Rodeo Trunk Show

February 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

Date & Time: Thursday, February 27, 2014 1- 5 pm 

Location: Donald J Pliner – Highland Village
4033 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77027
(713) 961-0600
Event Cost: FREE
Event Details:

Christina Greene and Donald J Pliner invite you to enjoy drinks, hors d’oeuvres and to shop the new Christina Greene jewelry line and Rodeo looks by Donald J Pliner.

Christina Greene, a local Houston jewelry designer will be launching her new collection on Thursday, February 27th at Donald J Pliner including Tibetan turquoise jewelry, hand beaded handbags and antler designs – the perfect way to kick start your Rodeo outfit!

Houston Commemorates 25TH ANNUAL AIDS WALK

February 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

George Foreman to Serve as Grand Marshal
HOUSTON– AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH) continues to be at the forefront of HIV/AIDS as it gears up to host the city’s single greatest response in the fight against the epidemic. Houston’s 25th annual AIDS Walk will kickoff at Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston on Sunday March 9, 2014 at 8 a.m. World Champion Boxer, entrepreneur and philanthropist George Foreman will lead the race which will once again be presented by underwriter Marathon Oil.

AIDS Walk Houston 2014 co-chairs George Lancaster, head of communications for the real estate firm Hines and Ruben Galvan, KPRC 2 features reporter for the city’s most popular morning news show, are leading the thousands of participants to raise funds and awareness. The team is hoping to make this quarter-century milestone a banner year for fundraising. Compared to the many other annual AIDS walks in the country, Houston’s has the second-highest number of participants, with only New York attracting more walkers. Approximately 5,000 Houstonians register as fundraisers. However, Houston ranks fourth in fundraising behind New York, Atlanta and Chicago.

Walkers can sign up as individuals, members of a team or as a team leader. The entire process is efficiently automated on the Lancaster comments, “HIV/AIDS is affecting the entirety of our community; and we hope that the philanthropic spirit will peak during this milestone 25th year. Giving online is so easy, and no gift is too small, or too large.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said, “The AIDS Walk is an opportunity for the whole community to come together and rally around the important effort to reduce the impact of HIV and AIDS in our city. One out of 93 people in Houston are HIV positive and the city ranks eighth in the U.S. in number of reported cases. March 9th is a great day for Houstonians from all walks of life to get out, walk, donate and remember that the fight is not over until we get to zero.”

AIDS Foundation Houston CEO Kelly Young commented, “Ideally we would like to eliminate the need for our annual walk. But today, after 30 years in business and with our 25th walk coming up, I am sad to say that we desperately need to keep awareness high, and raise funds not only for our own effective work, but for a host of Houston non-profit agencies joined in the fight.”

Funds raised from the Walk help AFH and local AIDS service organizations support HIV education and prevention efforts and provide care for thousands of Houstonians living with HIV/AIDS. This year’s AIDS Walk benefitting agencies are: AIDS Foundation Houston,Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic, Bering Omega Community Services, Bread of Life/St John’s Church, Brentwood Community Foundation, Crisis Intervention of Houston, and Lazarus House: A Center for Wellness, LIVE Consortium, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church and SNAP – Spay-Neuter Assistance Program.

AIDS Walk Houston is a community event that provides hope for those impacted by or living with HIV/AIDS and works to eliminate the stigma associated with the disease. For additional information visit,  or  for details.

Lawrence of Suburbia

February 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby


THE DEN — I am looking out the rear window at a work crew from RotoRobber because I have a stopped-up drain. The tub wouldn’t empty, then the toilet overflowed and the sink started making gurgling sounds. Now the workers are digging a trench to get to the sewer pipe. “It’ll cost two hundred and forty-two dollars,” says the head guy. That was an unplanned expense and means I’ll have to postpone my round-the-world trip on the QE II, but $242 will solve my problem.

The front doorbell rings. “We’re from Clean Your Clock, come to steam clean your carpet and couch and two chairs,” says a workman, reading from his clipboard. I forgot about making that appointment. Bad timing. Soon a crew is moving furniture out of the den, then they pull long hoses through the front entrance which also lets in the Polar Vortex. Now the back doorbell is ringing. “Where do you want me to start?” My slack-jawed look requires the fellow in the haz-mat suit to explain. “Pest control.” I forgot about that task — a rabid rabbit is prowling the neighborhood.

Looking around my house and yard I see an army of workmen doing things that cost money. Suddenly the dishwasher stops and I smell smoke. All of these problems coming at once can only mean one thing. Lawrence of Suburbia is back in town. You don’t have to live in a Scottish castle or a crumbling New Orleans antebellum mansion to have a ghost wandering around your house creating havoc. No doubt you have also had a day when the kids came down with the flu and you planned to take them to the doctor but the car wouldn’t start and the market crashed just as the icemaker broke. All these catastrophes at once are no coincidence. They are the work of that evil anti-angel, Lawrence.

“Come out, come out from wherever you are destroying,” I say. A translucent aspiration appears in the east parlor, sitting in my La-Z-Boy recliner and sipping my vodka. “Hi, guy,” he says, puffing on one of my best Havana cigars. “Glad to see me? I thought not.”

“I won’t ask where you’ve been since your last visit,” I reply. “That was when the water heater blew up and the dog died. Don’t forget the air condition unit went out and someone stole my credit cards.”

“You didn’t mention the kitchen fire and the malfunctioning extinguisher. As for me, I’ve been busy. Most recently I was in charge of the Denver Broncos’ game plan, and I was late-night program advisor to NBC. Sure, Jay Leno has been in first place since the Truman administration, but Conan didn’t do enough damage so I stepped in. Nielsen predicts Fallon will die in the ratings — buy stock in Letterman. Oh, that reminds me, did you ever get anything back from Enron? I meant to say for you to buy Exxon, but must have gotten them mixed up. And sorry about Madoff. He seemed very straight forward.”

There is a slight knock at the back door. Now what, a Comanche atttack? It’s the guy from RotoRobber. “The pipe is busted, all right. We’re gonna have to dig a longer pit. It’ll run you more. Like five hundred. We’ll put a camera down there and see if there’s any more stuff. ”

Lawrence is still sitting in the parlor. “Did you hear about the roll-out of Obamacare?” he asks without waiting for me to answer. “The computer screw-up was so bad. For that I won a Larry, named for me. That’s the house ghosts’ equivalent of Grammy or Emmy. Let’s see, what else has been going on? I managed the Houston Astros and the Texans this past year, but you probably guessed that since they both were the very worst in the nation. Then I worked in the Sahara Forest.”

“You mean the Sahara Desert.”

“Yeah, now it is. I advised Disney to make ‘The Lone Ranger.’ So it lost a hundred and fifteen million. Walt wouldn’t make that mistake again because he’d clear house and fire the lot of them, including Tonto. I ran the Bill O’Reilly Charm School until a mob destroyed the place, then Putin hired me to run insecurity at the Sochi Olympics. Anybody can run security. It takes my talent to run insecurity and make everyone at the games feel terror the entire time. I served as a health inspector on several cruise ships. I worked briefly as a fact-checker for Wendy Davis’ autobiography. She fired me after discovering I had the same job with Dan Patrick’s speechwriters. Both accused me of exaggerations, distortions and outright lies. I called it ‘poetic license.’ ”

A knock at the back door and the sewer digger appears. “Our camera spotted roots, lots of roots, in the pipe. We’ll have to extend the trench. That’ll run seven hundred and seventy bucks. Oh, while we were taking a lunch break some guy in a haz-mat suit fell into the trench. He said you’ll be hearing from his lawyer.”  I look out the rear window to see a trench about 3 feet wide, six feet deep and 15 feet long. It looks like a grave site for Yao Ming. The bill is now — honest — close to 2K. I feel Porta Johns are greatly underappreciated. Just then there is a scream from the den. Oh, good. Maybe something dreadful happened to Lawrence. “I’m dying!” cries a worker from Clean Your Clock. “I’ve just been bitten by a rabid rabbit! I hope you’ve lots of insurance.”

Lawrence rises and heads for the door. “Got to go. There’s work to be done. Hillary thinks she’s inevitable. That’s what she thought in 2008. Speaking of candidates, Christie put me in charge of lane closings on the George Washington Bridge. Wonder  how that turned out?” He leaves. The next day I’m attacked by Comanches.


Ashby is haunted at

Krewe Du Blue Mardi Gras Celebration

February 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

Downtown Houston’s Mardi Gras Celebration Kicks Off February 28

House of Blues Krewe Du Blue Mardi Gras celebration returns to downtown Houston kicking offFriday, February 28. The party features Big Easy eats and treats, along with live entertainment throughout the weekend returning to Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday, March 4.

The festivities start Friday in Crossroads at House of Blues with the Krewe Du Blue Mardi Gras Happy Hour at 3 p.m. Guests will enjoy specialty drinks, House of Blues N’awlins-inspired favorites, king cake and more. Plus, live music starting at 5 p.m. from Lil’ Brian and The Zydeco Travelers and Funk 4AM. The Krewe Du Blue second-line brass band parade and bead toss makes its way through the House beginning at 8 p.m.

The Krewe Du Blue Mardi Gras Bash starts at 7 p.m. in the Bronze Peacock Room. Sam Pace and the Gilded Grit with guests Electric Attitude and the Platinum Players Zydeco Band will take partygoers on a musical trip through the French Quarter with an evening of zydeco, funk, soul, rock and delta blues. Revelers headed to the Music Hall will enjoy a little lagniappe alongside headliners The Expendables and special guests Stick Figue and Seedless. Specialty drinks, beads and themed bar bites will be featured throughout the venue.

Live music in Crossroads at House of Blues is free and open to all ages. General admission tickets for the Krewe Du Blue Mardi Gras Bash are $10 (all ages). General admission tickets for The Expendables are $18 in advance and $22 day of show (all ages). Tickets are on sale now and available at the House of Blues Box Office, Company Store, by calling 888.40.BLUES and online at and

House of Blues is located at 1204 Caroline St. in GreenStreet downtown. To visit, catch the free Greenlink bus and exit at Dallas and San Jacinto, take Metro Rail to Main Street Square Metro Station or enjoy a quick walk from many of the nearby landmarks. Convenient, connected parking is available in the garage located on Clay between Main and Fannin. Guests can safely access GreenStreet via a Sky Bridge. Advance parking available at .

For a complete schedule of upcoming House of Blues Houston events, visit House of Blues online at . Connect with House of Blues at ,  and .


February 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE STUDIO — Hi there. You must be the intern who’s gonna fill in for me while I’m on vacation. Well, it’s not exactly a vacation, but the Betty Ford Clinic is close to it. On the “Tell Bell Show” we have a few rules. First, radio talk show hosts must be arrogant, interrupt callers and simply cut off those who have a legitimate beef, correction or know more about the subject than we do.

You won’t get many of these because hosts have minions who filter our callers to make sure they love us, hang on to our every word and quote us to others even when we tell transparent lies, misstatements and take quotes out of context. Remember the Nazi Minister of Propaganda Dr. Josef Goebbels’ observation about the Big Lie: tell any lie often enough and soon people will start believing you, like death panels and WMDs.  Also, if a caller with an opposing view accidentally gets through, he doesn’t know there is a 15-second delay so you can just erase his deadly accurate point. You are the teacher to the not-too-bright student. I follow the example of a former Houston radio host, Alvin Van Black, who once shouted over the microphone, “Shut up while I explain what it is you’re trying to say!”

Be far left or far right but above all, be outraged. These days no one listens to a moderate, intelligent and educated voice. Kiddo, divisiveness, cynicism and us-against-them sell. Also, many callers will begin with, “Long time listener, first time caller.” Be wary of: “Long time caller, first time listener.” Humor is OK but only at the expense of the opposition, and make sure it’s not a hearty chuckle but a low, evil hehehe. We in the talk show biz called it schadenfreude, which is either Latin or maybe Estonian for gotcha!

As an intern you get zilch in pay, but stick in there. According to Forbes, Rush Limbaugh earned about $66 million last year. That was down from $69 million the year before, but so was his audience. His net worth is estimated to be $370 million. Glenn Beck earns $22 million. Sean Hannity gets $30 million a year from Fox plus his radio show and very lucrative speeches. Bill O’Reilly receives $17 million a year from Fox and is supposedly worth $75 million after he paid off that ex-staffer for the sexual harassment suit. On the other end of the political scale, Forbes thinks Rachel Maddow receives $7 million. Jon Stewart receives $25-to-$30 million a year and Stephen Colbert gets by with only $5 million. These are all just educated guesses, but these hosts would be the last ones to complain about being loose with the truth. .

You can speak knowledgably about pointy-headed professors although most hosts are poorly educated. OK, Maddow is a graduate of Stanford, a Rhodes Scholar and earned her PhD from Oxford. I never even got my GED, but then neither did most of my listeners. We lecture them about military matters even though almost none of us ever put on a uniform. Some are actually draft dodgers. You can lecture on marriage even if you are now with your fourth wife. Keep mentioning clean living, family values and God even though the opening theme song for Hannity’s radio show is so obscene I can’t mention it here.

There are a few words and terms to avoid. Chief among them is hypocrite. Next is hate radio. Never use words your listeners can’t understand, like those with more than two syllables. Also don’t say anything bad about your own political party or members. If there is a news story about one of your heroes getting caught in a scandal, do as I do and just ignore it. Same for mistakes. I have a motto: “Got it wrong? Move along.” You can call the opposition idiots, stupid, criminals and traitors, but become a victim and protest loudly when the other side does the same. As for guests, screen them closely. Nothing makes an opinionated, obnoxious talk show host look worse than a guest who shows you up, who points out you’re wrong, who has the facts on her side. You can hang up on such callers, but you can’t very tell toss a guest from the studio. What you do is say, “We’ll be right back after these commercials,” then you toss the guest.

We cite only the polls that back our case and ignore the rest. For example, researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University found that MSNBC viewers and Fox News viewers both fared worse in answering international questions than people who watched no news at all. Foxers did even worse on domestic question. While people who only listened to NPR or watched Sunday morning talk shows or “The Daily Show” did the best in the survey.

A good target is always the press. Criticize it, ridicule it, but make sure you read every newspaper and magazine you can, watch TV news and cut out and put on your desk any news stories you need to refer to, called your pile or file. Bite the hand, because virtually every single word you utter on the air is based on something you learned from the Mainstream Media. Indeed, you are totally dependent on the hated American media for your job, but never admit it.

Listeners can tell a lot about how effective, responsible and erudite — is that a word? — you are by listening to your sponsors. I’m proud to say I’ve got a dog vitamin pill company, a horseshoe shop and several collection agencies. On this last one, sponsors wonder, “How can I reach the deadbeats, tax dodgers and scoundrels trying to repair their sordid reputations? Of course. Tell Bell!” So tell the listeners what they want to hear. Whatever happens, it is not their fault. Lastly, Lincoln was right. You really can fool most of the people most of the time.


Ashby is outraged at




Julia Dean

February 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Dean, Julia, Top Women

 Dean_WebJulia Dean
Appellate Law | Estate Planning

The heartbeat of The Dean Law Firm is unique, with a passion for both excellence and meeting client needs with understanding and compassion. It is this distinctive approach to legal practice and client relationships that has earned its founder, Julia Dean, recognition locally and nationally as a top-rated attorney.

The Dean Law Firm focuses its practice on Estate Planning, Probate, Elder Law and Civil Appeals. “I enjoy listening to people and proactively helping them by anticipating their legal needs and finding creative solutions to their needs. It is my honor to assist and educate.” Dean comments, “Peace of mind is a wonderful gift we hope to leave with all our clients.”

The Offices at Kensington
1650 Highway 6 South, Ste. 100
Sugar Land, TX 77478
281-277-DEAN (3326)


February 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

As the Pentagon begins another round of budget-cutting base closings, Texas Congressional members are trying to gain, rather than lose, those dollars. The lawmakers want the Department of Defense (DoD) to save money by moving the military headquarters for the U.S. Africa Command from Stuttgart, Germany, to Ellington Field in Houston. A bit far off the battleground, you say? Don’t laugh. The U.S. Central Command, which has U.S. military responsibility for 20 countries from Afghanistan to Yemen, is headquartered in that exotic Arab city of Tampa, Florida. OK, so the commute to work is lengthy.

We’ve got to land that base. It would bring in an estimated 4,300 civilian and military jobs, and up to $450 million pumped into the local economy annually. This move would help not only the Houston area but all of Texas when those sales taxes start flowing to Austin. Ah, but you are wondering, “What’s in it for me?” A fortune. Imagine those thousands of troops and their families coming to live in Texas. Think of the bars, tattoo parlors and, OK, brothels are illegal here, but we have pay-day loans sharks who prey on the military. They are numerous and virtually unregulated. We can offer good weather except during hurricane season and good Tex-Mex food. Besides, if we land the Africa Command, Texas has many African-Americans who are sharp, friendly and have been laid off by NASA next door.

Grabbing this cash cow is traditional. Texas now has 15 military installations with 148,000 active-duty personnel and more than 55,000 members of the DoD civilian workforce. The military has Fort Bliss, Fort Hood, and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi plus most of San Antonio. In 2012 an economic analysis was conducted which found the military’s contribution to the Texas economy had an output of $148 billion, a GDP of $83 billion and $55.56 billion in disposable personal income. Another study showed DoD military expenditures, including military and DoD civilian payroll, totaled more than $30 billion in 2011, and more than $23 billion in 2012, (you can see we are losing ground). That makes Texas the third largest recipient of DoD funding in both years. Did I mention our military contractors? Without manufacturing those $500 toilet seats they would go bankrupt.

Before you open your muffler-repair shop across the street from the barbed wire, watch towers and flood lights, you need to know some background. We begin with the Western Monthly Magazine, October, 1838.” . . . the Texians being entirely a military people, not only fought, but drank, in platoons.” Gen. Robert E. Lee said about his Texans, “Their ragged clothes make no difference. The enemy never see their backs.”

However, remember this observation we’ve quoted before: “The whole state of Texas counts on the expenditure of money for Army supplies, and when a Congressman tackles the appropriations bill he joins issue with the whole state from Dan to Beersheba.” — Dr. Samuel Smith, U.S. Army, Camp Charlotte, Texas, July 4, 1879.


Fast forward (excuse the cliche) to World War the Two. The Handbook of Texas tells us that, although the state had 5 percent of the nation’s population, it provided 7 percent of those who served in the armed forces. Texas A&M alone provided more officers for the armed forces than both of the military academies combined. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox later declared that Texas had contributed a larger percentage of men to the armed forces than any other state. By the end of the war 750,000 Texans, including 12,000 women, served in the armed forces. In that war 22,022 Texans were killed or died of wounds.

During the Vietnam War, then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison noted that one in every 10 active-duty military personnel was from Texas. They made up 5 percent of the nation’s population and took 15 percent of the war’s casualties. Nothing has changed: 588 Texans died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan from January 2002 through Dec. 24, 2012, according to the federal government. A report in 2007 found that Texas and Harris County produced more Army recruits that year than any other state or county in America. Bexar County ranked fourth. (By 2010 Harris County had slipped to fifth.) But the quality of recruit was falling.

As for Ellington, which is just south of Houston, on the afternoon of 9/11 exactly four airplanes were allowed to fly over America: Air Force One and three Texas Air National Guard jet fighters from Ellington which were ordered aloft to escort President George W. Bush who, ironically, had been a member of that very same outfit. The air base keeps avoiding the Pentagon hatchet by serving as home to NASA astronauts’ flying machines, reserve and National Guard planes and other facilities, and the Coast Guard’s orange helicopters that go out to the Gulf to rescue drunken fishermen who fall overboard.

Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, in Travels With Charley, observed  “Among other tendencies to be noted, Texas is a military nation. The armed forces of the United States are loaded with Texans and often dominated by Texans. Even the dearly loved spectacular sports are run almost like military operations….Sectional football games have the glory and despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.” If you’ve ever been to the UT-OU game or witnessed the Aggie halftime performances, you know what Steinbeck is describing.

Texans’ constant complaint that we send more money to Washington than we get back used to be true. For decades we received 90 cents for every dollar we sent to the feds. But a Dallas Morning News investigation found that in six of the past eight years, including the entire tenure of President Barack Obama, Texans got more out of the federal Treasury than we put in, a major factor being our huge military allocations. So Texans are now getting back more than we pay. Keep up the good work.

Ashby is greedy at





The 9 Biggest Diet Mistakes (And How Not to Make Them)

February 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

These weight-loss strategies can actually prevent you from dropping pounds. 

by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, aka “The Rogue Nutritionist”™

Let me start by saying what this article isn’t: It’s not about rating diets. Instead, it’s an attempt to help you stay away from dieting pitfalls that can sabotage any diet plan, from raw foods to Atkins.

When asked to pick a list of the nine biggest diet boo-boos, I decided to go “non-partisan.” So you won’t find me saying that it’s a mistake to eat too much protein or too many carbs or give any other advice about what specifically to eat. Instead, I’ll try to steer you away from the general mistakes that people make on all kinds of diets and give you advice on what you can do to make any diet you choose work even better for you.

Let’s get started.

1_bookTrying to find the perfect diet

There’s a saying that goes like this: The enemy of a good plan is the search for a perfect plan. Nowhere is that more true than in dieting. Yes, there’s a wide array of choices, ranging all over the map from vegan to ketogenic (high fat). Yes, you should do a little research before choosing a plan. But don’t drive yourself nuts. You’re not choosing a religion, you’re choosing a template—a starting point from which to customize. Diets can be a good beginning, but they’re rarely an end point. Read enough to know how to make an educated guess as to whether you’re a “high protein” or a “high carb” type (or anything in between, from paleo to vegetarian), then pick a plan and give it a whirl.

Remember, different strokes for different folks. Some people actually like the clarity and simplicity of restrictive diets that tell you exactly what you can and can’t eat. Others are much more attracted to diets that give you some flexibility. The point is to be the pilot of your own dietary ship—if the plane drifts a bit and doesn’t seem to be going in the direction you want it to, make a course correction.

Counting Calories (or Just Counting Calories)

For almost four decades, the prevailing prescription for losing weight has been this: Cut your calories. And while I’m not going to tell you that calories don’t count—they do—it’s turning out that calories are very far from the whole story.

We now know that weight gain is almost always driven by hormones, and that there’s a whole symphony of hormones—like insulin, leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin and cortisol—that work together to control appetite, fat storage and fat burning. (Here’s proof that it’s not all about calories: Prior to the development of injectable insulin, people whose bodies couldn’t make insulin, i.e., type 1 diabetics, were completely unable to gain weight, even if they ate the entire buffet at the Las Vegas Venetian!)

The main trigger for insulin is sugar and starch, so while calories matter, so does your intake of processed carbs, which send the fat-storage hormone (insulin) through the roof, so that more calories get stored as fat. So pay attention to how much sugar and starch you’re consuming, no matter what diet plan you’re on! Too many can sabotage almost any diet program, even a lower-calorie one.

3_scaleNot Weighing Yourself

Many diet plans tell you to weigh yourself at particular times (once a week, for example). Many tell you weight doesn’t matter. All—correctly—tell you not to give the scale too much power, with some going so far as to recommend avoiding the scale at all costs.

But the scale can be a valuable tool—if you learn how to use it right and if you don’t give it too much clout. Let me explain.

Losing weight is not the same thing as losing body fat. Body fat is what you want to target, and sometimes changes in body fat can lag behind the numbers on the scale. For example, I’ve known people who have lost a good inch or two from their waist—or wherever else they were storing fat—without the scale moving at all. Eventually, sure, the scale catches up and begins to reflect the change. But not always, and not always quickly.

But that’s no reason to avoid the scale. (In fact, a new study from Brown University and the University of Tennessee found that people who got on the scale every day lost more weight than those who didn’t!) I personally weigh myself every single day just to keep track of what’s going on. I don’t give it too much power—if my weight stays elevated for a few days or a week, I might make a dietary modification or two, but having done this for a couple of decades, I’m very used to the scale going up or down kind of randomly within a given range. So by all means, weigh yourself if you like—or don’t if you don’t want to. But if you do weigh yourself, take the results as just one more piece of information about what’s going on. But also take note of your energy level, the inches you’ve lost, your hip-to-waist ratio and how you’re feeling in general! Those are just as important—if not more important—than what the scale says.

All Aboard for a Spectacular Rail Experience

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features, Travel Blog

Rocky-Mountaineer-past-Cisco-CrossingFor more than 20 years, The Rocky Mountaineer has been leading historically significant tours through the majestic Canadian Rockies. 

By Laurette M. Veres

Trains hold a special place in Canadian history. In fact, it was the completion of the transcontinental rail that attracted British Columbia to join the Canadian Provinces instead of the United States of America. Today, you can retrace the steps of early explorers—in the lap of luxury.

The mountain experience begins in Vancouver, a city nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountains. The new Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel is home base as you await pickup for your unique rail experience.

Bagpipes wail amid the hustle and bustle of the Rocky Mountaineer rail station as guests board and climb to the second level of the train, the glass-domed luxury coach.

On day one, the train chugs from Vancouver, through the fertile Fraser Valley and scenic Fraser Canyon to Kamloops in British Columbia’s semiarid interior. The skylit coach is the perfect perch to view the rivers, forests, small towns and, if you are traveling in fall, the salmon run and changing foliage. One of the Canyon’s true highlights is Hell’s Gate, where water torrents through it at its narrowest point.

As the train follows the South Thompson River out of Fraser Canyon, the first of many bald eagle sightings occurs. Throughout the trip, guides recant Canadian history as it relates to the rail and point out wildlife along the tracks. It’s enjoyable, spectacularly scenic and educational.

Bring your appetite! After a welcome toast from the crew, the downstairs, white-linen dining area is open for breakfast. Go for the poached egg served over Montreal stuffed meat or traditional buttermilk pancakes. Pace yourself, because before you know it, lunch is served. Enjoy wild British Columbia salmon and Alberta pork tenderloin as the train approaches the sleepy rail town of Kamloops, where you spend the evening and prepare for the second leg of the journey.

The second day is exceedingly more beautiful as the train ascends into the heart of the Canadian Rockies. This journey gets you up close and personal with the mountain wilderness where cars can’t go. Departing Kamloops through vast ranchlands and past Craigellachie, where the “last spike” was driven to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, the train goes through Rogers Pass with tunnels, glistening glaciers and snowcapped mountains. You’ll travel through numerous tunnels as the train spirals its way up the mountains and over the Continental Divide, before heading down the eastward side of the Canadian Rockies toward the city of Banff, Alberta.

Banff, one of North America’s most scenic towns, is postcard-picturesque. Our train adventure ended in Banff National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, where visitors enjoy the rugged raw beauty of an unspoiled landscape, pristine mountains and lush wilderness.

For more than a century, “The Castle in the Rockies” has provided luxurious comfort, individualized service and timeless beauty for the most discerning traveler. Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, The Fairmont Banff Springs is located in the heart of Banff National Park. Take a quick and pleasant walk (or shuttle ride) to one of the quaintest downtowns in North America and enjoy the slow pace of mountain life. Learn about Banff’s earliest settlers at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Get back to the Fairmont’s Waldhaus Restaurant for dinner; you’ll feel like you’re dining in the Swiss Alps.

So You Think You Know Houston?

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

hostAs Anna Nicole Smith may have told Boris Yeltsin

By Lynn Ashby

Everyone in Houston is from somewhere else, or so it seems. A lot of you came here for a job, aka money, and planned to leave when things got better back in Detroit (or wherever). It’s been, what? Twenty years? Over that time, you have accumulated a bit of knowledge about your permanent temporary home. You know some of the freeway systems, how to pronounce “San Felipe” and “rodeo” and where to take your visiting relatives for a good collection of funeral stuff. You don’t? I can see your education of things Houston still needs some work.

For starters, everyone elsewhere knows about Houston weather. Our average rainfall is 49.77 inches a year. In 2012, the average high was 82.1 degrees and the average low was 62.1. The average humidity was 120 percent. Houston is the only city in America where you can tie a knot in a Frito. On the other hand, be sure to call your cousin in Detroit in January and give him your golf score. Incidentally, when you moved here from Detroit you probably received an 18 percent pay raise because the cost of living in H Town is that much less than the average for major metropolitan areas.

Many of these stats deal with the Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, which is used a lot by statisticians, because it’s almost impossible to separate the city from the surrounding towns, farms and chemical dumps. Our MSA is this nine-county region covering 9,444 square miles—which is smaller than Maryland but larger than Massachusetts.

Perhaps that’s because public safety takes up more than half (55.97 percent) of the city’s budget. Unlike such cities as New York, New Orleans, London and Hong Kong, Houston’s mighty port is out of sight and out of discussion, but in 2012, Houston ranked numero uno in foreign tonnage among U.S. ports for the 17th straight year, and first in import tonnage for 22 consecutive years. Maybe you know that the port is 52 miles from the sea—wide beach—but did you know digging that channel was mostly a federal government project?


This MSA has more jobs than Wisconsin or Tennessee.

The highest point in Harris County is 310 feet above sea level. Ski Mount Houston!

Houston is 239 miles from Dallas, 348 miles to New Orleans, 197 miles to San Antonio and only a few feet from the nearest topless bar.

The median age in Harris County is 32.6 years, tied with Waller County but younger than any other in our MSA.

The largest ethnic group in the county is Hispanic: 41.4 percent. Anglo is 32.7 percent.

Three-thousand, five-hundred and fifty-nine of us list our occupations as fishing, farming and/or forestry.

In the last presidential election, President Barack Obama beat Governor Mitt Romney in Harris County by 585 votes: 585,451 to 584,866.

Our total crimes per 100,000 population in the Houston MSA is 4,127.7—as long as you don’t count the Astros’ bullpen.

Somebody get your parking spot in the Galleria? No wonder. There were 3,190,880 vehicles registered in Harris County in 2012, an increase of 100,823 from the previous year. (If you count the region, there were 4,988,236 vehicles registered during 2012.) That means every single morning last year, including weekends and Christmas, when you backed out of the driveway on the way to your job at the pig-rendering plant, there were 276.2 more vehicles on Harris County roads than were there on the previous morning. How far do you drive each day? The Texas Department of Transportation says in 2012, in the Houston region, we drove 137,941,698 vehicle miles per day. That’s an average of 27.65 daily for this region, up from 27.1 miles in 2011.

Houston has more HOV lane miles than any other U.S. city, mostly filled by cars carrying a driver and a dummy. We have 7.5 miles of light rail with more tracks on the way (2131?). According to the Houston Business Journal, which checked U.S. Census figures, only 20.1 percent of Houston-area residents enjoy a commute time of 14 minutes or less. The average travel to work is 28.1 minutes. Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown is the second-worst major metro area in the South for commuting. Just .4 percent of Houston workers commute by bike—that’s 3,793 of us. We rank 52nd among the 70 largest cities in terms of bike commuting by percentage of total workers.

On the afternoon of 9/11, exactly four planes were allowed to fly over the U.S. The biggest was Air Force One, which was returning President George W. Bush to Washington. The three others were F-16s scrambled out of Houston’s Ellington Field to escort the plane. Oddly enough, these planes were from W’s old outfit in the Texas Air National Guard.


Finally, this story is worth repeating for everyone who hasn’t heard it before.

Boris Yeltsin, came to Houston on September 17, 1989. He was in political limbo, having been fired as Communist Party boss of Moscow, and was in a newly organized group jockeying for power. Being sidelined on the outs, he came to America and visited the Johnson Space Center. As was his style, Yeltsin unexpectedly altered his schedule and dropped into a Randall’s near JSC, where he was astounded. “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this kind of choice,” he exclaimed. Yeltsin roamed the aisles and was particularly taken by the variety of meats and fish and quipped that the bounty tempted him to defect. “We don’t have this much meat in the Soviet Union.”

The visit changed Yeltsin. He returned to the Soviet Union a disillusioned commie. In his autobiography, Against the Grain, Yeltsin describes the experience as “shattering.”

“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

Within two years of his visit here, Yeltsin left the Communist Party and later, as president, banned the party and confiscated its property. He then ordered reforms in the Russian economy, the Soviet Union began to crumble, the Berlin Wall came down, and the rest is history, but it all started in Houston.


Ashby knows Houston at 


February 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby


THE TV — There is Dennis Rodman crooning “Happy Birthday” to North Korean dictator and the last person invited to a family reunion, Kim Jong Un. I hope the former NBA star took along his checkbook. You see, the “Happy Birthday Song” is copyrighted, private property, and royalties are collected. I didn’t know that. Did you? Same situation when you sing the official song of the U.S. Coast Guard if you use any lyrics written after 1922.  God Bless America generates royalties but only for the Scouts.

As we can see, there is a lot going on in the music world, and we should know it, or get hit up by copyright (shouldn’t it be copywrite?) lawyers wanting our money. Let’s start with Happy Birthday (and not use quotation marks around all these song titles — they get in the way). It reportedly started life as Good Morning to All or Good Morning to You, written by two Louisville sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill, in the 1890s.Eventually Birchtree Ltd., a small company with musical holdings, acquired the song. Warner/Chappell, the music publishing arm of Warner Music Group, paid $25 million in 1988 to acquire Birchtree Ltd. and began colleting royalties while the candles were still being lit.

This is no small matter. Happy Birthday is the most frequently sung song in the English language, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Its usage surpasses the works of Bach, Beethoven and the Beatles, says the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It has been sung in 143 movies — filmmakers of the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams” paid $5,000 to use the song — translated into at least 18 languages and used in ads to sell everything from insurance to margarine. Warner/Chappell collects approximately $2 million per year in licensing fees for the song, some of it going to a foundation set up by the Hill sisters. But a film company, Good Morning To You Productions, which made a documentary film about the song, recently filed a lawsuit arguing the copyright on the song expired in 1921, and that the company should not have been forced to pay $1,500 for the rights to use the song. It now belongs in the public domain, the suit says.

Don’t worry, Warner/Chappell lawyers are not going to sue you for singing Happy Birthday at home, but at a restaurant? Anyone who performs the song publicly risks a $150,000 fine if they don’t agree to pay a fee to the music group, so restaurant chains, including Red Lobster and Outback Steakhouse, have written their own birthday songs to avoid having to pay for live music.

Speaking of royalties, Irving Berlin wrote God Bless America in 1917 and never used it. Kate Smith popularized the tune in 1938, but Berlin made it strictly legal that all royalties would go to patriotic programs for impoverished youths. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were first. Thus far the song has generated $10 million in royalties and they still roll in, but Berlin never took a dime.

                  Now about the aforementioned public domain. In the U.S., no sound recording will enter the public domain until 2067, unless explicitly placed into the public domain by its composers. So you can sing the National Anthem, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, most of Sousa’s marches, America the Beautiful, Yankee Doodle, the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie. But be careful about military songs. The Marines’ Hymn is not From the Halls of Montezuma. The official title is The Marines’ Hymn. Anchors Aweigh is actually the fight song of the U.S. Naval Academy, but is considered the official Navy song.

In 1948, the Army conducted a contest to find an official song. but no entry received much popular support. In 1952, another contest was held. Winner: The Army’s Always There. It was played by an Army band at President Ike Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953. However, many thought that the tune was too similar to — get this — I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts, so the Army decided to go back to a popular tune which was originally the Field Artillery Song, then the Caissons Go Rolling Along and now is The Army Goes Rolling Along. The official march of the U.S. Coast Guard is Semper Paratus (Latin for “Always Wet”). The U.S. Air Force song is called the U.S. Air Force Song, unfortunately dropping its original title: What Do You think of the Air Corps Now? Charles Lingbergh was asked his opinion of the tune. He responded politely but  years later remarked in a diary, “I think it is mediocre at best. Neither the music nor the words appealed to me.” Neither the Coast Guard nor Air Force songs are in the public domain.

At the very end of the movie “Giant” there is small, not giant, print on the screen acknowledging the UT Students Association for the use of The Eyes of Texas. At that time the association held the copyright, then lost it to Wylbert Brown. It seems the UT Students Association copyrighted the song in 1936 and it expired in1964. In the late 1970s a man living in Oregon claimed ownership of The Eyes and was receiving royalties. Wylbert Brown, a former Fort Worth musician, had copyrighted the words in 1928, years before UT had. This brings up the question: how could the students  copyright the song if it was already copyrighted?

Anyway, in 1986, the president of Southern Music Company in San Antonio, Arthur B. Gurwitz, wanted to honor his son, a UT grad, who had died. Gurwitz negotiated with Brown, then 91, who agreed to assign the copyright to UT-Austin, provided he would continue to draw some royalty until his death. He died in February 1987. On Nov. 14, 1987, in a special salute before a football game, UT-Austin honored Gurwitz returning the Eyes to their sockets till Gabriel blows his candles.


Ashby sings at