Ninth Annual AIDS, Medicine & Miracles HIV Retreat Conference A variety of healers -- including Dr. Marge Poscher, "Diva of Comedy" Karen Williams and Native American storyteller Terry Tafoya -- will converge for this gathering of HIV-positive persons and their loved ones. Traditional scientific methods and other types of therapy will be discussed. A caveat: Only positive methods will be sanctioned. Those who like to handle their diagnosis with black humor will be told to lighten up, and will suffer chiding by well-meaning cheerful people. Starts at 4 p.m. today and continues through Sunday. Stouffer Renaissance Hotel, 6 Greenway Plaza East. $155 for all three days; $55 for people living with HIV. For more information, call 800-875-8770, e-mail amm//www.csd.net.
Innovative Piecing Not piercing, but piecing, a quilt-making technique, and just one of the arts showcased in the International Quilt Festival. More than 900 antique and modern quilts were displayed last year, and organizers expect many, many more this year. The show offers classes, vendor booths with hard-to-find tools and materials and the thrill of being among some of this country's finest artists. To register for a class, call now! 10 a.m.7 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.5 p.m. Sunday. George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For information, call 781-6864. $7; $5, seniors; free, children ten and under with adult.
Nutcracker Market Just this morning, we saw a Christmas music commercial, and now here's the Nutcracker Market. From now till Xmas, we'll be bombarded with ads and carols with barely a break for Thanksgiving. Might as well get all your shopping done now. The Houston Ballet Guild's market boasts unique gifts from almost 300 vendors. Take your mom; it's a family thing. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. today; 10 a.m.8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Astrohall, Astrodomain, Kirby at Loop 610. For more information, call 523-6300. $7; free, children under five.
Psychic Phenomena The Art League's annual auction and benefit offers works by dozens and dozens of local favorites, free drinks, food from a select group of restaurateurs (including Benjy Levit) and palm readers. Art, by the way, isn't the only thing on the auction block -- you can also bid for trips, jewelry and dinners. 7:30-10:30 p.m. Art League Gallery, 1953 Montrose, 523-9530. $25 per person.
The Art of Making Elegant Jewelry Boxes Oh yeah, you think, if I could get my hands on some Brazilian rosewood or a nice section of bird's-eye maple, I could build a nice pivot-lid box or maybe an inlaid chess set. Well, maybe you could. Today, Hanson Galleries presents Tony Lydgate, the author of The Art of Making Elegant Jewelry Boxes; he'll sign books at the art show. You'll have a chance to see some of the trinket boxes in the book and to take home the book itself. Go ahead, score some now-extinct wood and try to duplicate the artistry of Lori Glick's delicate half-moon boxes. (Frankly, we suspect more people have perfect pitch than the patience for box-making at this level.) 5-8 p.m. Hanson Galleries, Town & Country Mall, 800 West Sam Houston Parkway East, 984-1242.
Grand Hotel des Etrangers This multimedia poetry-dance installation art performance is based on the rambling ideas of Canadian Claude Beausoleil. Touted as a virtual production a notch or two above the Disney Hall of Presidents, the show combines live action and projected elements to form an on-stage dreamscape. The Society for the Performing Arts presents two evenings in this hotel, and you are urged to buy tickets early because seating is limited. Only part of the theater will be filled, so that the audience can get up close and personal with the nightmares and memories of a lonely writer. 7 and 9:30 p.m. tonight only. Wortham Center, Cullen Theater, 227-ARTS. $30.
Contemporary Art from Japan: Clayworks, Painting and Sculpture Until recently Japanese artists working with ceramics were expected to produce functional items. Only in the last couple of decades have artists been encouraged to create forms with no particular function. This show features purely art pieces owned by collectors all over America. Preview reception, 7-9 p.m. Show runs through December 15. Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston (entrance no. 16 off Cullen), 743-9530.
ComedySportz ComedySportz is six years old, and everyone is invited to celebrate the anniversary. If you enjoyed the troupe's improv high jinks way back when at the River Cafe (or even if you've never even seen the games), then come on out for a special show with local celebrities banging the "Judge Whapner" gavels and games chosen by the audience. 8 p.m. Treebeards, 315 Travis. For info, call 521-2226. $8.
David Brenner Hey, he was in comedy before there was cable. Before A&E had an evening at the Improv, Brenner had made the second Book of Lists as the number-one most frequent TV-show guest. He's here for four shows only. 8 and 10:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow. The Laff Stop, 1952 West Gray, 524-2333. $18.
Martyn Farm Fall Festival Once again, city kids get a chance to meet mules, nature's sterile marvels, at a celebration of the farm skills that seem fun when you don't have to practice them day after day after day. The mules will help with hay baling, syrup-makers will boil sugarcane and more than 50 skilled craftspeople will make brooms, spin wool into yarn, carve wood and weave baskets. This back-to-basics festival also features games, stories and a pie-eating contest. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today and Sunday. Armand Bayou Nature Center, 8500 Bay Area Boulevard, 474-2551. $5; $3, seniors and children; free, children under three.
Anni Clark Drug-free folkies convene regularly in The Woodlands, and tonight the musical entertainment comes from folk/ jazz artist Anni Clark. Michael Rex, a local, opens with patter and music. No liquor is served, but a "wide selection of gourmet coffees, herbal teas and desserts" are available.7:30 p.m. Millbend Coffeehouse, 1370 North Millbend Drive, The Woodlands, 350-3052. $7; $2, children.
Houston Symphony Viennese conductor Manfred Honeck, a frequent guest at The Woodlands summer concerts, will lead the Houston Symphony and a quartet of guest vocalists in a program of death music. The second half of the concert offers Mozart's unfinished Requiem with several other compositions with the same grave theme. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, tenor Richard Clement and bass John Cheek are the singers. 8 p.m. today and Monday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $13$59.
Galveston Architecture Guidebook Home tours are great, although a little hard on the feet, but now armchair travelers can enjoy the architecture of the island's golden age. To celebrate its 125th anniversary, the Galveston Historical Foundation has published a book with photos and descriptions of more than 700 Galveston buildings. The new, comprehensive guide to the island's architecture will be presented at a reception for the authors, Stephen Fox and Ellen Beasley. 2-4 p.m. Galveston County Historical Museum, 2219 Market, Galveston, (409) 765-7834.
Channing Concerts The Mosaic ensemble, with soprano Patti Spain and pianist Timothy Hestor, presents a program including Frank Bridge's Phantasie Trio, Mozart's L'amero, saro constante and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Ten Blake Songs. A reception with the artists follows. 4 p.m. First Unitarian Universalist Church, 5200 Fannin, 526-5200. Free.
Moods and Movement The Anjali Center for Indian Performing Arts presents an evening of music and dance. One of the vocalists is Babu Parameswaran, who has worked with Ravi Shankar, and the performance mixes modern dance with three classical styles: bharatanatyam, kuchipudi and odissi. The very talented Rathna Kumar and her Anjali dancers are the performers. 46 p.m. Stafford Civic Center, 1415 Constitution Avenue. For more information, call 772-ARTS. $5-$25.
Grace Paley Author, activist and essayist Grace Paley, who has been writing for 30 years without becoming a parody of herself, will talk about the personal essay, and maybe a wee bit about fiction. The writer is currently at work on a collection of nonfiction pieces called Just as I Thought, and is taking a little break to come to Houston and explain that "personal," in this context, does not include the kind of self-importance and self-indulgence that spoil many wannabe essayists. The first in a three-part series from Inprint. 7 p.m. The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz. For more information, call 521-2026. $10; $5, seniors and students.
Philippe Bianconi Sexy French pianist Philippe Bianconi, a Van Cliburn gold medalist, shows his raw power and virtuosity in a program of Schubert, Faure and Debussy. The Dallas Morning News said, "The sheer brilliance of his playing, both technically and otherwise, nearly upstaged the whole evening. For the first time in memory, the opening measure of Saint-Saens' strangely wonderful Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, op. 22 didn't sound as if it had strayed, absentmindedly, out of some half-remembered Bach tocatta." 8 p.m. Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering, 782-8250. Free.
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Jewish Women: A World of Tradition and Change A show of 60 black-and-white photographs by Joan Roth, who traveled the world for a decade, capturing Jewish women "in a way never seen before." The show is up through December 27, and today Roth will give a gallery talk about her travels and photographs, 10 a.m. Jewish Community Center, 5601 South Braeswood, 729-3200. $6.
Get Stoned The good people of Zadok Jewelers will celebrate the store's 20th anniversary with a "meet the designers" trunk show, and with a special cake. Anyone who shows up and asks for a slice of the chocolate-orange torte has a chance to break a tooth on one of 20 semiprecious gemstones hidden beneath the decorative rosebuds. If your slice contains a rock, it's yours. The party isn't over when the cake's finished, but it'll be a lot less exciting. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Zadok Jewelers, 1749 Post Oak Boulevard, 960-8950.
2nd Time Around James Earl Hardy, author of B-Boy Blues, has written another frisky romance in the same vein. 2nd Time Around touches on issues such as racism, internalized racism and macho posturing, and yet is still a fun and sexy book. The author signs copies today. (Next week, T. Lee Wiggins signs New Negro Nihilism.) 6-8 p.m. Nia Gallery and Bookshop, 7725 West Bellfort, 729-8400.
A Tuna Christmas Reheated Tuna for a holiday? Oh, yes: Joe Sears and Jaston Williams serve the crowd pleaser yet again. The two-actor, 22-character parody of small-town celebrating has been touring since its 1989 premiere, and shows no signs of stopping. This stint continues through Sunday, November 17. Tonight's show is at 8 p.m. (Other showtimes listed in Thrills, Theater.) Wortham Center, Brown Theater, Texas at Smith, 629-3700. $29-$36.