Odyssey Media’s In The Black Tour

It has been a busy few months. Houston is most active in the fall because it is actually cool enough to go outside. We are still able to wear shorts in November, even though we are approaching winter. We are in the year of El Nino which means it is even more warm than usual. I was nervous about being able to where a little black dress for the In The Black tour which happened on November 10th. I was able to pull off my sleeveless dress with no conflict to weather. Though, the black dress was required attire, the content of the event was much more than that.

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Photo by Ama Love

My experience with Odyssey and their women business retreat has been one of my underground secrets to success (though I try to tell everyone I know how wonderful it is). It has been 20 years since they started hosting an annual business retreat usually consisting of executive  (corporate or entrepreneurial) women of color. At the time, it was called Spa Odyssey but has evolved much more than that. Imagine a place where a secret sorority collides with the some sort of business illuminati and you have Odyssey. It is the nature of the invite only requirement that has kept it underground.

Odyssey is changing. This year, they decided to have an In The Black tour to connect women entrepreneurs in the cities where they live. It was a mini version of the retreats I am accustomed. Many of the hostesses, including myself, invited friends that we thought could benefit from Odyssey’s network. Yet, many of the invitees had no context of what Odyssey is about.

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Photo by Ama Love

We had a powerful pep talk from Becky Davis, who is a resident Odyssey Media life coach. She walked us through why we need to “step up” our game in everything we do.

Step up:
Service – give to others, it will come back to you
Time management – use your time wisely
Educate your self – sharpen your ax
Preparation – always be ready

Becky is a Texas native that coaches entrepreneurs all over the country for the last 20 years. We were offered a program from Coca-Cola which provides entrepreneurs with tools to help them perfect their business.

After Becky’s pep talk, we heard from Mikki Taylor who is a fashion extraordinaire. She pulled volunteers from the audience and transformed their black dresses into glamour. She advised us on finding simple black dresses that we can wear over and over again, from the office to evening events. The key to the transformation are the accessories, not the actual dress.

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Photo by Ama Love

We had a packed house of over 200 women that were hand selected to attend. One lucky attendee received a free weekend stay at a Manhattan Beach Marriott. In addition, someone will win a registration to the upcoming Odyssey Media business retreat in Amelia Island. We all walked away inspired and revitalized to take our businesses to the next level.

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Photo by Ama Love

In addition to the retreat, Odyssey announced some of their projects throughout the year which includes a writer’s workshop, Martha’s Vineyard and a trip to Cuba. I am excited about the new frontiers that Odyssey is embarking. I am very blessed to have benefitted from my interactions with Odyssey women. What started as an idea 20+ years ago by the founder Linda Spradley Dunn, continues to be the essential salve for women of color leaders.

There are 2 cities left for the In the Black Tour: New Orleans and Miami. Do not wait until the last minute to get your tickets. The event will sell out.

Our Family Dinner (Houston)

I first heard about “Our Family Dinner” a few years ago. I thought it was a great idea but never pushed myself over the edge to attend. They have one every six months though neighborhood dinners happen in between major ones. The Houston family dinner last Saturday at Paul’s Kitchen was sponsored by AARP, which made the price point an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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I researched a couple of hours before arriving and realized we were not allowed to have our phones and could not shake hands, we had to hug.  The dinner is as if you are out with family even if you have never met. We even took a family picture.

Many of the attendees are new to Houston (less than 3 years). The target audience are millennials, though I met enough Gen Xers to feel comfortable.  The introductions were genuine and energy sincere.

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I did not realize they are also international. An upcoming dinner will be in Lagos next month. If you want to add a dinner to your city (even if overseas), you can request here.

I was so excited to be a part of this movement. I planned to go home directly after…. Yet, I ended up at the after party and the after after party. I look forward to our next gathering!

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Update: Featured video from the event

Pippin

It has been about 20+ years since I have seen Pippin. I know we performed it in school but I can’t remember the details. I definitely opted out of the show performance but may have supported costumes. After seeing it last night at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, I have no idea how I processed the show as a child. There were so many abstract themes which become more clear after you actually experience life.
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Hobby Center was a new experience for me. I am not sure how I managed to not make it to a show there, but it really was an excuse I can no longer use. I thought this show started at 7pm. When I arrived in the lobby at 645pm, I was surprised to learn the show started at 7:30pm. What to do with ALL this extra time? Eat!

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I could not believe how many food options there were. There is also a restaurant built into the lobby. I toured the lobby choices and  was overwhelmed at the size of the desserts. The fresh pasta station. Plantain chips. I almost lost my mind. I finally had someone suggest a dessert and he recommended the tres leches. I recognized the Cordua on his uniform and I dipped in the chocolate tres leches to pass time.

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I had no expectations going into the theater. I could not believe how huge it was. As I climbed to what felt like an eternity, I said very clearly to myself that I should have paid the extra $30 to sit closer.  I quickly forgot how much I needed binoculars within minutes into the show.

The only thing that I could remember were some of the songs. I kept trying to guess what would happen next as the show really felt completely different. Of course, we did not have the acrobatics and as many effects as a Broadway show, so I was delighted to feel like this was the first time seeing the show.

Pippin was actually created by Stephen Schwartz who is an alumnus of my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon (CMU). He wrote Pippin over 45 years ago. After the show, we had a talk-back where one of our alums actually had overlapping time with Stephen. Gabrielle McClinton (Gabby) who was the leading player in the show  confirmed she had workshops with Stephen during her time at Carnegie Mellon.

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The talk-back was an awesome experience. I was shocked to learn that Gabby is only 26 years old. She commanded the stage as if she had decades of professional experience. She was the understudy for the show prior to gaining the part for this show. We learned about the speed she had to learn parts, dances and tricks which seemed unreal. Gabby credited CMU for preparing her for the intensity of Broadway.

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Brian Flores who played Pippin joined the talk mid-way, even though he attended the rival musical theater school (who knew there was such a thing). This was his first time performing in the tour and he also had to learn very quickly to get up to speed. They also shared the grandmother (played by Adrienne Barbeau) in the show was actually 70 years old. She was amazing and didn’t seem a day over 40.

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I was blown away at my experience at the hobby center and was elated that I could get Broadway direct in Houston without having to travel to New York. I will absolutely be back and encourage anyone that can see the show before it leaves Sunday to do so (or maybe you can catch it in Amsterdam). Pippin will definitely have you thinking about your life and leave inspired.

P.S. I thought Beyonce had quick costume changes…she has nothing on Fastrada

One Man, Two Guvnors

The Alley Theater season has started and it is off with a big bang. I am sure I have been to the theater before, but the renovation made me turn my head around a few times. It is absolutely gorgeous.  I was running late, and thankful that Sunday parking is much easier to find than other days. I had no idea what was in store for  One Man, Two Guvnors.

Despite being late, the staff were very friendly with helping me find a seat. I had to scramble to the late seats but was thankful I did not miss many parts of the show. I was shocked to learn that this show was based in England in the late 60s. Even more shocking, the English adaptation was from the 1740 Venetian commedia The Servant of Two Masters. Within five minutes of my arrival, I heard a reference to Australia and was tickled. There were many references to Australia throughout the show. Having lived there for 2 years, I really was all in after that.

The show was absolutely fascinating. I typically have no idea when to laugh at British jokes. I am not sure if I have become partially Aussie or the show was Americanized British humor…regardless, my face was in stitches. As a former thespian, I was surprised that the 4th wall was broken several times. It was done so well that I wanted more. Each line was like catching fast balls and you really had to be alert to keep up.

During intermission, I must have really been lolly gagging because by the time I got my drink, I was rushing to go back inside. I am not sure if seeing the second act after chugging a glass of wine (I actually left half of it ) was a good idea. The show was already hilarious without a drink.

I was delighted to be able to experience One man, Two Guvnors. It was a pleasant surprise to have enjoyed the show so much. Every single actor was superb. Even the scene changes were entertaining. I am looking forward to other shows this season and excited to be able to experience theater in the revived building.

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John Palmer Art

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I had a pretty intense day where I felt like I had no break. I actually have had a no break long week. I arrived late to an event held at the John Palmer Art Gallery. On the way there, I realized getting to the Heights during evening traffic is not for the faint at heart. I had no idea the right lane on Heights Blvd was only for bikers, as I usually travel it during off-peak hours. Once I tried to get back in the left lane, the nice (not) drivers wouldn’t let me in. My stress level increased but I stumbled to the door of the gallery, somehow in one piece.

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As soon as I made it to the driveway, an overwhelming amount of peace hit me. The closer I got to the door, the more the peaceful energy took over me. I walked in and felt my day completely wash away. We were hosted by Ryan Lindsey who is the business manager and partner of John Palmer.

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We first viewed some of the remnants of a recent auction. I instantly fell in love with John’s work. I loved his jockey paintings but what really drew me was a section dedicated to Port of Spain. I actually did a double take because I was thinking..this can’t be MY Port of Spain. It turns out, John took an art/service trip to Trinidad this past June.

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Port of Spain Exhibit

We also toured the area where the Escapist Mentorship Program displays their art. What was initially a brainstorm to mentor artists has turned into a one year residency where artists vie for a spot to be mentored by John. The residency supports the craft as an artist but mainly focuses on driving home the escapism philosophy. John provides a foundation for being a successful entrepreneur as an artist dispelling the myth of the starving artist.

Gallery Shop

I love emerging artists and was drawn immediately to their work. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to snag something from Luke Poteete and Stephanie Gonzalez. I love Scott Tarbox‘s work as well. It was interesting to see how eloquently he transformed his street art style to a hanging work. All of the artists’ work spoke to me. They will have a graduation gala on October 17th followed by a silent auction to benefit Lone Star Veterans on October 18th.

Stephanie Gonzalez's Workspace
Stephanie Gonzalez’s Workspace
Luke Poteete
Luke Poteete
Scott Tarbox
Scott Tarbox

The concept of continually reinventing yourself is what John Palmer is all about. In addition to his traditional art, he is now exploring jewelry and gifts that can be purchased in the gallery or online. I left inspired by John and Ryan. They have allowed their lives to truly reflect escapism. All along the way, they also are not forgetting to help others while on their journey. When ideas and dreams come to them, they are implementing, growing, exploring and turning them into legacies that will live on forever.

My Almeda Stroll

I used to frequent Almeda Street in Third Ward a few years ago as I would frequent the Eat Gallery. I think I had a silent protest that one of my favorite hangouts closed, so I would speed through Almeda to not wallow in my sadness of a place where I found solace. A few months ago, I stopped by Reggae Hut to grab some patties but they were quick and to go. This weekend I spent some time on Almeda and created some new memories.

I have heard of Melodrama Boutique for years but avoided it as I know I have a little shopping problem. I also don’t like seeing people where clothes I have and many in my Houston circle Melodrama. When I heard my Spelman sister was bringing her trunk show for Onion to Melodrama, I knew I had to face my fears of actually buying out of the store.

I almost forgot about the event (that would have been catastrophic) and made other plans (a reception at the Health Museum), yet I found time, miraculously. My Spelman sisters and I also made a meet up of it so their reminder kept me on track (love y’all).

I arrived about an hour into the event. There were women packed around Whitney, waiting for their on the spot alterations. The dresses are pretty long and Whitney magically can make the length fit you without the need to hem the bottom.  I want to find an ergonomic way for her to alter them because she literally bends down all evening customizing the dresses. The last time I saw her at the Essence festival I could feel her pain.

I gave myself permission to get one dress. What better thing to do but to shop for an event. I have  a very special one coming up in November. Despite my one dress maximum, I somehow ended up with 4 in the fitting room. I really liked 2 but had to make an executive decision with 1. I am very happy with my choice. I also brought in a dress I ordered online earlier this year and had that altered as well.

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I was greeted by the owner, Jackie who was walking around in a fabulous Onion piece. She also had on some to die for earrings. Jackie was very pleasant, welcoming and gave everyone attention. She had food and drinks to boost the festive feeling.

Let’s talk about the food. I was only able to grab one item (a couple of times) but it was delicious. Something about bread, mascarpone and I think dates crumbled on that bread…was like heaven. I was also grateful that there were vegetarian options.

I looked around the store and noticed another brand I recently started following called A Leap of Style. So many beautiful Afrikan prints that I just wanted to buy the entire rack. I had to remind myself that I was on a mission but knew I would be back to explore. I really enjoyed my Melodrama visit.

My second Almeda visit was Xpozher. This was not a planned event and one of those serendipitous experiences that you knew could only be sent from the shopping goddess. I walked into the store thinking where in the world did it come from? I drive up and down that corner all the time and somehow missed Xpozher sharing a store front with McQueen Custom Tailor Shop.

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I attempted to have self-control. Yolanda, the owner, did not make it easier as she had a warm and inviting spirit. The cowboy (really cowgirl) boots she designed were fire (or she likes to say, “Cacow!”). I was chanting to myself, go slow on repeat because I was having all kinds of conflicts. Then she said my favorite word…sale. That’s when I started exploring pieces further.

She had on some gorgeous earrings by Carmella of Blackwell Designs. There were also a couple of pieces by Carmella there that Yolanda says she can barely keep in the store. In addition to featuring designers such as Carmella and herself, she has designs from about 70 designers total. I was able to restrain myself by only purchasing a couple of pieces but I am sure to be back.
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I enjoyed my Almeda stroll this weekend and hope gentrification does not over power this historic memory lane. It was a joy to support African-American women entrepreneurs and I plan to be back with a vengeance when I save some more money!

All good things must come to an end

As we close out the 2015 Houston restaurant week, I am getting a bit choked up. I love good food. I love good food in Houston. I love good food in Houston at a reasonable price and for a good cause.

I was able to squeeze in 2 more restaurants during restaurant week. The first one was sal y pimenta in city center.

I was excited to see South American drinks on the menu and started out with a caprihina. It passed. The empanadas were amazing. After that, something changed in our service.

The night became louder. We saw our waiter less. It took about an hour for us to realize our entrées had not arrived. No one ordered a steak, which apparently if you are into steaks, they have quite the selection.

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Steak selection

I’m not sure if it was the fish that took so long. I started wondering if they sent someone to catch it fresh.

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Sole

I was disappointed in the flavor for my fish. I really wanted more seasoning. Yet, by the time I received it, I just wanted to eat. We started off great but ended not so great.

The next restaurant was Brennan’s. I am not sure what has taken so long for me to visit but I enjoyed it. We went for Sunday brunch and the atmosphere was much more conducive to conversation. They also modified the menu for children by charging for a half portion.

I did have to ask for the restaurant week menu and kind of got a slight sigh (as if I was using a Groupon). Other than that, our waiter was quite attentive. I enjoyed the meal and realize more and more, I might be turning into a creole only eater. I can’t do bland 🙁

Oh, the banana foster was unreal!

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Banana Foster Preparation

Symphony Student Discount

Still high off the  theater district open house, I discovered today there is a student discount for the symphony that is GREAT!

2015-16: $50 Student Pass

Our $50 Student Pass allows you unlimited access to every Classical and BBVA Compass POPS concert during the 2015-16 Season. The Student Pass may also be used for our “Musically Speaking with Andrés” Series at Rice University’s Stude Concert Hall at The Shepherd School of Music.

My Weekend in Food

Friday I kicked the weekend off with a new restaurant. I did not plan well in advance and wrapped up a late afternoon at the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Butterfly Center. I went to my Open Table app and found the closest, least expensive and available restaurant in the area. I did not have the ability to search based on kid friendliest as I had children with me. I settled on Brasserie Max and Julie.

I have not had the best luck with french restaurants in the past. I took a chance on this one because we had a short window for dinner and I did not want fast food. I enjoyed the ambiance and felt like I left Houston and went to another city. Nevertheless, I quickly observed there was tension in the room.

The first sign of tension was the fact we were under dressed. Yet, I love testing restaurants and how they treat you based on your appearance. As long as my attire is covering my body, it should not matter if I decide to where a college sweatshirt or a suit. If you mistreat me because of my clothing, I won’t come back.

I also realized quickly that this restaurant is not the best choice for kids. There were wine glasses all over the table. I actually think they used them for water glasses as well. We managed to get through dinner without incident but I could see the staff on needles wondering if we would break one.

The worst attitude came from the manager. It appeared she had a permanent twist in her mouth. When a disgruntled employee came in to handle a matter, I became concerned when he mentioned, “it is the way you treat people”….I looked for the exit quickly just in case it was about to be a Texas showdown. She was definitely French and shrugged him off as if she didn’t understand that everyone carries a gun here. I was hoping my food came fast so we could get out of there.

The food: Despite the discomfort with staff drama, the food was amazing. I am not a snap pea fan at all but I ate every bite. I had the salmon steak dinner and it was great. I actually shared it and was full on the half portion. I really want to come back but I am one of those people who believe service is just as important as food. Our waiter did his best but I could tell there was a lot of tension. Treat your people better and I can try again.

On Saturday, restaurant week kicked off. I had an internal countdown for its launch and really did not know where to start. My colleague mentioned Roost and I recalled passing the restaurant before. The sign is very basic and not enticing. I had no idea what I was in for.

We went very late and grabbed the last table available. It was almost 10 pm and the restaurant was  packed. They do not take reservations unless you have a party of 6 or more. I noticed the restaurant week menu said everyone at the table had to participate and no sharing. That’s kind of hard not to share at a family style restaurant.

I ordered the restaurant week choices of cauliflower, vegan shish kabob and beignets. I am not a fan of cauliflower on any day…but OMG, this is the best cauliflower I have ever had. I could not get enough cauliflower. Please, give me more! The sausage and vegetables were great too. I was not very excited about the bulgar wheat. By the time dessert came, I was pretty stuffed, but I was able to slide in a few beignets with coffee ice cream.

Service was magnificent. We had a waiter who was very laid back and attentive. He made sure all of us had everything we needed. I am definitely going back to Roost. Their menu changes every 6 weeks but the cauliflower and a couple of desserts (they only have 3) are menu constants. What a great way to kick off restaurant week.

Share where you plan to go or have tried this year for restaurant week.