The Year in Review Lynn Ashby looks back at the headlining stories of 2006

December 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Although 2006 was an even year, for Houston it was odd. It was the year of company executives doing the perp walk, the Katrina Kriminals, hot elections and a sports front so dismal that only one major Houston team got into the playoffs (and managed to win the MLS Championship). We saw fire – no-smoking laws – and we saw rain – 12 inches during two days in October. So let us look back in anger, or at least in frustration, at the way it was in ’06.

First, we had an Enron around the law. Andy Fastow was so much help to the feds he got four years shaved off the 10-year prison time he had agreed to serve. Give Fastow our Cell Phony Award. His accomplice in crime, Jeff Skilling, receives our Make a Skilling Trophy (along with 24 years). Finally, our famed Who Says You Can’t Take it with You? Medal goes to Ken Lay.

But the biggest honor – Man of the Year – doesn’t go to Tom Delay. He’s dead meat. We have new red meat, Dan Patrick. To run for District 7 in the Texas Senate, he rented a condo in the district and loaned his campaign $250,000. He vowed not to take more than $1,000 in individual donations, but after he won the primary, he raised the donation limit to $5,000. He ran as an opponent to the power of the lobbyists. Within days of his nomination, an Austin lobbyist held a fundraiser for Patrick.

He promised not to accept funds from trial lawyers and gambling interests. The lobbyist sponsor of the fundraiser represented trial lawyers and gambling interests. So, our coveted Man of the Year Award (Way Down Deep He’s Shallow Dept.) goes to Dannie Scott Goeb (yes, he changed his name, too).

If a debate is held in the forest…
The Boss Tweed Good Government Award goes to Houston Congressman John Culberson who agreed to debate his Democratic opponent, Jim Henley, only if the debate was closed both to the media and to the public.

Reigned out
In a move to strengthen his power in the U.S. House, Sugar Land Rep. Tom DeLay lost all his power, his House seat and still faces expensive legal battles.

And the beat goes on dept.
Even after DeLay announced he would no longer run for Congress, DeLay’s campaign manager, Chris Homan, organized the disruption of an opponent’s campaign rally with signs, shouts and air horns.

Who’s on 22nd?
Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Republican, won the race for the 22nd Congressional District to replace DeLay. Well, sort of. Sekula-Gibbs will serve the remaining two months of the Hammer’s term, then will be replaced by former Congressman Nick Lampson who won the next two-year term.

Ma’am, you’re no Tom DeLay
After working for Sekula-Gibbs for less than 48 hours, seven congressional staffers who previously worked for DeLay resigned because they felt they were treated terribly.

Deja Vo
Once again Hubert Vo defeated Talmadge Heflin for state rep. in the 149th District. Are we going to be seeing this every two years forever?

Take that, John Deere
AARP’s 50 Best U.S. Employers for Older Workers contains only one in Texas: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, squeaking in at Number 48. Moline, Ill.-based John Deere finished at Number 50.

With loyal workers like these, who needs detractors?
Billboards posted at major entrances to Houston welcomed new arrivals with: “A rising crime rate, an undermanned police force, a dysfunctional dispatch center and a no-chase, no-catch policy. Nowhere else but Houston.” The billboards were financed by the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union.

Re-assigned
A 24-year veteran of the Houston Police Department and father of five, Sgt. Jack Oliver, is now female officer Julian Christine Oliver.

Don’t pry for me, Argentina
After airport security in Buenos Aires cleared college student Howard MacFarland Fish, customs officials in Houston found in his baggage a small stick of dynamite, a fuse, electrical blasting caps, white granular explosives and, in his carry-on, two black powder-based fuses.

Lushes who lunch
Jordy Tollett, executive director of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau took a leave of absence after a TV news spot showed him at a two-hour lunch with several drinks.

Hi, society
During the past 12 months the Houston Chronicle mentioned party animal Becca Cason Thrash 87 times.

In deep I doo-doo
Eric Eugene Cooper, married seven times but not with that many divorces, was convicted of altering one ex-wife’s car title.

Red light district
In the first two weeks of operation, Houston’s red-light-cameras recorded 1,729 violators. Of these, 1,040 violations were approved and 695 citations were issued.

The sound of one mouth flapping
After comparing his liberal debating opponent to Josef Goebbels and calling him a clown, over-bearing conservative radio host Chris Baker of KPRC stormed off the set of MSNBC, saying, “I’m through with this jackass.”

Hey, we’re over here
“Houston is invisible. People don’t know about Houston. They don’t think of Houston.” So said Rice sociology professor and surveyor Stephen Klineberg, responding to a nationwide poll of young, college-educated workers on where they would like to live. Houston failed to finish in the top or bottom 20.

Directionally challenged
MapQuest rated Houston the nation’s most difficult city for visitors to navigate.

Bonus babies
Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado’s staff was charged with ripping off the city with unauthorized raises and bonuses to the tune of $200,000. Alvarado said she knew nothing about it.

Remember the Alamo, forget San Jacinto
More than 1,000 Hispanic high school students – who have the highest dropout rate in Texas – left their classrooms and paraded through Houston streets waving Mexican flags, chanting in Spanish to protest proposed immigration laws and demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal aliens.

José can you see
Reagan High School Principal Robert Pambello was ordered to remove a Mexican flag that he had hoisted below the U.S. and Texas flags to show support for his demonstrating Hispanic students.

Soccer to me
UH Prof. Raul A. Ramos wanted to erase the picture of Sam Houston from the logo of the city’s new soccer team, Houston 1836, calling the name and logo “retribution” and “sinister towards Hispanics.” So, now we have the Houston Dynamos (which is Spanish for “cratered”).

No good deed goes unpunished
Jennifer McLaughlin from Mississippi, wrote to the Memorial Sun objecting to a Houston rodeo announcement, “welcoming our friends from Louisiana,” and not including her state. “I am requesting an apology…” she concluded.

Shoot friendly
Gun shop owner and talk-show host Jim Pruett ran radio ads warning: “When the ‘Katricians’ themselves are quoted as saying the crime rate is going to go up if they don’t get more free rent, then it’s time to get your concealed-handgun license.”

No more taxes
George and Barbara Bush made a tax-deductible donation to a Katrina relief fund with the stipulation that part of the money go toward buying educational tools from a firm owned by their son, Neil. HISD then purchased the software project for $200,000.

Quota quote
“I had observed that the colorful characters and the artists and the musicians have gone back to New Orleans finally, and that the thugs and the crackheads have decided they like Houston and want to stay.” – Kinky Friedman

A profit in his own land
Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church who dropped his annual $200,000 salary after making $10 million on his first book, signed a second book deal that, experts say, should bring him another $10 million.

Coffee, tea or a fat lip?
Osteen’s wife, Victoria, who shares billing with him on the church’s sign, was fined $3,000 by the FAA after determining she had assaulted a female flight attendant.

Practice. Practice.
The Houston Symphony Orchestra played in Carnegie Hall! Of course, it was not paid to do so. Actually, our musicians had to rent the place for $12,000 and pay another $30,000 to stagehands.

The torch is passed
Former Aldine chemistry teacher Tramesha Lashon Fox pled guilty to charges of arson and insurance fraud after arranging for her car to be stolen and burned by two students in exchange for giving them passing grades.

Devine intervention
A Bible was put in a case in front of the Harris County Court House years ago. No one cared. In 1995, arch-conservative Judge John Devine sought to bring more attention to the Good Book by refurbishing the monument and adding neon lights. This year an appeals court ruled that, by making the changes, Judge Devine “essentially had commandeered the monument for religious purposes…” Out it went.

She meant to say “Macaca music”
Port Commissioner Cheryl Thompson-Draper resigned after a fellow commissioner said that, during a business trip to Shanghai, Thompson-Draper referred to music performed by a Houston band with black musicians as “jungle bunny music.”

The war of fog
In Hitchcock, an apartment complex maintenance worker and a resident set off foggers for pests. The instructions called for one fogger per room, but police said there were 18 foggers in the two-bedroom apartment. The fumes hit the pilot light in the hot water heater, causing an explosion. The maintenance worker and resident were treated for minor burns. Eight other apartment units sustained damage and were condemned.

But I’m the president!
Texas Southern University’s regents fired President Priscilla Slade, who made more than $340,000 a year in cash compensation, after discovering she had charged the university roughly $87,000 to furnish her new, sprawling house – plus $138,159 for the cost of landscaping; $56,010 in security equipment, furniture and traveling; and $146,000 for maid service. Over seven years, Slade, who holds a doctorate in accounting, spent nearly $650,000 of the school’s money on purchases that personally benefited her. Slade was later re-hired by TSU as an accounting instructor.

Was 50th that much better?
UH Law Center Dean Nancy Rapoport resigned after the school dropped 20 spots in the US News &World Report rankings of law schools, from 50th to 70th.

Lean machine
Houston has been reduced, so to speak, from No. 1 to No. 5 on Men’s Fitness magazine’s annual list of the fattest U.S. cities.

Mean machine
Houston ranked seventh on a list of 20 of the nation’s “meanest cities,” because of laws that criminalize sleeping in public, begging or other behavior associated with homeless people and rules that prohibit people with “offensive bodily hygiene” from using public libraries.

Budget item #1: Quit holding these ridiculous meetings
Spring Branch ISD Superintendent Duncan Klussmann hosted a community meeting to explain the district’s budget and Five Year Educational Plan. Outside of the press and district employees, three citizens showed up.

Art with Heart

December 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Edit

American Cancer Society’s annual Silent Art Auction

Join the American Cancer Society as they prepare for the upcoming Starlight Gala with a Silent Art Auction on Thursday, Feb. 1 at Gremillion &Co. In the heart of West University, guests will enjoy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, culture and more as they support the many wonderful programs of the American Cancer Society of Houston.

You voted, so get there early for the special VIP Reception announcing H Texas’ 2006 Best Chefs — and be one of the first to read the magazine’s second official foray into book publishing: “Fab Food Finds.” With amazing art, the best culinary masters in the city and a new book lined up, it’s easy to support such a worthy cause!

Child Advocates

December 1, 2006 by  
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Local organization guides children through the system

Thousands of children in the Houston area are neglected, abused or abandoned each day. For more than 22 years, Child Advocates Inc. has been a voice for the abused and neglected children of Houston by training volunteers who become involved in the lives of children placed in protective custody.

“Our vision is to help every abused child in Harris County who needs us,” says Marketing Manager Dena Miller. “Our challenge is to find the volunteers, resources, commitment and compassion that will get us there.”

In addition to serving as a person of stability for a child during a difficult time, these volunteers contact case workers, interview parents, seek educational and medical needs, and make recommendations in court proceedings regarding permanent placement for a child.

Get involved
Court-appointed advocate volunteers’ overall goal is to assist in getting abused children out of the foster care system and into a healthy and loving family. Volunteers come from all types of careers, cultures and experiences, and include men and women who are at least 21 years of age. They average between two to five hours of casework per week, and more than 85 percent of these volunteers work full-time jobs.

“Child Advocates Inc. mobilizes court-appointed volunteers to break the vicious cycle of child abuse,” says Miller. “We speak for the abused children who are lost in the system and guide them into safe environments where they can thrive.”

Those wishing to become volunteers must register for an orientation, which is a one-hour session at the Child Advocates Inc. office, where they will receive information needed to get started. After attending the orientation, they will find out the requirements and steps necessary to becoming a court-appointed advocate volunteer. They will also begin their paperwork to enroll in Advocacy University (AU), which is a 30-hour training course offered five or six times a year.

Happy holidays
As a nonprofit organization, Child Advocates Inc. holds fundraisers through foundations, special events, places of worship and planned or individual giving. There are several opportunities to contribute during the holiday season, such as Santa’s Wish List. This program makes the season a little brighter for children who are often away from home during this time of year. Something as simple as a stuffed animal or a winter jacket can help put a smile on a child’s face.

“In order to work with our kids, you have to go through extensive background checks,” says Miller. “With the Santa’s Wish List program, the general public can get involved.” Those interested can sponsor a child by shopping for items on a child’s wish list or holding a toy drive by collecting new, unwrapped toys and clothing at his or her office or school.

Child Advocates Inc. started with three individuals, a $5,000 budget and a kitchen as its headquarters. From helping 18 children its first year to assisting more than 1,500 abused children in 2005, the program has come a long way. To ensure that the organization will reach its goal of helping 1,750 children this year, they will need the community’s help. Those interested in donating to or volunteering with Child Advocates Inc. should call (713) 529-1396 or visit www.childadvocates.org.

Visions of Sugar Plums

December 1, 2006 by  
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Houston Ballet embarks upon another memorable holiday season at Wortham Theater Center

While the holiday season brings families together, the revival of faith and the spread of goodwill throughout the city, for many Houstonians, the onset of winter also coincides with the arrival of one of their most beloved tales to town. From Nov. 24-Dec. 27 in Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center, Houston Ballet will give 31 unforgettable performances of “The Nutcracker,” the cherished production that tells the story of a little girl named Clara who is given a magical nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve. Although “The Nutcracker” brings an enchanting element to every holiday season, this year’s production marks a particularly special occasion, as 41-year-old principal dancer and native Houstonian Lauren Anderson concludes her historic career with Houston Ballet by performing her signature role as the Sugar Plum Fairy, opposite Cuban sensation Rolando Sarabia as the Prince, in “The Nutcracker.” Anderson’s 24 years with Houston Ballet have been anything but ordinary, as her distinguished career includes a promotion in 1990, making her Houston Ballet’s first African American principal dancer and one of only a few African American principal ballerinas to head a major American classical ballet company. Throughout the years, Anderson has captivated audiences in the United States and internationally, and some of the world’s most renowned choreographers have created ballets especially for her performance talents. Although Anderson will take her final bow as prima ballerina this December, she will remain with Houston Ballet, serving as the community outreach coordinator, while Leticia Oliveira will fulfill the position of principal dancer for the company.

Great expectations Without a doubt, Anderson’s remarkable career as a pioneer in the world of ballet exemplifies the quality of dancers who perform with, or are trained by, the internationally acclaimed Houston Ballet. Now hailing as the fifth largest in the United States, the ballet organization was originally established in 1955 by a group of individuals who aspired to create a resident ballet company in Houston, as well as a school that would train its dancers. Fourteen years later, the professional company was founded and directed by Nina Popova, a former dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and American Ballet Theatre. In 1976, Englishman Ben Stevenson, O.B.E., a former dancer with Britain’s Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, took the reins as artistic director, elevating the company to a new level of distinction by assembling a group of permanent choreographers and enhancing the group of 28 regional artists to include more than 50 internationally acclaimed dancers. Throughout his 27 years with the company, he choreographed highly praised versions of full-length works, such as “Swan Lake,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Cinderella,” “The Nutcracker,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Dracula.” In July 2003, Stevenson assumed the artistic directorship of Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth while he was also appointed artistic director emeritus of Houston Ballet. That same year, Houston Ballet Academy was renamed Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy in recognition of his 27-year commitment and dedication to Houston Ballet. As artistic director emeritus, he continues to stage his works for Houston Ballet, as well as for ballet companies both nationally and internationally.

New direction Following Stevenson’s departure, Houston Ballet welcomed renowned Australian choreographer Stanton Welch as the company’s new artistic director. Since coming on board, Welch has choreographed six signature works for the company, including “Tales of Texas,” “Blindness,” “Bolero,” “Nosotros,” “Brigade” and a magnificent new staging of “Swan Lake,” in addition to two pieces he commissioned for Houston Ballet before permanently joining the artistic staff. By emphasizing the significance of classical technique and enabling some of the world’s most prestigious coaches to train the dancers, Welch has brought a sense of revitalization and excitement for the future of the company. Managing director Cecil C. Conner has also devoted a great deal of time and effort throughout the last nine years arranging artistic collaborations with other ballet companies throughout the nation. As a result, five major productions have been coordinated with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada.

Extraordinary times Throughout the years, Houston Ballet has grown into one of the largest and most distinguished dance companies in the nation. Consisting of 52 dancers, including many who have won gold and silver medals at major international ballet competitions, the company has achieved international acclaim, performing for audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Canada. Houston Ballet Foundation has also worked fervently to solidify the company’s significance in the city of Houston. Since 1975, the company’s operating expenses have grown from less then $1 million to more than $16 million today. In 1987, Houston Ballet kicked off a drive for the company’s endowment fund. That same year, Houston Ballet made its debut in the state-of-the-art Wortham Theater Center, where the company has continued to perform more than 75 productions seven months out of the year. As of June 2006, the ballet’s endowment reached more than $55 million, standing as one of the largest of any dance company in the United States.

Backing ballet Opportunities to support Houston Ballet are available through the endowment fund, corporate sponsorship programs, foundation support, individual donations or by joining one of the many membership groups. Each February, Houston Ballet also hosts its highly anticipated annual black-tie Ballet Ball to raise $500,000 for the institution’s operating fund and programs. In addition, since 1981, Houston Ballet Guild’s annual Nutcracker Market has contributed more than $24 million to support the academy and its scholarship programs, which help young, talented dancers fulfill their dreams of training with the world-renown ballet company. For more information about Houston Ballet, how to make a contribution, or the company’s upcoming performances, please contact info@houstonballet.org.

Houston Ballet
1921 W. Bell St.
(713) 523-6300
www.houstonballet.org

Holiday Helper

December 1, 2006 by  
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David Moore of Elves & More

On Dec. 12, nearly 4,000 volunteers will fill Reliant Center to construct 20,000 bicycles and wrap 5,000 additional presents for needy children. Donating their time to Elves &More, they are making sure that every child in the Houston area has at least one good Christmas — and a better chance at life.

Volunteers will donate $40, the cost of an unassembled bike, for the privilege of becoming an elf. Santa’s workshop stays fast and furious through Dec. 21. The next day, the bikes and presents will be loaded into trucks, and on Dec. 23, Santa and his elves will distribute them to every child in, yet undisclosed, neighborhoods.

The founder of Elves &More, David Moore and his wife, Jenny, have committed $2.5 million to the program. However, as the name indicates, there is more to this charity than holiday cheer. This year, David started a back-to-school program, and a summer camp is in the works. He is aiming to conquer poverty in Houston, then the entire country.

Planting the seed
David Moore grew up in the suburbs of Marshall, Texas. “So that’s pretty much the country,” he concedes. His dad was fighting the Korean War with the Marines until David was 3 years old and his older brother was 5. Another brother was born that next year.

When David was 8 years old, his 34-year-old father died of a heart attack. The family’s first Christmas without their dad was very sad. Their mother suggested they, “‘Give away Christmas,’ and that’s what we did,” he remembers. “We gave our Christmas to a poor family.” It was healing for his poor-in-spirit family.

At 13, David got his first job helping his grandfather build houses. At 14, he went to work for Jerrill and Louise May at the corner grocery store. “They were my real parents,” he says. “I slept at home, but they were my real parents.” His mother had remarried, and he now had a new stepfather.

The tool box
David’s career path peaked as a partner with Accenture. In the then-new field of privatization, he traveled to 40 countries, “helping nations modernize their oil economies; and reform pricing, taxing and regulatory systems,” he says. “Basically, [I was] helping turn their government monopolies into commercially competitive businesses.”

“When you’re born, you get a tool box of skills,” he says of business success, “things like strength of character, intelligence, determination. In my toolbox, I got an ability to squint my eyes at complex situations and see the truths, and the places to intervene in complex situations and find the golden thread that you can tug on and change the system. And I believe poverty is no different.”

David retired from the business world in 2001; his new career is finding and tugging on the “golden threads” that will help eliminate poverty. “Here, as much as one can criticize, we have a pretty good system with plenty of opportunity,” he says. “So, how can you fail in a system that has good government, a sound economic system and abundant opportunity?”

“Some subsets of our poor have had their spirits crushed for more than a century,” he explains. “It is no accident that the biggest groups of chronically poor are Native Americans and African Americans. Those groups of poor are fundamentally different in thinking than … recent immigrants, such as the Hispanics and Asians.

“Like previous immigrants who came here for the opportunity, the new immigrants come with determination, with families intact (even if they are not physically with them) and with a strong religion,” he says. “That means parents see it as their obligation to work hard to sustain their families and to motivate their children to ‘do better than I did.’ They are the working poor whose children and grandchildren are and will be in the mainstream of our society. They are thriving in our system. It is proof positive that our system works.”

Institutionally scarred
“I believe communities, which have been defeated and subjugated, have been institutionally scarred,” he says. “That scar manifests itself in false beliefs. A false belief of, ‘We can’t get ahead.’ And the big one, ‘They won’t let us.'”

“There is abundant evidence this is just not true,” he continues. “There are many people from our Native communities succeeding in our system; but step into poor communities, and you will find them ravaged by alcohol, drugs and crime. Marcus Aurelius said 2000 years ago, ‘Poverty is the mother of crime.'”

David goes on a long discussion about the huge numbers of young black males in prison, concluding with, “Psychologists tell us everyone always chooses the best option they can see. So, what must the options look like if the best option is to take a gun in your hand or stick a needle in your arm? If you want someone to change, you have to give them new options.”

The bicycle option
David Moore’s option is bicycles. “Why bikes?” he asks rhetorically. “A bike is an instrument to take a child to another place.” Metaphysically, as well as physically. “Another place where a mentor can be found who will guide that child and help that child see new options.” Like Jerrill May did for David.

David tries to pair bikes with neighborhoods that have mentoring programs like Scout Troops. “A study shows, the kids go to school more often, behave better in class and get better grades,” he says of one neighborhood that has had Scout Troops instituted for three years. However, many of these children need wheels to get to Scout meetings.

To David, it all comes down to numbers. “One person in prison for one year costs $30,000,” he says. “If that person were, instead, working for a year at minimum wage, he’d have earned $10,000. So, that person is costing society $40,000 a year.”

“We can buy a thousand bikes at $40 a piece,” he says. “There’s your $40,000. If one child served by our program meets a mentor and doesn’t go to prison for just one year, we’ve saved society $40,000. We’re at break-even. If more than one out of our 1,000 children doesn’t go to jail because the bike gets them to a mentor who saves them, it’s a win for society. That’s a fantastically successful program!”

“I believe we’re helping more than one out of 1,000, not for a year, but for a lifetime!” he says proudly.

Protecting Your Future

December 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Edit

Your guide to vision care

While blindness affects more than one million Americans age 40 and older, the number of visually impaired in this country totals more than 3.4 million. Furthermore, the number of Americans with age-related eye disease or consequential vision impairment is expected to double within the next three decades. With such a rapidly increasing figure, eye disease and vision loss is undoubtedly emerging as a major public health problem. Engaging in annual eye examinations can lead to the prevention and/or delay of eye diseases that can result in blindness, especially for those individuals with diabetes, age 65 and older, or African Americans older than 40.

What is ophthalmology?
Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine encompassing the anatomy, function and diseases of the eye. Often referred to as “Eye M.D.s,” ophthalmologists are trained physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating eye and vision problems, including vision services and surgery. Not to be confused with an optometrist (a Doctor of Optometry), an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor, or M.D., who has completed four years of medical school, a year-long internship and a minimum of three years of residency training in ophthalmology. Optometrists complete a pre-professional undergraduate college education followed by four years of professional education in a college of optometry. Some optometrists also fulfill a residency program.

Cornea and external disease
Ophthalmologists focusing on cornea and external disease diagnose and handle diseases of the cornea, sclera, conjunctiva and eyelids, including corneal dystrophies, microbial infections, conjunctival and corneal tumors, inflammatory processes and anterior ocular manifestations of systematic diseases. Ophthalmologists in this field often perform corneal transplant surgery or corneal surgery to correct refractive errors.

Glaucoma
One of the most common causes of preventable vision loss, glaucoma is a group of eye diseases resulting from intraocular pressure levels that damage the optic nerve and nerve fibers that form parts of the retina in the back of the eye. Individuals that suffer from glaucoma often experience no symptoms until they begin to lose part of their peripheral vision. Although visual loss is most often permanent and irreversible, many cases can be treated by prescription drugs, laser therapies and surgery. Increased intraocular pressure and the state of the optic nerve head are only detectable during an eye examination performed by an ophthalmologist.

LASIK
LASIK is a surgical procedure that is performed to correct nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism. Permanently removing corneal tissue to reshape the eye in order to improve refraction, LASIK is a fairly safe procedure for permanent vision correction — with only a 2 percent intra-operative and 3 to 5 percent post-operative complication rate. More than 90 percent of patients with low to moderate myopia achieve 20/40 vision, while more than half achieve 20/20 vision or better.

Neuro-ophthalmology
While more than half of the brain is used for vision-related activities, vision problems can often be caused by the optic nerve or the nervous system. Neuro-ophthalmologists evaluate patients from a neurologic, ophthalmologic and medical standpoint to diagnose and care for a wide range of problems, including optic nerve problems, visual field loss, visual disturbances, double vision, abnormal eye movements, thyroid eye disease, unequal pupil size and eyelid abnormalities.

Do your research
The American Board of Ophthalmology can provide an abundance of credible resources to utilize if you are seeking the services of an ophthalmologist. Prospective patients may find out if an ophthalmologist is certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology by visiting www.abms.org or by contacting 1 (866) ASK-ABMS.

Please click on the following links to view each Top Fertility Doctor’s profile and/or visit their website.

Houston Eye Associates
www.houstoneye.com

Rosa A. Tang, M.D., MPH
www.neuroeye.com

Talk Show No-Knows Poking fun at Houston hosts

November 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Good moooorning, Houston! It’s time for yet another saga of Tell Bell, the fairest and most balanced talk show in town. Today, I thought we’d take an objective look at those pinko rats in the County Commissioners Court, the corrupt officials in City Hall and the latest treasonous actions by Bill Clinton. Ah, we have our first caller, Allen in Parkway.

Hi, Bell. I think you were a little harsh yesterday in calling for the execution of the entire Texas Legislature. I feel …

Who cares what you feel? Those commies in Dallas, or is it Waco, won’t cut our property taxes and keep trying to spend money on schools. Who needs schools anyway? I dropped out in the third grade, and I ain’t doing badder. Next caller, Monty in Montrose.

First time caller, longtime listener. Bell, you are wrong in demanding that the UN building be torn down and the land sewn with salt. I know that …

Let me tell you what you know. The UN up there in Chicago is full of foreigners, probably illegal aliens. They couldn’t keep the peace in Switzerland or even next door in Morocco.

Have you ever been to the UN? Peace-keeping is a very small part of what they do — like with health care, international postal regulation, intelligence property rights, labor laws. Do you know what you’re talking about?

I don’t have to know what I’m talking about. I’m a radio talk show host in Houston. Next caller, Time in Memorial.

Bell, I think you are wonderful, smart and full of knowledge.

How do you know that?

Because you always tell me what I want to hear.

As President Benjamin Franklin once said, “Ask not what you can do to others, but ask what others can do for you.” Our next caller is Carl in Capacitated. Go ahead, Carl.

Bell, why do you keep interrupting callers that disagree with you, and insult them with ridicule? It’s uncouth and shows a lack of …

I don’t interrupt callers, you stupid idiot. Shut up! OK, folks, we need to clear up a few matters about this radio business. First, it’s my show, and I can do as I please. Some of you act like the public owns the airwaves. Second, if you are so bored that you have nothing better to do than listen to this show, you need to get a life. And finally, accept everything I say as the gospel. Next caller is from Here to Eternity.

Bell, you bad-mouth the press all the time, but it’s clear that virtually every word you utter on the air is based on something you read in the morning paper or saw last night on the TV news. I mean, if you didn’t rely on the “drive-by media,” as you call it, you wouldn’t have a show. Also, you keep telling us we can’t trust the press, but throughout your program, you quote stuff you got from the press as fact. You can’t have it both ways.

Of course I can, because you listeners are too damned dumb to spot hypocrisy if it hit you in the nose. A recent study in The National Enquirer proved that. Next caller. Go ahead, Wes in University Place.

Bell, what does that noted family values crusader, Rush Limbaugh, have that Bill Clinton doesn’t?

I give up.

Three ex-wives and a police record.

Another liberal pervert. Folks, did you see on the TV news — which we can’t believe — that Houston is installing cameras to cut down on red-light runners? It’s just one more example of creeping governmental control. If I want to run through red lights doing 60 in a school zone, that’s my right. Next thing you know, they’ll be telling us our refineries can’t pollute, we should stop strip mining in our national parks and pay our income taxes. Bunch of tree-huggers. Go ahead, Number 445558 in Carcerated.

Bell, you just did it again. You quoted from the press while telling us we can’t believe the press. What’s more, the UN is in New York City, not Chicago. The state capital is in Austin; Benjamin Franklin was not a president; and you misquoted John Kennedy. Yesterday, you referred to “former Mayor Lee Black who is brown.” The Red Cross is not part of Homeland Security; Dell Computers is named after Michael Dell, not Dell Comics; and Dell is originally from Houston, not Argentina.

What’s your point?

My point is that you are a shallow, ill-educated pompous blowhard with delusions of adequacy. You don’t read books, you don’t travel anywhere that might broaden your knowledge, and you can’t pronounce “panache” or “onomatopoeia.”

Don’t bring religion into this.

You spread misinformation and create divisiveness and hatred among listeners. No wonder Arbitron puts your ratings below that of Latino DJs. When it comes to radio talk show hosts, Houston has the lowest common denominator.

You’re full of it, Mom.

Spa Holiday in Malaysia

November 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

by Dick Dace

My spa holiday experience began the moment we boarded Malaysia Airlines. This holiday was about refreshing, rejuvenating and decompressing from the stress of the modern world. Traveling to Malaysia promised to be a step back in time to a quieter moment in the world of the beautiful Malaysia people and their culture. Flying first class is not just the hedonist, extravagant indulgency of Hollywood stars and the wealthy, but a necessity for those who must have their wits about them for that important meeting when they land. A good night’s sleep is possible in the space age-inspired egg-chairs that, with a touch of a button, morphs into a sleeper sofa that guarantees a good night’s slumber among the stars.

Before you sleep, there is pampering to be had, out-of-this-world pampering. The beautiful and gracious flight attendants welcome you to your celestial mini-cabin in the sky with a chilled washcloth to refresh your face and hands, while they rush to get you your beverage of choice – which they keep pouring for the entire flight.

Once aloft in the night sky, they serve you dinner on china with beautiful sterling flatware. Grilled shrimp in a ginger sauce, beef and chicken Sates with peanut sauce and fresh fruit with chocolate sauce.

For those of us who had to do some work before we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the footrest/ottoman made a comfortable second chair, and the tray table was large enough to share with a colleague, as we crunched numbers at 30,000 feet. By the time breakfast was served, fresh fruit with an egg omelet, we were well rested and mentally prepared for our meetings. We took the KLIA Ekspres train from the airport to the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Kuala Lumpur. It was a high-speed train that takes only 28 minutes (while a cab ride would take more than an hour), designed especially for air travelers. One of the great things about the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur is that they are used to hosting time travelers (a reference to those who travel a great distance and who cross the international dateline) by offering 24-hour room service and a gymnasium that is open 24 hours, as well. One can swim, lift weights or use the treadmill anytime of the day or night. There is even a locker room with a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi, to sooth the time-strained muscles.

For those who need a little help transcending time and soothing those muscles, the Spa Village at the Ritz-Carlton is just the thing. My previous spa experiences had consisted of a Swedish massage, a Jacuzzi bath, manicure and pedicure, a facial and haircut. At the Spa Village at the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, all my senses were to be massaged.

The Spa Village experience began by slipping into the most comfortable silky-smooth lounge-wear. A cup of specially blended ginger tea was served to enhance relaxation, while sitting in a dark room listening to ethnic Malay music and watching a soothing video of scenes from the Malaysian rainforest.

My personal therapist explained the spa treatment she had designed for me was based on the timeless traditions of the Malaysian people, used to balance one’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. In explaining the treatment, she shared that the Malay word for woman is “princess” and the Malay word for man is “warrior.” All the oils, herbs and massage treatments for women were about enhancing a princess’ beauty, by cleansing her inside, beautifying her skin and by postponing menopause. The warrior’s treatment is about cleansing his inside and enhancing his stamina.

The therapist escorted me to a private spa room that was as larger than my hotel room with an outdoor private garden with shower and a in-ground Jacuzzi tub. The warrior treatment included a massage using an oil made of local herbs of turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, onion and citronella to invigorate the circulation. This teeny-tiny wisp of a girl asked about my preference for a soft, medium or strong massage. The warrior in me said strong, and before the massage was over, she had me crying, “Uncle!” (I have a bruise to prove it!) I had to ask her to let up several times, to which she just giggled. (At first, I thought she was making fun of me, but later I learned that her response was cultural, that the Malaysian people express embarrassment by giggling.)Following the massage was a body scrub, which consisted of soothing oils and herbs for exfoliation. I showered in my private courtyard that was beautifully landscaped with an impressive vista of the cities skyline before retiring to a milk bath with kaffir limes and rose petals. No wonder Cleopatra and Marilyn Monroe were famous for enjoying their milk baths, it was simply unbelievably relaxing. I even lunched al fresco while I bathed.

After my bath, I was anointed with special invigorating oil and enjoyed, briefly, a body steaming. With my after treatment herbal tea, I was given a honey, tea leaf amuse bouse to eat before I returned to my room for a short, restful nap. I was rejuvenated.

The best time to visit Kuala Lumpur is December through July. My spa holiday continued the next day with just a 45-minute flight to the east side of the peninsula to the South China Sea resort of Tanjong Jara Resort and Spa Village. General manager Adrian Chung, whom I soon learned was affectionately referred to as “The Mayor,” greeted us. With 200 employees to pamper 200 guests, Tanjong Jara is paradise in a little city.

One morning, we tagged along with Chef Ann to the Dungun wet market to see the fresh fish and vegetables she bought for the resort directly from the areas fisherman and farmers. The vast selection of fish was astonishing, most of which were still alive as she poked and prodded them. Chef Ann was gracious in her explanation of all the new and wonderful herbs, vegetables and spices we spied.

At midmorning, we boarded the resort’s boat for an excursion to Tenggol Island for snorkeling and diving for the few Padi-certified open-water divers among us. The tiny island was deserted, except for three diving camps, each with their own selection of cabins on the beach. While a few of us lay out on the beach and snorkeled, a few of us dove in to explore one of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs.

Huge rainbow-colored parrotfish darted among pristine millennia-old coral formations as we swam among them. Giant sea turtles munched away while a grouper that looked the size of a Volkswagen cruised along beside us.

The dive master and his crew were focused on our enjoyment, pointing out small, beautiful fish and sea life we might have missed. To the delight of the group, they picked up sea slugs and sea cucumbers for us to hold. They even utilized our leftover lunch sandwiches to teach us how to hand feed the schools of fish that a little bread attracted.

Tanjong Jara Resort and Spa Village is known for its’authentic Malay health treatments first made popular by the Malaysian royalty. The goal of the resort, which is built in the refined and intricate woodwork style of the Malaysian Sultans, is to preserve the cultural heritage of the region, including the local health and beauty treatments by using the indigenous natural oils, fruit extracts and flowers.

After a wonderful bath in my own private, outdoor tub just off the bedroom of my chalet, I walked to the Spa Village for my first treatment. The village had its’ open-air treatment rooms tucked around pools and fountains with private hidden gardens. My treatment, Syurga Tujuh or Seven Steps to Heaven, was just that, heavenly.

My therapy started with a special Malay cocktail made of herbs found in the nearby rainforest and consumed for their vigor and vitality properties. My therapist told me she had learned the art of the massage from her mother, who had learned it from her mother before her. My treatment started off with a hand and foot soak, followed by a Malay hair and scalp treatment. Next was a very relaxing massage with long kneading strokes that concentrated on the muscles and pressure points. The oil she used was fragrant and made with herbs to stimulate my circulation. She said I would start sweating in about an hour, and just about an hour later, as I was walking along the deserted beach picking up seashells I began to sweat profusely. To cool off, I dove into the brilliant emerald South China Sea for a quick refreshing swim.

All day long, I had noticed that the staff was setting up something on the beach. There were torches stuck in the sand encircling chairs and a table, and what looked like the makings of a bonfire. Little did I know, GM Adrian Chung had arranged for us to enjoy a traditional five-course Malaysian dinner just a few feet from the surf. We feasted on grilled prawns, mango soup and grilled beef. How he arranged the full, burnt-orange harvest moon, is anyone’s guess. Mr. Chung shared with us the inspiration for the evening. Not only is Tanjong Jara about pampering, it is also about exceeding expectations and making memories. Usually, dinners on the beach are reserved for couples celebrating their honeymoon. When Chung joined the resort almost two years ago, he decided that memories and romance were for everyone, dinners on the beach included, and set about creating a memorable honeymoon package.

Each honeymoon couple has a private, torch-lit dinner on the beach, a couples’ massage followed by a flower bath, and a private dinner on their balcony. The couple also receives traditional Malaysian gifts and they get to select a tree that will be planted at the resort in their honor. A beautiful wooded marker identifies the tree and includes the couples names and date. As a special treat, each year on their anniversary, a photo of their honeymoon tree is sent to the happy couple.

The best time to visit Tanjong Jara Resort and Spa Village is April through July. A short three and a half hour drive northeast of Kuala Lumpur is the island resort of Pangkor Laut Resort and Spa Village. It really is a whole island devoted to pampering. The traditional Malaysian fishing villages we passed on our boat ride from the mainland inspired many parts of the resort’s design. With land being precious for farming, many native villages are built over water.

In the Spa Village section of the resort, rooms are actually chalets built over the water on stilts, which afforded privacy and luxury. Be sure to take a bubble bath in your room and look out the windows into the emerald green waters that frequently host fishing boats plowing the waters for tonight’s dinner. Above the tub, in the middle of the ceiling is a rain showerhead, for that safe, rain forest shower experience.

The island resort has many beautiful locations. To view the perfect sunset, trek through the virgin rain forest that covers most of the island to the beach at Emerald Bay. Seeing the emerald water from the treetops is a breathtaking sight. Once on the pale pink beach, all one has to do to get something to eat or drink, is raise ones hand. One of the gracious staff members is more than happy to bring you your heart’s desire as you lounge on the beach.

My first day on the island started with a yoga session. The stretching was a salve for my travel-worn muscles and it also woke up my appetite. Breakfast at the Jamu Bar overlooking the swimming pool and the sea inspired me to go jungle trekking with Uncle Yip, the resident floral, fauna and wildlife expert.

Uncle Yip, while a spry man with a happy smile, seems to be one with the jungle itself, and knows its’ inhabitants like they were his children. He shared his knowledge freely and even challenged us to think about what we were seeing. Like the prehistoric spiky palm tree, why did it have such razor sharp spikes up and down its trunk — to protect its young shoots from being eaten. What were the big black bag like things hanging in the trees — fruit bats with a two-foot wingspan. For the chocolate lovers among us, he opened a cacao pod to show us the green seeds, which first have to be dried before they can be roasted and ground into chocolate. Showing us the abundance of the forest, Uncle Yip shared with us why there are still native aboriginal Indians living in Malaysian rainforests because all they have to do is walk outside their homes and find all manner of incredible foods.

After a lunch on the beach, it was spa time. The first treatment was Pangkor Laut’s unique Bath House Ritual, exercising various Asian bathing customs. After changing into a Batik sarong, a soothing footbath was followed by a Chinese Foot Pounding that had been enjoyed by the concubines of Chinese Emperors to keep their feet tiny.

The Bath House structure itself features a large stonewalled courtyard blooming with gingers, with a brilliant blue pool at its’ center. On the edge of the pool are four large urns from which water bubbles and cascades into the pool. This could be the most romantic pool on earth and I had it all to myself.

The Bath House complex is made up of several private, open-air gazebo-like treatment rooms, tucked inside hidden gardens. The next treatment was a traditional Japanese-style cleansing with a “goshi-goshi” cloth. After my skin was exfoliated from head to toe, came a dip in a heated Rotenburu pool that was made of rounded river stones. I could have stayed there until I wrinkled up to nothing while I enjoyed a calming tea — and my treatments continued. Up next was an Ayurvedic treatment, an ancient Indian healing tradition that strengthens the internal organs, nervous system, muscles, bones and regulates the digestive system. Before lying on a wooden table for my treatment, I had to trade in my sarong for a loincloth, (my first and very unlike what Tarzan wore!) Suitably dressed for the occasion, I was laid out and basted in medicated oils and herbs, from head to toe. A traditional Indian rejuvenating massage followed. The masseur ran his hands in rapid strokes the entire length of my legs, arms and torso. I felt like a greased pig at the state fair. To remove the oil after the treatment, I was vigorously rubbed with an herbal paste made with tea leaves, followed by a warm shower and a nap.

The best time to visit Pangkor Laut Resort and Spa Village is December through July. A short boar ride to the mainland and a three-hour drive up the highest mountain in Malaysian, we arrived at Cameron Highlands Resort and Spa Village. The resort is located near one of the oldest rainforest on Earth, where wild orchids and lilies bloomed beside the road. We were greeted by Scotsman Ross Sanders, the guest relations manager of Cameron Highland, which was appreciate, since English gentry in search of tea settled this part of Malaysia, and everything about Cameron Highlands is about tea, high tea, hot tea, and tea baths.

The ever gracious Sanders hosted us to High Tea, with a Malaysia twist. After gorging ourselves on fresh strawberries the size of goose eggs, and scones three inches tall, we feasted on Sates and little purse pockets filled with spicy chicken.

My Cameron Highlands spa treatment started with a tea bath. A large, footed white porcelain tub filled with hot water and rose petals, kaffir limes and tea leaves turned into my favorite place to nap. With headphones, neck pillow and the soothing waters, I caught 20 z’s. The massage that followed was primarily Swedish, except for the part where I had to sit up so he could massage my back.

I got the giggles when he had me turn over onto my stomach, and after placing a warm towel on my back, he brought out some wooden dowels. They squeaked like mice as he ran them up and down my back. My masseur said “laughter, good for you.”

Sanders also hosted us to cocktails later that afternoon, and asked us to participate in the Fire Lighting Ceremony in the Highlands Bar. As tradition holds it, Jim Thompson, the legendary silk tycoon who disappeared on a walk one Sunday afternoon, never to be heard from again, used to invite his guests to light the evening fire. Cameron Highlands reintroduced this tradition nightly as another way to enhance the guest experience and to create memories.

After two weeks of pampering, massages and feasting on delicacies, I was refreshed, rejuvenated and decompressed and ready for the modern world. Now, where is that Blackberry?

The best time to visit Cameron Highlands and Spa Village is December through July. To see the wild orchids in bloom, visit April through May and have the concierge book you a day with local guide Bob, for a tree climbing exploration of all things flora and fauna.

Trip Resources: Malaysia Airlines (www malaysiaairlines.com) flies to Kuala Lumpur daily from Los Angles. Houston is the second busiest gateway to Malaysia. All resorts are part of the YTL Hotels & Properties Group (www ytlhotels.com). Mr. Dace was a guest of Malaysia Airlines and YTL Hotels & Properties. Mr. Dace is the Epicurean Publicist. He does lunch for a living.

Spa Holiday in Malaysia

November 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Edit

My spa holiday experience began the moment we boarded Malaysia Airlines. This holiday was about refreshing, rejuvenating and decompressing from the stress of the modern world. Traveling to Malaysia promised to be a step back in time to a quieter moment in the world of the beautiful Malaysia people and their culture. Flying first class is not just the hedonist, extravagant indulgency of Hollywood stars and the wealthy, but a necessity for those who must have their wits about them for that important meeting when they land. A good night’s sleep is possible in the space age-inspired egg-chairs that, with a touch of a button, morphs into a sleeper sofa that guarantees a good night’s slumber among the stars.

Before you sleep, there is pampering to be had, out-of-this-world pampering. The beautiful and gracious flight attendants welcome you to your celestial mini-cabin in the sky with a chilled washcloth to refresh your face and hands, while they rush to get you your beverage of choice – which they keep pouring for the entire flight.

Once aloft in the night sky, they serve you dinner on china with beautiful sterling flatware. Grilled shrimp in a ginger sauce, beef and chicken Sates with peanut sauce and fresh fruit with chocolate sauce.

For those of us who had to do some work before we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the footrest/ottoman made a comfortable second chair, and the tray table was large enough to share with a colleague, as we crunched numbers at 30,000 feet. By the time breakfast was served, fresh fruit with an egg omelet, we were well rested and mentally prepared for our meetings. We took the KLIA Ekspres train from the airport to the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Kuala Lumpur. It was a high-speed train that takes only 28 minutes (while a cab ride would take more than an hour), designed especially for air travelers. One of the great things about the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur is that they are used to hosting time travelers (a reference to those who travel a great distance and who cross the international dateline) by offering 24-hour room service and a gymnasium that is open 24 hours, as well. One can swim, lift weights or use the treadmill anytime of the day or night. There is even a locker room with a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi, to sooth the time-strained muscles.

For those who need a little help transcending time and soothing those muscles, the Spa Village at the Ritz-Carlton is just the thing. My previous spa experiences had consisted of a Swedish massage, a Jacuzzi bath, manicure and pedicure, a facial and haircut. At the Spa Village at the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, all my senses were to be massaged.

The Spa Village experience began by slipping into the most comfortable silky-smooth lounge-wear. A cup of specially blended ginger tea was served to enhance relaxation, while sitting in a dark room listening to ethnic Malay music and watching a soothing video of scenes from the Malaysian rainforest.

My personal therapist explained the spa treatment she had designed for me was based on the timeless traditions of the Malaysian people, used to balance one’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. In explaining the treatment, she shared that the Malay word for woman is “princess” and the Malay word for man is “warrior.” All the oils, herbs and massage treatments for women were about enhancing a princess’ beauty, by cleansing her inside, beautifying her skin and by postponing menopause. The warrior’s treatment is about cleansing his inside and enhancing his stamina.

The therapist escorted me to a private spa room that was as larger than my hotel room with an outdoor private garden with shower and a in-ground Jacuzzi tub. The warrior treatment included a massage using an oil made of local herbs of turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, onion and citronella to invigorate the circulation. This teeny-tiny wisp of a girl asked about my preference for a soft, medium or strong massage. The warrior in me said strong, and before the massage was over, she had me crying, “Uncle!” (I have a bruise to prove it!) I had to ask her to let up several times, to which she just giggled. (At first, I thought she was making fun of me, but later I learned that her response was cultural, that the Malaysian people express embarrassment by giggling.)Following the massage was a body scrub, which consisted of soothing oils and herbs for exfoliation. I showered in my private courtyard that was beautifully landscaped with an impressive vista of the cities skyline before retiring to a milk bath with kaffir limes and rose petals. No wonder Cleopatra and Marilyn Monroe were famous for enjoying their milk baths, it was simply unbelievably relaxing. I even lunched al fresco while I bathed.

After my bath, I was anointed with special invigorating oil and enjoyed, briefly, a body steaming. With my after treatment herbal tea, I was given a honey, tea leaf amuse bouse to eat before I returned to my room for a short, restful nap. I was rejuvenated.

The best time to visit Kuala Lumpur is December through July. My spa holiday continued the next day with just a 45-minute flight to the east side of the peninsula to the South China Sea resort of Tanjong Jara Resort and Spa Village. General manager Adrian Chung, whom I soon learned was affectionately referred to as “The Mayor,” greeted us. With 200 employees to pamper 200 guests, Tanjong Jara is paradise in a little city.

One morning, we tagged along with Chef Ann to the Dungun wet market to see the fresh fish and vegetables she bought for the resort directly from the areas fisherman and farmers. The vast selection of fish was astonishing, most of which were still alive as she poked and prodded them. Chef Ann was gracious in her explanation of all the new and wonderful herbs, vegetables and spices we spied.

At midmorning, we boarded the resort’s boat for an excursion to Tenggol Island for snorkeling and diving for the few Padi-certified open-water divers among us. The tiny island was deserted, except for three diving camps, each with their own selection of cabins on the beach. While a few of us lay out on the beach and snorkeled, a few of us dove in to explore one of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs.

Huge rainbow-colored parrotfish darted among pristine millennia-old coral formations as we swam among them. Giant sea turtles munched away while a grouper that looked the size of a Volkswagen cruised along beside us.

The dive master and his crew were focused on our enjoyment, pointing out small, beautiful fish and sea life we might have missed. To the delight of the group, they picked up sea slugs and sea cucumbers for us to hold. They even utilized our leftover lunch sandwiches to teach us how to hand feed the schools of fish that a little bread attracted.

Tanjong Jara Resort and Spa Village is known for its’authentic Malay health treatments first made popular by the Malaysian royalty. The goal of the resort, which is built in the refined and intricate woodwork style of the Malaysian Sultans, is to preserve the cultural heritage of the region, including the local health and beauty treatments by using the indigenous natural oils, fruit extracts and flowers.

After a wonderful bath in my own private, outdoor tub just off the bedroom of my chalet, I walked to the Spa Village for my first treatment. The village had its’ open-air treatment rooms tucked around pools and fountains with private hidden gardens. My treatment, Syurga Tujuh or Seven Steps to Heaven, was just that, heavenly.

My therapy started with a special Malay cocktail made of herbs found in the nearby rainforest and consumed for their vigor and vitality properties. My therapist told me she had learned the art of the massage from her mother, who had learned it from her mother before her. My treatment started off with a hand and foot soak, followed by a Malay hair and scalp treatment. Next was a very relaxing massage with long kneading strokes that concentrated on the muscles and pressure points. The oil she used was fragrant and made with herbs to stimulate my circulation. She said I would start sweating in about an hour, and just about an hour later, as I was walking along the deserted beach picking up seashells I began to sweat profusely. To cool off, I dove into the brilliant emerald South China Sea for a quick refreshing swim.

All day long, I had noticed that the staff was setting up something on the beach. There were torches stuck in the sand encircling chairs and a table, and what looked like the makings of a bonfire. Little did I know, GM Adrian Chung had arranged for us to enjoy a traditional five-course Malaysian dinner just a few feet from the surf. We feasted on grilled prawns, mango soup and grilled beef. How he arranged the full, burnt-orange harvest moon, is anyone’s guess. Mr. Chung shared with us the inspiration for the evening. Not only is Tanjong Jara about pampering, it is also about exceeding expectations and making memories. Usually, dinners on the beach are reserved for couples celebrating their honeymoon. When Chung joined the resort almost two years ago, he decided that memories and romance were for everyone, dinners on the beach included, and set about creating a memorable honeymoon package.

Each honeymoon couple has a private, torch-lit dinner on the beach, a couples’ massage followed by a flower bath, and a private dinner on their balcony. The couple also receives traditional Malaysian gifts and they get to select a tree that will be planted at the resort in their honor. A beautiful wooded marker identifies the tree and includes the couples names and date. As a special treat, each year on their anniversary, a photo of their honeymoon tree is sent to the happy couple.

The best time to visit Tanjong Jara Resort and Spa Village is April through July. A short three and a half hour drive northeast of Kuala Lumpur is the island resort of Pangkor Laut Resort and Spa Village. It really is a whole island devoted to pampering. The traditional Malaysian fishing villages we passed on our boat ride from the mainland inspired many parts of the resort’s design. With land being precious for farming, many native villages are built over water.

In the Spa Village section of the resort, rooms are actually chalets built over the water on stilts, which afforded privacy and luxury. Be sure to take a bubble bath in your room and look out the windows into the emerald green waters that frequently host fishing boats plowing the waters for tonight’s dinner. Above the tub, in the middle of the ceiling is a rain showerhead, for that safe, rain forest shower experience.

The island resort has many beautiful locations. To view the perfect sunset, trek through the virgin rain forest that covers most of the island to the beach at Emerald Bay. Seeing the emerald water from the treetops is a breathtaking sight. Once on the pale pink beach, all one has to do to get something to eat or drink, is raise ones hand. One of the gracious staff members is more than happy to bring you your heart’s desire as you lounge on the beach.

My first day on the island started with a yoga session. The stretching was a salve for my travel-worn muscles and it also woke up my appetite. Breakfast at the Jamu Bar overlooking the swimming pool and the sea inspired me to go jungle trekking with Uncle Yip, the resident floral, fauna and wildlife expert.

Uncle Yip, while a spry man with a happy smile, seems to be one with the jungle itself, and knows its’ inhabitants like they were his children. He shared his knowledge freely and even challenged us to think about what we were seeing. Like the prehistoric spiky palm tree, why did it have such razor sharp spikes up and down its trunk — to protect its young shoots from being eaten. What were the big black bag like things hanging in the trees — fruit bats with a two-foot wingspan. For the chocolate lovers among us, he opened a cacao pod to show us the green seeds, which first have to be dried before they can be roasted and ground into chocolate. Showing us the abundance of the forest, Uncle Yip shared with us why there are still native aboriginal Indians living in Malaysian rainforests because all they have to do is walk outside their homes and find all manner of incredible foods.

After a lunch on the beach, it was spa time. The first treatment was Pangkor Laut’s unique Bath House Ritual, exercising various Asian bathing customs. After changing into a Batik sarong, a soothing footbath was followed by a Chinese Foot Pounding that had been enjoyed by the concubines of Chinese Emperors to keep their feet tiny.

The Bath House structure itself features a large stonewalled courtyard blooming with gingers, with a brilliant blue pool at its’ center. On the edge of the pool are four large urns from which water bubbles and cascades into the pool. This could be the most romantic pool on earth and I had it all to myself.

The Bath House complex is made up of several private, open-air gazebo-like treatment rooms, tucked inside hidden gardens. The next treatment was a traditional Japanese-style cleansing with a “goshi-goshi” cloth. After my skin was exfoliated from head to toe, came a dip in a heated Rotenburu pool that was made of rounded river stones. I could have stayed there until I wrinkled up to nothing while I enjoyed a calming tea — and my treatments continued. Up next was an Ayurvedic treatment, an ancient Indian healing tradition that strengthens the internal organs, nervous system, muscles, bones and regulates the digestive system. Before lying on a wooden table for my treatment, I had to trade in my sarong for a loincloth, (my first and very unlike what Tarzan wore!) Suitably dressed for the occasion, I was laid out and basted in medicated oils and herbs, from head to toe. A traditional Indian rejuvenating massage followed. The masseur ran his hands in rapid strokes the entire length of my legs, arms and torso. I felt like a greased pig at the state fair. To remove the oil after the treatment, I was vigorously rubbed with an herbal paste made with tea leaves, followed by a warm shower and a nap.

The best time to visit Pangkor Laut Resort and Spa Village is December through July. A short boar ride to the mainland and a three-hour drive up the highest mountain in Malaysian, we arrived at Cameron Highlands Resort and Spa Village. The resort is located near one of the oldest rainforest on Earth, where wild orchids and lilies bloomed beside the road. We were greeted by Scotsman Ross Sanders, the guest relations manager of Cameron Highland, which was appreciate, since English gentry in search of tea settled this part of Malaysia, and everything about Cameron Highlands is about tea, high tea, hot tea, and tea baths.

The ever gracious Sanders hosted us to High Tea, with a Malaysia twist. After gorging ourselves on fresh strawberries the size of goose eggs, and scones three inches tall, we feasted on Sates and little purse pockets filled with spicy chicken.

My Cameron Highlands spa treatment started with a tea bath. A large, footed white porcelain tub filled with hot water and rose petals, kaffir limes and tea leaves turned into my favorite place to nap. With headphones, neck pillow and the soothing waters, I caught 20 z’s. The massage that followed was primarily Swedish, except for the part where I had to sit up so he could massage my back.

I got the giggles when he had me turn over onto my stomach, and after placing a warm towel on my back, he brought out some wooden dowels. They squeaked like mice as he ran them up and down my back. My masseur said “laughter, good for you.”

Sanders also hosted us to cocktails later that afternoon, and asked us to participate in the Fire Lighting Ceremony in the Highlands Bar. As tradition holds it, Jim Thompson, the legendary silk tycoon who disappeared on a walk one Sunday afternoon, never to be heard from again, used to invite his guests to light the evening fire. Cameron Highlands reintroduced this tradition nightly as another way to enhance the guest experience and to create memories.

After two weeks of pampering, massages and feasting on delicacies, I was refreshed, rejuvenated and decompressed and ready for the modern world. Now, where is that Blackberry?

The best time to visit Cameron Highlands and Spa Village is December through July. To see the wild orchids in bloom, visit April through May and have the concierge book you a day with local guide Bob, for a tree climbing exploration of all things flora and fauna.

Trip Resources: Malaysia Airlines (www malaysiaairlines.com) flies to Kuala Lumpur daily from Los Angles. Houston is the second busiest gateway to Malaysia. All resorts are part of the YTL Hotels & Properties Group (www ytlhotels.com). Mr. Dace was a guest of Malaysia Airlines and YTL Hotels & Properties. Mr. Dace is the Epicurean Publicist. He does lunch for a living.

Quiet Community Contributor

November 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Edit

Local philanthropist Glen Rosenbaum is honored for a lifetime of help

We live in the age of branding. Our baseball team plays at Minute Maid Park and our football team at the Reliant Center. Many of our performing arts centers bear someone’s name: the Wortham Theater Center, the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Still, there are people whose names you never see on buildings, but whose generosity with money, time and talent has touched all of our lives. One of those people is Glen Rosenbaum.

Without Rosenbaum, many local, state, national and even global nonprofit organizations wouldn’t be where they are today. One of the top tax attorneys in the state of Texas, Rosenbaum has been with Vinson &Elkins, LLP for 33 years. He has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America for his work in tax law and as a “Texas Super Lawyer” in Texas Monthly.

His friends know he spends countless hours at his office. Sandy Sanford, who worked with Rosenbaum at Vinson &Elkins, recalls that one night at about 8, he realized he needed information from something he had left on his desk at the office. Sanford says his 10-year-old daughter asked him, “‘Why don’t you call Glen?’ She knew he’d be there, finishing up.”

Rosenbaum’s dogged legal work has reaped untold benefits for Houston and Texas taxpayers, while his pro bono efforts have helped provide access for Houston residents who desperately need food and health care, and truly appreciate sports and the performing arts. He led the Vinson &Elkins team that helped develop the Wortham Theater Center; and as Houston Grand Opera General Director and CEO Anthony Freud says, he “played a pivotal role” in the Wortham Center being the home of Houston’s opera and ballet companies. “It was an invaluable contribution to building the Houston Grand Opera,” Freud says, “and by implication … to the people and city of Houston.”

As proud as he is of Houston and what it has to offer, Rosenbaum takes little credit for what he does and never seeks the limelight. In fact, he says the credit goes to others for the community work he does. “This community has been wonderful to my family and me since my great-great-uncle came to Houston in the 1850s and also since my father arrived in 1937,” Rosenbaum says. “I have a strong sense of obligation to give back.”

That obligation extends beyond organizations to family and friends. Rosenbaum has many friends and is “Uncle Glen,” to almost all of their children. He provides them with chocolate every holiday season from a company his cousins own and showers his youngest friends with toys, especially the Lionel trains he loves.

Houston attorney Sarah Duckers credits him with much of what she considers good about her life. Rosenbaum recruited Duckers out of school to work at Vinson &Elkins. She says he taught her “how to be a proper lawyer and how to tend to clients,” and introduced her to the opera and to her husband, 11th District Court Judge Mark Davidson. Both Duckers and Davidson say Rosenbaum is a “tremendous friend,” who’ll do anything for them.

In fact, he helped them get chicken from restaurateur Vincent Mandola at 8 a.m. because that’s what Duckers was craving after the birth of their second child. Davidson says, “Glen told me: ‘Go to the back door of Vincent’s restaurant, and Vincent will have the chicken for you.’ So I did, and when Vincent handed me the chicken, he said, ‘Tell Mr. Rosenbaum congratulations on the birth of his son!'”

Another friend who has benefited from knowing Rosenbaum is Masterprize-winning composer Chris Theofanidis. He says Rosenbaum not only financed much of his arts education after his father died, but also encouraged him every step of the way; and he adds Rosenbaum has done the same for many aspiring artists. “There is a long list of people who have gone and pursued careers in the arts that may not have done so if Glen had not been there for them at a critical time,” Theofanidis says. Theofanidis dedicated his Masterprize-winning work, “Rainbow Body,” to Rosenbaum.

Rosenbaum has been there at a critical time for others and the organizations they represent, including the Houston Food Bank, the Greater Houston Partnership, Holocaust Museum Houston, Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, the Wortham Center, the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation (He helped bring the Dead Sea Scrolls to Houston.), the Houston Ballet, the Friends of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The ADL is one of the nation’s foremost civil rights organizations, dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and hatred and working toward fair treatment for everyone. For all his accomplishments, the ADL is honoring Rosenbaum on Nov. 16 with its Torch of Liberty Award. The award is given every year to a leader who gives of himself to the community and who is committed to promoting respect and fighting hatred and bigotry.

Rosenbaum has done this as an ADL board member, board chair and national commissioner. “He has been one of our most supportive and effective board members and board chairs,” says ADL Southwest Regional Director Martin B. Cominsky. “He helped us establish an office in Austin, where there was a great need, and that’s just one example of how effective he is. We’re very proud to be giving him the Torch of Liberty Award.”

While Rosenbaum avoids the limelight, he says he’s pleased to be honored, but he has a very practical reason for serving the community behind the scenes. “There is much to be done,” he says, “and it’s easier and faster to get things done quietly. Then we can move on to the next project.”

Treasured Friends

November 1, 2006 by  
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Working together to help Houston

As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables this November, we will most likely think of everything for which we are thankful. In the count, always, are our friends.

Two friends for whom Houston is very grateful are Cora Sue Mach and Sidney Faust. Together, they are making our city’s reputation for charitable generosity and volunteerism sparkle.

Nothing else
Not too long ago, driving to an event-planning meeting, Sidney said, “We are not volunteering for anything else. Nothing!”

Cora Sue firmly agreed, “Nothing!”

When a call came stating, “We need someone to chair the Champagne reception,” Sidney’s hand shot up instantly, “Oh, Cora Sue and I can do that!” They are both still laughing and still volunteering each other. In fact, as this magazine rolls off the presses, this dynamic duo will be hosting its annual outlandish Halloween party, “The Trick or Treat Toy Party” for Texas Children’s Cancer Center and the Cancer League. (Admission is a toy for a young cancer patient.)

Teaming up
On Nov. 1, Cora Sue and Sidney will serve as speaker liaisons for the Huffington Center on Aging Women’s Health Summit, a luncheon they chaired together in 2004. Later this month, they will be dinner chairs for The Cystic Fibrosis Gala.

These two confident and engaging ladies have taken on quite a lot since they first met in the late ’90s as founding members of BRASS, Baylor Research Advocates for Student Scientists, which raises scholarship funds for young scientists.

Sidney and her husband, Don, were honored as BRASS Angels in 1997, while Cora Sue served as president of the organization from 1998-2000. The BRASS Christmas party will be held at Don and Sidney’s home, as usual. Additionally, they are all active with the Baylor Partnership for Baylor College of Medicine.

The first event Cora Sue and Sidney chaired together was the 1999 Houston Symphony League’s Maestro Collection Fashion Show and Luncheon. Other organizations benefiting from their collaboration since include: Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, Shepherd School of Music and the Houston Ballet, just to name a few.

“Hard work, but we enjoyed it,” Sidney says of their charity work. “We have lots of laughs and never one misunderstanding. We have a genuine love and respect for one another.”

Cora Sue
Cora Sue is a native Houstonian. Right out of high school, she worked during the day and went to the University of Houston at night. She credits “the great education from the sisters at Incarnate Word Academy” for helping her rise quickly from the steno pool at Southwestern Bell to engineering assistant. She met Harry Mach, a St. Thomas High School graduate, at a Catholic Young Adults function in 1963. Harry worked with his family’s business, started by his father in 1953.

Cora Sue volunteered at her children’s schools, the March of Dimes and Inner City Catholic Schools, but really got going in the volunteer/charity world after meeting Sidney. Part of what makes it all work is the fact “that Harry and Don bonded early on,” Cora Sue shares, describing their husbands as the “unsung heroes” of the ladies’ charity work.

The Mach’s joy centers on their family: sons, Butch and Steve; daughters-in-law, Carmen and Joella; and their five grandchildren. “My greatest reward is in watching our children reach out to the community and assume leadership roles in worthwhile community activities,” Cora Sue explains.

Yet, observation shows that her greatest joy might well be grandmotherhood! Cora Sue and Sidney’s grandchildren are the same ages and love to play together. Dec. 2 will find them playing at the Symphony League’s Magical Musical Morning “Penguin Parade Fiesta,” which Cora Sue is chairing.

Sidney
Sidney Faust is a native of Longview, Texas. Her mother, a librarian, was concerned about Sidney’s stage fright so, “my mother made me take speech in high school,” she says. “I would have taken anything but speech. I studied voice for nine years and was frequently asked to sing solos around town, but it was always an ordeal. I more or less got over stage fright, but was never comfortable singing — dancing was fine.”

At Kilgore Junior College, Sidney was a member of the famous Rangerettes. After graduating from North Texas University in speech and drama, and doing graduate work at the University of Colorado, Sidney taught in several Texas school districts. She settled in Baytown, where she was active in the community, before marrying Don Faust, owner of Faust Distributing, and moving to Houston.

This year, Sidney is chaplain for the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary and president of the River Oaks Rose Club, among many other charitable commitments. “My husband’s love and constant support make all my endeavors possible,” she says. Her family is all-encompassing, as she includes, “three stepchildren, grandchildren, two bearded collies and treasured friends.”

“Treasured friends,” accurately describes Sidney Faust and Cora Sue Mach. Where such friendship exists, everyone is blessed — so let us all be thankful!

Keep ‘Em Flying

November 1, 2006 by  
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The Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston brings history to life

You can smell the motor oil as the ground crew hustles to get the giant war machine ready for takeoff. As they finish, the crew chief signals the pilot, who gives a thumbs-up and speaks into his radio. Then the bomber’s four 1,200-horsepower, radial-piston engines come roaring to life, and the B-17 Flying Fortress moves down the runway, gaining speed until it finally lifts off. It’s not what most people would consider a typical day at the museum.

“The thing that distinguishes us from other museums of our type is that we have living airplanes. It’s not a dead museum,” says Larry Gregory, president of the Lone Star Flight Museum. Located at the Galveston International Airport near Moody Gardens, the museum houses a collection of more than 40 historically significant aircraft in working order. “That’s the key: that you can see these 60-plus-year-old machines still flying. When you come to the museum, oftentimes you’ll see us working on them.”

Flying high
The museum is also home to the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, which commemorates individuals for their significant contributions to the development, growth or preservation of aviation. Among the 53 Texans currently honored in the hall are Alan Bean, the only Texan to walk on the moon; John Young, commander of the first space shuttle mission; aviation pioneer Howard Hughes; and barnstormer Bessie Coleman, who is recognized as America’s first black aviatrix.

Some Hall of Fame inductees are more famous for their achievements outside the cockpit. These include Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, President George H.W. Bush and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, all of whom flew in combat during World War II. “We try to cover the full gamut of aviation,” says Gregory. “It’s not just astronauts, it’s not just war heroes; it’s engineers, it’s entrepreneurs, and it’s barnstormers.”

Bright skies
The Hall of Fame will induct four new members on Saturday, Nov. 11. Festivities will begin at 6 p.m. with a cocktail reception and will continue with dinner and the induction ceremony. On Nov. 12, the fun continues with Fly Day, the museum’s last flying event of the year.

Fly Day is pretty much like any other day at the Flight Museum, except that many of the museum’s World War II planes — including the B-17 and B-25 bombers; the SBD Dauntless dive bomber; and the Spitfire, Hellcat and Corsair fighters — will be taking off and landing continuously throughout the afternoon. Gregory says that Fly Day does not feature aerobatics like the air show that the museum hosts each spring, but it is a chance for the public to tour the museum and see these magnificent flying machines in action.

The Lone Star Flight Museum and Texas Aviation Hall of Fame are open every day of the year except Christmas. On Fly Day, the museum will open at 9 a.m., and the planes will fly from noon through mid-afternoon.

Lone Star Flight Museum
2002 Terminal Drive, Galveston
(409) 740-7722
www.lonestarflight.org

A Texas-Size Feast

November 1, 2006 by  
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Thousands expected at annual Thanksgiving meal

How would you like to share an intimate Thanksgiving dinner with thousands of your closest friends? If helping others is your way of giving thanks, join your neighbors in volunteering to make Thanksgiving a little brighter for less fortunate Houstonians. A tradition that is now in its 28th year, the City Wide Club of Clubs’ annual Thanksgiving Feast will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23.

When the club first began the project of giving holiday meals to poverty-stricken Houstonians in 1978, the meals were prepared in people’s homes. As the event grew over the years, larger facilities, such as hotels, were needed to accommodate the crowds. When the event outgrew those venues, it moved to the convention center. Between 35,000 and 40,000 people are expected to attend this year’s feast.

Everyone who comes is welcomed, fed and encouraged to apply for services that the organization provides year-round. “We offer so much more than just food at the feast,” explains Stephanie Lewis, project director for CWCC. “There is medical assistance available. We have information on housing, employment opportunities and educational opportunities.” Lewis adds that food baskets with two or three days’ worth of provisions will be available for people to take home after the gathering. “We try to address everything that we can while we have everybody in one spot.”

CWCC was founded in 1975 and chartered in 1985. The organization strives to provide services for the less fortunate, such as rent and utility assistance, clothing, job training, and tutoring and recreation after-school programs for children. Though assistance is offered at several locations throughout Houston, the City Wide Club of Clubs’ headquarters is the community center at 3229 Hadley in the Third Ward.

Past volunteer servers have included Mayor Bill White, Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, and President George H.W. Bush. You can volunteer to set up or serve meals by calling (713) 752-2582 or (713) 528-4712. As a volunteer, you will be invited to partake in this special meal. You can schedule to work a shift anytime between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, so you won’t have to miss your own family gathering.

Dickens on the Strand, Wilde in the Streets

November 1, 2006 by  
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Oscar Wilde once journeyed deep in the heart of Texas — But apparently total absence makes the heart grow fonder

© Clifford Crouch, 2006

ON A SUNDAY MORNING IN JUNE 1882, drowsy readers opened their copies of the Galveston Daily News to find the following announcement:

PAVILION
TO-MORROW EVENING.
ONE NIGHT ONLY.
LECTURE, DECORATIVE ART.
PRICES 50 AND 75 CENTS.

The notice did not even print the name of its star subject but, instead, merely displayed the line-drawn portrait of an elegant, long-haired young man, under which was the scrawled signature: “Yours truly, Oscar Wilde.”

Only 27 years old at the time, the Anglo-Irish literary icon was in the earliest stages of a brilliant, if meteoric, career. (He would be dead at 46.) Wilde, not long out of Oxford, had published but a single, slender volume of poetry the previous year. Yet he was already an international celebrity.

From the very start, Wilde possessed (in the words of one biographer) “a genius for being recognized and talked about.” Indeed, the musical team of Gilbert &Sullivan was sponsoring his visit to the United States as a way to publicize the American production of their latest comic opera, “Patience.” Wilde was popularly viewed as the prototype for the opera’s hero, Bunthorne, an effeminate dandy.

Wilde had arrived in New York on Jan. 2, 1882. As his celebrity grew, his engagements multiplied, and he ultimately wound up spending that entire year speaking throughout the U.S. He toured, however, not so much as a poet, but as a self-appointed apostle of Britain’s so-called Aesthetic Movement, which preached the gospel of “Art for Art’s Sake.”

In April, heading back east after several California speeches, Wilde notified his manager: “I have received a good offer for two months’ light lecturing in the South, which I am anxious to visit.” Arrangements were promptly made. Reporters trailed Wilde about like modern paparazzi. They invariably noted with surprise his height (over six feet), his build (large and “manly”), and his straight, shoulder-length hair.

ON MONDAY, JUNE 19, OSCAR WILDE arrived in Galveston, at that time the state’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, with a population of more than 20,000. San Antonio followed close on its heels, while Houston lagged considerably behind. Wilde had composed a new lecture, “Decorative Art,” for this leg of his tour and would use it in all three cities.

Wilde spoke that evening at the Pavilion — also sometimes called the Electric Pavilion, as it was the first building in the city to be wired for electricity. Unfortunately, there was a problem, or rather more than one, as the Galveston Daily News ruefully confessed the next morning:

A large audience, composed for the most part of ladies, assembled at the Pavilion last night to listen to Mr. Oscar Wilde. Owing to a break in the circuit, the electric light did not illumine the vast building for a length of time. Another disturbing element existed in the presence of a motley crowd of persons intent upon drowning the voice of the lecturer …

Like all the newspapers, the Daily News was more fascinated by Wilde’s clothes than his ideas:

The veritable Oscar … appeared before the audience clad in an elegant attire, the most striking features of which were the knee breeches of the days of our grandfathers, and a profusion of frills.

While his delivery was poor, yet those who could hear what he said give him credit for a thorough familiarity with the topic. He professes to be a strong advocate of high art, and urges its cultivation by all classes …

Wilde next spoke in San Antonio, where he stayed at the Menger, a magnificent hotel still extant and in operation today. Wilde spoke Wednesday evening. The San Antonio Daily Express duly reported on Thursday:

The lecture itself was interesting and was listened to with great attention … [He] recommended the building of beautiful cities and homes in which to dwell, and gave it as his opinion that there were other and greater pleasures in this life than the American plan of pursuing unceasingly the art or struggle of money getting …

Outside of his personal appearance … we can recall nothing to ridicule, even though we were so disposed.

After seeing the sights of San Antonio, including the Alamo (then much neglected), Wilde returned by rail to Houston, where he spoke on Friday, June 23 at Gray’s Opera House, where he was heckled much as he had been in Galveston. The editors of the Houston Daily Post mulled over this strange young British phenomenon and waited until their Sunday edition (June 25) to give their considered critique.

The man is strong in his peculiar way, highly educated, and quite rational as to his principles … [But] Mr. Wilde’s manner is plainly and deplorably bad … Mr. Wilde has not one scintilla of the orator in his composition … no humor — no passion and no beauty, except that of decent and sometimes exquisite language and unquestionable reach of imagination … Therefore, while Mr. Wilde is not in any way an orator, he does possess … ease and elevation of thought, and exceeding beauty in the manipulation of language …

Wilde would depart Texas to the east, continuing his tour of the South through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia over the next several weeks. The poet would be more generous and gracious to Texas than it had been to him. The New Orleans Daily Picayune reported his recollections on Sunday, June 25:

There are in Texas two spots which gave me infinite pleasure. These are Galveston and San Antonio. Galveston, set like a jewel in a crystal sea, was beautiful. Its fine beach, its shady avenues of oleander, and its delightful sea breezes were something to be enjoyed. It was in San Antonio, however, that I found more to please me in the beautiful ruins of the old Spanish mission churches and convents, and in the relics of Spanish manners and customs impressed upon the people and the architecture of that city …

OSCAR WILDE WOULD LEAVE AMERICA for Europe at the close of December 1882. Over the next decade, he secured his literary reputation with the novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray;” a handful of marvelous fairy tales for children, such as “The Selfish Giant” and “The Happy Prince;” and, finally, a series of sparkling stage comedies, including “Lady Windermere’s Fan” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

At last, in 1895, grown arrogant with literary and social success, Wilde inexplicably insisted on becoming embroiled in a horrific sexual scandal. Legal proceedings that Wilde himself initiated soon boomeranged back upon him; and after three nasty trials — in court and in public opinion — he was found guilty of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor in an English prison. Emerging with his health and social reputation ruined, Wilde went into self-imposed exile on mainland Europe, finally settling in Paris. He managed to complete a last masterpiece, a poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol;” and then he died on Nov. 30, 1900, shortly after being baptized into the Catholic faith.

Despite the fall of their creator, Wilde’s literary works have never lost their reputation, nor their ability to charm and thrill. Oscar Wilde remains one of the most quoted writers in the English language; his witticisms and aphorisms are often echoed: “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” “I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.” “Experience is the name everyone gives to his mistakes.” “I can resist everything except temptation.” “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”

All of this serves to explain why Galveston will shortly observe its 33rd annual celebration of literary genius — by which I mean, of course, “Dickens on the Strand,” a festival that pays perennial tribute to “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”

ON THE SPECTRUM OF HISTORICAL REALITY, Dickens on the Strand rests hazily somewhere between the faithful recreation of Virginia’s “Colonial Williamsburg” and the make-believe world of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride.

While Charles Dickens did indeed visit the United States, he never came close to Galveston. During his first (and sole extensive) tour of North America, in 1842, the novelist only once came within several hundred miles of it, when he stopped in Cairo, Illinois, on the banks of the Mississippi. Dickens later described the riverside town in his 1843 travel book, “American Notes:”

A breeding place of fever, ague, and death … A dismal swamp, on which the half-built houses rot away … the hateful Mississippi circling and eddying before it, and turning off upon its southern course a slimy monster hideous to behold; a hotbed of disease, an ugly sepulchre, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise; a place without one single redeeming quality, in earth or air or water, to commend it: such is this dismal Cairo …

Dickens also described the people he encountered there in this fashion, in a private letter to his British friend John Forster: “The people here are exceedingly obliging. Their demeanour in these country parts is invariably morose, sullen, clownish, and repulsive …” Perhaps it is just as well, all things considered, that Charles Dickens never visited Galveston. He might have made the 1900 hurricane seem charitable in comparison.

AND SO GALVESTON does not possess a factual claim upon Dickens. As it happens, Galveston’s heyday as a Southern metropolis did span the 19th century, but little of the magnificent historical architecture that adorns the present-day city actually dates from Dickens’ lifetime. Most of early Galveston was constructed of wood, rather than brick or stone; and over the course of the 1800s, repeated hurricanes and fires destroyed large sections of the seaport, finally climaxed by the catastrophic 1900 hurricane. While the majority of what still stands may be loosely termed “Victorian-era” architecture, the reign of Queen Victoria was a uniquely long one, running from 1837 to 1901.

Indeed, the Dickens on the Strand festival was created “with affection beaming in one eye, and calculation shining out of the other” (to quote the master himself, in “Martin Chuzzlewit”). It was, from the start, intended as a way to save Galveston’s deteriorating architecture. The first festival, in 1974, was simply called “an Old English Christmas and Hanukkah party.” But the term “Old English” fails to tug at the heartstrings as the name of Dickens does, with its inevitable reminder of that most popular of holiday stories, “A Christmas Carol” — for Dickens on the Strand is finally not about Dickens at all, but about Christmas.

A cynic — that is, someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing — might suggest that Dickens on the Strand is finally about tourism dollars as well, since Galveston gets a major economic boost from the festival each fall. But I would scarcely venture to imply such a cold-hearted sentiment at this time of year, for fear of being labeled a Scrooge.

I WOULD, HOWEVER, draw the kind reader’s attention back to the tragic figure of Oscar Wilde, and to a private letter the young Wilde sent to an American friend, Julia Ward Howe, on July 6, 1882. He exulted:

I write to you from the beautiful, passionate, ruined South, the land of magnolias and music, of roses and romance … living chiefly on credit, and on the memory of some crushing defeats. And I have been to Texas, right to the heart of it, and stayed with Jeff Davis at his plantation (how fascinating all failures are!), and seen Savannah, and the Georgia forests, and bathed in the Gulf of Mexico, and engaged in Voodoo rites with the Negroes, and am dreadfully tired and longing for an idle day …

Surely if we on the Texas Gulf Coast are big-hearted enough to honor annually “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” we can also manage, somehow, to celebrate a Wilde weekend now and then.

What a Colorful Life

November 1, 2006 by  
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Cultural event produces temporary masterpieces and enduring impact

Remember Bert from “Mary Poppins”? Every day, it seems like Bert has a new job – a one-man-band one day, a chimney sweep another – but the business that leads to the most fantastic adventure is when he serves as a street painter. This is where Mary and the children are able to take a “Jolly Holiday.”

What you may not know is that the art of street painting started in Italy in the 16th century. Temporary chalk paintings constructed by transient artists for tips at the foot of cathedrals and in piazzas were meant for the public and, many times, represented Catholic images. These beautiful masterpieces have been documented by authors and in newspapers for centuries, but weather and technologies of the time prevented the actual artwork from being recorded.

Known as madonnari (for their subject matter), street painters have come into the 21st century, expanding their focus, improving their painting mediums and photographing their work for posterity – but because of the nature of the canvas, madonnari continue to travel from festival to festival and town to town to showcase their work. The Association of Madonnari was formed to unite these talented painters, and the annual Garzie di Curtatone street painting competition in Northern Italy was founded in the early 1970s to expose this ancient form of art and the artists that continue to practice it.

If a holiday in Italy this summer is out of the question, you can experience these magical creations in Houston. This month marks the city’s first-ever Via Colori festival downtown. Showcasing more than 150 local and regional artists the weekend of Nov. 18-19, Via Colori invites visitors to embark on their own pictorial adventure at Sam Houston Park and along Allen Parkway. Intent on attracting both art enthusiasts and families, this free fall festival should prove wonderfully entertaining with everything from innovative street paintings to live music, food and drink venues to children’s activities, and a Saturday night Street Party. Intended to be an annual affair, this year’s festival features local painter John Palmer. Additionally, the event benefits The Center for Hearing and Speech, raising funds for the nonprofit organization, as well as awareness for children’s hearing impairments.

“We chose Via Colori after doing a lot of research,” says Lori Grubbs, manager of community relations for The Center for Hearing and Speech. “It is a new and unique event that can reach a broad range of people from all walks of life. It’s such a perfect fit for Houston, which is a festival city and has a wonderful art community.”

In addition to providing a distinct cultural experience, the center hopes to make a difference in the community by educating visitors about hearing problems in children. “One of our biggest challenges is that a lot of people don’t know that children with hearing loss can learn to listen and talk if it’s diagnosed early, so this was a great way to raise those funds and awareness,” Grubbs adds. “We’re really excited about the event for what it is offering and what it’s going to bring to Houston.”

Happy to head up the list of notable artists, Houston native John Palmer is eager to not only showcase his art, but also help The Center for Hearing and Speech in their mission. Completing a canvas work and recreating the image at the festival in a 12-foot-by-12-foot format, Palmer created “The Sound of Art” specifically for The Center for Hearing and Speech and Via Colori. “I like, every year, to pick one charity to focus on, so this is the charity for me that I wrapped my time around,” he says. “And I had a speech problem as a child, so this had even more meaning for me.” Previously chosen as the feature artist for The Periwinkle Foundation’s Making a Mark endeavor with Texas Children’s Hospital, Palmer strives to encourage children to enrich their lives through creative expression. Using bright colors in a free form, he describes his works as escapism and admits that his energetic style is continually evolving as he proceeds to grow as an artist. “I do what I do because I want to affect people in a positive way,” Palmer adds.

Not only will festival-goers be able to see original pieces from Palmer and other painters, but they will also experience the process that the artists undergo to create these temporary works. On Saturday morning at 10, the gates of the festival will open, and the artisans will start their masterpieces. Every lap through the grounds will allow guests to see the progress of the creation, from sketches to final representations. With some street canvases stretching 10-feet-by-10-feet, these paintings should prove a uniquely monumental outdoor gallery.

Young attendees will also be able to join the whimsy at the Via Bambini area of the festival. With age-appropriate and hands-on activities, kids are sure to develop their creativity and imagination. In fact, parents can purchase 2-foot-by-2-foot squares for their little sidewalk artists to compose their own masterpieces, with proceeds going to The Center for Hearing and Speech.

Visit www.viacolori.com/houston for more information on this spectacular event. With so many unique artistic options, plenty of fun, and proceeds benefiting such a wonderful charity, the only word to describe Via Colori comes from Mary Poppins herself: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

“Good evening, friends. I’m Dave Ward.” Local TV anchor celebrates 40 years of delivering the news

October 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Thus begins another 6 o’clock news broadcast on Channel 13, and yet another record set. On Nov. 9, 2006, Ward will have been on KTRK for 40 years. “As best as anyone can determine, I’ve been doing the same news show on the same station longer than anyone in the history of American television,” says Ward. In an industry where some contracts are as short as six weeks, Ward has survived three changes in station ownership, countless general managers, co-anchors, two really bad accidents and, recently, a colon operation.

He has reported space shots, presidential elections and trail rides. He’s covered earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, reported from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua and Columbia, and covered the Vietnam Peace Talks in Paris.

Ward has been delivering the nightly news ever since the days of one black-and-white camera operated by a lone cameraman, to several cameras each handled by one person to today’s four robot cameras worked by Brian Wood, who sits all alone behind a console, moving the cameras quietly around the studio floor like so many R2-D2s creeping in and out, up and down, even pre-programmed to catch the right shot.

In a chilly studio, Ward, 67, sits there behind a desk, as opposed to standing or walking around while delivering the news, which is a current fad, talking in a quiet, professional manner. This obviously suits Houstonians because Channel 13’s 6 and 10 p.m. news consistently are the top-rated news shows in town, although competition is creeping up. More about that right after this word.

The program begins with Ward reading the headlines, then his co-anchor, Gina Gaston, adds to the information. Next, they go to a field reporter. It is not noticeable when watching a TV news show at home, but the anchors actually speak very little, rather acting as introducers, segueing from a car wreck to the weather, from a commercial break to national news. “And here with that story is …”

During those short breaks from being on the air, Ward and Gaston are busily checking notes, talking to each other or the floor manager, or getting updates on last-minute changes — mild chaos. “I’ve got … page … where’s page …” Ward says, frowning as he busily sorts through copy. “He likes to have all his ducks in a row,” says Wood, the camera operator. “Tonight we’ve got a lot of late-breaking stuff.” Ward is back on the air so smoothly the viewer would have thought he’d just been taking a nap.

He does not write his own script, but he works on it. “We’ve got producers and associate producers, but I have to rewrite most of it,” Ward says. “You’d be surprised at some of the crap they put in. If it doesn’t make sense to me, it isn’t going to make sense to the viewer. When it leaves me, it’s gone.”

He tosses to Ed Brandon, who does the weather standing in front of a huge blank lime-green sheet, looking at TV monitors to his right. Brandon, who, moments before, was checking a battery of radar screens and computer ribbons of type, catches the toss and smoothly slides into his delivery. The mark of a pro is to make the difficult look easy.

Marvin Zindler comes on with his famous restaurant report. He introduces the spot, which is on tape and will be played again for the 10 o’clock show. When the magical “slime in the ice machine” line comes on, Zindler still laughs. The line is still funny. More stories from reporters in the field, then Tim Melton comes on with the sports. It is not evident on TV, but Melton is a very large, powerfully built man. He could suit up for the Texans. Melton is the only one on camera who doesn’t use a Teleprompter. “I started out in Pennsylvania where we didn’t have Teleprompters, so I worked without them,” Melton says. “The good point is, if they ever break, I never know it.”

Eyewitness News at 6 p.m., unlike the shows on KPRC and KHOU, lasts an hour. “The longest hour on television,” Ward says. Zindler adds, “It’s cheaper to do an hour of news than half an hour and pay for some other show like Channel 11.” KHOU shows “Wheel of Fortune,” KPRC has “Entertainment Tonight” and Fox Channel 26 shows “The Simpsons.”

How Ward got to Houston and to Channel 13 is circuitous. David Henry Ward was born in Dallas, although his family didn’t live there. “My mother wanted to give birth in a major hospital, so she went to Dallas.” His father was a Baptist minister who moved his family around East Texas, eventually becoming minister of the First Baptist Church in Huntsville.

Young Dave began his radio career with KGKB radio in Tyler while attending Tyler Junior College. Three years later, he joined the staff of WACO radio in Waco as a staff announcer. “WACO is the only radio station in America whose call letters are the city’s name,” Ward notes. A year later he became that station’s program director.

“At that station, I was a DJ spinning Vaughn Monroe and Elvis,” he says. “The station’s news director was Bob Vandiventer, who taught radio news writing at Baylor University. He would bring some of his students to the station to get hands-on training, and I would see these five or six people in the news department busy, all inspired, having a great time, while I was across the glass just spinning those records. And I thought, ‘That looks better,’ so I got into the news side, but I never finished college.”

In 1962 Ward came to Houston as the first full-time news reporter for KNUZ/KQUE. “Growing up in Huntsville, it was almost like coming home.” His Houston broadcasting debut was as a night news reporter for KNUZ/KQUE radio. Ward’s career at KTRK began in 1966 as an on-the-street reporter/photographer.

“I was hired in a pool hall,” Ward says. “I was working at KNUZ, and a friend at Channel 13 told me there was an opening there. Would I be interested? So I met with the top people at the station, General Manager Willard Walbridge, Program Manager Howard Finch and News Director Ray Conaway at Le Que, a pool hall, where they went for lunch several days a week and to shoot some pool. I was hired then and there. The station only had eight people in the newsroom back then. Today, we have about 120. I took a pay cut from about $650 a week at KNUZ to $575 at KTRK. My father was not that enthusiastic about my move. He asked me, ‘This television thing — are you sure it’s going to work?'”

After his stint as a street reporter, early in 1967 he began to anchor Channel 13’s weekday 7 a.m. newscast. Later that year, he became the first host of a game show, “Dialing for Dollars,” which later evolved into “Good Morning Houston.” In January of 1968, Ward was promoted to co-anchor of the weekday 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts with Dan Ammerman.

“At the time, Ron Stone was on Channel 11, and they had 50 percent of the audience,” recalls Ward. “We were hot, and we said, ‘We’re gonna kill them.’ No, we were a poor third, but we slowly climbed up in the ratings. Ammerman left, and I inherited the anchor slot solo. By ’72, we were getting there. When Jack Heard was elected sheriff in 1972, the first thing he did, on New Year’s Day, was to fire Marvin Zindler. We had the story at 6. Marvin had been in the Consumer Fraud Division of the sheriff’s department, and I told our assistant news director, ‘We ought to hire that guy as a consumer fraud reporter.’ No other station in town, and maybe in the nation, had someone assigned to only that. I asked Marvin if he’d like to come here and basically do the same thing. He said, ‘Dave, there’s nothing I’d rather do.’ When Marvin came aboard, we took off.”

By 1973, Channel 13 was No. 1 in this market. It held that spot through ’76, ’77 and ’78, and on through the years — a dynasty in the TV biz. “Last November, I think Channel 11 beat us, but I’m not sure,” Ward says. “We’ve lost a little of our identity.” Over the years, Ward has co-anchored with Shara Fryer, Jan Carson and now Gaston.

The current crew of co-workers is long-time current. Ward, as noted, has been with KTRK 40 years. Melton came to the station in 1981, 25 years ago. Brandon has been the station’s meteorologist for 34 years. Bob Allen in sports came to work at KTRK 32 years ago. Elma Barrera just left full-time after 34 years, but will stay on in community affairs. Gaston is the new kid on the block: she’s been with station since 1992, on the evening news for four years.

In 1974, Ward suffered a motorcycle accident at the Astrodome during a charity race. He broke his pelvis in four places, had a concussion and much, much more. “I was in the hospital for seven weeks and received between 40,000 and 60,000 notes. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I answered them all.” In 2003, he was in a car wreck — crashed into an out-of-control SUV on the West Loop and broke his right leg. Last June, Ward and his wife attended a wedding, got food poisoning and Ward was out for two weeks. Then in July, a long-simmering abdominal pain turned out to be diverticulitis. He underwent major surgery and was away for two weeks.

Not that anyone should feel sorry for the anchorman. Ward makes a good living. “I once thought that it would be good to make six figures, $100,000 or more, a year. Today, I pay more than that to Uncle Sam. Houston has always been a low-paying TV market. That’s because we don’t have unions. Thank God. But when we were owned by Cap Cities, which was based in Albany, NY, they used to refer to Houston as ‘the Plantation’ because we all worked for so little.”

He lives about 15 minutes from the station, near Woodway off Sage, with Laura, his third wife. “We just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary.” Ward has four children from his previous marriages. Laura has three. He used to smoke cigarettes and cigars, beginning at the age of 14. “Then, I quit, until one day Marvin came in smoking the most wonderful smelling cigar, and I started all over again. But I quit again in February.”

Ward says his is basically a 3 to 11 p.m. job. He starts his day watching all the local TV news, gets to the station about 3 p.m. and starts working on the 6 o’clock show. “By the time Dave gets on the air,” says one staffer, “he’s practically memorized the script.” He tries to change the show for the 10 o’clock version, especially the lead story. “Often we have three or four new spots to run,” he says.

Home by 11, it’s hard to go from giving the news to going to sleep, the adrenaline is pumping. “I have a drink, one drink, usually vodka. I don’t drink wine. Then, I watch Turner Movie Classics or the History Channel, maybe the Military Channel.” By 1:30 or 2 a.m., he’s asleep. And, as Ward would say, “Thank you for being with us, and good night.”

Focus on Fertility

October 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Edit

The path to parenthood often requires the helping hands of caring specialists

While blindness affects more than one million Americans age 40 and older, the number of visually impaired in this country totals more than 3.4 million. Furthermore, the number of Americans with age-related eye disease or consequential vision impairment is expected to double within the next three decades. With such a rapidly increasing figure, eye disease and vision loss is undoubtedly emerging as a major public health problem. Engaging in annual eye examinations can lead to the prevention and/or delay of eye diseases that can result in blindness, especially for those individuals with diabetes, age 65 and older, or African Americans older than 40.

What is ophthalmology?
Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine encompassing the anatomy, function and diseases of the eye. Often referred to as “Eye M.D.s,” ophthalmologists are trained physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating eye and vision problems, including vision services and surgery. Not to be confused with an optometrist (a Doctor of Optometry), an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor, or M.D., who has completed four years of medical school, a year-long internship and a minimum of three years of residency training in ophthalmology. Optometrists complete a pre-professional undergraduate college education followed by four years of professional education in a college of optometry. Some optometrists also fulfill a residency program.

Cornea and external disease
Ophthalmologists focusing on cornea and external disease diagnose and handle diseases of the cornea, sclera, conjunctiva and eyelids, including corneal dystrophies, microbial infections, conjunctival and corneal tumors, inflammatory processes and anterior ocular manifestations of systematic diseases. Ophthalmologists in this field often perform corneal transplant surgery or corneal surgery to correct refractive errors.

Glaucoma
One of the most common causes of preventable vision loss, glaucoma is a group of eye diseases resulting from intraocular pressure levels that damage the optic nerve and nerve fibers that form parts of the retina in the back of the eye. Individuals that suffer from glaucoma often experience no symptoms until they begin to lose part of their peripheral vision. Although visual loss is most often permanent and irreversible, many cases can be treated by prescription drugs, laser therapies and surgery. Increased intraocular pressure and the state of the optic nerve head are only detectable during an eye examination performed by an ophthalmologist.

LASIK
LASIK is a surgical procedure that is performed to correct nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism. Permanently removing corneal tissue to reshape the eye in order to improve refraction, LASIK is a fairly safe procedure for permanent vision correction — with only a 2 percent intra-operative and 3 to 5 percent post-operative complication rate. More than 90 percent of patients with low to moderate myopia achieve 20/40 vision, while more than half achieve 20/20 vision or better.

Neuro-ophthalmology
While more than half of the brain is used for vision-related activities, vision problems can often be caused by the optic nerve or the nervous system. Neuro-ophthalmologists evaluate patients from a neurologic, ophthalmologic and medical standpoint to diagnose and care for a wide range of problems, including optic nerve problems, visual field loss, visual disturbances, double vision, abnormal eye movements, thyroid eye disease, unequal pupil size and eyelid abnormalities.

Do your research
The American Board of Ophthalmology can provide an abundance of credible resources to utilize if you are seeking the services of an ophthalmologist. Prospective patients may find out if an ophthalmologist is certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology by visiting www.abms.org or by contacting 1 (866) ASK-ABMS.

Please click on the following links to view each Top Fertility Doctor’s profile and/or visit their website.

Houston Eye Associates
www.houstoneye.com

Rosa A. Tang, M.D., MPH
www.neuroeye.com

Rocky Mountain High

October 1, 2006 by  
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Rest, relaxation and rejuvenation await you in the Colorado mountains

Just on the outskirts of Vail and Beaver Creek on Highway 70 outside of Denver is the sleepy area of Cordillera. Known for great golf in the summer and easy access to multiple ski resorts in the winter, The Lodge &Spa at Cordillera is a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Spa
The Avanyu Spa has undergone amazing renovations in the last two years, but you’ll be happy to know it’s still conveniently located on the first level. (Read: Put your robe on, and head down.) Get up early to start your day off right — yoga’s morning salutations welcome you with breathtaking mountain views.

You simply can’t miss the Spirit of Cordillera signature treatment. It’s a wrap, but in the best sense of the word. (Typically, wraps start with a scrub and are interrupted by a shower — totally waking you up and risking negation of the soothing effect of the rub.) The purpose of this treatment is to re-moisturize the skin, so you begin with a bee nectar rub. Then, the blankets around you become a heated wrap as the technician begins a 25-minute scalp massage. What a great way to revitalize your entire body. Talk about paradise!

Eat
A unique take on meals, the Mirador offers the entire menu as a tasting menu. Whether you are interested in appetizers or an entrée, you can try anything — a little or a lot. Try it all — the portions are negotiable! I started with beef Carpaccio with a warm haystack goat cheese cake, arugula salad, spiced pecans and chipotle aioli — for an appetizer. For the main course, the herb-crusted sea bass with ravioli and the Colorado lamb T-bone with fennel-roasted spring vegetables, marscapone polenta and roasted garlic hit the spot.

Explore
The mountains here are fabulous and can be viewed one-on-one by taking a Jeep tour. You’ll experience 14,000-foot peaks; and you can use the dust from the Aspen Pine trees as sunscreen!

Essentials:

The Lodge &Spa at Cordillera
2205 Cordillera Way
Edwards, CO 81632
1 (866) 650-ROCK
www.cordillera.rockresorts.com

Mirador at The Lodge &Spa at Cordillera
(970) 926-2200

Nova Guides Inc.
1 (888) 949-NOVA
www.novaguides.com

Texas Wine Country

October 1, 2006 by  
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Wine tours with a bit of Texas charm

A little more than two hours from Houston, on the outskirts of Austin, is the charming little town of Marble Falls. This is a great home base for a couple days of imbibing at some of Texas’ most quaint wineries in the Texas Hill Country. The state’s wine industry is still in its infancy, so Houstonians may not realize that good wine is so close to home. Advocates of the Texas wine movement remind us to “dance with the one who brung ya.” Here in wine country, they interpret this to mean “Drink Texas Wines.”

Sleep
The Marriott tower is a new addition to the Horseshoe Bay Resort. This spectacular destination is perfectly complemented with an amazing putting course that includes waterfalls, pyramids and temples. It’s called the Whitewater Putting Course and putting is definitely a privilege, as you are surrounded by parrots and flamingos. There are also two resort pools for the family to enjoy. In addition, the Marriott has a luxury motor coach to take you from winery to winery in first class, air-conditioned comfort. What more could you want from a weekend getaway?

Tour and Sip
Lost Creek Vineyard &Winery
Winemaker David Brinkman started making wine at home as a hobby. In 1999, his friends urged him to plant a few vines. What sprouted was a full-fledged business with cabernet sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. His 2002 Vintner’s Reserve Shiraz was a Texas Champion at the Houston Livestock Show &Rodeo, where a six-liter bottle of it was auctioned for charity and garnered $17,000.

Fall Creek Vineyards
Established in 1975 by Texas businessman and rancher, Ed Auler, and his wife, Susan, Fall Creek is located northwest of Austin. After traveling to France, the couple noticed similarities in the French soil and the soil on their own ranch. Additionally, they knew the warm days and cool breezes off of Lake Buchanan would provide an excellent climate for growing grapes. To date, the winery has planted chardonnay, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, semillon, Johannisberg Riesling, Shiraz, Tempranillo, Voignier and malbec. In the last decade, a focus on red wines has led to the production of Meritus, a super-premium red wine.

Flat Creek Estate
You can produce good wine in Texas, and the people at Flat Creek Estate are out to prove it. The Tuscan-style grounds recently welcomed a new event center that is perfect for weddings and corporate events. They are currently growing nearly 20 acres of Italian, Rhône and Portuguese port grape varietals.

Essentials:
Horseshoe Bay Resort Marriott
200 Hi Circle North
Horseshoe Bay, TX 70657
1 (830) 598-8600

Lost Creek Vineyard &Winery
1129 RR 2233
Sunrise Beach, TX 78643
(325) 388-3753
www.lostcreekvineyard.com

Fall Creek Vineyards
1820 County Road 222
Tow, TX 78672
(325) 379-5361
www.fcv.com

Flat Creek Estate
24912 Singleton Bend East Road
Marble Falls, TX 78654
(512) 267-6310
www.flatcreekestate.com

The Sweetest Notes

October 1, 2006 by  
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A generous spirit makes a happy home in Houston

The voice is so pure and the scene so memorable that it spawns three generations of opera lovers. Picture a young boy, about five years old, playing in the streets of New York City in 1920. It is evening. Suddenly, Metropolitan Opera star Enrico Caruso gives an impromptu performance from the back of a carriage. It is so spellbinding that the young boy is mesmerized and becomes a lifelong opera fan. That young boy, Tommy Coohill, is the father of Houston opera lover Eileen Hricik.

“My father loved opera, though he never got to see one.” Tommy just didn’t have time, with trying to earn a living and raise two young daughters. Then, at age 49, time ran out. Tommy died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Eileen reveals that it happened, “two months before my wedding — quite an awful shock for all of us.”

Besides her father’s love of singing, records and the retelling of how fabulous Caruso was that long-ago evening, there is another event that solidified Eileen’s love for opera. “Another vivid-beyond-belief memory is of sitting at one of my cousin’s houses on a Sunday night, watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,'” she says. “Ed introduced a singer who had just had a major triumph at The Met. As she sang, I had chills and remember thinking that the human voice couldn’t possibly make the beautiful sounds she was making. She was, of course, Joan Sutherland, singing the mad scene from ‘Lucia.'”

Benvenuto, Anthony!
Fast forward to the mid 1980s, and the story gets better. She is asked by the Houston Grand Opera to be Joan Sutherland’s host. “My husband followed me to the airport when I went to meet her plane, as he thought I might faint,” she says. “Joan and her husband, Ricky Bonynge, are now treasured friends.”

Eileen, a Houston Grand Opera board member since 1986, and her husband, George, will chair the Oct. 21 Opening Night Gala. The theme is “Benvenuto, Anthony!” It is designed as a welcome for HGO’s new executive director, Anthony Freud. Eileen is enthusiastic about the opera company’s future under Freud.

“He has a vision that is fascinating, a resume that is overwhelming, a connection with everyone in the world of opera and an excitement about being here in Houston that I find delightful and infectious,” she says.

Eileen is adding a new feature to the Opening Night Gala, a reduced ticket price for members of HGO’s Young Professional Group (age 40 and younger). Eileen knows that generation well, as her three opera-loving sons are all in their 30s.

A woman of distinction
Eileen understands Anthony Freud’s excitement about becoming a Houstonian. She and George moved here in 1966. Her love of Houston was, admittedly, not instant. “I was terribly lonely,” she remembers. “George worked incredibly long hours.”

But, Eileen was not foreign to being the new kid on the block. She attended seven different elementary schools, as her parents jostled back and forth, living in New York City, where her father worked, and in the ‘burbs of New Jersey, as her mother, Rita, wanted. Finally, the suburbs won.

Putting her degree in education from Montclair State College in Montclair, N.J., to work, she taught at Houston’s Sherman Elementary. The job was instrumental in helping her get over the “moving blues,” and her career changed from teacher to mom as Eileen and George welcomed three sons in fairly rapid succession.

“I was always very involved volunteering in their schools — I chaired the St. John’s Book Fair when my oldest was in the fourth grade and have just gone on to organize lots of events since then,” she says.

So many, in fact, that in 1996 Eileen’s volunteering was honored when she was named “A Woman of Distinction” at the 1996 Winter Ball, a major fundraiser for the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America.

Baseball and history
Eileen has two more passions — baseball and historic preservation.

When she was 10 years old and living in Brooklyn, the Dodgers won the World Series — and she witnessed the celebration first-hand. “It was very exciting, very joyous,” Eileen says. “I so wish that my father could see Minute Maid Park and know that we are very involved with the Astros.”

Her love of historic preservation comes from her maternal grandfather. “My grandfather was a ‘pied piper,'” she says. During summers in the Berkshires, he would gather as many of his 27 grandchildren as were around and take them on a walk.

“We all followed at his heels because he was so much fun,” she recalls. “His stories about the history of New York were incredible — probably why I am so interested in historic preservation to this day.” Eileen currently serves as president of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

Becoming a Houstonian
Eileen realized she wanted to make Houston her permanent home seven years after they had moved here. In 1973, she and George had to make the decision to stay or return to New York. Thankfully, they decided to stay.

“I thought then, and still do today, that Houston is probably the most welcoming city in the world,” she says. “If you care about Houston, if you want to become involved, you are welcomed with open arms. People who visit here seem to enjoy Houston — but only people who move here realize this extraordinary warmth.”

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