Fab Finds in Fall Boutiques

September 1, 2007 by  
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Set the trends this season by investing in diverse pieces that are showcased in Houston’s newest boutiques.

Beaucoup Amor
Accessories play a vital role in a wardrobe’s life. A pair of earrings can jazz up a basic ensemble or the right pair of shoes can make the outfit. Whatever the accessory, one can never own too many. Beaucoup Amor, an accessory boutique that opened nine months ago, is catering to those who love to set trends. This high-end store features an array of shoes, handbags, belts, candles, and jewelry. The jewelry consists of distinctive, quality pieces that not only compliment the outfit but are fashion-forward. International designers, such as Lara Bohinc of London, Francesca Giobbi, Abaco of Paris and Oade Vavra, grace the shelves in this beautiful boutique. Each accessory is a staple that goes hand-in-hand with the fashion-forward shopper. 3055 Sage Road, Ste. 140, 713-622-9599

Catwalk has a trove of sweet style finds. Divided into two sections, retro and boutique, the back of the store houses one-of-a-kind vintage items from flats to wedges to 80s style retro shoes as well as T-shirts, dresses and skirts galore. The front has many independent labels catering to boutique lovers, and features a number of designer jeans such as Seven’s, True Religion, Rock and Republic and Paige Premium Denim. Men have a unique section to browse as well, featuring Gucci, Prada and Dolce and Gabbana, among other hip labels. This new boutique is perfect for those who love to scour the racks for unique items. 1431 Westheimer, 713-523-9255

Laura U
Since opening the doors to her boutique five months ago, Laura Umansky has created a buzz. Her distinct Laura U collection encompasses modern and eclectic pieces that provide unique accents for a person’s home. From handmade, customized furniture to pieces that are ready to go, the Laura U collection is a decorator’s paradise. International pieces entangled with local artists are featured throughout the boutique, as well as lotions, candles, and cool lighting that accentuate the modern home’s décor. Owner and creative director Laura Umansky provides resources, tools and ideas that can not be found elsewhere and her clients are claiming her collection is a “breath of fresh air” for Houston. 1840 Westheimer, 713-522-0855

Marvin Zindler

September 1, 2007 by  
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Remembering Houston’s White Knight in Blue Shades

Flamboyant. Loud. Caring. Compassionate. In Houston, those words could only describe Marvin Zindler. The colorful television personality, known for his trademark white hair and blue sunglasses, died July 29 following a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

For nearly 35 years, Houstonians welcomed Zindler into their homes as he delivered daily consumer advocacy stories and his famous weekly restaurant report on KTRK Channel 13’s evening news broadcasts.

Ask anyone in southeast Texas about Zindler, and they are sure to belt out some of his trademark catchphrases — “It’s HELL to be poor,” or the seemingly world famous (all together, gang) “SLIIIIIIME IN THE ICE MACHINE!”

His style was all his own. While Houstonians could imitate Zindler’s distinctive voice and catchphrases, no reporter could copy the legend’s style.

“How did Marvin change Houston journalism? He didn’t. He was unique. Nobody could copy him. So it wasn’t like he introduced consumer news reporting – there were others before him. He didn’t do anything new – he just did it differently. So differently that no one dared copy him. He was simply, wildly off the charts popular,” says Ken Hoffman, Houston Chronicle columnist.

“Marvin didn’t consider himself a journalist, which was a convenient way for him to avoid the boundaries of the profession. He was show business and a televised complaint window. He broke all the rules. He didn’t have the face or voice for TV news. He wasn’t slick. But he had charisma and viewers sensed the innate goodness of him,” continues Hoffman. “He was awkward and flamboyant and ridiculous; and wonderful and gracious and self-effacing. He was the embodiment of Houston in many ways. We have no idea what we’re doing, but people seem to be happy here.”

Reputation preceded the legend
“I remember the first time I saw Marvin Zindler on TV here in Houston,” remembers Fran Peterson, former Houston news anchor. “It was the 1970s and I was visiting my sister Kelly, and she couldn’t wait to show him to me. His unique broadcast style was well known in the industry, but I had not seen him live. I was amazed and knew instantly he’d be a fixture forever on Houston television.”

Although they work at competing stations, many of the city’s reporters and anchors share a mutual respect, and that respect forges life-long friendships.

“I met Marvin very soon after I began working in the Houston market in 1986,” Peterson says. “He was very welcoming. I would see him at various events and functions and always enjoyed chatting with him. Once, as we were sitting waiting for something, the conversation turned to microphones and volume, and I asked Marvin why he spoke so loud when he signed off. He replied, ‘Loud? Do I speak loud when I sign off? Well, I’m a little hard of hearing.’ I loved it! That loud sign-off was his trademark.”

Helping out the little guy
Beyond the catchphrases and dynamic on-air personality, Zindler is remembered as a true champion of the common man. For decades, viewers contacted Zindler for assistance in solving consumer complaints, addressing concerns and cutting through bureaucratic red tape.

“Marvin was one of a kind,” says Dave Ward, colleague and ABC 13 anchor. “He was one of the most compassionate people I have ever met, and deep in his heart he believed in helping folks who needed someone on their side.”

Zindler came to aid of countless Houstonians in need of assistance dealing with companies or the government. However, his heart embraced those in need around the world. Along with an army of doctors, dentists and specialists, Zindler tirelessly worked true medical miracles with his group, collectively known as “Marvin’s Angels.”

Heaven sent
Among the doctors who traveled with Zindler to care for the indigent was plastic surgeon Dr. Joseph Agris. The pair established the Agris-Zindler Children’s Foundation, which delivers badly-needed care to children and their families in the United States and all over the world. This encompasses medical care, surgery, medications and prostheses, as well as family support.

“The Foundation will continue,” says Agris. “We do everything we can in Harris County, and if there is money left, we go overseas.”

Agris, Zindler and other doctors and medical professionals traveled the world, repairing cleft palettes and other abnormalities in less than ideal locations.

“There were times that the sound of the machine guns firing was closer than we would have liked,” Agris recalls.

But still, the team of doctors worked tirelessly, sometimes using makeshift hospital rooms and using camera lights for lighting. Zindler, who like the doctors, paid his own way to each third-world destination, would file stories focusing on the plight of the country’s citizens. He confronted politicians and royalty trying to find answers on why their citizens were treated poorly.

“One thing about Marvin, you didn’t side step questions with him,” Agris says. “Sometimes you see people dance around people’s questions. It didn’t matter if you were the king, a president, the owner of a business or a consumer. Marvin would always get a straight answer.”

Lending a hand
While Zindler’s rise to fame came from exposing and eventually closing the famous Chicken House brothel in La Grange (inspiring the Broadway musical and movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”), he endeared himself to Houstonians by listening to their concerns and helping solve their problems.

“If Marvin was going to help you, he didn’t talk to the secretary or a manager. He went straight to the top to make sure your problem was solved,” Agris says. “But if you were a consumer and you tried to make an unfounded claim, he called you on it. That was one of the things that was so great about him. He was fair to everyone, whether you had money or not.”

But the greatest of Zindler’s stories were the ones that didn’t make it on the air.

“He did so many things behind the scenes, things that he didn’t talk about on TV or to anyone,” Agris says. “He would literally get a hundred letters a day from people asking him for help.”

Agris recalls sitting in Zindler’s office when Zindler read a letter from an elderly woman who had her electricity shut off because she could not pay her bills. In the letter, the woman wrote that in the daytime, temperatures would exceed more than 100 degrees and she was not sure she would survive the summer.

“Marvin called the electric company and found out she was past due by a couple of hundred dollars. He said for them to turn the lights back on and he wrote them a check on the spot,” Agris says, fighting back tears. “I can’t tell you how many times he did that, and not once did any of those stories get on the air. He did so much for so many people, but his best work was behind the scenes.”

Final Sign off
Zindler used his nightly Eyewitness News segments to expose substandard care at nursing homes, obtain special medical care for those who couldn’t afford it and help many more successfully resolve their consumer problems. It was Zindler’s investigation into restaurant health violations that resulted in a nationwide requirement for salad “sneeze bars.” His weekly “Rat and Roach Reports” improved cleanliness and food safety in restaurant kitchens.

Even after Zindler revealed he had pancreatic cancer which spread to his liver, he continued to file stories from his hospital room. As the cancer took its toll on his body, a visibly weakened Zindler still had had the strength to give his trademark sign off “Maaaaaaarvin Zindler, Eyewitness News,” for a final time.

While his voice is silenced, his legacy continues in newsrooms and through the Agris-Zindler foundation. He is remembered as a fearless and trail-blazing broadcaster who brought attention to a new genre of broadcast journalism that became a staple in television newsrooms across the country. But more importantly, he helped bring rays of hope to third-world countries and a peace of mind to Houston consumers, a fact that is not lost on those who knew him best.

“I have always felt lucky with how I have done in my profession,” Agris says. “I always wanted to give back, but through Marvin, I learned exactly what it meant to give. There is always a path to give back. Sometimes we need a man like Marvin Zindler to pull us down that path. There will never be another one like him.”

Houston’s Perfect Fit

September 1, 2007 by  
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An introduction to the exclusive world of sartorial elegance – bespoke shirtmaking, Houston style

While fashionable gentlemen trot the globe in search of custom clothing, it is a well-kept secret that one of the world’s finest haberdasheries is located in the Bayou City. Hamilton Custom Shirtmakers, one of the oldest and most well-respected tailors in the world, has served four generations of Houston’s oil barons, financiers and CEOs with bespoke shirts since 1883. Their rigorous standards rival even the most storied shirtmakers such as Charvet, headquartered at Paris’s exclusive Place Vendôme, and Turnbull &Asser, the official outfitters of James Bond, located on London’s Jermyn Street. Many fashion tastemakers are devotees of the brand, such as Simon Doonan, Barneys New York’s Creative Director, who says, “The only time I’m not wearing a Hamilton shirt is when I’m in bed sleeping in a Gap T-shirt.”

The people behind the product
Hamilton’s history began with a tale of two brothers in the late 1800s. They opened a men’s furnishings store on the current site of the Rice Hotel to meet the burgeoning demand for high-quality clothing by oil-rich Texans. Throughout the years, this longstanding family-owned business has aged with grace, building flourishing partnerships with luxury retailers, most notably with Barneys New York. Most recently, the business has been revitalized with new blood. Siblings Kelly and David, ages 31 and 28 respectively, are the fourth generation of Hamiltons to take the helm of this celebrated Houston institution. Despite their youth, the dynamic brother and sister team brings decades of experience to the table, having spent countless vacations and holidays learning the trade. “I would just come up here and play in the factory, picking up fabric scraps … and eventually had summer jobs here,” says David, recalling his childhood days.

The duo’s path to claiming their birthright was somewhat circuitous. Both Hamiltons began their paths in different industries; Kelly worked as an oil and gas recruiter after earning a human development degree from Texas Tech University while David began his career as an investment banker with Lehman Brothers after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. However, David soon recognized the potential for growth in the family business and joined Kelly in assuming ownership of the company in May of 2006. David says, “I realized that there was opportunity here. I felt like we have always had a great product and good customers and there was a chance to grow on that.”

Bespoke shirtmaking 101
Bespoke, derived from the English word bespeak, is a term used as early as 1583 to describe an individually- or custom-made product — in this case, shirts. Despite the quality shirts found prêt-a-porter at your local Saks Fifth Avenue, the unfortunate truth is they are mass-produced in factories for stock sizes. Unless your height, weight, and proportions are the same as the model used to make the initial pattern, the stock shirts may not fit quite right. In particular, bespoke garments are becoming increasingly popular with younger audiences who seek flattering fits that complement the gym body that they have spent so many hours to obtain. In many ways, custom shirts are the male equivalent of haute couture; due to the craftsmanship, price and quality of materials, they are the ultimate in luxury.

While you can order Hamilton shirts from outposts such as Barneys New York in Dallas or Johnstone in Austin, the Houston flagship store and factory, located on Richmond Ave., is the heart and soul of the company. Upon entering the store, you are immediately transported to the romantic world of London’s Savile Row. The rich mahogany-paneled walls and aged leather chairs evoke a classic gentleman’s club, without the cigar smoke. Antique sewing machines are displayed next to colorful Ferragamo ties as a portrait of co-founder, J. Brooke Hamilton, vigilantly watches over the cash register.

If lucky, first-time customers may have the pleasure of being greeted by the charming owners. The client is presented with leather books containing more than 600 fabric swatches carefully hand-selected from the best textile mills in Italy and Switzerland. With every color and pattern imaginable — from neutral herringbones to pastel ginghams — there is enough eye candy to make any fashion lover’s heart beat faster. To suit Houston’s humidity and tastes, Hamilton carries beautiful linens for the perfect summer shirt and stocks up on the brighter colors preferred by the city’s dashing gentlemen.

After selecting the fabric, measurements are taken by an expert seamstress. Then comes the fun part where you can make the shirt one-of-a-kind. If you are overwhelmed by the more than 10 collars, six button fronts, four back styles, five cuff options, five pocket designs and eight monograms, don’t despair. Pick the most flattering style for your body type. Have narrow shoulders? Choose a wide collar that will even out your proportions. Additionally, Hamilton is a Houston-based retailer that stays true to its roots. They offer Texan touches, such as a Western back, that can be put on a business shirt to subtly declare one’s allegiance to the Lone Star State. Some men go beyond the usual options to truly customize a shirt to fit their lifestyle. “We have a guy who would request in some of his shirts that he would have hidden pockets, on the inside,” says David, chuckling. “It was for cigars and flasks so his wife didn’t know they were on him.”

To experience the artisan tradition of shirtmaking, peek through the window that looks into the Hamilton factory, where every shirt is handmade by expert craftsmen. Although the business has modernized by introducing technological advances and a sleek website, David explains that Hamilton has remained the same. “The way that we make the shirt has been consistent over the years,” he says. Behind the scenes, the client’s measurements are used to create a custom paper pattern, which is what makes the shirt truly bespoke. Then the fabric is cut around the pattern using a blade to ensure accuracy. Lastly, the shirt’s pieces are given to the seamstresses who piece together the final product with fine attention to every detail. Their turnaround is surprisingly quick compared to many European retailers that command upwards of several months for a shirt. With a four-shirt minimum per order, you can expect to receive your first Hamilton item after approximately three weeks. The result? A luxurious shirt with perfectly-fitting panache.

Tina Knowles

September 1, 2007 by  
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Pop star’s mom sews some Diva-licious threads

When you are the mother of the world’s premier diva, you can relax and enjoy life’s spoils … unless you are Tina Knowles.

The couture fashion maven, who happens to be the mother of Beyoncé, will turn heads on the runway when she releases her 2007 House of Deréon fall fashion line.

It’s not by accident that Knowles’ creations are must-haves across the country.

Raised in a large, poor family in Galveston, Tina often wondered how her mother, Agnes Deréon, could afford to send her and her siblings to a pricey Catholic school. As it turns out, her mother paid for part of their tuition by making robes for the altar boys, cloaks for the priests and altar cloths for the church.

“My mother was so talented and so resourceful. People would come to her to make their prom dresses and beautiful formal gowns,” says Tina. “I grew up in a very style-conscious environment. She used paper to cut her patterns and her creations were often embellished with hand-smocking, beading, lace, embroidery and jeweled buttons.”

Tina watched as her mother meticulously took simple pieces of fabric and created her own custom masterpieces.

In junior high, Tina sang with a local group called the Beltones. Needing costumes, she put her lessons to good use and took it upon herself to design the clothing for the group’s performances.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Tina’s designs have exploded on the scene.

Maybe it was destiny (as in Destiny’s Child), that Beyoncé and Tina would collaborate to launch the House of Deréon, a high-end couture line, in the fall of 2005.

Tina describes the clothing line, inspired by three generations of women, with the mantra: Couture, Kick and Soul. Tina is the “Couture,” Beyoncé is the “Kick,” and Tina’s mom and Beyoncé’s grandmother, Agnes Deréon, is the “Soul.”

“My goal has always been to bring a touch of couture to affordable clothes. Everyone should have access to great fit, great fabric, to the feel of a perfect garment,” Tina says.

The young contemporary women’s line features ready-to-wear, casual sportswear and denim offerings, as well as furs, handbags and footwear. The House of Deréon is featured in all Federated stores, such as Macy’s, Dillard’s, Bloomingdale’s and other fine department and specialty stores nationally.

Tina’s couture creations hit the mainstream as her family’s high-powered act Destiny’s Child took over the pop charts by storm.

When Beyoncé was 7-years-old, she and her girlfriends were dancing in the backyard. But at age 11, Beyoncé’s dance teacher saw something special in the young future diva. She began entering in music competitions and won every contest she entered against girls who were much older. All the while, Tina was creating the costumes and hairstyles as she was a hairstylist with a successful salon.

It wasn’t long before Beyoncé was making waves performing at Tina’s salon. The family was approached by someone wanting to build a vocal group around Beyoncé. After auditioning more than 50 girls, Mathew, Tina’s husband and Beyoncé’s father, quit his six-figure job and took over as manager for the family’s music endeavors.

“My husband is very, very smart. He’s a risk taker; I’m not. When he believes in something or someone, the building can fall, but he will never give up,” she says.

As the group continued to gain notoriety in music circles, they settled on the name Destiny’s Child.

Tina was responsible for suggesting the name “Destiny” after she found a photo of the girls stuffed in the Bible. They chose the name “Destiny’s Child” because there were several other groups with the name “Destiny.” Fortified with inspiration and talent from her mother, Tina created the cutting-edge, hip-haute fashions worn by the R&B group during public appearances and music videos.

While the members of Destiny’s Child have since gone their separate ways in their careers, Tina and Beyoncé and the rest of the Knowles family continue to support each other.

Daughter Solange, herself a successful singer, has joined her sister, Beyoncé, and Tina in the House of Deréon. Each brings fresh, playful attitudes and individual personalities to the designs. Beyoncé, Solange and Kelly Rowland are the dynamic Deréon models.

This year, the House of Deréon launches two new lines, including one for infants.

“We’re also launching a ‘real woman’ line for sizes up to 24, with all the styling tips to accentuate the positive,” she says. “Every woman is beautiful and deserves a perfect fit. If she wants to wear a pencil skirt, she should be able to find one that fits.”

Tina also presents her exclusive “Miss Tina” line on the Home Shopping Network. The collection, which debuted Aug. 19, emphasizes figure-flattering silhouettes and exquisite attention to detail to enhance every woman’s personal style. The collection is designed for confident women who like to make a statement with the clothes they wear. It includes denim, sweaters, blouses, jackets, trousers, skirts, T-shirts, footwear, handbags and other accessories.

“I went to New York to look at all the samples for the Young Deréon line before any of them left for the stores,” Tina recalls, “While there, I met with Mindy Grossman of Home Shopping Network concerning the new line we debuted in August. We were walking from her office to my office (about four blocks,) and people were coming up to me on the street saying, ‘Miss Tina, I saw this’ or ‘I like that’ or something about Beyoncé or Solange. They all kept calling me Miss Tina. That’s when Mindy said, ‘That’s it! We’re going to call this line Miss Tina!'”

Being a fashionista isn’t exactly easy. If anything, it can be time-consuming.

“Most days, I’m up at 6 a.m. and the days are sometimes 12-, 14-, 16-hour days,” she explains. “I’m sketching or fitting and the deadlines keep coming. This is a hands-on business. If I’m not in New York, I’m running with the sketches to send to New York.”

Although her family is top priority, Tina acknowledges working with them has its trials.

“People tend to think that the reason for my success is due totally to my relationship with Beyoncé. They don’t seem to want to acknowledge the fact that I might be able to accomplish anything on my own; they don’t realize the hard work that goes into every project.”

But, that won’t stop Tina from what she does best.

“I’m a caretaker. I want to take care of everybody. I’m a protective mother first. Actually, that’s the most important and the best job I’ve ever had,” she says with a smile. “I think about how grateful I am to God for all my blessings, and I ask Him to protect my children and keep them healthy and happy. Then, I start sketching in my mind.”

And the process starts all over again.

Lighting the way home

September 1, 2007 by  
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Ten years later, Bob and Gay Smither continue to help families survive their missing child nightmare

Imagine for a moment that a loved one left for a routine walk or jog around the neighborhood — and never returned. Think about watching the clock as you work through the endless possibilities of what they are doing and where they could be. Minutes begin to feel like weeks.

For Friendswood residents Bob and Gay Smither, their ordeal stretched over 17 days.

In April of 1997, their daughter, 12-year-old Laura Kate Smither never returned from her morning jog and was found murdered more than two weeks later in a retention pond 12 miles from her home.

They were not alone as they searched, hoped and finally grieved. Almost 8,000 volunteers mobilized to help find Laura. It is in that spirit that the Smither family founded the Laura Recovery Center for Missing Children (LRC).

During the 17 days that Laura was missing, the Smithers received phone calls from around the country from parents and concerned members of communities where other children where missing. People wanted and needed to know how the Smithers were handling their search so that they could apply it to their communities.

“When a member of a community is reported missing, the people of the community feel the need to get involved. If not organized, even with the best of intentions, people can act in ways that actually hinder the investigation. By organizing, we give the community constructive ways to get involved, to fulfill that need to help,” Bob explains.

As more people reached out to the Smithers for help, they began to realize there were inadequacies in the way communities, authorities and familes interacted during a search. The foundation grew to meet these needs, and the Smithers worked with law enforcement and concerned citizens to create organized procedures to follow when a child is reported missing. According to their website, the most critical time to organize efforts is during the first 72 hours a child is reported missing.

Over the last 10 years, the Laura Recovery Center has grown from a core group of volunteers, meeting to discuss improvement procedures and deal with their grief, to a fully functioning foundation that, according to Bob, has received more than 1,400 phone calls from families of missing children and assisted in more than 75 searches nationwide. Of those cases, Bob reports that one-third are found alive, one-third found dead and one-third remain unsolved.

Bob serves on the board of directors for the Amber Plan and Gay is president of the board of directors for the LRC. Last year, realizing a fiscal need to keep the foundation running, the LRC hosted its first Lighting the Way Home Gala, which raised $70,000 for financial assistance to families of missing children.

On Oct. 5, the LRC will host its second annual Lighting the Way Home Gala in the Space Suit Gallery at Space Center Houston. According to co-chairperson Lori Allen, the gala aims to raise $120,000 this year assisting families of missing children.

KHOU-TV anchor Deborah Duncan is serving as honorary chair, and Dayna Steele-Justiz of Steele Media Services will emcee. The special guest speaker is Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart who was abducted June 5, 2002, in Utah, and was rescued nine months later.

Doors will open with a silent auction at 7:30 p.m., dinner at 8:30 followed by the program and a live auction. Corporations or individuals can sponsor tables at the event ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Sponsors may receive promotion at the program and/or advertising on the LRC website.

To get involved with the gala, volunteer or help in any way in the recovery of missing children nationwide, contact the LRC at: 281-482-LRCF (5723), 866-898-5723 or online at www.LRCF.org.

Pretty in Pink

September 1, 2007 by  
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The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure holds deep significance for women affected by breast cancer

Pink is the color of lipstick, bubble gum and quintessential femininity. However, for members of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, pink represents their fight to eradicate breast cancer forever. Indiscriminate of race or income bracket, breast cancer is an insidious disease that can afflict all women regardless of profession, race or income bracket.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, founded by Nancy G. Brinker as a promise to her dying sister, has valiantly raised funds for cutting-edge breast cancer research and education since 1982. The foundation’s mission to save lives and eliminate breast cancer has fueled the breast cancer movement across the globe. Today, the nonprofit foundation, which has raised more than $1 billion, is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists. The Komen Houston Affiliate has been one of the most active chapters of the organization since it was established in 1990. Over the last 16 years, the Houston branch has funded more than $12.4 million in grants for breast health education, screening and treatment. Their biggest event, the Komen Race for the Cure, raised more than $3 million last year and included 1,800 breast cancer survivors among the 26,000 participants.

The Komen Race for the Cure is not only an important fundraising tool but also an event that holds deep emotional significance for many of its participants. Kathy Waite, a schoolteacher in Katy and co-chair of this year’s Race for the Cure, began participating in the race as homage to her aunt who passed away from the disease. Waite recalls her most poignant race memory: “I remember seeing a little boy, four years old, with a T-shirt saying ‘In memory of my mom,’…. It is so important that people understand what it’s for and why we’re doing this.”

Lourdes Hernandez, also a race co-chair and a breast cancer survivor, is no newcomer to the event. “My first race was in 1993, and I’ve participated in every race since then, including the year I was undergoing treatment [for breast cancer]. My husband and I walked the 1K,” she recalls.

As a former corporate attorney, Hernandez balanced work and family life until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. “I did not have time for what I was doing, never mind breast cancer. That was kind of like a gorilla that was thrown on the top of my to-do list … I fought it and said, ‘I’m not going to put that on my list,'” she says. After a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, Hernandez successfully won her first bout with cancer. She battled the disease with gusto for a second time when she was diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer on her chest wall four-and-a-half years ago.

Hernandez has met many women through her struggles with cancer, including Dorothy Paterson, a vivacious mother of two and retired geologist for Marathon Oil Corporation. Paterson was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer at age 42. With help from what she describes as her “incredible army of loving friends and family,” she is a defiant cancer survivor who devotes much of her free time to the Komen Houston Affiliate. Looking back, Paterson says, “It has been an incredible journey for the last nine years, so when I run in the race this year, I will be celebrating my nine-year anniversary of being cancer-free.”

While these are stories of cancer survivors, many of Hernandez’s and Paterson’s close friends have not been as lucky. Paterson tears up as she speaks of Julie Maas, a neighbor, mother of two and friend, who is a breast cancer patient in her last weeks of life. Paterson says, “it is hard to lose a loved one, but it fuels my fire and determination to do everything I possibly can to end breast cancer.”

As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month approaches in October and the ubiquitous pink ribbons abound, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation hopes to call attention to the fact that anyone with breasts, regardless of age, is at risk. Hernandez, who was able to fight cancer with the help of early detection, warns: “This disease affected us directly of course, but you know, it’s not theoretical. It is very, very real.”

Race Information
The 2007 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, themed “Imagine a World Without Breast Cancer,” will start on Satuday, Oct. 6 in Sam Houston Park Downtown at 7:45 a.m. The race will have a Family Walk, Kids 1K, 5K timed competition, 5K noncompetitive run and 5K walk. In addition, the third annual Sleep in for the Cure is available for late-risers who still wish to raise money. Seventy-five percent of the net funds raised from the race will go towards local breast health organizations while 25 percent will be used for national research grants.

Living and Giving

September 1, 2007 by  
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While most programs focus on poor-performing students, Reisman focuses on excellence

A person’s history is often so different from anything anyone would ever guess. To see Virginia Doherty Reisman today, it is hard to imagine her a disheveled young child whose teachers had to brush her hair. Reisman’s mother was seriously ill with cancer, and her father was at a loss on how to groom little girls. Fortunately, she pulled through.

Today, Reisman can tell you the names of all her elementary teachers. She was so impressed with their love and care during that very difficult time that teaching became her passion. Today, she holds a doctorate in education.

The Country Girl
San Augustine is a small Texas town about 30 miles east of Nacogdoches. Her father, the late James Doherty, was the county attorney for 35 years. Her mother, Jamie, is still the chief appraiser for the San Augustine appraisal district. Except for the time when her mother was seriously ill, Reisman had a wonderful childhood. Home was three miles outside of town with horses and cows and all the trappings of country living.

“We climbed trees and played chase through sticker burrows,” Reisman says. The garden brimmed with vegetables and her grandmother made hand-churned ice cream with fresh peaches right off the trees.

Lifelong Educator
In 1975, after attending Stephen F. Austin State University and the University of Texas at Austin, Reisman came to Houston with a Bachelor of Science in education and taught second grade in the Huffman school district for three years.

“I stopped teaching when my son, Jacob, was born. When my daughter Kelley was six months old, I missed school so much, I started working on my Master’s Degree in child psychology and education at the University of Houston,” she says.

While teaching in Pasadena ISD, fellow teacher Libby Escalante, told her, “You are bossy! You need to be in administration.” Always open to a good suggestion, Reisman earned her mid-management certificate, and soon became the assistant principal at Sparks Elementary, and later, principal at South Shaver Elementary.

In the classroom and as an administrator, she realized students who excelled were often overlooked.

“There were lots of programs for the academically challenged but very few for the academically gifted. I was always concerned about the gifted minority students,” Reisman says. As principal, she could help even more. With assistance from teachers, she developed a curriculum of problem solving skills, activities and projects for the summer to keep gifted children interested and in school.

“I had more parents cry when I would say, ‘Your child is intelligent, gifted and talented,’ than would cry because their kids were in trouble and being disciplined. Parents want and need to hear positive things about their children,” she says.

Fun in Dysfunctional
In 1995, she married Houston plastic surgeon Dr. Neal Reisman. With her two children (whose father had died) and his two daughters, Tracey and Hillary, all going to different schools, she decided to again leave her job and put family first.

“We put the fun in ‘dysfunctional.’ But, we made it!” Virginia says they made a difficult transition a success through love and communication. “We talked constantly and we loved each other. If you communicate you can work through anything,” she explains.

While being a “taxi mom” Reisman also helped her husband in his office while earning her doctorate in educational leadership. Later on, she founded an educational consulting company, Color Them Gifted, focusing on identifying gifted minority students.

Women’s Legacies … Living and Giving
All the children are have left home, but there is no empty nest for the family. Her husband’s 91-year-old Uncle Albert and three dogs keep the household lively. Her charity and volunteer work keeps the phone, fax, e-mail and door bell buzzing.

Reisman is a 2007 ABC Channel 13 Woman of Distinction, and at the Winter Ball presentation, she was escorted by the late Marvin Zindler. She knew him well because her husband was one of Marvin’s Angels.

Among the boards she serves is Summerbridge Houston, a rigorous academic program to help gifted, underserved students get on the path to college. It is sponsored by Episcopal High School, St. John’s School and the Houston Independent School district.

She has spent the past year as president of the Baylor Partnership, which supports the Baylor College of Medicine through fundraisers and educational seminars.

On Oct. 24, Reisman and Jan Carson will co-chair the 10th annual Women’s Health Summit in conjunction with Baylor’s Huffington Center on Aging. It is a combined educational seminar and fundraising awards luncheon featuring internationally-recognized doctors and scientists sharing the latest discoveries in their fields.

The theme is Women’s Legacies … of Living and Giving. At the luncheon, Aerin Lauder will accept The Anne Morrow Lindbergh Award for Living with Grace and Distinction on behalf of her late grandmother, the legendary Estée Lauder.

Lauder will also serve as the keynote speaker at the luncheon. Additionally, several Houston women will receive awards in recognition of their philanthropic contributions to the community.

For tickets or more information, e-mail Maria at Pesantez@bcm.tmc.edu.

Gridiron Greatness Texas HS Football still reigns supreme

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

“In Texas, the week begins on Friday nights.” — CBS newsman Bob Schieffer

How true. Have you ever driven across Texas on a Friday evening during the fall? You can hear the crowds and see the glow of those Friday night lights. High school football is big in Texas, and the Houston area has some of the biggest and the best.

In the Houston Independent School District alone, last season on the middle school level, 2,264 students (2,263 boys and one girl ) played football. At the high school level, 2,467 students (2,466 boys and one girl) took to the gridiron.

The district has produced one state football championship: Jack Yates High School in 1985. And don’t forget Vince Young, who played for Houston’s Madison High School. He should be a Houston Texan, but that’s another story.

Houston ISD has so many players and teams that five football stadiums host games on Thursday through Saturday during the season. None of these stats, of course, include the private schools and suburban districts in the area.

How big is high school football in the Lone Star State? Last season there were 163,229 9th-through-12th grade students playing the game in the University Interscholastic League program, or UIL, which governs Texas high school competitions. That is more players than in any other state. One estimate is that there are 350 Texans playing Division I football today and, in the past, at least five of them have earned the Heisman Trophy. Every single team in the NFL has at least one member who played Texas high school football.

We have 1,283 public high schools in this state of which 1,121 have football programs. Each weekend the varsity teams play 600 games before an estimated 1 million spectators. Last season there were 46,339 fans at the Division I championship game, which is more than attend a lot of college contests and, back then, many Oiler games.

Not all good pigskin fights are played by large schools in huge stadiums.

“Six man football is what small town life in Texas is all about,” said Jack Pardee, former Aggie football player, NFL linebacker and head coach of both the Washington Redskins and the Oilers, who played on the Cristoval, Texas, six-man team.

We do love our Fightin’ Wombats. As Houston sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz once noted, “There must really be something to religion. People keep comparing it to Texas high school football.” Another example of our priorities: under Gov. Rick Perry’s order, school districts must spend 65 percent of their budget in the classrooms — but coaches’ salaries are excluded.

This fall, the school year started later, so football practices were pushed back. Practice for the fall season began on Aug. 6, when equipment was issued. Then the players started conditioning drills without equipment except for helmets. If the teams held spring training, they started a week later. The UIL runs the playoffs until there is just one team left standing, so the two top teams will have participated in 16 games stretching from summer vacation to the Christmas season.

In 2000, researchers at Texas A&M and the University of Texas-Pan American compared Texas school districts’ athletic budgets per student with that district’s SAT scores and American College Testing (ACT) exams to see if there was any correlation. They found large athletic budgets can adversely affect SAT scores by as much as 45 percent and ACT scores by as much as 1.2 points. The researchers also found that non-athletes in these powerhouse districts have lower aspirations because they feel all the district cares about is winning a state championship. (At this point we must note that the researchers were studying “athletics,” but in Texas that can only mean “football.”)

Furthermore, the researchers also found students in big budget athletic districts are less likely to take college entrance exams, and less likely to get a high score if they do. The student-athletes in the big spending districts did better on the state standardized tests. Of course they did well; if the students didn’t pass the test, they couldn’t participate in athletics.

As an example of the link between athletic budgets and test scores, the study pointed to Texas City which, at that time, had the highest per-student athletic cost in the Houston area at $187. The district’s average SAT score was 864 while its ACT score was 17.3. On the other hand, the nearby Galveston school district spent less than half that — $92 per student on athletics — and had an average SAT of 1020 and an average 18.6 on the ACT.

The old line about Texas high school football goes: “There are better football programs, but they play on Sunday afternoons.” A few years ago, Odessa Permian, the subject of “Friday Night Lights” and a long-time football powerhouse, was looking for a new coach. In the town of Sealy, which was also a powerhouse, there was a winning coach named T.J. Mills.

Odessa Permian sent for Mills and his family — in a private jet. He was won over with a yearly salary of $78,000 plus a new car. That was several years ago, so no doubt the price has gone up. One football coach is reputed to make $100,000 a year, but, as a school administrator noted, “If he loses, he gets fired.” A survey showed nearly 80 percent of Texas high school football coaches made more than the best-paid teacher in their districts. On the other hand, most classrooms don’t have a scoreboard — or a press box.

Texas’ players are much sought after by out-of-state schools. Oklahoma State last season had 51 Texans and 22 Oklahomans. Oklahoma had 35 Texans compared to 19 Oklahomans. Even Army, way up there in New York, had 33 Texans trying to beat Navy. On the other hand, the University of Texas had only six non-Texans, the University of Houston had five out-of-state players and Rice had 12. Former UH football coach Bill Yeoman once lamented that he could field a championship team every season if only he could hang on to the local talent.

There’s a great story about an alleged confrontation some years ago at a coaches’ convention when Michigan State head football coach Duffy Daugherty ran into UCLA head coach Tommy Prothro. Daugherty thoroughly upbraided his colleague for “recruiting in my backyard.” Prothro replied that he hadn’t even been in Michigan lately, much less recruited there.

“Not Michigan,” Daugherty fairly yelled. “Texas!”

Rediscovering Florida’s Panhandle

September 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

A Coast Reborn

When you mention vacation spots in Florida, most people think of Miami, Orlando or the Keys. Very few bring up the panhandle of the Sunshine State. In fact, many people have dubbed that area as the Forgotten Coast. For nearly 100 years, the St. Joe Paper Company has owned nearly 1 million acres of land, using it to farm the trees to make paper. Recently, St. Joe decided the land is more valuable operating resorts than farming timber, and is working with nearby towns and businesses to establish an identity and tourism base for the area.

Once upon a time, the Forgotten Coast was the Up-and-Coming Coast. In the early 1800s, it was an economic hub with trading posts, railroads and busy ports. In 1828, Apalachicola was the third-busiest port on the Gulf Coast. However, the region soon fell on hard times. Fever hit in 1840, wiping out a large portion of the residents; causing others to flee. Hurricanes struck the area in the 1850s, washing away the railroad tracks while the 1860s brought devastation associated with the Civil War. The few remaining residents fell into lives of fishing, farming and of course, logging and paper mill operation.

There seems to be a direct link between forgotten and preserved. The residents who stayed behind developed a healthy, protective attitude toward the environment. The region’s rivers, bays and beaches are absolutely beautiful. We were paired with Chef Chris Hastings, culinary advisor for the area, for a foraging tour. The goal was to go into the environment, meet the people, forage for regional foods and prepare them using local culinary techniques. Our activities included gigging flounder, catching crabs, harvesting oysters and collecting honey. Each activity was accompanied by a local expert possessing rich knowledge of the area and their craft.

Our trip started on the coastline called the Emerald Coast by locals (even though it looks more sapphire to me). White sand dunes and beaches accent crystal clear, blue-tinted waters. We checked into the WaterColor Inn. This award-winning 60-room boutique hotel sits on the beach and allows you to take in all the beauty with panoramic views of the water from large balconies and unique features like ocean views from the shower. It was recently named the fourth best hotel in the United States by Travel + Leisure magazine. We enjoyed dinner at Fish out of Water, WaterColor’s premier restaurant. Winner of the Best of Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator magazine, Fish out of Water dazzles diners with fresh regional meats and seafood prepared in their exhibition kitchen.

We started our foraging with a day of catching blue crabs. The clear waters of the Forgotten Coast, unlike the brown coastal waters closer to Houston, allow you to see your prey and cast your bait (chicken on a string) towards them. The crabs are easily hauled in and netted. For dinner that night, Chef Hastings set up a portable kitchen on the beach where he combined our day’s catch with fresh snapper, clams, fish stock and other local ingredients to make seafood bouillabaisse. The aromas from the pot merged with salty sea air as we sipped on wine and enjoyed the sunset.

We checked out of WaterColor early the next morning and drove east along the coast. Two-and-a-half hours later we pulled up to 13 Mile Oyster Company where owner Tommy Ward greeted us with firm handshakes and cold beers. The big, jovial Floridian explained the bays are excellent oyster farms because they are so far from most of civilization. The fresh waters that bring nutrients into the bay are not contaminated by factory run-off, septic tanks or other pollutants. The oysters are fresh and pure. After a quick overview, we loaded into boats and headed out to harvest oysters.

Oyster harvesting is a lonely business. Standing on a wooden boat armed with a set of tongs (which looked like two garden rakes joined by a pin through the handles), a good harvester can cultivate about 10 bags of oysters a day, for which he earns $10 per bag. The process involves working the tong handles back and forth while pushing the rake heads down into the oyster beds until oysters break free and can be lifted out of the water and dropped on the culling deck of the boat. Once a sufficient pile is on the boat, a piece of iron is used to break the clumps of oysters apart and measure them. Those living and more than three inches long are keepers; everything else is raked over the side before you start harvesting again. The work is monotonous but the views are gorgeous. Wild life abounds in the area including deer and bear; we were fortunate enough to see a bald eagle on our trip.

Back on land, we enjoyed a traditional shrimp and oyster roast. Oysters were served raw, steamed and broiled with toppings ranging from butter to Tommy’s signature topping of cheese, onions and peppers (tasting much like an oyster quesadilla). Shrimp were boiled and seasoned. It was kind of like a Florida version of a crawfish boil, complete with corn and potatoes.

The next stop was the Coombs House in Apalachicola. This restored 1905 mansion once belonged to the wealthiest man in town. Remodeled and converted into a bed and breakfast in the mid 1990s, this historic residence is filled with antiques and oil paintings from around the world. It is recognized as one of the best B-and-Bs in Florida. After storing our luggage, we put on a few extra layers of clothing and headed to the docks to meet our guides for an evening of gigging flounder.

The bays are very peaceful at night. While gigging, motors are turned off and boats are silently propelled by a long wooden pole. The pole is blunt on one end and has a gig on the other. The locals are very astute at the transition from poling the boat to catching dinner. When they are not guiding tourists, they earn $2-$3 per pound gigging flounder that are distributed to fish markets and restaurants throughout the southeast. They spend so much time on the bay the fishermen know who is gigging in the dark waters by the sounds of boat motors and the angle the spot lights are pointed into the water. On our trip the stars were brilliant in a cloudless sky. Porpoises splashed in the shallow water near us as they chased bait fish attracted to the light on our boat. However, we were not the best giggers. We caught five fish in four hours.

The next day we were drinking Tupelo honey meade wine before 10 a.m. This batch was proudly made by George Watkins, bee farmer, story teller and local historian. The wine tasting came after hearing about the trials and tribulations of running bees and bee hives around the Apalachicola River in quest of honey made from the blossoms of the White Tupelo Tree. Many blooms from the area can be the source of honey. Gall berry, Black Tupelo, Willow and Ti-Ti blooms all attract bees and produce honey. However, only the White Tupelo Tree produces pure, Tupelo-grade honey that will not granulate. Working with all honey is, “heavy, slow and sticky; and sometimes aggravating.” Bee keepers do this work while fighting bears and floods. Most of the honey from the area sells for about 70 cents per pound. Pure Tupelo honey sells for $2.70 per pound, which explains why they work so hard to maximize production during the one week White Tupelo Trees bloom each year.

Our trip ended with a scenic tour of the area in a small private plane. The flight back to our starting point took less than 30 minutes. Beautiful blue water and tons of timber were dotted with a couple of small towns and villages. The culinary adventure we took to the Forgotten Coast involved many of the activities Chef Hastings does as he works to create and define the area’s cuisine. You can join him on future outings. Activities will depend on the time of year and can include everything we did plus: shrimping (on a shrimp boat), scalloping, touring fishing boats and markets, visiting area farms and anything else a chef may do when searching for regional and seasonal ingredients. You’ll also dine in the area’s best restaurants. The trip runs $1,750 per person which covers all activities, lodging planned meals and gratuity, excluding airfare. Chris Hastings owns and operates the Hot and Hot Fish Club restaurant in Birmingham, Ala.

This forgotten coast is being rediscovered quickly. The St. Joe Company is already near final phases of development at the WaterColor resort area, 499 acres housing 1,200 residences and hotel rooms. Seaside, where the Truman Show was filmed, has been completed. Three other resort communities are currently under construction by St. Joe as well as several other projects along the 200 miles of coastline between Destin and Apalachicola.