me a little.

My feet haven't changed.

My feet haven’t changed.

The feet are the same, the heart inside me is the same; but the body has changed. I miss ballet so much it tears at me sometimes and I wish that I had kept it up, somehow, during my incredibly selfish twenties. Instead I turned to running and weights, and was at times amazing-looking. (When I was 28, I looked better naked than clothed. All finely muscled. Too bad I never had photos taken, lol.) Then came the rest of life, and I’d been without ballet for so long I thought I could never go back.

Exercise takes selfishness. It takes the ability to say, “this is ME time”, and mean it. Hold to it. I’ve just finished three difficult years physically; now, finally, this is my time to seize hold of the inner me that craves exercise. When I did some soul-searching about what makes me happy, I realized that ballet makes me happy. Not running, not weights, not aerobics, but ballet.

I’m nowhere near ready to be a part of a class; I’ve got a long way to go before I can envision myself standing at a barre with a bunch of teenagers, or even other adults. My pride won’t let me and I’m okay with that. Luckily, in the early morning, the exercise room at the gym is empty but for me and others who wander in and out, doing headstands or pushups or practicing rap songs under their breath as they shake their booty (this IS Los Angeles, after all). I’m pretty sure you’ll never see me dancing in Swan Lake again; but if I can regain even a portion of the strength and flexibility I once had, I’ll be good to go.

And if I’m lucky, maybe someday the mirror will edge closer to the memory.

Maggie Marr on Writer Wednesday!

Maggie Marr on Writer Wednesday!

Maggie Marr

Maggie Marr

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Maggie through the Los Angeles Romance Authors chapter of RWA. She’s funny, terribly smart, and very nice. Please welcome the lovely and talented Maggie Marr!

CA: What made you decide to write a novel?

MM: I’m not sure I ever made a conscious decision to write a novel.  I have been a writer since I was 8 years old.  I’ve heard characters in my head telling me stories since I was a little girl.  I grew up in the Midwest and the children who aren’t so good in math, but are really good with words are often steered toward ‘The Law’.  Meaning a legal career.  I didn’t grow up knowing any writers.  I didn’t even think of writing as a potential career path.  I kind of thought everyone heard these stories in their head.  It wasn’t until after law school that I realized that maybe I could do something with all these stories I heard in my head.

CA: Wow. A law career. That’s using both sides of your brain, isn’t it? So what genre do you write in, and why?

MM: I write Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Romance and New Adult Contemporary.  I’ve discovered the common thread in all three is sex.  Lots and lots of sex.  The Women’s Fiction books, I love writing because they are often about female friendships as well as a love interest.  My women friends have been the solid foundation upon which my life was built.  So I love writing about how those female friends often save my characters.

CA: Is this a series or standalone book? If a series, what is the name of this series, and how many books/short stories do you have planned?

MM: Hollywood Hit is part of the Hollywood Girls Club Series; however, it is a standalone book.  Every book in the series includes Cici Solange and her cadre of close friends so while all three books inform each book it isn’t necessary for the reader to have read any one of the Hollywood Girls Club books to understand any book in the series.  Hollywood Hit is the most romance oriented of the titles and introduces a completely new character in Nikki Solange, niece of Cici Solange.   I think there will be 4 our 5 Hollywood Girls Club books total.

CA: Where would you live, if you could live anywhere in the world?

MM: I’d like to city hop.  Three months in London, three months in Paris, three months in Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong–try them all.  Then ultimately find a lovely little house, in the mountains, with a view of the ocean, with a lovely yard and a chair and a table in the lovely little yard on which to write.

CA: Name 3 simple joys in your life.

MM: 1. My family.  2. The time from 4am – 7am when I write.  3. Hot coffee.

CA: If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead or fictional, who would it be and where would you go to eat?

MM: The restaurant is easier than the person-I would like to try The French Laundry–I hear it’s the meal of a lifetime.  As for the person…that is tough…I think Shakespeare.  Here’s why–I love writers.  I think writers are amazing.  I have the best time with writers.  When I’m with a group of writers, I am, I think, my best self.  Plus, Shakespeare was a bit of a mischievous rogue.  I think Will could party.  Throw back a few.  Tell some outrageous stories.  Perhaps I take my latest manuscript and ask him for writerly advice?  So maybe not the French Laundry– me and Will would get thrown out on our asses from the French Laundry for sure.  I like a good night out — maybe just a local pub like The Local Peasant.  I know everyone there, they will make sure I get home (can even call my hubs if Will and I get really out of line.)  Yes–that’s it.  A Friday night, with William Shakespeare at The Local Peasant.

CA: If you could give just one piece of advice to a writer starting out, what would it be?

MM: Write.  Sit down in the chair and write.  You can’t be a writer unless you write.  It doesn’t matter if the first draft sucks, first drafts are meant to suck–that is their job.  Don’t be afraid of a sucky first draft.  Your job is to get the sucky first draft out and then use your craft, your skill, and your hard-won knowledge to turn that sucky first draft into a beautiful book.

CA: What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have a Day Job?

MM: When I am not writing I am practicing law and trying to get movies made.  As an attorney I represent some publishers, some authors, some screenplay writers and some entrepreneurs.  I also work with Dahooma Productions trying to get a few independent films into production.  In the evenings I freelance as chauffeur for two kidlets.

CA: Name one thing your fans would be surprised to learn about you.

MM: My memory is atrocious.  Truly.  I stack things so I don’t forget about them or put items in a ‘special’ place so that I will remember where they are and then…absolutely can’t remember where the ‘special’ place is that I put the item.  I’ve recently resorted to placing sticky notes on the bathroom mirror so that I might remember things I need to know for the day.  And yet…I can tell you in great detail events and characters that were in books I read when I was a child.

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

MM: Thank you for reading my books.  I love writing them and I want each book to be better than the last.  I feel so much gratitude that people actually buy my books and spend hours reading them.  Thank you.

 Here’s the Blurb for Hollywood Hit:

Being the niece of the biggest star in the world isn’t easy–especially when someone is

Hollywood Hit by Maggie Marr

Hollywood Hit by Maggie Marr

trying to kill you.

Nikki Solange is a small town Tennessee girl. When she hits Hollywood and tries to become a movie Producer, she’s in for the culture shock of her life–and finding a D-list actor turned up-and-coming director floating face down in the his swimming pool is the least of it. Now Nikki must walk the gauntlet that is Hollywood and try to stay alive because someone from Nikki’s hard-scrabble past is out to make sure that she ends up dead.

Pretending to be a Hollywood playboy film producer is easy when one of the world’s richest men is backing you.

Ex Marine sniper Rush Nelson is back from his final tour in Afghanistan and is now a security specialist for one of the world’s richest men, media mogul Tedd Robinoff. Backed by his boss, Rush has a solid cover-story that includes some serious Armani threads, a pulse-pounding car, and a limitless expense account. All to protect Robinoff, his business interests, and Robinoff’s family, which includes Ted’s superstar wife Celeste ‘Cici’ Solange and her pain-in-the-ass niece Nikki. Rush must achieve his directive without ruining his cover. Easy–except for one problem–Nikki Solange. Rush is falling for her.

The number one rule not to break when your mission is to protect.

Maggie’s Bio:

Maggie Marr is an attorney, an author, and an independent producer. Hard Glamour, the first book in her New Adult Glamour Series, publishes January 14, 2014. Hollywood Hit, the third book in Maggie’s much loved Hollywood Girls Club Series published December 17, 2013. As with any Hollywood Girls Club book, all names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty, but if you read closely enough, you can sort out who you are…Maggie lives and works in Los Angeles.

Maggie’s Amazon Page

Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out Maggie Marr’s latest novel, Hollywood Hit.


Remember to take time for yourself as you rush around this holiday season. Breathe, enjoy the bustle, and be good to yourself.  Cheers, my friends!

Three Years Post-Acoustic Neuroma Surgery

Three Years Post-Acoustic Neuroma Surgery

Three  years ago today, my husband and I were sitting in the waiting room at UCLA Hospital along with about a hundred other people. The sun hadn’t yet risen. It was cold, and I was nervous. Tom was scared to death.

The summer between tentative diagnosis and the MRI that confirmed it.

The summer between tentative diagnosis and the MRI that confirmed it.

He’d read more about this procedure than I had; he’d done more research. Since what I had read scared the crap out of me, I didn’t bother to read more than the basics.

An Acoustic Neuroma (or more accurately called a Vestibular Schwannoma) is usually benign, slow growing, and lays on top of the acoustic nerve and the facial nerve (nerves 7 and 8, I believe).

It used to be a rare diagnosis; but acoustic neuromas are showing up more frequently.

There are two types of treatment; surgical, and Gamma Knife Radiation. I chose surgical, because I wanted that thing out of me.

I walked everywhere that summer in Mammoth, always with a walking stick. My balance was beyond unpredictable.

I walked everywhere that summer in Mammoth, always with a walking stick. My balance was beyond unpredictable.

So the surgery lasted 11 hours; for more detail, see this post here.  I had a follow-up visit with my otologist at 9 months post-op – he said my recovery was going well but to keep up my walking and my balance practice, and he sent me to therapy.

That’s when I realized that the 3 to 6 months of recovery time was wrong.

For me, it’s taken a solid three years to recover, but I can finally say I’m good to go. My balance is good; the hearing in my right ear is gone, of course, having been taken out by going through the ear canal to perform the surgery – better than having my skull opened up! – but I’ve gotten used to being unable to easily echo-locate.

I’ve also gotten used to putting people on my left side, and reminding people if they’re on my deaf side that they might have to touch my arm to get my attention.

I didn’t go the “group” route when I was diagnosed; I’m not really that kind of person. But if you’re dealing with an acoustic neuroma, and if you ARE a group type person, there’s a good one called the Acoustic Neuroma Association. They have an interview with Mark Ruffalo, who also underwent surgery for an acoustic neuroma; his story is different from mine and totally fascinating.

I guess I just wanted to do a wrap-up, partly for me, partly for others out there who are undergoing the fear and fascination of having something growing in your head that doesn’t belong there. I do consider myself lucky. But the best part is, more surgeons are getting experience dealing with acoustic neuromas. More information is known. And more information is almost always better when dealing with someone mucking about in your cranium.

May all your days be blessed. Mine certainly have been. Oh – and Happy Anniversary to me. I think I deserve to celebrate.