Galapagos Islands

December 1, 2004 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

Island Adventure
The Galapagos Islands: An Eden in Peril
by Dick Dace

“I want to come back in my next life as a sea lion,” stated the proper English lady Rowina Tophen, “and spend my days frolicking in the surf.”

“No, no, no,” said her distinguished husband, John, “I want to come back as a blue footed booby and dance my days away.”

Thus was my introduction to the archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands. They are an animal playground where humans are welcomed with open wings and flippers, to the detriment and possible extinction of the animal inhabitants. The two Brits were regaling their newly arrived fellow passengers with tales of their recent adventures by the Galapagos Explorer’s pool.

Pirates and buccaneers first visited the Galapagos Islands in the 15th century in search of fresh water and supplies. What they found were giant tortoises for whom the Spanish named the islands. They discovered the giant tortoises could live for months at a time in their ships hulls without food or water and thereby provide fresh meat for the crews. More than 200,000 of the slow-moving, 600-pound (and, unfortunately, quite delicious) tortoises became meals. But it is modern man who has done the most damage to the endemic animals of the Galapagos.

Man has driven to extinction three subspecies of the giant tortoises, and countless other animals to the brink, when his domesticated animals went feral: goats, dogs, cats and rats that feasted upon the animals themselves or their food source. It is such a major problem that today, the Charles Darwin Foundation spends most of its precious budget trying to resettle the animals and hopefully stop the destruction that man has caused. But it is a race against time.

As Charles Darwin would note in “The Origin of Species” after his visit to the islands, the extreme isolation of the islands has magnified the incredible adaptations of their resident inhabitants. Each of them – the tortoises, iguanas, blue footed boobies, penguins and finches – have adapted to the unique availability and sources of food from island to island in such a way that many of them are now considered unique and separate subspecies.

The best way to see the animals of the Galapagos Islands is by boat, from which there are many different sizes and shapes to choose. There are the small, intimate sailing boats with eight to 10 passengers all the way up in size to the 100-passenger, Galapagos Explorer II, that also has a crew of 70, including naturalist guides and a doctor.

Our seven-day exploration of the Galapagos Islands began with breakfast at 6 a.m. each day. We ate heartily for there is no snacking on the islands. This is one of those places where we are only allowed to leave footprints in the sand and take away only memories and photos.

Each morning at 8 a.m., groups of 16 would disembark with a naturalist guide into a zodiac. Our guide was quite knowledgeable about each species, subspecies and endemic creature that we encountered and possessed an amazing enthusiasm and excitement for the animals.

Our hikes sometimes lasted for more than two hours, during which we walked over rope-like pahoe-hoe lava and climbed over aa lava and were cautioned in the strongest of terms to watch where we stepped. This advice was not only to keep from stepping on a sunning marine iguana or a nesting albatross, but also to keep from slipping on the rocks, which, unfortunately, two of our fellow passengers did, one breaking an arm and the other a wrist. Equally challenging for many was boarding and disembarking from the zodiac, with many passengers, cameras and binoculars getting dunked in the surf.

On one island we visited, the blue footed boobies were in the middle of their mating season. Their dance reminded me of children with new shoes, how they try to show them off by raising first one foot, moving their shoe around, and then the other. The blue footed boobies also raise their wings and do an adorable version of the chicken dance.

One afternoon, after arriving at the national park, the guide spotted a 20-foot-tall wild orange tree laden with ripe fruit. Without missing a beat, he shimmied up the tree to the highest branches and tossed each of us an orange. In no time flat, we were devouring wild Galapagos oranges. We went on to find and taste many wild fruits of the islands. The fruit abounded in this area so much that much of it was rotting on the ground.

As we were savoring the epicurean moment, we heard a noise. To our delight, it was the elusive giant tortoise munching away on a passion fruit. The guide said that because of its size it must be 125 to 150 years old. We took its picture as it dined, one big chomp at a time, and fell in love with it.

One of my favorite tales from this trip happened when our group was making its way back to the ship, and the guide noticed a protected cove that he called a sea lion nursery. As the zodiac slowed, we coasted by a group of 10 to 15 adolescent sea lions sunning themselves along with one “big old man,” their protector.

The guide told us that if we dove to the bottom of the lagoon and spiraled on our way down, the sea lions might join us. He cautioned us again that we were not allowed to touch them – but they were allowed to touch us. He put on his snorkeling gear and dove in. The sea lions hobbled off their perch and joined him, even the “big old man.”

Playful is not quite the word to use to describe these underwater ballerinas. I was swimming to the bottom, spinning like a corkscrew, and sure enough, several sea lions came after me, spiraling along as if in a race to the bottom. One came right up to me, going just as fast as he could.

As with all of the adventures in the Galapagos Islands, this was truly an otherworldly experience that I look forward to experiencing again and again. H

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At Home with Melissa Wilson

November 1, 2004 by  
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Melissa Wilson has always had a soft spot in her heart for Houston. Having spent holidays and summer vacations here with her grandparents, the Texas native was thrilled to become anchor and health reporter on the 9 p.m. Fox 26 (KRIV-TV) news program in September of 2000. When she heard she’d gotten the job, her bags were packed within the week. She was moving back to Texas from Tallahassee (where she’d been an anchor for the statewide, cable-based Florida News Channel), and had never been happier.

A lot has happened to Wilson in the four years since then, both professionally and personally. She’s covered such major news stories as Tropical Storm Allison and the Columbia shuttle disaster. She became engaged, then married, in 2003; and this June, she and husband David welcomed their first child, Zachary.

Sometimes Wilson has mixed the personal and professional aspects of her life, starring in a kind of “reality TV” before that became the rage. After getting engaged, she did a series of news reports about how to prepare for a wedding. She subsequently announced her pregnancy on the air, then did a similar series of reports on prenatal care. These days, however, although so-called reality programming is a mainstay of television, you won’t find Wilson signing up for any such shows. “Not on your life. I used to love doing wild, crazy stuff, but now I have to be a little more conservative so that I’ll be around for a long time for Zach.”

She still loves her viewers, though. “I really realized that we have incredible viewers when I became a health reporter,” she says. Wilson is out there at the Medical Center reporting on issues such as drug recalls and breast cancer, and feedback from viewers is vital. “Viewers call and leave a voice mail message. Maybe I’ll never even meet them, but I think about them a lot, and I’m glad to know that my health stories provide hope.”

During the holiday season, maternal thoughts and concerns consume Wilson. “My biggest surprise has been how much you love this human being that you’ve created,” she says. Zach arrived six weeks premature and had to stay in the hospital for several weeks afterward. He’s completely healthy now, says the health reporter, “but the time in the hospital made me a little more paranoid than most.”

This Christmas will be her baby’s first, and Wilson gushes with anticipation. She’s sure that the boxes and wrapping paper will be of more interest to Zach than any toys. The biggest balancing act will be making sure that all of the relatives get to spend time with him. That shouldn’t be a problem if she keeps to some of her family traditions. She and her brother had a tradition of waking up at 2 a.m. Christmas morning to read the Bible, open presents and then drive to their grandmother’s house. Even as adults, she and her brother have continued this tradition. “Poor Zach is going to have to change his schedule if we do that this year,” she says.

The true goal is “teaching him the importance of Christmas.” Wilson is a Baylor University graduate, and this year she emceed that school’s Houston prayer breakfast marking the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer. “My family is Christian, and Christmas is a very spiritual time for us. I just can’t wait to teach him what Christmas is all about. The spirit of giving is so beautiful, and it means a lot to my family,” says Wilson.

The city has certainly had a positive effect on her life in many ways. “I think I became more ‘cultural’ when I moved to Houston because of all the different types of people. I really feel like it enhanced my life,” she says. Among her many activities, she has been involved in the Ambassadors’ Club, a business and professional association that raises funds for charities and other worthy community activities.

Integrating a new baby into her life has altered her priorities, however, and caused her to fine-tune her focus. “Motherhood changes the way you look at things,” says Wilson. It also takes considerable focus – and she now swears by Post-it® notes. “Once you have a baby, you can’t remember anything, not at home and not at work,” she says. Her desk is loaded with little yellow reminders.

Her final comment is a reminder for peace. “I just hope for peace.” Post-it notes and peace – simple holiday reminders that could help us all.

New Year’s Eve Fashion

November 1, 2004 by  
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Setting your style meter high for the year is an important quest for New Year’s Eve revelers. It’s all about the outfit, the accessories, the clutches. Black, silver, teal – whatever color you choose to adorn, just make sure it’s slinky and sexy. Pocket books are the perfect accessory for any party-goer, and beaded handbags are all the rage this season. Traditional black is always a good choice for those that don’t want to stand out too much, but a good way to add a splash of color and style is to incorporate a colorful clutch. With one-of-a-kind designs from Couture, you are sure to feel custom-made this New Year’s Eve.

Behind the Scenes of H Texas

November 1, 2004 by  
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Getting a glimpse behind the scenes of how we put our cover together can give you an idea of how well we read our readers. What’s big this holiday season? Celebration, entertaining and gifts – the perfect combination for a cover photo (and our Novemeber/December issue). Flip through the pages of H Texas, and you’ll find the perfect delights this season.

La Tour D’Argent

November 1, 2004 by  
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After more than a year of remodeling, La Tour D’Argent celebrates its reopening with a festival of wines. With a bottle dating back to 1753, this French restaurant delights the senses within a century-old log cabin. Follow H Texas and Fox 26 News as we get a peek inside some exquisite, yet private rooms.

Holidays at George Ranch

November 1, 2004 by  
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Hand-made Christmas cards, exquisite glass ornaments and … cowboys? The George Ranch in Richmond, Texas offers visitors a glance into the lives of Texas ranchers generations ago. Boasting holiday decorations from the Victorian era, the George Ranch portrays real cowboys hard at work and play

Island Adventure The Galapagos Islands: An Eden in Peril

November 1, 2004 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

“I want to come back in my next life as a sea lion,” stated the proper English lady Rowina Tophen, “and spend my days frolicking in the surf.”

“No, no, no,” said her distinguished husband, John, “I want to come back as a blue footed booby and dance my days away.”

Thus was my introduction to the archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands. They are an animal playground where humans are welcomed with open wings and flippers, to the detriment and possible extinction of the animal inhabitants. The two Brits were regaling their newly arrived fellow passengers with tales of their recent adventures by the Galapagos Explorer’s pool.

Pirates and buccaneers first visited the Galapagos Islands in the 15th century in search of fresh water and supplies. What they found were giant tortoises for whom the Spanish named the islands. They discovered the giant tortoises could live for months at a time in their ships hulls without food or water and thereby provide fresh meat for the crews. More than 200,000 of the slow-moving, 600-pound (and, unfortunately, quite delicious) tortoises became meals. But it is modern man who has done the most damage to the endemic animals of the Galapagos.

Man has driven to extinction three subspecies of the giant tortoises, and countless other animals to the brink, when his domesticated animals went feral: goats, dogs, cats and rats that feasted upon the animals themselves or their food source. It is such a major problem that today, the Charles Darwin Foundation spends most of its precious budget trying to resettle the animals and hopefully stop the destruction that man has caused. But it is a race against time.

As Charles Darwin would note in “The Origin of Species” after his visit to the islands, the extreme isolation of the islands has magnified the incredible adaptations of their resident inhabitants. Each of them – the tortoises, iguanas, blue footed boobies, penguins and finches – have adapted to the unique availability and sources of food from island to island in such a way that many of them are now considered unique and separate subspecies.

The best way to see the animals of the Galapagos Islands is by boat, from which there are many different sizes and shapes to choose. There are the small, intimate sailing boats with eight to 10 passengers all the way up in size to the 100-passenger, Galapagos Explorer II, that also has a crew of 70, including naturalist guides and a doctor.

Our seven-day exploration of the Galapagos Islands began with breakfast at 6 a.m. each day. We ate heartily for there is no snacking on the islands. This is one of those places where we are only allowed to leave footprints in the sand and take away only memories and photos.

Each morning at 8 a.m., groups of 16 would disembark with a naturalist guide into a zodiac. Our guide was quite knowledgeable about each species, subspecies and endemic creature that we encountered and possessed an amazing enthusiasm and excitement for the animals.

Our hikes sometimes lasted for more than two hours, during which we walked over rope-like pahoe-hoe lava and climbed over aa lava and were cautioned in the strongest of terms to watch where we stepped. This advice was not only to keep from stepping on a sunning marine iguana or a nesting albatross, but also to keep from slipping on the rocks, which, unfortunately, two of our fellow passengers did, one breaking an arm and the other a wrist. Equally challenging for many was boarding and disembarking from the zodiac, with many passengers, cameras and binoculars getting dunked in the surf.

On one island we visited, the blue footed boobies were in the middle of their mating season. Their dance reminded me of children with new shoes, how they try to show them off by raising first one foot, moving their shoe around, and then the other. The blue footed boobies also raise their wings and do an adorable version of the chicken dance.

One afternoon, after arriving at the national park, the guide spotted a 20-foot-tall wild orange tree laden with ripe fruit. Without missing a beat, he shimmied up the tree to the highest branches and tossed each of us an orange. In no time flat, we were devouring wild Galapagos oranges. We went on to find and taste many wild fruits of the islands. The fruit abounded in this area so much that much of it was rotting on the ground.

As we were savoring the epicurean moment, we heard a noise. To our delight, it was the elusive giant tortoise munching away on a passion fruit. The guide said that because of its size it must be 125 to 150 years old. We took its picture as it dined, one big chomp at a time, and fell in love with it.

One of my favorite tales from this trip happened when our group was making its way back to the ship, and the guide noticed a protected cove that he called a sea lion nursery. As the zodiac slowed, we coasted by a group of 10 to 15 adolescent sea lions sunning themselves along with one “big old man,” their protector.

The guide told us that if we dove to the bottom of the lagoon and spiraled on our way down, the sea lions might join us. He cautioned us again that we were not allowed to touch them – but they were allowed to touch us. He put on his snorkeling gear and dove in. The sea lions hobbled off their perch and joined him, even the “big old man.”

Playful is not quite the word to use to describe these underwater ballerinas. I was swimming to the bottom, spinning like a corkscrew, and sure enough, several sea lions came after me, spiraling along as if in a race to the bottom. One came right up to me, going just as fast as he could.

As with all of the adventures in the Galapagos Islands, this was truly an otherworldly experience that I look forward to experiencing again and again. H

Thanksgiving Day Parade

November 1, 2004 by  
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Who doesn’t enjoy a good parade? We’re not New Orleans, but Houston can sure pull off a fabulous float-filled festival. The Wahington Mutual Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 25 gets broadcast throughout the state, as well as packing in the crowds in downtown Houston. Balloons, floats, beauty queens, bands – it’s almost better than turkey and stuffing.

Organ Transplants Provide Second Chance

November 1, 2004 by  
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In a city where organ transplantation was pioneered, the issue remains alive for those seeking help

With our medical center boasting some of the world’s best facilities, it’s not all that unusual for Houston’s doctors to make national news for some breakthrough. This summer, however, it was a patient who made headlines. Even if you didn’t see the billboards, you probably heard the story of Todd Krampitz, the 32-year-old Houston native who was put on the liver transplant list due to primary liver cancer.

His family and friends decided to take a proactive approach to finding a donor. They put his photo on two billboards along U.S. 59 with the message, “I need a liver. Please help save my life!” The billboards directed people to a website, www.toddneedsaliver.com, which had information on organ donation and a plea for families to designate Krampitz as the recipient of a dying loved one’s liver. The story gained worldwide attention and was reported in media outlets ranging from “The Early Show” on CBS to the Associated Press to Aljazeera.

The family’s efforts paid off on Aug. 12 when Krampitz underwent a successful transplant at Methodist Hospital. In a statement, Julie Krampitz said that “a generous family” donated their loved one’s liver to her husband. The statement noted that the organ was given specifically for Todd Krampitz.

After Krampitz received his transplant, the billboard on U.S. 59 near West Belfort was changed to read: “Thank you! Give the gift of life. Become an organ donor.” A spokesperson for the family told H Texas that they hoped the story will “cause thousands of people to make decisions about organ donation and to let their families know of their wishes to become donors.”

Annie Moore of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) says that the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act allows for organ donations to a specific recipient, as long as there is no payment involved. She also says that the Krampitz family has helped publicize an important issue. “His story definitely brings attention to the critical shortage of organs that are available,” says Moore. On average, according to the UNOS website (www.unos.org), 17 people die each day in the United States from the lack of available organs for transplant.

This statistic became a reality to many people in the Houston community who rallied to aid a 14-year-old girl who also was on the list for a liver transplant.

Crystal Perry had been infected with hepatitis C at birth, long before her mother, Angela Perry, was diagnosed with the blood-borne virus that attacks the liver. Mother-child transmission happens in roughly five percent of pregnancies for hepatitis C-positive mothers, according to Dr. Saul Karpen, director of Texas Children’s Liver Center, who was one of Crystal’s doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital.

When Angela was diagnosed in 1999, she began interferon/ribavirin therapy, which involves 48 weeks of injections and pills. The side effects, described by some patients as severe flu-like symptoms, including nausea, fatigue and depression, were too harsh for Angela to handle while working full time and taking care of three children at home, so she had to stop treatment.

Angela had all four of her children tested for the virus and Crystal, then 10 years old, tested positive. “When I found out she had it, I was devastated,” Angela says.

Interferon/ribavirin therapy did not work for Crystal. By 2002, the virus was causing Angela extreme fatigue, so she had to quit her job in order to take care of Crystal and her other children. The family got by on Social Security benefits for Angela’s deceased husband along with some help from their church. Crystal’s doctors were concerned at the unusual amount of damage the virus had done to her liver, but her condition seemed stable this spring.

In late June, Crystal developed a high fever and severe abdominal pain. She was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital and placed on the liver transplant list. Doctors told Angela that her daughter would remain in the hospital until she received a new liver.

Crystal and Angela had been featured on the cover of the July-September 2004 issue of Hepatitis magazine. When some H Texas staff members read the story and learned that Crystal would spend her 14th birthday in the hospital, they wanted to help. They brought a basket of teen magazines and art activities to Crystal and some snacks for Angela, and then they sought donations from area businesses.

As usual, Houston’s business leaders showed that they see customers as neighbors, not as numbers. Roula’s Nail Spa presented Crystal with a basket of lotions and skin care products. Intele-CardNews, the leading trade magazine for the prepaid card industry, donated a stack of prepaid phone cards so Angela and Crystal could call friends and family from the hospital. Toys’R’Us gave her a gift card. The Westin Oaks on Westheimer offered Crystal two nights in a two-bedroom suite so she could invite friends for a birthday party. Astroworld came through with six free passes for Crystal and her friends. This gave Crystal something to look forward to once she recovered from her transplant.

But not every story has a happy ending. Crystal never received a new liver. Kidney failure and another infection sent her to the intensive care unit, where she died on Aug. 10. Friends and family will remember Crystal’s beautiful smile and her deep dimples, as well as her courage in the face of illness. Her mother says that Crystal’s nurses were often amazed to see that “in all the pain she was in, she was able to smile.”

Stories like these happen every day. Some end in triumph and others in tragedy. Your decision to become an organ donor can make the difference. By becoming an organ and tissue donor, you can save not just one life, but several lives.

The most important step in becoming an organ donor is to make sure your family knows about your decision. Even if you carry an organ donor card, your family has to give consent in order for your organs to be donated after you are deceased.

To obtain an organ donor card and get more information on organ donation, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website at www.organdonor.gov or call the Health Resources and Services Administration at (888) ASK-HRSA. For information about donating bone marrow, see the National Marrow Donor Program website at www.marrow.org.

Behind the Scenes with La Mafia

November 1, 2004 by  
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Oscar de la rosa La Mafia

Next year in 2005 La Mafia will be celebrating 25 years together. Despite some confusion, the band has not broken up. “I think a lot of people confused us taking a break to the band breaking up. All we did was take some time off. We were working too much; and after doing it for so long, you want to take some time to just relax and do other things,” says Oscar De la Rosa.

They’ve got two new albums on the streets right now. And it wasn’t easy. “That’s where all hard work comes when a new album is released. You have to do all the interviews. It takes months just to put it all together,” he says.

There will be a lot of new music for the fans – definitely.

Look for De la Rosa on a billboard near you. “I am the spokesperson for the Latino market for the Red Cross. They approached me, and I was excited to take part in being the spokesman. And I’m going to be doing PSA, letting the Hispanic community know what the Red Cross has to offer.”

Piatto Ristorante

November 1, 2004 by  
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John Marion Carrabba makes a very big name for himself with his Galleria-area Italian eatery

When you grow up a Carrabba in Houston and learn the ropes of the business in the family-owned restaurant of that very name, you pick up enough about food to last you a lifetime. Piatto, logically, is Italian for plate – which to some is just something to serve food on but, in the way of romance languages and romance itself, might be considered an entire approach to food, wine and, this being Italian cuisine, life. In an Italian restaurant, the word “piatto” is as much about the ceramic delivery system as an artist’s palette is a board you can put paint on.

With Piatto came a fresh approach to everything John Marion Carrabba had learned about cooking from the Carrabbas and Mandolas who had taught him so much about great taste, consistency and personalized service.

The list of hot appetizers at Piatto brings on one fabulous signature item and a host of delights and surprises for any table willing to venture forth. The big must-have is the batter-fried asparagus, which in true Gulf Coast Sicilian-American fashion takes something that tastes healthy, namely asparagus, and turns it into something that tastes good. Never mind what batter-frying, topping with lump crabmeat and dousing with lemon butter sauce does to the health profile of this lucky stalk. This is cooking based on the concept: Who’s counting? Taking a journey from this signature item might start a meal off with fried calamari given extra zing by tangy pepperoncini, so-called Italian ceviche in vodka lime sauce or Jessica’s ravioli. The latter is made with “toasted cheese,” which may or may not be what makes it “St. Louis-style,” and hustled out with a side of Piatto’s fresh-tasting pomodoro sauce.

Before you get serious about meat or fish, or more realistically in lieu thereof, you might go Tuscan for a bit with Piatto’s extra-hearty white bean soup, or enjoy one of John Marion’s more interesting salads – beefsteak tomatoes with crabmeat or shrimp remoulade spooned over crisp romaine. Pastas show up here in abundance, including all the standards done well. Our slightly-out-there favorites, though, are the penne melanzane (hint: whenever there’s a Carrabba or a Mandola in the kitchen, order anything with eggplant) and something dubbed pasta vento. This last one almost careens out of control, what with grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, Greek kalamata olives – Sicily is always more Greek than Italian – and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Still, it all works at Piatto. At John Marion Carrabba’s Piatto, let the overeating begin!

The Season of Giving

November 1, 2004 by  
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Join the Marines – or the Salvation Army – in volunteer activities this holiday season

The holidays signify family, friends, parties, gifts and too much food, among other things. This year, instead of just celebrating, you can help others catch a little holiday cheer.

Thanksgiving feasts
Somewhere between the parades, football games and tables full of family favorites, Houstonians can serve the less fortunate on Thanksgiving Day and help them find a reason to be thankful. The City Wide Club sponsors a Thanksgiving feast at the George R. Brown Convention Center each year. The first turkey leg is served at 10 a.m., and the food doesn’t stop coming until the last person leaves the table with a satisfied stomach. Since 35,000 to 40,000 people are expected to attend, 5,000 volunteers are needed to help set up; serve the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie; distribute canned goods; and clean up. Don’t worry if you need to get home to put the turkey in the oven or want to catch the Thanksgiving parade, shift times are flexible and can be arranged anytime between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Volunteers are invited to celebrate with the diners and share this Thanksgiving feast. For more information, contact the City Wide Club at (713) 752-CLUB. City Wide Club also sponsors a Christmas feast at the George R. Brown Convention Center on December 25.

Christmas tree goodies
Most children wake up on Christmas morning already excited about what might be under their Christmas tree. But Santa’s gifts don’t find their way down everyone’s chimney. Something as simple as buying toys or wrapping gifts can be turned into volunteer projects to bring Christmas joy to every child. Toys for Tots, a national program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, seeks to deliver a message of hope to needy children through a shiny, new toy at Christmas, a gift that will motivate them to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders. To help out, drop new, unwrapped toys in collection boxes at local businesses any time before December 22. For more information, visit www.toysfortots.org and click on Toy Drive in Your Community, or call Gunnery Sergeant Robert Belk at (713) 796-1260, ext. 267 for drop-off locations. The Salvation Army provides additional opportunities to bring Christmas joy to Houstonians. Their Wish Tree program helps thousands of children and senior citizens with toys, clothing, wishes and needs. You can adopt an “angel” from their mall trees located in The Galleria and The Woodlands Mall. Other locations are posted at www.salvation armyhouston.org. If your favorite task of the holiday season is wrapping gifts, join the Salvation Army at the Secret Santa Warehouse to help with sorting, packing and distributing gifts that come in from various toy drives, including the KHOU-TV, Channel 11 Spirit of Texas Toy Drive; the Marines’ Toys for Tots; and many others. For more information, call (832) 201-8018.

Carols, cards and cookies
The holidays bring family and friends together, but many Houstonians do not have an opportunity to celebrate because of health problems, advanced age or other circumstances. Volunteer Houston’s Holiday Project spreads cheer to these people and lets them know they have not been forgotten. Volunteers visit area nursing homes and the Veterans Affairs hospital to distribute cookies and cards around the year on major holidays (along with singing carols at Christmas). They spend time with the people there, who may not have contact with anyone outside the nursing staff. The Holiday Project is ideal for families of all sizes and ages or individuals who want to spread joy this holiday season. If you cannot participate on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you can also decorate cards for others to distribute. For more information, contact Volunteer Houston at (713) 964-0229 or visit www.volunteerhouston.org and click on the Programs link.

Smith-Magenis Syndrome

November 1, 2004 by  
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Family’s plight promotes awareness about Smith-Magenis Syndrome

When Fox 26’s Chief Meteorologist Cecilia Sinclair and her husband adopted their daughter, Sarah, they couldn’t imagine the wonderful changes she would bring to their lives. The joy their adorable daughter brings is unfathomable, but parenthood brought more than the normal complications for the Sinclairs.

When Sarah began missing major childhood milestones, like speaking, crawling and walking, they took her to a specialist who, through a blood test, diagnosed Sarah with Smith-Magenis Syndrome (SMS).

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary describes SMS as “a rare form of genetic mental retardation characterized by chronic ear infections, erratic sleep patterns, head banging, picking at skin and pulling off fingernails and toenails.”

While no cure exists for this genetic syndrome, the symptoms can be managed and treated. Children with SMS benefit most from therapy, which helps with speech delays, communication, fine motor skills and toning muscles. People with SMS respond well to consistency, structure and routines, as well as affection and praise.

After Sarah’s diagnosis, the Sinclairs’ team of doctors encouraged them to test Sarah’s heart, kidneys and other organs for problems caused by SMS. They found a renal abnormality that could have caused her to lose a kidney but was easily fixed with surgery. Sarah also experiences hearing loss; she is already learning sign language in case she loses her hearing completely.

The biggest problem in the Sinclair house is Sarah’s sleep disturbance. Though medicines do not usually help SMS-created problems, the Sinclairs have some success with melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. In addition, Sarah sleeps in a Vail Bed, an enclosed bed that encourages restful sleep and controls wandering.

The Sinclairs delight in their daughter, who is now 3. Cecilia mentions, “Sarah loves life, and she already expresses her sense of humor.”

Cecilia offers one word of advice: “Awareness. As more people learn about SMS and understand it, more people with SMS can be helped.” Because of early intervention, various therapies and spreading awareness of SMS, the Sinclairs better understand their daughter and can celebrate with her each and every accomplishment.

Island Adventure

November 1, 2004 by  
Filed under Edit

The Galapagos Islands: An Eden in Peril

“I want to come back in my next life as a sea lion,” stated the proper English lady Rowina Tophen, “and spend my days frolicking in the surf.”

“No, no, no,” said her distinguished husband, John, “I want to come back as a blue footed booby and dance my days away.”

Thus was my introduction to the archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands. They are an animal playground where humans are welcomed with open wings and flippers, to the detriment and possible extinction of the animal inhabitants. The two Brits were regaling their newly arrived fellow passengers with tales of their recent adventures by the Galapagos Explorer’s pool.

Pirates and buccaneers first visited the Galapagos Islands in the 15th century in search of fresh water and supplies. What they found were giant tortoises for whom the Spanish named the islands. They discovered the giant tortoises could live for months at a time in their ships hulls without food or water and thereby provide fresh meat for the crews. More than 200,000 of the slow-moving, 600-pound (and, unfortunately, quite delicious) tortoises became meals. But it is modern man who has done the most damage to the endemic animals of the Galapagos.

Man has driven to extinction three subspecies of the giant tortoises, and countless other animals to the brink, when his domesticated animals went feral: goats, dogs, cats and rats that feasted upon the animals themselves or their food source. It is such a major problem that today, the Charles Darwin Foundation spends most of its precious budget trying to resettle the animals and hopefully stop the destruction that man has caused. But it is a race against time.

As Charles Darwin would note in “The Origin of Species” after his visit to the islands, the extreme isolation of the islands has magnified the incredible adaptations of their resident inhabitants. Each of them – the tortoises, iguanas, blue footed boobies, penguins and finches – have adapted to the unique availability and sources of food from island to island in such a way that many of them are now considered unique and separate subspecies.

The best way to see the animals of the Galapagos Islands is by boat, from which there are many different sizes and shapes to choose. There are the small, intimate sailing boats with eight to 10 passengers all the way up in size to the 100-passenger, Galapagos Explorer II, that also has a crew of 70, including naturalist guides and a doctor.

Our seven-day exploration of the Galapagos Islands began with breakfast at 6 a.m. each day. We ate heartily for there is no snacking on the islands. This is one of those places where we are only allowed to leave footprints in the sand and take away only memories and photos.

Each morning at 8 a.m., groups of 16 would disembark with a naturalist guide into a zodiac. Our guide was quite knowledgeable about each species, subspecies and endemic creature that we encountered and possessed an amazing enthusiasm and excitement for the animals.

Our hikes sometimes lasted for more than two hours, during which we walked over rope-like pahoe-hoe lava and climbed over aa lava and were cautioned in the strongest of terms to watch where we stepped. This advice was not only to keep from stepping on a sunning marine iguana or a nesting albatross, but also to keep from slipping on the rocks, which, unfortunately, two of our fellow passengers did, one breaking an arm and the other a wrist. Equally challenging for many was boarding and disembarking from the zodiac, with many passengers, cameras and binoculars getting dunked in the surf.

On one island we visited, the blue footed boobies were in the middle of their mating season. Their dance reminded me of children with new shoes, how they try to show them off by raising first one foot, moving their shoe around, and then the other. The blue footed boobies also raise their wings and do an adorable version of the chicken dance.

One afternoon, after arriving at the national park, the guide spotted a 20-foot-tall wild orange tree laden with ripe fruit. Without missing a beat, he shimmied up the tree to the highest branches and tossed each of us an orange. In no time flat, we were devouring wild Galapagos oranges. We went on to find and taste many wild fruits of the islands. The fruit abounded in this area so much that much of it was rotting on the ground.

As we were savoring the epicurean moment, we heard a noise. To our delight, it was the elusive giant tortoise munching away on a passion fruit. The guide said that because of its size it must be 125 to 150 years old. We took its picture as it dined, one big chomp at a time, and fell in love with it.

One of my favorite tales from this trip happened when our group was making its way back to the ship, and the guide noticed a protected cove that he called a sea lion nursery. As the zodiac slowed, we coasted by a group of 10 to 15 adolescent sea lions sunning themselves along with one “big old man,” their protector.

The guide told us that if we dove to the bottom of the lagoon and spiraled on our way down, the sea lions might join us. He cautioned us again that we were not allowed to touch them – but they were allowed to touch us. He put on his snorkeling gear and dove in. The sea lions hobbled off their perch and joined him, even the “big old man.”

Playful is not quite the word to use to describe these underwater ballerinas. I was swimming to the bottom, spinning like a corkscrew, and sure enough, several sea lions came after me, spiraling along as if in a race to the bottom. One came right up to me, going just as fast as he could.

As with all of the adventures in the Galapagos Islands, this was truly an otherworldly experience that I look forward to experiencing again and again. H

Because Houston Cares

October 1, 2004 by  
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the video

The Rose is a Houston-based nonprofit breast health care organization, and its mission is to ensure that all women have access to early detection of breast cancer, regardless of their ability to pay. With two locations, The Rose offers mammography screening, breast cancer diagnostics and The Rose Empower Her Sponsorship Program. This program ensures that patients have access to these services and to a patient navigation program that provides the support systems (physicians, chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery) needed to overcome the hurdles that prevent any woman from getting into treatment. These services are free to those who cannot afford the costs. The Rose is a beneficiary of community organizations including the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Pink Ribbons Project. Additional support comes from events such as The Rose’s Annual Shrimp Boil, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, and its first annual golf tournament.

To contact The Rose, call The Rose Diagnostic Center on Featherwood at (281) 484-4708 or The Rose Joan Gordon Center on Bissonnet at (713) 668-2996, or visit www.the-rose.org. Contact by mail at The Rose Diagnostic Center, 12700 N. Featherwood, Ste. 260, Houston, TX 77034 or The Rose Joan Gordon Center, 3400 Bissonnet, Ste. 185, Houston, TX 77005.

Lazy Susan Dining in Taipei

October 1, 2004 by  
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Ten is the magic number of Taiwan’s ancient culture in the modern, metropolitan, industrial capital of Taipei. The number 10 represents good luck and prosperity. When it comes to dining, the Taiwanese meal has 10 courses served at round tables for 10. In what might be the first example of “extreme dining” with a Lazy Susan on every table, if you are not adept in the use of chopsticks, other diners will spin an adventure of flavors and textures right past you.

Taiwan was founded by Chinese immigrants who brought with them 5,000 years of customs, traditions and cooking techniques. Since most Chinese were Buddhist, and thus vegetarians, soybeans are still a mainstay in the diet. Soybeans are an easy-to-grow protein that has many inventive means of preservation. Preserved soy is often referred to as bean curd or tofu. The creative uses of tofu are often compared to the creative uses of cheese and are often just as delicious, with many different flavors and textures. Several ways to preserve tofu are by baking, roasting, smoking and even toasting it to the consistency of bacon bits.

While in Taiwan to attend the Taipei Chinese Culinary Exhibition, I found many things to taste, explore and learn. Most important was learning how to say “thank you” in Chinese, which is pronounced “she-say.” But when it comes to saying “she-say” while being served at a table, a brushing of the table with your index finger (much like the brushing of cards on the blackjack table to signal the dealer you want another card) is the preferred method of expressing gratitude, and it doesn’t interrupt the conversation.

One of the many restaurants at which we dined was Shang Hai. The restaurant boasted an outdoor kitchen with huge aquariums full of future seafood from around the island and the world – crabs as blue as turquoise, shrimp as big as human forearms and abalone as big as footballs.

The table was preset with two sauces. XO, a seasoning from the Kwangtung province, is made of red scallion buds, garlic, high-grade Kin Hwa ham and Thailand peppers. Eight Treasure Sauce is made of sweet beets, scallops, dried shrimp, black mushroom clams, Thailand peppers, garlic and ginger. Either sauce is good by itself or over a bed of rice; however, rice is never served to guests because it is considered too common.

Appetizers often include small servings of fish. Fresh abalone, steamed just long enough to open its natural oils and flavors, is often served within its iridescent mother-of-pearl shell. The shark’s fin soup, which Chinese emperors ate for its ability to enliven the body and spirit, is a delicate yet luscious broth. The swallow nest soup, made from the saliva of Asian cave swallows, is an acquired taste. Peking duck is three courses in one, with the crispy skin being served first, then the meat, and last the bones in a hardy soup.

The end of the meal is often celebrated with fresh fruit – slices of mango and papaya served with coffee-soaked plums that pucker your lips with a sweet tartness. Special treats are dragon fruits, an otherworldly fare with fire-engine-red skin and green fish-like scales. Its white meat, sprinkled with black sesame-size seeds, resembles and tastes like marshmallows. Served with strong African Arabica coffee or coffee liqueur, it’s a satisfying end for any meal.

Dick Dace is The Epicurean Publicist. He does lunch for a living.

In The Bag

October 1, 2004 by  
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Trend spotter Marianne Horton hits the streets to bring you the latest from kitchen and cooking retailers

tabletop

Elm and Willow Who would have thought to actually use an oil can for cooking oil? Whimsical kitchen gadgets such as this can be found at newly opened Elm and Willow in Pearland. Additionally, this home store features a quilting studio. Pearland, 3702 Broadway, (281) 412-3832. Shown: Oil can, $21.99

Méli-Mélo A tightly packed cupboard inside Rice Village, Méli-Mélo extensively shelves hand-thrown and decorated pottery from Austria, Ireland and France. Eighteenth century-inspired Irish spongewear by Nicholas Mosse captures the Irish countryside and natural motifs. 5617 Morningside, (713) 526-9026

Kuhl-Linscomb These playful twig chopsticks suggest eating sushi by campfire, and why not? Kuhl-Linscomb adds the imaginative to the everyday by subtly twisting what?s familiar. Here everyone?s bound to stumble upon one of their wildest dreams. 2424 W. Alabama, (713) 526-6000. Shown: Michael Aram twig chopsticks, $20

Williams-Sonoma Forget broken stems in the dishwasher; Williams-Sonoma has introduced a stemless Reidel line that is dishwasher-safe and retains the same flavors in wine as its stemmed counterparts. Glasses are available for white and red wines. 4060 Westheimer, (713) 212-0346

Surprises It?s hard to resist eating from a jeweled silver spoon. Although not functionally necessary, artistic flair brings aesthetic appeal to the dinner table. And what better place to find these creative touches than Surprises? The two-story building features works by more than 2,000 artists who incorporate their talent into every aspect of the home. 4302 Westheimer, (713) 877-1900

accessories

Unika Deco Tempting even the safety-conscious to play with knives, this Danish knife holder stores cutting knives against its magnetic plating. It, and several other modern European innovations, can be found at Unika Deco, where functional design is a top priority. 4412 Morningside, (713) 522-2216. Shown: Rosendahl knife holder, $225

gadgets

Sur La Table Everyone?s getting silicone ? kitchen accessories, that is. Because of the substance?s high temperature resistance and low temperature flexibility, it works well in many cooking scenarios and is dishwasher safe. On the cutting edge of this trend, Sur La Table offers an array of silicone products such as gloves, basting brushes, egg whisks and spatulas. 1996 W. Gray, (713) 533-0400; 5472 F.M. 1960 West, (281) 444-1199

Buffalo Hardware Buffalo Hardware has remained true to its 1946 roots by keeping its focus on appliances. And, although you won?t find chocolate truffles in the kitchen department, a variety of old-fashioned and cutting-edge gadgets creates a seemingly endless display. Restaurants such as Smith & Wollensky and Carrabba?s shop here for high-end products. 2614 Westheimer, (713) 524-1011

products

Greenberry?s No need to pass the creamer when the pot, the creamer and the cup are all in one. Specializing in anything related to coffee or tea, Greenberry?s emphasizes the unique and carries its own blends, which are made fresh daily in Charlottesville, Virginia. 2311 W. Alabama, (713) 522-7005. Shown: Tea in One, $24.95

The Wine Bucket Get the wine and the glasses at The Wine Bucket, whose concept incorporates a wine cellar and a boutique. What?s here won?t be found on liquor store shelves because The Wine Bucket carries limited production wines from around the world. 2311 W. Alabama, Ste. A, (713) 942-9463

appliances

Crate & Barrel Beauty meets brains in Crate & Barrel?s newest Italian espresso machine. Its red industrial physique only hints at its espresso-making strength. Holding 80 ounces of water, it produces 18 bars of pressure and works with espresso pods or grounds. 4006 Westheimer, (713) 490-6400. Shown: Expressione espresso maker, $349.95

ABC’s of Houston Kitchens

October 1, 2004 by  
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From Asian to barbecue, breakfast to dessert, vegan to wild game, Houston dining establishments have taken the mere act of providing sustenance to a whole new unbelievably satisfying and extremely gratifying level. Why eat at home when you can experience such phenomenal cuisine? That’s a worthy question of any Houstonian. Alas, at times we must try our amateur hands at replicating these perfectly honed skills. It is fun, but never the same. Here are a few helpful hints at how to make your kitchen a bit more like the professionals’.

“Adrenaline.” Chef Edelberto Goncalves, Rouge

“Braise – because you can braise anything, especially with fall coming up. Basil because when you are cooking Italian, you have to have fresh basil.” Chef Bruce McMillian, Tony?s

“Cilantro – I like the taste of it, but I don?t like to eat it, so I’m constantly trying to find ways of getting it into food without having to bite down on it.” Chef Maria Gonzalez, Saba Blue Water Café

Diversity – trying new flavors and experimenting with new spices can inspire a new creation for your kitchen.

Eggs – the incredible edible original

“Fun – you must have fun in the kitchen.” Chef Jesse Llapitan, Olivette at The Houstonian

Garlic – not only does it keep vampires away, garlic is good for you and serves as a base flavor for many dishes.

Herbs – fresh herbs make all the difference in preparing food. Many grocery stores have fresh herbs in their produce section, but a surefire spot to locate hard-to-find fresh herbs is the farmers’ market on Airline Drive.

Iron skillet – cookware that keeps flavor and can be passed on through the generations

Juice – freshly squeezed, of course

Knives – make sure they are sharp. You cut yourself more often with a dull knife than a sharp one.

“Love – you have to have love for the kitchen, or at least for food.” Chef Mark Holley, Pesce

“Music – you need to have music in your kitchen. Both of my kitchens have music in them. It changes your state of mind and makes cooking more fun than work, and it’s a motivator.” Chef Lance Fegen, Zula and Trevisio

Neatness in the kitchen makes the whole experience more enjoyable, especially if you clean as you cook.

“Organization – your establishment is successful by how organized you are.” Chef Toby Joseph, The Remington at The St. Regis

“Peppers – along with corn and tomatoes, peppers are the foundation of Mexican cuisine.” Chef Hugo Ortega, Hugo?s

Quality ingredients make all the difference between ‘good cooking’ and ‘great cooking.’

“Red wine – because if you’re making the sauce, you have to be at one with the sauce. If you are cooking at home, then everyone can enjoy the fruits of life: good food, good wine.” Chef Michael Frietsch, River Oaks Grill

“Scratch – everything in our kitchens is done from scratch from homemade family recipes.” Chef John Marion Carrabba, Piatto Ristorante

Tomatoes are a staple in so many different cuisines. For a sensational treat, place a few tomato slices and some fresh mozzarella cheese on a piece of warm bread right out of the oven; drizzle with your favorite olive oil and enjoy. (In fact, this is what became of some of the items shown on page 35.)

“Utilization in the kitchen is the key to success.” Chef Mark Cox, Mark’s American Cuisine

Vinegar, whether of the red wine, white wine, rice wine or balsamic variety, is great in cooked dishes as well as dressings.

“Work ethic – if you have a good work ethic, it gives a consistency to the dish and to the food.” Chef Kiran Verma, Ashiana Fine Indian Cuisine

eXtra virgin olive oil adds great flavor to just about every dish. (See tomatoes above.)

Yogurt is a must for Middle Eastern and Near Asian cuisines, plus it makes a great spot for nestling your favorite fresh fruits.

Zest – a zest for the kitchen, food and cooking makes the whole experience worthwhile. And a citrus zester is a kitchen essential.

Top Houston’s Restaurants

October 1, 2004 by  
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Tuscan Homes

October 1, 2004 by  
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Combining refined artisanship, cutting-edge technology and extensive customer-builder communication, Tuscan Homes strives for perfection in every home built.

This Mediterranean masterpiece was designed by architects Sullivan, Stevens and Henry and built by custom home builder Tuscan Homes. Located at 11714 Fidelia Court in Bunker Hill of Memorial Village, the home is centered around the exquisite landscaping and flagstone and travertine pool while maximizing indoor space, offering 5,500 square feet of intelligent and luxurious living.

The home is complemented not only by the pool, but also by a heated spa, flagstone and pavestone walkways and an outdoor summer kitchen with thatched palm roof. The back patio and balcony above afford beautiful views of the extensive grounds and intricate design accents such as copper gutters, ornamental ironwork and tongue and groove woodwork.

The custom carpentry and cabinetry as well as natural stone and granite countertops throughout the house are perfectly complemented by the Italian travertine marble floors. The lighting fixtures and chandeliers throughout the home are from such quality manufacturers as Minka Aire and Lavery.

The kitchen showcases state-of-the-art technologies that can be found throughout the home as well. The infrared grill is just the beginning of the high-tech trappings in the home, such as interior wiring and sprinkler systems, surround sound and speaker jacks for home entertainment, and structure wiring for an extensive surveillance system. The home also features a leak-detection system that prevents damage from plumbing or water leaks.

The grand entry of the home invites guests with rich travertine marble and ironwork details. An inlaid star in the marble floor adds an Old World touch to this ultra-modern abode. The scrolling ironwork on the front door begins the aesthetic theme and is carried through the circular staircase and throughout the home. The residence is built with numerous windows and extensive natural lighting, a signature of Tuscan Homes providing a luminous atmosphere.

Tuscan Homes is a full-service custom builder. Whether you need design assistance, lot finding, engineering or just building on an existing lot, Tuscan Homes can assist your needs. It also builds spec homes in exclusive neighborhoods such as Memorial Villages, River Oaks, West University, Sugar Land and The Woodlands. Many of the homes that Tuscan Homes builds fall within the $700,000 to $3 million price range.

“We work with our customers from start to finish on their home,” says Jason Ritchmond, president of Tuscan Homes. “We work with local Realtors, renown architects and qualified vendors to ensure every project is a success. When a customer invests in us, we ensure that their return more than exceeds their expectations. Your home is your castle, our advice is to make sure your builder cares about its success as much as you do.” Plan well. Live well. Build with Tuscan Homes.

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