Houston’s Top 8 Doggie Destinations

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


Get your best friend out of the (dog) house! Read on for our city’s hottest spots for well, Spot.

by Ian Kretz

Just because summer’s coming to an end, doesn’t mean you should stop making the outdoors your playground. And for all of us doggie lovers, no family outing is complete without our pups by our sides. Fortunately, digging up exciting and enjoyable experiences we can share with our dogs right here at home is, sometimes literally, a walk in the park. Here are some of our favorite, distinctly Houstonian destinations where your whole family can have a ball together this season.

Doggie_BarnabysWhy it’s a doggie do: The Barnaby’s Café franchise offers Houston’s best-loved doggie dining experience by far. What began in Montrose as a comfortable neighborhood café and tribute to the owner’s departed childhood best friend, Barnaby the Sheepdog, has expanded into eight locations spread among some of Houston’s most recognizable neighborhoods, from The Heights and Memorial to Midtown and Downtown. Each location is dog friendly, though some are friendlier than others; the River Oaks location, in particular, has the same quirky menu as the others but the most spacious patio area, where Fido foodies are invited to sit with their families and enjoy a relaxed evening.

H Texas recommends: Barnaby’s French Dip sandwich, served on fresh bread with natural au jus, makes for a decadent diner classic, and every salad on the menu is fresh, surprising and generous (smaller sizes are available, too). Kids will love the burgers, hot dogs and warm brownies served à la mode. Dog biscuits and water will make your pooch’s evening extra special.

For more information: www.barnabyscafe.com

Doggie_StDanesWhy it’s a doggie do: Saint Dane’s is a fantastic bar to take your children to…as long as your children walk on four legs and prefer barking to talking. One of the few Midtown bars that welcome fur babies, Saint Dane’s prides itself on having “plasmas everywhere you look,” making any spot ideal for watching the big game. Wood-framed, raised tables and plenty of neon lend the bar a dive-y quality that belies a well-stocked bar with daily drink specials and a draft beer selection that will impress. Dogs will love lounging on the covered porch or on the street front before a spectacular view of Downtown; all the game day excitement is sure to keep them entertained.

H Texas recommends: The “Wes” Burger, served with a fried egg on top, is one of Houston’s great bar burgers (available at lunchtime as a special), and the Sweet Chili Lime buffalo wings are crispy to a fault and offer a flavor (and how) off the beaten bar fare path. Live music (most Saturday nights) includes a selection of classic rock favorites; bands usually take requests, so be sure to ask for “Hound Dog.”

For more information: www.saintdanes.com

Doggie_BlackLabWhy it’s a doggie do: Even dogs appreciate the finer things in life, and despite its name and buttoned-up British air, all breeds are welcome to enjoy a dining experience worth begging for at The Black Labrador. Since 1986, this English-style pub, a favorite of Houstonians, has served a mix of authentic British cuisine and more familiar fare in a meticulously recreated English-pub atmosphere. The interior is warm and bright, with characteristically low ceilings and wood paneling aplenty, while the outdoor seating area (complete with cobblestones) is airy, comfortable and shaded by a canopy of trees—perfect for an after-lunch dog nap. All in all, The Black Labrador offers a quiet, distinctly British environment to enjoy delicious food with English Mastiffs, Scottish Terriers and everything in between.

H Texas recommends: The mussels on the appetizer menu are a bountiful yet light entrée to any of the traditional English menu items, including piping hot, flaky Beef Wellington and classic English-style Fish & Chips. The Black Labrador Pub exceeds the promise of its name, offering an exhaustive roster of delicious beers that pair well with any dish. Sunday brunch begins at 11 a.m., and the Bangers & Mash hounds of Houston tend to come running-—be sure to get there early for a cozy table outside.

For more information: www.blacklabradorpub.com

Doggie_GoodDogWhy it’s a doggie do: Reward your dog with a trip to Good Dog Houston, where local ingredients and that American standard, the hot dog, are celebrated par excellence. The restaurant gained its pack of loyal followers during its incarnation as a favorite food truck before setting up a permanent shop in The Heights. You’ll find a curated menu of one-of-a-kind franks (including tofu dogs), handcrafted toppings, classic sides and an ever-changing selection of locally sourced beers on tap. Good dogs and humans alike will find plenty of space on the comfortable outdoor deck to enjoy these highbrow hot dogs.

H Texas recommends: The Texican Dog is a spicy, South-of-the-Border dream that combines refried black beans, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, pickled jalapeños and fresh vegetables atop a perfectly cooked frank. The Fried Corny Dog, served with signature sriracha ketchup, is the be-all, end-all ideal corndog. The average price of one of these masterpieces is about $7, so don’t forget to order something for Rover.

For more information: www.gooddoghouston.com

Doggie_BillArcherParkWhy it’s a doggie do: Think of Bill Archer Bark Park as Houston’s doggie Disneyworld. Located north of I-10, about halfway between Houston and Katy, the park features more than 20 acres of off-leash play space for your pup. These expansive, beautiful grounds alone make the park well worth the trip (about a 30-minute drive from Downtown), and attractions like canine agility equipment for large and small breeds and swimming ponds seal the deal. Extensive, manicured walking trails and shaded benches provide relaxing options for owners and those dogs deemed people persons.

H Texas recommends: The park is open from 7 a.m. until dusk, so peak hours tend to coincide with evening free time during the workweek, while weekend days are busy throughout. Depending on your dog’s temperament around other dogs, you may want to plan your trip accordingly. Note: All the usual dog park rules apply, including no outside food or drink (for either you or your pet), so be sure you both have a snack before your outdoor romp. Water fountains for two- and four-legged friends are available inside the park.

For more information: www.visithoustontexas.com

Doggie_GeneGreenParkWhy it’s a doggie do: This dog park gives adventurous pups a chance to walk or run on the wild side. Gene Green Beltway 8 Dog Park, located about 20 minutes from Downtown, on the northeast side, boasts, in addition to spacious grounds, off-leash play areas and other standard dog park attractions, several areas of natural Texas brush and flora that offer all dogs, particularly sporting breeds, an opportunity to use their instincts and get in touch with their wolfish ancestors. For those dogs that don’t know they are of the canine species, manicured green space enjoyed from one of many shaded benches offers all of nature’s best aspects.

H Texas recommends: The equally top-flight splash park, skate park and children’s playground at Gene Green Beltway 8 Park will be difficult for younger kids to resist for any length of time; be sure to bring swimwear, skateboards and another adult to supervise the kids in their own adventures without taking any time out of Rover’s. Don’t forget the camera!

For more information: www.hcp1.net/Parks/GeneGreen.aspx

Doggie_HotelDerekWhy it’s a doggie do: Hotel Derek is arguably Houston’s most lavish and popular boutique destination hotel. Located a stone’s throw from The Galleria in Uptown, Hotel Derek is a beacon of contemporary glamour in our city. Elegant, comfortable rooms and refined dining, spas and amenities are perfect for Houstonians looking for a luxurious staycation or travelers who prefer to do so in style. Best of all, Hotel Derek is dog friendly, with several unique amenities geared specifically toward pups. Pets do stay for an additional fee, a large portion of which is donated to the Houston SPCA. Your pooch will thank you for, and quickly become used to, a seat in the lap of luxury over a splendid stay at Hotel Derek.

H Texas recommends: Dog-friendly rooms are all on the “dedicated pet floor” with convenient outdoor access for making such trips fast and easy. However, space is limited, so be sure to book your room well in advance. For pampered pooches, the recently unveiled Wag Lounge is an unforgettable relaxation destination located just down the hall from your suite. Beyond the hotel, Memorial Park, just five minutes away, offers exciting possibilities for doggie daytrips.

For more information: www.hotelderek.com/about/pet-friendly-hotels-houston

Doggie_DiscoveryGreenWhy it’s a doggie do: Discovery Green in Downtown Houston is a vibrant, verdant oasis hidden among the buildings and bustle of our city’s center. With athletic fields and walking trails, jungle gyms and paddleboats, and of course, plenty of greenery, Discovery Green has something for everyone, including dogs. Pups are sure to enjoy the more literal jungle within the urban one; the shaded off-leash dog runs (one for large dogs, one for small) offer a chance to play in a new environment filled with fascinating sights and sounds. And when your pup is all done, feel free to leash him up and take him on a tour of the larger Discovery Green area for an even more vivid day of adventure.

H Texas recommends: From outdoor art installations and film to ice skating and free yoga and Pilates classes, something fun is always going on at Discovery Green. Try to time your dog park trip to take advantage of interesting and usually free community activities. A full events calendar is available on the Discovery Green website.

For more information: www.discoverygreen.com/the-dog-runs H

Where Do We Go from Here?

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


A Roadmap for Houston’s (Possible) Future

by Lynn Ashby

You know Houston is on a roll. Boom, boom, boom, with the occasional resounding bust. Our skylines (we have several) are dotted with cranes. Our traffic increases daily. We need more schools, hospitals and animal-control vans. This area is spreading out in every direction. Okay, we all know that, but in the back of our minds is the burning, if not nagging, question: “What’s in it for me? Hey, I didn’t come to Houston from Frost Bite, North Dakota, for the August afternoons or the public school system, not even for the running of the cockroaches. I came to turn a buck, and when that buck quits turning, I’m off like a prom dress.” Good question, and fortunately for you, I have answers. Clip and save so you won’t come sniveling around here in 2030 saying, “But I didn’t know.”

First, a bit of our future depends on other people and events, such as hurricanes, our lawmakers’ ability to feed NASA, the Ship Channel, expressways and light rail, and all those other treats we want from Washington while cursing the federal government. Pollution and anti-pollution laws will affect our future, along with energy prices, cheap labor and, of course, Wang Jing. As for you, buy land. Any land anywhere in these five or 10 counties. Yes, some acres will occasionally be underwater, economically and literally, because Houston was founded by land developers who greatly exaggerated, if not outright lied, about the “abundance of excellent spring water, and enjoying the sea breeze in all its freshness,” and our developers today do love tradition.

Things move quickly around here and so should you. Westheimer Road, which is also State Highway 1093, was named for M.L. Westheimer, an early entrepreneur, who built a five-mile shell road from his home and businesses west of the city into town, then gave the road to Houston in 1894. You can see what it is now. I can remember when R.E. “Bob” Smith had a ranch complete with grazing cattle, just west of the Galleria. Rice University was laid out at the end of the town’s trolley line. The Strake Boy Scout Camp is now in its third location because Houston keeps paving over the wilderness. (If you’re wondering who’s Bob Smith, go back to Newark.)

Invest in food. For reasons that have never been clear, Houstonians eat out all the time. Indeed, Houston residents eat an average of four meals a week outside the home, according to the 2012 America’s Top Restaurants report from Zagat, the bible of eateries. That’s more than any other city in the nation. Ethnic restaurants are hot and will remain so for decades, or until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) moves in. These restaurants are a reflection of our diversity, said to be the most in the nation. Open an Eskimo-Croatian café, or a pub catering to country boys returning from the Mideast wars, Shucks & Awe. We have created a city where one-third of business owners are foreign-born, where the number of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus has tripled in the past three decades, where more than 100 languages are spoken by students attending Houston public schools. Our crystal ball shows more of the same.


We are ever so slowly adding to light rail. Figure out where the next lines will go and buy acreage for cheap housing. (Rich people don’t ride buses or take trams.) Here is Houston’s growing traffic problem in a nutshell: We tear down a one-story strip center with adequate parking and replace it with a 35-story condo. Each condo has owners of one or two vehicles. There are parking places for these cars and pickups in the building, but each morning and each evening, they are trying to crowd into the streets which have added not a lane, nary an overpass, no more space for cars. That two-gallon bucket still holds two gallons, but we are trying to pour three gallons into it. A perfect example is CityCentre, with its new high-rise lofts and apartments, but same streets as before.    

More vehicles arrive in the county every day. Eventually gridlock will paralyze the entire Inner Loop, and people will demand mass transit. Bob Lanier is dead, Tom DeLay is paying off legal bills and U.S. Rep. John Culberson has been MIA since 2000, but now is slightly changing his mind (there must have been a new voters poll), so the three amigos who managed to postpone, if not kneecap, mass transit are no longer effective. Houston hasn’t had good mass transit since the mule died. Speaking of transportation, when what is now the George H.W. Bush Intergalactic Airhub & Uber Outpost was built, it was thought that Hobby Airport would be phased out. Hobby is busier than ever. Air traffic will only increase by great numbers. Buy rice fields west of Katy for the Nolan Ryan Airport & Crop Dusting Extravaganza.

Currently Harris County’s air is near the U.S. average in carbon monoxide, but is above the national average in ozone (one hour) and significantly above the U.S. average in ozone (eight hours) and particulate matter. With the continuing onslaught of newcomers and their vehicles, our air pollution is going to get worse. Go to the coal mines and buy canaries. Have you been by the Texas Medical Center lately, and not in the back of a careening EMS ambulance after you brought a knife to a gunfight? The TMC is growing, in good times and bad. It is, as we like to proclaim, the world’s largest medical center. People come from everywhere to die in Houston. We are going to need more hospitals, doctors and rubber gloves. Another medical school is not if, but when. 

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that Texas’ population, currently 34 million, will hit 54 million by 2050 or even double, and we know Houston will get more than its share of newcomers. (Houston gained 35,000 in population this past year, which was more than it gained in the previous year.) Growth estimates for the Houston area in 2020 are everyone who doesn’t live here now. Word of caution: Ever since the very first U.S. Census in 1790, New York City has been the most populous city in America. Every other city has changed places in the pecking order; next, in that first census, came Philadelphia and Boston. No surprises there, but then came Charleston, SC, followed by Baltimore, Northern Liberties, Salem, Newport, Providence and Marblehead. For the next 50 years, Northern Liberties was among our largest populated cities. I have no idea what or where that place was and is, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Where will we rank in 2050?

Claudia Grisales, writing in the Austin American-Statesman, reports that workers will turn more and more to telecommuting. That’s sort of a new term to me, but we all know what it means: work from home. Texas is second only to California in the percentage of telecommuters—5.2 percent for California, 4.1 percent for us. While that might not seem like much, nationally the figure in telecommuting has increased by 80 percent since 2005. At this rate, figure out how it will affect you.


Houston is cheap. Putting the average U.S. cost of living at 100 percent, currently the cost of living index in Harris County is 92.7 percent. When you moved here, you got a raise even if you didn’t. This wage gap will close. So keep getting raises. Two-thirds of us (66 percent) earn a private wage or salary. Just under one-third (31 percent) are self-employed or not incorporated. Only 2 percent work for the government. In the future, we shall all work for the government and just think we don’t. We have been called “the nation’s fattest city” by some fatheads somewhere. Yet 73.2 percent of residents exercised in the past month. This is about average.

  • 39.9 percent of residents smoked 100-plus cigarettes in their lives. This is less than average.
  • 78.6 percent of adult residents drank alcohol in the past 30 days. This is more than average.
  • 63.8 percent of residents visited a dentist within the past year. This is less than average.
  • Average weight of males is 196 pounds. This is more than average.
  • Average weight of females is 169 pounds. This is also more than average. So maybe we are fat.
  • 28.6 percent of residents keep firearms around their homes. This is less than average. The others lie.

Forbes magazine rated Houston the “coolest city in America.” That was not due to our sophistication, but to our air conditioning, because we fit A/C on every structure and some places that are outside. This brings us to 2035 and global warming, which will melt the ice caps, causing immense flooding, creating Bellaire Beach and the Montrose Marina. Houston developers, ever the clever, will show properties by using glass-bottom boats. Stay ahead of the crowd and sell flood insurance—or maybe buy it. Your first clue that high tide is coming is when animals at the Houston Zoo start lining up two-by-two.

Forbes also ranked Dallas as second among U.S. cities in the number of billionaires with 17. Houston finished seventh with 11. This shall change, as our billionaires spawn more scions. Houston’s Theater District is second only to New York City with its concentration of seats in one geographic area, and we have a huge and growing museum district. These two facts—billionaires and couth—are connected. The very rich love to see their names on concert halls, theaters and museums. So in 2020, open the Houston Class Act—home for smart performing artists, or just those with funny names, and sell naming rights.

Lynn_Roadmap2ROOT FOR THE CANAL        

Here are some predictions for Houston’s future (actually have you heard anyone predicting the past?):

2020: Local TV stations will stop breathlessly saying, “Breaking news!” when a Houstonian uses his turn signal.    

2028: Opponents of video cameras at major intersections to record red-light runners will get T-boned by a red-light runner. We shall miss them—sort of.

2040: Ed Emmitt, county judge emeritus, announces the perfect solution for the Astrodome: a monumental, covered, all-weather monument to himself.

2050: Houston lands the Summer Olympics, adding a few new sports: the 20-meter marathon; the parking-place race at the Galleria (which will be followed by the 30-minute destruction derby); yacht racing on the Houston Ship Channel, training-wheels category; javelin dodging and manhole-cover discus; synchronized sweating; and the 100-yard pothole obstacle course.   

2052: Zoning will be enacted after a majority on the City Council mistakes the vote for “enabling strict ozone.”    

2055: The 10,000 children from Central America who arrived in Houston illegally in 2014 will have their court deportation hearings postponed again. Same for their grandchildren.

2060: Every time something goes wrong here, outsiders will stop saying, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

2070: After 55 years, The Houston Chronicle finally wins its second Pulitzer for its series on: The Pulitzer—Who Needs It?

Oh, about Wang Jing. He is a Chinese billionaire leading a consortium that won approval from the Nicaraguan government to build a $50 billion canal across the country, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and, we must assume, vice versa. The Panama Canal is about 450 miles south of the proposed route, so the Port of Houston will be closer to West Coast ports and Asia. Not to be outdone, the Panama Canal itself is being vastly widened to accommodate massive Post Panamax container ships. And since the Port of Houston is the closest major East Coast port to these canals, it is already spending hundreds of millions of dollars getting set to receive. In future decades, the already-mighty Port will become even more important to Houston’s economy. Buy water.

Ashby is futuristic at ashby2@comcast.net.

26 Most Beautiful Houstonians 2015


In honor of this column’s 10-year anniversary, we salute 25 past honorees—and one newbie worthy of a spot among the greats—for their outstanding service.

by Warner Roberts

H Texas is pleased to present 25 Beautiful Houstonians who, with the exception of one, have been selected from past honorees for their unwavering community service.

It was a beautiful sunny day in 2005 when I had lunch with Editor-in-Chief Laurette Veres to pitch her my idea for an article on “25 beautiful Houstonians.” Immediately, she liked it, agreeing that it would not only be an interesting article, but a great way to honor those who spend much of their lives serving others and making our community a better place.

To open my first article, I wrote something that I still firmly stand by: “I believe that there is something very beautiful about each and every human being. Therefore, this project has been, without question, one of the most difficult I have ever tackled.” And I must say that, choosing 25 candidates from the former 225 honorees, was nearly impossible.

Throughout history, writers have defined “beauty” through poetry and prose. It was Margaret Wolfe Hungerford who wrote, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and many writers and philosophers have expressed different versions of the same sentiment.

Benjamin Franklin wrote,“Beauty, like supreme dominion, is but supported by opinion.” And as we know, opinions differ. In the words of Shakespeare, “Beauty is bought by the judgment of the eye.” Ask 100 people to answer the question, “What is beauty?” and you will get 100 different answers. But our mothers probably described it best when they said, “Beauty is as beauty does.” 

In a most eloquent description of the essence of beauty, John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” Laurette and I both feel that Keats might have meant that, through service to mankind, we shall never pass into oblivion.

We at H Texas define beauty as the ability to spread joy, lift spirits, encourage and inspire, and we measure it through service. The men and women on this list are not only physically captivating, but they make our city a more beautiful place through their generosity of spirit, compassion, creativity and dedication to serving. Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart!” And a quote from Audrey Hepburn, a famous beauty and actress, whose memory lives on, reads, “As you grow older, you will find that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, one for helping others.”

Congratulations and a heartfelt thank you to 2015’s 26 Most Beautiful Houstonians. H


MonicaHartlandBlaisdellMonica Hartland Blaisdell, as the third-oldest child of 14, quickly learned to care for her younger siblings. With an innate willingness to help others, she once committed to donating $83 a month for five years to the homeless women and children at The Mission of Yahweh when she had very little money for herself.

Having experienced her own crisis, her life’s goal is to be a torchbearer for those less fortunate. Monica has chaired The Mission of Yahweh’s most successful gala. For six years, she and her husband, John, have produced “Christmas on a Mission” for The Mission of Yahweh, which provides a snow-covered, fantasy Christmas for homeless women and children. Recently, Monica co-chaired the Houston Ballet Jubilee of Dance, and this year, she co-chairs the Work Faith Connection and the Children’s Assessment Center’s Spirit of Spring luncheons.


AnneCarlCelebrating two milestone events this past year—two decades of marriage and a successful family business—Anne Carl has so much to be thankful for. 

While working with her husband, Noble, and raising their two beautiful girls, she still finds time to sit on The Friends Board for the Children’s Assessment Center and will be co-chairing this year’s Clayton Dabney “Sun Kissed by an Angel in St. Barth’s” event on April 15. Proceeds will go directly to supporting families who face the devastating loss of a child to cancer. 

Beginning this year, Anne was chosen as the first official brand ambassador for Valmont skincare. This exclusive French line, sold only at Saks Fifth Avenue stores, features a one-of-a-kind breakthrough technology for skin-care management.

Over the years, Anne has been involved in various charity organizations, including: The American Heart Association, Rienzi, Hermann Park Conservancy, The Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Second Baptist Church and The Children’s Museum of Houston.


Deborah-DuncanDeborah Duncan has been a media personality for 25 years, anchoring news and hosting talk shows in Austin, Dallas, New York and currently Great Day Houston on KHOU-TV, Channel 11. Her job has called on her to provide calm in the mist of disaster, to give people information to empower their lives, to provide a voice to the business community and to lend a hand to many nonprofit organizations.

Deborah serves on the national board of directors of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers; she is also a board member of the Palmer Drug Abuse Program and Houston Sober Center. She has chaired numerous fund-raising events for such organizations as The Bridge Over Troubled Waters and performed for the past two years at The Mission of Yahweh’s “Unplugged and On a Mission.” Deborah recently won an Emmy for community service with the Star of Hope-For the Holidays album. One of the most popular emcees in the city, Deborah has volunteered her time and talent for countless fund-raisers.


DrCarolynFarbbyGittingsHouston’s premier volunteer fund-raiser, author, art patron and philanthropist, Dr. Carolyn Farb personifies the essence of a life dedicated to public service. She is a native Texan whose passion shines internationally.

Dr. Farb’s fund-raising style, spirit and successes have set national standards. Her philanthropic service has benefitted more than 100 charitable organizations, raising in excess of $50 million. Once a cause touches her heart, it becomes part of Carolyn’s life forever.

When chairing an event, she is as devoted as any CEO is to their corporation. With each new project, Dr. Farb creates a strategic plan. Her goal is to operate on her “zero budget” philosophy to get expenses underwritten. The key to Dr. Farb’s success is in her dynamic vision, intensity of purpose and total commitment. Her hands-on planning and execution for every project serve as a model for others. Her life is an example of the power of one individual’s commitment to a cause. To quote the heroic Steve Jobs: “Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, do it.”


JoanneKingHerringThe Dame, The Knight, The Ambassador, Hostess, Author, Texas Hall of Famer and now Nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal (the civilian equivalent of a Congressional Medal of Honor), Joanne Herring has been named the Queen of Texas by People, Forbes and Fortune magazines, along with the Washington Post, CNN, Fox and others.

Joanne, with Charlie Wilson, played a critical role in ending the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan without the loss of one American life. Their efforts aided President George W. Bush and Secretary James Baker in the collapse of the greatest war machine in history. This action helped to end the Cold War and many say prevented WWIII. The film, Charlie Wilson’s War, made by Robin King and starring Julia Roberts, was shown to Charlie Wilson, Bill Casey, President Bush, Henry Kissinger and Prince Bandar, who convinced Saudi Arabia to fund half of the war and set in motion these extraordinary events.

Joanne’s biography, Diplomacy and Diamonds, was a best-seller on five lists in 2011 and is still in demand. The Joanne King Show, on the air for 15 years, was rated the fifth-most-popular TV show in the United States. She has been lauded by the press in England, France, Germany, Spain, Pakistan and Morocco, and has entertained their presidents and kings on their state visits to the United States. In her long career, Joanne has supported every ethnic group in Houston, and has chaired and been honored by every major charity.

Joanne also founded the Marshall Plan Charities for Afghanistan to aid villagers by providing them with the means to acquire food, water education, medical care and jobs needed for them to succeed.

Joanne’s family includes two sons, Robin and Beau King, daughter-in-law, Stanisse King, and three grandchildren. Her family and her faith are her main interests in life.


Sydney-Faustby-GittingsSidney Faust is married to Don Faust, owner of Faust Distributing. Don and Sidney lived in Baytown until their move to Houston in 1992, when Sidney became involved in a number of organizations. In 1999, she co-chaired the Houston Symphony Maestro Luncheon with Cora Sue Mach. Since then, the successful team has run such events as the Winter Ball, Women’s Health Summit, Baylor Partnership, Greater Houston Alliance Gold Brick Dinner and The Chic Boutique.

Presently, Sidney is co-chairing the Celebration of Champions and New Barc Gala. She has been named a 2003 Woman of Distinction and Ambassador for the Winter Ball in 2013. Don and Sidney were honorees of the Harris County Hospital district. Sidney was also an honoree at the Mission of Yahweh, the Hope and Healing Luncheon, the Salvation Ladies Auxiliary Reflection’s on Style luncheon and the Women’s Health Summit. She served as ball advisor for the Centennial Houston Symphony Ball. Don and Sidney have held 65 retreats, called a Healing Tradition, for the children and their families from Texas Children’s Cancer Center.


BillKingbyGittingsBill King is a life-long resident of the Houston area. He was born and raised along Galveston Bay in Kemah, Texas. He earned an undergraduate and law degree from the University of Houston. Bill has enjoyed a varied business and legal career. He is currently president of Southwest Airport Services, Inc. and also an investor or director in several other businesses.

Bill’s community involvement includes numerous public service and volunteer organizations. From 1992 to 2004, he served in various positions with the City of Kemah, including the Kemah Economic Development Corporation, City Council and two terms as Mayor. He has also served in many capacities with charitable and civic organizations, including Interfaith Ministries, the Methodist Debakey Health, Fire Fighter Foundation of Houston, Crime Stoppers and Galveston Bay Foundation. Bill has received numerous awards for his public service, including the Galleria Chamber’s “Texas Legend” award, the American Leadership Foundation’s Jaworski Leadership Award and the National Hurricane Conference’s Outstanding Achievement Award.

Bill regularly writes for the Houston Chronicle and has authored two books. His most recent, Unapologetically Moderate, has recently been released by Bright Sky Press.


Shelby_HodgebyJulie-SoeferFor two decades, Shelby Hodge, CultureMap editor-at-large, has been transforming the role of society editor into that of sophisticated social scribe, recording and photographing the comings and goings of Houston’s most influential citizens. Shelby’s coverage of charities, both large and small, of cultural and medical entities and of educational nonprofits, has provided a powerful voice for the nonprofit community. Being spotlighted in one of her columns is a badge of honor; her articles often lead to greater support for the organizations featured.

Even after two decades of covering this aspect of the social scene, Shelby maintains a fresh approach to her tasks, always with a pleasant and engaging demeanor. Along the way, she has been honored for her good works by Legacy Community Health Services, Houston Ballet, Houston Children’s Charity and the YWCA, among others. Shelby was society editor at the Houston Chronicle for 18 years before helping launch CultureMap in 2009.


PamLockhardPamela Lockard founded her award-winning marketing agency, DMN3, in 1992. Today, her 30-person firm helps clients build revenue using lead generation and customer growth strategies. Raised in Galena Park, Texas, she learned the importance of leadership, hard work, perseverance and giving back at an early age.

While never achieving her childhood dream of becoming a missionary in Africa, Pam and her husband, Ronald Sterlekar, donate time and resources to the less fortunate in Houston. Pam has served on the board of The Mission of Yahweh for 25 years. She’s also a life-time member of the Kezia DePelchin Society and a past winner of the HBJ Enterprise Award for philanthropy. The University of Houston Alumni Association honored her in 2013 for giving time, resources and energy to the University.


KimMoodybyGittingsKim Moody is a native Houstonian and grew up watching her mother, the late Katherine Blissard, open her heart to serve others.

Kim’s volunteering involves working with Children’s Assessment Center; The American Heart Association; Amschwand Sarcoma Foundation; Ronald McDonald House; The Museum of Natural Science; The Children’s Museum; the Nutcracker Market benefitting the Houston Ballet; The Women’s Health Summit for the Huffington Center on Aging; The Citizens for Animal Protection; the Bridge Over Troubled Waters for Women and Children; Houston Sweetheart Luncheon; Habitat for Horses; Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo; and The Joy School. Kim is currently chairing the Mission of Yaweh Gala, to be held May 8.

Kim has served on the board for the Children’s Assessment Center, and as president of the Children’s Assessment Center Friend’s Guild and of the River Oaks Country Club Women’s Association. Kim and Dan Moody have been married for 25 years, and have one daughter, Makell, who is the light of their lives. Kim and Dan, along with Dan’s mother, Mary, were honored in 2009 by the CAC at the Spirit of Spring Luncheon. They were also the 2007 recipients of the Pacesetters Award from the Cancer League of Houston. Most recently, Kim was named an ABC-13 Woman of Distinction by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.


JoelOsteenJoel Osteen is the pastor of America’s largest church, Lakewood Church of Houston. He is the most popular inspirational figure in the U.S. and a New York Times best-selling author. Joel’s appeal is universal, allowing him to cross over to audiences that are diverse racially, politically and socioeconomically. His seven books have all been number-one national best-sellers. Each week, Joel’s broadcast is watched by more than 10 million people in the U.S. and in approximately 100 nations around the world. More than 1.2 million people watch his services online each month, ranking JoelOsteen.com one of the top 10 streaming sites in the world. More than 2 million people have attended his Night of Hope events across the U.S. and around the globe.

In 2014, Joel launched “Joel Osteen Radio”, a new exclusive channel on SiriusXM featuring live weekly call-in shows hosted by both Joel and his wife, Victoria. Through it’s many ministries and partners, Lakewood Church ministers to tens of thousands of individuals throughout the Houston area and the nation.


Kim-PadgettBorn and raised in Houston, Kim Padgett serves as the president of The Padgett Group, a strategic marketing and public relations consulting firm based in Houston, and brings more than 20 years of experience in public relations and marketing communications to her clients.

Kim is an active community volunteer and animal advocate, and serves on several boards of directors and advisory boards focused on the health and welfare of Houstonians. She has chaired, co-chaired and served on host, auction and underwriter committees for many Houston fund-raisers, raising millions for local charities. She received her bachelor’s in journalism and foreign studies and her master’s in international journalism from Baylor University. Kim also attended college in Aix-en-Provence, France, and London. She was awarded by the Public Relations Society of America the inaugural “Media Relations Professional of the Year” award, nominated and voted on by media representatives from the Greater Houston area. She is a frequent speaker at public relations and marketing industry events, as well as a contributing author to multiple professional, business and lifestyle publications.


BrucePadillaBruce Padilla, the former director for Baccarat Crystal, is now the Regional Manager MCM Worldwide. He is an avid supporter of animal, children’s and medical charities. He is currently president-elect of the development board of the Huffington Center on Aging at the Baylor College of Medicine. He is also a member of the Friends Guild Board of the Children’s Assessment Center, the Advisory Board of
Houston Achievement Place, a member of the SDMC at Grady Middle School, past Capital Campaign Board member for the new CAP Shelter, and was a Man of the Year candidate for the Leukemia Society in 2014. He has chaired or co-chaired numerous fund-raising events for many different charities; his proudest accomplishment was serving as a co-chair for the 2012 CAP gala, which raised a record $800,000, their highest-grossing gala to date.


ReganbyGittingsRachel Regan has been involved in the philanthropic efforts in the Houston community since the minute she became a Houstonian 17 years ago. Rachel is currently the president of the Baylor College of Medicine Partnership Board, on the board of the March of Dimes, Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital, executive board of VICTORY in support of the American Cancer Society, and the Children’s Assessment Center Friends Guild board. She has chaired or co-chaired events that have raised millions of dollars, including: the inaugural Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital Gala; The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market; Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Gala; and Citizens for Annual Protection Gala. She is extremely proud of her work with The Junior League of Houston, Inc., over the past decade, when she has served as the development vice president last year. She has been honored with the Sarah Houston Lindsey Outstanding Active Award Winner, recognizing her for exemplifying the League’s mission of promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community. Rachel also has given her time to Dress for Success Houston, Houston Zoo Friends and St. Luke’s Friends of Nursing Board, and last year, was recognized as a CCFA 2014 Women of Distinction.

Next up, Rachel is chairing the 1925 – An Epic Era Charity Ball, a three-night celebration of the 90th Anniversary for The Junior League of Houston in February, and in October, will co-chair the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gala.

Rachel is most proud of her marriage to her supportive and loving husband, Tom, and their two beautiful children, Wynn Lawrence, age 4, and Eleanor Kathryn (Ella), age 2.


Rosemary-Schatzman-byGittingsRosemary Schatzman concentrates much of her time on raising money for organizations centered around children, family, and related health and human services groups. Her primary focus is helping further the mission of the March of Dimes to reduce birth defects and infant mortality. Rosemary has volunteered for this organization since 1997 and has served on the board since 1999. She has chaired multiple events for March of Dimes, and will chair the 2015 Houston Chronicle Best Dressed Luncheon and Neiman Marcus Fashion Presentation. She has participated in the annual March for Babies for 18 years. In 2014, Rosemary received the Elaine Whitelaw National Volunteer Service award.

Rosemary serves on the board of Dec My Room, and is on the Advisory Boards for Child Advocates and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. She has served on the boards of American Heart Association, JDRF, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and Family Services of Greater Houston.


Jeff-ShellJeff Shell has been a principal at the Neal Hamil Model and Talent Agency of Texas since 1997. Established in 1974, Neal Hamil Agency has several divisions, including fashion, runway, commercial, talent, fitness, plus-size and kids. The agency reps models, actors, hair and makeup artists, stylists and more, and they coordinate and produce fashion shows, special events, TV commercials, advertising and marketing services.

Since 2008, Jeff has served as the founder and executive director of the Little Black Dress Designer Foundation, one of Texas’ largest fashion-based competitions for students in fashion design, giving away more than $100,000 in scholarships to students who participate in the challenge to remake the LBD.

For 15 years, Jeff has been rubbing elbows with international fashion designers, including Carmen Marc Valvo, Naeem Khan, Badgley Mischka, Carolina Herrera, J. Mendel, Monique Lhuillier, Nicole Miller, Narciso Rodriguez and Tory Burch.

In 2005, Jeff Shell founded the Green Valentine. Taking root as a community tree planting at Stude Park in the Heights, the Green Valentine has sprouted up as a series of green-minded events promoting our love of community, living a sustainable lifestyle and supporting all things local.

Jeff regularly contributes to several nonprofits and arts organizations, including the Fashion Group International, Inc. of Houston, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, the Alley Theatre, DiverseWorks, Recipe for Success, Dress for Success and more. Jeff is also an artist, entrepreneur, photographer and gardener, and he raises chickens to boot.


MilletteShermanbyGittingsMillette Sherman has embraced Houston with her charismatic, passionate spirit that makes the city so great. She is the devoted wife to Haag and mother of Carson, 13, and Julia, 8. Millette serves on the Board of Directors for numerous foundations within the Houston community. Her first involvement was with the March of Dimes. She currently serves on the Board of Family Services of Greater Houston, Children’s Museum of Houston and St Luke’s Hospital Friends of Nursing.

She has chaired many luncheons, events and galas over the years. Millette’s community honors include: Easter Seal’s Hats Off to Mothers Award; she was chosen as one of Houston’s Best Dressed honorees by the Houston Chronicle and she was honored with the ABC channel 13 Women of Distinction, Chron’s and Colitis Foundation award. Her business savvy, energy, attention to detail and focus on the bottom line make her an ideal volunteer.


AliciaSmithbyGittingsAlicia Smith wears many hats: wife, mother, entrepreneur, volunteer and philanthropist. In 1992, she founded Associated Video Services, the first female-owned legal video enterprise in Houston. Her company, Innovative Legal Solutions, has been in business for more than 22 years.

Alicia serves on the board of directors of WBEA, the GHWCC, The Houston Ballet, March of Dimes and UNICEF Southwest Region; she is a member of Entrepreneurs Organization. Alicia has chaired numerous fund-raising events and most recently co-chaired the 2014 UNICEF Audrey Hepburn Society Ball; she is also chairing the Capital Campaign for Lutheran South Academy. Alicia’s honors include the Team Excellence Award – CAC Direct Service Volunteer – Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas; CCFA Woman of Distinction; Leadership Houston Class XXVI, Crisis Intervention “The A List”; The Huffington Center on Aging Excellence in Bloom Award; Social Book Houston Treasure Award; and 2015 Mission of Yahweh Leaders & Legends Award.

She and her husband, Lance, are the proud parents of three sons, Justin, Cole and Chandler, who can always be found supporting their many activities.


MichelleLeyendeckerSmithMichelle Leyendecker Smith is an active member of the Houston community. As a tribute to her sister Laura, who has cystic fibrosis, she has chaired numerous Gulf Coast Cystic Fibrosis Foundation events since 1995. She and her mother were honored at the Cystic Fibrosis “Mother’s Day Tea.” She has served as auction chair for March of Dimes Signature Chefs event in 2009 and 2011, and on the auction committee and underwriter committee for several “Stoney Creek Ranch” events, a Christian Camp providing scholarships for urban youth since 2005. She has been on the Texas Children’s Lifetime Ambassador Committee, and host committee for events relating to the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute and the Pavilion for Women. Michelle has served on the host and auction committee for The Center for Hearing and Speech in Houston. She co-chaired the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Brunch and Fashion Show, and chaired The Annual Gala for The Center For Hearing and Speech in 2013.


Sue-SmithSue Smith’s joie de vie is present in every part of her life and inspires others to live life to the fullest. Along with her husband, Lester Smith, Sue has been at the helm of some of the city’s most successful fund-raising events, including the largest single fund-raising evening in Houston’s history at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. The Lester and Sue Smith Foundation has provided upwards of $100 million to Texas Medical Center institutions, including Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and Harris Health System. In addition, Sue has made significant contributions of time and talent to many other non-profits, including Legacy Community Health Services; March of Dimes; Houston Children’s Charity; The Women’s Home; Holocaust Museum Houston; Mission of Yahweh; Thin Blue Line; and countless others.

Although Sue enjoys supporting charity events, her favorite pastimes are spending time with Lester, yoga, needlepoint, photography and growing orchids.


Claire-ThielkeA native Houstonian and executive with Hines Interests, Claire Thielke devotes her time to numerous arts, health and environmental causes. She serves on the board of directors of Memorial City Bank and is chairman of the Endowment Board of Legacy Community Health Services. Claire also serves on the MD Anderson Advance Team, a cause that is dear to her heart as a former patient.

An urban planner by training with a master’s degree in sustainable construction and historic preservation, Claire founded and chairs Pier & Beam, an organization for young professionals interested in saving Houston’s historic buildings. She is also a member of the boards of Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Preservation Houston, and serves on the advisory board and finance committee for Hermann Park.

A member of the 2014 Houston’s Best Dressed List, Claire has numerous philanthropic efforts planned for 2015. Next up: a capital campaign for a new Gulfton Clinic for Legacy and the 2015 Tee Up for Counseling fete, benefitting the Nick Finnegan Counseling Center. Clair is married to her high school sweetheart, energy trader, Rick Thielke.


PhoebeTudorPhoebe Tudor is an active community volunteer. She earned her bachelor’s in art history from the University of Virginia and master’s in historic preservation from Columbia University. She is the founding chairman of the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners, which spearheaded the effort to renovate Houston’s oldest library. She is also chair of the Centennial Campaign, raising money for the new Centennial Garden at Hermann Park, as well as president of the board of the Houston Ballet Foundation, the former chairman of the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission, and last year’s Preservationist of the Year, designated by Mayor Parker. Phoebe serves on the board of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, is a Best Dressed Hall of Fame inductee, and will be honored at the 2014 Ballet Ball and at Hermann Park’s Gala.

She and her husband, Bobby, are high school sweethearts from Louisiana, and have three wonderful children.


MarthaTurnerbyGittingsMartha Fuller Turner is a leading realtor, creative entrepreneur, humanitarian, teacher and family woman with a unique blend of energy, optimism and humor. She graduated from University of North Texas, where she was a member of the Board of Regents. Martha was president for 34 years of Houston’s outstanding independent real estate firm Martha Turner Properties, which was purchased by Sotheby’s International Realty in January 2014.

Since 2001, Martha has been a member of the Alexis De Tocqueville Society. Martha was president and board chair of Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, a founding member of United Cerebral Palsy Women’s Board and a member of Texas Business Hall of Fame, American Diabetes Foundation—their winning “Kiss-a-Pig” Candidate and Fundraiser. She also served on the advisory board of directors of Texas Commerce Bank. She is presently on the board of trustees of Houston Baptist University. Martha was the honoree at the 12th Annual Legacy Community Health Services Luncheon in September 2014.

Martha lives and moves in the arenas of hope and thankfulness, focusing on the positive—on actions to open up possibilities for a brighter future for all people.


JJWattThe only new Most Beautiful Houstonian in this column, superstar Houston Texan JJ Watt works as hard on the football field as anyone ever has. But, luckily for many young people, he also works hard to give back. He is the president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, a charitable organization that provides after-school opportunities for children in various communities, in order for them to get involved in athletics in a safe environment. He and the JJ Watt Foundation host a Charity Classic Run/Walk, Golf Outing and Tailgate annually. The Charity Classic is a softball game held at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas, in which Texans players participate in a game and Home Run Derby to raise money for the foundation. Last year, JJ received the Texans Spirit of the Bull Community Award, and was nominated for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award, which honors a coach, player or owner for their efforts in supporting the country’s service men and women.


MargaretAlkekWilliamsbyGittingsMargaret Alkek Williams is chairman of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation. Together with her son, Charles Williams, who is president of the foundation, she continues the legacy of giving established by her parents, Albert and Margaret Alkek.

Once described by the Houston Chronicle as “the most powerful, committed female philanthropist in Houston since Ima Hogg,” the impact of Margaret and her family’s generosity to the medical, cultural arts and educational communities has been profound. The majority of the Alkek Foundation’s support has been to the Texas Medical Center with more than $100 million going to Baylor College of Medicine.

Margaret’s support of the cultural arts in Houston has been nothing short of transformational with major gifts directed by Margaret for the Alley Theatre; Houston Grand Opera; Houston Ballet; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Society for the Performing Arts; Houston Symphony; and Theatre Under The Stars.

Margaret has devoted her life to supporting our community through her charitable giving. Her tireless efforts have helped Houston to become the vibrant, world-class city it is today.


LynnWyattsLynn Wyatt is a third-generation Texan and Houston socialite, a legendary philanthropist, a style icon and an international hostess. Truly a renaissance woman, she is just as comfortable as a member of the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame, or when she was appointed by President Reagan to the Board of the U.S. Naval Academy, being interviewed by Vogue or practicing Tae Kwon Do, even earning a Black Belt First Degree.

Lynn has chaired prestigious events in Houston and elsewhere too numerous to mention. She is a Lifetime Trustee of the Star of Hope; vice-chair of the Houston Grand Opera; executive committee member of The Alley Theater; founding trustee of the Film Department of MFA; honorary director for the American Hospital in Paris; executive committee member of The Houston Ballet; a founding trustee for The Princess Grace Foundation USA; Elton John AIDS Foundation member; and the Rothko Chapel’s Cultural Ambassador.

Lynn’s priority has always been her family: Her husband, Oscar, and their four sons, Steven, Douglas, Trey and Bradford, and her wonderful grandchildren, Ford and Catherine, of whom she is so proud!

Quick Escape: Get Out of the House Already

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


Before camp starts—and before the kids get cooped up—go somewhere special with the family. Take this quiz to choose the right destination for your crowd. 

1. Which scent appeals to you?

a. Sweet salted caramel.

b. Tropical palms and fragrant flowers.

c. Woodsy pine and freshly cut grass.

2. Which animal would your kids be most excited to see?

a. Gorillas. Got bananas?

b. Penguins—they’re the coolest!

c. Deer galloping along.

3. Which of these treats would your kids devour instantly?

a. Funnel cake, nachos and hotdogs.

b. An organic, fresh fruit smoothie.

c. They like trying new things—whatever taco or cupcake truck is the hottest in town.

4. Which of these is a top priority for a family outing?

a. Staying active.

b. Relaxing.

c. Learning new things.

5. What’s your family vacation soundtrack?

a. Upbeat pop and sunny rock.

b. Disney songs.

c. My kids are the soundtrack! Take me to the spa!

6. What’s the kids’ favorite way to have fun at home?

a. Playing with the dog.

b. Going swimming or playing outside.

c. Building a huge blanket-and-pillow fort in the living room.

7. What’s your tolerance for the requisite, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

a. High. I can tune it out as long as the iPod’s blasting.

b. Medium. It grates on my nerves, but it’s par for the course.

c. Low. Get. Me. Outta. Here!

8. What’s the best way to sleep?

a. With the sound of crashing waves outside my window.

b. Camping—nothing’s better than being one with nature.

c. In the comfort of my own bed!

9. Which of these upcoming blockbusters is your family dying to see?

a. Jurassic World, the Jurassic Park sequel.

b. Minions, a story about the origins of the minions in Despicable Me.

c. Pan, a live-action version of Peter Pan by Warner Bros.

10. What’s your favorite thing about living in Houston?

a. Being close to the Gulf.

b. The rich activities and events every weekend.

c. I love Houston, but love traveling even more!

Tally up your score:

1. a – 2; b – 1; c – 3

2. a – 1; b – 2; c – 3

3. a – 2; b – 3; c – 1

4. a – 2; b – 3; c – 1

5. a – 2; b – 1; c – 3

6. a – 1; b – 2; c – 3

7. a – 3; b – 2; c – 1

8. a – 2; b – 3; c – 1

9. a – 1; b – 2; c – 3

10. a – 2; b – 1; c – 3

Here’s Where You Should GO!

If you scored 10–12 points:

Wild Learning Experience:
Houston Zoo and the Museum District

A trip to the Houston Zoo (www.houstonzoo.org) and the surrounding museum district is a quickie way to get away! Make it a “stay-cation” for the family, and take advantage of all the enriching activities that Houston has to offer. Becoming a member of the zoo has it perks: special hours for members to beat the crowds, invites to events and special previews of new exhibits. Keep an eye on the zoo’s daily calendar to know when zookeepers will be giving talks on your children’s favorite animals or when feedings will take place. We’re exhilarated at the thought of the gorilla exhibit—the home for seven new gorillas—coming in May 2015. It will be a part of the African Forests Exhibit that features giraffes, rhinos and zebras.

HMNSNext to the zoo, you’ll find the Houston Museum of Natural Science (www.hmns.org), which will be hosting a magnificent and interactive shark exhibit through September. The museum also has a paleontology hall and a section devoted to Texas wildlife that showcases our great state’s diversity in species. The Cockrell Butterfly Center is a must-see, thanks to the rainforest and 50-foot waterfall housed in a three-story glass structure.

For the young and curious ones, the Children’s Museum of Houston (www.cmhouston.org) offers immersive experiences designed to let creative and scientific juices flow with exhibits that emphasize invention and finding out how things work. Both museums offer free admission on Thursdays; the HMNS is from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and the CMS is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

If you scored 13–21 points:

Fun in the Sun:

Galveston is only an hour away, and you can make a long weekend of it with your family. While there’s plenty of fun to be had on the shores and in the sand, try Schlitterbahn Galveston (www.schlitterbahn.com/galveston), which has thrilling slides and covered attractions to beat the heat. Lounge in style under cabanas that are available through reservations with wait service, complimentary water bottles and more. There’s also bonus perks for purchasing tickets at Schlitterbahn: savings for the Galveston Pleasure Pier!

Galveston-PierThe discount works both ways; you can visit Pleasure Pier (www.pleasurepier.com) first and save on your visit to Schlitterbahn. The Pleasure Pier, newly renovated in May 2012, hosts restaurants, shops, games and 15 rides, like the thrilling Iron Shark Rollercoaster and the Galaxy Wheel, which allows you to take in a stunning view of the coast. For a more breathtaking experience, try the Texas Star Flyer, the tallest swing ride in Texas at 230 feet above sea level!

Continue the adventure at Moody Gardens (www.moodygardens.com) with its new five-tier, obstacle rope course and zip-lining activity. After the adrenaline rush is complete, wind down with the family at Palm Beach, which is Galveston’s only white-sand beach, complete with a lazy river and wave pool. Moody Gardens also has an aquarium, a rainforest experience, and 3D and 4D special-effects theaters.

If you scored 22–30 points:

The Suite Life:
Resorts Beyond Houston

SWFIMG_150113_17460858_N0Q1WHead north to some outstanding resorts beyond city limits. The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center (www.woodlandsresort.com) has been named one of America’s Most Family Friendly Resorts by Fox News. The rooms make you feel zen with their warm décor, and most of them have balcony or pool walkout access. Explore The Woodlands’ surrounding nature with a family bike ride, or take it easy at the resort’s serene Forest Oasis Waterscape, where you can tube down a lazy river surrounded by trees.

Further up north in Montgomery, enjoy La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa (www.latorrettalakeresort.com) at Lake Conroe. La Torretta has an expansive list of activities for kids that will make them feel like they’re at summer camp: arts and crafts, volleyball, dodgeball and competitions for sandcastle building, dancing and mini-golf. The Aqua Park includes an infinity pool, a heated pool, a lazy river and a poolside grill. For a more private experience, the resort also has cottages for rent with separate living areas, all along the golf course. (Pets are welcome with a deposit fee.)

Head northwest toward Hempstead to discover the Lone Star Jellystone Park (www.lonestarjellystone.com) in Waller. The park offers three ways to stay: cabins that can sleep up to
eight and include a full kitchen; campgrounds for RVs and tents; and the Grand Lodge, a luxurious version of the standard cabins. Lone Star also has picnic areas and waterslides and pools to cool off in. Check the park calendar for events every weekend throughout the year. (Call ahead for pet-friendly cabins.) H

Surprising Health Risks

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


We all know the usual culprits behind diseases such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes. But some of the biggest hazards may surprise you.

by Stacy Baker Masand

You’ve got this healthy-living stuff nailed, right? You don’t smoke, you eat nutritiously (give or take a few indulgences), you’ve done tens of thousands of planks and rolled over in Pilates class more than a Mafia informer. You try to lead a well-balanced, stress-free lifestyle—just like the doctor ordered. Problem is, you may be sabotaging your health without even knowing it.

There are a host of unexpected risks for five of the most prevalent diseases. Read on to find out the surprising ways that even seemingly innocuous lifestyle factors may be putting your health at risk.


Most of us associate diabetes with inactivity, a bad diet and being overweight, but that’s only part of the story. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 35 percent of us over the age of 20 fall into the category of pre-diabetes. That means your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be but aren’t high enough to qualify you as having type 2 diabetes.

And once you’ve got diabetes, you’re twice as likely to develop heart disease. “Because of the growing trend of increased body weight, lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle, we’ve noticed an increase in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a surprising jump in the incidence of diabetes and other heart problems,” says Ravi Dave, MD, director of cardiology at UCLA Santa Monica Cardiology. “A lot of these issues start at a surprisingly young age.” Which makes it all the more imperative to avoid these other unexpected risks:

Sleepless-NightBad sleep habits. Studies show that if you sleep less than six hours a day or more than nine, your risk of heart disease and stroke goes up. “Lack of sleep doesn’t directly increase diabetes, but indirectly, it creates situations that put you at risk,” Dr. Dave says. “It prevents exercise and increases your intake of sugars and starches, because you’re more likely to reach for a doughnut when you’re falling asleep midday.”

Reduce your risk: “You need to fall into that sweet spot of sleep—between six and eight hours a night,” Dr. Dave advises.

Abdominal fat. Metabolic syndrome, a condition Dr. Dave describes as having excess fat in your abdominal area and a pear-shaped body, will increase your risk significantly. For women, this is a belt size over 34 inches and, for men, over 38 inches. “This puts you at risk for both diabetes and heart disease,” he says. Metabolic syndrome also includes a host of other symptoms, like increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels, which contribute to diabetes and other health issues.

Reduce your risk: “If this is your natural body type, be extra vigilant in getting exercise and watching your diet,” says Dr. Dave. “Control sugar, soda and sodium intake, and avoid rice, pasta and bread, which increase fat in the abdomen.”

Business-Man-ChairSitting. By now you’ve heard the mantra that “sitting
is the new smoking.” It’s true. Studies show that sitting for prolonged periods of time not only contributes to poor posture, but also impedes blood flow to the legs, creates swelling of the ankles and causes overall fatigue because your body gets used to being sedentary, according to Dr. Dave.

Reduce your risk: Get an adjustable desk, so you can stand for part of the day, or find other opportunities to stand, such as when you’re on the phone. Another option is to walk around periodically. Researchers at Indiana University found that taking a five-minute stroll once an hour can counter the effects of sitting.


Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, and nearly 130,000 die from one, according to the CDC. It is a leading cause of serious long-term disability, and can cause partial paralysis, impaired thinking, and awareness and speech problems. You probably know that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are major risk factors, but check out these other, surprising risks:

Depression. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with depression were 45 percent more likely to have a stroke and 55 percent more likely to die from it. Another study showed that people with heart disease had more severe and frequent depression symptoms and a greater risk of stroke.

Reduce your risk: If you’re overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, have lost interest in everyday activities, feel tired and unenergetic, or have feelings of anxiety and irritability, see your doctor or a mental-health professional.

OTC pain killers. If you think nothing of regularly popping an ibuprofen for everyday pain relief, think again. Doing so ups your stroke risk three times higher than someone taking a placebo pill, a 2013 study in The Lancet found.

Reduce your risk: Switch to all-natural pain relievers, suggests Dr. Gabrielle Francis, ND, DC, LAc, and author of The Rockstar Remedy (HarperWave, 2014). “Omega-3s are natural anti-inflammatories that you can take in the form of fish oil or organic flax oil,” she explains. Take about a tablespoon per day, she says. A sweet alternative: One ounce of pure dark chocolate, which, Dr. Francis explains, is high in phenylalanine, which helps alleviate pain and increases endorphins.

A nightly Epsom salt bath can also help relieve pain. “Add two cups to a warm bath and soak for 20 minutes to reduce pain and relax muscles.”

Bad gums. Many studies have shown that people who have periodontal disease have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Columbia University researchers found that people who have higher levels of the bacteria that cause periodontal disease also tend to have thicker carotid arteries, a strong predictor of stroke and heart attack.

Reduce your risk: Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth. Also make sure to visit your dentist every six months or when you notice an issue such as bleeding gums.


More people die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer; it takes more lives than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined.

Though it’s associated mainly with cigarette smoking, 30 percent of lung cancer patients have never smoked a single cigarette. But there are a number of unexpected threats, including:

Radon. Radon causes about 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to Lonny Brett Yarmus, DO, clinical chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He says what’s scary about radon—a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in buildings—is that it cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. While that sounds like something you wouldn’t find in modern homes or environments, the truth is that radon gas can be found anywhere. And high levels of exposure, which usually occur in well-insulated homes or those built on radium-, uranium- or thorium-rich soils, is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Reduce your risk: The Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General recommend that all homes below the third floor be tested for the presence of radon. Consumer Reports gave highest marks to the AccuStar Alpha Track Test Kit AT 100 Radon test kit ($25; www.accustarlabs.com).

Secondhand smoke. Having a partner who’s a smoker increases your chances of developing lung cancer by 20 percent. “Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, of which many are known to cause cancer in people or animals,” says Dr. Yarmus. “About 7,300 people who never smoked die from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke every year.”

Reduce your risk: Keep your home and other indoor spaces, like your car, completely smoke-free, he suggests. No exceptions.

Diesel exhaust. Think a little exposure to urban exhaust fumes won’t be too harmful? Diesel pollution from cars and busses doesn’t just smell bad, but high levels can up your risk of lung cancer by 30 percent, according to a study in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene.

Reduce your risk: Help rid your body of toxins by increasing your intake of detoxifying foods. A recent study in Cancer Prevention Research found that vegetables, like broccoli and kale, help rid the body of cancer-causing pollutants like benzene and acrolein.


Someone in the U.S. dies from cardiovascular disease every 33 seconds, making it the number-one cause of death in America, according to the CDC. A recent study showed that if women control specific risk factors, they can lower their risk of heart disease and stroke by 90 percent, says Dr. Dave. The big five: maintaining a BMI of less than 25; exercising two-and-a-half hours a week (half an hour five times a week); eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables that also limits saturated fats and cholesterol; watching less than seven hours of TV a week; and reducing alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day. Also make sure to avoid these other surprising causes of heart disease:

Being skinny fat. Just because you look thin doesn’t mean you’re healthy. If your metabolism rocks, you may get by despite drinking soda, downing processed foods and avoiding exercise without gaining an ounce. But a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that 25 percent of people with normal weight have issues with blood pressure, cholesterol or heart disease. That’s because all those sugars and processed chemicals cause visceral fat storage, and up your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Reduce your risk: Even though you don’t need to eat better and exercise for weight control, you’ll want to incorporate healthier habits to improve your overall well-being.

Calcium supplements. A 2013 University of Aukland study found that women who took one gram of calcium citrate for five years had twice the risk for heart attack. (Though the reasons aren’t clear, researchers suspect that the supplements may cause blood calcium levels to quickly spike, which could contribute to artery disease. Calcium from foods causes levels to rise much more slowly.)

Reduce your risk: Boost your daily intake of calcium-rich foods, like milk, yogurt, cheese, collard greens, broccoli, sardines and edamame.

Relationship problems. When tensions run high at home between you and your partner, your risk of having a heart attack increases by 34 percent, according to a study conducted at University College London. That’s because the stress associated with these problems may increase high blood pressure, as well as your risk of diabetes and stroke.

Reduce your risk: When you hit a rough patch, seek support from friends, get space, and be sure to sleep six-to-eight hours a night.


While skin cancer is highly preventable, it accounts for more than half of all diagnosed cancers combined. Treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006, and one person every hour dies from melanoma, the most aggressive and serious type, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

While there’s not much you can do to mitigate some of the risks (being fair-skinned, living in a sunny climate), staying vigilant and notifying your doctor about changes in your skin can help you prevent serious issues. And you should try to avoid these other unforeseen risks:

Vitamin A creams. “Topical vitamin A creams, also called retinoids, are used to treat acne and fine lines and wrinkling,” explains Dr. Shannon Trotter, a professor of dermatology with the James Cancer Hospital and Ohio State University. “They may help correct photo-damaged skin as well.” Another form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, is an ingredient in some sunscreens.  But now, two independent studies have shown that retinoids and other vitamin A–packed lotions may actually be increasing the production of skin lesions and tumors.

Reduce your risk: “We recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and reapplying it every two hours,” Dr. Trotter says. But pass up sunscreens that contain retinyl palmitate, and only apply lotions containing retinols or vitamin A at night. “We also recommend avoiding the sun during peak hours of 10 and 4 p.m. and using sun-protective clothing, like hats, sunglasses and clothes that have a UPF rating. A diet rich in antioxidants may be protective against several types of cancer, including skin cancer.”

Viagra. A new Harvard study found that men who took the little blue pill were 84 percent more likely to develop melanoma than non-users.

Reduce your risk: A study from the University of the West in the United Kingdom found that pelvic exercises helped 40 percent of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) regain normal erectile function. Hit up a Pilates or yoga class for exercises that can help strengthen the pelvic floor. Other studies have found that aerobic exercise can also help remedy ED.

HPV. HPV may play a role in the development of a certain type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, according to a new study from the Mayo Clinic.

Reduce your risk: If you’ve ever been diagnosed with HPV, make sure to inform your dermatologist. H

New Heads on the Block

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


What every pilgrim should know

by Lynn Ashby

So you’re new to Houston. Big deal. So was everyone here, at one time or another. Just as we put a historical plaque on any building that gets a second coat of paint, anyone who has been in town since the last smog alert is considered an old-timer. But you want to blend in, so here are a few things to know, to avoid and to take on. This way, others won’t think you just fell off the oil tanker.

That road in west Houston is pronounced “san full-LEAP-eh,” not “san FILL-a-pee” or “san fill-uh-PAY.” We have a ROW-dee-oh, not a row-DAY-oh like that fancy-schmancy street in Beverly Hills. When entering a cantina, do not say, “Draw!” Also avoid using such terms as Cougar High, Dallas Cowboys (unless in a pejorative way) and Bud Adams. As a bit of background on this last item, the late Bud Adams owned the Houston Oilers and pulled off the impossible: He made football unpopular in Texas. Adams had a long-running row with Houston Post sports writer Jack Gallagher. They once got into a fistfight at the Shamrock bar. Later one colleague told Gallagher, “Bud Adams is his own worst enemy.” Gallagher replied, “Not as long as I’m alive.” Just trying to bring you up to speed on what happened here before you arrived. 

Houston has several nicknames and some really dumb slogans which never caught on. The Bayou City is the most often used. Space City was a good handle until NASA gave away several spacecraft. Los Angeles got one. So did that hub of space flight, New York City. Houston didn’t. Later we got a cheap mockup made by Mattel or Lego. Another slogan, in an effort to go with our weaknesses, we coined Houston’s Hot. We got burned. Way back in our history, we used Where 23 Railroads Meet The Sea. That event must have made a huge splash, so to speak. We’ve tried Expect the Unexpected (which everyone expected). If you can think of a good city slogan for us, you can stay. 

You may be wondering who are all these people with funny accents. Well, if you came from, say Boston, you would talk funny, too. Texans break any one-syllable word into two, the second beginning with y: Come over HEAR-yer, CA-yut, MAY-yun. One out every four of us is foreign born. Not just from one of the other 49 states. Foreign born. Houston has been called the most ethnically diverse city in America, if not in the world. Any place that has a lesbian mayor and a black police chief, where both Sheila Jackson Lee and Ted Cruz call home, has got to be diverse. Fortunately, we all get along, if you don’t count Aggies and Longhorns. And still newcomers arrive. From July 1, 2013, to one year later, Houston increased its population—due to both immigrants and sex—by 334,202. For Harris County, the new arrivals totaled 82,890. That’s 227 newcomers a day every single day.

Houston-Katy-Freeway-Fwy-traff-76289126A Bumper Crop

Now a word about Houston traffic. There is not much of it except during rush hour, which lasts from 6 a.m. to noon and noon to 8 p.m. If you are the average motorist, you drive 28.81 miles a day, which can, indeed, take a day. At last count there were 4,746,244 vehicles on our roads in this county, all trying to get a parking place at CityCentre. Most Houston drivers are armed and that includes those driving vehicles with training wheels. The term “riding shotgun” is not just a term. But do not be intimidated. Remember, warning shots are for wimps. Do not challenge those vehicles with notches on their front bumper, have the word “police” on the side, whose hood ornament is crosshairs or any vehicle with a tail-gunner. The city briefly had video cameras at major intersections to take photos of drivers running red lights and slamming into other vehicles, wounding or killing their fellow Houstonians. Fortunately, we voted to take the cameras down (and spend millions of tax dollars getting out of the contract). “T-boning” is not just on the menu. As for our mass-transit system, it hasn’t worked well since the mule died.

Austin has its under-the-bridge bats. Dallas has its Big Tex, and Houston has its buffalo. Gather along—where else?—Buffalo Bayou each dusk, and watch the running of the bison. On Sunday afternoons, you can place your bets on them at Buffalo Speedway. That’s where A.J. Foyt got his start. We have the world’s largest medical center. For a town dubbed the nation’s fattest city and smog capital of America, we need it. Houstonians love sports, but since most fans are from somewhere else, at any college or pro sporting event, it is often hard to determine which is the home team. We like to say: “At Minute Maid Park you are never more than half an inning away from Major League Baseball.”

We have 81 radio stations in the Houston area, some of which are in English. We have a public radio station that is so exclusive no one can hear it. Then there is KTRH, whose listeners have trouble dialing in since they tend to drag their knuckles. We have three daily newspapers in Houston; two of them are in Chinese. The other is the Houston Chronicle, which is based in New York City and cares not a very profitable fig about putting out a quality newspaper in some town down in Texas. It’s the same with TV. Our network stations are owned by out-of-state corporations which won’t spend any money. So all the local TV news programs show only murders, apartment fires, muggings and more murders. If you just arrived here, please unpack. We also have house fires.


Here are a few items of knowledge for you newcomers:       

Telephone Road is not an unlisted number. River Oaks has no river. Chimney Rock is not a dance. Houston Heights is really not very high. Indeed, it’s hard to get a drink there.

• Fracking is good. Zoning is bad. So backyard fracking is acceptable, if not desirable.

• Matching mud flaps on your pickup truck is considered de rigueur. Saying “de rigueur” in most ice houses on Dowling Street can be harmful to your health.

• Students attend Rice for athletics and UH for academics.

• Yes, you can drive northeast on the Southwest Freeway.

• No, Miss Ima Hogg did not have a sister named Ura.

Visitors to Houston often comment about our weather, especially the humidity. Dermatologists say humidity is good for our skin, so we have nine giant humidifiers around town to keep our air moist. It rains here, but only on alternating days. Our summers can be hot, but not if you turn your AC down to 60 and never leave your house. We have roaches, but their size is often exaggerated by city boosters. I, personally, have never seen a cockroach larger than a shoebox. Okay, a boot box. Geographically, within the city limits of Houston’s 655 square miles, you could put New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami. Might as well. Their inhabitants are already here.

Coming from elsewhere, as thousands of you have done, we welcome your arrival. We understand your bit of nostalgia at leaving Newark and Detroit, and we are patient, up to a point, with your NYU bumper stickers and the USC flags on your lawn poles, but by your own choice, you are in Texas now. Here, we name schools and counties after Lee and Jackson, Crockett, Zavala and Navarro. Your school children recite both the U.S. and the Texas Pledge of Allegiance every day. Deal with it or there is a U-Haul near you.

Despite what your job recruiter told you, Houston did not begin with your arrival. This is a city which can actually chart the very day it was born: August 30, 1836, when the Allen brothers ran an advertisement in the Telegraph and Texas Register for the “Town of Houston.” “There is no place in Texas more healthy, having an abundance of excellent spring water, and enjoying the sea breeze in all its freshness,” thus setting a Houston tradition we hold on to this day: Our developers lie. We have on our doorstep the San Jacinto Battlefield, where the Texians won their independence from Mexico but not from bandits, angry Indians who claim they got here first, drought, floods and the rare hurricane. It is easy to see why our side won at San Jacinto. The Texians had lookouts in that tall monument in the middle of the fight and a huge battleship just off shore.


Be careful when buying a house here. If the realtor says, “It’s a split-level,” check the foundation. A “fixer-upper” is a down-and-outer. A “teardown” means bring a match. Avoid buying any house that has a line drawn in the den at six feet labeled, “high-water mark,” or has the chalk outline of a body in the kitchen. We have some beautiful neighborhoods here, so avoid any that have a moat, guard towers or such names as Toxic Tundra, Cotton Mouth Meadows or Hurricane Alley. Incidentally, the only zoning we have here is the ozone.

Politically, voters in the City of Houston tend to vote Democrat. The county goes Republican. Either way, we send our least talented to Austin and Washington, basically just to get them out of town. A word of caution: Don’t bring up politics around members of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, a cocktail party and especially around the Tea Party who are easy to spot: They all wear flak jackets. 

You won’t be here long until you hear about the fate of our Official City Eyesore, the Astrodome. It’s been empty and deteriorating since the Astros and the Oilers had winning seasons. Suggestions on what to do with the structure have included using it for an indoor drive-in movie lot, a shopping mall and hotel, a space museum (we already have one but two are better), or that monstrous structure should be used to hold Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s ego. One of the silliest ideas was to turn the Astrodome into a baseball stadium, easily converted for football. We had a vote to decide its fate and the demolish-the-Dome side won handily, but, this being a democracy, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett ruled that we keep it. So, the taxpayers just spent a small fortune to give the outside a clean-and-paint job.

Before the Dome was built, the Astros played in Colt Stadium. What happened to it? The facility became an open-air warehouse for junk from AstroWorld. In 1973, it was broken down and sold to a Minor League team in Torreon, Mexico, for $100,000. The stadium was later moved to Tampico, where it still stands, as part of a public playground. Some Houstonians say the Astros should have followed the field of beams.

So welcome to Houston, newcomer. For all our faults, you could be back in Detroit.

Ashby loves Houston at ashby2@comcast.net.

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.


For Your Arts & Entertainment

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features



(Renaissance) Fair Game

Looking for something different to do this season? The Texas Renaissance Festival (www.texrenfest.com) is like none other, and because this October/November marks the fest’s 40-year anniversary, it will be a party to remember.

Every weekend, as well as on Thanksgiving Friday, from October 11–November 30, the 55-acre theme park in Todd Mission, Texas, will showcase hundreds of costumed performers, dressed in sixteenth-century British garb, in more than 200 shows. You can visit every week and see something different, thanks to the themed weekends, like Oktoberfest, Pirate Adventure and Celtic Christmas. Cobblestone “streets” pave the way for nearly 400 shops, showcasing everything from arts and crafts to food and drink. Closing each day are the Royal Fireworks above the lake.

In honor of four decades of celebration, Renaissance style, the Festival will introduce the King Midas Masquerade Ball, held Saturdays from October 11–November 29 at the newly completed 15,0000-square-foot permanent pavilion. Face paint or masks are a must to get in—as is an ID proving you’re at least 21—and costumes or black-tie attire are welcomed. You’ll celebrate with hors d’oeuvres, domestic beer, house wine and live entertainment.

The Festival will also be bringing in internationally renowned guest artist Real Musgrave, the creator of Pocket Dragons and former Official Artist to the grounds, to design souvenirs that will serve as collectables for the anniversary; all the proceeds will go to the Humane Society of Flower Mound “Flower’s Fund.” For a chance to meet Real Musgrave and get posters and memorabilia autographed, make sure to visit opening weekend, October 11–12, 2014.

Don’t know about you, but we’re already craving a good drumstick.

—Amanda Altman

Winter Fun

Get in the holiday mood by getting to Galveston. But make sure to bundle up—the “Winter Wonder Island” is playing host to more than 1,000 festivities, including the city’s first-ever ice sculpture exhibit, packed with a whopping 2 million pounds of ice. Your little ones will feel like the set of Frozen came to life while they check out displays of SpongeBob SquarePants, holiday sculptures and more (November 15–January 4 at Moody Gardens).

While you’re there, make sure to catch the Gulf Coast’s largest holiday light show, the 13th Annual Festival of Lights (www.moodygardens.com/holidayschedule) on November 15–January 3. The show will feature 100-plus sound-enhanced animated displays, plus more winter activities for the entire family, like ice skating and snow tubing on the Arctic Ice Slide. Come on opening day to see Santa parachute down! Also at the Gardens, on December 18–27, is A Magical Christmas Dinner and Show with master illusionist Curt Miller and Friends (www.moodychristmasshow.com).


Leave the kids with the grandparents at Moody Gardens while you check out the island’s Victorian Christmas attractions, including the 1895 Moody Mansion (www.moodymansion.org), which will be decked out in holiday glory (Thanksgiving weekend till January 1). Visit on December 5, and you can tour the private homes in the East End Historical District. Also a must the first week of December in the district: Dickens on The Strand (www.dickensonthestrand.org), where characters from Dickens novels and costumed vendors meander about the streets, plus Victorian-inspired crafts, clothing, jewelry and music and more.

Can’t take the cold? Go surfing with Santa at Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark (November 28–December 23). Also hit up Santa at Santa on the Strand (November 29–December 20) in downtown, where you can snap a photo on his lap. And on December 21, 4,000 Santas will race to the finish in the Santa Hustle Half Marathon and 5K. Don’t miss it!


Kids Get Cultured


Who says New Orleans has all the fun? Performing and visual arts take centerstage at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion’s 19th Annual Children’s Festival this November 8–9. Kids of all ages—but especially those in PK through fifth grade—will get schooled in creativity, culture and more, thanks to shows given by award-winning children’s performers and activities galore.

Get your science on at The ExxonMobil (the company is the presenting sponsor) STEM Zone, by exploring the Big Canyon Balloon and a fossil record and oil deposit, or check out activities from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and The Houston Children’s Museum.

Artists-in-training should head to Arts Alley for fun arts and crafts, and get their tactile fix at the Anadarko Adventure Zone, where they can make their own silly putty and get their face painted and more.

Get moving at the Healthy KidZone, with active games like Bubble Runners and Bumper Boats, and stick around for a chance to meet pro sports team members. Kids will also learn healthy habits and even some gymnastics and martial arts moves to boot.

Got time left? Visit the Activity Tent, where you can go for a train ride, and take part in a coloring contest and an instrument petting zoo.

Tickets are $8 if purchased in advance via Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com) or $10 at the door—children under two get in free—and include every show and activity. For more information, visit www.woodlandscenter.org/childrens_festival_info.html.


A Part of Your Community

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features


Lone Star Chuck Wagon
and The Great Food Truck Race

A competitor from The Woodlands shows how it’s done—Texas style.

by Laura Jackson

Competing against seven other national teams in the fifth season of Food Network’s successful series, The Great Food Truck Race, Lone Star Chuck Wagon, the Texas-based team, gave viewers from around the country an excellent taste of true Tex-Mex at its best.

On a high-stakes culinary road trip traveling from Southern California to the beaches of Key West, FL, each team was provided with a vehicle for the race—and a chance at walking away with their own food truck and $50,000 to start their business. Gaining valuable experience with each new challenge and city, the rookie teams soon learned that running a food truck is harder than it looks.

Lone Star Chuck Wagon’s fearless leader, Lance Kramer, grew up in The Woodlands, competed in barbecue competitions for years, where he won against trained chefs, and has even developed his own line of sauces and rubs. With the support of his wife, Rachel Young, and their best friend, Andrea Chesley, he came to the race trained and ready to bring Texas-style home cooking to hungry people across the nation. Lance’s favorite aspect of The Great Food Truck Race was the spontaneity of it all: “It was also my least favorite part! We never knew where we were going next, or what curveball the host Tyler Florence was going to throw at us. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. Traveling the country, doing what we love was amazing!”

Naturally, growing up in Houston influenced Kramer’s cooking style. “When I was young in The Woodlands, there was only one restaurant, so my family would always drive to Houston for good eats,” he recalls. “With Houston’s melting pot of cultures, we were exposed to a wide variety of foods. This opened up my palate and made me very adventurous.”

His fondest memories of learning to cook are with his grandparents. “My grandma had a step stool, and I would climb up it and help her in the kitchen. She always let me help, and if I close my eyes, I can still smell her amazing cooking. And in my grandpa’s arms, he would let me flip burgers on the grill before I was even tall enough to see them!” All that true Texas training definitely paid off.

For fun photo galleries, blogs and video clips of the show, visit www.foodnetwork.com.

Worth the Wait

pixelstudioproductions.com-1737Billboard Bride Channing says to hold out for love.

By Laurette M. Veres • Photography by Pixel Studio Productions

Channing Smith was spending the day at the Kemah Boardwalk with her cherished nieces and boyfriend. The young girls were having caricatures drawn, so Brian and Channing decided to get one as well. The artist revealed his work; he had drawn a large ring on Channing’s finger. “As I turned to ask Brian if he liked the picture, I saw him down on one knee,” she says. As soon as she accepted his proposal, family members appeared, nieces cheered and strangers high-fived.

Brian Morvant pulled off the perfect engagement. The whole day by the water was a setup; the nieces were bait. Her family was in on the gig, watching from behind the bushes, and her sister was there with the trusty video camera to capture the entire proposal.

The icing on the cake: The Bridal Extravaganza Show selected Channing to be the Billboard Bride. Like a few lucky brides before her, she too will appear on giant billboards all over the greater Houston area. Hundreds of thousands of motorists will see her beautiful smile during their daily commutes.

Channing’s message to future brides: “Resist pressures created by mainstream and social media. Forget about crazy, unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves based on Facebook, Pinterest, reality TV and Instagram. Work on being healthy, happy and being you.”

There is no perfect life, yet we race to meet “norms” we see on social media. Married right out of college, buy a house, have kids; that’s someone’s life, it may even be a good life, but don’t feel it has to be your life. It’s okay to feel something better is out there and search to find it.

Channing threw away a chance at the “normal life” and waited to find the right man. “I felt like I had nothing worthwhile to post on social media; no picture-perfect engagement photos, no romantic weddings shots and definitely no cute, cuddly pictures of my non-existent kids! I started feeling bad about myself despite having a wonderful life. Looking back, I realize how foolish this was, however, it was a real struggle.”

Many brides can have unrealistic expectations, wanting gowns, décor and more based on what they see on Facebook, Pinterest and reality TV.  “I’ve been to a ton of weddings, and none of them look like those I see on Pinterest. Why not? Because that isn’t the norm,” says Channing. “I’ve joked many times, my Pinterest wedding costs $90,000; my real wedding will cost a third of that!”

Channing feels everyone’s fairy tale comes true, some just take an alternate path; some have a different vision of what their fairy tale may be. She encourages people to follow their hearts and souls, not www.buzzfeed.com.

Brian, the LSU Tiger, and Channing, the Texas A&M Aggie, are planning a fall wedding at Crystal Springs in Magnolia, TX. The one hitch to setting the hitching date: “Checking LSU’s football schedule,” she says. “Seriously!” It’s no Aggie joke; these two SEC rivals will have to find a way to get along during the annual LSU/A&M matchup. 

Yes, You are Turning into a Lightweight

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

lightweight_scrollby Stacy Baker Masand

Andrea Gates, 42, an advertising executive, used to enjoy a glass of wine or two, but found herself gaining weight, losing energy and having breakouts when she turned 40—even though her diet, stress level and exercise routine stayed the same. It was only after a friend suggested she cut out alcohol that her symptoms subsided and she started to feel more energetic.

Andrea’s experience isn’t unusual. “It takes far less alcohol to impact our bodies at 40 and up than it did in our 20s,” says Barbara Krantz, DO, medical director and director of research at the Hanley Center, a rehab facility in West Palm Beach, FL. “Since alcohol takes longer to metabolize in an aging body, the amount a person drinks in their 20s may affect them more intensely and more quickly if they continue to drink that same amount in their 40s.”

Starting in our 30s, our bodies’ levels of body fat naturally increase while the amount of lean muscle mass decreases. Those two physiological changes have an impact on the effects of alcohol in your body, explains Gary Murray, PhD, program director for the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Blood alcohol level rises higher in individuals with more body fat,” he says.


Another reason you may be starting to feel a bigger buzz with fewer cocktails is because of changes in your liver. When you drink, alcohol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream via the stomach and small intestine and then metabolized by liver enzymes, explains Dr. Krantz. But your liver becomes less efficient as you get older: Its size increases, while its hepatocytes (the functioning cells) and blood flow decrease, causing it to metabolize alcohol more slowly.

Age isn’t the only factor affecting your body’s response to booze; your gender is, too. Before the age of 50, men have higher levels of the stomach enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol. This means a man will metabolize a martini faster than a woman, explains Dr. Murray. “Once you turn 50, that difference between men and women disappears,” he says. “Men’s enzyme levels are downgraded to that of a woman. Men who used to drink more than their wives often find that when they hit 50, both the effects of alcohol and the hangover hit them a little harder.”

That’s what happened to John, a 50-year-old marketing executive, who used to enjoy a drink or two after work to relax. Soon after he hit his milestone birthday, he found that drinking the same number of his signature cocktail began to lead to headaches, insomnia and hangover symptoms the morning after. When he limited his intake to a single glass of white wine a night, however, the issues disappeared.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean women can belly up to the bar without negative consequences; they also experience physiological changes as they age that affect their tolerance. “Alcohol can have a direct effect on women’s hormones that control their energy, blood pressure, bone mass, growth and development,” Dr. Krantz explains. “When it interferes with hormone actions, alcohol can exacerbate or cause diabetes and increase the risk of osteoporosis.”


Too many happy hours can also contribute to unwanted weight gain. “Alcohol stimulates appetite, makes us want to eat more unhealthy foods and lowers our inhibitions, all of which can lead to us making unhealthy choices,” says Jacquie Lavin, MMedSci, PhD, head of nutrition and research at Slimming World, a UK-based weight-loss organization. In a survey, the company found that many people who drank past a personal tipping point—equivalent to about three glasses of wine—consumed a whopping 6,300 extra calories over the following 24 hours.

To make matters worse, getting older also makes it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it—whether you’re drinking or not, points out Gabrielle Francis, DC, ND, a New York City–based naturopath and author of RxStar Remedy (HarperCollins, 2014). “Most people’s metabolisms slow as they age due to declining hormone levels, especially of the sex hormones and thyroid hormone,” she says. Add alcohol to the mix and it gets even harder to maintain a healthy weight. “In addition to being highly caloric, alcohol raises cortisol; cortisol raises insulin and insulin causes fat to deposit in the belly,” she says.

Beyond limiting the number of drinks you consume, avoid adding sugary mixers to spirits, which increase calories, cortisol and belly fat, she adds.


The older you get, the more likely you are to be treating other health conditions with prescription medications, which may be affected if you’re taking them while drinking. Dr. Francis recommends avoiding alcohol when taking the following medications, as alcohol can increase the severity of the drugs’ side effects, lessen their benefits, worsen an existing issue or trigger other harmful conditions: antihistamines; benzodiazepines (for anxiety); cimetidine and other stomach-acid-blocking drugs; ketoconazole (used to treat fungal skin infections); Coumadin and other blood thinners; steroids; and nicotine.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can also be problematic. While aspirin can cause gastric bleeding, it’s a better option than acetaminophen (Tylenol), says Dr. Murray, which, like alcohol, can increase the generation of a toxic metabolite called CYP2E1 that causes cell and tissue damage to the liver.


Obviously, the best way to mitigate the effects of alcohol is to not drink it in the first place, but for most people, that’s not an attractive option.

“After that, the next most effective cure is limiting the amount you consume and staying hydrated when you drink,” says Dr. Murray. Depending on your weight, you metabolize about one drink per hour. Because alcohol distributes to the water in our bodies, it’s also important to stay hydrated, especially as you clock the years. Dr. Murray’s cocktail party trick is to alternate drinks with a non-alcoholic beverage, like club soda with lime, juice or water.

And don’t try and “save” calories by not eating before cocktail hour. “Drinking on an empty stomach is just asking for a hangover because the alcohol gets into your body faster,” says Dr. Murray.


Gym-goers will be happy to know that your fitness level at any age is directly related to how you metabolize alcohol, explains Dr. Francis. When you’re in shape, you increase the circulation of blood, nutrients and toxins through the liver and kidneys. The more aerobic the exercise, the more blood that’s pumped through your system and the more your body is able to counter the effects of drinking and rebound the next day.

Meanwhile, maintaining lean muscle mass, through Pilates or other strength-training regimens, helps “soak up” alcohol and prevents it from hitting your bloodstream too quickly. Fit people can definitely deal with the side effects of alcohol better as they age, adds Dr. Murray.


A healthy diet is equally important. “Someone who is nutritionally starved or eats an un-enriched diet with few vitamins would feel the effects of alcohol more greatly,” Dr. Murray points out.

“As we age, we are also exposed to a greater amount of toxins, which leads to fewer enzymes being available for detoxification and affects the way our body detoxes alcohol,” adds Dr. Francis. However, healthy eating can help your body handle the toxins that come from moderate drinking. She recommends a balanced (and preferably organic) diet that includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean protein and eight to 10 glasses of water or herbal tea a day. Powerhouse foods such as broccoli, cabbage, artichokes, dark leafy greens, carrots, garlic and onions, along with spices like turmeric, rosemary, basil and cilantro will give the liver and kidneys the optimal nutrition.

Other treatments and supplements can mitigate the impact of alcohol, says Dr. Francis. She recommends acupuncture focused on liver and kidney balance, massage to support detoxification through the lymphatic system and taking steam or sauna sessions to help detox other chemicals, leaving more liver enzymes for alcohol detox. Supplements and herbs that support a healthy liver include: B-complex; milk thistle; dandelion; artichoke; burdock; turmeric (curcumin); omega-3-rich oils (flaxseed, for example); glutathione; and CoQ10.


Jennifer, a 52-year-old writer, took a month off from her nightly wine-with-dinner ritual after she began to experience fogginess, problems concentrating and fatigue. Soon afterward, she noticed a radical change in her productivity, memory and energy levels. “I sleep better, wake up early and refreshed, and stay productive and creative all day,” she says. “I don’t miss the wine, but I love how I feel. I have a natural buzz all day long!” 

Houston: The Rankest City

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

rank_scrollby Lynn Ashby

Our Number 1 is up

We all know that Houston is home to the world’s largest medical center by any measure—doctors, patients, square footage. Indeed, people come from the world over to die in Houston. We are first in having a domed stadium and “Houston” was the first word from the moon. (That’s up to dispute, but it’s our story and we’re sticking with it.) Yet, how do we measure up in seizures of illegal ivory? When you’re trying to recruit a Nobel Prize laureate to work the overnight shift at Wendy’s, you need to know how we rank among the snobbiest cities. When your prospective spouse’s father asks, “So you want to get married and move to Houston? How does that city rank in foreign consulates?” Smile that sneaky smile of yours and reply: “There are 92 countries’ consular offices in Houston; third highest in the nation.”

So let’s see where the Bayou City ranks in everything from receiving refugees to obesity.

More people moved to Houston last year than to any other American city except for New York. This year, local employers are on the path to add up to 90,000 new jobs. Houston alone authorized more building permits than the entire state of California in the first three months of 2014. The Wall Street Journal reported that the George Bush Intercontinental Airport & Muffler Repair Shop, based on average cost per mile traveled, is the tenth-most-expensive airport to fly from in the U.S. The National Complete Streets Coalition ranks Houston as the seventh-most dangerous city in the nation. But CQ Press, whatever that is, ranks Houston as the tenth-most crime-ridden city with a population of more than 500,000. Least crime? El Paso. (Texas is the tenth-most dangerous state.) Oh, here it is: “CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications, publishes books, directories, periodicals, and electronic products on American government and politics.” Maybe we should steal its crime stats.

The city really crowed when Forbes ranked Houston as Number 1—the coolest city in America in 2012. At the time, the magazine said that Houston “boasts a variety of skills and occupations. From medical professionals and engineers to production managers and accountants, Houston’s labor force fills 2.7 million jobs and counting. In fact, Houston has more jobs than Maryland, Arizona, or Colorado.” Alas for 2014, Forbes ranked Washington DC as the coolest city in America. We slipped to Number 4. Odd. We must need more accountants. A Manhattan Institute study, by demographer Robert Scardamalia and author Tom Gray, compared the performance of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas from 2009 to 2012, based on gross domestic product, personal income and job creation. Houston, The Woodlands and Sugar Land ranked fourth.

In the 2014 U.S. News & World Report rankings of the best colleges, Rice ranked 18, UT-Austin, 52, Texas A&M, 69, Baylor, 75, and UH tied with 11 other schools at 190. Meanwhile, according to the 2014 edition of Princeton Review’s “The Best 378 Colleges,” Rice University is Number 1 in “Best Quality of Student Life,” Number 2 in “Happiest Students” and Number 5 in “Great Financial Aid.” However, in the really important category of “Best Football Team,” the Owls beat out only UT-Austin and a barber’s college in Buffalo.


Ranking Number 1 among America’s CEOs in income for 2013: Our own Anthony Petrello of Nabors Industries, a drilling contracting company. Petrello had an income of $68.2 million, an increase of 246 percent from the previous year. Nabors is a Houston company but is officially based in Bermuda—something about taxes. The rest of us get to make up the difference. Travel + Leisure listed its “20 Snobbiest Cities in America,” and Dallas is nowhere to be found. Austin and Houston, however, both made the count. Austin came in at Number 19 for possessing a “brainy, offbeat vibe” that echoes through the whole town. Houston came in at Number 17, thanks to “a combination of a rich arts tradition and luxury shopping.” To no one’s surprise, especially snobs, San Francisco, New York City and Boston took the top three slots. Among the nation’s “20 Most Congested Cities in the U.S.,” Houston ranks ninth, according to a study by the makers of Breathe Right Nasal Strips and Sperling’s BestPlaces.

Galveston Bay is the second-most-productive estuary in the U.S. for seafood. Pass it on.

Brand Keys, a marketing company, polled fans to see: how exciting a team is during competition; how well they play as a team; how well respected and admired the players are; and the extent to which the game and the team are part of a fans’ and community’s rituals, institutions and beliefs. Which baseball teams have the most loyal fans? The St. Louis Cardinals’ fans finished first. At the very bottom, at Number 30, were the Houston Lastros, same as last year. For the third time, the Nielsen ratings registered a 0.0 for an Astros game. Any city having the worst team in major league baseball the same year it also has the worst NFL team may, in itself, make us Number 1 in misery.

Give us your poor, your tired, your chefs and baseball players. Some 75,000 refugees have arrived in Houston in the last 35 years. Houston has been the Number 1 city for refugees in the past two years. Texas is also Numero Uno in receiving refugees for the past two years. Numero Tres: The city has the third-largest Hispanic and third-largest Mexican population in the U.S.

Men’s Fitness magazine named Houston “America’s Fattest City.” It wrote that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping 34 percent of our town’s residents are overweight. In previous surveys, the magazine claimed Houston was on the upswing in the weight-loss department, but there’s evidently been a bit of a regression since it last checked in. “It could be the heat. Houston typically suffers through a hundred or more days each year with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees, combined with relative humidity that rivals Manila’s. The city’s average commute—27.5 minutes, primarily by car since Houston lacks a comprehensive mass-transit system—also plays a major role in keeping Houstonians seated and sedentary.”

Houston ranked Number 15 on a list of the country’s top 30 metro areas based on the amount of office and retail space jointly developed in “Walkable Urban Places,” or “WalkUPs,” according to a national study on walkability and urbanism. The report also examined development patterns and other factors to predict how walkable these metros are likely to become. Houston ranked Number 13 among the 30 metros on that list. After seven straight years as U.S. News & World Report’s Number 1–ranked hospital for cancer care, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has fallen to Number 2. It dropped behind Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, its New York City rival, in the magazine’s annual “Best Hospitals” survey. The two have fought for the top spot since the survey’s inception in 1990.

But enough of these minor points, how does Houston rank overall as a city? That depends upon whom you ask. Bloomberg’s Best Cities ranks Houston Number 30. San Antonio comes in at 22, Dallas at 11. The Milkin Institute’s list of “Best Performing Cities” ranks Houston 4, Austin 1. Just remember, Milkin was a convicted felon. Houston was named the “Top U.S. Destination City,” the “Top U.S. Metro” by Site Selection magazine, also the “Top U.S. Manufacturing
City” and the
“Best City for Your Career.” Forbes’ annual survey of America’s fastest-growing cities put three of the Texas cities ranking in the top 10: Austin (Number 1), Dallas (Number 4) and Houston (Number 10). Forbes still loves us. Last September, the magazine said Houston was “America’s next great global city.”


Here are a few stats to drop at your next destruction derby:

Number 4: Houston is the fourth-most-populous city in the nation (trailing only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) and is the largest in the southern U.S. and Texas.

Number 30: If Houston were an independent nation, it would rank as the world’s thirtieth-largest economy.

Number 1 (again): Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other city. We have more than 11,000 restaurants. Maybe that explains our “Fattest City” crown. Where is Marvin Zindler when we need him?

Number 2: Houston has a theater district second only to New York City with its concentration of seats in one geographic area. The 17-block Theater District is home to eight performing arts organizations with more than 12,000 seats. This is one of five U.S. cities that offer year-round resident companies in all major performing arts, and the city has 69 topless bars, which puts it at or near the top.

Number 1: Houston is home to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The world’s largest livestock show and rodeo attracts more than 2.2 million visitors each year.

Number a Few Billion: The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Gross Area Product (GAP) in 2006 was $325.5 billion, slightly larger than Austria’s, Poland’s or Saudi Arabia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While we’re at it, when comparing Houston’s economy to a national economy, only 21 countries other than the U.S. have a gross domestic product exceeding Houston’s regional gross area product.

Number 23: The number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Houston. Only New York City is home to more. The Port of Houston ranks first in the United States in international waterborne tonnage handled and second in total cargo tonnage handled. It is the tenth-largest port in the world. The Port handled 220 million short tons of domestic and foreign cargo in 2010. The Port also ranks Number 1 in the nation in seizures of illegal ivory. However, former Rocket Yao Ming was the star of a film in China warning against buying ivory and poaching elephants. According to the Children At Risk organization and the Education Resource Group, in 2014, the DeBakey High School for Health Professions is the top public high school in the greater Houston area. T.H. Rogers Elementary and T.H. Rogers Middle School topped the list for both elementary and middle schools.

Okay, my fellow swamp rats, there we have it. By virtually every yardstick, we are living in a place at a time when everything is booming, good and bad. I didn’t go into how we rank in dirty air, West Loop traffic and August afternoons. So let’s look on the bright side of life, as they sing in “The Life of Bryan.” Everyone is making money, living longer, getting happier. And remember, at Minute Maid Park you are never more than a half-inning from major league baseball. H

Sources: The U.S. Census, Houston Chronicle (which ranks Number 1 as the largest circulation newspaper in the nation never to have won a Pulitzer, but they hired one), Houston Facts, Google and statistics that magically appeared on my computer screen.

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 ashby2@comcast.net.

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

February 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started.

1_bookTrying to find the perfect diet

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

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

Counting Calories (or Just Counting Calories)

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

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

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

3_scaleNot Weighing Yourself

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

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

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

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

All Aboard for a Spectacular Rail Experience

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features, Travel Blog

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

By Laurette M. Veres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So You Think You Know Houston?

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

hostAs Anna Nicole Smith may have told Boris Yeltsin

By Lynn Ashby

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

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

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

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


This MSA has more jobs than Wisconsin or Tennessee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Ashby knows Houston at ashby2@comcast.net. 

Food & Wine Restaurant Reveiw

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features


CRISP in The Heights, with its homey entrées and foodie-friendly pizza, garners rave reviews.

by Tom Flynn


Tucked away in a Shady Acres neighborhood, CRISP has brought new life to an old grocery store.

The renovation to the abandoned supermarket is extensive: the dining room has tremendous ambiance, with brick walls, large murals, dark woods, old stone and wine barrels. Outside is a 5,000-square-foot patio nestled among the townhomes towering over it. Plenty of seating and a central location make CRISP popular at lunch and happy hour; it’s a great gathering place.

Come prepared to relax—the friendly staff is in no hurry to serve. I’ve had several business meetings here and usually find lunch is over before it’s served. Plan on a 45-minute wait for your entrée, but an impressive selection of wines and craft brews will keep you entertained until food arrives.

At first glance, the food appears expensive: beer can chicken, $18; braised short ribs, $24; beef tenderloin, $30. But the portions are massive and can easily be split into two meals. Pizzas are the signature dish. The stone deck–fired, hand-tossed pies come in an array of designer combinations, including Cluck you BBQ, featuring beer can chicken, smoked Gouda, pickled jalapeños, grilled red onions and a Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. Pies feed two and run from $14–$17.

Sunday brunch is a hit at CRISP. Short rib hash is the star of the menu and mimosas flow freely. Brunch entrées are $10–$12.


2220 Bevis

Houston, TX 77008




October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features


S is for Snow

A Chilling Adventure in Canada

by Andrea Stroh

He shouted, “Gee” and “Haw,” to the dogs as he guided them through the Canadian Rockies; riding the sledlike, century-old, prospectors trekking through mountains searching for gold. The Canadian Rockies seem bigger, better and less traveled than Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Range, a must see for sportsmen and nature lovers. In the Banff/Lake Louise area, you’ll find an unexpected confluence of frontier and modern activities.

The Canadian alpine adventure begins at Bush Intercontinental Airport with a direct flight to Calgary, followed by an hour-long drive to the heart of Banff National Park. Our first “camp” is Deer Lodge, a historic, hand-hewn log lodge built in the 1920s as a teahouse. Its rambling layout and scattering of parlors and antique furniture mirror the character of the national park surrounding it.

Wayward travelers used to stop by Deer Lodge for a good meal in the 1920s; they still serve some of the best food in the area. Charcuterie trays with smoked and air-dried buffalo, peppered duck breast, game paté and elk salami, served with exquisite homemade mustard-melon pickles. Entrées include grilled buffalo rib eye, maple seared pork belly with roasted pepper spaetzle and slow-braised bison short ribs with blueberry port reduction and couscous. The culinary experience alone makes the trip worthwhile.


We are in rough, beautiful country; you can die seeing the sights, and many have. In the early twentieth century, the Chateau Lake Louise hired Swiss guides to help their guests safely enjoy the Canadian Rockies. The hotel closed during winters, but the guides stayed and soon introduced locals to skiing and ice climbing. By 1917, the Banff Ski Club was formed and the Banff/Lake Louise area became a year-round destination. The Chateau has continued the tradition and resident-guides take guests cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, ice-skating on the lake and stargazing.

Our resident Mountain Heritage Activities guide is Bruce. He is leading our small group on a snowshoeing expedition. It starts with an interesting and enjoyable tutorial on the origins of the snowshoe and how First Nations tribes shaped and sized them. We practice walking and turning. The biggest beginner mistakes are trying to walk bow-legged, or alter your gait. As long as you focus on keeping your center of gravity over the center of the shoes and keep the tips out of the snow, you will quickly become a snowshoe maven.

We venture through the trees, and along the lake’s edge. Under our snowshoes is 12 feet of snow, and yet there is never a feeling of falling through or losing your footing. Extraordinary views of the glacier, the Chateau and surrounding mountains greet us at every turn. Sounds of an avalanche reverberate through the valley, and we turn just in time to see the snow careening off the glacier’s face. Snowshoeing is excellent exercise and a magical way to experience pristine snowfall in the forest.

After our expedition, we enjoy a proper English tea in The Lakeview Lounge of the Chateau. Over sparkling wine and fruit salads drizzled with Cointreau, we choose from a dizzying array of teas and enjoy the extraordinary views of the frozen lake and glacier out of the mile-high windows.

Another form of frontier transportation is the dog sled. We hook up with the only dog sledding operator allowed within the Banff National Park, Kingmik Mushers. We opt for the Great Divide tour along a 16-kilometer trail through some of the park’s most stunning scenery to the Continental Divide and back.

These are not the fluffy dog teams of Disney movies; these are the real, working, Alaskan huskies of Iditarod and Yukon Quest fame. When we arrive, the dogs are having lunch, resting and rehydrating from their morning trek. We’re encouraged to interact with
them and the crew; we learn about the sport and the fascinating animals that are bred to pull sleds. When it’s time to go, our musher, Cody, buckles us in the sled and harnesses the team. The dogs bark, howl and downright squeal with delight. They hop straight into the air and strain against their tethers in anticipation of their turn to be harnessed. The dogs are so excited, it would be cruel to make them miss the trek.

When Cody releases the brake, the dogs spring forward at a full run. The barking ceases as they concentrate on keeping up and doing their part. The trip is eerily quiet except for the swishing of the sled rails and Cody’s succinct commands. We glide through the snow-covered forest amid mountain peaks, taking in the scenery all the way to the Great Divide. On the way back, we take turns riding on the back of the sled and controlling the dogs. It is the thrill of a lifetime.

For our next adventure, guides
from Discover Banff Tours hand out
ice spikes for our Johnston Canyon ice
walk. The path through the forest and along the rivers leads us past six Johnston Canyon waterfalls, which have frozen into magical formations. The trek is not for the faint of heart. Walking on sheer ice would be near impossible without the ice spikes, but the reward is 100-feet-tall, frozen waterfalls and a good dose of local lore from the guides. For a similar experience at an easier pace, the Columbia Icefield tour uses a specially designed bus they drive on the ice.


Lake Louise is a world-class ski resort. With snow from November to May, it has 8,650-foot peaks, 4,200 acres of skiing area over four mountain faces, 139 marked trails and countless bowls. The longest run is five staggering miles long. My Ski Friend is Rob. (Ski Friends is the first volunteer, host program in North America; it provides free, guided, ski tours for skiers of all abilities.) Rob has been skiing these trails for years, which means I never had to dig out my trail map. He’s able to gauge my ability and guide me through trails matching my skill level. There are so many lifts and trails, there’s rarely a wait at the lift, ever. Our last stop is après ski in The Lodge of Ten Peaks, an imposing log cabin full of stuffed bears, cold beer and charming Ski Friends.

Sunshine Village was the area’s first downhill ski resort. You don’t see ski trails until you take the scenic gondola ride to a valley formed by three mountains. Here, trails run in every direction. It’s higher than Lake Louise at 9,300 feet and 12 lifts lead to more than 3,358 acres of skiable terrain. You can ski all day and not see the same run twice. In fact, you can go half a day and not run into another skier.

Sunshine Village has unique accommodations at the top of the gondola. If you are staying at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge ($150 per night also buys you two complimentary lift tickets), you check in at the parking lot, drop your luggage with the concierge, grab your ski gear and spend the day on the slopes. At the end of the day, you’ll find your luggage in your room and après ski by the stone-covered fireplace in the lodge. You’ll find reasonably priced, exceptionally good food and beverages in the saloon, sports bar and their fine-dining option. You can also stay at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, world-class ski lodge, set atop piles of snow from November to May—it has nine acres on Tunnel Mountain at the edge of Banff. Our room has a modern bathroom with a fabulous clawfoot tub and slate shower, a well-stocked fireplace and a breathtaking view of the mountains.

Mount Norquay is the closest ski resort to Banff and one of the oldest, established in 1926. The Cliff House at the peak of the mountain was built in the ‘50s; the beams had to be hoisted up one at a time on the chairlift. Along with the ski trails, Mount Norquay has a snow tubing park. Sliding down the mountain at shockingly quick speeds will get you in touch with your inner child!

I’ve never experienced one place that had so much to offer; the winter entertainment options are endless. Sleigh rides, skiing, ice climbing, snowmobiling, helicopter tours and the new sport of snowkiting are just some of the activities. Pack warmly, plan for adventure and don’t forget “gee” means right and “haw” means left.

A Part of Your Community

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Loves Conquers All

An Ly and her fiancé Hiep Nguyen find love.

by Laurette M. Veres


An Ly never gave up on love. She met Hiep Nguyen at the gym and it took him a while to get the courage to speak to her. She knew he was the one on their very first date.

On their second date things turned sad. Hiep found out both of his kidneys had been damaged by disease and he needed a transplant. The 26 year old luckily had a sister ready and willing to donate a kidney. Even luckier, the organ was a 100 percent match for Hiep.

An was impressed with his positive attitude and how he grew as an individual as he dealt with the fate he was given. “I fell in love with him during this time,” she says. “After five strong years of learning, growing, maturing and loving, we knew we were ready to take our life and relationship to the next level.”

An is a fan of the creative graffiti walls in Austin. Hiep used the public art she loved as a canvas for his proposal. Her cousin helped him set the stage. As she walked toward the wall, she saw pictures of she and Hiep; he got down on one knee, and the rest is history.

QSCZPV_LZCc7ZLUTqtXCbpvA1Mg3AZjRwHVJWv_QznoAmid tones of ivory, green and coral, she will walk down the aisle at the Heaven on Earth event facility in her Mori Lee gown from Ventura’s Bridal this April 12. Following the service, An will host a traditional tea ceremony in her home. Symbolically and culturally, this is where the couple’s union becomes official—they will then be able to call each other’s parents “mom” and “dad.” She will wear traditional Chinese red and gold at this event, then change back into her wedding gown for the reception at Ocean Palace. One final change will bring back the red and the couple will visit each table, personally thanking their 400 guests for attending.

The bride-to-be is a graduate of Cypress Ridge High School and the University of Houston. She works as a project coordinator at Weatherford. Hiep is in new home sales at Cinco Ranch.

An is the latest real bride-to-be selected by the Bridal Extravaganza Show to appear on billboards citywide. “I would love to showcase to the world what true love and happiness are all about,” she says. “Being the Billboard Bride proves true love does exist and anyone can turn their dreams and fantasies into reality through hard work and commitment.”



To Africa with LOVE

Houstonian Ida Franklin re-visits an African orphanage with a local church.

by Laurette M. Veres


How would you spend a million of your hard-earned frequent flyer miles? Houstonian Ida Franklin spent her company’s to transport friends to Africa to lend a hand at a local orphanage.

Franklin, the owner of Venus Construction, spends her days roofing houses, finishing granite island kitchens and any other number of construction projects. However, this summer, she visited Bulembu, Swaziland, with Katy’s Creekside Community Church to help more than 300 orphaned children living with AIDS.

This is the group’s second trip to this area; on a previous trip, they built a playground. “We finished our first playground just as the children came home from school,” says Franklin. “They ran to the swings and started playing. After a few minutes, they all stopped, turned to face us, and sang to us as a thank you,” she recalls fondly. Franklin and her friends’ efforts this summer were to enhance the playgrounds they built in 2009.

Tim Douglas, pastor at Creekside Community Church, says Franklin’s heart is pure gold when it comes to helping others. “She’s a very giving and loving person. She’s been a great driving force for us by donating her time and money. She always goes above and beyond. Ida’s amazing,” he shared.


To help with Franklin’s efforts, donations can be made at www.TheCreekside.org.


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