New Kid on the Block and Tackle

One gray winter Sunday night in the 1960s I was working at a New York City newspaper when a colleague came across the city room holding a sheet of paper. He said to me, “You think we ought to run these scores?” They were the results of that afternoon’s games played by something called the American Football League. Most New Yorkers had never heard of the AFL, or even their own team, the New York Titans, which in 1963 became the Jets. The story goes that the AFL came about because Lamar Hunt of Dallas, son of H.L. Hunt, wanted a National Football League team in his town, but was turned down. So in 1959 he called up the richest person he knew in a number of cities and asked if they would put up $25,000 for a franchise — Barron Hilton in Los Angeles, Bud Adams in Houston, and so on.

For years the AFL played before sparse crowds in lousy stadiums until it got big enough, and competitive enough, to merge with the NFL. With the addition of several new franchises, today the NFL is a billion-dollar operation. But wait. Are ya ready for even more football? There is a new pro football league shaping up, and games may be played at a high school stadium near you, or maybe Houston has finally found a use for the Astrodome. Yes, here we go again, with high hopes, lots of money invested by armatures who haven’t the foggiest idea of what they are doing. Then again, that 25K the AFL owners spent to own a team is today worth maybe a hundred thousand or so.

The new league is called the Alliance of American Football, and already has a TV contract with CBS. Plans are for the AAF not to compete with the NFL, but to give fans spring games. The season begins play Feb. 9, 2019, six days after Super Bowl LII in Atlanta. The founders describe the league as “a feeder system for the NFL,” rather like the role minor league baseball plays with its not ready for prime time players. The league will consist of eight teams, although all the teams won’t be introduced until next month. So far Orlando, with Steve Spurrier as head coach, and Atlanta, with the infamous Michael Vick as a coach, have been assigned a franchise. In order to make the game faster and fan-friendly, there will be some rule differences from the NFL. The AAF is eliminating one of the most dangerous parts of football – kickoffs. Teams will start on their own 25-yard line after a score and at the start of each half. This means no onside kicks, but instead, the team that scores a touchdown gets the ball on its 35 in a 4th-and-10 situation. There will also be no extra points in the AAF as teams will be forced to go for a 2-point conversion.

Starting a new pro football league is monetarily suicidal. Remember Vince McMahon and his XFL league? It lasted one season, although McMahon will try again in 2020. The NFL is by far the nation’s most popular pro sport, but it has taken a hit the last two seasons. There was, and still is, the dispute over players taking a knee during the national anthem. TV ratings have dropped the last two seasons. Concussions have become a big problem. And there is overexposure with games on Saturdays after the colleges have taken a recess until the bowl games, Sunday afternoons and nights, Monday nights and now on Thursdays. For some fans, a saturation point has been reached.

At this point you are thinking, “If there’s gonna be a new football league, Houston should be at the table.” Well, the Bayou City has tried it before. There have been the Houston Texans in the World Football League. They moved to Louisiana to become the Shreveport Steamer. Over the years, in pro football, Houston has had the Oilers, Gamblers, Terror/Thunderbears, Outlaws, Marshals, Wild Riders, Texas Cyclones, Lightning and Stallions. Elsewhere in Texas, there were the San Antonio Texans in — of all things — the Canadian Football League. (Incidentally, on March 2, 2000, the new Houston franchise announced that the team name search had been narrowed down to five choices: Apollos, Bobcats, Stallions, Texans, and Wildcatters. Bobcats?) Then there were the Dallas Texans of the NFL, and therein lies a story. It was the 1952 season and the NFL put a franchise in Dallas, the Texans. One sports historian wrote: “The team is considered one of the worst teams in NFL history, both on (lowest franchise winning percentage) and off the field.” It lasted one season, went 1-11, and moved in mid-season to Hershey, Penn., then to Akron, Ohio. Remember that story the next time a Cowboy fan brings up football.

When the previously mentioned Lamar Hunt created the AFL, he named his team — what else? — the Dallas Texans. At that point the NFL decided Dallas deserved an NFL franchise after all. What a sudden change of heart. So Big D had two pro football teams. Eventually, Hunt moved his team to Kansas City where they became the Chiefs because the “Texans” handle didn’t do too well. Keeping that name would have been as bad as when Bud Adams moved the Oilers to Nashville and became the Nashville Oilers, then changed it to Titans, a totally meaningless handle. Adams probably felt safer in Nashville, since he was greatly disliked in Houston. When he announced the move, there was a rally in front of City Hall demanding that the Oilers stay put. Of a metropolitan population of several million, 100 people showed up. Adams once got in a fist fight at the Shamrock Hotel bar with Houston Post sportswriter Jack Gallagher. Later, someone told Jack, “Forget it. Adams is his own worst enemy.” Jack replied, “Not as long as I’m alive.”

Ashby is a fan at 

Test the Waters

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog, Uncategorized

by Marion Jacob

Perched on the majestic Caribbean shores of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the Mayakoba Resort offers four exclusive luxury hotels surrounded by natural forests full of wildlife, freshwater lagoons and crystalline beaches. The newest is the long-awaited Andaz Mayakoba-Riviera Maya, a welcome addition to round out this spectacular master-planned retreat.

Mayakoba—which literally means “village of water”—prides itself on sustainability and protecting the natural environment, while creating a luxurious escape to what feels like another world. Wake up to bird calls from more than 200 species, and experience nature right from your room.

Get Appointed

Stay in the presidential suite at the Andaz, enveloped in tropical scenes of serene lagoons and lush greenery, or behold the Fairmont’s hypnotic waterfront views and superbly cultivated gardens. Lose yourself in the Rosewood’s ultra-comfort service and white-sand beaches, or rent a villa at the Banyan Tree with your own private plunge pool and garden terrace.

The Andaz Lobby.

Get Busy

Start off the day with a farm-to-table breakfast buffet at Cocina Milagro at the Andaz, overlooking the pool, or enjoy a good book while swinging in one of the hanging-egg wicker chairs. Set up tee time at El Camaleón, a world-class golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and home to the PGA Tour OHL Classic.

Like a chameleon, the surrounding vistas change from mangroves and cenotes to sand dunes and white beaches. Take a ride in a golf cart tram through the winding roads of the exotic forests to El Pueblito, El Corazón de Mayakoba (the Heart of Mayakoba). Here, you can shop at boutiques filled with handmade textiles and pottery, take a cooking class at El Pueblito Cooking School or eat lunch at La Fondita. In between meals, enjoy a refreshing fruity drink at Bang Teng Thai or coffee at El Cafecito. On Sundays, they hold Mass at Santa Cruz Chapel, which is followed by the weekly farmers’ market.

Mayakoba offers a variety of activities, including hiking and biking through meandering nature trails, bird watching for those rare and unique species, honing your archery skills on the four-target range, or taking a guided kayak tour through the Mayakoba waterways.

A boat in the lagoon.

Get Fed

You can also take a leisurely tour of the entire resort via the Mayakoba Connection ferry service. Stop by each of the hotels to enjoy a meal and live music from the myriad restaurant options: tasty tostadas and tequila from Olla Ceviche at Andaz; authentic Thai cuisine from Saffron at the Banyan Tree; sushi from Agave Azul at the Rosewood; or golf club standbys and Latin wines at Koba on El Camaleón.

Get Rejuvenated

The 24-hour butler service at the Rosewood, with personalized room service and housekeeping, is the ultimate way to relax. Use the Rosewood Mayakoba app to request services for those special moments. Think: a romantic bubble bath, an intimate dinner or even a helicopter ride over the Kulkulcan Pyramid in Chichen Itza.

The private villas at the banyan tree.

For rejuvenation and spiritual healing, opt for treatments rooted in ancient Mayan rituals, such as the Mayan Clay Purification treatment at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont, or a fresh honey body scrub and massage at the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa. The spa at the Andaz has six treatment rooms and two hydrotherapy areas dedicated to your relaxation, as well as a full-service salon to keep you looking as great as you feel.

College Dropout

Like you, I stay awake at night worrying about the Electoral College. It doesn’t have much of a football team, but it does choose our presidents, no matter which candidate the American voters prefer. As we all know, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 2.9 million votes, even counting Trump’s write-in ballots from Russia. Al Gore got 540,000 more votes than George W. “Hanging Chad” Bush. In each case, it was not the popular vote, but it was the Electoral College vote that counted.

And Texas may start counting, too, finally. Federal lawsuits filed in Texas and three other states are seeking to end the winner-take-all system that awards every electoral vote from that state to the winning presidential candidate. The lawsuits argue that the winner-take-all system violates voting rights by discarding ballots cast for losing candidates. This is a two-party argument: Democrat voters in the GOP strongholds of Texas and South Carolina, and Republicans in Democratic California and Massachusetts have no say in picking their president. So if you voted for Hillary in Texas, your vote didn’t count, thus the lawsuit. In Texas’ case, it wasn’t state officials who filed the suits. They are perfectly happy with the current system. Indeed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will defend the state’s electoral-vote system, which was filed in San Antonio federal court in late February. Your tax dollars at work.

A bit of background: In 1787, the Founding Fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution, and stuck in the Electoral College (Article II, section 1.) as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote. Another version is they decided the average citizen wasn’t erudite enough to elect a president without a filtering process. Each state receives a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators (two in each state) plus the number of its U.S. representatives, which varies according to the state’s population. In the 2016 presidential election, California had the most with 55 electoral votes; other less populated states, such as Vermont, had three. Texas had 38 votes, and the 2020 census should give us two or three more.

You just thought we choose our President on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. No, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, (still with me?) the electors meet in their respective state capitals to officially cast their votes for President and Vice President. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate, who on Jan. 6 opens and reads the votes before both houses of Congress. Who or what exactly is the Electoral College? It consists of 538 electors – Washington D.C. gets three. A majority of 270 votes is required to elect the President. The winner is sworn into office at high noon on Jan. 20 before the largest crowd ever gathered anywhere. Four presidents have been elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote. As we have seen, two of them won in recent years.

Forty-eight states have the winner-take-all system. Maine and Nebraska have a variation of “proportional representation” that can result in a split of their electors between the candidates, which seems a lot fairer than what we have now. As for Texans: “Everyone in Texas is being ignored, because Texas just doesn’t matter to the presidential election,” said Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University law professor who was a leading organizer of the legal effort. Almost 3.88 million Texans voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not a single vote counted. Most black and Latino voters, who make up more than 40 percent of the Texas electorate, have not had one electoral vote cast for their preferred candidate in the past four decades. (In the 1932 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt gathered all of Texas’ electoral votes with 88 percent of the popular vote. In 1992, George H.W. Bush did the same with only 40.5 percent in a three-way race against Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot.)

Being a solidly red state means presidential candidates don’t bother to campaign in Texas, although they come here for money. Indeed, GOP candidates consider Texas their ATM. If we give a lot of money, maybe one of us will get appointed to a top position – like Secretary of State. The candidates spend their time and funds in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where there are a lot of Electoral College votes, as I was telling President Hillary.

The only time any money came back to Texas was in 2008 when Hillary and Barack Obama were both seeking the Democratic nomination for President. The Texas campaign was tough and mystifying to outsiders. It’s hard for missionaries to grasp the difficulties of running a state-wide campaign here. We are expensive. Texas is separated into 20 media markets, the most of any state. Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who was state director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, told The New York Times, “It’s like running a national campaign. There are no similarities between Amarillo and Brownsville and Beaumont and Texarkana and El Paso and Austin and Houston and Dallas. These are very separate demographic groups with very diverse interests.” The primary election led to the Texas Two-Step with voting, caucuses, and late-night confusion.

If Texas went to a proportional vote, like Maine and Nebraska, presidential candidates would be forced to come here to campaign, hoping to get a slice of our big-delegate pie. That means renting hotel ballrooms and suites, cars, cops, caterers, lots of ads on TV, radio and newspapers. More importantly, everyone’s vote would count. We would no longer be spectators in the sport of government. This would mean amending the Constitution, but if Americans can change the charter to prohibit alcohol and give 18-to 21-year- olds the right to vote (they still don’t), we can drop out of college. So I can get some sleep.

Ashby is electable at

A River Runs Through It

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

SAN ANTONIO – Here we are, morning at an outdoor café along the town’s River Walk. The sky is blue, the temperature is 75, the flowers are in bloom and, right on key, here come both a barge full of tourists and a waiter with my Bloody Mary. Just like Buffalo Bayou. Well, not exactly, but how many times have you heard totally clueless residents or out-of-towners say, “Why can’t Buffalo Bayou be turned into something like San Antonio’s River Walk?” Well, why can’t the Astrodome be turned into the world’s largest sauna? Just open the doors in August. Why can’t the Texans stay healthy? The easy answer is simply: Harvey, but that 500-year flood only hits every three years, right?

Let’s start here in San Antonio, or Santone. The river got here before the town. San Antonio’s history began in May of 1718 with the founding of the San Antonio de Béxar Presidio and Mission San Antonio de Valero (now the Alamo) so the city is now celebrating its 300th birthday. For the next couple of centuries the river was considered a dumping ground. If you look at some of the older building along here you will see fire escapes, loading docks and the butt-end of structures. Indeed, in the 1920s the manager of the Plaza Hotel asked the city if it couldn’t do something about “that dirty little river.” In 1929, San Antonio architect Robert H.H. Hugman developed plans for the river area including stone walkways, bridges, staircases and the vision of retail development. Nothing happened. Then the Great Depression came along, the WPA found unemployed workers willing to lay stone for starvation wages, and Bingo! The 1968 HemisFair nudged more walkways, bridges and tourists. Since then Santone has been adding on and extended the river because every hotel and restaurant wants to advertise “on the River Walk.”

The San Antonio River Walk.

A few items of interest, maybe. Santone is now the seventh-largest city in the country. (Texas is the only state having three biggest cities in the top 10, with Austin coming on strong.) The minor league San Antonio Missions are the only original member still in the Texas League. (That may change.) The headwaters of the San Antonio River are found at the Blue Hole, a natural artesian spring on the University of the Incarnate Word campus near the downtown. San Antonio is called Military City USA because for almost 300 years soldiers and, later, airmen were stationed here. If you were a career soldier or airman, somewhere along the line you were stationed here. Shake any tree and a retired general will fall out. The list of former military residents includes Robert E. Lee, Black Jack Pershing and a young lieutenant named Dwight Eisenhower, who met his future wife here. Ike also coached a college football team. Gen Douglas MacArthur went to high school in San Antonio at the West Texas Military Academy. Needless to say, MacArthur was the class valedictorian.

What kind of cash cow is this “dirty little river?” Houston, read with jealousy the following: A 2014 study found that the River Walk attracted about 9.3 million non-resident visitors whose main reason for coming to the area was to visit the River Walk. Locals made about 2.2 million trips to the River Walk resulting in a total of about 11.5 million visitors. These non-resident visitors spend about $2.4 billion each year, which supports more than 31,000 jobs. These workers earn incomes and benefits of over $1 billion. The economic impact is about $3.1 billion per year. This economic activity results in about $173 million flowing to various state and local government agencies, and almost $201 million in revenues being generated for the federal government. That’s a lot of money for this sleepy river village. But how do they keep it from flooding? Back in the 1920s, like Houston, Santone flooded awfully. Finally a series of dams and locks regulated the water level. However, the bottom depth varies, so if some Saturday night drunk falls into the river, she may be up to her waist, or 30 feet down.

This water level is obviously one of the major drawbacks for the aptly named Bayou City. After Houston’s 1920 and 1930 floods, like San Antonio, plans were made and two dams — Addicks and Barker — were built west of the city to prevent flooding. (Quit laughing.) Here’s a quick overview for real estate brokers who are using glass bottom boats. Buffalo Bayou rises west of Katy near the Waller County line in extreme northern Fort Bend County and flows 65 miles east, across southern Harris County, to its mouth on the San Jacinto River. It goes through some of the most expensive neighborhoods and winds through the downtown. You couldn’t ask for a better location for lazy boat rides, kayaking and waterside restaurants. But over the years the bayou became neglected, polluted (there used to be a boating event called the Reekin’ Regatta). In recent years some good citizens have tried to fix up the banks with jogging paths and trees, bushes, etc. But it still ain’t no River Walk.

OK, that’s the problem, what’s the solution? First, we need a major tourist attraction to bring visitors to our bayou. I suggest we buy, or at least rent, the Alamo. Hey, San Antonio has been talking a good fight for decades about how the city is going to upgrade the Alamo Plaza, get rid of the Bible thumpers and the sleaze shops. All hat and no cattle. So Houston moves in and takes charge. Then we copy San Antonio’s flood plans, with docks and locks. Houston sent men to the moon, so don’t tell me we can’t figure out how to put in a few flood-free bars and cafes. The main point is that we don’t consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, unless you want that riverside café in your den.

Ashby deposits at the Left Bank of the Bayou at

Guest Work Without Reservations

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

THE HOTEL – The nice part about staying in a hotel is that someone else empties your wastebaskets, picks up your soggy towels and puts new little bottles of shampoo and bars of soap in your bathroom each day when you steal the ones put out the day before. My wife and I have been living in hotels since Hurricane Harvey, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, flooded my house. So I have become somewhat of an expert in the business.

For example, room rates. They vary more than airline fares. Book through one of those agencies that guarantees the lowest rates and you are using a “third party.’ This can cause all kinds of trouble if you want to change anything from arrival dates to the sheets. Some hotels book a lot of weekend and holiday business, thus their rates are higher then. Others cater to business people who arrive on Sunday nights and leave on Friday mornings, so they offer good weekend rates. One place where I stayed was so empty on weekends that they closed the bar. Speaking of bars, there are those lodgings which offer a free happy hour each afternoon. Don’t go. They pour the absolutely worst booze on the market. The free breakfasts are just fine, however, if you want to get up at dawn.

This is the perfect segue into what to do when you first enter your new room. Check the alarm clock because the previous guest set that alarm on his last night for 4 a.m. so he could catch the 7 o’clock flight to Goose Bay, Labrador, for his annual baby seal hunt. Time after time I have been awakened in the middle of my first night by the alarm, then spend 15 minutes trying to turn it off. Bring a clothespin. There must be a law that hotel rooms’ curtains must never meet, so that as the dawn breaks – about noon for me – light from the crack between the drapes hits you right in your face. A simple clothespin clamps the two drapes together and lets you sleep. The room temperature: for the last week I have wearing a sweater when it is 94 degrees outside because I can’t shut off the a/c, can’t open the window, and can’t get management to do anything about it. Maybe if I call the front desk and say, “How do I start a fire in the bathtub?” they’ll take action.

Also, you don’t have to be Howard Hughes tromping around the room with your feet in Kleenex boxes, but take certain health precautions. The dirtiest thing in your room, travel experts say, is the TV remote. Give it a good bath under the faucet. Then check out the channels. I am against any more federal rules and regulations, but there should be one ordering all TV remotes and channel numbers to be the same in each town. While traveling, have you ever plopped down to watch your favorite program and it’s halfway over before you find which channel it’s on? Oh, I had a funny situation happen to me a few days ago. I was walking through the hotel room and the local news came on. It was KPRC, Houston, and then it hit me: I was in Houston. I had never stayed in a hotel in my own town.

Conrad Hilton bought his very first hotel, the Mobley, in Cisco, Texas. He then moved on to other West Texas towns. Hilton later observed, “At Lubbock I found that Texas had no use for an imported French chef.” This brings us to hotel food which usually tastes like hotel food. The chef was fired when he couldn’t cut it at Wendy’s. There is the convenience of taking the elevator to dinner, particularly if you are in a strange town and don’t know where to eat and don’t want to be walking the streets at 10. And I can’t make blanket condemnations. I recently had one of the best shrimp cocktails ever at a restaurant at an Embassy Suites.

Hotels used to have ice in a bin in a little room at the end of the hall. The state passed a law authorizing only ice machines that dispensed ice from a chute, after hearings in which all kinds of horror stories were told — one guest reported opening the bin door to find a dead cat. The problem is that they give you these plastic bags to line the ice bucket. The very first cubes to drop in collapse the plastic liner which renders it useless. Another helpful hint. If you are staying at a hotel which doesn’t have a bellboy, porter or Boy Scout in need of another merit badge, and you have to handle the bags yourself, and use one of those wheeled racks or dollies or whatever, pull it, don’t push it. Now you know.

Tips for checking out. Do it beforehand, like the night before, or you’ll be in a long line in the lobby behind every other frantic guest trying to catch a plane. Also, gather up all the notepads, pens and Kleenex boxes in the room. Hotels used to put out matches, but now you can’t even light up a cigar unless you are across the street from the loading dock. My daughter used to work for Marriott and told me that maids usually change rooms, floors and workdays, so don’t wait till the last day to leave a tip. Leave a couple of bucks or more on the bed when you head out each day. I once read that John Kerry, as a campaigning presidential candidate, would leave a twenty-dollar bill at each hotel room, but he’s married to the widow of the Heinz fortune, so you probably can get by with less.

This is all you need to know about staying in a hotel, especially in your own town.

Ashby checks in at

Hypocrites’ Oath

September 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

THE FRONT YARD – I am looking at the flotsam and jetsam of what was my house, and it reminds me that just when I was getting over Trump fatigue, that non-stop news coverage of our unbalanced president, I was plunged into Harvey fatigue. All Harvey all the time. Morning noon and night. I couldn’t get away from that storm. Still, the Texas Gulf Coast was the star, and we got our 15 minutes of fame. It was only about that long, because while we were still bailing out our basements (actually there are very few basements along the coast, but I like the alliteration) along came Hurricane Irma, and the TV types raced off to cover Florida and the Caribbean. Harvey was so last week.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from Harvey, which won’t be a teachable moment because no one will learn a thing. First, there won’t be another Harvey. Not because we won’t endure another such storm, but because NOAA will retire the jersey number, or in this case, the name. They do that with all the big disasters – Carla, Katrina, Allison, the Astros’ bullpen — and now our own catastrophe will live forever. Another lesson: get flood insurance, or, if you can’t afford it, get FEMA to give you a bunch of money to take care of you. This brings up the obvious question of why buy flood insurance?

Courtesy of

We now come to Texans’ take on the federal government. We like to quote Ronald Reagan’s observation, “The government isn’t the solution. The government is the problem.” How many times did we hear Texans chant that as a Coast Guard chopper was pulling them from a rooftop? “Hi, Mister National Guardsman. Did you know you are the problem? But thanks for saving me and my family from drowning when we tried to cross that low-water bridge.”

This brings us to the bridge trolls we all know and love: Texas government officials, both state and federal. Take Sen. Ted Cruz. When he paraded his various statements during his presidential campaign damning Washington for everything from halitosis to rabid dogs, his followers – speaking of rabid – cheered and clapped. That’s hard to do when dangling from a helicopter cable. Some commie pundits called Cruz’s current clamoring for billions in flood relief from the U.S. Treasury “hypocritical.” Cruz called it, well, something but I forget what. It was much the same with Gov. Greg Abbott, who has spent millions and millions of our tax dollars fighting Washington for its “interference” in his attempts at gerrymandering, preventing minorities from voting, blocking efforts to clean up our air and water and bringing back 18th Century treatment of women’s health. And when was the last time you heard the Official State Demagogue, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, praise Washington for anything?

Then there are those who attempt to score political points on a tragedy. TV conservative talk show host Sean Hannity had Gov. Abbott on a show and tried to get Abbott to criticize Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, for the way he handled the storm, likening Houston city authorities’ efforts to those of local officials in New Orleans and the Katrina debacle. The Guv wouldn’t bite. Nevertheless, Hannity continues to lambast Turner. Some people give sleaze a bad name. The American Red Cross has also come under scrutiny for how much of the millions it has raised actually went to helping the refugees. When a top Red Cross official was asked that question on TV, he wouldn’t or couldn’t say.

Here are a few do’s and don’t’s to follow after the storm: Don’t buy a used car or truck in Texas for the next year. Bypass that great deal on a BMW with only 5,000 miles. It has been under water for two weeks. Your first clue is that the windshield wipers are on the inside of the car. Don’t buy a house with a waterline in the den or has a flood gauge in the patio. Also, be suspicious of any house with a periscope on the roof. Don’t do business with a contractor with out-of-state license plates. Do figure out a way to make penicillin from a city covered in mold. Wine is harmed by heat, so when you return to your soggy, hot house, your bottles of wine may taste dreadful, so toss them. On the other hand, if your wine comes in boxes, just toss them anyway, but don’t heap the boxes on top of that pile of trash in your front yard. The neighbors will know what you drink.

What to do with your house? If the place only needs minor repairs, lie to FEMA’s insurance agent. “Those cracks in the foundation weren’t there before Harvey.” Maybe you’ll finally get some of your tax dollars back. If there is major damage, put a baby carriage in a bedroom and sob, “She was our only child.” If your place looks like Baghdad after a shelling, take a page from a city council member in Port Arthur. The town has been in pretty dire financial straits, and faced what to do with an aging and abandoned hotel in what had been the downtown district. No one would rent or lease it, no one would buy it. The town couldn’t give it away. It would cost a lot to level the five or 10 story hulk. The council member suggested selling the hotel to Hollywood for an action movie needing a climatic and fiery finale. Boom! Check with Hollywood.

Well, Texas will get over Harvey. We shall repair or tear down and replace. Our insurance rates will skyrocket, all sorts of anti-flood plans will be trotted out and none will be implemented. Our state and federal lawmakers will be on hand next election to tell us how they sucked out money from Washington, that same despicable city of corruption and interfering power-grabbers — and will be re-elected. I’m getting hypocrite fatigue.

Ashby is drying out at

Three Days in Budapest

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog, Uncategorized

by Dick Dace and Joel Hoopaugh

Day One

We arrived in Budapest at eight in the morning after an extremely bumpy and exhausting overnight train from Prague. We blamed the Soviet-era tracks, the heavy-footed brake man, and the Animal House rejects who partied next door. Our hotel was the sister property to our Vienna accommodation, The Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. Conveniently located in the city center and surrounded by

other high-end hotels, it is nestled between the Ritz-Carlton Budapest and two metro stops. There is nothing like staying at the Kempinski, where one is rejuvenated just by walking through its revolving door.

First stop of the day was Memento Park. We caught the 11 a.m. Memento Park Bus less than one block from our hotel, for a short 20 minute drive outside the city. Created in 1993, the park includes several of more than 1,000 communist-era statues that were an intricate part of the intimidation and propaganda campaign the Soviets used to control the Hungarian people from 1945 until 1989. In the center of every community was a statue showing a benevolent soviet soldier protecting a Hungarian peasant, or a three-story tall statue of Joseph Stalin looking down like a mythical God.

Other statues feature Lenin, Marx, and Engels. The statues made me depressed, sad, and angry. Apparently, most Hungarians agreed with me. In 1989, with the fall of the Soviet Empire, citizens toppled the soviet era statues all across the country, and many were melted down to create new works of art.

Hungary even used some of the communist statues to remodel the ones at Hősök (Heroes) Square, originally

built in in 1896 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. In 1989, the statues of the Holy Roman Emperors were replaced with other important national leaders, and a tomb honoring the Unknown Soldier.

Heroes Square is surrounded by a beautiful park, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Palace of Art, and the Serbian Embassy. During the summer the lake is dotted with watercraft, and ice skates gliding on top in winter. It is also the site of the first underground subway station in all of Europe.

As we walked back to our hotel, we stumbled upon a small Hungarian restaurant, Pater Bonijac Etterem. Once inside, the waitress/owner Monika stopped by to take our order. I ordered a chicken dish. She rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “Why you order that? You don’t want that. I bring you what you want!” and off she went. And she was right. She delivered a large plate of chopped veal and her version of potato dumpling for me, and a Gypsy-style meat stuffed crepes typical to Hungary (Hortobagyi Palacsinta) for Joel. Every bite was better than the last.

We decided to take public transportation, then a local taxi to the world famous Formula One Grand Prix racetrack. While most of the track was closed the day we visited, there was a spirited go-kart race happening on one part of the compound, and in another, Hungary’s largest waterpark.

Back in Budapest, we decided to walk along the Danube River which separates Buda from Pest. While admiring the Buda Castle compound across the river, we came upon an interesting grouping of bronze old-fashion shoes on the waters’ edge. It looked like dozens of folks had slipped off their shoes before going for a swim.

We learned later from a tour guide that the shoes are a memorial commemorating the execution of Hungarian Jews by the fascist Arrow Cross members during World War II. The Fascists took the Jews to the river and ordered them to remove their shoes, so they could be used by others, then shot in such a way that their bodies fell into the river.

Day Two

On our way to Buda Castle, we walked along the river to the very impressive Hungarian Parliament. Directly outside is Kossuth Square, a large square with monuments, classical buildings and an underground memorial to the Revolution of 1956. Across the river are Budapest’s most famous landmarks; Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle and Liberty Statue.

Atop the hill is Fisherman’s Bastion, built in 1902 on the foundation of a 13th century church. From one of its seven towers, there is an amazing panoramic view of Buda. For the price of meal, one can sit on the Bastion’s terrace walls and enjoy the view.

At the base is the famous Buda Castle. After being almost completely destroyed by Soviet forces at the end of World War II, the castle was painstakingly rebuilt according to historical photos and paintings. The castle is now a museum, where it is possible to see some of the castles recreated furnishings. A 700-car garage is being constructed underneath the grounds.

Because we wanted to see other sites not accessible by public transportation, we decided to hire a car for our trip to Vienna. First stop: Slavin, Solvakia, which provided us with a birds-eye view of Bratislava, Austria and Hungary.

Day Three

Our driver was Gyuri, a moonlighting professional soccer player who had been a high school exchange student in upstate New York. He spoke excellent English, and drove a late model sedan. First stop: Slavin, Solvakia, which provided us with a birds-eye view of Bratislava, Austria and Hungary.

On our way to Devín Castle in Bratislava, (which was destroyed by Napoleon in 1810) we drove over the famous UFO bridge over the Danube river that was built in the late 1960s and early ’70s during the height of Soviet Communist propaganda building spree. It features a flying saucer-shaped restaurant at the top of the bridges only pylon, the largest such bridge in the world.

Our favorite stop was Carnuntum, a Roman army base established in the first century. Over the years, Carnuntum grew to be an important outpost of the Roman Empire, and was the site where the Emperor emeritus Diocletian and the co-emperors Maximian and Galerius granted freedom of religion for every citizen of the Roman Empire.

It is now an Archaeology Park where they have rebuilt The House of Lucius, complete with period furniture, heated floors, heated baths, and water-flushed latrines. You could say life was good for the generals, and the merchants of Carnuntum. They loved their baths, as do citizens of Budapest, who keep four city bath houses hopping.


Pater Bonijac Etterem Restaurant

Budapest 1068

Dozsa Gyongyut 108




THE SCHOOL GYM — “Billy Ralph. Good to see you. How’s MinnieMay?”

“She ran off with a shepherd, and left me with our 12 kids.”

“Hi there. Your nametag says Sally Joan Mugwump, but you look, uh nothing like I remember.”

“I’m now George Joe Mugwump. I guess the beard fooled you. Which reminds me, thanks to Governor Abbott, it’s murder trying to use a bathroom in this school.” This is my class reunion. Highland Park High School class of ’56. The January class. The State of Texas did away with midterm classes that started and graduated in January. So our class was only about 90 kids, compared to the June class of 22,000 or so. Most of us began in the first grade in four elementary schools, meshed in junior high, now called middle school for the same unknown reason there are no longer midterm classes, and spent the next six years together. (Actually, I didn’t graduate until June. Something about biology – my fetal pig survived.) So here we are, gathered for our every-five-year get-together, which is more often than most classes hold reunions, but we like to meet. Actually, some even married classmates.

“Studs Studly, president of our class, all-state quarterback, elected Mister Best. How are you doing?”

“If you’ll give me your ticket, I’ll bring your car around. Tips are appreciated.” At class reunions, one must be careful what to say. Across the room I spot Marvin Munchkin. “Hey Marv. Whatever happened to that floozy you went with, Mary Lou Easy? Remember how she, uh, dated almost every guy in school, if you get my drift?”

“We’ve been married for 50 years.” Here comes Sally Shrewd. “Sally, how did life go?” “Not bad. I was no-billed by the grand jury, but the civil litigation took all the money I made from insider trading at Merrill Lynch.” Then there were the failures.

If you are planning to attend a class reunion, here are a few tips. Lose weight. Maybe 20 to 30 pounds. Get a tan, even if it means visiting a tanning lounge that gives you skin cancer in only 10 easy sessions, then explain it by casually mentioning that you just returned from your estate in Jamaica. Don’t explain that it’s Jamaica, Queens. Don’t wear you Vietnam War military decorations, especially if they are from North Vietnam. Every reunion should require nametags, so bring a pen and add: “The Honorable” in front of your name. I suggest you don’t push the matter by sticking in “Pope,” “King” or “Grand Kleagle.” Looking around the room, you will notice how everyone else in your class has aged. You’re the exception, but don’t rub it in by doing wheelies with your walker.

         These many years later, I figured out what we should have done when we graduated. We should have created a Tontine, which is named after an Italian banker named Lorenzo Tonti. In 1695 he came up with the idea of everyone putting in some money and the last person to survive would inherit it. If, say, in 1956 we had each put in $10, today that would be about a half million dollars. The money would go to whomever in this group lived the longest. The problem with that is every time we gathered we would be counting heads. Who would outlast who? We would bring along our food tasters.

Ah, yes, it’s been a while. When we graduated, Bill Clinton was 9 years old. Hillary was 45. Top TV shows included “As The World Turns” and “The Price is Right.” Mothers could buy disposable diapers and Teflon non-stick frying pans. Elvis Presley appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and entered the music charts for the first time, with “Heartbreak Hotel.” Top movies were “Guys and Dolls,” “The King and I” and “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Average cost of a new house: $11,700. Average yearly wages: $4.450. A gallon of gas: 22 cents. Average cost of a new car: $2,050. The first computer hard drive was introduced, and none of us bought stock in Texas Instruments. Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and, for the first and last time, OU beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl 45 to nothing. Here’s the kicker: People born that year have been eligible for Social Security these past two years. Back then we should have told our folks to buy some land. Austin now has more people than Houston did when we graduated. There was no place called the Metroplex, but in these 60 years Dallas population has almost tripled from about 500,000 to today’s 1.3 million. And we didn’t buy land.

Someone asked, “Whatever happened to Crazy Carl?” A good question. Every class has a Crazy Carl – someone who didn’t fit in, hadn’t a clue what was going on and, as a result, was the butt of jokes. No one knew anything about Carl. Suddenly, out front a long limo pulled up, the chauffeur ran around, opened the door, and who got out but Crazy Carl. He had a beautiful wife, he was wearing a $2,000 suit and a diamond stickpin the size of an egg.

I went up to him and said, “Crazy Carl! You’re in the big time, but back in school you couldn’t pass a blood test with a tutor. You had trouble counting past your thumb. What happened?” He said, “Oh, it’s easy. I bought something for $100 and sold it for $200. Then I bought something for $500 and sold it for $1,000. Last month I bought something for a million and sold it for five million. You know, after a while that 10 percent profit adds up.”

In five years, we shall meet again. We should bring our food tasters — and tell our grandchildren to buy land. Finally, we must remember our class motto: It is not enough that you should succeed. All your friends must fail.

Ashby reunites at




Maria Calcina, DDS

August 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Calcina_WebMaria Calcina, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry

Dr. Maria Calcina was born in Tientsin, China, before immigrating to Venezuela. She studied dentistry at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and went on to pursue her postgraduate degree in pediatric dentistry at New York University College of Dentistry.

After winning a battle with endometrial cancer, Dr. Calcina pursued her licensure in the U.S., where she taught at the University of Maryland College of Dentistry. In 2007, Dr. Calcina relocated to Houston, and after beating breast cancer a year later, opened her practice in Katy. Dr. Calcina is an active member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Dental Association, the Association of Women Dentists, the Greater Houston Dental Society, the Hispanic Dental Society, the Houston Asian Dental Society, the Texas Dental Society and the Texas Southwestern Society of Pediatric Dentistry.

Maria Calcina, DDS
19214 Clay Road, Ste. D
Katy, Texas 77449

The World Turns

I’ve noticed a slow down. Plants that were surging, growing like crazy, have paused. Beautiful blooms are not turning into fruit; tomatoes refuse to take on color. The routine has not changed. I’m feeding weekly, watering daily and praying a lot. Today I notice shade covers the garden at 11:30.

How can this be? Back in the spring I meticulously tracked the sun, then removed and trimmed trees to ensure the garden was getting at least eight hours of sun a day. Now I see the world turned. The sun is no longer rising in the gap I created. It’s coming up behind my neighbor’s big oak tree and over one of my giant old crepe myrtles. It’s well after noon before the sun hits my tomatoes. Shade starts creeping back over the garden about 4:30, a tall fence and an awning covering the door to the storage area blocking the sun’s rays. Four hours of sunshine ain’t getting the job done.

The sun is rising behind the trees

The sun is rising behind the trees


Obviously these trees aren’t coming down, but after a couple days of research, I find some branches I can trim on the crepe myrtle and gain 90 minutes of sunshine for the garden. Not ideal, but every bit helps. I climb up a ladder and onto the roof of the guest house. I take a long stride from the roof into the tree and begin shimmying up the tall trunk with my trusty tree saw. The view is different from here and I can’t really tell which branches intended to cut. I’m not climbing all the way back down for a second look; I select a branch and start sawing. The limbs are heavier than they look and I worry about fences and pots below as they crash to the ground. It looked like a few little branches needed trimmed. Next thing I know I’ve got a ten foot pile of tree limbs in the yard that need cleaned up. There goes my Saturday!

The results were not instantaneous, but by midweek things are happening. Little cucumbers appear on the vines. Eggplants form and peppers that seemed dormant for weeks gain color. My Tabasco pepper plant had never produced a pepper; suddenly the bush is full. All it took was a few strokes of a saw, and gardening is fun again!



Tabasco Peppers

Tabasco Peppers

Serrano Peppers

Serrano Peppers



Assorted Peppers

Assorted Peppers




Garden Bounty Banquet, for One

It’s working! I have been breaking off pieces of corn tassels and spanking them against corn silks as they appear. Corn cobs have formed on several stalks.

Corn cobs

Corn cobs

On a lesser note, I went inside for two minutes to get my twins some water. When I came back out they were running around very excited, each holding a green tomato. Drats!

I’ve had many failures in my little plot, but now having some success. Jalapeno and Serrano peppers are in the refrigerator, along with six Bok Choys, a bag of radishes and a few ripe tomatoes (plus two very green ones). Onions are ready to pick and I’ve been pulling them up as needed; the herbs, growing in pots around the elevated garden, are absolutely beautiful. I pulled up four of my five unproductive broccoli plants and threw them into the compost barrel (a new purchase). I noticed the fifth had a crown about the size of a quarter, it has grown to egg size in the last couple of days. One of the two eggplants has a fruit and okra has sprouted and stands about three inches tall. Cantaloupe, cucumbers and squash are blooming and climbing the trellis I put along the back of the garden.

Garden 5/19/14

Garden 5/19/14


Flat leaf parsley

Flat leaf parsley













There are 10 pepper plants. So far the Serrano is the workhorse, pumping out nearly 20 peppers. Poblano, Anaheim, habanero and Thai peppers have lots of flowers, little to no fruit. Somehow I ended up with two dragon cayenne plants. One has eight peppers; the other just one. I’m hoping the non-producing plants are just waiting for the summer heat and will over perform in a month or so.

Meanwhile, I’m hungry. My wife is at an event, the boys are in bed; I’m dining solo. There is 1/2 of an uncooked rib-eye, some mushrooms and garden harvest in the fridge. Part of my writing job takes me all over the world, at most stops I meet with chefs who teach me their signature recipes, which I recreate for H Texas‘ Dinner Club section. I draw from lessons I received in Mexico and Tennessee for tonight’s dinner.



Seared Rib-eye with Bourbon Mushrooms


6-8 ounce steak (choose your favorite cut)

1 tablespoon butter

1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms

1/8 cup chopped onions

1/8 cup chopped fennel

1 large Serrano pepper- halved

1/2 cup red or white wine

1 shot of Tennessee whiskey



Preheat oven to 400. Preheat small, well seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat. Season meat with an ample amount of salt and pepper, rub into the meat. Melt butter in skillet, add steak and sear for three minutes. Flip steak and put pan and all into the oven for 3-6 minutes (depending on thickness). remove beef, re-season with salt and pepper and set aside to rest. Put the pan back on high heat, scrape bottom with metal spatula to loosen all bits and juices, add whiskey and cook for 30 seconds. Add veggies and wine and stir to coat. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about five minutes. Remove lid, turn heat to high and cook until liquid evaporates. Top steak with veggies and enjoy with your favorite adult beverage.

Rib-eye, salt and pepper

Rib-eye, salt and pepper

Sauce Ingredients

Sauce Ingredients

Cook over high heat until liquid evaporates

Cook over high heat until liquid evaporates

It’s Amazing!

Amazing things are happening in my 84-square foot patch of fun. I can literally watch cucumber vines climb the trellis; I’m picking peppers and tomatoes as corn stalks are blooming tassels.

Who wants salsa?

Who wants salsa?

If you’re into gardening, you know how addictive watching things grow can be. My 18-month old twin helpers are as caught up as I am. Yesterday one picked a mint leaf to chew on, and as he slowly negotiated the plant to mouth transition, noticed tomatoes growing on the vine just past the mint plant. He instantly reached; luckily, I was close enough to prevent the premature plucking.

The twins are constantly chewing on mint and parsley, and they love onion tops. They like to keep themselves busy around the garden fussing with dead and dying leaves; they are natural cullers. They also like to throw mulch and dirt on the deck. I think they like the texture of the wood mulch and temperature (and taste) of the dirt. In the past I’ve found ways of distracting them from unwanted actions, but they find throwing dirt and mulch beyond distraction and worthy of a good scolding. I’ve had to resort to old fashioned time out. I start their outside time with a visit to the garden and tell them they can play with the plants as long as they don’t throw dirt and mulch on the deck. When they violate this rule they are banished to another part of the yard for a few minutes. One has caught on; the other really likes dirt!

All my creepy vines are crawling. The speed in which their tentacles can wrap around the trellis, and corn stalks, is mind boggling. My cucumbers can get a couple of loops around the trellis in just a few minutes and be strangling  a corn plant by the end of a sunny day. If I had a few too many adult beverages and napped in the garden, I’m not sure I would make it out alive!

Cucumber plant grabbing trellis

Cucumber plant grabbing trellis

My squash and cantaloupes sprouted tentacles yesterday and I assume they’ll start to climb the trellis today.

I’m in a dilemma on fertilizing. Since I put down a heavy layer of mulch, as prescribed in Dr. Randall’s succinctly titled Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston, A Natural Organic Approach Using Ecology, 12th Edition, its a major task to rake MicroLife fertilizer into the top few inches of soil. I have to rake up the mulch, fertilize then lay the mulch back down. The people at Wabash recommended a fish based liquid fertilizer; my wife was unhappy with the odor, “It smells like a bad day at the beach,” she told me as she escaped back into the house. Cousin Steve, who is no relation to me, says he gets great results with Miracle Gro liquid and holds a cold Budweiser in one hand as he sprays Miracle Gro on his garden with the other. The NASA rocket scientist and life long gardener has dropped by to give me some zucchini and crooked neck squash; says he’s picking about 20 per day. I barely have a bloom and he’s harvested nearly a hundred squash. This has my attention; I guess I’ll give the Miracle Gro a try.

I don’t have enough corn properly planted to ensure pollination. Evidently this a common problem for recreational farmers; I found plenty of instructional articles on line. I’m helping the birds and the bees by hand pollinating. Corn plants sprout tassels at the top of the plant that contain pollen. When enough corn is planted properly, wind blows the pollen onto silks sprouting along the sides of the plant. By cutting off part of a tassel and rubbing it on the silks, one can get pollen on the silks and hopefully cause a cob to grow. My research says to repeat the process several days in a row. My garden is a very loving environment.

Blooming corn plants

Blooming corn plants

Corn Silks

Corn Silks

Corn Tassels

Corn Tassels

Begining to Reap

Things are looking up! I have plucked some early tomatoes from my Celebrity vine. The mocking birds have been watching them ripen; I beat the birds to the punch and moved the tomatoes to the inside windowsill when two thirds of the fruit were pink.

My first tomato

My first tomato

I count another 8-10 fruits and tons of blooms. I plan on letting some of these stay on the vine and note at what stage the birds attack; going forward I’ll start picking just before the birds are attracted. I’ve also got about a dozen Serrano peppers and half a dozen jalapenos that can be picked at anytime. I can combine my harvest and make garden fresh salsa.

I’ve overcome obstacles and garnered some mild success with radishes, Bok Choy, peppers and tomato.

The radish harvest

The radish harvest

I’ve kept the soil loose around the base of my onions and they have started getting fat at the bottom; I’m hopeful. I’ve had complete failures with Brussels Sprouts and cauliflower (planted too late) and cabbage (did not feed properly). I have two more failures looming. I starved my broccoli the first half of their young lives. I began aggressively feeding and they grew like crazy, but it looks like too little too late; I see no signs of florets after ninety days. My corn is also in jeopardy. I planted two rows, 8 stalks each. I have since found out I should have planted four rows of four to ensure the wind does its job during pollination. I’m trying to pollinate by hand, we’ll see how that works out.

Cantaloupe, cucumbers and squash are planted to crawl up a trellis I installed at the back of the garden. The cucumbers have already started the climb. I notice a couple of plants had latched on, so I propped a third cucumber up next to the trellis with a small stake, within thirty minutes it had grabbed hold. I put four okra plants and two eggplants in the ground and gave them a good feeding. Hopefully they will be feeding me soon.


I’m Home to See My Babies

I returned last night from a whirlwind trip to Ireland’s Ballyfin Demesne. The exclusive manor sits on 614 acres of orchards, gardens and rolling pastures.

Ireland shares the same latitude as my birth place, Edmonton, Alberta Canada. My parents claim it was 30 degrees below zero when I was born in March. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean hold some heat and protect Ireland from these frigid temperatures, but it’s safe to say the Emerald Isle has different growing seasons than the Bayou City. When I arrived on April 30th, they were planting cabbage, carrots and cauliflower, things we sow September – October. They rarely get temperatures hot enough to grow tomatoes or peppers (unless done in a greenhouse) and their harvest is completed by August; the gardens stay dormant until March when they sow onions and leeks. The gardeners at Ballyfin grow all they can in this limited season and can usually reap enough fruits and vegetables to feed resort guests nine months out of the year.

After nearly a week of sleeping in a castle, hobnobbing with Lords and Ladies and enjoying the Irish countryside, I’m ready to see my babies. My 18 month old twins are out for the night by the time I get home; it’s too dark to get a good look at the garden. My wife is still up; she tells me there is a problem with the boys and the garden. The twins really like the mulch I recently installed to retard weeds and prevent water evaporation. They want to play with it, throw it, chew on it and make a general mess. She suggests I put up a fence.

When I first planted, I tacked up some chicken wire around the garden to keep the boys from pulling up my seedlings. I left some established herbs I have growing in pots outside the little redneck fence and encouraged to them tear off leaves and taste the mint parsley, sage and rosemary. This was a decent distraction, but I soon realized they were far more interested in the colorful plastic identification spikes that came with the plants. They would reach over the fence, pull up the little markers and bring them to us as gifts, so we made a big game out of thanking them, then sneaking over and hiding the markers back amidst the plants. It’s like a never ending Easter egg hunt. They have so much fun with the plastic spikes they ignore the plants and I took down the little fence. However, the mulch is new and has too much texture to ignore.

the gardeners

the garden crew

I finally see the boys this morning. I steal a few minutes of playtime and cook them a healthy breakfast, then sneak out to look at the garden. Mulch is scattered all over the deck. Otherwise, the garden looks great. Plants have good color, some of the peppers have fruit more than two inches long, a couple of celebrity tomatoes are showing shades of red and my radishes have really taken off. The Sevin Dust got rid of whatever was dining on the cabbage, broccoli and Bok Choy. Everything has grown.

I’m a little concerned the garden is doing better because I was gone; my wife is certainly taking credit for the success. I plan to give it another good feeding. The cauliflower and the cabbage are failures; today I’ll rip them out and sow eggplants and okra in the space. I also need to devise a new strategy to keep my assistants out of the mulch.

Garden, May 5, 2014

Garden, May 5, 2014


Healthy radishes with 4″ tall tops

How Hard Can this Be?

The complexities keep building. I have rebuilt my elevated garden with a plastic liner and multiple layers of filler to give my veggies the best chance to thrive. I gave Miracle-Gro garden soil too much credit and lost six weeks of growing time; then planted several out of season plants. What a rookie! Now the sun is finally shining; I watch the shadows creep across my garden.

Historically, this area of my yard gets the most sun. Unfortunately, a couple of giant old crepe-myrtle trees and some forty year old magnolias are flexing their muscles; they’re showing the sun who is boss. Shade is hampering my harvest; corn stalks in the sunny part of the garden are three times the size of their shaded siblings. This is not the my first fight with these trees, but this time I’m fighting for my vegetable garden.

I spend a sunny Sunday charting which trees are causing problems, then call the tree trimmers. I have three trees completely removed and give the giant old crepe-myrtles serious haircuts. Now the yard looks completely different. I was thinking only of the garden; when the trees were gone I began thinking of my wife, her attachment to the missing trees and her opinion of my decision to make the trees go missing. Luckily she loves the new look. The trees were not hiding buildings or neighbors, now we see a big patch of Texas sky framed by large oak and magnolias. We can even lay in the sun by the pool. The garden will get 10 hours of sun, and we still have lots of trees.

I took out three trees and did some serious trimming so the sunshine could reach the garden

I took out three trees and did some serious trimming so the sunshine could reach the garden

During a recent visit to the Inn at Dos Brisas (the only Forbes five-star restaurant in Texas) I got to tour their organic gardens. Their operation is impressive. The farmers harvest seed from the crops, which sprout and grow in greenhouses and are transplanted as soon as threat of frost is gone. The chefs pick fresh produce everyday for their tasting menus. I shared some of my gardening issues with Farmer Jane. She encouraged me to replant the radish and Bok Choy, even though it’s no longer the ideal planting time. By her instruction, I planted where the tomatoes and corn will protect them from my newly found sun.

My Bok Choy sprouted, and with plenty of food, quickly grew a couple of inches. Overnight most of it disappeared. As I look more closely I see the plants are still there, something has eaten the new leaves. The eating has continued, now spreading to the broccoli and cabbage.

This is my broccoli after last night's bug attack

This is my broccoli after last night’s bug attack

We’re having friends over for some good old Texas BBQ. The smoker is puffing away when one of my guests tells me I need some Seven Dust. I don’t know what Seven Dust is I confess. He explains Seven Dust will cure most of the bug problems in my garden. Moments later another friend asks if I’ve ever heard of Seven Dust. Ten minutes after that, 70 year old Robert says, “Tommyboy, you need to get to the store and buy you some Seven Dust.”

I guess bugs are eating my plants, and the cure is Seven Dust. At Buchanan’s Native Plants I find and purchase a shaker of Sevin Dust.

Randy Fenoli July 20th, Houston Bridal Extravaganza Show

April 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Randy Fenoli appears in Houston.
Click here to purchase tickets.

San Diego

March 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Travel Blog, Uncategorized

Set Your Sights on San Diego

By Kelsea Russo

SD3San Diego is a top destination for thrill-seekers and romantics alike. La Jolla, just 20 minutes outside of downtown San Diego is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. This small, coastal community is ideal for adventure, relaxation and year-round sunshine.

Day 1

Stay at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, one of the few hotels in the area. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, the amiable hotel is nestled on beachfront property. Ninety-eight guestrooms, 12 hard-surfaced tennis courts and a 9-hole golf course are just moments from the San Diego Underwater Park, a600-acre ecological reserve. August is Texas month! Snooze amid the sounds of waves crashing on the Pacific shore while the Lone Star Flag waves in the breeze above you.

La Jolla activities are abundant. Start your day with a soothing session of yoga on the beach. Trained professionals lead you through stretches and meditations for an hour of mental and physical relaxation in the cool, San Diego morning. Once you’re rejuvenated, embark on a free fall bike tour with San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours. Feel the wind on your face as you glide2 invigorating hours from the top of the historic Mt. Soledad to the famous seal harbor, an open community where dozens of endangered seals seek shelter.



For a peaceful afternoon, visit the Grand Del Mar, San Diego’s only 5-star and 5-diamondresort. Slightly east of the coastline, the resort combines Mediterranean charm and modern elegance; and activities that don’t involve the beach. Saddle up at the equestrian center for a romantic trail ride through lush greens and picturesque vegetation surrounding Los Peñasquitos Canyon.

One does not survive on activities alone. We need food! Power up at The Shores Restaurant where they combine healthy seasonal/regional menu selections with ocean front views and exceptional quality. Lunch on Burger Lounge’s patio in the San Diego sun as you sip their signature Lounge Milk shakes. They use only the greatest organic and grass-fed beef in their patties. The local eatery offers vegetarians Quinoa Veggie patties and fresh salads. Brockton Villa is a fairy-tale dinner setting. Request a table overlooking the La Jolla Cove and the light breeze from the coast will compliment wine and their renowned Cioppino. Brockton Villa is known for American cuisine, seafood and Bananas Foster Bread Pudding.

Day 2

Slip into your swimsuit and head over to Surf Diva for a stand-up paddle board lesson. Surf Diva is one of the world’s premier women’s surf schools, offering year-round classes on surfing and stand-up paddle boarding for men and women of all ages. The friendly owners match you with the correct wetsuit and paddleboard, lead you to the water and walk you through each and every step of the process. With these expert instructors you’ll stand-up and be paddling in no time.



The afternoon presents mid-day coastal winds on top of the hill of Torrey Pines Gliderport. That’s right! Gliders. Sail nearly 300 feet above La Jolla’s Black Beach and take in incredible panoramic views of the ocean, as you are strapped alongside a certified instructor in a comfortable seated position. Bring a camera so you can capture the 30-minutes of highflying adventure along the sparkling coastline.

At La Jolla’s best-known restaurant, George’s at the Cove, Chef Trey Foshee presents fish tacos and George’s specialty- smoked chicken, black bean and broccoli soup along with their house-made organic tea that highlights fresh ingredients of the region. The open-air rooftop terrace is spectacular, buzzing with chatter over the sights below. For something a little more secluded, try a romantic dinner for two on the beach at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. They will set up a candle lit table next to the ocean so you can dine and savor wine as you watch the sunset. A barefoot stroll along the beach with your loved one is a perfect end to the day’s activities.


The Lodge at Torrey Pines staff will guide your hike in the 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Get your blood pumping as you make your way through the indigenous wildlife and natural landscaping up to the vista point, where striking views of Peñasquitos Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean will leave you breathless. Snap a few photos and head back to the Lodge’s in-house restaurant, the A.R. Valentien, for one of the nation’s top ten farm-to-table experiences.

Recuperate from your adventures with a treatment at the Torrey Pines Spa. With a full menu of holistic and specialty care services, the Spa aims to utilize local marine and botanical-based products for a truly rejuvenating experience. These professionals have you feeling relaxed ad restored.

Observe life on La Jolla’s charming streets from the covered patio at Roppongi Restaurant and Sushi Bar. This contemporary fine-dining facility serves excellent Asian fusion cuisine. Wine and dine with a glass or two of true Napa Valley vino and make sure to save room for a scoop of coconut gelato for a sweet end to this trip.

LaJolla’s floating sea breeze, clean air and adventures await you. This small jewel just outside of San Diego’s downtown is paradise.




                            Is anyone else getting Clinton fatigue? Before you take sides according to your political beliefs, is anyone getting Bush fatigue? It seems like both names have been in our faces since the Boxer Rebellion. Just recall how many times they have sought our vote, not to mention, “I hope I can count on your support.” (read: money).There was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House or cabinet for 32 years straight. And does this cause us to be MIA on election day? Our no-shows are particular true if you have lived in Texas or Arkansas – especially Texas.

            Bill Clinton’s first race was for the U.S. Congress. He lost, then ran for Arkansas attorney general and won, then ran for governor and won, then lost, then won back the governorship. He was on the ballot twice as president. Hillary was a high profile First Lady, U.S. senator, ran for president, was Sec. of State, has two books about her just out, and now she will no doubt run for president again. A goodly chunk of our citizens have never known an America without a Clinton on page one. This just in: Bill Clinton is campaigning for daughter Chelsea’s mother-in-law, Marjorie Margolies, to be sent back to Congress. The beat goes on.

            Same for the Bushes It’s not generally known, but George the Elder first ran for political office in 1978 out in West Texas. It was for Congress, and, like Clinton, Bush lost. He was a Republican before that was cool. Even worse, he was from Connecticut. Here’s a story I picked up about that race: Kent Hance, the Democratic candidate and a smooth-talking good old boy, was telling a yarn about working in a field along a rural road. Then along came a fancy car. “It was a Mercedes,” drawled Hance, raising his eyebrows, and the audience tittered at the hint Bush was the kind of man more comfortable in a Mercedes than a pickup. “The guy rolled down the window and wanted to know how to get to a certain ranch.”  Hance recounted how he’d given the man directions, telling him to turn right just after a cattle guard. “Then,” Hance continued, “he said, ‘what color uniform will that cattle guard be wearing?'”

            Bush moved to Houston and ran for Congress again. This time he won — twice. Ran for the U.S. Senate and lost. But he was always in the news, usually for holding down some dirty job: Ambassador to the U.N., head of the GOP right after Watergate, emissary to China — sent me some notes with great panda stamps — head of the CIA (remember that bit of background when someone sneers that Putin was a KGB agent). Briefly ticking off the rest: ran for president in the GOP primaries, lost, two terms as vice president, one term president, etc. How many times has Bush the Elder  been on a Texas ballots?

            Then we have George Bush the Younger who Texans have voted on at least four times. But there’s more. Brother Jeb Bush served for eight years as Florida’s governor, and his son, George P. Bush, is running for Texas Land Commish, a well-worn stepping stone for seeking higher office. George P. easily won the Texas GOP primary so we will see a Bush on next fall’s ballot. Now Jeb is being mentioned as a presidential candidate. We may be able to vote for or against both a Bush and a Clinton in the same election. Even Bar Bush seems to getting tired of all her kin always running for something. And, Bar being Bar, said so.“If we can’t find more than two or three families to run for office, that’s silly, because there are great governors and great eligible people to run. And I think that the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes — there are just more families than that. And I’m not arrogant enough to think that we alone are raising” presidential candidates.

            Perhaps Texans have a special fatigue, or at least it’s a good excuse for our miserable voting record that allows a handful of hard-charging citizens, some would day zealots, to decide who runs Texas. Just to refresh your memory, this is now a red state, a handy title invented by TV newscasters that is shorter than “a state that is dominated by members of the Republican party.” Any candidate who gets the GOP nomination here is almost certain to win, especially in a statewide election. Ah, who but picks these candidates? A small band of Tea Party members. Thus about 7 to 10 percent of eligible voters chooses our governor, lite gov, attorney general, and so forth. The Tea Party did not kick down the door, hold a pistol to our heads and demand control. Their actions were legal and effective.

            So where are the other 90 to 93 percent of us? Texas ranked 51st in voter turnout  in 2010 — behind every other state and Washington, D.C. We’d probably be behind Saudi Arabia and Oman if they ever had elections. The situation is so bad in Texas that not long ago in several counties not even the party chairmen voted. Santa Anna was right – Texas is not ready for self-government. This same survey, conducted by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin and the National Conference on Citizenship, determined that we rank 49th in the number of citizens who even bother to contact public officials.

Our laziness continues when it comes to civic participation rates, ranking 43rd in donating and 42nd in volunteering, according to the Texas Civic Health Index. And 61.6 percent of eligible Texans reported being registered to vote in 2010, but just 36.4 percent reported voting in the general election when the outcome had already been determined. For Texans, when it comes to running the government, it is a spectator sport. Where are you, Santa Anna, when we need you?


                                    Ashby is running at


August 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Events, Uncategorized

HOUSTON – Houston Cinema Arts Society (HCAS) today announced two coming attractions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) in Fall 2013: The Bayou City premiere of the award-winning film Houston on Sept. 6, and the world premiere on Nov. 10 of a documentary on the rich five-decade history of Houston Ballet at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival (HCAF), the first film announced for HCAF 2013.

HCAS will host the screening of Houston in collaboration with MFAH, Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) and the Houston Film Commission on Friday, Sept. 6, at 7:00 PM. Writer/director Bastian Günther’s feature film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize for Narrative Feature at the 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston. The film’s service producer, Anne Walker-McBay , has produced many films for HCAS Honorary Board member Richard Linklater.

Houston portrays Ulrich Tukur as Clemens Trunschka, a corporate headhunter tasked with finding a top CEO in Houston. Günther, who will be in attendance for the screening at MFAH, expands Trunschka’s headhunting expedition into a captivating and subtle examination of failure as drinking increasingly isolates the lead character from his life and leads him away from reality. According to the 2013 Sundance Film Festival film guide, “Houston dives unflinchingly deep into the heart of Texas and comes up with something as surprising as it is precious: hope.”

The Houston Ballet documentary will premiere at MFAH at 4:00 PM on Sunday, Nov. 10, the final day of HCAF 2013. There will be a repeat screening at Sundance Cinemas on Monday, Nov. 11 (time TBA). The documentary chronicles the history of the internationally acclaimed Houston Ballet, from the early impact of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the 1930s and 40s in inculcating a love of dance among Houstonians, to the determination and perseverance of a handful of Houston’s founding families, to the making of legendary ballet stars through color-blind casting, diplomatic struggles and international incidents and exposure to the world’s best artistic talent, to its place today as the fourth largest ballet company in America with a facility unmatched in the United States.

The documentary will capture the voices of many key players who helped propel Houston Ballet to its current international stature. The film will trace the directorships of each of Houston Ballet’s five artistic directors since the company’s founding in 1955, featuring photos and historical footage of the company’s performances from the 1970s onward, in addition to footage that evokes the company’s vibrant present. It also will feature interviews with the four living artistic directors of Houston Ballet, dancers from the 1970s to the present, and board leaders and dance critics who have closely followed the company’s development. Among the noted Houstonians featured will be Jesse H. Jones II, Isaac and Tony Arnold, Lucia Bryant and Eugene Loveland; along with internationally renowned choreographers Debbie Allen, Ben Stevenson, Christopher Bruce and Trey McIntyre; and star dancers Carlos Acosta, Li Cunxin and Janie Parker.

The director of the Ballet documentary is John Carrithers of Carrithers Studio, a Houston-based filmmaker who served as Director of Photography on several recent feature documentary projects including: Mothers At War, a film about women combat veterans; 38 Pieces, a documentary about the Byzantine Frescoes rescued by Dominique de Menil directed by Susan and Francois de Menil, andRelocation Arkansas, a chronicle of Japanese Americans growing up in an internment camp in Arkansas during WWII. Carrithers has also created numerous works for Houston Grand Opera, Asia Society Texas and the MFAH, among others.

The full program of film premieres, live performances, media installations and special guests for HCAF 2013 will be announced at the HCAF launch party for HCAS members and sponsors on Oct. 15 at The Sam Houston Hotel. HCAS plans to announce the official Festival Headquarters and location of the Cinema on the Verge interactive media installation gallery sometime in September.

Houston Cinema Arts Society is a non-profit organization created in 2008. With the support of former Houston Mayor Bill White and the leadership of Franci Crane, HCAS organizes and hosts the annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival, a groundbreaking and innovative arts festival featuring films and new media by and about artists in the visual, performing and literary arts. The festival celebrates the vitality and diversity of the arts in Houston and enriches the city’s film and arts community. HCAS sponsors include the Crane Foundation, a grant from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Levantine Entertainment, Houston First Corporation, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Champion Energy Services, Amegy Bank of Texas, The Brown Foundation, Inc. and others. The project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Texas Commission on the Arts. The fifth annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival will be held Nov. 6-10, 2013. For more information, please visit HCAS at


SWAMP, the first nonprofit media arts organization in Texas, promotes the creation and appreciation of film, video and new media as art forms of a multicultural community. Creating audiences and opportunities for independent filmmakers since 1977, SWAMP offers on-going education, information and screening programs for adults and youth. In addition, SWAMP produces THE TERRITORY, a short film showcase series broadcast on Texas PBS stations and provides fiscal sponsorship for noncommercial film projects and emerging film-related organizations such as the documentaryRelocation Arkansas and the Houston Cinema Arts Society. For more information, please visit

Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, theater, two art schools and two libraries, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers some 65,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. For more information, please visit

The film program of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), is the largest of its kind in the southwestern United States. The MFAH first began screening films in the 1930s, and Brown Auditorium Theater, located in the Caroline Wiess Law Building and designed by Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, opened in 1973. Often, critics, scholars and filmmakers come to the screenings as visiting speakers to give audiences a deeper understanding of movies and moviemaking. For more information, please visit

Explore Fredericksburg

February 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog, TV, Uncategorized

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