THE CLOSET – I am ready to come out of the closet. In boots. And I don’t care what Gov. Rick Perry thinks. As you may know, Perry announced he will no longer wear boots. (In Texas we don’t have to specify the kind of boots – it’s not work boots, army boots, ski boots, it’s cowboy boots.) His change in footwear goes back to his ill-fated presidential campaign in which he variously giggled, forgot and ooped his way from the front of the pack to the back. He now says wearing boots seemed to worsen his back problems. Indeed, there was the rumor that his nagging back ailments and the needed medications were the root (or boot) cause of his antics.

This is quite a sartorial change. Even The New York Times picked up on it: “Sacrilege! Perry finds wearing cowboy boots to be pain in the back.” Remember that he usually wore boots. I met him one time when he was wearing a pair of beautiful boots with the Texas state flag on them. He appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 2010 with boots emblazoned with the Texas battle cry “come and take it,” but his new footwear is in strict violation of House Concurrent Resolution No. 151 — a formal declaration by the Texas Legislature designating boots as the state footwear of Texas, in honor of their role “in the mythic romance of the Lone Star State.” The bill was signed in June 2007 by one Gov. Rick Perry.

Do you buy his back-problem story? Of course not. What happened was that Perry went to his Manhattan PR firm, Slant, Tilt & Spin. “I need a new and better campaign. That last one y’all ran was a disaster.” The mad men replied: “You’ve got to stop coming across as the good ol’ boy from Paint Creek, Texas. First, stop saying ‘y’all’ except in the South. It’s ‘youse guys.’ Get some thick-rimmed glasses, even if they are non-prescription. They’ll make you look more Ivy League and less Aggie. Also, get rid of those boots.”

Perry isn’t running for governor again because most Texas pols wear boots when running for office, even though it’s hard to run in boots. There was a long profile in a recent New Yorker magazine on Sen. Ted Cruz. In the accompanying photo Cruz was wearing boots. Having held Canadian citizenship until a few months ago, I thought Cruz would be wearing snowshoes. Look for Wendy Davis in pink boots. Most Texans have a pair of boots in their closet, and most Texans don’t wear them. I do. You will usually find me wearing boots except in the summer because they really don’t go with Bermudas. When did you get your first pair of boots? For me it was when I was a small tad at summer camp, otherwise it was shoes. Then one day at UT, I noticed a cobbler shop on Congress Avenue, Capitol Saddlery, (it’s still in business, but moved). I walked in, ordered a set of black boots. I couldn’t have paid much for them. Lord knows as a college student I didn’t have a dime, so the price for my custom-made boots must have been really low. The cobbler probably figured I needed something better than my cardboard sandals. Since then, I’ve been a bootlegger.

Like any craze, in the rest of the nation boots come and go. After “Urban Cowboy” everyone went Western (or Texan), with boots, hats and mechanical bulls. When a Texan leaves the state he or she is expected to be properly sartorially Texaned. In “Midnight Cowboy,” the first thing Texan Joe Buck (Jon Voight) does on his way to New York City is open his box of boots and put them on so everyone will think he’s Roy Rogers. And get this: “A taste of the American West has come to Paris shoe stores. Lurking among the pedestrian fare are a healthy scattering of bent heels and pointed toes once meant for an easy gallop or a fast roping. Straight from the factory or custom made, cowboy boots are there for the asking in shops all over Paris — and spreading across the rest of Europe.” – International Herald Tribune, Oct. 8, 2005.

If you are a new Texan, a few tips for buying your first pair of boots: Get the right heel size. There are riding heels, walking heels and combinations – a different height for each boot, I guess. The standard height for riding heels is 1 ¾ inches which is considered the proper length to hook around the bar, or bottom, of the stirrup. But today most boots are made for walking, so an inch or less is proper. Soles are made from leather, rubber or thick crepe. When it comes to toes, pointed toes are best for stomping cockroaches in kitchen corners, rounded toes are best for playing tennis. As for brands, I prefer Lucchese which I used to pronounced loo-CHEESE-ee until someone explained the name is Italian and is pronounced loo-KAY-zee. Or you can order custom-made boots. Prices vary as to the quote or flag you want.

As for why Texans love their boots, even though few ride horses to work, I found the answer. In “Travels With Charley,” Nobel laureate James Michener explained this fashion phenomenon, “Businessmen wear heeled boots that never feel a stirrup, and men of great wealth who have houses in Paris and regularly shoot grouse in Scotland refer to themselves as ‘little old country boys.’ It would be easy to make sport of their attitude if one did not know that in this way, they try to keep their association with the strength and simplicity of the land. Instinctively they feel that this is the source, not only of wealth, but of energy. And the energy of Texas is boundless and explosive.” If you don’t wear boots, explain you’ve got a bad back – and are running for President.


Ashby is well-heeled at



10 Tips for Better Sleep

July 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Health & Wellness


We want it all. Have fun, relax, BETTER SLEEPtime to get our work done, work out, and sleep. Even though sleep is last in that order, it should be at the top of your list. Without a healthy amount of sleep you are likely to lack or show up with out the right energy to the rest of your  activities.  If you can’t get to sleep on time, here are some tips to help make the time you do sleep, better.

If you are a coffee drinker, do your best to stay away from it after lunch. Caffeine wakes up your body and not your brain so by taking it you will only make yourself restless later on.

Netflix is the downfall of many a procrastinators motivation. With the automatic queue you can finish a whole season in a day. But when it’s time to go to bed, get rid of anything that produces a lot of light as well as calls your attention. This will help bring the z’s.

Lay off on drinks and food before bed.  No one likes to get up in
the middle of the night to use the restroom.

The last tip is tricky. Use your internal alarm clock. When you have your routine its simple. Sleep when your body is telling you to. When you sleep better, waking up is easier.

If you want your dreams to come true, get better rest so you can have the energy to make those dreams a reality.

Hunger hits close to home, but so does Houston Restaurant Weeks

July 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

hrw_logo_2014Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille Sets Out To Break Last Year’s Total Donation of $71,120

Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille will be participating in the eleventh annual Houston Restaurant Weeks, August 1 through September 1. Perry’s will offer a special three-course menu for $45 per person, featuring signature favorites like pear salad, wedge salad, Perry’s Famous Pork Chop, an 8 oz. Filet Perry, and Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Candy Bar pie.

For every dinner purchased from its Houston Restaurant Weeks menu, Perry’s Restaurants will donate $7 to the Houston Food Bank, benefiting the Greater Houston area.

All six Houston-area locations of Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille will be participating, and this will be the seventh year Perry’s Restaurants has participated as an organization. Last year, community members helped Perry’s to raise more than $70,000 for the Houston Food Bank.

“Our efforts at Perry’s are vital to the role Houston Restaurant Weeks plays in supporting the Houston Food Bank,” said Chris Perry, president and owner of Perry’s Restaurants. “We hope everyone in our community will come out again this year, rally behind such a deserving cause, and help us top last year’s donation.”

Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille has six locations in the Houston area, Champions, Clear Lake, Katy, Memorial City, Sugar Land, and The Woodlands. Reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made by visiting To view Perry’s complete Houston Restaurant Weeks menu or make reservations online, please visit

For a complete list of all the restaurants participating in Houston Restaurant Week visit


Wine 101

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Dining

Wine 101

Wine 101

Acetaminophen: The Most Common Drug in America

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Health & Wellness


Each week, more than 50 million Americans use a medicine that contains acetaminophen—a drug ingredient found in more than 600 different over-the-counter and prescription
medicines including pain relievers, fever reducers, sleep
aids and numerous cough, cold and flu medicines. This report and educational resource from the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition reviews the dosing behaviors that can lead to unintentional acetaminophen overdose and explores
the successful impact of ongoing education campaigns to drive safe use and prevent overdose-related liver damage

Facing Mars – Space Center Houston

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Events, Kid's Corner



From: May 24, 2014 – September 01, 2014 (Recurring daily)

Location: Space Center Houston
enue: Space Center Houston
Address: 1601 NASA Parkway, Houston, TX 77058
Visit Event Website
Area of Town: Clear Lake/Bay Area Houston
Free Admission: No

This summer, visitors will be asked these simple questions at Space Center Houston’s new exhibit “Facing Mars.” Focusing on the real-life obstacles of sending humans to Mars, this groundbreaking exhibition, developed and designed by the Ontario Science Centre, shows visitors how the challenges of a Mars mission aren’t limited to technology or money. It asks questions associated with traveling to Mars for which there currently are no known answers. It also engages participants in the physical, psychological and scientific challenges that come with interplanetary travel.
The challenges of a human mission to Mars are as big as any humans have faced. We know that we can get there, but will we be able to survive? How will we solve the many challenges? What will happen when we push our bodies and minds far beyond any place we have been before?

This exhibition offers 28 interactive stations with four broad themes:

• Supporting Human Life: Explore the challenges of keeping a crew alive during a long spaceflight, from determining a sustainable and healthy menu to dealing with the realities of the prolonged microgravity exposure on astronauts’ bones.
• Interpersonal and Psychological Experience: How do you select a crew for what may be a lethal adventure? How are crew members affected by crowding and isolation? What role does non-verbal communication play in the emotional health of astronauts?
• Technology of Exploration: Explore some of the aspects of the technology needed for Mars exploration, from puzzle-solving robotic rovers to testing space gloves, to experimenting with glider designs.
• Nature of Mars and Space Travel Exploration: Design, test and launch a model rocket; get a flyover view of the Martian landscape; examine the puzzle of protecting astronauts from lethal radiation and explore the challenges posed by dust.

This limited-engagement exhibit is included with paid admission to Space Center Houston. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to

Chill Out with Cool Nights at the Houston Zoo

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Kid's Corner


Join us for these fun-filled Friday nights!

Thanks to TXU Energy, the Houston Zoo is once again staying open late, until 8:30 p.m., so you can enjoy the animals in the cooler evening weather. Join us for Cool Nights every Friday evening from June 27 through August 22. From 5 to 8 p.m. guests can enjoy added music and kid-friendly activities that are sure to entertain kids and adults alike! All activities are included in Zoo admission.

July 25: Holidays in ZOO-ly

Candy canes, reindeer, lights and Santa beards? Sounds like Holidays in Zoo-ly! If you can’t wait any longer for the holiday season, visit the Houston Zoo on July 25 for lots of fun holiday-themed activities such as Pin the Nose on Rudolph, Penguin Shuffle and ornament decorating.  You can also embark on a scavenger hunt to find holiday items throughout the Zoo and take a few photos at our photo booth.

Guests will enjoy icy-cool entertainment including ice sculpture carving presentations by Reverend Butter and special Meet the Keeper Talks with the orangutans and cassowary. Be sure to join us this week as we impatiently await the most wonderful time of the year!

Extreme Bugs at the Houston Zoo

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Kid's Corner, Parents' Place


Giant bugs are taking over the Houston Zoo until September 1st!

For this special exhibit, you’ll walk into a backyard unlike any you’ve  seen before – this backyard is filled with giant, animatronic bugs that move, spread their wings, and even spray you with water! These bugs are up to 200 times larger than the normal size, and are made to look exactly like their smaller counterparts.  The real wonders of this backyard environment are the bugs themselves. Not just any bugs but 13 giant, animatronic bugs. You’ll see friendly ants, a ladybug, a grasshopper, a dragonfly, a beautiful Madagascar sunset moth, a beetle that sprays water, and a firefly that lights up with the turn of a handle.

Tickets Here
Per Person – $3.95  Summer Special! $2.95
(Zoo admission not included)
Children under 2 are FREE
Purchase tickets online now, at any ticket window when you arrive, or at the Extreme Bugs! exhibit. Extreme Bugs! Tickets you purchase online today are good for entry to the exhibit on any day. (Zoo admission tickets are dated).

Happy Hour Thursdays at MFAH

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Bars & Nightlife, Events

MFAH Happy Hour Thursdays

MFAH Happy Hour Thursdays

Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Venue: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Address: 1001 Bissonnet, Houston, TX 77005
Times: 6 – 8 pm
Visit Event Website
Area of Town: Museum District
Free Admission: Yes

The Museum of Fine Arts hosts Happy Hour Thursdays each week. MFAH admission is always free on Thursdays thanks to Shell and from 6 to 8 pm you’ll enjoy happy hour with tunes from a local DJ, light bites from Ladybird Food Truck and a cash bar. The museum is open til 9 every Thursday.

BEBE Grand Opening Event with style blogger Annabelle Fleur of Viva Luxury

July 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

bebebebestoreBebe plans on celebrating with a Grand Opening Event (details below) with style blogger Annabelle Fleur of Viva Luxury –

WHEN: Thursday, July 24th, 2014 – Store open to the public
Monday–Saturday: 10AM–9PM
Sunday: 11AM–7PM

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 – Grand Opening Event

WHERE: 5085 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77056


Picking a Montessori School in Houston, Texas

July 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Blogs, Parents' Place

Regardless of when you decided to send your child to Montessori school happened as a result of detailed study of educational approaches or something that you always knew you wanted to do well before you became a parent, how do you actually go about choosing the right school for your and your family? Believe it or not this is a question that can sometimes be a lot like following Alice down the rabbit hole.

Enter “Montessori Houston” into a search engine and you a flooded with results for almost 100 Montessori schools just with the address being Houston, Texas. So with this in mind how do you go about finding a school that fits your needs and know it is an authentic Montessori program?     Here are several steps that will not only help save time but provide you with the questions to get details that matter most when interviewing prospective candidates.

3-6 Year Old Environment

“It has Montessori in the name so it must be Montessori, right?”

There are all kinds of Montessori schools that make up a number totaling over 4,000 in the United States alone.   These more than 4,000 schools are made from a mixture of private and public schools, some offer programs for kindergarten and others are as extensive as beginning from birth and end when a child graduates high school.   In Houston a school can be as small as a single classroom in a registered family home* or as big as a multi-building campus with upward of 800 students.

However the first thing that needs to be kept in mind is that any school can put Montessori on the building or claim that they offer a Montessori program because the word “Montessori” is not trademarked and therefore unable to be formally regulated.

“Anyone can call themselves a Montessori school?  How do I know if a Montessori school is Authentic?”

First there are two organizations in the United States that set the standards which classroom, teacher education, and schools must subscribe to in order to ensure the integrity of Dr. Montessori’s educational principals are upheld.   They are independent from one another and are Association Montessori International and the American Montessori Society, respectively knows as AMI and AMS.   Though AMI schools are less common and AMS more prevalent both hold the following four items essential in order to provide a quality Montessori program.

The Montessori Classroom

  • Each classroom has an AMS or AMI teacher certified for the age group that they are teaching.
  • Classes are made up of multiple age groups where the older children sever as role models and the helper.
  • An appropriate number of children making up the group in each classroom to ensure proper social development.
  • A daily set period of uninterrupted work time for the children.
  • The classroom offers a hands on educational experience through wide range of Montessori materials that are age appropriate materials.
  • The teachers follow the Montessori instructional philosophy and acts as a guide instead of a provider of information.

Both the American Montessori Society and Association Montessori International have webpages dedicated to helping you find as authentic of a program as possible or less ideological classroom setting to meet your needs.   Once you have gone through these two resources you will still have some work ahead of you but I have complied a list of hopefully helpful checks and balances to make the overwhelming process of choosing a school easier and less time consuming as possible.

This can all be broken down into five steps that will make compiling all the information and your opinions filter down into a decision.     These steps involve a short phone interview, tour of the school, classroom observation, teacher conference, as well as your general thoughts and feelings about your experiences there.

“Good Morning, Thank you for calling…”

The first item of business is the phone interview.  This is a short introduction to the school and to get the basic information you need to see if they even provide a program that suits your needs.   I’ve even provided a little form for parents to use to help them keep track of what questions to ask and their answers.  Take into consideration that depending on the time of day you call you might reach someone that is not capable of answering all of your questions because they work in the classrooms instead of being administrators trained to answer all of your questions.   Just because a school asks to take your name number in order for someone to call you back does not mean that the school isn’t on top of their game.   In fact it usually means just the opposite and that there are specific people in administration dedicated to prospective parents and parents issues.

Also, if the person answering the phone is indeed doing their job they are going to want you to come in for a tour.   That is why sticking to the basic in a phone interview will help you cut down on time running around and possibly touring schools that don’t even offer a program you need while still getting a narrow enough picture to know if a school is worth you visiting or more!

Here are the basic questions you will need to ask because remember Montessori is not childcare but many Montessori schools offer childcare.   Meaning many schools are only open during the academic school year and for the regular school day.    If you are needing full time care year round then one of these schools will not be for you.

I created a form that you may either print out and write or edit online to use specifically for Montessori School Phone Interviews.  Remember you don’t have to schedule a tour until you have finished with all of your phone interviews either.  I promise, they will still be more than happy to introduce you to their school. Once you have completed your phone interviews go ahead and make a keep and delete pile.

  • Hour of operation
  • Year round program or academic program only?
  • Is before and after care offered?
  • Are there current openings for your child’s/children’s age groups and if not how long is the waiting list?
  • Are there AMS or AMI certified teachers in every classroom and are they certified for that specific age group?
  • Do they offer tours and will you be able to enter the classrooms during the tours?
  • Do they offer classroom observations and/or teacher conferences before enrollment?

“Welcome to the wonderful world of Oz…”


Children working in a Montessori environment with beautiful natural light.

Often that is what it feels like when you first walk into some of the more profound Montessori schools and quite honestly they deserve the dropped jaws and wonderment struck faces.  However it is easy to get wrapped up into the moment and forget why you are really there.   I have been there as a student, parent, and as a teacher but it has left me remembering an old lady from the 80’s holding open a hamburger bun, pointing,  and loudly questioning where the meat in dinner is.

That is why I have compiled a checklist for parents to use when visiting a school for the first time based on recommendations from the American Montessori Society, Association Montessori International, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Collaboration for Children, Texas Department of Childcare Licensing, as well as my experiences as a teacher, administrator, but most of all a parent.  I’ve broke this down into a fields in order for the checklist to be used as a single survey or as a three part survey depending on your individual needs.   But there are a few things I’m not going to put on the list that parents just need to know and understand while going on a tour.

  1. Don’t bring your child to a school tour.   This is not going to give you’re a clearer picture of if your child is going to like their new classroom or not.  What is it is going to do is make it more difficult for you to communicate with the person giving you the tour.  Your stress level and there is going to be higher, you are less able to soundly judge responses to questions you ask and are more likely to forget important information.  Even if you have to schedule one tour for yourself and separate one for your significant other… it is okay.
  1. Be considerate when touring classrooms. Redeemer that if you are allowed to go into the environments while children are in them that in Montessori even diaper changes and lunch/snack time is considered an important learning experience and the teachers want to shake your hand and introduce themselves to you because it is what adults find as polite but their attention needs to be on the children.  If you want to speak to a specific teacher you are more than welcome to schedule a one on one conference either face to face or over the phone.   You will have a much more productive conversation I promise.
  1. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK ANYTHING!!!!!! ANYTHING!!!!   Specifically regarding a teacher’s CERTIFICATION! I am going to pull a few pages from my own book here that are a bit alarming and in one case was enough for me to call and report a school I ran and have them shut down.    I have had the experience of schools not only lying about teachers certifications by saying that they were AMS certified teachers, certified teachers for the age group that they were teaching but even while I was in school getting my certification the administration told parents I was already AMS certified and told me I had to tell them the same thing.   I refused!

But let me please state that an AMI/AMS intern are sometimes the best teachers because they are excited and on fire about Montessori and still full of new ideas an ideologies.  A teacher currently getting certified through AMS will have an adult learned certificate/card that is issued by the American Montessori Society.   So that this not go unnoticed let me separate it from the rest…..


Yes I might seem overly protective of your children but that is because they are the ones that need the most protecting.   All of these documents are required to be on site and accessible at all times.

  1. Surveillance does NOT ensure safety. Video cameras in the environments do not make your children any safer than they are without them.   Yes we live in a time and age where digital owns but our society.   When it comes down to surveillance I personally feel that it stifles the Montessori way of diapering, toileting, caring for one’s own body, and a child’s privacy in general.   I don’t want to have to worry about my child being watched all day long by someone who has hacked one of the same servers I use to peek in on my child’s day.   I however do respect that this can be a highly personal decision for parents.  There are times when video cameras can rule out abuse and protect children… but as a compromise I suggest considering a video monitoring system that is closed to the public but backed up on a hard drive for up to a month (or longer) and viewable by administration.
  1. SCHOOLS COME WITH RULES ….   There are some strange rules at some schools but seemingly even more strange at Montessori Schools.   Just because a rule strikes you as unacceptable at first doesn’t mean you need to discount a school as a possibility before you take a breath and as about the rules purpose.   Don’t be surprised if you aren’t allowed to enter the classroom after the bell rings, pull on diapers aren’t allowed, certain clothes are discouraged or required…. There are reasons for each and every rule and most of them are to the benefit of your child and their development.   Remember that they are going to school for themselves not for you.  Just because something seems strange and different doesn’t mean that it isn’t tested and tried.  Figure out what you can accept and what you can’t.

Now that you have the tour out of the way you should have a better idea of which schools are still in the running or you may have even fell in love and gone ahead and started the enrollment process for your child.   If you haven’t yet settled on a school this might be a good time for you to schedule a classroom observation and a parent-teacher conference.    More information regarding, “Observing a Montessori Classroom” and “A Montessori Parent Teacher Conference,” can be found by visiting the upcoming links below!


July 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

The kids trek across vast and dangerous lands, then ford a river to get to Texas, fleeing gang violence, gun battles on every street corner, drug dealers lurking in the doorways. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to live in Chicago, either. Meantime, to the south we have another group coming to visit, and perhaps to stay. We all know the story: so far 56,000 young people and mothers from Central America are coming to the U.S. seeking a better life. Experts predict the number will swell to 100,000 by fall, and why not? The only thing to prevent more of them from coming to the U.S. is that Central America runs out of children.

So let us discuss this matter. First, the back story to the story. On Dec. 23, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, told reporters, “This is a piece of legislation we’re very proud to sign.” It was a bipartisan law to stop human trafficking, and specifically gave strong new protections to children entering the country alone who were not from Mexico or Canada – it prohibited them from being quickly sent back to their home country. We must suppose all illegal Eskimos now claim they are from Tegucigalpa. So word trickled down to Central America that children and women with children could claim King’s X when caught on the Rio. Next came the DREAM Act allowing young illegals to stay until we lose interest in their plight. Add to that political asylum, parents in Plano and we have what we have.

Politicians keep calling for – all together now –“more boots on the ground” to stop the flow of immigrants and turn them back. But these newcomers WANT to be caught. They hunt for Border Patrol guards. Boots on the ground is as worthless a term as “comprehensive immigration reform.” That means whatever you want it to mean. Into this mess comes the militia. Now let’s consider the number of these newcomers. We first heard 40,000 then 56,000 and so on to 100,000. This is like the DEA saying, “We intercept only 15 percent of illegal drugs coming in to this country.” How do they know that? They don’t. Another point: Currently, these young people go before a judge who gives them a future court date to show why they shouldn’t be deported. Not surprisingly about 90 percent of them are never seen again. The other 10 percent are soccer players. Speaking of deportation, Jay Leno’s observation: “They say we can’t send 11 million Mexicans across the border. Why not? Mexico did.”

What about a U.N. observation that these young people are not illegal immigrants but refugees? That’s a technical, but legal, term. Does that change things? Question: How do penniless peasants have 8,000 U.S. dollars to pay a coyote? Also, I don’t want to hear any effete Eastern snob noting that Texas ranks 50th among the states in high school dropouts, math scores and reading rankings. Place tens of thousands of kids, who are totally illiterate in English, on any state and that might affect rankings. Fortunately, Texas can handle the situation. All our students are above average, our teachers are overpaid and we’ve got a couple of billion in unspent school funds. Texas officials say the state is spending about $1.3 million a week on this law-enforcement situation. Again, no problem.

One perfectly logical reason these newcomers give for their trip is their country’s corruption, inefficiency and callousness. That is undeniable. In 1990 in the 10-county Houston area, there were 93,000 Salvadorians who had fled that country’s civil wars. When the war was over, the Salvadoran government urged all refugees in the U.S. to stay here and send back money to their relatives. What a country.

We must remember Rule Number 2 around here. (Rule Number 1 is what’s in it for us?) Don’t complain if you don’t have a solution. So here are some. We hear a lot about “humanitarian efforts.” Indeed, Texans are noted for that. Think Katrina, think Astrodome filled with storm refugees. Hey, those Cajuns couldn’t speak much English either. Every humanitarian should take five refugee children into their homes. Put your money where your mercy is. We could simply enroll our new viisitors into UT and A&M with in-state tuition. It’s not new. In a larger view, to end the violence, bloodshed, drug cartels and other reasons for this Children’s Crusade II, the U.S. needs to invade and occupy Central America. Again, this is not new. You’ve heard of the Banana Wars when U.S. Marines took over small countries there and brought peace and prosperity. Indeed, some of Haiti’s best years (1914-1934) occurred when the Marines ran the place. Even the railroads worked. They don’t now.

One of the strangest aspects of this debacle, aka Obama’s Katrina, was when Gov. Rick Perry implied that President Obama orchestrated this flow (Dan Patrick calls it an invasion) of Latino children. Obama is “in on this somehow or another.” Perry said, “I hate to be conspiratorial, but I mean, how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico and then into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?” In another TV interview, Perry suggested that Obama had an “ulterior motive” in allowing the flow to grow. On the other hand, Perry was dead right in wondering why Obama, who visited Dallas and Austin, didn’t visit the Valley. The Obama people said it would just be a photo-op. Perry shot back that Obama visited New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. What was that called? Perry is right.

Finally, we all know what will happen to these poor, unfortunately mothers and children. We will give them aid, education and health care, treat them with Lone Star hospitality. And in five years they’ll no longer be called “illegal immigrants.” They’ll be called “Texans.” Thank you, William Wilberforce.


Ashby is crusading at















Nourishing Herbal Infusions

July 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Health & Wellness

 We all know what tea is and we certainly know what a multivitamin is. What about tea as a multivitamin? 

Well, that’s exactly what a nourishing herbal infusion is!


iPhoto Library

There are a few specific plants that, when dried and left to steep in very hot water  (for an upwards of 4-8 hours) transform the water into a mineral and vitamin rich powerhouse.

The science behind it is simple: when the plant is dried the cell wall cracks, allowing the mineral and vitamin rich constituents  to be available.  The next step to get those benefits to us is to put the dried plant matter into a jar with boiling water for a long time. During that time  all the benefits from the plant become infused in the hot water and bio-available to you. (Bio-available is the ability of what you are consuming to be be available to your body after ingesting it as opposed to passing through your body and being excreted without any of the nutrients/vitamins/minerals being used by your body)

When this tea infusion is consumed on a regular basis it provides the daily vitamin and mineral needs for our bodies.

A few important ones are:  Stinging Nettle, Oatstraw, and Burdock Root.  These are nutritive powerhouses!

  • Stinging nettle is amazingly rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, especially the critical trace minerals: anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron. A quart of nettle infusion contains more than 2000 milligrams of calcium, 15,000 IU of vitamin A, 760 milligrams of vitamin K, 10% protein, and lavish amounts of most B vitamins! There is no denser nutrition found in any other plant. Regular consumption of stinging nettle (2-3 quarts a week) will increase energy, strengthen hair, nails, teeth and bones and will clear and firm skin.
    It will restore elasticity to blood vessels, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, strengthens kidneys and
    bladder, improves digestion, reduces cancer risks, strengthens lungs, balances blood sugar and adrenals.
  • Oatstraw is the herb of longevity. It restores the nervous system, as well as nourishing the heart and moderating cholesterol.  Oatstraw provides lots of protein, 300 milligrams of calcium, all macro and trace-minerals in high amounts, and very high amounts of all B vitamins (except B12). This infusion is a libido enhancer, a mood mellower, an overall good plant to consume when feeling anxious or overly stressed.
    Restless legs? Zapped endocrine system? Needing a pick me up? Make oatstraw infusion a regular part of your    week.
  • Burdock root will help provide optimum nutrition to the glandular and immune systems, liver, kidneys, blood, lungs, and nerves.  Burdock is very high in chromium, iron, magnesium, silicon, thiamine, inulin, cobalt, phosphorus, potassium (766-1680), sodium, tin, zinc, carotenes, vitamin A (7500 IU), aluminum, calcium, manganese, selenium and lappin, a glucoside. This plant cools down “hot” conditions, such as aggression, fever, excess energy, infections, skin conditions,  dry cough and sore throat. It helps with kidney, liver, blood and immunity strength.  Personally, I drink these on a weekly basis and when I do “fall off the wagon” and skip out on my infusions, I certainly notice a difference in energy, mood, and mental clarity.

Stinging nettle has a very deep earthy taste, so to most it’s easier to drink with added honey, or natural sweetener of your choice.  Burdock root and Oat Straw are slightly sweet on their own (in my opinion), however, I tend to have an unusual palate.  So sweeten, add a pinch of  sea salt, or just leave it “au natural,” it’s all good.

The best way to get prepared for your infusion is by purchasing a bulk, fresh supply of dried herb. I suggest starting out with a pound of whichever you choose and drink it 3x’s a week. Within a months time you’ll notice some healthy changes in your hair, skin, nails and energy.

My favorite place to buy bulk herbs is Mountain Rose Herbs. They have fresh, organic, quality products and they ship out fast too.

Life will be much easier in the infusing world if you have a few essentials:

  • A French Press (makes draining out the tea so much easier)  A french press can be found at Starbucks and most tea shops. Amazon is always a good option as well.
  • A quart mason jar with a lid.

So how does one infuse you ask?  Here we go!

  1. In a pot, bring a quart of water to a slow boil.
  2. Meanwhile put a measured amount of 1 cup of dried herb into a quart mason jar.
  3. After the water is heated pour it on top of the herb and make sure you push down any dry plant that moves to the surface and then lid it for 4-8 hours. I usually jar mine up at bed time and drink it in the morning.
  4. When it’s time to drink, pour it into the French Press and press down all the plant bits.
  5. Pour back into your rinsed mason jar and sweeten if needed. You can add ice as well and bottoms up!If you can’t get it all down, you can put the lid back on and it will stay good in the fridge up to 24 hours.

Cheers to good health!

For more information, go to

A fantastic book to further your knowledge of these plants (and a few more) is- Healing Wise -By, Susun Weed

Also, as a side note, please use common sense in any medicinal and supplemental use. It’s rare, but always possible to be allergic to one of these plants. Please use good judgment and listen to your body.

Dine Out to Benefit Food Banks During Annual GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up, July 21-27

July 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

The Texas Department of Agriculture’s annual GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up presented by Farm Credit is a the only weeklong statewide dine-out event that highlights restaurants serving local Texas products. Plus, you’ll be dining out for a good cause as participating restaurants will donate to local food banks. Show your Lone Star State pride: Go Out. Go Eat. GO TEXAN. 
Visit  to find a participating restaurant near you. We’ll see you at the table July 21-27!

The Latest and Greatest Extensions

July 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Beauty & Fashion, Blogs

Do you crave long, voluptuous locks? Look no further than Houston’s own Mario Romero. He is a master trainer for the Balmain Hair line and the first stylist in Houston to carry their newest offering: the luxurious System Volume line of extensions.

This is the hair extension gun that is used to apply the Volumizers.

This is the hair extension gun that is used to apply the Volumizers.

Many extensions take forever to install; they’re heavy and cause your natural hair to break. The Volumizer is lightweight and bonds to your hair (via infrared light) in 35 seconds. (If you’ve had extensions before, you understand…. This is a big deal!) The system spreads the hair evenly, and makes sure that each bond is unique so it blends perfectly with your natural hair. Thanks to Système Volume from Balmain Hair you can have a natural voluminous look in an instant, and it lasts three to four months. You can find Mario at  the lab hair Studio, 3000 Sage; Ste 1157, Houston TX.

Or call him at 713-965-0025.

Hair extensions being placed in cartridge.

Hair extensions being placed in cartridge.

Here is how my hair extensions look.

Here is how my hair extensions look.

Here is a picture of how my extensions looked on the first day. On this blog, I’ll chronicle the three months and see how the Volumizer holds up.

Five days later at the Mission of Yahweh Mission Incredible event.

Five days later at the Mission of Yahweh Mission Incredible event.

Five days later: I waited as long as possible to wash the extensions. I’m very gentle when I do so. Mario said not to be alarmed, some of the extensions will fall out. None have fallen out yet. You use a special brush to tame these manes. When drying your hair, you can use a round brush on your tips. Here is a picture of my hair when I blow-dry it myself. Never, never as good as Mario, but not bad!

Week Two: So far so good. Extensions are holding up and I still really can’t even feel them. They are lighter than expected. Mario said they expand when they are shampooed, so I thought they might feel a little heavier. They don’t.

Kim Padgett and I at the Symphony Ball.

Kim Padgett and I at the Symphony Ball.

Week Three: Still going strong and looking good. I felt fabulous at the Centennial Symphony Ball!

Week Seven: This morning when blow-drying my hair, one strand came out.  Seriously, after seven weeks… I’m astonished!!!

Week Eleven: I returned to have my color touched up.  I love returning to the salon for a blow dry.  It always looks the best when done by a professional. The next day, after attending a wedding, the second strip of hair fell out.  For those of you who have had extensions before, you know this is incredible staying power!!!!!

Week Fourteen: The third strand came out.




July 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE GARAGE – You may be wondering why this 34-inch Fuzzy Focus TV set is in my garage. No, it’s not so I can secretly watch “Cheerleaders in Chains” nor PBS’s 14-part series on “Unappreciated Brilliance – the Millard Fillmore Story.” And I am not mad at this TV because it showed a bunch of Belgians beating our American futbal players. It is here because the garbage can is here, and that’s where the set goes, since I literally cannot give it away. This is a short story, but you can no doubt identify with my fight against corporations, their communications and stupidity. No wonder the Chinese are winning, not to mention the Belgians.

My problem begins a few weeks ago when one of my TV sets goes out. So I take it back to that big box store where I bought it, Good Buy. A long wait, as I stand there holding the set in a line of other customers clutching cell phones, NSA spy satellite blockers and peeping Tom electronic periscopes. Finally my time comes. I adroitly explain the technicalities of the situation, “It won’t work.” The clerk nods. “No problem. We’ll get ‘er done. Our ace Nerd Herd can fix anything.” I say, “A four-year-old TV set shouldn’t break.” He replies, “Four years old? Did the Smithsonian make you an offer?” He notes that I bought a warranty for the set that covered everything except parts, labor, shipping and handling, I always think warranties are kind of weird. You buy something, then pay extra to assure it works like it is supposed to, but I had bought one anyway. The clerk reads from some form. “It says here the warranty was good forever unless something breaks. Sorry. That’ll be $35 to get it fixed.” I had paid $250 for the set, so the repair cost is well worth it.

The clerk checks my sales record and notes over the years I have purchased all sorts of items at this store: Mace protectors, cell phones (my cell didn’t have a phone – it’s a long story), little black boxes that neighborhood children had to show me how to work and lots of TV sets, going back to my DuMont 6-inch black-and-white (May, 2005). This was so easy. Who said America is in decline? A few days later I get an email. “Your product is now being sent to Dallas for the proper correction. You may follow its route by touching Search.” I don’t really want to follow a TV set as it makes way across Texas. It’s a nice and efficient touch, but why Dallas? Don’t they have some 14-year-olds on their payrolls here in East Tumbleweed?

Two days later, another email. “Your product has safely arrived at our Monumental Fix-It Installation. Our experts with Nerd Herd will examine it and then proceed with repairs.” Three days later, “Your product has been repaired.” In the next few days I get more emails telling me the TV is being sent back to my hometown and I can follow the route. To the loading dock, on the truck, lunch break. OK, enough! My “product” is now being examined, but stand by, the local Nerd Herd is temporarily sidetracked. Something about “Cheerleaders in Chains.” It’s ready! I go to Good Buy to pick up my set, but the line is out the door. They must have a lot of broken periscopes. I return later. The clerk hands me a sheet of paper. There, written in a small box on the form, is: “Estimated cost to repair: $334, offer rejected.” Offer rejected? I was never asked. Of course I would spend $334 to repair a four-year-old TV that cost $250. Wouldn’t you?

What are these minute-by-minute emails all about? What happened to the great Nerd Herd experts who can fix anything? Why does it cost $334 to repair a $250 TV set? How come I have now made three – no, four – trips here, stood in line and waited? Why have I been misled? Why did Good Buy decide I would reject their offer? I can make my own decisions, which is why my socks never match. Why am I upset? Why do fools fall in love? No matter. I take my well-traveled TV with me so I can get it fixed for a small amount at a local TV repair shop. Some mom and pop storefront operation will be a lot cheaper than flying it halfway across Texas first class. Guess what? There aren’t any mom and pop TV fix-it shops. This led me to my last resort: giving it to charity. Maybe they have classes that teach TV repairing to former Enron executives. “We don’t take TV sets,” I am told. Do you know the humiliation of being rejected for enlistment in the Salvation Army? I tried to give this TV to family members, neighbors, the postal delivery guy. No luck, so here I am, tossing it away.

Like many other aspects of our lives, it is easier and often cheaper to replace than repair. When was the last time you saw a doormat recycle shop? A used husband store? I fully expect next week to hear a knock on my front door and the garbageman says, “We don’t take used TV sets.” A week later I get another email from Good Buy. “Thank you for etc, etc. Would you please take a few minutes to answer a survey on your experience with us?” Boy, do I answer that survey. Rating 1 to 10 with 1 being excellent and 10 being almost excellent. A few days later I get a phone call from a real live person at Good Buy, He asks all sorts of questions about my answers on the survey. “It’s all right there,” I say. “I checked boxes and filled out two more boxes explaining what happened.” Long pause. “They didn’t give me your survey.” Maybe we should all move to Belgium.


Ashby is under warranty at ashby2@comcast.netr









Newport Beach, Here We Come

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

The luxury and opulence of Tuscany is re-created at The Resort at Pelican Hill.  

by Laurette M. Veres

The luxurious and Mediterannean-inspired Pelican Hill.

The luxurious and Mediterannean-inspired Pelican Hill.

Dramatic views of the ocean set the stage for an unforgettable getaway. Can’t make it all the way to Italy?  Not to worry, The Resort at Pelican Hill’s gorgeous seaside setting, Italian-inspired design and romantic ceremony locations not only make up for it, but make it the most exclusive venue on the California coast. 

You’ll know you are someplace special just by looking at the cars in the valet lot. Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys join the Rolls Royces parked around the lobby. Amenities abound with two Fazio-designed golf courses, a 23,000-square-foot spa and world-class dining. A large fleet of chauffer-driven Mercedes Benz GL450s and Cadillac Escalades is standing by to shuttle visitors around; your guests will thank you. 


Get top-notch service and treatment at the spa!

Embodying the vision and principles of Italy’s most renowned Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, Pelican Hill feels like a piece of Tuscany right here in America. The buildings are designed to bring the outside in and the inside out. At every turn, you’ll recognize how they are in perfect harmony with the environment.

The views at Pelican Hill are movie-set worthy. The resort sits atop 504 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Crystal Cove State Park, one of California’s protected coastal areas.

For the Ladies
What better way to celebrate friendship than a day of pampering at The Resort at Pelican Hill’s five-star spa? Enter through the dramatic 28-foot Palladian rotunda, and immediately relax to the sound of the tranquil water wall. Slip into your plush robe and enjoy pre-service herbal tea. Gather in the Aqua Colonnade with herbal steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools and soaking tubs. Enjoy personalized spa treatments and heralded therapies from around the world.

For the Guys
Two challenging Fazio-designed golf courses are carved into the bluffs and spill out along the ocean. Bring a camera because the views are incredible. Many holes are played from the tee box, over a canyon to a landing pad and over another canyon to the green. The pull of the Pacific Ocean and the uneven terrain make reading putts almost impossible. Luckily the forecaddies know every inch of the greens and will help you keep three putts to a minimum. The 6,945-yard North Course is a little more challenging, while the South Course features changing vegetation as it slips down to the ocean. On the right day, you can watch the whales swim by the tee box.

The rolling hills and the golf course make this destination incredibly scenic.

The rolling hills and the golf course make this destination incredibly scenic.

Spend a Day in the California Sun
Make new friends at the largest circular pool in the world. It’s one of three gorgeous pools on the property; all have grand views. The resort will shuttle you down to the ocean, where you can watch the Pacific’s powerful waves roll in as you sit in the sand or walk the beach. Guided hikes/tours happen every day through Crystal Cove State Park on the 50,000-acre Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. For a more civilized excursion, head to the nearby chic shopping town of Newport Beach.

Like everything else at Pelican Hill, the rooms are over the top. From the 847-square-foot bungalows to the 3,561-square-foot four-bedroom villas, luxury and comfort are in every detail. The spacious accommodations have two, three or four bedrooms, plus gourmet kitchens, luxurious bathrooms and private terraces with stunning ocean views.

Every family wants a memorable vacation. Time spent at The Resort at Pelican Hill will never be forgotten.


Photos courtesy of Pelican Hill.

A Tale of Two Cities

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Features


The Houston-New Orleans Connection

by Lynn Ashby

111 DECATUR STREET—On Saturday afternoon, February 25, 1843, Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, commander of the Texas Navy, came here to the Texas consulate to see William Bryan, a local merchant who represented Texas’ interests. As the two men were leaving, a messenger came to this building—it’s still here—and handed Moore a sealed letter from President Sam Houston. The letter ordered Moore back to Galveston. The Texas Navy was being sold. The Lone Star Republic couldn’t afford a navy. Today, this four-story brick building has an overhang and a sign: “Mr. Jack’s barber and beauty salon.” Inside, are bare brick walls and a barber shop. A resident, Mr. Jack, I assume, tells me that he has heard about the Texas connection and a woman over on Chartres Street gave him some papers about it, then his overt enthusiasm fades.

Not far away was 56 Common Street. That address is no longer evident. As close as I can come is 560. Whatever the address then and now, no doubt that the Lone Star Flag flew from the front. Somewhere in this town are Sam Houston’s bones. Not all of them, just the shattered ones. To this day, everywhere you look, you see Texas license plates. It’s easy for Texans and particularly Houstonians to feel easy in the Big Easy. They have a Brennan’s. We have a Brennan’s. They have a dome. We have a dome. Theirs is still being used by the Saints and is where both Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell finished their careers. Indeed, the Saints were originally owned by a Houstonian, John Mecom, Jr.

The oil business has much to do with the linkage of the two cities. How many bumper stickers and front-yard flags around Houston sport the yellow and purple (an awful color combination) of LSU? Although I do love the slogan “Geaux Tigers.” Southwest Airlines has 20 weekday flights between the two cities. United has 27. We must assume most passengers are lawyers because BP’s national headquarters are in Houston, but the legal fighting is in New Orleans. I’m going too fast, so let’s take a look at the close connection between Houston and New Orleans, between Cajuns and cowboys, étouffée and enchiladas, Bourbon Street and bayous, how we owed them and how we paid back the debt with interest.

Decatur-StA Friend in Need
A quick setting of the stage—and no, this isn’t a history lesson, we’re talking fun stuff: When Texas was fighting for its independence and for years afterward, New Orleans was the only city within a thousand miles. Supplies for the Texian (as they called themselves then) Army came though here. But the U.S. was neutral, so support came surreptitiously, a word Billy Bob, Comanche Jack and Deaf Smith probably didn’t use a lot. Fourteen days after Texas declared its independence (March 2, 1836, pilgrim), the Twin Sisters arrived here on their way to the Texas Army. The Twins were our cannons at San Jacinto, shipped as “hollow ware” because of the U.S. neutrality.

The only Texian flag recovered at the Alamo was that of the New Orleans Greys. They were all killed. One month after San Jacinto, a wounded Sam Houston came here. It was on May 22, 1836, that a cheering crowd and a band greeted his boat. On the other hand, a New Orleans newspaper, the Tropic, wrote about Houston, “If the next arrival from Texas does not inform us that the miserable fool who presides over the fate of Texas at the present time has been lynched, we shall be disappointed.” Later, doctors would remove 20 pieces of bone from Sam’s leg. They are probably still around here.

The Crescent City was where ships and crews of the Texas Navy came for supplies and a little R & R. What isn’t generally known is that the Republic of Texas had a Marine Corps. More than 350 men and 18 officers served in the Texas Marine Corps, and some were responsible for the Big Mutiny. It took place in the Mississippi River off New Orleans aboard the schooner TN (for Texas Navy) San Antonio. Ah, New Orleans, every heart beats faster at the prospect of a night on Bourbon Street. The ship pulled in and began loading supplies: beef (a dime a pound), bread (a nickel a loaf) and potatoes (a dollar a bushel). That’s all. The diet on Texas ships was inexpensive to the taxpayers, but not too varied for the crew.

On the night of February 11, 1842, the ranking officers set off for the bright lights of the big city, leaving the crew aboard for the very good reason that, once ashore, most would never come back. A man can stomach only so much beef, bread and potatoes. Some passing boatmen slip aboard a few bottles of booze, and the sailors and Marines imbibe. Topside, Marine Sgt. Seymour Oswald accosts Lt. M.B. Dearborn and demands shore leave for himself and some friends. No soap, Sergeant. They get into an argument and Lt. Charles Fuller, the ranking officer still on board, pops up on deck to see what’s happening. A scuffle breaks out and Lt. Fuller is killed.

U.S. sailors and the New Orleans police quickly round up the Texas mutineers and toss them in jail. Later, they are put on board a Texas Navy ship, taken to sea, hanged from the yardarm and then buried at sea—all but the ringleader, Sgt. Oswald, who disappears into New Orleans never to be found. And to think that New Orleans was the previous home of—guess who?—Lee Harvey Oswald. As for Lt. Fuller, his body stayed in New Orleans at Girod Street Cemetery until 1936, when he was taken to the Texas State Cemetery in east Austin. New Orleans had to widen Girod Street.

The Loan Star Republic
New Orleans was the first and most important consulate the Republic of Texas established. We had a series of Texans sent here and hired locals, mostly to purchase supplies and handle diplomatic duties. They ran up huge debts on their own bank accounts and generally got stiffed. One debt was not repaid to his heirs, until 1881. For a spell, Our Man In New Orleans was the aforementioned William Bryan, who wrote Texas, “We have $80,000 Government paper due and not one dollar to pay it.” He eventually went $93,740.07 in the red paying our bills. In gratitude, he was fired.

From 1838 until 1843, Bryan worked in an office at 56 Common Street. Then he moved here to 7 Old Levee Street. The 1843 New Orleans city directory listed this location as “Texas Agency Office. Bryan, William, consul of the Republic of Texas.” Later that street’s name and numbers were changed. Today, 7 Old Levee Street would be 111 Decatur. At one point, the floors above the consulate were used by furriers to hang the hides trappers brought in from the nearby swamps. That must have smelled a bit gamy on summer days. Today, those rooms are time-share condos.
Now we are on the corner of Common and St. Charles Street, where Texas currency was printed by J.R. Clark, a note engraver. The firm of Endicott & Clark printed all our bonds. And this is the city where Stephen F. Austin and two friends designed a Texas flag: a square Union Jack, three stripes—red, white and green—and a single star. His two buddies changed the green to blue, changed the star to the sun with the head of George Washington in the center. They argued over whether to put “Lux Libertas” or “In His Example There is Safety” under Washington’s face. Sounds absolutely dreadful. Wonder if they had been partying?

Diplomacy was a two-way muddy path. Alcee Louis LaBranche, born near New Orleans in 1806 and educated in France, was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. In 1833, he became the speaker of the Louisiana House. He was President Andrew Jackson’s appointment as the first U.S. chargé d’affaires to the brand-new Republic of Texas. Our capital city at the time was Houston, and when a rumor swept the land that the Mexican Army was again on the way—it had captured San Antonio twice more—LaBranche offered diplomatic safety to several frightened Houstonians. The Mexican troops never arrived, but in thanks, Houston named a major street for him. After serving in Texas, LaBranche returned to Louisiana and became a U.S. congressman in a campaign capped by a duel. In the fourth round, La Branche killed his opponent, a journalist, and good riddance, I say.

Ships going between New Orleans and Galveston kept the young republic supplied with everything, from beans to bullets to more immigrants. Telegraph for communication in Texas preceded the railroads—my grandfather started out as a conductor on the T&NO (Texas and New Orleans). The telegraph service began with the chartering of the Texas and Red River Telegraph Company on January 5, 1854. The first telegraph office was opened in Marshall on February 14, 1854. Patrons were offered connections with New Orleans via Shreveport and Alexandria. New Orleans gave Texas a lot more than trains and telegraphs. Yellow fever arrived in Galveston aboard The S.S. City of Mexico from New Orleans in August 1853. By September, deaths were averaging a dozen a day. Thanks, Cajuns. For a while, the Astros’ minor league AAA ball team was the New Orleans Zyphers, which is closer than the Oklahoma City RedWings.

It’s Payback Time
Right now you may be wondering just how to pronounce the name of this place, and no, it’s not Day-ree Queeeen. Is it Noo OR-lins? I heard a native say N’awins. Maybe Noo or-LEANS? If you watch TV’s talking heads like Cokie Roberts and Donna Brazile, both from here, they say noo AH-wens. That’s not a speech impediment.

As we can see, Texans depended on the kindness of strangers quite a bit in the early days. Then came our chance to repay the debts, when an unwelcomed visitor known as Katrina arrived. The Galveston storm of 1900 was worse (everything’s bigger in Texas), but Katrina laid waste to the city and surrounding areas. (I suspect afterward, insurance adjusters were using glass-bottom boats.) An estimated 250,000 Louisianans fled the storm toward a safer, drier and better place: Texas. Mostly Houston. We greeted them with open doors and the presidential suite: the Astrodome. Okay, it wasn’t exactly the Ritz, but it was better than the Superdome or most of the city. Houstonians brought food, clothes, toys and hope. “You’re doing a heckuva job, Houston.”
Still, many Katrinians thought about their homeland, its style, schools, police and weather—and stayed in Houston. “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them,” said Barbara Bush. However, we got a lot of good chefs and high school football players.

The Census Bureau reported that 343,829 people were living in New Orleans on April 1, 2010, four years and seven months after Katrina. That was 29 percent smaller than a decade before. Actually, New Orleans’ population had been steadily shrinking. In 1990, it was the 24th-largest city in the country, in 2000, the 31st, and now it has dropped from the top 50. Partially because of this surge of Louisianans, after the 2010 census, the Pelican State lost a seat in the U.S. House and Texas gained four.

Back here on Decatur Street at what was once the Texas diplomatic outpost, some Houstonian should buy this place and turn it into a bar and grill called the Texas Embassy. Serve T-bones, Tex-Mex and chicken fried steaks washed down with Lone Star, Shiner Bock and Saint Arnold. Decorate it in Texas tacky. Homesick Texans—here for the weekend—would flock to the place. Just don’t drink with anyone named Oswald.

Ashby is eating boudin at

Nashville: A Music Lover’s Nirvana

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

Guitars, cadillacs and hillbilly music are just the tip of the iceberg in Music City.

by Tom Flynn

Nashville, Tennessee, is a thriving business and entertainment mecca. Home to many giant health-care headquarters, their largest industry, Nashville also excels in finance, publishing, insurance and tourism. Then there’s the music thing. You’ll find musicians playing and trying to make it big, at all hours, in honkytonks throughout the city; you can have live music with breakfast, lunch, dinner and your late night/early morning snack. Music Row, the Wall Street of country music, boasts flashy offices for those who run the money side of the business, and people from the world over flock here to enjoy the mayhem. To keep up with demand, Nashville is building new hotels and just completed a state of the art, 1.2 million–square-foot convention center.

Nashville's very own Broadway Street.

Nashville’s very own Broadway Street.

Founded in 1779, Nashville has a lot of historic tourism. President Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory, lived here until his death in 1845. His adopted son poorly ran the seventh U.S. president’s plantation, Hermitage, and the property was rescued by the Ladies’ Hermitage Association before it was parceled out and its contents were sold. Much of the estate is original, including wallpaper, furniture and out buildings. The President rests next to his wife in the garden.

But the “Queen of Tennessee Plantations” is Belle Meade. Breeding and training thoroughbred racehorses led to big success for the Harding family. Virtually all of today’s Kentucky Derby winners can be linked back to Belle Meade’s breeding program, even though it ceased operation in 1904. During its hay day, presidents, generals and wealthy landowners could be found at the lavish parties thrown at Belle Meade.

The arts have been a big part of Nashville from early on. In 1897, the city built a full-size replica of Greece’s Parthenon to house art displays during the Centennial Exposition, a world’s fair. The Parthenon still stands as the art museum and a 42-foot statue of Athena, sculpted by Alan Lequire, towers among the columns, just as she did in Greece. Alan Lequire Gallery, which features more of his work, is nearby. 

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a 24,000-square-foot restored U.S. Post Office. Rembrandts hang from the walls, and tour guides are entertaining and know their stuff. Designed for breaking down sound waves and maximizing the listening pleasure of classical music, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center is home to the Nashville Symphony. Or for a more casual arts experience, the Fifth Avenue Arts District stays open late once a month for the First Saturday Gallery Crawl.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is an impressive 40,000-square-foot museum now, and will be twice as big in the next few months. Guitars, cowboy suits and gold records mix with stories, music and video of country greats. But The Johnny Cash Museum is the newest attraction in town. We met his brother, sister and niece while we were there.

Nashville’s Visitor Center is ready to help plan your trip. They can arrange visits to local attractions, help book guided tours on Grayline Trollies and recommend family favorites, like their world-class zoo.

A live music performance at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.

A live music performance at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

The Honkytonks along Broadway are almost always rocking. Institutions like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Legends Corner are some of the many little hole-in-the-wall joints that look like they haven’t been renovated since the 1800s. Yet, people pack in for cold beer and live music, without cover charges. The boisterous crowds see more stars in the audience than on stage; those standing on the hardwood are playing for tips—and praying for that big break.

Other venues encourage cheering after songs are played. The music reigns supreme at the Bluebird Café, where they feature songwriters—the guys who dream up the hits. Singer/songwriters are the main attractions at the Listening Room Café; audiences are respectfully quiet while musicians work. Up-and-coming acts can be heard at Douglas Corner, The Station Inn and countless other halls.

Then there are places for guys who’ve actually made it. Kix Brooks, of Brooks and Dunn fame, plays during the harvest at his own winery, Arrington Vineyards. You can go as big as LP Field, where the Tennessee Titans play, and Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators hockey team. But no venue is more cherished than Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Built in 1892 as a church, the building is renowned for its acoustics. It was home of the Grand Ole Opry for many years and stars from Patsy Cline to Elvis Presley graced the stage. If you look at upcoming events, you’ll find Pat Benatar, Bryan Adams, Vince Gill, Boz Scaggs, Dwight Yokum, Gregg Allman and the Black Crowes waiting to revel in the wonder of this venue. Most concerts sell out weeks in advance.

Expect lots of barbecued pork; there is some version on virtually every menu. Music City Flats turns out flat bread pizzas. (You have to try the Elvis, with peanut butter, bananas and chocolate.) The Cabana serves southern favorites, including fried alligator, bison sliders and sweet tea smoked chicken. Arpeggio, in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, starts their meals off with bread and red wine–reduction butter, and it just gets better from there.

The Southern Steak & Oyster Bar is a trendy, sophisticated bar and grill. It’s the gathering spot before Titan’s games; big, high-stacked burgers, interesting brunch, rocking seafood gumbo and fresh oysters are served with live music playing. The Capitol Grill grows its own herbs and veggies, raises the cattle it serves and dishes up the most tender filet known to man. Residing in a beautiful, 100-plus-year-old hotel, the ambiance is incredible.

Experience history, luxury and convenience at The Hermitage Hotel. A Forbes five-star establishment, the 100-year-old hotel has the finest ambiance and service, and its location makes it walking distance to most downtown attractions.

The Nashville Airport Marriott makes catching early flights easy. Located a few miles from the airport, the three-star accommodation ensures you’ll arrive rested and on time.


Aruba: One Happy Island

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

Other-worldly underwater adventures, exhilarating Jeep safaris and world-class spas will put a smile on your face.

by Matthew Abernathy


Views like this from the Radisson Aruba are guaranteed to make you grin!

“Mushy donkey” was what I heard when our concierge thanked my wife and I for the comment we made on the natural beauty of the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino and Spa. I soon learned that the term was really “masha danki,” and means “thank you very much” in Papiamento, the strong native tongue that’s still prevalent amongst the many languages spoken on the island of Aruba. Another two-word term we’d soon become familiar with: “bon bini,” or, “welcome” to the place known by the locals as “One Happy Island.”  

With just a little over 100,000 inhabitants on the island, Aruba boasts more than 90 different nationalities. Although the official language is Papiamento (derived from an eclectic mix of many languages and evolving over many centuries), you’ll find that most Arubans are also fluent in English, Spanish and Dutch. 

Aruba was first inhabited by Indians who came over from South America in small sea vessels more than 400 years ago. The Arawak tribe arrived in about 1000 AD and settled in just a few small villages. Around 1499, the Europeans, led by the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda, arrived. Prior to the Eighty Years War between Spain and Holland, the island had changed hands several times, however, around 1636, the Dutch took possession and, other than a short time during the Napoleonic Wars when the English briefly took over, have remained the strongest influence.

Under the Sea

My wife and I began our adventures in Aruba with breakfast on the beach at The Ritz-Carlton Aruba, where we were pampered with local fare, including The Cake, a beautifully packaged and ridiculously decadent chocolate cake made with Grand Marnier. (It makes for a great souvenir for loved ones, since it freezes so well.) 

After our bellies were full, we headed to our next stop, De Palm Island. The private tropical paradise is perfect for a relaxing day of sunbathing or for thrill-seekers, thanks to the spectacular new water park. 

The waters surrounding the island are teeming with abundant aquatic life, including blue parrotfish, making an underwater adventure a no-brainer. We sprung for the all-inclusive package, including Sea Trek, which brings a group 20 feet below sea level in zero gravity; all you have to do is put on an underwater helmet that feels weightless under the ocean’s surface. My wife and I were able to feed the several species of fish, as well as take numerous photos along the 375-foot-long path of man-made reefs and also of our underwater “dining” experience at the Sea Trek Café. 

Another underwater option: snorkeling. We didn’t have much experience with the sport, so we opted for SNUBA, an underwater breathing system that combines snorkeling and scuba. With a system that enabled us to dive down 20 feet with only our swim fins, masks and breathing apparatus, the SNUBA system delivers air through a long hose from tanks that lie on the surface of the ocean in pontoon rafts. 

But if you’re a scuba diver with ample experience, Aruba’s entire southern coast, a coral reef known as the wreck-diving capital of the Caribbean, boasts more than 20 dive sites and 10 diver-friendly wreck sites, such as numerous planes, boats, ships and historic vessels like the Antilla and the Perdenales. Shore dives are also possible off De Palm Island, Pos Chiquito and Baby Beach.  

Want more water? Head to Hadicurari Beach to experience SEABOB, a type of water scooter originally designed for Navy Seals. You’ll get to see stunning underwater wildlife, such as colorful fish, sea turtles and coral. Also available: windsurfing and kitesurfing.

Eat and Drink Beer

For a much needed midday “break in the action,” we stopped at a local eatery, Zeerovers, located in the small town of Savaneta, where visitors and locals alike watch the restaurant owners prepare freshly caught fish. It’s truly a dining experience witnessing the catch, processing and cooking methods that all come together right before your eyes. 

Another delight after a day out in the heat of the Aruban sun was my first experience with the national beer, Balashi, a clean, crisp-tasting afternoon libation that is sure to please. In only 15 years of existence, Balashi has already achieved international recognition, winning the Gold medal in 2001 and the Grand Gold medal in 2004 in the Monde Selection in Brussels. You can even take a Balashi Brewery Tour, offered daily on a catwalk over the production floor of their modern plant where they are capable of bottling 15,000 bottles per hour, making them one of Aruba’s best home-grown products. We ended our busy day with a gentle sunset cruise aboard a Red Sail Sports catamaran.

Conchi, the natural pool at Dos Playa.

Conchi, the natural pool at Dos Playa.

Nature Calls

The following morning, we awoke to the sounds of the Radisson’s macaws and other tropical birds. Be sure to check out the bird show every day at 11 a.m. near the towel hut, where you get to personally meet the “Bird Man” and some of his numerous tropical birds. 

After our morning bird “greetings,” we decided to take a trip to the Arikok National Park, where our hosts, ABC Tours, guided our party on a Jeep safari that I will not soon forget. Not for the faint of heart, this adventure is sure to rattle even the most adventurous traveler. Make sure to buckle up and keep your hands inside the Jeep; this exhilarating ride through some of the most historic sites of the natural preserve covers almost one-fifth of Aruba’s surface area. The park contains three geological formations that support the indigenous plants and wildlife. The original settlers, the Caquetio Indians, left their mark on the numerous granite rocks—you can find original drawings that date back at least 1,000 years.

The park also encompasses Mount Jamanota, Aruba’s highest point, reaching 620 feet, where you can find underground Indian caves, sand dunes and limestone cliffs scattered along the coast.  Because of the strong undertow and crashing waves, swimming is not recommended on the windward side, but the beaches are amazing and the natural bridges formed more than a million years ago are another must-see while visiting Aruba.  

At Dos Playa—essentially, as the name implies, two coves carved out of limestone— my wife and I were able to experience something for the first time in our lives: Conchi, the Natural Pool, a tranquil setting with waves breaking on the rock formations behind you, allowing you to swim through the calm, crystal-clear waters.

Before the tour ended, we traveled to an area called Ayo, where the rock formations are of a very mysterious origin. We also explored the Casibari Rock Formation, a large desert rock garden in the center of the island that conjures up many myths as to how these formations came into being.

A bumpy, yet unforgettable jeep tour down the coast.

A bumpy, yet unforgettable jeep tour down the coast.

The Life of the Party

As nighttime arrived, our group decided to stop by a favorite cocktail-hour lounge, Blue, at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, where we shared a few cocktails on the balcony patio overlooking the ocean. The stop at Blue helped all of us to recover from our Jeep safari and to regain our composure prior to our dinner at Carpe Diem and our night out on the town with the Kukoo Kunuku Pub Krawl bus tour, which put us right back into the same predicament we experienced on the Jeep tour: a little shaken up and feeling good but with a slight headache to follow. Not ones to usually partake in the bar-hopping scene, my wife and I found ourselves singing along to the latest dance music until the early-morning hours.

Island R&R

The next day started with a much-needed trip to the Radisson’s The Larimar Spa, named after a rare Caribbean gemstone, and truly a great find. The 13,000-square-foot flagship facility features a welcoming lobby, treatment rooms, a steam room, an outdoor relaxation area and a large fitness center. The staff pampers you with care and expertise and makes you feel like you are the only client of the entire day—we loved it!

Most of the other resorts we visited have their own spas on property, offering everything from aromatherapy baths and refreshing facials to invigorating mud wraps and hot stone massages. Many treatments feature local aloe and cactus, plant extracts, desert mud sea salts and other indigenous restorative substances. Spa venues include luxurious treatment rooms and airy private gazebos. We loved Spa del Sol, located at the Playa Linda Beach Resort, overlooking the beach. They also have a location at the Caribbean-Balinese beachfront facility at the Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa. 

Whether it’s cultural pursuits, water sports, nightlife, or just comforting relaxation you’re looking for, Aruba is the place to go. It won’t take long before you understand the meaning of “One Happy Island.” Just don’t be shocked when one of the friendly locals finishes a conversation with the term “dushi.” It’s a term of endearment that affectionately means sweetie or honey. Masha danki, Aruba—you are now my dushi of the Caribbean!


Photos courtesy of the Aruba Tourism Authority. 

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