EarthTalk: on non-toxic/non-lethal way to keep squirrels, gophers and groundhogs

October 1, 2009 by  
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Dear EarthTalk: What would you recommend as a non-toxic/non-lethal way to keep squirrels, gophers and groundhogs away? — Faye Gillette, Coarsegold, CA

Keeping unwanted critters away can be tricky business, and options are somewhat limited. For starters, make sure exterior garbage, recycling and compost containers are shut tight, and pick up and remove any fallen fruit that your apple, pear or plum trees may have discarded. Of course, these measures will go only so far in deterring unwelcome critters, so you may need to employ a repellent or more proactive strategy.

One favorite repellent sold at plant nurseries is Bonide’s Organic Repels-All, a concoction of dried blood, putrescent whole egg solids and garlic oil. The stuff, which can be sprayed on plants, grass, walkways and buildings without causing damage, smells terrible, and thus provides a natural barrier to unwanted animal visitation. Another top choice is Shake-Away Organic Animal Repellent, which comes in various natural formulas targeted to whichever type of critter you’re trying to deter. The active ingredient in the product is the urine of a feared predator; Shake-Away’s Small Animal Repellent, for example, uses fox urine. These solutions can last for weeks in dry climates, but will need to be re-applied regularly following precipitation.

If Repels-All or Shake-Away don’t do the trick, flowers might. According to gardening expert Bonnie Manion, narcissus bulbs naturally deter gophers. “Any type of narcissus bulb, which includes jonquils, paperwhites and daffodils, will be a deterrent to gophers, rabbits and deer in your garden and property,” she writes on her VintageGardenGal blog. “Bulbs planted in the ground send out a year round message to critters by actually ‘advertising’ a toxicity odor or fragrance.”

Of course, these deterrents may or may not work in your situation. If squirrels are damaging your trees, you could install aluminum collars around the bases of the trunks to prevent them from climbing; adjacent trees need to be wrapped, too, since jumping from tree to tree is a squirrel’s stock and trade. If squirrels are hogging the bird feeder, there are a number of feeder styles that will deter them, including some with a perch that starts to spin whenever a creature heavier than a bird steps on it, tossing the invader gently off.

Gophers and groundhogs present a unique problem, as they burrow tunnels in the ground and eat seeds, roots and often your entire garden bounty. And they are particularly difficult to chase away; the common—and often cruel—method of flooding their tunnels will only temporarily deter them. Another approach comes from the old wives’ tale category, but just may work: stuffing dog hair into the holes at the end of their tunnels. Brush some hair off your own pooch or get it from a local dog groomer.

According to, fencing your garden in is probably the best, though not fool-proof, way to keep the groundhogs out. “The fencing should be at least 3 feet tall and made of tight wire mesh [and] buried in the ground a minimum of 1 foot,” the site recommends. Angling out a section of the underground part of the fence to create an L-shape will deter the animals from digging under it, and curving the top of the fence outward will deter climbing.

CONTACTS: Bonide,; Shake-Away,; Vegetable Gardener,; VintageGardenGal Blog,

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; Read past columns at: EarthTalk® is now a book! Details and order information at:

Earth Talk on Bed Bugs

October 1, 2009 by  
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EarthTalk® From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Why are bed bugs a big issue right now? Where do they come from and what real harm do they do? Are there non-toxic ways of dealing with them? — Harper H., Newburyport, MA

Bed bugs, tiny little rust-colored insects of the Cimicidae family, live by feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded hosts. They get their name from their favorite habitat: mattresses (they like sofas and other cushy furniture, too). Bed bugs are most active at night, just when you’re asleep in your bed and easy prey. While their bites can be itchy, bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health threat at this point.

For reasons still unknown to public health experts, certain cities across the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe and Africa have seen an explosion in bed bugs in recent years. According to Larry Pinto, author of The Techletter, a leading information source for the pest control industry, increased worldwide travel and the rising popularity of second-hand goods may be factors in the resurgence of bed bugs, but the most likely reason is our rejection of DDT and other harsh insecticides composed of chlorinated hydrocarbons.

Pinto suggests that the kinder, gentler pesticides available now, as well as more conservative pest control methods (such as using bait traps for specific infestations instead of all-around, periodic preventative spraying) are less effective at keeping bed bugs—and likely other pests—away. “Modern insecticides are proving to be somewhat ineffective against bed bugs,” he reports, adding that insects can also develop some level of resistance to insecticides in general.

Due to the bed bug problem in many cities, charities like Goodwill often won’t accept old mattresses or couches any longer. Consumers should beware of purchasing reconditioned or used mattresses and furniture accordingly. Even new mattresses can arrive at your home already infested, especially if they travel in trucks that contain old mattresses that new customers are discarding. If you can drive your new mattress home from the store yourself you are more likely to avoid a bed bug infestation altogether.

The upside of our abandonment of pesticides like DDT, of course, is the resurgence of bald eagles and other wildlife negatively affected by the accumulation of such toxins in the environment during the latter half of the 20th century. DDT was causing the shells of bird eggs to be thin and weak, resulting in many fewer hatchlings. By the mid-1960s, the U.S. played host to only 400 breeding pairs of bald eagles—less than one percent of the bird’s estimated population in the region prior to white settlement. DDT was finally banned in 1972, and today nearly 10,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles thrive in the continental U.S.

Some home-use treatments made with natural non-toxic ingredients are now available. XeroBugs’ Best Yet, a top choice of hotel/motel managers, makes use of cedar oil and natural enzymes to kill bed bugs. Another leading product is Rest Easy Bed Bug Spray, which uses cinnamon and other natural ingredients. Although these products are deemed effective, some argue that they don’t work nearly well enough to eradicate what some are calling a bed bug epidemic. Some are even calling for bringing back DDT (for use in small doses and for specific applications only) to help eradicate the growing bed bug problem.

Postcards from Texas

October 1, 2009 by  
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KTBU-TV to Feature Segments on Houston Heights Revitalization, Houston’s Italian Restaurateurs, and Historic Galveston Bathhouses

Houston, TX — October 1, 2009 — KTBU-TV, Channel 55 in Houston, is unveiling its latest episode of Postcards from Texas, an ambitious weekly series that is a first-of-its-kind project for the Houston region. This episode contains a segment exploring the dramatic revitalization of the Houston Heights, a historic upscale neighborhood planned in the 1890s that lost favor as Houstonians moved to the city’s booming suburbs in the mid-20th century. Property values plummeted as developers subdivided Victorian mansions and cheap apartment buildings popped up in many blocks. Local businesses struggled to keep afloat and everyone agreed that drastic measures were necessary to save the neighborhood from further decline. The Houston Heights Association formed in 1973 to bring the neighborhood back from the brink and, with the help of several preservation-minded urban pioneers and local businesses, the Houston Heights gradually began to thrive. This episode also features Galveston’s bath house boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, as well as a feature on Houston’s own Italian restaurateurs. The latter segment will follow well-known Houston families as they immigrated to the U.S. in search of economic opportunity and settled in Houston as truck farmers and proprietors of small grocery stores to developing their own restaurants. The program debuts on Sunday, October 11, at 4PM. The episode will rerun the following Friday, October 16, at 1:30 p.m..

The show includes several web elements such as additional video content, comprehensive links pages to all historical entities in the region, a “where to learn more” section on each story, and historical events listings. These elements are available now at

Topics on Postcards from Texas range from those which mirror current events, such as the 1940s campaign to save the Battleship Texas or the story of Mexican immigration to Houston, to pure nostalgia, like browsing Main Street’s department store windows and all you can eat seafood at the San Jacinto Inn.

Postcards from Texas has actively sought the involvement of every museum, archive, and historical society in the area. Show producer, Mike Vance, elaborates: “We’ve done a huge amount of pre-production and outreach to make sure that the show reflects the diversity of our area: ethnically, economically and geographically. We want everyone to find something of interest in each episode. We truly think this will be both educational and fun.” The Postcards from Texas crew is indebted to the Crosby Historical Society and the Crosby Branch library for research assistance for this episode.

Among those partnering with KTBU-TV on Postcards from Texas is Houston Arts and Media, a local non-profit which works to educate Houstonians about their history. HAM is reachable at .

Hotel Derek thinks pink

October 1, 2009 by  
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Lady Pink Rooms Reflect the Taste of Women Business Travelers While Supporting a Worthy Cause

For the discerning and philanthropic female traveler, Hotel Derek created Lady Pink rooms. Five luxurious guest rooms featuring special amenities designed to appeal to the female traveler while at the same time helping to raise funds for the Houston chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Ten percent of the proceeds from each guest stay in a Lady Pink guest room will be donated.

Pink décor complements each of the guest rooms and includes luxurious bedding, bathroom accessories, as well as a cozy robe and slippers. A unique feature of the Lady Pink rooms is the wellness bar and soothing spa music atop each nightstand.

“Women account for 40% of business travelers and Hotel Derek has always held a special appeal for them because of our boutique atmosphere and personal service,” said General Manager, Hans Schmitt. “Our exemplary service coupled with our Lady Pink rooms, provide women — and men — who want to support a good cause with all of the comforts of home and an opportunity to support an important organization. We realize that more and more travelers are seeking out accommodations that are cause-related and we can’t think of a better organization to help support than the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”

In addition to Lady Pink rooms, the hotel offers a broad range of packages and amenities for discerning travelers including chic, trendy residential-style business lofts. Every room features luxurious pillow top mattresses, crisp white bed linens dotted with colorful bed pillows; custom drapes and bold geometric carpet; sleek desk accessories; high-tech toys like 37-inch flat screen televisions and Wi-Fi connections; and new artwork and lamp fixtures. A vibrant and fresh palette of colors include: purple, orange, brown and green. A similar color palette accentuates executive and presidential suites, although each suite has a decidedly distinctive look. 713-961-3000.

The Restaurant

October 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE RESTAURANT — The food is overcooked, the waiter is overwhelmed and the menu is overpriced. The bad news is, that’s the good news. This restaurant is so loud I can’t hear myself gag, and it took so long to get served that I had my food carbon dated.

A wise man (me) once noted that there are three things everybody thinks they can do: write a book, publish a newspaper and run a restaurant. The first two challenges are duck soup (which is cold and too salty) compared to properly running an eatery. Still, most people feel they are capable, which is why the Small Business Administration regularly cites restaurants as the Number 1 operation to go bankrupt.

A clue to the dangers of running a diner: have you ever read a restaurant critic’s review which reads, “Ciro’s Italian Ristaurante which was once Billy Boy’s Barbeque before it was Pierre’s French Café &Surrender School, and we remember that spot as Carlos’ Tex-Mex Cantina” and on and on, as the death list of former failures at that spot is ticked off.

But when I win the lottery and own a restaurant, here are a few items you will find when you visit. First, of course, we must obey the cardinal rule of business: location, location, location. For example, my Planned Parenthood franchise in the Vatican was a bummer, as was my topless bar in Salt Lake City. Bad locations, both. On the other hand, a good spot for an all-you-can-eat café would be next to a workout gym or perhaps near a liposuction clinic or an anorexic treatment center.

What inviting name should I use? The chi-chi cafes now have stupid and meaningless titles like “345” or “Jbt.” Does anyone have a clue as to what those names indicate, and does it make you want to eat there? As with bad locations, I have made mistakes in naming my previous diners. There was my Gene Autry steak house, Happy Entrails to You, which didn’t go over too well. Neither did my Dublin club for CPAs, when IRS Eyes Are Smiling. I opened a pub for rural hicks returning from Iraq, the Shucks &Aw, but it died. The George W. Bush Presidential Library was underway, so I tried to open a café for bond jumpers called Missin’ Accomplice. Laura turned me down and Cheney turned me in. And I should not have named my low calorie diner in the D/F Airport, “Crash Diet for a Terminal Experience.”

But this time I’ve got everything right. My new place is in Austin in the former Governor’s Mansion. The structure is currently empty and the next occupant is undetermined, so the state was glad to get the rent. As for the name, I’ll be catering to the Capitol press corps, so I’m calling my restaurant the Crow Eatery. (motto: “Newspapers are a rare medium, well done.”)

Here you will find waiters and waitresses who don’t mind being called just that, and not the PC titles, waitpersons or waitstaff. Do you call actors and actresses, “stagepersons” or seek redress for womental anguish? My staff will be efficient and quick, and, after receiving your payment, they will not say, “Do you want your change?” Hey, wait-staff-person, as a customer I will decide the tip. If I don’t want the change, I’ll say, “Keep the change.”

Speaking of tips, customers are expected to be generous. Your servers are on their feet all night hustling orders, oftentimes dealing with jerks, which may be you. They also wait, who only stand and serve. But remember that in most Texas towns there is an 8.25 percent sales tax. Don’t tip on the tax.

Have you noticed at restaurants, cafes and truck stops the bus/girl boy will go from table to table wiping off all the spilled beer, leftover chili and cigarette ashes, then come to your table and do the same thing? How long has that rag been wiping, and what varmints are being spread throughout the place? After the tabletop transfer of unknown diseases, you put your (hopefully) clean knife, fork and spoon down on that same table, then, when the food arrives, you stick the utensil in your mouth. Yuk!

You don’t have to be Howard Hughes wandering around in Kleenex boxes to worry. So you can either bring along your own utensils or eat with your fingers. At my restaurant, bus boys/girls will have disposable socks on their hands. Also, straws will be offered, especially for glasses that still bear lipstick.

Parents of disruptive children will be warned. If no action is taken (I recommend duct tape) the parents will be sent home and the children kept for ransom. Another point: The menu will be only one page, so the food in the kitchen moves faster. Always be wary of restaurants that have pages of offerings. It means those pork chops have been in the freezer since Easter. (TGI Friday’s used to have a book for a menu, but has gotten better.) Some restaurants are too loud. When I go out to dinner, I go to eat, drink, and visit. I won’t pay in order to shout. My place will be so quiet you can hear your mind change or a name drop. Along these lines, customers using cell phones will be pureed and fricasseed.

I have to take a sweater to any dinner, no matter the time of year. Restaurants are freezing because the chef and the waiters control the thermostat. They are sweating like David Letterman on Secretary’s Day, while the sedentary customers are shivering. At the Crow Eatery, customers will control the thermostat. If there is a difference of opinion about the temperature, the table that orders the most expensive items wins.

Finally, in the Marines there was a sign in the mess hall, “Take all you want. Eat all you take.” It is immoral to waste food, so I’ll charge for leftovers. Think of the starving ex-restaurateurs.

Ashby waits at

Hotel Galvez hosted its first Holiday Lighting Celebration

October 1, 2009 by  
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In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, Hotel Galvez hosted its first Holiday Lighting Celebration on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2008. Due to the positive response by the community and visitors, the hotel owners are planning to host this event on an annual basis. Click the link below to read the full release. The hotel is also offering a Thanksgiving holiday package to include Thanksgiving Day brunch, Moody Gardens Festival of Lights tickets and discounts to the spa.

Galveston Hotel–Hotel Galvez to Host Holiday Lighting Celebration November 27 Hotel Galvez will host its second annual Holiday Lighting Celebration on Friday, Nov. 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. This celebration will feature a special visit by Santa Claus, holiday entertainment by Galveston Ballet and Galveston College Choir, holiday greetings by Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, and a special appearance by Queen Victoria to invite guests to the upcoming Dickens on The Strand.

The Hotel Galvez is also offering a Thanksgiving Getaway Package that includes Thanksgiving Day Brunch for two, tickets to Moody Gardens Festival of Lights and a “Thank You Special for Two” at The Spa at the Hotel Galvez with a 50 percent discount on a second spa service. The package, available Nov. 25-28, is $369 for a two-night stay on Wednesday and Thanksgiving Thursday or $479 for a stay on Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday, based on double occupancy. For room reservations, call (800) WYNDHAM, or visit and see special offers.

Nutcracker Market Tickets Available

October 1, 2009 by  
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Houston Ballet Readies for Nutcracker Market, Holiday Shopping Fun

Houston Ballet is excited to announce the 29th annual Nutcracker Market, November 12-15 at Reliant Center (One Reliant Park). The Market will be open from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Featured at this year’s market are 323 national and international merchants carefully selected for their unique offerings — including 50 new merchants — selling gifts for the entire family, including: home décor, gourmet food, garden, clothing, sporting gifts, novelties, accessories and more. All proceeds from the Market will benefit Houston Ballet Foundation, Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy and its scholarship fund.

Houston-area Randalls stores will sell $10 general admission tickets beginning October 19. Seniors may request $1 off at the Reliant Center ticket window, with a maximum $1 discount. Children under 6 are free, and half-price admission will be offered for the final three hours each day. Admission at the door is $11. For $35, a Priority Shopping Pass grants access to the market all four days, with entry beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday and Friday. The priority shopping pass will also be available in conjunction with a ticket to any special event.

For more information visit the Nutcracker Market online

Festival Ballet Houston’s Nutcracker

October 1, 2009 by  
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Close your eyes make a wish and open your heart. Experience the warmth of the holiday season when you see Festival Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker returns to the stage in December for the fifteenth annual performance of the holiday classic at Brazoswood in Lake Jackson, beginning December 5th, and Lone Star College-Montgomery in The Woodlands December 12th with both evening and matinee performances.

Our production features Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, outstanding professional guest artists, talented members of Festival Ballet, as well as some of the most promising young dancers from across the Greater Houston area. The Nutcracker provides a performance opportunity for aspiring young dancers to appear on stage with professional costumes, lighting, and international Guest Artists.

You will enjoy the time-honored story by E.T.A. Hoffman of one very special night! You will thrill as every toy under the Christmas tree comes alive with all the splendor and merriment of the season! You will see magnificent costumes — spectacular sets — and falling snow that blankets a Nutcracker wonderland!

The Nutcracker is a fairy-tale story that never fails to enchant – from the Christmas tree that grows, spinning snowflakes and waltzing flowers, to the toy soldiers battling the Mouse King, and of course, the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugarplum Fairy and her dashing Cavalier. The Nutcracker fills the season with excitement, as it transforms the theater into a winter wonderland.

“It’s a wonderful story that never grows old”, states Artistic Director Deborah Rayburn, “a beloved holiday tradition that touches the hearts of young and old alike”.

This Nutcracker production is very special, as it will include some of the most promising young dancers from the greater Houston area. Open auditions were held in September across the Houston area. The opportunity to perform in a production of this scale is thrilling for the young dancers and an experience they will treasure.

As always Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker features the best in professional Guest Artists and local area dancers. The Guest Artist’s for this production includes Ilya Kozadayev as the Sugar Caviler. Ilya is a Soloist with HoustonBallet.

Affordable ticket prices and excellent seats assure a memorable experience for the entire family. Tickets may be purchased by phone at (832) 592-7360, or on line at

“Gypsy Daze” Opening in Montrose

October 1, 2009 by  
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“Gypsy Daze” is a new shop opening in the Montrose District of Houston. From concept to fruition, Gypsy Daze is the brain child of two local Houston women with a vision to have a forum displaying beautiful and affordable clothing, jewelry, accessories, artwork, and more made only by designers and artists local to the Greater Houston area.

Karen Siragusa and Brooke Statham of Houston are two local woman who design and make their own clothing and accessories. These women decided to take their vision to the next level, in the process becoming entrepreneurs, and creating a place where local artisans can display their wares and the community of Houston has a place to shop in a truly 100% locally owned and operated business. Karen comments on the progress they’ve made in such a short time, “When we originally discussed the concept it seemed impossible that within just two months we’d be opening! The support we’ve received from all of our designers, artists and crafts people as well as our neighbors and people from all over Houston has been overwhelming and extremely encouraging. We are very excited and grateful for the strong and community oriented people that are helping take Gypsy Daze from a vision in our imaginations to a real place where we can come together and share.”

Gypsy Daze is located at 2414 Taft Street, Houston, Texas 77006. Situated right across from the oldest and noblest antiques store in the area, Reeves Antiques, just next to TNT t-shirts and around the corner from Boheme, it seems Gypsy Daze is soon to become a local hot-spot. The shop is opening on October 3, 2009 with their “Hello Houston!” party. This all day event starts at 7am and ends at 9pm. This celebration is not only for the grand opening of Gypsy Daze but also for their brother store Dark Matter Books which is located right next door at 2412 Taft. The event features the debut of Gypsy Daze and shop tours, live music by the James Reese Band and other local musicians, Bar-B-Que, lemonade &coffee, hula hoops, arts &crafts tables in the backyard, and fun of all sorts. There is no cover charge to this event, and it is BYOB.

Normal Hours of operation for Gypsy Daze will be Monday through Friday from 12 noon to 9pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. One will be able to drop by the shop anytime during normal business hours to find the doors wide open, lemonade and coffee complimentary and a truly amazing selection of the finest clothing, jewelry, accessories, bags, artwork and more by incredibly talented local Houston designers and crafts persons. Gypsy Daze is depending on the Houston community to support each other in this venture.

It seems there is a new and interesting place to check out unique items and visit with Houston locals making a difference in their lives and others.

For additional information on Gypsy Daze, contact Karen Siragusa or visit

About Gypsy Daze:

A completely entrepreneurial venture by Karen Siragusa and Brooke Statham. These women are starting a business with pocket change and local community support, and in cooperation with Houston locals are able to offer amazing clothing, accessories, jewelry, artwork and more by local designers and artists.

Winderlea Pinot Noir

October 1, 2009 by  
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Is it the soil or the unique climate that leads to the great Pinots from Oregon?

In 2006 the owners of Winderlea relocated from Boston to Dundee, Oregon. They are committed to continuing the traditions of responsible stewardship of the land and the highest quality artisan winemaking.

Augusta Pines Trunk Show

October 1, 2009 by  
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Trendy shoppers come experience the exciting gathering of talented artisans and boutiques at the Augusta Pines Holiday Trunk Show on December 1st and 2nd. Enjoy the elegant setting of the August Pines Club House at this bi-annual, upscale two day shopping event.

Featuring 50 exhibitors, shoppers will find an exciting array of unique handcrafted creations. Shop for yourself, loved ones, or bring your holiday gift list and find something special for them all.

Help us introduce, support and welcome Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch to the local communities. Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch is a local charity dedicated to strengthening families coping with mental, emotional or physical disabilities. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch. Visit for more details about this cause. SAVE THE DATE Tuesday, December 1, 2009 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm – Wine and Chocolates Shopping Spree Wednesday, December 2, 2009 9:00 am to 8:30 pm – Full Day of Shopping

Augusta Pines Club House 18 Augusta Pines Drive Spring, Texas 77389

Cooking Class at Central Market

October 1, 2009 by  
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THE CAKE MIX DOCTOR IS IN! Cookbook author Anne Byrn will share secrets for doctoring easy bake treats into unforgettable desserts

WHO/WHAT: With today’s busy schedules, who has time to make a culinary creation from scratch? That’s why were bringing in the Cake Mix Doctor Anne Byrn to cure your case of cake-from-a-box blues. (And the best part is that her prescription includes chocolate!)

Ten years ago when the original Cake Mix Doctor went on sale it was Americas best-selling cookbook. Today, over 1.6 million copies are in print and Anne has become an institution with five books and an active online community.

Her newest book, The Cake Mix Doctor Returns , is an entirely new collection of recipes that remedy the recent changes in desserts: portions have gotten smaller and can be made with fewer calories; frosting now contains all kind of fold-ins; and caramel is now dulce de leche.

Anne will take the monotony out of mundane mixes by showing ways to shake up simple staples, including: – Chocolate Espresso Pound Bundt Cake – Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes with Chocolate Fudge Marshmallow Frosting – Smith Island Layer Cake – Favorite German Chocolate Layer Cake – Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Mint Ganache

REGISTER: Register online at and clicking on Cooking Schools. The cost of the class is $60.

EVENT DATE: Monday, October 26 from 6:30 – 9 p.m.

WHERE: Central Market – Cooking School 3815 Westheimer Houston, TX 77027

Thrown into the Driver’s Seat

October 1, 2009 by  
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THE UN-COMFORT ZONE with Robert Wilson

On June 29, 1863, a 23 year old First Lieutenant received an unexpected promotion. The freckle faced, strawberry blonde, who graduated at the bottom of his class at West Point, was elevated directly to the rank of Brigadier General in the Union Army. He completely skipped over the traditional ranks in between of Captain, Major, and Colonel. As you can imagine such a promotion was met with skepticism, dismay, and envy by his former peers and superiors. Especially at a time when the South was winning against the North during the American Civil War.

Major General Alfred Pleasonton, who promoted the boy, saw his gamble put to the test just four days later in the Battle of Gettysburg. The young general was put in charge of the Michigan Cavalry and tasked with keeping Confederate General Jeb Stuart from attacking the Union Army’s rear.

Was he up to the task? Could he keep that dubious star on his shoulder that so many wanted removed? Motivated by the desire to prove himself, George Armstrong Custer, his gleaming saber outstretched in front of him, led the cavalry charge and held the Union line. His successful leadership served as a crucial contribution to the battle that was the turning point in the North winning the war.

When leadership is thrust upon us, many of us are motivated to rise to the occasion. Sometimes, however, leadership must rise in a vacuum. What motivates us to become leaders when there are none?

A few years ago, five friends and I went white water rafting for the very first time. We went on the upper Ocoee River in Tennessee where the rapids are rated Class Four. Not exactly the best choice for beginners, but we had a competent guide, who gave us plenty of instructions on when and how to paddle. He was so good that we were the only rafters in a group of ten rafts that did not capsize and get soaked.

Then halfway through our trip, we went over a small waterfall. When our rubber raft hit the bottom it bent in the middle and folded up like a book. When it sprung back apart our guide was catapulted from the boat and landed several feet behind us. As our leaderless raft sped forward, getting further and further away from our guide, five of us thought, “Uh, oh, what are we going to do!” Before we could panic, my friend Bill started barking commands, “Left side four strokes! Right side two strokes!” With great relief we followed his orders and within minutes he had us safely out of the rushing white water and into the calmer water by the river bank where our guide was able to catch up to us.

A leadership role can jump start motivation. When you have the responsibility of guiding others, it forces you to guide yourself first. I have found that volunteering for leadership roles at work and for non-profit organizations to be self-motivating. Back in the early 1990’s, I had a particularly bad year. My mother passed away, a business venture failed, and I had a falling out with my best friend. Needless to say, I was in a funk, and seriously needed something to move me out it. That’s when I learned that my community association needed a new President. It was a huge job with a two year commitment that required fund raising, event planning, managing several committees, and supervising dozens of volunteers. It consumed tons of my time, but it also taught me that I could do more in a day than I ever knew. During that same two year period, I launched two new businesses both of which became success stories.

As a manager, you can motivate your employees (or your volunteers) by giving them a mantle of leadership. Suddenly he or she will no longer be just another disaffected cog in the wheel. But with a position of responsibility, those persons will be empowered to do more and be more. Sure, it may require a greater effort on your part, but you will challenge their minds, expand their abilities, and imbue them with a sense of accomplishment.

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is a motivational speaker and humorist. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. For more information on Robert’s programs please visit

The Truth About the Rainforest

October 1, 2009 by  
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EarthTalk® From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Do you have current facts and figures about how much rainforest is being destroyed each day around the world, and for what purpose(s)? — Teri, via e-mail

Pinning down exact numbers is nearly impossible, but most experts agree that we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that. Along with this loss and degradation, we are losing some 135 plant, animal and insect species every day—or some 50,000 species a year—as the forests fall. According to researcher and writer Rhett Butler, who runs the critically acclaimed website,, tropical rainforests are incredibly rich ecosystems that play a key role in the basic functioning of the planet. They help maintain the climate by regulating atmospheric gases and stabilizing rainfall, and provide many other important ecological functions.

Rainforests are also home to some 50 percent of the world’s species, Butler reports, “making them an extensive library of biological and genetic resources.” Environmentalists also point out that a quarter of our modern pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, but less than one percent of the trees and plants in the tropics have been tested for curative properties. Sadly, then, we don’t really know the true value of what we’re losing as we slash, burn, and plant over what was once a treasure trove of biodiversity.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), overall tropical deforestation rates this decade are 8.5 percent higher than during the 1990s. While this figure pertains to all forests in the world’s tropics, researchers believe the loss of primary tropical rainforest—the wildest and most diverse swaths—has increased by as much as 25 percent since the 1990s.

Despite increased public awareness of the importance of tropical rainforests, deforestation rates are actually on the rise, mostly due to activities such as commercial logging, agriculture, cattle ranching, dam-building and mining, but also due to subsistence agriculture and collection of fuel wood. Indeed, as long as commercial interests are allowed access to these economically depressed areas of the world, and as long as populations of poor rural people continue to expand, tropical rainforests will continue to fall.

Some scientists see light at the end of the tunnel. Joseph Wright of the Panama-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute says the tropics now have more protected land than in recent history, and believes that large areas of tropical forest will remain intact through 2030 and beyond: “We believe that the area covered by tropical forest will never fall to the exceedingly low levels that are often predicted and that extinction will threaten a smaller proportion of tropical forest species than previously predicted.”

Only time will tell whether Wright’s optimistic predictions ring true, or whether a more doomsday scenario will play out. To stay informed and be part of the solution, stay tuned to the websites of Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Alliance, the Rainforest Site and, of course,

CONTACTS: Mongabay,; Rainforest Alliance,; Rainforest Action Network,; Rainforest Site,; FAO,

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; Read past columns at: EarthTalk® is now a book! Details and order information at: EarthTalk® From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I recently saw a reference to “Enertia houses” that require little in the way of external sources for heating or cooling. Do you have any information on this housing design? — Alan Marshfield, via e-mail

Enertia is a brand name for homes designed and sold in kits by North Carolina-based Enertia Building Systems (EBS). The idea essentially marries the concepts of geothermal and passive solar heating/cooling into what amounts to a highly energy efficient hybrid system. Architectural inventor Michael Sykes coined the term “Enertia” in the 1980s to describe the innovative homes he was designing that would store solar and geothermal energy and make use of it for most if not all heating and cooling needs.

Under such a system, solid wood walls replace siding, framing, insulation and paneling, while an air flow channel—or “envelope”—runs around the building inside the walls, creating what Sykes terms a miniature biosphere. Inside the envelope, solar heated air circulates, pumping and boosting geothermal energy from beneath the house and storing it within the wood mass of the walls, where it is doled out gradually.

By harnessing the properties of thermal inertia—the ability of materials to store heat and give it off slowly—an “Enertia” house maintains a relatively fixed and comfortable temperature throughout the warmer day (when solar heat is collected and stored) and cooler night (when the wood walls give off heat to keep things toasty as the mercury dips).

The heart of the system is a south-facing sun space within the envelope that is dominated by windows and which therefore soaks up lots of solar energy, filling the house’s wood walls with thermal energy that in turn radiates into the primary living space. The entire house functions like an electric heat pump—moving warm and cool air around to accommodate the comfort needs of the occupants. It works even throughout the seasonal changes of the year—with minimal to no fossil fuels consumed or pollution generated.

In one Enertia house in North Carolina, the only power bill the owners typically pay is $35/month for electricity. They also have a back-up in-floor radiant heating system powered by natural gas for long cloudy stretches or unusually cold weather. Gas bills for heat typically total $150 for the year, meaning the owners’ total annual outlay for heating, cooling and electricity is less than $600—some $1,000 less than traditional homes in the same zip code are paying, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

EBS markets several different designs for its Enertia houses, but all share the basic premise of primary interior living space heated and cooled by air channeled in from a south-facing “buffer zone” envelope and from below grade. Smaller houses in the line top out at about 2,000 square feet over two floors of living space, while larger ones encompass some 4,000 square feet of living space over three floors. Depending on the model, you could spend anywhere from $66,000 to $292,000 for a complete plan and building materials kit. The rest—including the selection and cost of the land and the labor to build the house—is up to you.

CONTACTS: Enertia Building Systems,

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; Read past columns at: EarthTalk® is now a book! Details and order information at:

Monarch Schools

October 1, 2009 by  
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It was a Green Light evening for The Monarch School as Honorary Chairs Rose Cullen and Kathy Cullen McCord, along with their spouses Harry Cullen and Jody McCord, hosted an appreciation party for supporters of the school’s New Campus Capital Campaign. Monarch is dedicated to providing an innovative, therapeutic education for individuals with neurological differences. The students and faculty of the school recently moved into their new building. This will be the only special education LEED(®) silver level certified building in the country. Among the notables being thanked for their support were John O’Quinn and Darla Lexington, Margaret Alkek Williams and Jim Daniels, Grier and Camille Patton, Mary and Roy Cullen and DeDe and Connie Weil.

Montrose Makes Top 10 List

October 1, 2009 by  
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Montrose has been named one of the “Ten Best Neighborhoods in America” by the American Planning Association. Here is how the APA describes Montrose, one of the “Great Places in America”:

One of Houston’s original streetcar suburbs, Montrose has a sliver of everything. Eclectic and urbane, the neighborhood is a fusion of architectural styles, land uses, and people (former residents include President Lyndon Johnson and billionaire Howard Hughes). The neighborhood has a thriving art, museum, and cultural scene, and local businesses. It has been the center of Houston’s gay and lesbian community since the 1970s. The neighborhood retains much of its early 20th century character: one-third of the city’s historic districts are here.

Magic Mice

October 1, 2009 by  
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Magic Mice
Make a Merry Morsel
Photo by Laurie Perez

These chocolate critters have the power to turn your little devils into angels over the Holidays.  Get the kids away from their electronics and into the kitchen for some hands-on creativity that everyone can enjoy. Recipe follows.

Fun to make, fun to eat and a big party hit, these mice are a great way to kick off the holiday season. Adults and children obsess over this arts and crafts dessert.

What you need:

1 package Hershey’s Kisses®, unwrapped
2 Table spoons Crisco Oil
2 packages Chocolate Chips
Almond Slivers
2 packages of Oreos
Marciano cherries with stem
Decorative Icing:
Red and green in a tube

Put chocolate chips in double boiler over medium heat and fold Crisco into them as they melt.

• Separate Oreo cookies carefully so the white filling stays on one wafer, discard the unfrosted side. The white frosting is your snow.

• Create assembly line with Oreo, chocolate, cherries, kisses almonds and icing.

• Dip a cherry in the chocolate and place it on the snow.

• Gently press a Hershey’s Kiss against the cherry until it adheres to the melted chocolate.

• Dip one end of an almond sliver into chocolate and hold against the flat part of the Kiss until it sticks in place as an ear, repeat for other ear. • Use a toothpick to dip in colored icing and dab on the eyes and nose.

Place on tray and cover with plastic.  Unveil for your holiday party.

Makes 50

Forever Dyno-mite

October 1, 2009 by  
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Forever Dyno-mite
By Shyla Batliwalla

They’ve got skills, looks, and attitude—the Dynamo Girls are hotter than ever as we enter the playoffs. The girls dance our city’s two-time champion winning soccer team, Houston Dynamo, on to victory time and time again. More than just fearless females in sexy outfits, the squad consists of teachers, grad students, full-time mothers, and more. Performing in front of thousands of fans each week, the Dynamo Girls have moves that will make grown men weep and their wives green with envy. Captain Karie says, “We have the best fans in Houston. With the Texian Army on one side and El Batallon on the other, it’s just insanity. When we hit the field the energy hits a whole new level.” The talent-filled team hails from diverse dance backgrounds from the NFL, NBA, WNBA, AFL2, and AHL to first-time pros. Beyond the field, the Dynamo Girls make a positive impact on fellow Houstonians through their countless community service events. Head to the next Houston Dynamo game to see them boogie to Britney and do that oh-so famous hair flip.

Photo by Angelique Cook