El Dorado Royale

August 1, 2007 by  
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A luxury beach resort on the Mayan Riviera

If you fly to Cancun, grab a taxi and ride 25 minutes south, you end up in one of the most beautiful parts of Mexico, the Mayan Riviera. Riviera Maya overlooks the Caribbean Sea on the east side of the Yucatan peninsula. Known for its crystal-clear water, mild temperatures and white sand beaches, Riviera Maya is home to upscale resorts, world-class diving and ruins from the ancient Mayan civilization.

As we pull up to the El Dorado Royale, our eyes grow accustomed to the light and we take in the spectacular view. The elevated room is centered on a large decorative pool of bubbling fountains. Polished marble floors lead to huge windows that over look an expansive courtyard full of waterworks and lush landscaping extending several hundred yards to the seashore.

This adult only, all inclusive resort rests on 450-acres of Caribbean waterfront property bordered by tropical jungles. Featuring 500 guest’s rooms, six large restaurants, more than a dozen bars, giant resort-style pools, activity centers and a full-service spa, it offers plenty of entertainment options.

The front of our building is whitewashed adobe with brown wooden doors and arched entryways. The room features a king-sized bed surrounded by sheer canopies. On top of the bed, towel sculptures (two doves) are surrounded by flower petals; a large Jacuzzi tub is built into the living area and accented with candles and fresh flowers. The sliding back door opens onto a spacious patio with hammock and outdoor furniture. A sunbathing pool with a couple of lounge chairs surrounds the patio and drains into a four-foot-deep “lazy river” (you can swim the river to reach the main pools and swim up bars). Fifty yards from our room, the brilliantly blue Caribbean splashes onto the shore.

The temperature is a comfortable 74 degrees. We are by the beach listening to the water hit the shore in the sky spa. There is no need for CDs with nature sounds, candles or incense here. Built on stilts with a thatch roof and open walls, the sky spa allows sights, sounds and smells of the ocean to wash over guests as they receive massages. El Dorado Royale has a full-service spa complete with traditional massage rooms if you don’t want to wear your robe outside or prefer privacy.

Daytime activities included in the basic hotel package are cycling, tennis, scuba clinics, shopping excursions and a host of organized events from volleyball, and yoga to salsa lessons. Eleven pools, a fitness center, beach cabanas, snorkeling equipment, sea kayaks and paddle boats are also available. We soak up the sun and catch up on reading in lounge chairs by one of the biggest resort pools. Margaritas appear and disappear. The absence of children’s noises contributes to our relaxed mood.

In other areas of the resort, things are a little more hectic. The beautiful blue waters and lush tropical settings at El Dorado Royale attract many brides. Some prefer to tie the knot in the seaside chapel; others prefer the bridge over the fountains below the main lobby. Many more have their hearts set on beach weddings. Wedding parties are busy rehearsing and preparing for the big day. Numerous cafés and gardens are being used for rehearsal dinners and private receptions. Photographers are snapping bridal portraits and on-site wedding planners and additional staff take care of the details so weddings will go smoothly.

Reservations are not needed for breakfast or lunch, although fancier resort restaurants may have a waiting list. We found a small, out of the way Mexican-themed eatery that became our favorite. I was pleased with the food quality. My chicken barbacoa is one of the tastiest chicken dishes I’ve ever eaten. Wrapped in leaves with spices and fresh vegetables and slow cooked on a wood-burning grill, it is spicy, flavorful, tender and juicy. We also enjoy the roast piglet soft tacos with a fiery pico de gallo. The all inclusive format pushes you to eat. Wait staff seem disappointed if you don’t eat appetizers, entrees, dessert or come back for seconds. We decided to resist our temptations and leave after the light entrees.

The margaritas and late lunch drive us back to our beach-view room for a little siesta. The canopy around the bed is flowing gently in the breeze as I awake, and in the distance I hear music from a mariachi band. The shadows are long and activity is beginning to pick up as people go out for the evening’s entertainment. There is a large group of guests vying to be contestants in a jeopardy-type game show, and there are cocktails flowing at bars all over the resort. Also, as strange as it sounds, a classic rock band is playing tonight at the disco. We end up at the sports bar where the Houston Rockets are playing on the main screen. Our evening ends with a moonlit walk on the beach.

El Dorado Royale is a winner. It has fantastic grounds, plenty of activities and above average food and service compared to other all-inclusive resorts. It’s worth the upgrade price to get closer to the ocean. The property is big, so bring comfortable shoes; a fleet of golf carts are available if you want a ride. Dinner reservations are a must. Room service is the only backup if you run late. Excursions are available for an extra charge to the Mayan ruins, deep-sea fishing areas and numerous scuba attractions. To book, call Travel Lifestyles at 866-865-3509.

Obstruction of Justice

August 1, 2007 by  
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Vague state law puts drivers, officers in sticky situation

It came and went without too much fanfare, but thousands of Texas motorists are learning about state license plate laws the hard way.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed law SB 439, stating it is illegal for motorists to add reflective material, lights, emblems or anything else that changes the color of the license plate or would make it difficult to read the letters on the license plate. The name of the state where the vehicle is registered must be visible. The purpose of the law is to ensure toll road surveillance cameras are able to identify license plate numbers from unauthorized vehicles passing through toll plazas. It also makes it easier for crime witnesses to read license plates in order to capture information for law enforcement, especially during hit-and-run incidents, kidnappings and Amber alerts.

Since its passage, Texas law enforcement officers, including those of the Houston Police Department, have taken a strict approach in enforcing the law, believing that no part of the license plate may be covered including “any part of the cowboy” on the Texas plate. They have issued thousands of citations to motorists whose license plate numbers, letters and state origin are perfectly visible.

One of the things police officers call an obstruction of the license plate is the license plate frame. Most new cars in Houston are delivered to their owner with a frame advertising the car dealer’s name. Most frames do not cover the state name or any numbers and letters that would prevent identification of the car, but because they cover the words “Lone Star State” at the bottom of the plate and part of the cowboy, police say they are in violation of the law. Ordinary law-abiding citizens are caught in this trap because they bought a new vehicle with a dealer license plate frame.

Both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Houston Mayor Bill White have agreed this law is too vague. A revision has been written and signed to clarify the true intent of SB 439. It takes effect Sept. 1; yet, officers are still permitted to stop a vehicle if objects are covering any part of the driver’s license plate.

“It’s the law, and it’s our job not to interpret but to follow,” Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt told the Houston Chronicle. “When the (new) law takes effect in September, then we abide by the changes.”

Could it be about money? Officers have already ticketed more than 9,200 motorists since January, including 2,200 after Gov. Perry signed the new version of the law May 4, 2007, allowing drivers to still advertise dealerships or school affiliations. The city of Houston proposed this law would generate $4.1 million in revenue in 2007. It has already accumulated $931,000 in ticket fines; $231,000 was after Gov. Perry signed the new bill. Fines can range from $98-$200 and in some cases, even jail time.

I was recently pulled over for speeding and was issued a second traffic violation for having my license plate obscured by a dealer’s frame. I didn’t even know this was a law. When I questioned the dealership about the frame they put on my car, a representative said, “From our knowledge, it’s not illegal.” The dealership then explained how to get the ticket dismissed in court.

I went to court; the prosecuting attorney told me to pay the $150 license plate violation and they would dismiss the speeding ticket.

Some officers use this vague interpretation of this law as a reason to pull vehicles over. One driver who asked to remain anonymous was stopped and arrested for suspicion of DWI. Though the officer never mentioned it to her, his report stated he stopped her “to let her know her license plate was obstructed.” Her vehicle also had a dealer’s license plate frame. An HPD officer who didn’t want to be identified says, “When writing a ticket, we must state why we pulled the motorist over. It could have been because their license plate numbers were unreadable, but we don’t have to necessarily give them a ticket for that; the only offenses we are required to give an automatic ticket for are no drivers’ license and no insurance.”

He follows with a memo sent out by Hurtt stating officers should use discretion when issuing tickets for an obscured license plate. Officers are allowed to stop drivers for this initial violation, but are directed to pass on the opportunity of issuing this citation.”

According to the officer, it’s not just license plate frames that can get motorists pulled over and ticketed. In some cases, drivers are stopped if their license plates are too dirty and unreadable within a 100-foot radius.

Many struggle with how the strict interpretation of this law protects and serves citizens. Most feel ticketing drivers for obscuring the words “Lone Star State” on their license plate is just a way of making more revenue from taxpayers.

Houston is not alone. Other Texas cities are heavily enforcing this law, using the same interpretation. Texans have to be on guard until Sept. 1, when the clear-cut revisions become law. n

Researched by Jamaica Negrete.

Safe Shelter

August 1, 2007 by  
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Houston provides houses for America’s wounded soldiers

Dreaming of far away lands, exotic cuisines and ancient cultures, Kenny Adams followed his wanderlust by enlisting in the army after attending Stratford High School. Following his training at Fort Drum, NY, he was deployed to the Middle East where he ate camel for the first time and experienced sandstorms on a daily basis. However, while stationed in Afghanistan, PFC Adams’ hopes of becoming a police officer were shattered; he was permanently blinded in both eyes after a friendly-fire bullet pierced his skull. When he returned to Houston, Adams and his wife Katie lived in an apartment in a crime-infested neighborhood where they endured countless robberies. Each morning, the couple woke wondering if their car had been burglarized while they slept.

Like Adams, wounded soldiers often confront colossal struggles when they return from their tour of duty. Not only do these veterans encounter physical and emotional obstacles, but they also face problems with basic necessities, such as finding a job and a handicap-equipped place to live. The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization formed in 2004 to help veterans address these problems. In 2005, they teamed with the Rotary District 5890 of Houston and Mayor Bill White to create the Wounded Hero Home program. This organization is slated to build and donate 15 homes to severely injured soldiers in the Greater Houston area by the end of the year.

The homes, built on lots donated by local builders, are constructed with funds from private donors and charitable foundations. The contract for each home comes with safeguards to ensure that the donations are not abused and the beneficiary contributes $50,000 to the cost of the building. A committee of Rotarians and community leaders selects recipients based on their degree of injury, financial need and family situation. The Rotary’s Community Shower program, whose motto is “Serving those who bravely serve us,” has funded gift cards to all applicants in appreciation for their service.

An affable and outgoing 25-year-old, Adams and his wife, who recently graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice with honors, have happily settled into their new Katy home. Despite the difficulties he has faced, Adams, ever the optimist, does not regret his service in the army for a moment, “For me, it was a wonderful experience. If I could, I would go back and do it again. I would go back and do it again with one eye or two eyes.” In addition to Adams, Cpl. Paul Gardner, a Marine paralyzed while serving in Baghdad, has been awarded a home in Sugar Land.

The Rotary Club of Houston has been very successful in mobilizing its fundraising efforts. The Wounded Hero Home program is led by Meredith Iler, an active Rotary board member and chairwoman of the project. Recently, George and Annette Strake donated $100,000 from the Strake Foundation. George Strake, a Rotarian and former Marine, says, “I really honestly believe that, ‘Thanks for serving,’ should be on everyone’s lips… I think this has the chance to really correct what we did not do in Vietnam, which was to say, ‘Thanks.'” The Wounded Hero Home program’s success has earned attention from many Congressional spouses who look forward to assisting with the national rollout of the program, which is expected to occur after the completion of this Houston pilot project.

Cpt. Scott O’Grady is another high-profile veteran who lends his support to this cause. Shot down over Bosnia, he survived a harrowing six days in enemy territory until he was rescued by the Marines. O’Grady’s saga received intense media coverage, and was named one of CNN’s top 25 stories of the last 25 years. His story inspired the movie, “Behind Enemy Lines,” a Hollywood adaptation made without his consent starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman. Recently, he attended a Rotary Club luncheon meeting and a Host Committee Kickoff Reception at the home of generous donors Gene and Astrid Van Dyke to raise funds for fellow veterans. O’Grady emphasized the importance of supporting America’s troops: “To know that you have the support of the American people back home gives you great inspiration to overcome whatever you face and whatever challenges you might be faced with when you are in a combat environment.”

Nature’s Theater of the Night

August 1, 2007 by  
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The Waugh Bridge Bat Colony Emerges with Sundown

When one thinks of Houston’s wide array of outdoor activities, one seldom thinks of bat watching. However, the summer months are a perfect time to enjoy a unique Houston experience: the sunset emergence of the Waugh Bridge bats. Situated at the corner of Waugh Drive and Allen Parkway, this seemingly inconspicuous bridge is home to more than 250,000 Mexican Free-tailed Bats.

The Stage: it’s all about perspective
There are several ideal locations for viewing the event, including the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony Observation Deck; the gently sloping, grassy northeast bank of Buffalo Bayou; the Waugh Bridge sidewalk and the Gus M. Wortham Memorial Fountain. The first two locations are known to provide the most memorable experiences.

Directly across from the American General building, the observation deck provides an amazing view of the bats’ initial swirling. On the third Friday of each month, volunteers are on hand to provide information about the bats 30 minutes prior to sundown.

The grass on the northeast side of the bayou is an ideal location and one of the more popular sites for simple relaxation. Here, observers are able to take their favorite blanket and relax on the slope with the many eager onlookers.

People also have the option of viewing the bats’ emergence from the bayou itself. The Best of Buffalo Bayou, an organization providing canoe and pontoon boat tours of the bayou, offers tours of the event. The tours take place on the second Friday of each month, and can accommodate up to 10 guests. In addition to providing a unique viewing perspective, guides are available to ensure the tour will be an educational experience.

The only location from where the public is asked not to view the bats is directly under the bridge, for this can disturb them. Though it would put observers in the middle of the action, it would be difficult to enjoy since the bats rid themselves of their waste prior to flight.

The Performers: creatures of the night
Mexican Free-tailed Bats are medium sized with a life expectancy of 13 years and an average wingspan of 11 to 13 inches. It is estimated that 100 million of these bats live in the Texas Hill Country. At sunset, the bats make their nightly debut in search of insects. The Waugh Bridge bats play a vital role in the area’s overall comfort during the summer months by eating up to 1,200 tiny insects per hour (among which is Houston’s arch nemesis, the mosquito).

Though most bat colonies migrate to a warmer climate during the cold winter months, the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony resides in Houston year round, making it the only known bridge in Texas to house such a large colony of Mexican Free-tailed Bats for 12 months. Even the 1.5 million bats living under the Congress Ave. Bridge in Austin migrate to Mexico in the fall.

But why choose the Waugh Bridge? The area provides the bats with a constant supply of fresh water and plenty of insects to eat; while the bridge was coincidentally designed as an ideal shelter. Just as Goldilocks would say, the spaces between the expansion joints provide the bats with a home that is “just right.”

Typically the bats emerge around sunset. It is recommended to arrive 15-30 minutes early since only the bats know precisely when they will emerge. On days that are rainy or foggy, be prepared to expect delays and smaller emerging groups. Although these performers have not fallen victim to a Hollywood-style pampered mentality, they are likely to refuse to leave their home if the temperature falls below 50 degrees.

Just to be sure to dispel any concerns or myths, the bats are gentle creatures that, if left alone, will not harm visitors. It is, however, recommended by the city of Houston that visitors do not attempt to touch the bats, being that they may bite in self-defense.

…and, Action!
The initial emergence of the bats can be seen as the antithesis of a theatrical production. Where most plays begin shortly after a haunting anticipatory silence, the bats foreshadow their flight with a constant chatter. The chatter is a social call that the bats use to communicate within the different sections of the crevices.

As the bats fall from the bridge and spread their wings, they are too close to the ground to gain ample speed for travel. Instead, they fly around in a circle of thousands creating a vortex. As the swirling mass gets larger, the bats gain speed, which in turn enables them to achieve the proper altitude needed for flight. The spectacle is breathtaking.

Once the bats achieve an adequate speed, they shoot off the vortex together in the direction of downtown hoping to find moths and maybe even the end of a happy hour. The overall experience is quite charming. Sitting on the grassy slope, old friends are standing, pointing together toward the sky. Couples are sitting on a blanket holding each other. The bats fly against the orange hues of a dying sun, and then as they turn, the swarm appears to create black gaping holes in the Houston skyline. All in all, the departure can last for 45 minutes to an hour, but the largest groups will usually leave within the first 30 minutes.

It is not uncommon to find expressions of nature’s majesty to be theatrical. As the summer months wane and the temperature rises, it becomes increasingly more difficult for Houstonians to leave the artificially cooled shelters of their houses, offices and cars. The Waugh Bridge Bat Colony gives its audience a new diverse perspective; reminding humans they are not the only large population that inhabit this space, and that the choice to live together can result in the enjoyment of a beautiful evening.

25 Most Beautiful Houstonians

August 1, 2007 by  
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Compassion and generosity make for a beautiful community

KELLY ANZILOTTI‘s love of beautiful, unique handbags and accessories led her to start her own company, Kelly K’s Designs. Known for her distinctive creativity, she is also open-hearted and generous when it comes to donating to worthy causes. Her handbags are popular and easily recognizable in the many silent and live auctions associated with the city’s charitable events. At her private showings, a portion of the sales are donated to Citizens for Animal Protection. She also is very involved with her three young children and volunteers at their schools.

Houston Astro LANCE BERKMAN is a hometown favorite. After graduating from Canyon High School near New Braunfels, he attended Rice University from 1995 to 1997. He was named the 1997 Player of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and named first team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine, Baseball America and the Sporting News. Berkman has continued his success with the Astros, amassing an All-Star career with MVP-caliber numbers. Along with the Methodist Hospital System, he has founded Berkman’s Bunch. For seven years, they have provided game tickets and promotional materials to underprivileged youth. Lance feels strongly about supporting the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and his church, Second Baptist Church.

NOBLE CARL is a native Houstonian and has been president of the Gainsborough Corporation since 1994. He is passionate about his work and equally passionate about participating in charitable endeavors that benefit children. He has worked on many events for the Children’s Assessment Center and the Children’s Museum. Recently, he and his wife, Anne, co-chaired the Polo Risotto Festival which benefited the Children’s Assessment Center. He is very active at Second Baptist Church and is also involved with Single Parent Ministry. He is committed to making a difference in the lives of others in his hometown.

BROOKE DANIELS is Miss Houston USA, 2007. She is a junior at Sam Houston State University, majoring in mass communications. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a Master’s Degree in school psychology in order to help children who have learning disabilities achieve their academic and personal potential. As the founder and mentor of ADDitudes for success, she believes she can help children with ADHD/ADD learn tips and strategies to overcome their disability. As a Race for the Cure and Sprint for Life participant, Brooke supports both the ovarian and breast cancer foundations. She is active at First Baptist Church Tomball and enjoys cooking, scrapbooking, running and spending time with her family.

JOANNE KING HERRING DAVIS became a major contributor to Houston since she began hosting “The Joanne King Show” on television in the late 1950s. By the late 70s, she was married to oilman Robert Herring and served as honorary consul to both Pakistan and Morocco. It was then she realized the Soviet Union intended to use Afghanistan as a steppingstone to dominate the Middle East and the world. Convinced American security was at risk, she began to make covert visits with a film crew to the Soviet Union to document Soviet soldiers attacking Afghan soldiers. A film about her exploits, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” opens in December starring Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Davis’ love for children shines in her charity work. She started a camp for foster children, supports a group focused on at-risk children and funds a group of 100 single mothers in five counties, helping with everything from personal hygiene to money management.

DEBORAH DUNCAN has been well-known to Houston’s television viewing public since she began hosting a daily talk show. Today, you can catch her every morning on Channel 11 news. Her gregarious personality is contagious and is a positive influence on everyone she meets. Duncan’s personality plays an integral part in the success of many charitable events by making donors easily part with their money and bringing a feeling of joy and fun to very serious fundraising efforts. Duncan’s work took on a personal touch after her brother was killed by a drunk driver. “Sometimes, you might not pick your cause or charity,” says Duncan. “It picks you.” She feels there is no better way to honor her brother than to talk to others about the dangers of drunk driving. She also co-chairs the Hope Gala for Santa Maria Hostel in celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary in April.

PAGE PARKES-EVELETH is co-owner of the largest talent and modeling agency group in the Southwest. During her 26 years of scouting and developing talent for the fashion industry, she has earned an outstanding reputation. Her awards include the National Businesswoman of the Year from the National Association of Women Business Owners, National Leadership Award, Fashion Forum Award and Winner of Distinction by the Better Business Bureau. Parkes-Eveleth is a board member of the Better Business Bureau and takes special pride in her long-time involvement as a board member of Child Advocates. This year she served as honorary chair of La Rosa Family Services’ Yellow Rose of Texas Celebration. Parkes-Eveleth and her husband, Bob, are the proud parents of three adopted children and her nephew, who they adopted two years ago. Parkes-Eveleth was recently honored by H Texas as one of Houston’s Best Moms.

DEBBIE GREENBAUM spends most of her time trying to keep up with the joys of her life: her three young daughters. A dedicated volunteer at the Kinkaid School, Greenbaum feels that it is very important to be involved with her family. She sits on the board of the Anti-Defamation League and for the last two years has worked with Caring Critters, a pet-assisted therapy group where members and their pets visit more than 200 hospitals and facilities in the Houston area.

MARY AND KELLI KICKERILLO are the dynamic mother-daughter duo who own Kickerillo Companies, a home and land development business. They also make immeasurable contributions to the community, giving of their time and resources to the American Heart Association, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, the Linda Lorelle Scholarship Fund, the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Houston Symphony. Mary has chaired a variety of events and serves on the board of governors of the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in Palm Desert. She has had a 13-year-relationship with the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart and has chaired many of their fundraising events. Last year, Mary and her husband, Vince, chaired Duchesne’s past parents’ annual giving fundraiser, pledging to match every dollar donation to the school. Kelli is also extremely active, serving on the alumni board for the University of St. Thomas, the advisory board for Texas A&M’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston, the board of trustees at Duchesne Academy and has chaired numerous fundraising events. Mary and Kelli share a simple philosophy concerning their charity work: education and medicine are the future. Their focus is giving to children in need, providing scholarships for those seeking education and helping doctors continue their medical research.

ALTON LADAY is the owner and founder of the LaDay Group, a public relations firm specializing in the promotion of luxury goods, brands and services. Alton enjoys integrating community service into his professional and personal life, serving on a variety of local and national boards and committees. He is also a member of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Houston Steering Committee and chaired the HRC gala for two years. He chaired the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) Houston’s Take a Seat gala and Houston’s DIFFA Sweetheart Soiree. He also serves on the board of AIDS Foundation Houston and on the advisory board of Bering Omega Services.

STEVE LEWIS, vice president of Bernstein Global Wealth Management, gives his time and resources to numerous charitable organizations. Most notably, he serves on the board of the I Have a Dream Houston, a group that mentors and educates inner city, at-risk youths. Lewis is a founding member of the Star of Hope Planned Giving Council, whose goal is to help long-term donors give more efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of the homeless population. He is on the board of the Father’s Day Classic Charity Golf Tournament for the Methodist Retirement Communities and is the vice chairman of the Spring ISD Career &Technology Education Group. Lewis also volunteers his time as an auctioneer for a wide variety of organizations, including The Children’s Fund, Briar Grove Elementary and the Oil Baron’s Ball.

LINDA McREYNOLDS credits her fund-raising successes to her parents’ life-long example of community responsibility and the countless committee members who have served on her project teams. The diversity of her interests are reflected in her service to the boards of the Junior League of Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Symphony, the Houston Zoological Society, Texas Children’s Hospital and the Salvation Army. She is also a founding member of the Houston Ear Research Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She has been involved in many memorable events such as the funding and construction of the Houston Police Officer Memorial, the statewide 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Salvation Army, Miss Ima Hogg’s 100th Birthday Celebration at Bayou Bend and the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the chartering of Rice University. McReynolds has spent most of her life chairing, co-chairing and tirelessly working to raise funds for innumerable charitable causes.

KIM MOODY grew up watching her mother, the late Catherine Blissard, open her heart to serve others. Moody learned her lessons well, and has volunteered for most of her young life. She is on the River Oaks Country Club (ROCC) associate board and the Children’s Assessment Center Friends’ Guild. Moody co-chaired the Amschwand Sarcoma Foundation, the American Heart Association Go-Red Luncheon, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun for the Ronald McDonald House; and she chaired the Polo Risotto Festival for Children’s Assessment Center, the Christmas Holiday Boutique and the Fall Style Show at ROCC and the Children’s Museum luncheon in February.

MAEVE PESCERA is the beautiful face that greets Fleming’s Steakhouse diners. This full-time restaurant operator also finds time to help in the community, and very often can be seen working on charitable fund raisers. Pescera has co-chaired the Rose Ribbon Foundation’s major fundraiser, the Divine ValenTime Dinner, for three years. Her underwriting efforts have allowed the organization to provide surgeries for post-cancer survivors for a full year, which would otherwise cost millions of dollars for those without health insurance. She is also active with the American Heart Association and participates in many charitable endeavors.

ELIZABETH PETERSON‘s passions in life are spirituality, helping others and enjoying all that life has to offer along the way. Very active in the community, she has chaired two luncheons this spring — one for the Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation and the Spirit of Spring Luncheon and Celebrity Fashion Show for the Children’s Assessment Center. Peterson serves on the steering committee of YES College Preparatory School, and is very involved with Saving Animals Across Borders. She focuses her philanthropic efforts on children, education and animals. With her husband, Gary, she is co-chairing the Museum of Natural Science gala next year, and together, they will serve as underwriter chairs for the Periwinkle Foundation gala. Peterson is looking forward to continuing her community service for years to come.

SUSAN PLANK has a real passion for issues concerning children. For many years she has been involved with Texas Children’s Hospital’s (TCH) Circle of Care, the advisory board of Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Plank and her 11-year-old-daughter Kendall have recently started a new program called, “Dec My Room” at TCH, where volunteers decorate the rooms of long-term cancer patients to make them feel more at home during their extended stay. Along with her husband, Mike, Susan co-chaired the Children’s Museum of Houston Gala, which broke all previous fund raising records. She will also co-chair the Children’s Museum Luncheon next year. Plank’s deepest hope is that one day her children will understand the importance of giving back to the community and understand the difference one person can make in the life of another.

VIRGINIA REISMAN, after earning a Bachelor of Science in speech and hearing, began her career as an elementary teacher. Later, after earning a Master of Science in education and child psychology, she served as a principal for two area elementary schools. In 1998, after earning a Doctorate in educational leadership, she founded Color Them Gifted, an educational consulting company that identifies gifted minority students. Reisman is a board member of Summerbridge Houston, an academic program that helps put low income, academically-gifted students on the path to college. She also serves on the board of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and has served on the boards of Silver Grace Hope Foundation and the University of Houston Moores School of Music. She has chaired numerous charity galas and varied events. Today, Reisman serves as president of the Partnership for Baylor College of Medicine.

JESSICA ROSSMAN and her brother took Houston by storm when they branded their own form of pisco: Quiero Pisco. This young entrepreneur hasn’t slowed down since and is now a full-time attorney actively campaigning to bring life to Houston’s downtown scene. She devotes any spare time to Planned Parenthood and raising funds for some of Houston’s political leaders. The year she chaired Planned Parenthood’s “Party like a Rock Star” event was a record-breaking year.

SAMI SHBEEB is partner and CFO of Appian Partners, an investment banking advisory firm. He and his father own one of Houston’s most respected and influential floral companies, Flowers by Nino. In addition, he is a partner of The Social Book, an event calendar and resource guide. He has been involved in many charitable fund raising efforts because he feels strongly about giving back to the community. Most recently he joined the advisory board of the Deaf Blind Children’s Fund, Baylor College of Medicine and the Trey Rice Foundation for autistic children.

ALICIA SMITH‘s entrepreneurial drive led her to create a business of her own, Innovative Legal Solutions. In addition to having a fulfilling career, she is a wife, a mother to three young sons and a volunteer involved in a wide range of philanthropic endeavors. Highlights of her activities include active participation on the board of directors of the Houston Ballet, the Children’s Assessment Center, the March of Dimes Guild and the American Heart Association Guild. Smith is president of the Children’s Assessment Center Friends Board. She draws upon her extensive business skills as chair, co-chair, auction chair, invitation chair and advisor for events, festivals and galas. Her skills benefit the American Heart Association, the Amschwand Sarcoma Foundation, the Houston Ballet, the Bridge Over Troubled Water, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the National Kidney Foundation of Southeast Texas and the Ronald McDonald House.

MONSOUR TAGHDISI has a passion for home development and design. He also has a passion for helping others, and has become an integral part of Houston’s charity community. His love for children inspired him to serve on the board of UNICEF, and his feelings for his rescued boxer, Tyke, prompted him to co-chair the Citizens for Animal Protection gala and fashion show. Taghdisi recently co-chaired the Legacy Community Health Services. In the fall, he will lead the effort to establish an Islamic Art Gallery for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, with a goal of creating the largest exhibit of Islamic calligraphy ever assembled. Monsour hopes his efforts will give a positive perspective on Middle Eastern culture for many years to come.

PAUL DAVID VAN ATTA, director of catering at Hilton-Americas-Houston, has 25 years experience in the hospitality business and at one time was the youngest general manager in the corporation. He is known for his deep commitment to community service and has held positions on advisory boards and host committees for the Houston Symphony, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the Children’s Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, the Ensemble Theatre, the World AIDS Day Luncheon and The Social Book. For the past two years, Van Atta has been a top fundraiser for AIDS Walk Houston. He can also be found serving the homeless at the Salvation Army on Christmas Day.

DANCIE PERUGINI WARE heads one of the region’s most prominent public relations firms. Orchestrating high-visibility events that contribute to corporate success, this dedicated fifth-generation Galvestonian has been an instrumental force in the renaissance of her native city, as well as Houston. She has held advisory and board positions on the March of Dimes, the School of Architecture of the University of Houston and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Ware serves on boards of the Houston Grand Opera the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the Alley Theatre and the San Jacinto Girl Scouts. She has chaired the March of Dimes Best Dressed Luncheon, World AIDS Day Luncheon, the Houston Grand Opera’s Family Opera Brunch, the 1900 Storm Centennial Tribute and the Sheltering Arms Gala for Alzheimer’s Research.

SHERIDAN WILLIAMS is a talented interior designer with her own firm. She is very fashion forward, as she was listed on the 2007 Houston Chronicle’s Best Dressed list. She is also beautiful on the inside, as her heart shines in her daily life. Williams and her husband, John Eddy, are grateful his successful law career affords them the opportunity to give back to the community. “Because we are so blessed and so able to help others, we do,” says Sheridan. “We all need to remember that there are so many people out there who need help.” She volunteers at the Rise School and serves on several nonprofit boards. Sheridan and John Eddy are both committed to many varied causes, such as M. D. Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor University’s law school and the Goodfellows annual holiday campaign. They also have become top buyers at the Houston Livestock Show &Rodeo’s wine auction.

ED YOUNG, pastor of Second Baptist Church, has seen his congregation grow from 2,000 members in 1978 to more than 40,000 members at five different locations in 2007. No one is more concerned for children than Pastor Young; a day rarely passes when his focus is not on children. “Children are the most neglected, over-looked entity in the world,” says Pastor Young. “If we want to build a bigger tent, the answer isn’t worship, its kids. If you love people’s kids, you’ll get their time and attention. Adults will come every Sunday if their kids love the church.” He and his wife, Jo Beth, were high school sweethearts in Laurel, Miss. These days, they take high school and junior high school students on beach retreats every summer.

Life in the Fast Lane How Houstonians and rush hour traffic coexist

August 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE FREEWAY — Napoleon once credited much of his success to arriving 10 minutes early. We must suppose this talent was especially helpful on the battlefield. In Houston, we can credit many of our failures to arriving 10 minutes late, because there is no way to predict how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B.

Our chances of being punctual decrease with distance. If you want to drive to a neighbor’s house on the next block – OK, so you’re lazy or maybe it’s pouring sheets of rain – you know pretty well how long the trip will take. A slight detour due to a massive sinkhole is just that: a slight detour. But if you want to keep a doctor’s appointment in the Texas Medical Center and you live in Spring Branch, your odds of checking in with the nurse at the right time are iffy at best. Doctors don’t like to be kept waiting. They’ve already read all their 1954 Life magazines.

The reasons for not being able to give an accurate estimated time of arrival, or ETA as the airlines laughingly call them (“Sometime Wednesday, maybe.”), are many: construction projects, wrecks, floods, heavy dew, broken-down Safe Clear wrecker and/or a police shoot-out. We never know what obstacles will be in our paths, but whatever they are, they delay us.

This is true in all parts of town and for all trips, but the problem is especially bad on our freeways where we can be stuck for hours — the West Loop is my legal, voting address — and can’t get off.

You are due at work at 9 a.m. and normally it takes 30 minutes to go from your home to your desk. So you leave your house, shed or dugout at 8:30.

There is a 21-car pileup on the freeway and you come limping into the office at 9:30, thus missing the PowerPoint presentation on the new dog food ad campaign. The boss says, “Well, you should have left earlier.” That’s the pat answer to arriving late: leave earlier.

This is good advice for those who have plenty of time on their hands. But do you always want to leave early hoping to be on time for every gathering? When you go to a restaurant, do you want to wait at the bar because your reservation is for 8 p.m. and you arrived at 7?

The movie starts at 6:10. You get to the theater at 6 because you left home early, so you have to wait till 6:10 to start seeing 15 minutes of ads and promotions for upcoming blockbusters. Always leaving early, only to wait, would eat up a big chunk of your life.

Several factors enter into making us early or late. First is the distance around town. The City of Houston covers 639.83 square miles in three counties, and is big enough to contain – get this — the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami with room left over. So when you say, “It’s just across town,” you are talking about a two-day trip.

In Harris County there are 3,107,456 registered vehicles, including 31,730 heavy trucks which like to jackknife at rush hour. That is an increase of 169,081 vehicles from 2005. So each morning last year when you backed out of your driveway, weekends included, there were 463 more vehicles trying to fit into the same roads. Between 2005 and 2006, Harris County grew by 485,629 people, the second largest growth of any county in the nation. (Maricopa County, Phoenix, was first with 695,974.) All these newcomers have cars, mostly in front of you.

Every motorist in the county, on average, drove 33.1 miles a day every day in 2005, the last year statistics are available. All told, our daily mileage was 134,219,397. That is 39 million miles more than the year before. In 1994, the average afternoon rush hour speed on Houston’s freeways was 49.0 mph. In 1998, the average was 48.0 mph. By 2001, the average freeway speed had slowed to 47.6, then dropping to 47.0 in 2003. While we’re gaining cars, we’re losing speed.

Meantime, a few technical breakthroughs have helped us in our quest for punctuality. The first is the cell phone. It allows us to call the parole officer and explain our tardiness for the regular appointment. Every driver in Houston has at least one cell phone so we can concentrate on our conversation without the annoying hindrance of paying attention to the stalled Peterbilt in the center lane.

The second scientific discovery to help us avoid being stuck in traffic is the radio traffic report. Listening to someone explain that “traffic is moving smoothly on the Gulf Freeway” where you have been stopped dead for 30 minutes is good for the spirits. Of course, you could use your cell phone to call the radio station, but all you would get is a recording because the regular announcer is stuck in traffic on the Gulf Freeway.

The only solution to figuring out how long it takes to get anywhere in Houston is to leave early, arrive early, and take up crocheting, or arrive late and get fired – hence the term, “Waterloo.” Another possibility is just to make your stated ETA vague. “Sometime Wednesday, maybe.”