Joann Crassas: A Laughing Angel

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Blogs

A Laughing Angel
Life’s trials can’t wipe the smile off Joann Crassas’ face

Where Joann Crassas wanders, laughter is sure to follow. Joann sees the humorous side of everything and her humor is never bitter or unkind. Instead of making fun of others, she usually makes fun of herself and her life, which she says is, “the real life version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Born Joann Yianitsas in Beaumont, she is the daughter of Greek immigrants who fluently spoke three languages and could get by in several others.

Her mother sat with Joann for years as the child practiced piano and encouraged her only daughter to excel in music and education.

“[I was] an ugly, awkward child who had to develop a sense of humor and a personality because I wasn’t going to make it in the looks category.” It wasn’t long before a swan emerged from that ugly duckling. At Lamar University, she was elected a campus beauty.

Joann had two brothers both of whom died in their 40s, one of cancer, the other of heart disease. “I’ve seen the devastation that disease causes for families,” she says. “My mother suffered terribly over the loss of her sons, and, my father died relatively young and suddenly.”

The Determined Suitor
Bill Crassas, a New York businessman of Greek heritage, had heard for years about the beautiful Greek belle from Beaumont who could sing, play the piano, and had a master’s degree in education.

“He tells me, ‘I never dreamed it would all be true,'” she says.

On a trip to New York, a business associate of her father invited Joann and her mother to dinner and introduced them to Bill Crassas.

“He made me laugh,” she remembers. “But, I wasn’t interested. He wasn’t my type.”

However, there are two sides to every story. “I was just planning on having a drink and getting out of there,” he says. “I was surprised. Here sat the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and she was funny and intelligent as well. I knew instantly she was the woman I’d marry.”

However, convincing Joann would take some work, especially after the summer of 1961 when she went to Europe.

“That summer was like something out of the movies. I went to Europe with my mother. The Greek community is really tribal,” Joann says. “Everyone knows everyone else. We were guests of Aristotle Onasis in Athens, Maria Callas was on the yacht, and there was a Greek pop singer.”

Three months later, when Joann and her mother returned from Greece, Bill was waiting for them as they got off their plane in New York.

He kept up with her European adventure through a friend who was a CIA agent. Bill had been with the foreign service in Greece in 1954-55 and maintained contacts, who informed him when Joann returned to the States.

Later on, Bill’s father asked Joann in front of Bill and other members of his family, “When are you going to marry my son?” Joann says, “I nearly fell out of my chair. In an off-the-cuff reply I said, ‘Oh, someday,’ and laughed. Well it was no joke to the Crassas family. They all began hugging me and congratulating Bill and bam! We were engaged.”

Bill moved to Houston and opened a branch of the family ship supply business. He burned the freeways traveling back and forth to Beaumont courting Joann while she had doubts about actually getting married.

“For me, marriage was a lifetime commitment and I did not want to get it wrong. I went to church and prayed,” she says. “It was like a cloud lifted, and I knew it was the right thing to do. Until that moment I was headed back to Europe in my mind, back to the jet-set life.”

Still smiling, still helping
Forty-five years, two children and three grandchildren later, Joann remains sure it was the right thing to do. “Bill is still the most entertaining man I’ve ever met. He loves me and he tells me that every day. We laugh all the time and cherish every day we have together. Laughter and God have gotten me through everything,” she explains.

As they smile together, both Joann and Bill have also battled side-by-side together against cancer. Both are now cancer free and sing the praises of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Joann is an incredibly energetic person who has worn many hats over the years. She was a schoolteacher for three years. She was co-producer for the “Texas Today” TV show on Channel 51 for its tenure and spent eight years on Hunter’s Creek City Council. She now works with Personette &Associates as a realtor.

In the world of charity and volunteerism, Joann has worked tirelessly. “I do it for the camaraderie and the cause,” she says.

In January, she was honored as an ABC Channel 13 2007 Woman of Distinction for her volunteerism.

Much of Joann’s volunteer work revolves around medicine and science as she devotes time and energy to Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Houston, Moores School of Music, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony and Ronald McDonald House.

On Nov. 8 at Reliant Center, Joann Crassas, Karan Robinson and Shawn Stephens will co-chair the Saks Fifth Avenue Fashion Show and Luncheon benefiting the Ballet Guild’s Nutcracker Market. For tickets call 713-535-3231.

Also for the Christmas season, Joann is again chairing The Angel Tree program for the Salvation Army. For more information, call the Salvation Army at 713-752-0677. This program provides gifts to needy children and seniors. Angel Trees are located in participating shopping malls as well as businesses and organizations. From the trees, donors select Angel tags, which list the individual’s first name, age, clothing and shoe size, as well as one need and one wish. The donor purchases the Angel’s presents and the Salvation Army ensures they arrive at the Angel’s door. Little will they realize a laughing angel has helped them.

Outer Banks of North Carolina

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Blogs, Edit, Travel Blog

The beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina

By Laurette M. Veres and Kathleen Axtell

They say the sand is forgiving. They say the wind is consistent. They say the conditions are perfect for flying. That’s what Orville and Wilbur Wright knew more than 100 years ago. In 1903, they changed history on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Come to Jockey’s Ridge State Park and experience the thrill of flight just like the Wright Brothers did. Drive down the coast and see one of five light houses that mark the shoreline. Walk along the Atlantic coast and look for sea glass.

Sand Dune

A unique natural phenomenon, the living sand dune that makes up Jockey’s Ridge State Park measures 140 feet high and covers 414 acres. This amazing location is the perfect place for your first hang gliding adventure. Check out Kitty Hawk Kites for training, coaching and a hands-on experience you won’t forget. After the instructional video, it’s time to head out to the dune, strap in, and before you know it, you are up, up and away. At the largest hand gliding school in the US, you are in good hands as you yell “clear,” take three preparatory steps and then run as fast as you can until you are airborne. Seconds feel like hours when you realize your feet aren’t touching the ground and you truly experience the freedom of flying. If you like this beginner adventure, they also offer advance, tandem hand gliding flights at the airport.

Hats Off

If lighthouses float your boat, there are five open for visit in this region. We chose the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the second-oldest lighthouse in America. It also stands the tallest at a proud 208 feet. Get your calves in gear – there 268 steps between you and a panoramic view of Hatteras Island from the top of the lighthouse. At the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, outdoor activities abound such as camping, fishing, hiking, surfing and biking. In a turn of geological events, this lighthouse was moved 1,600 feet inland in 1999 to save it from the ravishing Atlantic Ocean.

Take Off

Pilots, historians and tourists alike are all enthralled by the Wright Brothers National Memorial. With both temporary and permanent exhibits explaining the experiments conducted by the brothers, it’s easy to understand how 12 seconds changed history. Standing on top of the memorial, you look out over the field where the brothers took flight. There are four markers designating the length of the first controlled, powered and sustained human flight. You don’t want to miss the replica of Flyer One at the base of the monument. (The actual Flyer is on display in Washington D.C at the Smithsonian).

Dining in Duck

One of the many beach towns in the Outer Banks, Duck, is home to many fine, albeit casual, dining establishments. Flip flops and shorts are always welcome at The Roadside Raw Bar &Grill; a Duck institution that comes highly recommended by locals. Don’t miss the Shrimp and Grits with red-eye gravy — a detectible Southern dish.

Entertaining the Masses

Up and down Highway 158, the Outer Banks deliver something for every taste. For a down-home breakfast experience, try Stack ‘Em High. Featuring an assortment of breakfast classics inducing biscuits, pancakes and grits; you’ll appreciate the attentive service from the friendly staff. Kelly’s features live music each night, has a dance floor and can accommodate large groups. The dining area is separate from the bar thought the full restaurant menu is available. If you are looking for the epicenter of fun on the Outer Banks, you’ve found it at Kelly’s.

Sunrise Sunset

In the Outer Banks, watching the sunset is a not-to-be-missed, must-be-celebrated event. Fishbone’s Sunset Grille packs ’em in each evening for a walk on their deck and a chance to glimpse yet another perfect sunset.

Essentials:

Kitty Hawk Kites: www.kittyhawk.com 1-877-FLY-THIS

Jockey’s Ridge State Park: www.jockeysridgestatepark.com www.outerbanks.com

Roadside Raw Bar &Grill: www.duckncguide.com

Stack ‘Em High: www.stackemhigh.com

Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet: www.jimmysbuffetobx.com

Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant and Tavern: www.kellysrestaurant.com

Fishbone’s Sunset Grille: www.fishbonessunsetgrille.com

“I Do” to Him, “I Don’t” to the Ring

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

Tips for Houston men ready to take the plunge

OK, he finally did it. He popped the question and just as much as you were overjoyed that he asked, you were disappointed in the ring he presented to you. This is supposed to be the symbol of your love; the representation of the effort that went into building your relationship to this point, symbolizing that you want to be together forever.

Even more than that, when you tell the girls that you are now officially engaged, you know they are going to ask,”Let’s see the ring.”

Of course, you can tell them you wanted to put the money into a house or a bigger, better wedding instead of a ring. They’re not buying it and neither are you.

Guys, you want to buy her the biggest ring in the store because the ring is synonymous with you, but big diamonds are out of most people’s budgets. So what do you do? There are tricks of the trade that can help you get a lot of bling for your buck.

Ring Around the Diamond
When you frame anything, it looks bigger, right? So why not do that to your center diamond? Let’s say you have a one-carat diamond. For just a few dollars more, your jeweler can frame the solitaire in smaller diamonds. Depending on the size of the smaller ones, the jeweler can make that one-carat look more like two or even three if you add another row.

Invisible Setting, Not Invisible Stone
The invisible setting is exactly what it implies. Smaller diamonds are set closer together so that you can not see the “seam” between them, so it looks like one big diamond. If you wanted a two-carat princess cut. Your jeweler can set four half-carats in an invisible setting and no one knows unless they are waaay too close to you. Although there are more diamonds involved, smaller diamonds are cheaper. You can get a big look for less money.

Watch Your Weight
We often talk in terms of one, two, three carats or more. But if you buy just under the carat weight, you can save a lot of money. For example, a .8, 1.8, 2.8, etc. can look just as big as a larger stone, but you don’t pay the full-carat price. Also, certain cuts look bigger, because the weight may be more prominent at the top of the stone.

Or, use two, one-carat trillions (triangle shape) to create a two-carat princess look.

Flaw-velous Diamonds
A perfect diamond is fabulous, but adds significantly to the price. If flaws can’t be seen with the naked eye, is it really a problem? If there is an imperfection that you can see with the naked eye, perhaps you can set it under a prong. Round and princess-cut diamonds reflect light nicely so it’s harder to see flaws. On the other hand, emerald-cuts are much more open and it would be easy to see flaws. To save money on emerald-cuts, you might consider suffering a little on color instead.

A perfect white diamond has a lot of fire and is beautiful, which really adds to the price. As you go down the color chart, a diamond starts to have a yellow cast to it. Your jeweler should work with you under good lighting so you can see the difference.

Family Gathering
Several factors figure into the price of your ring. If you already have some of the goods, why not use them? I had a friend who went to family members and asked if they had old, unwanted jewelry they did not want. From each side of the family, they came up with enough gold and stones to make their rings. The jeweler was able to incorporate some of the stones into their wedding rings. It had great meaning because it was truly the union of two families.

Remember that some jewelers will not work with “scrap” gold for a number of reasons – quality, matching carat weight, etc. Explain to them the significance of using as much of the original material as possible. At the very least, they could pay you what it is worth on the market and apply that to the cost of your rings.

Don’t ask, Don’t tell

If you want a big, fat “looking” ring and none of these tricks will help you get there, then you might consider using a synthetic stone with the promise that on your first, fifth or 10th anniversary it is replaced with a real stone. This is especially wise if you have even the slightest idea this might not work out. I hate to be a pessimist, but I know plenty of couples who got divorced and still had to pay on the rings for years at 20 percent interest!

A real white-gold, yellow-gold or platinum setting can be affordable even with small diamonds enhancing the sides. Using synthetics, your center stone can be as big as you want it and instead of thousands, you’ll pay hundreds or less depending on the size. Keep in mind some shapes sparkle better than others. Just like real diamonds, round and princess cuts reflect light very well. Because they have no flaws, tell the girls it’s a perfect diamond.

Before you try this, make sure she’s OK with it. I can’t tell you how many ladies waltz into the jewelry store to get an insurance appraisal only to learn the stone is fake.

A Girl’s Next Best Friend
They say, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” But what about the other gems? They’re nice too, and they almost always cost less. Princess Diana had a sapphire as her main stone. If it was good enough for a princess … well? A friend of mine is Irish and very proud of her heritage. Her husband gave her an emerald with a diamond on each side.

Not everyone likes colored stones for a wedding ring, so feel her out on this one. If she hates it, your jeweler can always remove the stone and replace it with a diamond or something else, usually while you wait.

Ladies, if you are dating and think he might be getting close to asking, make sure he has a copy of this page tucked in his wallet. Tell him you want to make things easier for him because you love him.

And when the girls ask, “Can we see your ring?” you want to make sure they think well of him. It’s all about him.

Making it Memorable

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

A different take on bridal registry

The Registry
The bridal registry has helped set up plenty of households over the years. In the early days, many people came straight from their parents’ homes when they got married, so they needed towels, bed sheets, toasters, silverware and everything to set up a household. Because many of us are getting married at an older age, that’s not always the case. We’ve been in the workforce and already decorated our homes. For other couples, this is the second, third or fourth (consider therapy) time around or more. So, what do you register for, if anything? Here are some ideas to make sure people really get what they want and what they need.

The All-Expense Paid Honeymoon
They don’t have one already and you know it’s the right color. Best of all, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to help get it. Couples can register their honeymoon because they already have pots and pans and three toasters.

It’s done through a bank and the travel agency. Registry information denotes where a check should be sent. Many times, a pre-addressed and stamped envelope is included. The bride keeps a running tally of how much is given, who gave and the money is protected. If it comes up short, “something” applied to your trip is better than nothing, but most of the time there is money left over.

Thank you cards can be in the form of a picture of you two at your honeymoon destination.

I’ll Drink to That
Do you love wine? Always wanted a wine cellar? Here’s a way to build it quickly: have a “build the wine cellar” event or registry. I actually did this for one of our couple’s showers, but it is also a good idea for a registry. It was neat to see how many people researched the wine they bought. Since it was a gift, people made a point of bringing a really special bottle of wine. Of course, a few of my friends showed up with Ripple, Mad Dog 20/20 and Boone’s Farm. I made sure that’s what they were served at the reception.

Love is Kind
I have several friends who are successful and don’t need a thing. Despite their success, most wedding guests want to celebrate their union by giving gifts. Instead of a bridal registry, they had guests send donations to a center for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Another couple had people send donations in the name of cancer research, since the bride’s mother had passed away from the disease a few months before the wedding. Even when you say, “no gifts please,” many people want to do something. Why not make it benefit someone else in need? After all, love is kind and giving.

A House is not a Home
A house is not a home until you have bought it. Otherwise, it’s a real emotional let down to decorate a house just the way you want it, only to watch your landlord put a “For Sale” sign in the yard and you have to move. The problem is, not everyone can afford a house. One couple I know went to a store for the bridal registry and didn’t really need many of the items available. The bride asked the groom, “What else do we need?” He said, “Nothing. What we really need is a house.” They left the store and registered for their down payment. They received about $50,000. On their first anniversary, they held an open house and treated their guests to a party as a way to say, “Thank you. No gifts please.”

Clay Walker

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

A new album, a new bride, a new life

Multi-platinum country music star Clay Walker has albums that have sold in excess of 10 million copies and placed 31 titles on Billboard’s singles chart. He is one of country’s busiest touring artists. “Fall,” the new single from his eighth album, is quickly moving up the charts. Life may seem good for Walker, but the path has not always been easy. Through perseverance and faith, the country legend still stands tall.

“Growing up in Beaumont was wonderful,” he says. “My mom loved all the soul and R &B music, like Motown; and my dad, who sang and played the guitar, was stone cold country. He taught me to play the guitar. He also bought me a horse when I was two and taught me to ride.”

While the future country crooner excelled in academics, he thought his ticket to fame would be through athletics.

“I was pretty good in school, always in advanced classes; but I loved football and thought I would get a college football scholarship. I was about 16 when I entered a talent contest in the Golden Triangle area (Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange) at Parkdale Mall that lasted three days,” he says. “There must have been 200 acts – singing, dancing – like the Gong Show. I did a demo of a song I’d written for my mom, ‘Lady with a Golden Heart.’ I won, and it was overwhelming; the defining moment of my life!”

When Walker took his demo to a local radio station, he was told that the station’s policy prohibited playing an unsolicited tune. But as he drove away, he heard his song playing on the radio. After as he graduated from high school in 1987, he began to pursue his musical career, singing in local honky-tonks.

“I knew that Mark Chestnut and Tracy Byrd, two other Beaumont artists, started by working there, and I was hoping I could do the same thing,” he recalls.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
In 1992, while singing at the Neon Armadillo Bar in Beaumont, a man named Nolan Simmons walked over to him and said, “That’s the best voice I’ve ever heard. I’m sending someone over to listen to you.”

Within a week, James Stroud, Giant Record’s president, came into the bar. “I hadn’t finished my first set when Mr. Stroud got up and walked out the door,” remembers Walker. “I jumped up and followed him to his car saying, ‘Let me buy you a beer.’ He turned to me and said, ‘I’ve seen all I need to see. Come to Nashville, and let’s get started,”‘ remembers Walker.

Walker can vividly recall recording his self-titled first album.

“I’ve never been so intimidated in my life. I’d performed at concerts where there were 10 – or 15,000 people, but nothing compared to being in that studio,” he says. “I’d written most of the songs. ‘Live Until I Die,’ I wrote for my grandmom and my mom. But, somewhere along the way, I said to James, ‘Something is missing. I don’t feel the best of my energy.’ James left the studio, ran barefooted across the road to the record office and came back with ‘What’s it to You?’ Well, I heard angels singing. That song went straight to No. 1. That was my first experience in the studio.”

SUDDEN IMPACT
Just when Walker seemed to be on top of the world, he began to notice subtle changes in his health — fatigue in his right leg, tingling in his right hand and a tiredness that he had never experienced before. In 1996 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic, autoimmune disease that turns the body’s own defense system into a powerful destructive weapon aimed at the central nervous system.

Walker was devastated. “[I was] a broken man for awhile,” he admits, “I prayed. I remembered that I was raised a Christian; and, if I hadn’t had that faith to fall back on, there’s no telling where I’d be today. Never before was it so clear to me that my faith was not just something I was taught but something to live by. I realized why it was there, and it was powerful. I suddenly knew in my heart and soul that I’d be OK. I’m thankful for my family and friends that prayed for me.”

In search of answers, Walker came to the Bayou City.

“I came home to Houston to find out about MS first hand from the greatest doctors in the world. As you gain more knowledge, you know MS is not a death sentence, like had been suggested to me,” he says. “Until recently there was nothing they could do, no known cause or cure, just a crapshoot. Now, doctors have discovered how to slow the disease. I began to research everything I could about it.”

“I started cooking for myself,” he continues. “Instead of the steaks and shakes, cheeseburgers and fries, I began to take care of myself. [I learned] how to cook healthy meals, eating fish all the time, redfish, red snapper and steamed vegetables. I’m not so obsessive now, a little more in the middle – with a little steak and chicken, but still healthy eating.”

Walker formed the Clay Walker Band against MS foundation to help others confronted with the disease. “My goal is to educate people, to get the information in front of them and to fund research into new MS therapy options,” he says. “Each year, the foundation awards additional grants to worthy medical institutions for further MS research. I am so grateful for my success. Here I am 10 years later, and I’m probably healthier than ever. My question to myself is always ‘What can I do to give back?’ And, the answer is, ‘find a cure.'”

NEW BEGINNINGS
With his MS under control and his new single from his first album for Curb Records climbing the charts, Walker has every reason to smile. However, nothing makes his face light up more than talking about his new bride, Jessica Craig, whom he married on Sept. 28 in New Orleans.

“I had been reading a book about how I could make myself a better person so that I’d be ready to find a wife after God’s own heart. I know when your marriage doesn’t work out; it’s the fault of both people. I had finished the book two days before going to New York for the 2005 CMA awards,” he says. “Walking through the lobby of the Marriott Marquis, I saw her; there she was, surrounded by her friends. I made my way closer to her, and it just struck me to ask her where she worked. She mentioned that she modeled for American Eagle, National Verizon and National Mini Cooper, but she did not seem excited at all. I asked why. Jessica said, ‘I want to be a mom.’ I was flabbergasted. I thought to myself (literally within minutes), this is the one. There was something magical about her; she had the traditional values that are so important, and she wasn’t afraid to say that she was traditional. There was no arrogance, no ego about her. As we continued to walk together, we passed a photo of her that was life size. I laughed and told her I’d never had one that big.”

For Walker and Craig, love continued to bloom. “After a year, on Nov. 14, I proposed to Jessica on the steps of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Galveston, where her grandfather proposed to her grandmother,” he recalls.

“We had a wonderful engagement party in Abita Springs near Covington, La. where Jessica grew up, with about 40 family members and friends.”

“We invited 500 guests to the wedding. All the groomsmen wore Resistol hats and Lucchese boots. The colors were sage and lavender; I wore a lavender shirt and my beautiful bride wore a dress by designer Melissa Sweet, which she found at Priscilla of Boston,” he says.

FAMILY MAN

With his new bride, Walker is looking to settle in the Bayou City.

“We’re in the process of looking for a house in Houston or close by on a ranch. [This city] is my home, and one of my biggest thrills is playing the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo,” he says. “There is something very special and spiritual between the audience and me. I’m not sure that feeling is shared by any other performer. One of my proudest moments came when I placed fourth in the HLSR cutting horse competition recently.”

His HLSR performances are generally sold-out.

While his music has catapulted Walker to the top of the country music world, faith and family still come first.

“The most important thing in the world to me is my family. Jessica is the greatest human being I’ve ever met and my daughters are everything to me,” he says. “I want to be sure my priorities stay where they belong. It’s God first, family, then music. Music will always be my first love. MaClay DeLayne, age 11, and Skylor Clay Anne, age 8, are the apples of my eye, and both are good horsewomen and good singers. MaClay can ride the hide off of anything.”

Walker also makes time for his beloved game of golf. He honed his talents playing with golf-pro Jackie Burke at Champions Golf Course. “I’m such a history buff, and this game has such a rich history. It’s a great game,” he says. He regularly competes in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. In 2005, his team won the tournament; he donated his share of the winnings to Band Against MS.

The handsome Texan points to two Southern legends as sources for inspiration.

“My favorite singer is Elvis Presley. I don’t think Elvis gets the credit he deserves for being an absolutely great singer,” he explains. “I’ve always been a big fan of Freddy Fender and feel lucky to have recorded his country classic mega hit, “Before the Last Teardrop Falls” with him on my new album. This was the first duet I’ve ever done, and when we went into the studio to record it together, it was pure magic. Freddy died of cancer just a few months after we sang. He was a great guy.”

Although Walker’s legion of fans has their own descriptions for their idol, he strives to stay down to earth. “I’m a pretty focused person. I want to do the right thing, no matter what the cost,” he says. “I read the Bible every day, and there’s always something there for me. People make religion and life too difficult; they want to complicate everything. Read John 3:16. [It] doesn’t matter if you’re Baptist, Catholic, or whatever – that one works for everybody.”

High Roller Condos in Grand Cayman, Oh My!

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman encompasses 144 lush acres of the Caribbean’s most serene and prosperous island. Known for one-of-a-kind guest experiences, the $500 million resort features a La Prairie Spa, five dining venues including a restaurant by Eric Ripert of top-ranking New York restaurant Le Bernardin, a tennis center by Nick Bollettieri and a nine-hole golf course, designed by Greg Norman.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Ritz-Carlson announced an exclusive 20,000 sq. ft. penthouse occupying the entire 7th floor of the south tower. Overlooking Seven Mile Beach, it is thought to be the most expensive condominium in the Caribbean. As you would expect, this suite comes with all of the legendary Ritz-Carlton services and amenities. However, it also comes with a powerboat complete with a captain and crew, and a Rolls-Royce.

“We created and designed this penthouse based on the current interest of high-end properties with spectacular space and views,” says Michael Ryan, owner and developer of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

The owners will have panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea, Georgetown Harbor, the Greg Norman golf course and the North Sound from 4,200 sq. ft. of private terraces. A conceptual floor plan (the actual will be planned per the buyer’s specifications and The Residences’ standards) by interior designer Frank Nicholson, includes a state-of-the-art media room, executive office, art gallery, wine cellar and six bedrooms, each with its own private terrace.

And, just in time for the holidays, the Ritz is offering a long-term rental “sample” program for vacationers and business travelers. If you’re not sure this luxury life is for you, you can “test drive” a luxury home experience at The Residences for 30 days without further commitment. The Residences’ luxury oceanfront homes within the new Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman are setting a lavish new standard of living on the Caribbean’s safest island.

Amenities include, but are not limited to: around-the-clock attention from a Residential concierge team, butler service, private entrances with elevators, 24-hour valet parking and security and privileged access to all Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman resort’s facilities, services and amenities.

To participate you must stay a minimum of 30 days. Prices range from $25,000 – $40,000 in December. Homes vary from one-bedroom with 1,655 sq. ft. to three-bedrooms covering 3,850 sq. ft.

Essentials:
www.residences-cayman.com

www.ritzcarlton.com

Mukuru

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

Arts merge for common cause

In 2005, an idea struck Rodney Waters; and since then, it hasn’t left him. In fact, it’s still growing. He worked on projects for non-profit organizations before, but this time, he’d do it bigger and much better. Hence, Mukuru Arts for AIDS was born.

Named for the African god of kindness, Mukuru is a series of concerts, dance and theater programs, as well as an art exhibit and auction that are meant to bring communities together and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS issues. Mixing altruism and art, local and national artists showcase their talent to support AIDS Foundation Houston. “Maybe it’s because I have undiagnosed ADD or something,” says Waters, the artistic director of Mukuru. “I really like variety.” All of the proceeds are matched by the National AIDS Fund to help the local cause.

While a college student in New York City, Waters volunteered in an English conversation program, where he helped immigrants and others with their language skills. During this time, he taught everyone from Korean businessmen to Costa Rican construction workers.

After graduation, Waters, an avid music lover, moved to Houston and took a position as a staff pianist at Rice University. Although he felt like he had a good career, Waters says he felt something was missing in his life.

He soon came in contact with Interfaith Ministries where he met Julie Eberly, who introduced him to AIDS Foundation Houston. While helping students and families from around the world, Waters realized he could combine his love of volunteerism with his passion for music.

And finally, his idea took root in the form of Mukuru.

Now in its third season, Mukuru combines artists from all types of genres into a single cause. Unlike other one-time events to help support an organization, each month through May, a new artistic adventure awaits.

“It’s been great,” says Waters. “The program has grown quite a bit since we started. We have made good inroads with the Houston art community and we are raising money for awareness in our communities.”

Mukuru has been exciting for AIDS Foundation Houston in that it focuses attention on the needs of local HIV awareness and education, says Eberly, vice president of development for the organization.

The funds raised by Mukuru stay local and are matched by organizations including the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

“Any dollar given could be the dollar that helps prevent someone from getting HIV,” Eberly says.

While Waters could have chosen any cause for the Mukuru program, as an artist, he found many of his peers were affected in some way by the affliction.

“So many people in the artistic community have had their lives touched by HIV or AIDS,” he says. “We could have done the same thing with other causes in a wide variety of ways, but there are people in the artistic community who have seen their lives or the lives of people close to them change.”

In the coming months, Mukuru’s events include a sky-watching experience and concert, as well as a chance to nab an emerging artist’s original piece of work.

This year, the Mukuru auction and exhibition features local and national artists at Gremillion &Co. Fine Art Gallery, 2501 Sunset Blvd, on Nov. 8. Participants can nibble on hors d’oeuvres and sip cocktails while enjoying various art pieces, or bid on original works. All of the artists have donated auction items; bidding opens online before the event at www.mukuru.org.

“We’re giving artists the chance to do what they want, and when people have a chance to be creative and interesting, they are incredibly generous,” Waters says.

However, Eberly says the project is much more than giving artist their own avenue for expression. “When you hear the music or see the dancing, it touches the audience and causes them to become alive and engaged,” she says. “These artists come to the table with their passion and their own personal time and talents to connect their art with a social cause.”

Construction Paper

November 1, 2007 by  
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Artist finds new ways to express herself with simple material

While many sculptors chisel away at their soon-to-be masterpiece, Kirsten Hassenfeld works diligently cutting, folding and posting. Hassenfeld sculpts but she’s in a league of her own — her medium being paper. As odd as it may seem, she twirls, rolls, folds, coils and cuts paper into intricately designed masterpieces. Hassenfeld’s exhibition, Dans la Lune, features her biggest sculptures to date. Dans la Lune, roughly meaning a dreamlike state, consists of large, elaborate, ornament-like structures. Hassenfeld’s sculptures range from four to eight feet in diameter and embody numerous shapes and “different forms of escape,” says Hassenfeld. Her collection will remain on display until Dec. 9 at the Rice Gallery.

Born in Albany, N.Y., Hassenfeld attended the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994 and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She furthered her education and earned a Masters of Fine Arts from The University of Arizona, Tucson in 1998.

Hassenfeld’s artwork has been displayed in various exhibitions, such as: The Last Seduction — The Visceral Power of Beauty in Contemporary Art (2007), Secrist Gallery; Out of Line: Drawings from the Collection of Sherry and Joel Mallin (2006), Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; The ArtReview 25: Emerging Artists in America (2005), Phillips, de Pury and Open House: Working in Brooklyn (2004), The Brooklyn Museum of Art. Hassenfeld works and resides in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I steal from all cultures,” she says. She’s not a thief; Hassenfeld merely experiments with other cultures and their paper techniques. Trained in printmaking, she credits paper as still being within her comfort range.

Dans la Lune features grandiose, ornament-like structures hanging from the ceiling of the gallery. The objects vary in shapes and sizes. Each structure is comprised of various elements embedded within one another; a fairy tale maiden leading her pony is encased in a structure, while another structure masks a painting of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Hassenfeld explains these secrets as stories “within a story getting buried.” These forgotten elements are true representations of stories or minute details often overlooked in dreams. Hassenfeld uses the color white in efforts of creating a utopian state. As the structures incorporate extensive details, each embellishment has been created with laborious effort. Look for details including pearl-like beads and tiny chains, both made from paper. In this particular exhibition, Hassenfeld says she mainly used forms of quilling/paper filigree, a European technique introduced during the Renaissance era. To further illuminate her artwork, different watt light bulbs are used in the exhibition. Hassenfeld says to have experimented with all sort of lights to highlight the various stories presented in her sculptures. The grand ornaments are linked through a series of paper chains and swags.

Inspired by the ideas of plenty and abundance, Hassenfeld credits everything from casinos and pawnshops to catalogues, ornaments and decorative pieces. “Everything has a story,” says Hassenfeld, especially the allurement of ornament. After the inspiration, she sets to work by forming and reconstructing templates on her computer. Hassenfeld spends hundreds of hours and days on her inventions creating sophisticated, abstract objects.

Hassenfield says her grandiose sculptures are not meant to focus on the indulgence of luxury goods, but instead, the memory and feelings they evoke. Hassenfeld’s hand-crafted masterpieces have outshone in the realm of sculpting, thus creating an elaborately unique but modest niche for herself. She equates her artwork as her “form of escapism,” she says. It’s a place where she can visit and revisit her fairytale-like fantasies.

“[I just] want to provide a place you could project your own daydreams into,” Hassenfeld says. And then she puts it on paper.

A laughing angel

November 1, 2007 by  
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Life’s trials can’t wipe the smile off Joann Crassas’ face

Where Joann Crassas wanders, laughter is sure to follow. Joann sees the humorous side of everything and her humor is never bitter or unkind. Instead of making fun of others, she usually makes fun of herself and her life, which she says is, “the real life version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Born Joann Yianitsas in Beaumont, she is the daughter of Greek immigrants who fluently spoke three languages and could get by in several others.

Her mother sat with Joann for years as the child practiced piano and encouraged her only daughter to excel in music and education.

“[I was] an ugly, awkward child who had to develop a sense of humor and a personality because I wasn’t going to make it in the looks category.” It wasn’t long before a swan emerged from that ugly duckling. At Lamar University, she was elected a campus beauty.

Joann had two brothers both of whom died in their 40s, one of cancer, the other of heart disease. “I’ve seen the devastation that disease causes for families,” she says. “My mother suffered terribly over the loss of her sons, and, my father died relatively young and suddenly.”

The Determined Suitor
Bill Crassas, a New York businessman of Greek heritage, had heard for years about the beautiful Greek belle from Beaumont who could sing, play the piano, and had a master’s degree in education.

“He tells me, ‘I never dreamed it would all be true,'” she says.

On a trip to New York, a business associate of her father invited Joann and her mother to dinner and introduced them to Bill Crassas.

“He made me laugh,” she remembers. “But, I wasn’t interested. He wasn’t my type.”

However, there are two sides to every story. “I was just planning on having a drink and getting out of there,” he says. “I was surprised. Here sat the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and she was funny and intelligent as well. I knew instantly she was the woman I’d marry.”

However, convincing Joann would take some work, especially after the summer of 1961 when she went to Europe.

“That summer was like something out of the movies. I went to Europe with my mother. The Greek community is really tribal,” Joann says. “Everyone knows everyone else. We were guests of Aristotle Onasis in Athens, Maria Callas was on the yacht, and there was a Greek pop singer.”

Three months later, when Joann and her mother returned from Greece, Bill was waiting for them as they got off their plane in New York.

He kept up with her European adventure through a friend who was a CIA agent. Bill had been with the foreign service in Greece in 1954-55 and maintained contacts, who informed him when Joann returned to the States.

Later on, Bill’s father asked Joann in front of Bill and other members of his family, “When are you going to marry my son?” Joann says, “I nearly fell out of my chair. In an off-the-cuff reply I said, ‘Oh, someday,’ and laughed. Well it was no joke to the Crassas family. They all began hugging me and congratulating Bill and bam! We were engaged.”

Bill moved to Houston and opened a branch of the family ship supply business. He burned the freeways traveling back and forth to Beaumont courting Joann while she had doubts about actually getting married.

“For me, marriage was a lifetime commitment and I did not want to get it wrong. I went to church and prayed,” she says. “It was like a cloud lifted, and I knew it was the right thing to do. Until that moment I was headed back to Europe in my mind, back to the jet-set life.”

Still smiling, still helping
Forty-five years, two children and three grandchildren later, Joann remains sure it was the right thing to do. “Bill is still the most entertaining man I’ve ever met. He loves me and he tells me that every day. We laugh all the time and cherish every day we have together. Laughter and God have gotten me through everything,” she explains.

As they smile together, both Joann and Bill have also battled side-by-side together against cancer. Both are now cancer free and sing the praises of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Joann is an incredibly energetic person who has worn many hats over the years. She was a schoolteacher for three years. She was co-producer for the “Texas Today” TV show on Channel 51 for its tenure and spent eight years on Hunter’s Creek City Council. She now works with Personette &Associates as a realtor.

In the world of charity and volunteerism, Joann has worked tirelessly. “I do it for the camaraderie and the cause,” she says.

In January, she was honored as an ABC Channel 13 2007 Woman of Distinction for her volunteerism.

Much of Joann’s volunteer work revolves around medicine and science as she devotes time and energy to Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Houston, Moores School of Music, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony and Ronald McDonald House.

On Nov. 8 at Reliant Center, Joann Crassas, Karan Robinson and Shawn Stephens will co-chair the Saks Fifth Avenue Fashion Show and Luncheon benefiting the Ballet Guild’s Nutcracker Market. For tickets call 713-535-3231.

Also for the Christmas season, Joann is again chairing The Angel Tree program for the Salvation Army. For more information, call the Salvation Army at 713-752-0677. This program provides gifts to needy children and seniors. Angel Trees are located in participating shopping malls as well as businesses and organizations. From the trees, donors select Angel tags, which list the individual’s first name, age, clothing and shoe size, as well as one need and one wish. The donor purchases the Angel’s presents and the Salvation Army ensures they arrive at the Angel’s door. Little will they realize a laughing angel has helped them.

Best of H Texas 2007

November 1, 2007 by  
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It’s time once again for the Best of H Texas. Unlike other Houston “Best of” lists, we searched high and low for what makes the Bayou City unique, instead of going with the usual categories like Best Barbecue or Best Band.

The overwhelming majority of our “Best of” list are people, places and events that can only be found in Houston and are just a few things that make our city such a wonderful place to live. Houston is home, and just like our own homes, there are little, sometimes silly nuances that establish personality and character. That’s what our staff strived to find for our annual list.

With that being said, we proudly present our 2007 Best of H Texas.

Best television personality
Dominique Sachse
While Houstonians have claimed this KPRC-TV anchor as their own since she exploded on the scene in 1993, Dominique Sachse was actually born in Florida. Her ability to uniquely tell a story while accurately relay facts coupled with her fashion sense and sheer beauty make her an easy choice for H Texas’ best TV personality.

Earning viewers’ trust is never easy, but Sacshe’s style and composure have entrenched her in Houston living rooms on weekdays at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. The anchor’s reputation has earned her honors from the Associated Press, the Houston Press Club as well as a prestigious Emmy Award.

The responsibility of a major market prime-time anchor is not lost on Sachse.

“People are turning to you for information about what’s going on in their world, and you have to be credible, reliable and relatable in how you present it,” she says. “That’s my responsibility to the viewer. It’s a defining moment to connect with them and establish a relationship. To me, that’s the key to being an effective news anchor, and it’s what will determine if they come to you time and time again.”

Among the most popular graduates of the University of Houston, Sacshe continues to support her alma mater and journalism students who choose to follow in her footsteps, and was named Outstanding Young Communications Alumnus by UH. Her Cougar pride still runs deeply, as she has been a fixture on different UH alumni boards and raises money through the annual Dominique Sachse Hoops and Hardball golf tournament for UH men’s and women’s sports. Her heart is as big as Texas, as she also is very active in causes for children and pets.

Sacshe said she is proud to serve the city and it is the Houstonians who keep her bound here.

“So far, Houston has been the right place for me, both personally and professionally. I’ve lived here since 1975, so I have a great deal of history in this city, which provides a strong platform for me as a news anchor,” she explains. “However, I’m ultimately here because of the viewers. They decide your longevity in a market, and for that, I owe them a great deal of gratitude!”
www.click2houston.com

Best place we miss
AstroWorld
From the thrilling Greezed Lightnin’ to the relaxing AstroWay sky rides, ASTROWORLD was the setting for summer fun and memories for countless Houstonians and visitors. The brainchild of Harris County Judge Roy Hofienz, AstroWorld opened in 1968 as an addition to the AstroDome complex. The original park included eight themed areas, but by 1976, the facility expanded and the world-famous Texas Cyclone was opened. Several attractions and rides were known as some of the biggest and tallest in the United States and the world. However, the park closed on Oct. 30, 2005 — just 15 days after Greezed Lightnin’ went for its 1 millionth ride. Today, the park has been cleared and the signature entrance bridge, crossing from the AstroDome complex to the park grounds over Loop 610, is all that remains of what was once the best place in Texas for fun.
www.sixflags.com/national/alert/astroworld

Best Place to Get Stuck in Traffic
Montrose
Hey, we know Houston traffic can rush by at the speed of stampeding turtles; but if there is a place to get stuck, it’s definitely Montrose. Perhaps Houston’s friendliest neighborhood for pedestrians, Montrose Blvd. and the surrounding streets, are lined with plenty of options to lose yourself while waiting for rush hour traffic to dissipate. For a peaceful after-work get away, check out the Menil Collection (www.menil.org; 1515 Sul Ross), a free museum housing some of the world’s premiere art pieces. Afterwards, get a bite to eat at the Black Labrador (www.blacklabradorpub.com; 4100 Montrose), a great, authentic English pub. With a menu featuring hamburgers and traditional fare from across the pond, who says English food has to be boring? If you have a passion for fashion, stop by the Leopard Lounge (1637 Westheimer) for a truly unique clothing experience. This resale shop has everything from concert T-shirts to one-of-a-kind skirts and tops. Do you have a great story from Def Leppard’s 1987 tour stop at the Summit? Chances are the Leopard Lounge has the shirt.

Best tour in Houston
The Downtown Tunnel System
Far beneath (20 feet below street level to be exact) Houston’s majestic skyline lies a series of corridors lined with shops and eateries, all connecting some of downtown’s most important business centers. The downtown Houston tunnel system is a seven-mile long network of passageways that have become a culture all its own. Houston’s weather can change from 100 degrees to a 100 percent chance of rain in a heartbeat; luckily for downtown workers and visitors, dentists, florists, salons and a shopping mall call the cavernous network home. The Tunnel System supports downtown with most every service imaginable without ever leaving the heart of the city. Discover Houston (www.discoverhoustontours.com) offers public tours of the Tunnel and other downtown locales four days a week.
www.houstontunnels.com

Best place to be seen
Crome
It’s where Houston’s beautiful people go to see and be seen and is a frequent playground for celebrities visiting the Bayou City. Mix in top-notch bottle service and some of the best beats around and the result is Crome. Located at 2815 South Shepherd, Crome offers H-Town’s best scenery, be it the men, the women or the cars parked outside. Weekly events such as Sundae Fundae patio parties have proven to be a huge hit with the city’s elite and party-goers. All-out theme parties such as their Oct. 27 Halloween bash have become the talk of the town. Dress to impress and if you show up on the right night, you can party with the likes of Hilary Duff, Jamie Foxx, Nickleback, Vida Guerra, Lindsey Lohan or Robert Horry. With corporate party packages available, everybody can be a somebody at Crome.
www.cromelounge.com

Best place to go on a first date
The Burke Baker Planetarium
When there’s only one chance to make a first impression, make sure it’s a good one. The Burke Baker Planetarium at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a great way to show your date that it’s cool to be cultured. During normal business hours, the domed theater presents shows such as Passport to the Universe, a star-studded tour of the Milky Way and beyond narrated by Tom Hanks. On Saturdays at 6 p.m. the Planetarium rocks to the sounds of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon during a revolutionary spectacular light show.
www.hmns.org

Best place to walk the dog
Millie Bush Bark Park
While dog parks are popping up across the Houston area, the Millie Bush Bark Park remains the city’s best place for man’s best friend. The first dog park in the Harris County parks system is named after former First Dog Millie. Spanning 13 acres of land within George Bush Park, the Bark Park provides all the outdoor amenities for our four-legged friends. A walking trail winds through the park and benches dot the landscape. Featuring small and large dog areas (complete with corresponding fire hydrants); trees; doggie showers, ponds and fountains, Millie Bush Bark Park is definitely a place where every dog has its day.
www.pct3.hctx.net/PGeorge/BarkPark.htm

Best dessert to splurge on
Molten Chocolate Cake
Do your knees get weak at the thought of ooey, gooey chocolate running down a mountain of decadent chocolate cake? Does your dentist take their family on a Mediterranean cruise after every one of your visits? Chances are you indulge in the Molten Chocolate Cake from the Grand Lux Café. This sinful treat has delighted Houstonians since the Grand Lux Café opened at 5000 Westheimer. The idea is simple — a chocolate cake with a warm chocolate center served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream; the result completes any chocoholic’s dream. Make sure you order this dessert when you order your entrée because they make it fresh to order and it takes about 30 minuets to prepare.
www.grandluxcafe.com

Houston’s Best Place to Accidentally Learn Something
St. Arnold’s Brewing Company
Nestled in a small warehouse district in the northwest part of Houston lies a learning experience unlike any other. The St. Arnold’s Brewing Company is Texas’ oldest craft brewery. Co-founded by Rice graduate Brock Wagner in 1993, the brewery has become a location for sudsy camaraderie and has gained a cult-like following among beer lovers and non-drinkers alike.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Wagner says. “The fact that people come out here and enjoy themselves is great. They bring their friends, family and out of town guests and now it’s a place that Houstonians are proud of. We really just wanted to make Houston a better place to live and we think we have accomplished that.”

Every Saturday at 1 p.m., hundreds of visitors armed with steins, glasses, lawn chairs and tied-dyed T-shirts gather in the parking lot of the brewery (2522 Fairway Park Dr.) for the $5 tour and beer tasting. Wagner actually conducts the majority of the tours himself.

“Every single one of our beers is made here at this brewery,” Wagner says. “I think what surprises most people is that our beers are made from only four ingredients.”

Unlike beers that are mass produced at gigantic breweries across the country, Wagner is proud to say his ingredients are actually pronounceable and easily recognized.

Each tasting event features four of St. Arnold’s seasonal and year-round beers. For the non-drinkers and designated drivers in the crowd, St. Arnold’s brews their own root beer, which can only be described as the nectar of the gods.
www.saintarnold.com

Best reason to go outside
Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens
Houston has two seasons — hot and not as hot. Sure there are those two weeks out of the year that it freezes, followed by our monsoon season. But throughout the year, the Mercer Arboretum is one of the most beautiful places in Houston. Every month of the year, there is some kind of color explosion. Covering 254 acres along Cypress Creek, the land started as a 14-acre track owned by the late Charles and Thelma Mercer in 1949. They planted exotic and native trees, shrubbery and flowers creating a botanic paradise. Harris County purchased the land in 1974 on the promise that it would be retained as an educational garden for the public to enjoy. Over the years, the county purchased additional land surrounding the Mercer area, adding to the living museum. Tours can be reserved throughout the year and self-guided tours can be taken during business hours.
www.hcp4.net/mercer

Best place to watch the game with buds
The Wet Spot
There’s something about game day that brings friends and strangers together. With so many professional and college teams calling Houston home, GP’s Original Wet Spot (160 W. Gray) is the one place where all those fans can come together. With not one, but two steak nights (Monday and Thursday) and beer specials throughout the week, the Wet Spot is famous around town for some great eats (it was H Texas’ best bar food in 2005). Be sure to check out the weekend specials for college and pro football. It’s a tailgate party complete with more than 30 TVs and a full kitchen just for you and your best friends and fellow fans. If you aren’t having a good time, you aren’t at the Wet Spot.
www.wetspot-houston.com

Best drive to feel like a million bucks
Kirby Drive
Houston is filled with millionaires and many of them live along Kirby Drive. Take a drive through Houston’s elite neighborhood — River Oaks and gasp at its grandeur. Kirby Drive spotlights the eccentricities and excesses of the Bayou City’s upper crust and allows one to envision their lifestyle. Mansions, lush greenery, classic cars and history are on full display in this privileged area. The drive allows us to stare in awe while praying that we don’t rear-end the person in front of us. One may never live in River Oaks, but at least we can feel like a million bucks as we drive through the neighborhood.

Best hotel pool
Hilton Americas Hotel
Hidden on the 24th floor of the Hilton Americas Hotel is a modern-themed paradise. A 75-foot indoor pool invites guests into its hidden abyss, offering an escape from the humidity and concrete surrounding downtown. The design-centric pool is unlike any other because of its floor to ceiling windows that surrounds the entire pool area. While looking at Houston’s skyscrapers, one can not help but feel somewhat of a voyeur. That is why this pool is the best; it is decadent, exclusive and guests are able to swim in the city’s majestic skyline.
www.hilton.com

Best place to sweat
Renting a bike on the Seawall
Sweating is a way of life for Houstonians, so it was hard to narrow it down to the best. Just walk outside any time between March and October and the sweating begins. With the endless possibilities, H Texas decided that fun should be incorporated while keeping the topic G-rated, so we went with renting a bike in Galveston. With more than 32 miles of beaches, there are many different places to sweat on this island. But, when looking at the tourists and guests of the Seawall, some things were a constant: the laughter and joyous looks of people who were peddling. There are various forms of transportation for rent on the island, just make sure to wear appropriate attire so a wardrobe malfunction won’t occur. If you really want to be adventurous, rent a chopper bike or a “Rent Me” car that looks like a bubble-shaped golf cart. You may live to regret the decision, but the fun will be worth the embarrassment.
www.islandbicyclecompany.com
Beach Bike Rental, 409-765-8579; EZ Rentals, 409-763-0705; Goody Bike Rentals, 409-621-1062

Best place to eat with 10 people
Murder by Chocolate
Step out of your boundaries and try something new with your friends. Participate in a real-life whodunit and pretend you are a sleuth! Solve a zany mystery caper while enjoying a delicious meal with 10 of your best friends at Murder by Chocolate. A murder will take place and everyone in the audience instantly becomes a suspect in this real-life Clue game. After dessert is served, (chocolate of course) the mystery will be solved and a guest will be apprehended. The audience participates in an action-packed, gritty realism while savoring a three-course meal. It is an experience unlike any other and one that is sure to have you weary of the person sitting next to you, especially of the one in the dining room, with the rope.
www.murderbychocolate.net

Best place where everybody knows your name
Novelli’s Deli &Sports Bar
Love, loyalty, passion: no other words can describe Novelli’s. Nothing beats walking into your favorite hole-in-the-wall and having the bartender greet you by your first name while pouring your beloved past-time beverage. Maybe it is because Bruce, the bartender, will drink one with you and occasionally say “it’s on the house,” or maybe it’s because the beer is cheap. For whatever reason, Novelli’s isn’t just a bar, it is a ritual. Week after week, regulars hang out, drink beer and trade one-liners. It is comforting to know that everybody knows your name as you walk through its doors. 281-534-6352

Best Building
The O’Quinn Medical Tower at St. Luke’s
It is tall, powerful, and prominent. It stands out from the rest and makes one stare in astonishment. No, not Yao Ming. It is the gleaming tower that stands proud among the other skyscrapers in this city: The O’Quinn Medical Tower at St. Luke’s. Complete with a nine-story, 1,350 space parking garage, this 316 ft. high-rise building has 25 floors and stands in the largest Medical Center in the world. The two spires on top of the building that protrude into the sky are made of aluminum and are for decorative purposes only.

Best place for a bargain
Charming Charlie
A trove of accessories awaits bargain lovers at Charming Charlie. From sterling silver jewelry, purses, watches to name-brand sunglasses, this chain of accessory stores caters to any women’s taste. The discount store also offers beading classes for individuals looking to make one-of-a-kind pieces that will cause any trendsetter to become jealous. The bargains don’t just end there; visit their website daily to see if online bargains are available. Their Harwin location is a 9,000 square-foot facility that offers everything imaginable to complete an outfit. If that isn’t enough, new locations continue to pop up in different areas of the city so everyone can find a bargain.
www.charmingcharlie.com

Best fries at an over-priced bar
Max’s Wine Dive
Not many places in Houston can create a buzz and keep people talking long after the red ribbon is cut. However, Max’s Wine Dive continues to do so. No, this isn’t praise about how wonderful the place is. This establishment is voted as one of the best because of their fries. Bonus: it is one of the cheapest items listed on the menu. We Southerners love our fries and are hesitant when a chef tries to do something culinary different with this burger staple. However, the salty taste of Max &Jack’s frites combined with their crunchy exterior immediately makes the mouth water as the sweet taste of ketchup touches the tongue. Mmmmm…fries. Who would have thought that merlot would pair well with fries? Don’t knock it ’til you try it. The frites are fresh-cut, homemade and tossed with fry dust that scream “gimme more with another glass of merlot, please.”
www.maxswinedive.com

Best movie featuring Houston
Reality Bites
Not many directors come to Houston to film movies. Also, not many become movie stars after their directorial debut. But, Ben Stiller headlines those two short lists. The 1994 movie Reality Bites showed many positive notes about our beloved city. From the opening shot on top of a downtown skyscraper to the Tranquility Park to driving down Allen Parkway, this movie, aside from the melodramatic and feel-good moments, captures the greatness of Houston. It reminds viewers of their youth when college graduation was looming and future responsibilities weren’t quite understood. Reality Bites encapsulates Houston’s most notable landmarks and shows the world what makes it a great city.

Best eye brow shaper place
Beyond Beaute
The shape of one’s eyebrows can either enhance or diminish the beauty of a face. Eyebrow shaping is the most technical of the beautifying process, so the help of a professional is necessary to tame those wayward brows. There are many aestheticians in Houston, but not many make the process relaxing and stress-free. Finding an excellent eyebrow waxer is like finding the perfect man: it rarely exists. The tranquil atmosphere makes eyebrow waxing an enjoyable experience. Any time hot wax is placed on the face, the experience better be enjoyable! From the moment you step into their beautiful décor to the time you leave, customer service is at its best. Plus, every client who leaves the day spa comes out better looking than when they entered. Who could ask for more?
www.beyondbeaute.com

Best pedicure for a man
Cuts n’ Curls
This quaint shop nestled on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico provides a place to unwind and get pampered at a reduced price for men. Cuts n’ Curls offers an intimate experience for men seeking a pedicure but not wanting to broadcast to the world that they like to be groomed. Once entering the day spa, customers are led to a room hidden from prying eyes and ears. With a relaxing massage chair and soothing music, men continually praise how this place allows them to escape the demanding world to give their feet the much-needed attention they deserve. Repeat business from oil tycoons to truck drivers proves that this boutique offers them something no other place can in the Greater Houston area. 281-559-2428

Best cooking class
Central Market
Are you tired of eating fast food or hearing your significant other saying “tacos again?” Then undertake a new challenge and learn how to cook. There is only one place that allows people to have fun while learning how to hone their culinary skills, and that place is Central Market’s cooking school. Expert chefs offer easy to challenging fares every month featuring cuisines from around the world. The classes give individuals an opportunity to embark on a culinary journey with hands-on training, demonstrations, step-by-step instructions and explanations of the different ingredients used to create certain flavors. Central Market is the best when it comes to fresh ingredients, wine selections and food experts offering advice and tips on how to make your next meal even better.
www.centralmarket.com

Best customer service when shoe shopping
Nordstrom
The selection, atmosphere, and the piano music softly whispering in your ear sure know how to get women’s feet moving and the credit cards swiping. Nordstrom is a prime example of the best customer service and customer satisfaction in the retail industry. Each shopping experience in this premiere department store is unlike any other. From the friendliness of the employees to the store’s vast selection of shoes, Nordstrom is the sole…er, soul of shoe heaven. A woman who loves shoes is a continuous shopper and will make it her mission to find the one spot that caters to her vice. Nordstrom does not disappoint in this area. Miles upon miles of shoes in every shape and budget are on full display in this luxurious store. If you can walk past their shoe department without glancing, or stopping in mid-stride, then you do not have a weakness for shoes. A true shoe connoisseur will not miss the opportunity to view Nordstrom’s shoes nor the best customer service in the city.
www.nordstrom.com

Best story of 2007
Craig Biggio
Didn’t it seem like yesterday that some bright-eyed kid from New York came to Houston and stole the hearts of Astros fans? Twenty years and more than 3,050 hits later, the remarkable career of Craig Biggio has come to a close.

“I’ve been so blessed to have played for one team my entire career. That means a lot, especially in this day and age where there’s no loyalty from players or management anymore … There’s been loyalty from three sides. It’s from our side, from management’s side and the fans’ side,” he says in a letter to fans posted on www.astros.com. “If the fans didn’t come out and support us, and watch us play, would it have lasted as long as it did? Probably not. That makes you feel appreciated because they are part of it. They’re part of the decision making.”

Time certainly flies. Early in his career, we couldn’t even figure out how to say his name — Craig Beesh-eeyoh; Big-ee-oh; Bidge-ee-o — but we knew there was something special about that catcher.

Throughout his illustrious career, Biggio was the embodiment of the best Houston has to offer: energy, compassion and heart.

From day one, Biggio’s hustle and youthful exuberance made him an instant fan favorite on a team laden with aging stars. Whether it was beating out a close grounder at first base or trying to stretch a single into a double, fans could always be assured that the future hall-of-famer would give 100 percent of his energy.

Just as quickly as Houston fell in love with Biggio, he fell in love with the city. He also saw the need for support of children battling cancer. For more than 15 years, he and his family have unselfishly devoted their time, compassion and resources to the Sunshine Kids. During spring training exhibition games and regular season batting practice, the Sunshine Kids’ sun logo pin was a trademark on his baseball cap. More than $2.5 million has been raised for the organization through his annual celebrity golf tournaments.

Although the phrase ‘Heart of a Champion’ was popularized by another Houston sports franchise, no one in the city personifies the statement more than Biggio.

The seven-time all star (at two positions) took the field as the face of Houston’s baseball franchise. He was there when the Astros finished with a franchise-worst 97 losses. He was there 14 years later when the team reached the top of baseball’s pinnacle and played in their first-ever World Series.

When Biggio decided to announce his retirement on July 24, it was clear that Houston was on the verge of losing an icon. Twenty years sure did fly by, but thanks to Craig Biggio, it was sure worth the ride.

Houston Ballet gives its yearly production of The Nutcracker

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

The Kingdom of Sweets Comes Alive

by Elise Wahn

Arguably one of the most popular ballets ever performed, and one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works, The Nutcracker, ironically was not one of the composer’s favorites.  Now a holiday tradition, Houston Ballet is performing The Nutcracker through December.  Choreographed by Ben Stevenson with costumes and sets designed by Desmond Heely, the production is a spectacular vision of a winter wonderland.

A dream within a ballet,The Nutcracker captures the vivid images of a child’s imagination. The stage swirls with living snowflakes, sparkling sugarplum fairies and a giant glittering Christmas tree. Dolls dance, giant rats attack and toy soldiers battle in the space of a single night. The title character emerges as the Nutcracker Prince who guides Clara, a little girl, through the Kingdom of Sweets.  Together, they witness the world of Spanish, Arabian, Russian and Chinese dances.  A waltz performed by flowers emerges as one of the ballet’s definitive sequences.

The enchanting score is among the first to feature the celesta. Built like a piano but with a sound similar to a glockenspiel, the instrument, invented in 1896, accompanies the famed “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.” The pas de deux, a duet dance performed by the nutcracker Prince and Sugarplum Fairy, reigns among the ballet’s most memorable scenes.

Costuming and sets for this year’s Houston Ballet performance are sumptuous, employing stunning colors and flowing fabrics. Heely, who created costumes for New York’s American Ballet Theatre, presents designs mirroring the imagination of the score. The Sugarplum Fairy floats across the stage in a palette of pinks, dancing the pas de deux opposite a shining white Nutcracker Prince.

Choreographer Ben Stevenson, after whom Houston Ballet’s affiliated academy is named, served as the ballet’s artistic director for 27 years and choreographed productions for the English National Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet de Santiago and the National Ballet in Washington, D.C. The recipient of several choreography awards, he was instrumental in transforming Houston Ballet into an internationally acclaimed ensemble.

The performance runs two hours with a brief 20 minute intermission. With its dazzling visual appeal and a score that will leave you humming, The Nutcracker has something for everyone. Don’t miss this holiday treat.

Houston Back to the Future

November 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

There has been much discussion about Houston’s future. Indeed, is there one? Engineers, historians, urban planners (how do you plan an ‘urb?’) and those who bombard newspapers with letters so they can see their names in print, all of them have their own plans for this town’s next 100 years.

Our own expertise is as valuable as anyone’s, so let us explain how to make Houston a better place for our children and their children. First, we must bring order to chaos by instituting strict zoning. Aha! You say that zoning stifles growth. Tell that to the city of Austin which has zoning, building regulations and ordinances tough enough to make Santa Fe blush. Indeed, one of Austin’s biggest problems is that everyone else wants to live there. (The city now has a greater population than Fort Worth or El Paso). So much for the “stifle growth” argument.

We need to do something about our traffic. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, Houston-area commuters spent 56 hours sitting in traffic during 2005, making it the seventh-most congested city in the nation. That time could be better spent firing Astros, collecting garden hoses or, of course, planning ‘urbs.’ In the future, Houston should invent something I call “mass transit” whereby a person called a “driver” or “engineer” does the driving while the rest of us sip coffee in the mornings and martinis in the afternoon while crocheting shawls as we zip through the city to our destinations.

It’s a crying shame that Houston doesn’t have tracked transit left over from its earlier days when trains moved cotton and cattle. Today we could use the rails to move people. For instance, if only there had been a railroad track right alongside the Katy Freeway. Such a transit system would also solve another of our problems: air pollution. Using our plan, by the year 2107 this city will have air as clean as a Marine boot-camper’s boots. I suggest that we:

A) Pass laws against polluting the air; and

B) Enforce them.

Yes, it’s a revolutionary concept, but worth a try. And who knows? Such changes might even be good for our economy as we make this an even more attractive place to live and work. We keep hearing that Houston must have a “good business climate.” Let’s create one — literally.

According to news reports, in a report commissioned by the Greater Houston Partnership, “Opportunity Urbanism: An Emerging Paradigm for the 21st Century,” urban historian Joel Kotkin argued that quality-of-life issues such as parks and cultural amenities do not need to be a top priority of local leaders. I agree. We need more blight to attract more unemployed soccer hooligans and Blackwater hit men.

Even without additional billboards and fewer libraries, we seem to be doing all right. Between 2000 and 2006, the population of Harris County increased by 485,653. It is as though every man, woman and child in pre-Katrina New Orleans moved here; sometimes I think they have. However, many of the newcomers moved here from the north. Do you ever get the idea that the border patrol is watching the wrong river? What’s more, experts predict over the next few years this area’s population will double.

A few more changes will help Houston in the 22nd century: two daily newspapers with at least one of them articulate; and radio talk shows that are not pitched to the John Birch Society.

We need an Alamo like San Antonio and a Riverwalk. Steal from the best.

Houston should build a Six Flags amusement park and a big sports facility we’d call the Astrodome.

We can install video cameras at major intersections to determine who is setting up all those video cameras. While these initial cameras are spotting red-light runners and are cutting down on deadly collisions, they create real problems for our local TV news shows.

A catchy motto would help, such as “the Bayou City,” “Gateway to Channelview” or “Houston — where you are never more than a half inning away from Major League Baseball.”

This brings us to sports. We could sign up some local sports talent like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Vince Young; otherwise they might leave town to play for another team. And, in this football-crazy town, a pro team should do well here. Let’s call them the Oilers.

This is the energy capital of the world. So we should go with our strengths to make Houston the “world-class city” we keep hearing about. We form a huge energy-trading company called Enron. The world, class and otherwise, will soon hear of us.

Anything in Houston that has a second coat of paint gets a historical plaque. We need an Old Town district to attract drunken tourists who throw up on our sidewalks, get in bar fights and leave lots of money which they can’t account for. Again, stealing from the best, we need a French Quarter. I understand an unused one is currently available.

Incidentally, if you are worrying about just who will implement and oversee all these projects, we shall do as our city government has always done and create a Blue Ribbon Committee which, with the help from lots of highly paid consultants, will meet, hold public hearings and issue a report that will be read and followed by all as a blueprint for the future.

The Allen brothers and other founding fathers should have thought of these civic improvements when they first staked out this city more than a century and a half ago, but they didn’t have that vision thing. So now it’s up to us to lock the grid and throw away the key.

For Houston to be the city of the future, we must have low taxes and high services, honest officeholders like Tom DeLay, and a slick, efficient hurricane evacuation plan which we shall call Operation Rita. True, we already have a fine city with much going on, great people, arts, restaurants and trees. We simply need to tweak the system for the future.

Finally, you are asking, “How do we pay for all of this?” Once again we steal from the best — in this case the federal government. We pass the costs on to our children and their children. They’ll appreciate our foresightedness.