a cue from the nora ephron playbook

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Nora Ephron was  more than a brilliant screenwriter and author. She was a legendary hostess. She was witty, and a ninja in the kitchen.

In fact, countless websites have posts dedicated to her quotes about food and entertaining. But she’s too funny for me to be satisfied with the Internet’s CliffsNotes. I’ve read every book cover to cover, and came away with some serious wisdom. One memorable dinner party tip: people love to play with their food.

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guests under our pergola, loaded with concord grapes

Whether it’s a mashed potato bar with all the fixings or a Bloody Mary bar with an endless array of hot sauces and pickled veggies, people like to play, build, switch things up.

Since Vietnamese is my one of my favorite cuisines, I decided to host a dinner party where guests could build their own bun cha bowl. Like Chipotle but tastier, and you have total control. We were celebrating the return of The Langes, who got hitched in our own backyard but moved to San Francisco soon after. It was a mini reunion with many of their attorney friends, and members of The Order of the Cincinnati Society, whom meet at our home every Wednesday night.

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When serving food others may find exotic, help them out with a little sign

Scented candles were lit, Chet Baker played on the stereo and after dinner, guests were treated to an array of Asian desserts. Everything from Pocky to coconut rolls. And here’s a tip: guests will feel luxuriously catered to if you pass around a tray with multiple options. The smile on their face when it’s their time to be served is worth a little heavy lifting.

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Hamilton going for the orange creme cookie

It’s my hope that this hospitality will bring The Langes back again as houseguests, and soon!

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on the outside looking in

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Rustic Picnic: An Uncommon Baby Shower

When media executives Rebecca and Mitul Patel announced that they were soon to be a party of 3, my friends and I jumped at the chance to celebrate the arrival of their son, Ander. Maybe it was the swarm of boho-style weddings that took over 2016, but my friends and I wanted to host a rustic picnic. Inspired by the rugged beauty of Griffith Park, we did just that.

The party hosts with new mom Rebecca, second from left.

I opted for a public place with a private feel. Wooded spots in Griffith park are so other-worldly, they book a year in advance. So began an intensive search of L.A. parks. Using Google Maps and satellite, I eliminated rental spaces that were too open, in a playground, too modern or in a dirt patch that passes for a park. I wanted magic. In Pasadena, I found an old live oak shading a wood shelter with a dark patina. I was sold.

Naturally, burlap and twine took center stage, and was accented with polka dots and pine cones plucked from Griffith Park. Fresh sunflowers sat in wine bottles wrapped in vintage lace. We served old-fashioned picnic food: fried chicken, egg salad sandwiches, watermelon, summer salad and an irresistable tower of white powdered doughnuts.

egg salad sandwiches, an American classic

heirloom yellow raspberries and feta made the salad

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It wouldn’t be a picnic without lemonade, which we served in ceramic pitchers. And a baby shower is never complete without booze, so bottles of Prosecco were popping!

As old friends reunited, they laughed over a group of baby photos clipped to branches with wood clothes hangers. Everyone had submitted baby photos of themselves prior to the shower, and were encouraged to write down who was who, for a chance to win prizes. The hosts, competitive people themselves, could not resist the lure of a good game, and the promise of prizes.

Baby Ander even made an appearance. People fawned all over his chubby cheeks and gummy smile.

beautiful baby Ander

Friends that hadn’t seen one another were so excited to be reunited, there was an impromptu 20-minute photo session as people said their goodbyes. It was an afternoon of comfort food, sunshine and laughter. Congratulations to Rebecca and Mitul Patel!

 

LoBrown Wedding Reflects A Few of Their Favorite Things

It all started with the invitation, where wedding details were engulfed by a swarm of Max and Carol’s favorite things: octopuses, motorcycles, milkshakes, Star Wars characters and more. A friend of the bride drew the original invite by hand. Without realizing it, the theme of this wedding became My Favorite Things.

The wedding ceremony was peppered with references to Star Trek, the Declaration of Independence, Emily Dickinson and other cultural references near and dear to the couple. As was the man who officiated; who is a close friend of the groom’s.

Carol is a local fixture, as she was once a baker at the Richmond institution Dixie Donuts. She literally has an art wall in her home, made of contributions from her admirers. She did not let her guests down, baking an array of home-cooked cakes and tarts. From a churro bundt to chocolate peanut butter cake, every dessert was labeled by a cross-stitched sign.

The groom is a bit of a Renaissance man, and handmade the wedding bands by amalgamating a variety of precious metals in his workshop. He also adorned the altar with a found piece of beach wood, which he branded himself.  Combining their names, it reads: La Casita LoBrown. One of his most popular contributions was a giant BBQ pork, pulled from the on-site smoker. To honor his Mexican heritage, he and his sister also made homemade chips, salsa and guacamole.

Though a backyard wedding allows for more casual dress, the event was not short on style. Refreshingly, the males stood out as statement-makers. There’s Southern rock and then there’s Southern punk rock,  and among the sea of beards and tattoos, there were playful nods to Southern gentlemen everywhere, with pastels and linen suits.

It was a summer wedding after all, and there were 4th of July poppers to explode as the couple made their way down the aisle…and zoomed off on a motorcycle.

There was a gourmet lemonade stand, with flavors like watermelon basil, and lavender – both 100% addictive.

Revelers were free to cool off in the living room, where the TV was removed and the place adorned with displays of the couple’s favorite things.

Friends of the couple learned to play a few songs that were meaningful to Max and Carol. When vows were exchanged, thunder rumbled. At the reception, silent heat lightning illuminated the sky. Never had I been to a wedding so personalized, with the happy couple leaving their signature on every detail. It was truly a night to remember.

 

YSL in RVA

While some designers are known for one signature look, Yves Saint Laurent was a chameleon. From couture gowns worn by Capote’s swans to his “Beat” collection favored by the Haight Ashbury crowd, he was on the front lines mastering every look as if he had invented it. Perhaps he did spearhead a global look with his International collections. He was clearly influenced by his childhood in Algiers and his dream home in Morocco.

His fashions are being showcased by one of the finest museums on the East Coast – the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Get yourself tickets before this first-time couture show vanishes on August 27th.

Postcard from Hawaii

Peaceful? Not with those rogue waves!

I was told we’d see a rainbow every day while in Hawaii. But since I wasn’t greeted on the tarmac by a hula dancer with a fresh lei, I figured that daily rainbows were a romantic exaggeration of fabled Hawaii. But the skies did not disappoint.

While I tend to think that life is too short and the world too vast for  vacations that call for relaxation over exploration, Hawaii allows both at once. The rich Polynesian culture and the exotic flora and fauna can be enjoyed while half-dozing on a beach.

A few things you must do in Oahu:

Travel to the North Shore, where the waves, especially in winter, are the towering kind seen in surf videos. You won’t believe your eyes.

While in the North Shore, you’re bound to see bumper stickers and tee shirts urging Hawaii to secede from the United States. Far from downtown Honolulu and crowded Waikiki Beach, the remote North Shore is home to proud Hawaiians that would love to return to their Polynesian roots. While in the area, stop by a local food truck that nourishes surfers with poke – a delectable raw tuna dish.

Though the rough currents can push you against razor-sharp coral, a little blood is worth the snorkeling experience in Haunama Bay. The range of sea life below the surface is nearly psychedelic. Newbies to snorkeling should start out at Shark’s Cove, where rocks create a cozy inlet free of sea turbulence.

I’m not above a classic tourist trap, so get thee to a good old-fashioned luau with hula dancers, fire spinners and a roast pig. Save plenty of room for the best item on the menu: kalua pork.

Take in some history at Pearl Harbor, where you can see the sunken USS Arizona just below the surface. It’s still a watery grave for the trapped military service members inside, and the sunken vessel still dribbles oil from its tanks to the surface.

Hike Diamond Head, a dormant volcano. It has sweeping views of the sea, as well as the crater hole. You can reward yourself with a cup of shave ice at the end of your descent.

Asian culture is rife in Hawaii. Korean BBQ and outstanding Thai places fill the landscape. While there, take in quality Asian cuisine. Or the classic Hawaiian dish that meshes East and West? Spam Musubi – my Kryptonite.

Hawaii was a little bit relaxation, a little exploration. Perfect for an overtaxed Type A like me.  Aloha.

Seven Ways to Beat the Post-Holiday Blues

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Some spend New Year’s Day packing up ornaments. I’d rather sleep in and go to brunch. I’m in the league of defiant revelers that leave their holiday lights up through the first week of January. Why? Because we’re trying to stave off the impending doom of a long, cold winter. In fact, many believe that all the hoopla surrounding Christmas is just a way to distract us from the misery gaining steam outdoors.

Here’s how to keep your spirits up after the holidays:

A Little Twinkle

We’re all a little taken aback at how stark a room looks when stripped of holiday accoutrements. Hold on to a strand of white lights, and wrap them around an indoor tree, or gather them into an oversized glass vase, to keep a bit of sparkle in your home.

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Getting Fresh

Don’t toss those candy canes! Swirl them as swizzle sticks in your hot cocoa or mocha. Smash them to pieces and lay them in an empty Altoids tin to use as mints on the go. And if it really feels like you’re going cold turkey after the holidays, here’s a little-known fact: You can get peppermint mochas at Starbucks year-round, though they don’t advertise it.

Get Moving

It’s no secret that working out is good for your heart, but the endorphins improve your mood and the exertion results in a great night’s sleep. Besides, when you peel off your sweater this Spring, how nice would it be to find a strong, lean body beneath it?

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Busted court aside, my favorite ways to blow off steam are tennis, yoga and dancing

Get the Party Started

Plan a small party! It’s so much easier to corral your loved ones in January than it is at the height of the holiday season. Plus, everyone needs something to look forward to. My go-to this year will be an Oscar party! Since it’s a weeknight and the show runs late, it will be a pajama party. People will be cozy, well-fed and filled with Prosecco. Go LaLa Land!

Green is Golden

If you can’t spend ample time outdoors, bring the outdoors in. Buy a palm and place it by a sunny window.

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Add whimsy to plants you bring indoors, with funny planters and conversation pieces

Doors to Enlightenment

So your holiday wreath is down. It doesn’t mean your home should go unadorned. Have something beautiful waiting for you every day when you return. There are plenty of gorgeous wreaths you can use year-round. You can even create one.

Think Spring

Spring may be a few months away, but now is a perfect time to imagine how you’d like to use the green space outdoors. Whether planning a vegetable patch or a fire pit, enjoy researching the best place to plant, the best deals on materials and read reviews if thinking of buying plants or seed online. My son is obsessed with blueberries, and I’m a fan of raspberries. When Spring arrives, I won’t be making a mad dash to plant these bushes before the heat of summer sets in.

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We added this pergola to our home to accommodate our Concord grapes – Max not included

…and then before you know it, the holidays will be back.

Happy 2017!

 

Postcard from Egypt

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Months before Arab Spring erupted, my husband and I took the trip of a lifetime in Egypt. It was only when we settled back into daily life did we realize how surreal it was. If you can spare it, you’ll need a good two weeks to explore the surface.

Here’s how to do Egypt right:

Shop in Cairo’s Khan-El-Khalili – the bazaar district. You can stock up on gold-threaded scarves, tea sets and spices. Make sure to go deep within the bazaar where the deals are. The stores near the entrances can charge more, as they see heavier foot traffic.

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What’s the frequency Kenneth?

Though I’m not Muslim, I wore a head scarf to help me blend in with the locals and avoid getting overcharged while shopping. Plus, it shields you from the scorching heat. Did  I mention how beautiful they were?

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See the sights – you will not believe you’re actually standing in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

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Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, but more affordable in Egypt. Don’t buy the pale saffron going stale in an outside sack. Go for the blood red saffron sealed in a jar by the registers. It’s potent and worth the expense.

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Kick off your shoes and see a mosque. They are historical and resplendent. As a tourist, it was a peaceful place to reflect, and a respite from the heat.

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Take a small boat to ruins off the beaten path, like Korfu. It’s less crowded, and you can touch the actual hieroglyphics. It’s shocking that Egypt still allows us to touch them, so handle with care.

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Drink hibiscus juice, which vendors walk through the streets selling. A small cup of the sweet red nectar will counter the afternoon heat.

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Take a cruise down the Nile. Or shall I say, up the Nile? The water flows from South to North, and takes you all the way from the border of Sudan up to Alexandria. Your boat will glide past small towns, where a call to prayer can be heard emanating from speaker towers many times a day. In other towns, children crowd the shoreline just to wave at the boats sailing past.

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Feast on glorious food; roasted lamb, hummus, tabbouleh and more. Try not to visit during Ramadan, a Muslim holiday in which the locals cannot eat or drink until sundown. They’ll still serve tourists, but the guilt will be distracting. We learned this the hard way!

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Try and land a hotel with a rooftop pool, because baby it’s going to be hot! In Cairo, our hotel also oversaw Giza. At night, we watched laser shows on the pyramids, which made them even more surreal than they already were.

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Take a hot air balloon ride over the desert.

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Of course, do so at your own risk. It wasn’t until we were at airplane height that I realized we’re just a bunch of fools standing in a wicker basket with no parachutes. Even a sneeze could set the contraption rocking!

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Visit Valley of the Kings, where you can see King Tut’s tomb.

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Take a train ride through the Fertile Crescent, where a lush green world emerges from the desert. It’s said to be the cradle of civilization.

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Go to Luxor and take in magnificent statuary. The fact that the ancient Egyptians had time to create such beautiful things is proof of the powerful, comfortable position they held in the region. War-torn and hungry civilizations don’t focus on art and storytelling.

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Bring your sunblock, but soak up that vitamin D! The color will last for months!

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Get pulled around the city in Raiders of the Lost Arc style!

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Eat fresh dates!

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And don’t forget your camera!

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The Ultimate Eighties Care Package

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After a recent family tragedy, friends and family surprised me with support I didn’t know I had coming. There were bouquets of sunflowers, roses and  pink carnations, homemade batches of chocolate chip cookies from three different families. There was an Edible Arrangement so large, we popped off and froze pieces of fruit for smoothies, else they went to waste. I was overwhelmed by kindness, but not as overwhelmed as I was  last week, when I came home to a large box from New York City.

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Every surface of the box was Hodge Podged with symbols from the happiest era on record.

Beneath layers of bubble wrap, I uncovered The Ultimate 80s Care Package. The painstaking amount of time my friend dedicated to the project still makes me feel unworthy.

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homemade chocolate chip cookies

I should have expected no less from my friend Amber. She used to live in the duplex below me in L.A. and her apartment was a Pee Wee’s Playhouse for girls obsessed with pop culture. The walls were lined with art and memorabilia, there was a karaoke machine, candy, a library of romantic comedies, and mud masks galore.

Her package included pampering…

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It encouraged us to have fun…

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And most importantly for me, it provided escape…

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Even the inner lid of the care package was plastered with images from a happier time…

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I would be remiss to not show off each side of the box…

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She even wrote individual cards to my husband and I…

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We followed this advice and watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High that very night…

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This would describe my friend Amber…

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Party Girl vs Natural Disasters

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The shelf cloud that swept into our city. The turquoise light is a power flash, likely from lightning hitting power lines.

Last week, we were hit with a derecho. I didn’t know what a shelf cloud was until I Googled it. Except I couldn’t Google it. Fallen trees had forsaken our electricity and worse, our wi-fi.

We had two options; lament or make the most of it. Character is often measured by how one rises to the occasion, and recent studies found a direct link between adaptability and happiness. We had no get on with it, darling.

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Our yard was strewn with roof shingles and plants from other yards, though we have a privacy fence.

How to make the most of a natural disaster:

BE PREPARED

It’s hard to be cheerful when you’re tossing out a deep freezer full of steaks and homemade soup. Invest in a generator so at the very least, you will have fresh food and hot showers. Keep a few gallons of gas in the garage, because if roads are blocked or flooded, you’re out of luck.

FELLOWSHIP

After the event (earthquake, hurricane, etc.) many venture outside to assess the damage. Go beyond your property. If it’s dark, grab a flashlight. After the derecho, our city streets were pitch black, save for wandering flashlight beams. We found crushed vehicles and blocked roads from fallen trees. You can lend a hand to neighbors in need, and feel thankful that you likely weren’t the worst hit. Admittedly, it’s exciting to wander around in the dark with strangers, taking in the surreal scene.

The morning after the derecho, my husband wielded a hand saw and joined neighbors in an effort to clear the road of debris. Neighbors caught up, shared bottled water and felt a sense of community.

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Bellevue, the morning after.

MOOD LIGHTING

A candlelight bath and candlelit dinners? Yes please! That lighting is much more flattering, and it lends a sense of excitement to everything. Tell ghost stories!

COOK-OUT

No stove or microwave? No problem! Fire up the grill and enjoy char-broiled rib eye and veggie kabobs rubbed in chopped cilantro and olive oil. If you don’t own an iron skillet, invest in one. That way you can still have a grill-top pan to fry eggs and heat up sauces.

POWERING DOWN

Cable wires were ripped down, so even those with generators couldn’t watch TV or have access to the Internet. While some complained, I saw it as an opportunity. I tanned on a picnic blanket and took long walks with our greyhounds. Our son climbed giant fallen pines with other kids in the neighborhood. We caught up on our reading, and I resumed a few crafting projects – things that get pushed aside on manic weeknights when all I want to do is escape into Netflix.

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Found on a back alley walk

FARMER’S MARKET

Grocery stores are likely closed, so head out to your local farmer’s market. Many are out-of-towners whose stands run on generators anyway. We dined on Vietnamese spring rolls and stocked up on ready-made foods we needn’t cook, like goat cheese spread, banana honey peanut butter, salad greens and glazed doughnuts.

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Catching up with Andrew, founder of the inimitable Reginald’s Homemade peanut butter.

PORCH LIVING

No power means so AC, so if you’re lucky enough to have a porch, go lounge on it. It’s likely that all the neighbors are enjoying the cool air. You’ll see their candlelight, and before you know it, everyone’s shouting across the street. Invite them over for a cocktail and board games on the porch. A glass of scotch and competitive Scrabble are my idea of heaven.

THE BIG PICTURE

This is America. Eventually order will be restored, and insurance (after a good fight) will cover the damages. In the meantime, look for the silver lining. Your electric bill will be smaller, you have an excuse to eat out sans guilt and you’ll likely have a restored sense of community in your neighborhood. Natural disasters do that to people. We’re more resilient than we realize. In fact, once the grid lights up again everyone is resealed into their homes, you may miss the sense of adventure that comes when Mother Nature swings her hammer.

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Fauquier Avenue, a week later.

Socialite Obsession: Susan Strasberg

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True socialites believe in discretion. They believe in being written up only twice; their birth, death, and if they make the cut, their wedding announcement. It was easy to live by his maxim before the Internet. Blogs and social media provide freeways of information that didn’t exist in the days of the Vanderbuilts.

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Thankfully, socialites get written up for career accolades these days. University isn’t used for sharpening cocktail banter and finding husbands, but to practice law and run fashion houses. Actresses however, aren’t allowed into the fold. Susan Strasberg was an exception. Perhaps she was accepted into the upper echelons for being the youngest theatre actress to score a Tony award, for The Diary of Anne Frank. It also helped that her father was the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg, noted for his “method” acting style. Al Pacino, Daniel Day Lewis and Jack Nicholson are noted method actors, following her father’s lead and moving on to win Academy Awards.

Ironically, Susan’s father never trained her, which was well-known among his devotees. Her critical achievements were a thorny subject for their already-complicated relationship.

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Strasberg and Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was  a devotee of Strasberg’s, and became part of the family. So much so, that she and Susan had a sibling rivalry of sorts, as described in Susan’s book,  Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends. It was a bestseller, as was her second book, Bittersweet. 

Former suitors include Richard Burton, Warren Beatty and Cary Grant. Her natural talent ushered her from theatre to the film world in the blink of an eye.  The camera loved her incredibly delicate bone structure, which was an amalgamation of Lee Bouvier and Natalie Wood.

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With her much-older beau, Richard Burton

Like many socialites who needn’t follow the rules in order to be accepted, she indulged eccentric passions that social climbers would be afraid to touch. One of which, was new age spiritualism. She meditated, practiced yoga, worked with spiritual healers and sought alternative treatment for her breast cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer consumed her before she could complete her last book, Confessions of a New Age Heretic. 

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Strasberg in the 1950s