Monday, December 31, 2007

Return of a Grande Dame

Oklahomans welcomed the reopening of the Skirvin Hotel almost a year ago. For many years Oklahoma's finest hostelry, the hotel had been closed for nearly 20 years. I recently got my first glimpse at the Grande Dame. She may be even grander than she was before. The towering lobby is impressive and the rich, red draperies absolutely regal. My room was spacious and comfortable and the bedspread entertaining. Yep, I said bedspread. The fabric was custom made and has a history of the hotel written on it. I've read in bed for years -- this is the first time I've read the bed itself. The Red Piano Lounge is an afternoon hot spot and the Park Avenue Grill, a destination restaurant. The food was fabulous and the desserts excellent. As we often do on press trips, we ordered several desserts for the table and spoons all around. The big favorite for the photographers was the Red Piano, a chocolate creation filled with white chocolate mousse and fresh berries. It was just as good as it looks! This is the second Hilton re-do I've stayed in in the last couple of months. The other is the Hotel President, a Kansas City icon. Both the Skirvin and President fell victim to dwindling downtowns. The city centers of both towns are reinventing and revitalizing themselves and Hilton has done a magnificent job on both of these older properties.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

The sun is coming up -- no clouds to temper its enthusiasm -- and the temperature is just above freezing. Just a note before I walk the dog and start the day's activities. Our holiday began last night with the traditional 11 p.m. service at church. The penultimate moments were spent in near-darkness with only the light of the Christ candle. Then the minister lit a small candle from it and began passing the light. One by one, each of our candles were lit until the sanctuary glowed with the combined gleamings. We sang "Silent Night" then waited a moment for the pealing of the bells that heralded midnight. The organ joined in and we all sang "Joy to the World."

Earlier yesterday evening, I indulged in another favorite tradition -- watching "A Christmas Story" with Darren McGavin and Peter Billingsly. This, for me, is the definitive American holiday classic. For travelers who feel the same, here are two suggestions for destinations:
Cleveland -- the house that appeared in the movie has been restored to its cinematic semi-glory -- leg lamp and all -- and is open to the public ( and Rogers, Arkansas' Daisy Airgun Museum. Though Ralphie's "200 shot Red Ryder range model air rifle with a compass in the stock" was never produced commercially, you'll find one of the four created for the movie in this neat little museum ( Merry Christmas and Happy Traveling.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Proper Cornish Hedge

Cornish hedges are fascinating and intimidating things -- often untidy, haphazard looking, concealing hearts of stone, providing shelter for wildlife and rootholds for plants -- they snake across the Cornish landscape. Check out for more than you'll ever need to know about Cornish hedges. I found it very interesting. I hope you will, too.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Prairie Palazzo

The Marland Mansion is an amazing home -- 55 rooms in this 43,000-plus square-foot pied-a-terre. Visitors oooh and aaah at the gilded ceilings, sparkling crystal and elegant hand-painted Chinoiserie. But even more amazing is the story of E.W. Marland. A millionaire by age 33, he was broke by 34. After moving to Oklahoma in 1908, he made his second fortune, founding Marland Oil Company. By the '20s, he controlled a tenth of all the world's oil reserves. In 1928, he was forced out of his own company by J.P. Morgan and the "wolves of Wall Street." Noted for his generosity and philanthropy, he went on to public service as a U.S. Congressman and as the 10th Governor of the state of Oklahoma. His story can't be told without including his second wife, Lydie. E.W. and his first wife, Virginia, had adopted Viriginia's niece and nephew, Lydie and George Roberts. Two years after Virginia's death, E.W. had the adoption annulled and he and Lydie married, causing considerable tongue-wagging in the small Oklahoma town. Lydie and E.W. lived only briefly in the magnificent mansion. After the loss of his oil company, his fortune declined and he could no longer pay the utility bills for the massive residence. The two moved into the artists' studio on the property. In 1941, Marland sold most of the property to the Discalced Carmelite Fathers of Mexico. He died in the chauffeur's quarters where he and Lydie had moved after the sale. Lydie became a recluse and woman of mystery. Sad endings to the lives of such important Oklahomans. Better to remember E.W.'s work on behalf of the underprivileged, aged and disabled, his conservation efforts and his founding of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety and Highway Patrol, and laughing Lydie, the effervescant princess of the "Palace on the Prairie."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ladies, Be Seated

Comedians always joke about women going to the ladies' room together and lots of times we do make a social occasion out of those visits. Some of the best fun I've had lately was in a ladies' room in Tortilla Flats, Arizona, northeast of Phoenix. Tortilla Flats was a stage coach stop on the Apache Trail. Today about all that's left is a cafe but it's well worth a visit -- especially the ladies' room. The stalls are painted with pictures of saloon dancers' bodies -- we supplied the heads. When I got up from the table to make the trek I was told, "Take your camera and get someone to go with you."

Good advice. We took turns taking pictures of one another and even took pictures for strangers! The restaurant walls are papered with dollar bills and the bar stools have saddles. The food was good, too.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ice Storm

After several lovely days in Phoenix, I returned to Oklahoma City on the leading edge of an ice storm. The ice was so thick on the yard in places that when I walked on it, it didn't even crack. As I worked at the computer, I could hear the loud snapping of branches and the shattering of ice as they hit the ground. Jack walked Roxie and said the neighborhood looked like a tornado had hit it. The ice is beautiful -- but oh so destructive!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Officially Christmas

Gray clouds block the sun but the twinkling lights on my just-finished Christmas tree are bright and cheerful. Mark Parkhurst and I drove to Guthrie this morning for the final rehearsal for the Oklahoma Choral Artist Christmas Concert tomorrow. The plaintive melody of "O Magnum Mysterium" floated out into the empty, cold theater; "Silver Bells" brought back lots of holiday memories and the "Hallelujah Chorus" with the great organ in the Scottish Rite Temple filled the room with the sounds of praise. Checking my email a minute ago, a message from our niece and nephew in Texas brought a grin to my face. Want to have some fun? Go to If you want to see Jack and me, go to Merry Christmas!!!!