November 20, 2017

Random Acts… Orchard Canyon at Oak Creek an ode to the past

Posted in Dining, Travel, Uncategorized at 12:15 am by dinaheng

If you long for the good old days — when getting away for a vacation meant no telephone calls, no emails, and peace and quiet – go to Orchard Canyon at Oak Creek in Sedona, Ariz.

Just driving onto the lodge grounds is like stepping back in time. Manicured lawns and shade trees invite you to pick a chair and relax. Cozy cabins make you want to sit down on the porch, open up that book you’ve been wanting to read, and just breathe.

And, as you may have guessed, there is no telephone, television, or Internet access in the cabins. If you’re dying for a WiFi connection, you can get it in and around the Main Lodge, but if you’re serious about getting away from the regular routine of life, this place will take you there.

Each stay includes cocktails by the fireplace at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m., and breakfast from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the historic lodge on the premises. The food, regardless of which meal you’re eating, is one of the best things about staying here.

Formerly known as Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge, the property was renamed for the bountiful fruits and vegetables grown on site that dictate each day’s menu. The orchards boast 6 to 8 varieties of peaches, 12 to 14 varieties of apples, apricots, cherries, plums and more.

Dining room at Orchard Canyon at Oak Creek

The chicken coop yields fresh eggs every day, and the gardens are planted with everything from tomatoes and winter squashes to a variety of peppers and garlic.

“I do French-inspired California cuisine,” says Chef Brian Widmer. “Three weeks out, the gardener will come in and say, ‘I have this,’ and I build the meals around it. Guests can tell us if they’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, and we’ll sculpt a menu for them.”

Guests are encouraged to share tables, a traditional that has resulted in many friendships over the years. Non-lodge guests can make dinner reservations, if there’s room, for $60 per person, with cocktails and gratuities extra.

The hotel, which started as a homestead in 1908, today features a tennis court, hiking trails and spa services, on request.

During the winter months, a few of the cabins remain open December 1 through mid-February, but meals are not served in the winter season. The kitchen re-opens March 9, 2018.

Even so, the cabins with wood burning fireplaces, king size beds and private decks are a bargain, starting at $125 a night during the week, and $195 weekends.

For more information, check out










June 1, 2016

Random Acts… Good reads for summertime

Posted in Books, Uncategorized, Women at 4:21 pm by dinaheng

Romantic suspense… science fiction… a sweet tale about an awkward, lovable creature. What more could you want for a good summertime read?

Dinah EngWhen Morgan Yancy, a covert team leader of a paramiltary group, is shot and nearly killed, his supervisor sends him to an isolated town in West Virginia to hide and recuperate. Little does Yancy know that his housemate, Isabeau “Bo” Maran, the part-time police chief of Hamricksville, is about to change the course of his life.

Courtesy of William Morrow

Courtesy of William Morrow

In “Troublemaker,” by Linda Howard ($26.99, William Morrow), romance and suspense combine for some fun summertime reading. Unlike many novels in this genre, the suspense takes a backseat to the romance. Most of the book explores how two wounded souls, brought together by the antics of Bo’s dog Tricks, help each other to heal.

The danger is muted in this tale, with the mystery of why Yancy was shot being solved almost as an after-thought at the end of the book. This is not a page turning thriller. But with a satisfying romance at the core of the story, who cares?

Fans of romance, mystery, and science fiction will enjoy “The Cold Between,” a debut novel by Elizabeth Bonesteel ($16.99, Harper Voyager) that sets up a universe where Central Corps engineer Commander Elena Shaw is determined to prove that her lover, Treiko Zajec, a former pirate, did not kill her crewmate on the colony of Volhynia.

Courtesy of Harper Voyager

Courtesy of Harper Voyager

After helping Trey escape the authorities, the two head into a wormhole, seeking answers to the murder, which may be tied to a government conspiracy that threatens the balance of power for all human civilizations. Galactic politics, it seems, is the same no matter which universe you hail from.

While the first third of the book starts slowly, the story picks up its pace and complexity with each page. Ancillary characters in the novel are well drawn, setting up the hope for more stories about the crew of the CCSS Galileo.

For younger readers, a charming picture book titled “Hello, My Name Is Octicorn” by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe ($17.99, Balzer + Bray) speaks to anyone who has ever felt a little different.

Courtesy of Balzer + Bray

Courtesy of Balzer + Bray

Little Octi is half-octopus, half-unicorn, and more than a little sad because “when you don’t fit in, you don’t get invited to a lot of parties.” He shares his various talents – like being good at lots of sports, a good juggler, and a terrific dancer.

If others would only give him a chance, an octicorn would make a great friend “because in the end, we all want the same things. Cupcakes, friends, and a jet ski.”

Truer words were never spoken.





October 6, 2015

Random Acts… Fall reading for escape and inspiration

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:53 pm by dinaheng

My bedroom nightstand is stacked high with books that cry for attention. This month, I delved into two Young Adult (YA) novels and a memoir about a mother whose life path has been changed by two very special sons.

When it comes to YA novels, it’s rare to read stories with diverse characters who are easy for all readers to relate to. “On the Edge” by Allison Van Diepen (Harper Teen, $17.99) offers a compelling look at Miami’s underworld through the story of Maddie Diaz, a teen who dares to speak up and testify against gang members who have attacked a homeless man.Dinah Eng

Her secret ally is Lobo, an enigmatic leader of a rival gang who’s dedicated to freeing the victims of sex traffickers. In their world, navigating the challenges of random street violence is an everyday obstacle course that all too many experience.

While written for ages 14 and up, in many ways, this gritty series is more appropriate for those 16 and older. Its romance unfolds in a truly realistic setting with Hispanic characters who are fighting for the truth as they figure out where they belong in the world. But that, after all, is a struggle we all face every day.

On the other end of the YA spectrum is the captivating sci-fi fantasy “Ice Like Fire” by Sara Raasch (Balzer + Bray, $17.99), which takes readers into a world where access to magic is restricted to the rulers of various kingdoms and a lost chasm of magic has been discovered that could release its unrestricted energy into the world.

"Ice Like Fire" by Sara Raasch. Cover art courtesy of Balzer + Bray.

“Ice Like Fire” by Sara Raasch. Cover art courtesy of Balzer + Bray.

Meira, the teenage queen of Winter, believes that too much magic is dangerous. Theron, the son of Cordell’s king, believes more magic will cure everything. Mather, the leader of Winter’s resistance movement, just wants to save Meira and be free of Cordell’s oppression.

When Meira goes in search of allies, she discovers a web of political lies and unexpected help from Summer’s princess, a young woman who fights for a secret love. Fans of epic adventures will enjoy this sequel to “Snow Like Ashes,” though like all well written middle books of trilogies, it will leave you with unanswered questions, wanting more. Surely the sign of a good read.

Far from the imaginary escape that YA novels provide comes “Expect A Miracle” by Jenny Long with Bob Der (Sports Illustrated Books, $21.95), a true inspirational story about a mother’s journey as she overcomes life challenges while raising two special sons – one with special needs, and one who is just special.

Jenny Long lost her mother at the age of 12, and by 18, was a high school dropout, pregnant, and married to a convicted felon. With the birth of her first son Conner, the new mother decided to work toward a better life for her family. But it was the birth of her second son Cayden, two years later, that really changed everything.

Doctors recommended that Cayden, born with Spastic Cerebral Palsy, be placed in assisted living, but Long refused, and raised the boy at home. Older brother Conner, who must be an old soul in a young body, developed a strong, loving relationship with Cayden.

At age seven, Conner decided to enter the Nashville Kids Triathlon, with his five-year-old brother. So Conner swam, while pulling his brother in a raft; biked while towing Cayden in a trailer, and pushed that trailer when it was time to run. The two boys crossed the finish line together, and for their tenacity and spirit, won the 2012 Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKids of the Year award.

While most of the book is naturally written from Long’s point of view, I wish more had been shared from the children’s perspective. For as parents observing the race put it, “Look at what one brother can do for another. That’s what family is all about.”

The loving care and respect that Long and her sons share for each other are an inspiration, and in an age where families are often fractured, the real miracle lies in staying together – no matter what.

April 8, 2010

Listening to Mother Earth…

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:50 am by dinaheng

The earthquake started gently. Just a little rolling motion. When you live in Los Angeles, you get used to the occasional movement below your feet.

But when the motion didn’t stop immediately, my mind started to tick off the seconds. The pictures on the wall started to rattle, and the vertical blinds at the sliding glass door continued to shake.

I got up from the dining table and headed for the bedroom to put on some running shoes. What should I take out of the house with me? Before I could think further, the earthquake stopped.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake had occurred just minutes earlier in Baja California and Mexico. A few days later, a 7.7 earthquake hit in Indonesia, on the heels of the quakes in Chile and Haiti. The news is full of advice on how to prepare for “The Big One,” making me wonder how much of our fear is helping to create these shifts in the Earth’s plates.

It’s interesting how Mother Earth’s moves grab our attention when we are jolted out of our ordinary routines. We pollute her waters and land with trash, and think little of its effects, until we’re faced with health problems that are proved to be the result of our negligence.

We think of the Earth’s ecosystem as separate from ourselves, yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Everything we do in life is connected, and the reality we create every day is affected by our actions — both physical and mental.

Sharp criticisms are being levied at Massey Energy Co., owners of a West Virginia coal mine that has been cited for scores of safety violations in the last year at the mine that recently collapsed and killed at least 25 coal miners.

It took a tragedy to draw attention to the lack of care that led to the accident and loss of lives. We may fool ourselves by ignoring warnings on paper, but eventually, the foolishness of such actions are always seen by all

Too often, we take the earth we live on for granted, until it sways or collapses out from under us.

Years ago, I traveled to the Amazon rainforest in Manaus, Brazil to study with an Incan shaman. He taught a group of us about earth energies, and how the planet itself is a living entity, to be treated with reverence and respect.

The more in touch we are with Mother Earth, the more grounded we become in who we are, and why we’re here. Those who love to garden, hike, or otherwise spend time outdoors know the deep connection you feel to something greater than yourself when you dig into the soil or stand on top of a mountain crest.

The Earth’s plates shift somewhere in the world every day. We don’t always feel it, but pressure builds up and is released. It is a good thing. What creates anxiety is not being able to control the shifts and their effects on our lives.

I’m not a doomsday type of person, so I don’t worry about when the next large earthquake is going to hit. I’ve prepared as much as I can by buying earthquake insurance, and having canned food and bottled water in the house. Beyond having emergency supplies, all anyone can do is not panic and pray for the best.

As Mother Earth teaches, life is constantly shifting and changing. It’s how we react to the shifts that will determine our survival — and hers.