February 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby 23 Feb. 2015  — No, this one is in deep East Texas, a pleasant little town and the Gateway to Alto. But don’t tell anyone I’m here, especially the Texas Legislature. Let’s start at the beginning. Remember the Alamo? That is a question, not a battle cry. The old mission will soon be the One World Government HQ or maybe a branch of the Trilateral Commission. This is the fear of a prominent and thoughtful Texas elected leader, Sen. Donna Campbell, Republican of New Braunfels, whom I had never heard of before. She is afraid that the Alamo will fall under United Nations command and control so the ramparts will be watched o’re by blue berets. The Alamo and other San Antonio missions have been nominated as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. An international panel will vote on the nomination in June. Inclusion on the list may allow a country to receive financial assistance to support its preservation activities. The host would remain property of the country, or in this case, the people of Texas. Getting on this list is really flattering in that our missions would join the Taj Mahal, the Acropolis, the Kremlin and Red Square, Chartres Cathedral and the pyramids among other world-renowned places and structures. There are currently 22 sites in the U.S. that are on the World Heritage list, including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon. We can only wonder why our boys didn’t make the cut earlier. Some might think this is a great recognition for the Lone Star State, but Sen. Campbell saw through this takeover. She filed Senate Bill 191 to ban foreign entities from owning, controlling or managing the historical landmark. Campbell explained she wrote the bill as an extra measure to ensure the security of the Alamo’s ownership. “The Alamo is the story of Texas,” the lawmaker said. “It should always be maintained and cared for by Texas.” Campbell said she is not opposed to the Alamo being designated as a World Heritage Site, but – and here is the unarguable reason — “UNESCO starts with U.N.” I, for one, side with the lady from New Braunfels (which, by the way, is a name containing UN). This is transparent way for those One Worlders, no doubt in cahoots with Henry Kissinger and the International House of Pancakes, to get their paws on Texas’ version of Lourdes. Oh sure, they sweetened the pot by saying, “Inclusion on the list may allow a country to receive financial assistance to support its preservation activities.” A conservative like Ms. Campbell, who is also a member of the tea party, should welcome some of that UN money coming to Texas, but she can’t be bribed. Want more ammunition, the ghosts of Crockett, Travis and Bowie? Campbell said ominously, “If anybody is disturbed by my bill then I would have to wonder if there’s something that they know that I don’t know that puts the Alamo at risk.” Exactly! What do they know that they are not telling us? What secret meetings, handshakes and hidden codes is UNESCO using to grab our mission? Some lefties might say this alarm smacks of paranoia. I call it a healthy skepticism of every person, pyramid and large canyon. Wait. Are those black helicopters? The honorable senator from the German-speaking town of New Braunfels is correct in saying, “It should always be maintained and cared for by Texas.” But as any Texan knows, for more than a century the Alamo was maintained and cared for by the Spanish and then more years by the Mexicans. Indeed, when the Texians (as they called themselves then) commandeered the complex in 1836 the Mexican Army got a tad mad and spent 13 days taking it back. Since then the complex has been maintained and sometimes cared for by the city of San Antonio, the Catholic Church, the U.S. Army and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Today it is the charge of the General Land Office. But who exactly is this General Land Office? General of what army? The Spanish? Maybe the Mexican Army re-re-took the Alamo one night and didn’t tell anyone. If you saw the movie, “Viva Max,” you’ll know. The next time you are in San Antonio, see if anybody there speaks Spanish. . Again, I support Sen. Campbell in her crusade, and only wish she would continue to root out takeovers of our beloved land. For example, we know hundreds of thousands of people from out of state have moved here. Have they seized control of our towns and renamed them for places back home like Detroit, Cleveland, Colorado City and Denver City? How really Texan are the residents of Klondike, Nevada, Memphis and Miami? It might be even worse. Has UNESCO turned our wonderful towns into one big Security Council? Oh, ye citizens of Athens, Canadian, China and Egypt, do your students still recite the Texas Pledge of Allegiance? In what language, and do they keep their fingers crossed when saying it? Sen. Campbell, call out the Texas Rangers, or are they, too, now wearing blue berets? Go to Ireland and to Italy, Turkey, London, New London, Paris, and never leave Texas. The UN doesn’t need to visit the Middle East to check on the Palestinian situation. Try Anderson County. Have all these places been taken over by an international conspiracy? It may already be too late for Santa Anna, Tennessee Colony, and Alamo. This last one is most suspicious, because there is also Los Alamos. Ring an atomic bell? And it’s in the UNited States. Sen. Campbell, here is a list of obvious codenames. We must have them broken immediately: Frognot, Bigfoot, Hogeye, Cactus, Notrees, Veribest, Kickapoo, Gun Barrel City, Hoop And Holler, Ding Dong and Dime Box. I shall join Sen. Campbell in her pursuit to keep foreigners from taking over Texas. Just don’t tell her I’m in Moscow. Ashby conspires at ashby2@comcast.net

Star Wars at Jones Hall

February 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Entertainment, Events, Live Music

Music of legendary film composer John Williams to be featured in Star Wars and More
Pasadena-area high school marching band to make its debut with the Houston Symphony 


HOUSTON (February 19, 2015) – Houston Symphony Associate Conductor Robert Franz  leads the Houston Symphony in Star Wars and More, a family concert that will take audiences through the intergalactic music of the Star Wars film series, composed by five-time Academy-Award winner John Williams.

Williams’ striking orchestral compositions for this film are among the most recognizable in the film music history, from the recurring musical theme “Imperial March” that first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back film, to “Battle of the Heroes” fromRevenge of the Sith.

The family concert – which will take place on Saturday, March 6 – also features Tchaikovsky’s epic 1812 Overture and “Appian Way” from Respighi’s Pines of Rome. Franz and the Houston Symphony will share the stage with members of the Dobie High School Marching Band in their Houston Symphony debut.

The Family Concert Experience
The family concert experience includes lobby activities including the Instrument Petting Zoo, arts and crafts, and young musician performances. The 50-minute concerts are held on Saturday mornings with two start times, 10am and 11:30am.  Lobby activities take place prior to the 10am performance and immediately following the 11:30am performance.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit houstonsymphony.org or call the Houston Symphony Patron Services Center at (713) 224-7575, MondaySaturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Star Wars and More
Saturday, March 7, 2015, 10:00am and 11:30am
Robert Franz, conductor
Dobie High School Marching Band
Tickets from $19

Jones Hall
615 Louisiana St.
Houston, TX 77002

About Robert Franz
As Associate Conductor of the Houston Symphony and Music Director of the Boise Philharmonic, Windsor Symphony Orchestra and the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Robert Franz is acclaimed by critics and composers.In increasing demand as a guest conductor, Robert debuted with the Phoenix Symphony, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra and the Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina last season.

In Houston, he leads the Symphony in educational and family concerts. His work with students has led to a continuing relationship with Radio Disney. Last season, Robert conducted the orchestra’s 100th anniversary concert; led a family series concert with the Houston Grand Opera, Theater Under the Stars and the Alley Theatre; partnered in a concert for the Anti-Defamation League; and was on the podium for a side-by-side performance of Tchaikovsky’s 6th with the Houston Youth Symphony totaling 150 musicians.

ASCAP has recognized Robert for his advocacy in arts education. Under his direction, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (2008) and the Louisville Orchestra (2001) were awarded the Leonard Bernstein Award for Educational Programming. He has addressed the Idaho Legislature on the importance of music in education and authored his first children’s book with a CD, Stella’s Magical Musical Tour of America. He received a master’s degree in conducting and a bachelor’s degree in oboe performance from the North Carolina School of the Arts.

About Houston Symphony
During the 2014-15 season, the Houston Symphony enters its second century as one of America’s leading orchestras with a full complement of concert, community, education, touring and recording activities. This season also marks the inaugural year for new Music Director Andrés Orozco- Estrada. The Houston Symphony is one of the oldest performing arts organizations in Texas whose inaugural performance was held at The Majestic Theater in downtown Houston on June 21, 1913. Today, with an annual operating budget of $29 million, the full-time ensemble of 87 professional musicians is the largest performing arts organization in Houston, presenting more than 286 performances for 300,000 people, including 82,000 children, annually. For tickets and more information, please visit www.houstonsymphony.org or call (713) 224-7575.


February 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE DEN – Let’s see what’s on TV this Sunday morning. Yes, the talking heads, waxing wisely on various subjects. but mostly politics, since that’s all they know. Some are knowledgeable and erudite, but nothing like William Buckley and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Others are blowhards who make their point by shouting the loudest, and when two or more are talking at the same time I change channels. Don’t you? The job pays well – those guest TV appearances are mostly free, but the spinoffs are fantastic. There are the same speeches to universities and trade conferences which pay quite well, books and columns in like-minded newspapers and magazines. The late Art Buchwald told me he made more on speeches than he did on his columns.

Well, Mr. or Mrs. Occupant, you, too, can be a pundit and make big bucks. First, start working on someone’s political campaign no matter how lowly. That way you can say later, “As I advised a certain candidate…” Don’t mention you advised that Domino’s is faster delivery than Papa John’s. Steal from the best. Watch the working pundits who manage to worm their way on all the shows. What do they wear? Mostly the garb of a funeral director dressed by a nun. Showy clothes are shallow. Write down killer lines: “You have a point, but…” “As anyone can see…” (No fellow pundit wants to object to the obvious, whether it is or not).

Trot out obscure facts that everyone else is afraid to correct. “In the 1878 presidential election in Calico County, Nevada, the No Nothing candidate etc.” One exception: If Karl Rove is on the panel, don’t do it. Rove knows the outcome of every election ever held in America and will point out that Calico County is a restaurant chain. Next, write a book about politics. Don’t worry that it is crammed with errors, plagiarisms and meaningless drivel that no publisher would touch, and you have to self-publish, but now you can drop in: “As I wrote in my book about that ….” No one has read it, so who can object?

In all your efforts, take a hard political stand. It does not matter if you are a left-wing bomb-throwing nut case or a right-wing mouth-breathing birther. These days no one wants some namby-pamby intelligent expert who can see both sides of a question. As former Texas Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower said, “The only things in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” If this hard line makes you predictable, no problem. Charles Krauthammer is the most predictable anti-Obama pundit in America, but you can’t keep him off the TV. Some may argue: why bother watching him? Because, if you are of his political persuasion, he tells you what you want to hear. Pat Buchanan shouts. (Where’s the remote?) James Carville has a sense of humor, in contrast to most of his fellow panelists who show little wit, humor or irony. These panels ain’t exactly the Algonquin Round Table. One of the few bright spots on TV discussion is on Friday nights on PBS NewsHour when David Brooks, a conservative Republican, and Mark Shields, a liberal Democrat, face off with a very learned and productive debate. (Note they never call it Brooks-Shields.)

Incidentally, some say the title “pundit” comes from the Hindi word pandit meaning a learned person. Others say pundit comes from the Navaho: “A pompous gas bag who sits around the campfire full of both last night’s deer chili and self-importance.” Getting back to advice on punditry, don’t humiliate or point out the show has booked a lying idiot. You want to be asked back. The idea is to make your case while sounding knowledgeable and – most importantly – with inside sources. “I know more than you do.” So toss into the TV talk: “My sources in the intelligence community say…” “I just talked with a top White House official who told me …” Again, no one can really dispute your statements; they can only look on in jealousy. Once you start hitting the Sunday morning talk shows, move to Washington and stay within the Beltway, but still make statements like: “The American people today feel that…” Or: “The national fatigue over…” You can fly to another city, make a speech and get back to DC that night, and you wouldn’t know the American people or the national mood if they bit you on your honorarium.

Don’t make predictions. When asked, hedge. Just look at the 2012 presidential elections. The conservative pundits picked Mitt Romney and the progressives picked Barack Obama. On the right: Dick Morris: “Opinion: Here comes the landslide. There are many reasons that Obama will lose — by a lot — on Tuesday.” Karl Rove: “Mitt Romney will be declared America’s 45th president…with Mr. Romney carrying at least 279 Electoral College votes, probably more.” Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner: “Going out on a limb: Romney beats Obama, handily.” George Will: “Romney by a landslide. Electoral College, 321–217.” Newt Gingrich also predicted an easy Romney victory. Obama trounced Romney by 5 million popular votes and the Electoral College was even more lopsided: 332-206. After the election Sean Hannity, who had assured his followers that Romney would win in a romp, lost half of his disillusioned audience.

Across the aisle, the winners crowed. Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money predicted that Obama would win. Charles Gibson, former ABC World News anchor: “But folks, Barack Obama’s gonna win.” David Gergen got it right, as did Paul Begala. But it’s still iffy to predict. No matter how badly you missed the outcome, do not appear on the next Sunday morning studio set with egg on your face. Pontificate: “Well, it’s obvious that the female vote went….” “As I said, Southern white voters clearly….” Now hit the yellow brick panel. Remember, you don’t need a clue as to what you are talking about, just sound assured, and if all else fails, shout, preferably in Navaho..

Ashby opines at ashby2@comcaas.net

Valentine’s Day

February 11, 2015 by  
Filed under Holiday

If you’re looking to make plans this Valentine’s Day we have a few suggestions for you to start with!

Painted finger smiley, valentine's day theme

Eventbrite has pages and pages of events that you can get tickets to (some are free!) for Valentine’s Day in Houston.  There are things for singles and couples!
Website: https://www.eventbrite.com/d/tx–houston/valentines-day-ideas/

The Official Visitors Site for Houston has some great ideas too!

For Couple:
For the Adventurous type:

The extreme sport of soaring uses sailplanes for motor-less flight so people can experience the feeling glide through the air. Located just east of Wallis, Texas, the Greater Houston Soaring Association offers gliding every weekend, weather permitting.  Today’s sailplanes can fly for hours and cover great distances.
Go Fish!
The experts at Galveston Fishing Guides have been casting lines in the waters of Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico for years. They know the hotspots for everything from redfish and trout to giant tarpon and sharks. Available for half day, full day and evening trips. While you’re down in Galveston check out Gaidos, a landmark for fantastic seafood, or Gumbo’s for Louisiana-style poboys.

Wave Action

Want to test your wakeboarding skills? You don’t have to hit the open water for a thrilling experience, just head south of Houston to Wake Nation. Set on a man-made lake, this attraction boasts 35-foot steel towers carrying a unique overhead cable system that allows riders to wakeboard, water skate, water ski, and kneeboard without a boat. Novices can start out on a practice pond while the pros take to the lake outfitted with custom-built jumps, grind rails, and sliders.

Fast Fall
Located on a 134-acre airpark 25 minutes south of the 610 Loop,Skydive Spaceland offers classes, tandem and individual skydiving experiences with some of the best instructors in the industry. Do a first-time jump with a tandem instructor or spend a week in training and get your skydiving license. Skydive Spaceland is open seven days a week and can handle as many as 300 first-time jumpers each day. The facility also welcomes large groups.

Ready, Aim, Fire
Whether you’re an expert marksman or a novice, shooting sporting clays is a great time. A game designed to simulate wing shooting of various game birds, sporting clays is set up a lot like golf, with various stations around a course where clay targets are thrown in pairs. This is just one of the activities available at American Shooting Centers in West Houston’s George Bush Park, which also offers skeet shooting and rifle and pistol bulls-eye shooting.

Paint Wars

Ever want to see who would fare better in a combat situation, you or your buddies? Well whether you’re a paintball pro or a complete novice, you’ll get a full-throttle experience at Urban Warzone–and figure out who can really hack it in war. As you navigate the field and the various bunkers, you’ll get that adrenaline rush you crave.

Rock the Cradle
If you dream of riding bowls, grinding rails, or cutting and sweeping through the largest cradle in the world, don’t miss the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark. Designed by the premiere skatepark firm Gridline, this state-of-the-art, public 30,000 square-foot in-ground skate park is the first world-class, in-ground skatepark in the Houston region. If bigger is better, head north to Spring and conquer the United States largest free skate park,Greenspoint Spring Skatepark. At 72,000 square-feet, the park includes a competition-scale Texas bowl featuring a full pipe, a 12-foot vertical ramp, a 10-foot bowl, banked walls and speed hips. In addition, there is a section designed to emulate the street-skating experience and will have ledges, rails, benches, banks, quarter pipes and stair obstacles.

Climb High
With 42 top rope stations and a dedicated bouldering area, Texas Rock Gym draws climbing enthusiasts from across the region to its West Houston facility. Texas Rock Gym offers a wide assortment of classes and clinics for climbers as well as team building activities and organized programs for schools, companies and other groups. Visitors can access Texas Rock Gym on a day pass or an ongoing membership. A series of packages and add-on extras such as shoe rental are also available.

Play with the Ponies
For a little open air fun on horseback, head north to Humble’s Cypress Trails stables. This established equestrian center is open seven days a week for endurance and pleasure riding and offers rides by the hour or for longer periods and also provides lessons in general horsemanship and competitive riding.

For the Romantic in you:

Picnic in the Park: (Feb. 13) – Take a stroll in Hermann Park and enjoy live music, a catered three-course picnic and even a pedal boat ride. Tickets are limited and reservations are needed.

Dining by Candlelight: Love means never having to say “I’m hungry.” At least that’s the takeaway from the many Houston restaurants offering mouth-watering menus for Valentine’s Day this year. Whether it’s seafood you’re craving or steak, Italian or Mexican, there’s something for every couple’s taste on the table

For the Big Spender:

Fly high-helicopter ride: See the city like you’ve never seen it before with Helicopter Services Inc.

Wine before dine: Skip the trip to Napa and head for the hills-Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail offers oenophiles spectacular views and award-winning wines not far from the heart of Houston. Located between I-45 and U.S. Highway 290, visitors will find seven wineries spread out over the state’s beautiful landscape.

Award winning restaurants: The best of the best- But don’t take our word for it. Houston’s restaurants are consistently being recognized by Bon Appetit and beyond. Read on for some of the city’s most-loved spots.

Haute hotels in the city: Houston’s spoiled when it comes to stylish hotels–from modern properties with a hopping social scene to the innovative and eco-friendly. Read on for the scoop on those with a fresh new look and even more that we have to look forward to.


The Beloved on a Budget:

Things to do: Spend your day exploring Houston’s hotspots, while saving big with a well-edited list of the city’s most-loved free things to do. Fortunately, for locals and visitors alike, several of Houston’s most memorable attractions won’t break the bank, in fact they won’t even cost a dime.

Cheap Eats: Meals that won’t break the bank. No matter what you’re craving, there are plenty of affordable options to choose from in Houston. Check out these wallet-friendly stand outs in a neighborhood near you.

For the Singles:

Take a cooking class: Dinner for one? Make it a delicious one. Be a star in the kitchen and learn the secrets to preparing fabulous dishes from some of Houston’s culinary masters.

Athena Golf Club & American Shooting Centers: Grab your single friends and set your sights on something other than Valentine’s Day. While Cupid’s busy taking aim at hearts, you and your friends can take aim at a bullseye.

Spa Day: Rest, relax and rejuvenate this Valentine’s Day at one of the city’s many top-notch salons and spas. From blow-dry bars and hotel retreats to nail spas and make-up salons, Houston is chock-full of beautifying escapes and stress-relieving sanctuaries. Want to know where to go to unwind? The possibilities are endless so sit back, relax and just say spaaaah…

Your missing link: Mixers & Elixers (Feb. 13) – Mingle with other smart hearts while enjoying music and drinks at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Who knows, you might just find your missing link.

For the Family:

Kid Friendly restaurants: With more than 8,000 restaurants to choose from in the Houston area, it can be daunting trying to find a spot that’s kid tested and parent approved. While plenty of well-known, national chains dot the city’s landscape-Chili’s, Rainforest Café and iHop, among others-there are just as many uniquely-Houston options that are certain to please. Check out the local spots that score big in H-Town.

Kids incorporated: There are endless attractions that appeal to adults and children alike. From boat tours on Buffalo Bayou to one of the top children’s museums in the U.S., Houston offers endless attractions that appeal to adults and children alike. Plan a visit and treat your family to one of the city’s fun-filled, action-packed adventures that are as entertaining as they are educational.


Chocolate? Flowers? Romance?!? Yuck. If you’re not a fan of the traditional trappings of datings, try one of these ideas. The city is jam-packed with unique, must-see sites and experiences to enjoy. Think you’ve got Houston figured out? Think again. Spend your Valentine’s Day off the beaten path.

Love Sux Party: The theme speaks for itself. Head to Howl at the Moon with a picture of your ex-boyfriend (in pieces) and admission is free.  Singletons and couples alike are welcome to join in for great Anti-Valentines drink specials and Love Sux games with $500 in cash and prizes for the taking!

Food trucks: No reservations necessary at these laid back food joints. From cupcakes to chicken and waffles, crepes to pocket pies, just about anything your taste buds desire is being served on wheels, and without the uncomfortable trappings of relationship defining Valentine’s Day dinners.

Bowling: Group dates take the pressure off the “love stuff”. So gather a league of friends for an upscale approach to bowling with large, flat-screen TVs, a VIP cocktail lounge, premium stereo system and a well-heeled catering menu.


February 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby


THE FRONT DOOR – “Hi, I’m Leon, here to fix your garbage disposal. I was told some idiot put a beer can down it.” Leon comes in with his tool chest, then puts on big socks over his shoes. He has a name badge on his pocket, first name sewn into his shirt, plastic clip on his belt showing his plumber’s license, and his truck out front sports all sorts of official-looking numbers and letters on the sides. Have you noticed that people we deal with these days are different? Everyone is tightly licensed and regulated.

Maybe we are too regulated. Then again, when you’re waiting in your neurosurgeon’s office, don’t you take a sneak peek at his license on the wall? Of course you do, that’s why he hung it there. If the license is written in English or Latin, OK. In Swahili, get a second opinion. In Texas we even have a state agency that regulates the regulators: The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Like most governmental programs, the TDLR started out small and grew. It began in 1909 as the Bureau of Labor. Today its 180 employees with a budget of more than $5.4 million oversee other regulatory agencies that keep an eye on auctioneers, manufactured housing, professional boxing and wrestling, tow trucks, vehicle storage facilities, industrialized housing and buildings, electricians and boilers, including those used in nuclear plants. Hopefully they specialize. I don’t want boxing referees checking out a glowing nuke reactor.

Air conditioning contractors, private personnel agencies, career counseling and talent agencies are also under the agency’s regulations. It even includes – hang on — supervision of the elimination of architectural barriers to handicapped persons. All told there are 34 professions handled by this state agency. Did I mention used automotive parts recyclers, dog and cat breeders (dogs must be walked daily) and water well drillers? Next time you take a polygraph test, ask to see the operator’s license, then ask her a few questions and notice if the needle jerks. According to the Handbook of Texas, during the old days, prostitutes were not exactly licensed, just were expected to work within vice districts. Waco, El Paso, Dallas, and Houston experimented with legal vice zones. Waco enacted ordinances by1889 that not only provided for licensing of prostitutes and bawdy houses and required medical examinations, but also explicitly legalized prostitution within a precisely defined district. Today the world’s oldest profession is nonexistent in Texas, according to vice officers and most husbands.

Doctors have regulated themselves in Texas, ever since the Congress of the Republic of Texas founded the Board of Medical Censors to weed out the quacks. At least one doctor has been found unworthy to practice medicine in every decade since. That first board was scheduled to meet once each year, but difficulty of transportation over long distances and Indian attacks frequently prevented annual meetings. Lawyers are regulated by the State Bar of Texas, but the board doesn’t meet often because, its members said, of the difficulty of transportation over long distances and Indian attacks. Speaking of bars, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (known and feared by Texas college students as the TABC) issues 51 different liquor permits, and another 20 for beer. Barbers, beauticians and cosmetologists are heavily regulated and licensed. Remember that in the old days barbers pulled teeth and performed appendectomies and amputations. That’s why a barber’s pole is red and white. But even today be careful of a barbershop which advertises, “Trims and Limbs.”

All of this Big Brother oversight might be considered overkill, especially if you are, say, an electrician with singed hair or a life guard wearing an inner tube. But I’ll bet most of these regulations and licenses were the result of some really bad screw-ups. So we lock the barn door after the horse is stolen, abused or gave a lousy haircut. There are abuses in over-regulating, but those who complain are probably the violators. I, personally, don’t like bugs in my soup kitchen soup or semi-literate teachers in our classrooms. Bugs in the classrooms are another matter.

Chances are your professional pursuit is somehow licensed or regulated. A recent story in The New York Times reported a study commissioned by the Brookings Institution found that almost three out of 10 workers in the U.S. need a license from state governments to do their jobs, up from one in 20 in the 1950s. The study estimated professional licensing by state governments ultimately reduces employment by up to 2.8 million jobs. States have their own rules for licensing. Locksmiths must be licensed in only 13 states, upholsterers, dental assistants in seven and shampooers in only five. Iowa requires 490 days of education and training to become a licensed cosmetologist; New York requires 233. An athletic trainer must put in 1,460 days of training to get a license in Michigan, but an emergency medical technician needs only 26. It depends on how powerful the lobby is for those who already have a job and don’t want competition. Workers in licensed occupations can make up to 15 percent more than unlicensed workers with similar skills.

Actually it’s hard to find someone with a job who is not registered, licensed or branded.   Even 007 has to show his license to kill. Poets have poetic license. Journalists are not licensed, although some should be walked daily. Can you imagine our legislature appointing a panel of commissioners to license the media, deciding who can and cannot twist the truth? Or maybe, like most state agencies, our governor would appoint its members. Under former Gov. Rick Perry’s appointees, our state’s licensed journalists would consist of Aggies who tweet while driving over pregnant teenagers. OK, that’s a bit harsh. They’d send e-mails.

Here comes Leon, badges and all. “Fixed your garbage disposal. Like I said, some idiot tossed a beer can in it.” I nod sheepishly. Leon pulls out a clipboard. “Did you have a permit for that?”

Ashby is unlicensed at ashby2@comcaat.net










Green Eggs and Kale – Eat for a cause

February 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Dining, Foodie Events

Liberty Kitchen

Green Eggs and Kale from Liberty Kitchen


Kale, the super food, is all the rage.

Now you can enjoy kale for a cause. A great local promotion, Green Valentine celebrates artists, restaurants, nonprofits and businesses that are helping Houstonians live healthier lives.

Eleven restaurants from across the city are running Green Eggs &Kale dishes on their menus, with 20-percent of proceeds going to benefit local food organization Urban Harvest. They include all of the Creek Group restaurants (Onion, Dry, Cedar, Canyon and Lowbrow), Main Kitchen at the JW Marriott, Pondicheri, Sparrow, Canopy, Cottonwood and Liberty Kitchen on Studewood. 

“I’ve been growing kale for years,” says Jeff Shell of greenvalentine.org. It made perfect sense to combine eggs with this super food. At a preview event, we saw some of the available dishes from Lowbrow, Onion Creek, Canopy, Sparrow and Liberty Kitchen.

So go out at eat! This promotion runs through February 15th.

Main Kitchen at JW Marriott

Green Eggs and Kale from Main Kitchen at the JW Marriott


Pay-What-You-Want screening of David Cross’ directorial debut HITS

February 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Entertainment, Events

One night only special Pay-What-You-Want screening of

David Cross’ directorial debut HITS in Houston at Sundance Cinemas February 12, 2015

WHAT:  David Cross’ new dark comedy HITS to play for one night only in special Pay-What-You-Want screening with special guest native Houstonian, Academy Award® winning and HITS producer Ryan Brooks. HITS is a dark comedy exploring the nature of fame in 21st Century YouTube America. The film takes place in a small town in upstate New York populated by people who trade in unrealistic expectations. It’s a story in which fame, delusion, earnestness, and recklessness meet, shake hands, and disrupt the lives around them. Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnG9w9nDST0

WHO:   Written and directed by David Cross, the film stars Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh, James Adomian, Jake Cherry, Derek Waters and Wyatt Cenac along with Julia Stiles, David Koechner, Jessie Ennis, Amy Sedaris, Erinn Hayes, Michael Cera, Amy Carlson, Jason Ritter, and Kurt Braunohler.

WHEN:  Thursday, February 12, 7:30PM – Pay-What-You-Want Screening

Friday, February 13-19 – One week theatrical run

WHERE:  Sundance Cinemas, 510 Texas Ave, Houston, TX  77002, 713-223-3456, www.sundancecinemas.com

WHY:  The first feature film to be released on BitTorrent with special event pay-what-you-want screenings in over 50 markets. The film opens in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Madison and Seattle on February 13 and will be available via BitTorrent as a Pay-What-You-Want release. The first film to collapse all windows and ask audiences to PAY-WHAT-THEY-WANT. Also, simultaneously releasing on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and others.

PRICE:        Pay-What-You-Want




Get to the Country!

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

spaTravaasa Austin is more than your typical luxury resort, with trendy eats, a world-class spa and activities to keep you busy in the quiet. Oh, and did we mention the infinity pool just 2.5 hours away?

by Nicholas Nguyen

As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, I love heading to the capital for quick weekend trips throughout the year. Once I visit familiar haunts that hold fond memories, I’m always on the lookout for new things to try. Usually, that means food, outdoor activities and simply hanging out, enjoying the sights with good company.

So when Jen and Angela, a couple of old college friends, recommended I check out Travaasa Austin, an acclaimed resort set in the backdrop of the gorgeous Balcones Canyonlands of Texas Hill Country, I was a little bit hesitant. I wasn’t exactly the type to go to resorts—they certainly seemed relaxing, but what about food and adventure? Despite my misgivings, my friends convinced me that the Travaasa experience was more than it seemed.

After the easy drive on I-10 to TX 71, a scenic route around the bends and hills of Lake Travis put me in the mood to arrive at the luxurious resort in the late afternoon, nestled among trees, hills and trails. The helpful and friendly staff expanded on what my friends had told me, exceeding my expectations with a meticulous schedule of events and activities offered both onsite and nearby.

The rooms are designed in an upscale cabin-style, grouped across seven lodges that wind around the property and its amenities. I highly recommend snagging a Canyon Room to get a balcony with an unforgettable view of the lush hill country. Settling in was a breeze, with snacks, local coffee and tea waiting in the room. The bathroom was earthy in tone and quite large, a welcome change from city hotels. With a dinner reservation at The Preserve (formally Jean’s Kitchen), I relaxed on the balcony with the reading material from check-in.

404_Dining_Culinary_Demo_300dpiFIT FOR A FOODIE

The Preserve is open to the public, so, even if you aren’t staying at the resort, make a reservation for a great dining experience. I was lucky enough to snag a spot at the chef’s table and watch the charismatic executive chef, Benjamin Baker, and his sous chefs work. The ingredients are locally produced and organic, and the menu changes seasonally, fusing Spanish, Asian and American flavors. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available.

For dinner the first night, I savored an heirloom tomato tart as an appetizer along with a shot of tomato gazpacho (compliments of the chef) that was incredibly refreshing. My partner started with soft-shelled crab that was cooked to perfection. Beginning at such a high note, the meal progressed into a crescendo of flavors and kudos to the chef. I had seared tuna with roasted veggies and a beet puree, the latter being one of my favorite things of the night. I also had a bite of my partner’s flavorful chicken in an achiote-orange reduction that was served with polenta and grilled green beans.

Dinner’s not complete without cocktails and dessert, though! I ordered a cucumber gimlet that was light and citrusy with a burst of lime. For spicy food lovers, try the Texas Heat, made of rum and lime juice infused with jalapeños. Somehow we still had room for dessert—an apple tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and a classic molten chocolate cake.

While the breakfast menu is generally smaller than the dinner menu, the options pack a punch and are a great way to kick-start your morning before you embark on the activities at Travaasa. The kale smoothie with notes of ginger woke me up, and I enjoyed the steel-cut oats served with fresh berries. The polenta French toast was a surprising twist on a classic brunch item.

If available, the Tex-Mex options rule the lunch menu. My friend Angela suggested the fish tacos as a light meal, but I was unable to resist the tamales with braised pork shoulder. 

305_Activities_Zip_Line_300dpiADVENTURE AWAITS

When booking your stay, you can opt for packages, which include special programs and activities for that month.

Morning Pilates or yoga by the infinity pool seemed to be a popular choice, and even if you’re not a devoted student, the view is just so incredible. Stay fit on the trails—one for beginners and one for more advanced hikers—which loop around the resort grounds and take you past the Prickly Pear Challenge Course. The obstacle course is grueling, but it’s worth it when you sail over treetops at the end. If I had the time, I would have loved trying the mechanical bull workout, which puts your core to the test!

Along with horseback riding, visitors can mountain bike, go on trail rides and go geocaching, which is real-world treasure hunting using GPS devices. Travaasa also offers tango, salsa and more. For calmer practices, try a guided meditation course or a drawing class out on the grounds. Along the paths, the zen garden and stone labyrinth make for a nice, mellow stop.

For the ultimate foodie adventure, don’t miss The Farm at Travaasa. The farm produces vegetables, fruits and herbs that are used at The Preserve and in treatments at The Spa. Courses on growing and planting your own garden as well as culinary demonstrations and wine tastings are available.


The Spa at Travaasa focuses on the wellness of the mind, body and spirit. From scalp massages and facials to exfoliating treatments and massages to manicures and pedicures, the services offered cover you from head to toe.

The massages are top-notch—Jen raved about her deep-tissue massage while Angela had the Swedish massage. My partner and I walked away with an invigorating peppermint footbath and neat manicures that really left my nails looking shiny and buffed for weeks (and I cook and wash dishes all of the time at home)!

Travaasa also features a variety of spa packages, ranging from a half-day of treatments to a full day, along with singles and couples treatments. Travaasa’s spa is also open to off-property guests—it’s worth it to make even just a day trip. The treatments utilize natural and organic products, which are for sale at the boutique.

The crown jewel of Travaasa is probably the magnificent infinity pool (which once graced a cover of Texas Monthly) that offers a spectacular view at sunset with a drink in hand. The view of the Balcones Canyonlands is unsurpassable. The pool area also includes a bar that sometimes hosts a happy hour event for guests, dozens of chairs and a handful of cabanas.

Travaasa Austin expanded my view of what a resort could offer—the food was excellent, the activities were varied and fun, and the spa service went above and beyond. Whether you have a special occasion to celebrate or just want to treat yourself, Travaasa Austin is proof that you don’t have to go far to get an unforgettable experience. H

10 Must Try Health Trends for 2015

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features



Chair-ExerciseTake a stand.

When it comes to bad habits, sitting is the new smoking. In the last year alone, numerous studies have linked too much sedentary behavior with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and early death—even for those who exercise regularly. The remedy: Get out of your chair and off the sofa. In a recent study in the British Journal of Sport Medicine, researchers found that sitting less protects DNA even as it ages, which may extend your lifespan.

Why it works: Researchers speculate movement lengthens the telomeres, the “caps” found at the end of chromosomes in every cell. Longer telomeres prevent the genetic codes in chromosomes from being scrambled (which is what causes disease).

Try it: Those who log long days in front of a computer might want to consider investing in a standing work station or treadmill desk. But if that’s not in the budget, at least make an effort to sit less. “Get up once an hour even if it’s just to stand for a few minutes,” says Sara L. Warber, MD, co-director of the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine Program. Talk to coworkers face-to-face rather than emailing them, and drink water from a small cup rather than a bottle so you’ll need to fill up more frequently. For more of a reminder, set an alarm on your phone to go off at regular intervals throughout the day or download the Take a Yoga Break app ($1.99 on iTunes). It has an alert you can program to remind you to get up every hour or so; you can take a walk, or the app will suggest a simple standing yoga pose that will get the blood circulating. To curb couch potato behavior at home, stop fast-forwarding through commercials, and use them as your cue to get up and move around.


Visit the sunshine state.

If you’re looking to slim down, load up on morning light. People who get sun exposure before noon have lower body mass indexes than those who catch rays later in the day, according to new research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The findings were true for everyone in the study, regardless of their levels of physical activity, diet, sleep timing and duration or age.

Why it works: Sunlight can help synchronize circadian rhythms (your internal body clock), which influence energy levels, hormone release and other bodily functions.

Try it: “About 20 to 30 minutes of natural light could be enough to affect weight,” says senior study author Phyllis C. Zee, MD. If you’re not a morning person, get your daily dose by parking farther away from the office, running out for a mid-morning break or even just working or sitting next to a window.


Embrace the new sharing economy.

Spanish tapas, Chinese dim sum, Greek meze. Though far from new, “small plates” meant for grazing and sharing are still trending, according to the National Restaurant Association’s latest What’s Hot culinary forecast—and they’re ideal for people watching their weight. “For those who tend to be in the clean-plate club, ordering shareable dishes or two appetizers is a fantastic strategy,” says nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, RD.

Why it works: “In addition to providing instant portion control, these dishes tend to be more interesting than entrées,” she points out.

Try it: “Even though you’re ordering small plates, you still need to be mindful of your choices,” says Middleberg, who advises making one of the appetizers a high-volume (read: satiating) salad or a side of vegetables. Her other small-plate picks include shellfish, summer rolls, grilled chicken skewers and steamed dumplings.


Eat the real breakfast of champions.

For a smart start to a pressure-packed day, poach, fry or scramble up some eggs. They’re rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that allows you to think more deeply and creatively, according to a recent study in Psychological Research. Researchers at Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam found that test subjects who drank orange juice spiked with tyrosine were better at solving puzzles than those who were given a placebo. In an earlier study from Leiden University, the same fortified juice was shown to improve reaction time.

Why it works: “The amino acid tyrosine increases production of dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter associated with learning, memory and focus,” explains Cynthia Sass, RD, author of SASS! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches (2011, Harper Collins).

Try it: Not just for breakfast, tyrosine is plentiful in salmon, almonds, bananas, peaches, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, avocado, chicken and turkey, says Sass. “To up your intake, have a small banana mid-morning, snack on almonds or pumpkin seeds throughout the day, and add sliced avocado or tahini to an entrée salad topped with salmon, chicken or turkey.” 



Laughing is known to bring people together, fostering feelings of closeness and happiness. Now research from George Mason University finds the emotional payoff is far from fleeting. After having an LOL-worthy moment with someone, subjects reported experiencing “greater intimacy, positive emotions and enjoyment,” not only during that brief exchange, but also on subsequent interactions throughout the day.

Why it works: Shared laughter “may cause a rise in levels of the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, which promote bonding,” says study co-author Todd B. Kashdan, PhD, professor of clinical psychology at George Mason University and author of The Upside of Your Dark Side (Hudson Street Press, 2014). “Think of it as social glue.”

Try it: Humor is very individual, of course. But if you learn to appreciate the absurdity of life and see things from other perspectives, the grins and giggles will come more easily, says Dr. Kashdan. “Be silly—make weird sounds or funny faces when something doesn’t make sense to you, and learn to tell stories with compelling characters and a great punch line.”


Have a fitness flashback.

Will you ever forget the rush you got when you finally held plank for a full minute? Or the excitement you felt after finishing your first 5K? Use those recollections as motivation. A recent study in the journal Memory showed that people who drew upon a positive experience were much more likely to be active than those who didn’t tap into one.

Why it works: “These memories may temporarily boost self-confidence, while helping to shift your mind-set from ‘exercise is a chore’ to ‘exercise is a fulfilling activity,’” says study coauthor David B. Pillemer, EdD, the Samuel E. Paul professor of developmental psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

Try it: Next time your drive takes a nosedive, conjure a concrete mental image of a workout that made you feel agile or accomplished. And if a less successful experience comes to mind (say, getting cut from your college soccer team or your first, painfully awkward Pilates Reformer class), don’t sweat it, says Dr. Pillemer. “While positive memories had the best effects, negative ones can also be helpful because they inspire you to take actions to avoid those feelings.”


Get smart(phone).

Don’t feel guilty about scrolling through your Instagram feed or playing Candy Crush during office hours—the occasional digital distraction may actually be good for business. In a recent Kansas State University study, people who took smartphone breaks reported being happier at the end of their workday. After installing an app that monitored usage, researchers found employees spent an average of 22 minutes with their phones during an eight-hour shift.

Why it works: “Similar to other breaks—for example, chatting with coworkers or walking the halls—smartphone micro-breaks can refresh you and help you cope with the demands of the workplace,” says Sooyeol Kim, a doctoral student who led the study.

Try it: These findings aren’t a green light to tap, talk and text the day away. To keep your cell phone from screwing up your schedule—or your career—aim for multiple, mini tech breaks, each limited to one or two minutes at a time.


Recover proactively.

Considering the popularity of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts like CrossFit and Tabata, it’s no surprise that injuries are also on the rise. Enter the wave of “Regenerative” or “Recovery” programs in gyms and studios around the country. “Once viewed as ‘soft,’ recovery has finally become mainstream,” according to Carol Espel, senior global director of group fitness and Pilates for Equinox Fitness Clubs. “People are realizing that excessive training is unsustainable.” (Though not billed as such, Pilates fans know that the method is the original regenerative form of exercise.)

Why it works: Taking a more holistic approach to exercise, she says, is the best way to maximize strength gains, improve performance and stay active throughout life. This means supplementing your regimen with low-impact workouts that promote flexibility and muscle endurance, whether it’s Pilates or a class such as restorative yoga, which marries super-slow, prop-supported poses with meditation.

Try it: The right recovery-to-exertion ratio depends on your goals and limitations, so talk with a doctor or fitness professional if you are rehabbing an injury or unsure how to find the right balance for you. “But in general, regenerative workouts can—and should—be done on a daily basis, even on rest days,” says Espel. If you’re pressed for time, squeeze in 10 minutes of Pilates mat moves before work, or follow a tough cardio session with a 15-minute session of foam rolling. SMR (self-myofascial release), a technique that uses massage balls and foam rollers to ease tightness in the soft tissues and restore your range of motion, is another effective option.


Speed up your slim-down.

Add weight loss to coffee’s much-publicized perks. A new Spanish study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism revealed that consuming a cup of joe (or another source of caffeine) before your workout can help you torch about 15 percent more calories for three hours post-exercise than you would sans caffeine.

Why it works: “It’s probably a combination of things,” says Sass. “The stimulant speeds metabolism and boosts both mental and physical performance, which means you can work out harder, longer or both.”

Try it: In the study, the after-burn effect was triggered by 4.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. (For a 150-pound woman, that’s about 300 mg of caffeine, the amount in about 12 ounces of brewed coffee.) “Stick with one cup of coffee about 30 minutes before the start of your workout,” says Sass.


Hit the trail with your buds.

To beat the blues, gather some friends for a walk through Memorial and Buffalo Bayou Park. A recent study published in Ecopsychology found that walking outdoors with others can lower stress levels and even reduce the risk of depression.

Why it works: “We’ve long known that walking is good for you,” says Dr. Warber, senior study author and an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Combined with social support and spending time in nature—both which have been shown to have mental health benefits—it can be a very powerful stress-buster.”

Try it: “The current exercise recommendation is 30 minutes five times a week, so add some variety to workouts by making one of those sessions a group walk,” suggests Dr. Warber. Look online to find a walking group in your area or start one of your own by reaching out to friends, family members and neighbors. You might be surprised to find like-minded people who are ready to get a breath of fresh air and hold each other accountable for regular exercise. H

A.J. Hanley, a freelance writer, has resolved to take more standing, walking and Candy Crush breaks in the New Year.

Best of 2015

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features



Best Local Children’s Book Author: Chris Field

With his recent release Under The Mango Tree: A Story of Friendship and Freedom (Mercy Project Publishing, $15), Field shares with readers, young and old, the story behind the organization he founded, Mercy Project a sustainable non-profit in West Africa that teaches slave masters a better way of working, so they voluntarily let the slave children they own return to their families. The book explores what they do, who they help, and how anyone, anywhere, at any time can contribute to changing the world. “One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to help them see and believe that they are world changers,” says Field.


Best Indoor Play Area: Memorial City’s Frolic’s Castle
Calling all children who love to dream of medieval times where sweet dragons, sleeping giants, magical wizards and pretty-in-pink princesses ruled the land. Memorial City opened Frolic’s Castle, the world’s largest indoor soft play area in a shopping center! Located in the Sears wing of Memorial City Mall, the expansive play area features the castle home of Frolic the friendly green dragon, his purple wife Felicity and their young son Puffy.


Best School to Learn Mandarin: The Woodlands Preparatory School
The school, which emphasizes leadership, intercultural understanding and service, recently expanded the language curriculum to include Mandarin. Mandarin is the official spoken language of China, the world’s second-largest economy. The school’s diverse student population represents more than 42 countries.


Best Stroller Accessory: Choopie
CityGrips from Choopie, favored by celebrities, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jason Bateman, Elton John, Tori Spelling and Bethenny Frankel, is the stylish stroller must-have. The durable stroller handlebar covers slip onto any stroller in seconds. The plush material is machine washable, plus the wide selection of colors and styles is sure to set your stroller apart from the pack!


Best Way to Spend an Afternoon With the Kids: the Houston Zoo
See the elephants, snakes, lions and more! For just $5, you can feed the giraffes. Your children will love the petting zoo, and the play area is one of the best in the city. Moms in the know visit here weekly.


Best Children’s Party Location: Jump N Jungle
Hosting a party at Jump N Jungle means no cleanup—what’s not to like? The perfect party idea, the facility features private rooms with bouncy houses for all ages and skill levels. After the kiddies are tired from jumping, cut the cake in the attached event room.


Best Place For Girls to Play Dress-Up: Sweet and Sassy
Your girly-girl will adore one of the nine themed parties to chose from, including the new “Ice Princess.” Perfect for ages four through 13, enjoy glittery makeovers, themed activities, special gifts and more.


Best Children’s Hair & Body Wash: Dubble Trubble
Going green is easy with Dubble Trubble, a two-in-one organic hair and body wash, created for children ages three to 12. Choose from five kid-friendly scents: Cherry Bomb, Bananaberry, Watermelon, Strawberry and Cool Cucumber.


Best Edible Wild Plant Class: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Foraging is one of those terms trending in the restaurant world, but it’s also a great activity to get the entire family’s heart rate pumping, thanks to lots of walking and bending. The Texas landscape is filled with an abundance of wild edibles, and Dr. Mark Vorderbruggen, a research chemist and avid explorer, teaches you where to find and how to identify wild edibles growing all around you. Grab your walking shoes, water and bug spray, and learn to survive in the woods or add to a great meal.


Miller-Outdoor-TheaterBest Budget-Friendly Outing: Miller Outdoor Theatre

Located in Herman Park, this theater is the largest one in the U.S. to offer free professional entertainment for a full eight months. On this year’s family-oriented lineup: classical music, jazz, ethnic music and dance, ballet, musical theater, classic films and more. Pack the picnic basket, and eat in a covered seating area before the festivities.


Best Children’s Fitness Class: Kids Yoga and Creative Movement for Children

The Good Space Pilates & Yoga Studio recently launched this kiddie class, suitable for ages four to seven, to help provide respite from a hectic school schedule. The 45-minute session promotes the development of fine and gross motor skills while teaching balance, breathing and group cooperation—all through imaginative play and story telling through movement. And of course, it gets your child moving, something that’s extra-important in this day and age.

Best Park: Discovery Green
Discovery Green continues to impress us with it’s wide range of activities throughout the year. This social hub is the home of must-see public art installations, flea markets, festivals, performances and so much more.



Best Beauty Debut: Charlotte Tilbury Beauty at Nordstrom Houston Galleria
Tilbury is recognized as one of the biggest makeup artists in the world. She counts Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Sienna Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Gisele, Rihanna and more as clients, and is beloved by industry insiders from models to photographers and designers who all consider Charlotte their go-to. Charlotte has built her brand upon an empowering message for women stemming from her own personal mantra: “Give a woman the right makeup and she can conquer the world.”


Best Lashes: Amazing Lash
Amazing Lash Studio’s eyelash extensions are semi-permanent, and made from synthetic fibers designed to replicate the curve and size of natural lashes. Each lash is applied one by one, with a patent-pending application process to protect the clients’ own natural lashes. The long-lasting results of Amazing Lash extensions are compared against the most popular and best-selling mascara on the market. Our take: Skipping mascara in your personal beauty routine is one of the most convenient benefits of having eyelash extensions; it eliminates all the time spent buying, applying and removing messy mascara. The lashes are also safe and completely waterproof for bathing, swimming and exercising.


Best Juicer: Omega Mega Mouth Juicer

Want your juicing fix night or day? Then, you must own your own equipment. The Omega features an extra-large feed chute to accommodate larger portions and even whole fruits! This results in less cutting and a greatly reduced preparation time, allowing you to concentrate more on the juicing itself. Simply flip the switch and watch as the Mega Mouth makes quick work of fruits and vegetables, extracting the maximum amount of juice in minimal time.


Best Ride in Town: RIDE Indoor Cycling
Get on your bike and pedal! Enjoy high-intensity, music-driven indoor-cycling classes in the Heights. The classes are held on Schwinn AC performance bikes, and feature state-of-the-art sound systems, energizing and colorful LED lighting. An expert team of instructors motivates, inspires and challenges guests to break fitness barriers during the 45-minute sweat sessions.


Best Juice: DEFINE foods Juice

DEFINE foods Juice, a raw, organic, cold-pressed product, can be found at the hot workout spot DEFINE. The 16-ounce bottles that sell for $9.50 are available in six vibrant flavors: Nurture with sweet potato, cashew, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and honey; Restore (fuji apple, granny smith apple, lemon, ginger, cinnamon); Nourish (kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, pear, parsley, lemon, ginger); Revive (spinach, cucumber, pineapple, apple, lime, cilantro); Glow (carrot, orange, apple, ginger, turmeric); and Fuel (beet, carrot, apple, ginger, lemon). Each juice contains less than 300 calories and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and chlorophyll.


 Best Diverse Fitness Plan: ClassPass

Enjoy unlimited workout classes at boutique fitness studios for a fixed monthly fee. Users can visit any studio in their network up to three times per studio per month. Offering a variety of class types, from yoga to indoor cycling to high-intensity interval training, this unique program allows you to pick and chose your fitness plan. Work out local at the following locations: The Bar Method, Pure Barre, Joy Yoga Center, Hardcore Pilates, Bodyrock Pilates, HIP Fitness, Yoga West, Studio Fitness Heights.


Best Online Organic Grocery Store: Greenling

Eating local and organic has never been easier, thanks to online service and shopping experience, Greenling. With produce and products sourced from hundreds of local farms and food artisans, you don’t need to leave the house to reap the benefits of a farmers’ market. The kicker: Delivery is free!


Best Beauty App: beGlammed

In the market for a glam squad? The beGlammed app, free to download, lets you channel Tinseltown by bringing cutting-edge and personally vetted hair stylists and makeup artists to your mirror—wherever that may be. You can thank business and beauty industry veterans Jocelyn Loo and Maile Pacheco, the creators of the app, for making getting Real Housewife ready a reality.


Best Book About the Dallas/Houston Rivalry: Bragging Rights: The Dallas-Houston Rivalry by Carlyn Kneese and John Demers; introduction by Lynn Ashby (Bright Sky Press, 2014)

The age-old I-45 rivalry has reemerged as a hot topic. What is it about each place that makes its citizens so proud? Kneese teamed up with Lynn Ashby and John DeMers, respected journalists who have worked both towns, and surveyed the people who make each town great. What emerges is Bragging Rights: The Dallas-Houston Rivalry, a celebration of the similarities and differences between Dallas and Houston.


Best Pet Fund-Raising Event: Best Friends Brunch
Celebrate aniMeals on Wheels, a program of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, bringing donated dog and cat food to pets of Meals on Wheels seniors, so they don’t have to share with their four-legged friends. At this event, honorees walk the runway with their pets as the festive crowd eggs them on.


Best Way to Watch the Galveston Mardi Gras Parade: A&M Mardi Gras Parade Viewing Party

Have fun and benefit and great cause: the George P. Mitchell Society of Texas A&M University at Galveston. Admission includes a Cajun-themed buffet, an open bar, live music by The Line Up and a premier view of the Momus Grand Night Parade as it passes in front of the hotel. Guests will have the option to watch the parade from the ballroom balcony or at street level in a gated viewing area.


Best Meet-Up spot in Kemah: Jackie B’s

Jackie’s Brickhouse is a full-service restaurant, sports bar and entertainment facility. Enjoy live music nightly, pub games and a family-friendly environment. The vast menu offers something for everyone, from seafood and pastas to steaks and burgers.


Best Local Designer: Amir Taghi
Taghi is an 18-year-old designer based in Houston, but causing a national uproar across the country. A Houston Episcopal High School student, he started his senior year with a New York Fashion Week debut. He was also featured on the runway at Fashion Houston. He finds inspiration from southern women and his Persian culture.


Best Boot Scootn’ Fashion: Lucchese

Lucchese opened its fourth store in Highland Village; the 5,000-square-foot space, complete with a dedicated custom design room where customers can create their perfect pair of boots, promises a shopping experience unlike any other. “With Houston being an epicenter of the boot-wearing population worldwide, the city is a perfect fit for Lucchese,” says Jay Hamby, director of retail sales for Lucchese. The store features the brand’s fashion footwear collection for men and women, which originally debuted in spring 2014, along with its line of Equestrian-inspired handbags, clutches, totes and cross-body bags.


Best Night of Art, Fashion and Music: Houston Press Artopia
This annual party celebrates Houston’s artists throughout all mediums and forms. Enjoy an evening of food, cocktails, galleries, shows and live music, and celebrate the recipients of the MasterMind Awards, given to those who have greatly impacted the local arts community.


Best Interactive Art Installation: Arts BrookField

This February 12 through May 9, indulge your fantastical side—think unicorns, the circus, black holes, fun houses and carnivals—at the Art Guys’ “Tunnel of Love,” to be exhibited at One Allen Center Gallery. This fun, interactive installation will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.


The-Suffers---Press-Photo---Credit-Daniel-JacksonBest Local Artist to Watch: The Suffers

Houston lays claim to The Suffers, the award-winning 10-piece band you’ve undoubtedly heard of. This January, the group launched a new single, “Make Some Room,” to jumpstart their West Coast Tour beginning in February and extending to 11 cities in the area. Make some noise—The Suffers are here to stay.




Best Grilled Octopus: Caracol

It’s the octopus salad, and it comes perfectly chard on a bed of grilled root vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, purple potatoes, with a spicy mole-like sauce and a green verde milder sauce. Perfection.


Best Cocktails: Boheme
Located in Montrose, Boheme’s atmosphere is simply magical, the decor having been influenced by Houstonian and owner Morgan Holleman’s worldly travels. They have some of the best house cocktails in the city, and we recommend the Gunpowder, a blend of rums with a hint of cinnamon spice.


Best Sandwich: Juan Mon’s

At this international sandwich shop, each sandwich is named for the city that provided the inspiration. The owner did his research, visiting each city individually to learn the personalities and best sandwichs. Our favorite is the Buenos Aires—breaded chicken Milanesa, Oaxaca cheese, tomato, lettuce, avocado, mayo and chipotle salsa.


Best Grilled Cheese: Tout Suite

Local favorite Houston Dairy Maids’ seasonal cheeses are featured on the monster grilled sensation. Sourdough makes it divine.


Best Cooking Lessons: Art of the Meal

Want to learn to make homemade pasta, or cook healthy chicken? The chefs at Art of the Meal are here to help. Simply sign up for a class and show up; all of the ingredients are ready for assembly. Great as a team-building event, baby shower or date, this new concept is sure to make cooking a breeze.


Best Authentic Pizza: dmarcos pizzeria

Chicago native and Texas transplant Demarco Jenkins opened the pizzeria in Sugar Land last year. Jenkins’ signature recipes, exclusive to d’marcos, were graciously gifted to him by the owners of his favorite Chicago pizzeria, Mama Rigetta’s. Enjoy dishes containing buttery-flavored flaky crusts; marinara and pizza sauces made from scratch with real Italian fresh-ground peeled tomatoes; Italian spice blends in handmade Italian pork sausage; and Italian chicken sausage made with fennel.


Best Deviled Egg and Fried Oysters: Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette

Located on San Felipe and serving new American cuisine, the Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette takes great pride in knowing the origins of its resources. They partner with local, family-owned ranchers that dutifully care for the beef, and utilize local Galveston fishing boats that provide fresh and seasonal seafood. A can’t-miss on their menu is the deviled eggs with maple bacon jam and smoked paprika. Be warned, though: It’s on the sharing menu, but you might not feel like splitting the dish after your first bite.


Best Veal Osso Buco: Le Mistral

The eatery made last year’s list for the “best salad,” but we couldn’t pass on giving them another nod this year. Le Mistral has carved out a niche on the west side of Houston, serving elegant French cuisine. Of the many notable items on the dinner menu, the slow-braised veal osso buco with Madeira sauce and Parmesan and mushroom risotto is simply delectable.


Miso-Butter-RamenBest Ramen: Cafe Kubo’s Sushi
As the ramen trend continues to flourish in Houston, Cafe Kubo in Chinatown continues to serve the best and most affordable bowls of noodles to slurp down. We recommend the shoyu and miso butter ramen.

9889 Bellaire Blvd.

Best Sashimi: Aka Sushi House

The happy hour here is amazing, and you just can’t beat the fact that the deals last all day on Saturdays and Sundays. We love the thick slices of salmon sashimi—the taste and texture is lightly buttery and almost melts in your mouth.


Best Chips and Dip: Gloria’s Latin Cuisine

Okay, so there’s salsa dancing on the weekend at Gloria’s, along with amazing and authentic Tex-Mex food and delicious margaritas, but what really makes our mouths water is the black bean dip and chips!


Best Cronut: The Grove

In Richmond, the city (not the street) on the southwest side of Houston, there is a treasure trove of gourmet donuts that will satisfy your sweet tooth. While we love the made-to-order donuts that come in a variety of flavors like Chocoberry, Strawberry Lemonade and Oreo Cheesecake, we can’t get enough of the shop’s version of the trendy cronut (a croissant and donut hybrid). Our advice? Call ahead to order these delicious treats that come in flavors like S’mores, Strawberry Cheesecake and Crème Brûlée!


Best Happy Hour: MKT BAR
Phoenicia Market Downtown includes one of the most entertaining happy hours of the city. Get deals on drinks and appetizers on weekdays between 2–7pm and enjoy nightly events such as game night on Mondays, steak night on Tuesdays and Thursdays and stand-up comedy on Fridays. On Saturdays, happy hour is reversed and run from 9pm–12am.


The Inn at Dos Brisas Now Offers an All-Inclusive Experience

February 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

WASHINGTON, Tex., Feb. 2, 2015 – The Inn at Dos Brisas, a Relais & Châteaux ranch resort located in the eastern foothills of the Texas Hill Country, has become an all-inclusive property, offering distinctive, customized experiences and unlimited access to a wide range of amenities.


“We are delighted to announce this new pricing structure,” states Managing Director Steve Shotsberger. “This gives us the freedom to elevate the exceptional service we provide for our 28 guests. For example, the Inn’s culinary team liaises with each visitor prior to arrival to discuss creative private dining capabilities and preferences.”

Available now, The Inn at Dos Brisas’ all-inclusive rates begin at $1,069 per night, based on double occupancy, for 750-sq.-ft. casita accommodations and $1,399 per night, based on double occupancy, for 1,795-sq.-ft. hacienda accommodations. Rates include all meals, culinary experiences such as cooking/baking classes and farm tours, and resort activities including horseback riding lessons and clay shooting. Wine tastings, mixology classes and spa services are available for an additional fee.

A list of detailed inclusions is below:

  • Welcome amenity
  • Full breakfast made-to-order and delivered to guests’ accommodations
  • Sunday brunch in the Inn’s Forbes Travel Guide Five-star restaurant
  • Lunch in the lounge, on the patio, in guests’ accommodations or picnic-style anywhere on the property
  • Dinner in the restaurant’s dining room or guests’ accommodations
  • Sundown Social, featuring a wine and cheese reception each afternoon
  • All activities including fishing, clay shooting, horseback riding lessons, trail rides, hayrides, horse-drawn carriage rides, tennis, swimming, cycling, basketball, yoga, cooking classes, baking classes, organic farming classes, archery, Frisbee golf, birthplace of Texas geo-caching tour and stargazing
  • Unlimited use of fishing equipment, tennis equipment, bicycles, croquet, badminton, horseshoes, movies, board games and access to fantastic trails for hiking or touring with guests’ golf cart
  • Wet bar fully stocked with locally made non-alcoholic beverages
  • Assortment of The Inn at Dos Brisas’ signature coffees and teas
  • Sweet treat delivered to guests’ accommodations each evening
  • High speed wireless internet throughout the property
  • Unlimited local calls
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Nightly turndown service
  • Access to the resort’s private helicopter pad
  • Exclusive of alcohol, taxes and resort fees

For more information or reservations, please visit www.dosbrisas.com or call 979-277-7750.



February 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby


THE CASINO — Phat Duc, that inscrutable Asian hiding behind his dark glasses, takes another drag on his cigarette, and puts down five. Lubbock Slim (he didn’t quite make it to Amarillo) smiles his trademark smile and tosses in 10. The crowd gasps. Lucky Bunny makes it 15. I make it 25. Why not? Fortunately, I am down the aisle at the penny slots, so I can blow a quarter. Eh? You think I’m in that poker league? Maybe if I were union plumber, but I am only a mere casino critic, here to check out the latest vacuum cleaner into Texans’ pockets. It’s a huge new casino called the Golden Nugget, next to the L’Auberge. Both overlook the scenic refineries and barge traffic of Lake Charles.

This place is not quite finished. The swimming pools, so many they look like a well-scrubbed Venice, have yet to get wet. My room is very new and nice, but no chairs. Elsewhere, workmen and workwomen wearing belts loaded with pliers and tape, walk about carrying stepladders. When the workers were hired here, I think each one was issued a stepladder. They all smile and say for me to have a good morning or nice day or just hi. When done, the Golden Nugget will cover 1.3 million-square-feet, cost $700 million with 740 hotel rooms and suites, an 18-hole golf course, shops, an 18,000 square-foot ballroom, 30,000 square feet of meeting space. 1,600 slots, a poker room, 70 game tables, a bunch of restaurants, a private beach front and marina (I think they haven’t quite finished the Gulf). In the marina floats Tilman J. Fertitta’s yacht with helicopter. The boat could easily be mistaken for the USS George H.W. Bush except the yacht probably has a better bar.
The casino’s parent company is Landry’s, owned by Houstonian Fertitta (whom I always call Fajita). His empire already has more than 500 restaurants in the U.S. and abroad, plus this Golden Nugget and four more elsewhere. The company is now bidding to take over operation of San Antonio’s River Walk party barges. Maybe he’ll load them with slot machines. That’s the only way we’ll ever get them in Texas. But this is a gutsy time to open a huge casino. The Caesar’s Palace operation is in the midst of bankruptcy. Atlantic City has had casinos for four decades and they never really took off. Four of that town’s 12 casinos closed last year, putting 9,000 workers out of a job, and Trump Taj Mahal just avoided closure.

Texas is currently only one of 10 states that does not allow casino-style gambling. That brings us to HJR (House Jiganic Resolution) 47, a bill introduced in the new session of our Texas Legislature that would start the dice rolling on casinos in Texas. Yawn, because we see this sort of movement every session of the Texas Legislature since it was the Texas Congress. Rep. Carol Alvarado of Houston wants to set up a “gaming” – never gambling — commission that would allow casinos in or in conjunction with race tracks in areas with a population of at least 675,000. That leaves out Fredericksburg.

Texans love to gamble and do it daily – Lotto, scratch-offs, bingo, horse racing (do we still have dog racing?) and the biggest gamble of all, a Texas freeway at rush hour. And, of course, we go out of state to lose money to pay for other states’ teachers and roads. Polls show those Texans opposed to casino gambling are mostly of the conservative nature, so perhaps they should look to Louisiana which says it has 14,061 of its citizens working in the gambling biz. Of these, 11 percent got off welfare due to their employment, 20 percent are no longer receiving unemployment benefits and 13 percent got off food stamps. I guess this means a lot of them are still are on the rolls.

All these big promises of the loot that casinos will be brought to the state’s treasury must be viewed with suspicion. Remember the same story about horse racing? At its peak horse racing brought  $5.5 billion to the Texas economy (economy, not taxes) per year, but now the horses have mostly been rustled off to neighboring states offering higher purses and large, casino-style gambling. According to the Texas Racing Commission, horse racing attendance in the state dropped 12 percent and wagers dropped 23 percent in 2011, the latest figures available. Meanwhile, up in Oklahoma the racetrack game has greatly expanded in recent years, bringing the state $3.6 billion in revenue during 2012 alone. So the Texas horse racing industry, which promised so much and is delivering a dwindling coin, wants to hook up with casinos under the grandstands or at least next door.

Now back to my critique of this newest entry. The restaurants are excellent and the staff, like the stepladder carries, couldn’t be nicer, although some operations need a bit more experience. We made dinner reservations at Landry’s the day before for 7 pm. Went by the next afternoon just to check. They had no record my upcoming red snapper. Finally found me under Hashby. We were told to arrive 10 minutes early to make sure we got a good table. We did. At 7:10, while waiting at the restaurant’s entrance, we noted a table by the wall opened. Perfect. Just then another couple came up, walked in and sat down there. Huh? I was told they were members of the High Rollers Club or some name. This is bad business. Whales, as we big losers are called, get preferential treatment. OK, that goes in most businesses, but slip them in the side entrance, don’t march them past the great unwashed. Fajita should know better.

Back at the tables, Phat Duc and the others are cleaning up. With my poker skills, the Golden Nugget is the Lead Lump. Still, when I left everyone wished me a nice day.


Hashby wins at ashby2@comcast.net