Curb Your Mustard Bottles and other tales of curbside calamities

October 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

“The city’s shimmering skyline may wear the label of the world’s energy capital, but deep in Houston’s dumpsters lies a less glamorous superlative: It is the worst recycler among the United States’ 30 largest cities.” — The New York Times

THE CURB — If this is the third Thursday of the month, but with no holiday in the week, a full moon and if I have an odd numbered street address, except February which has 28 days, then I put out tree limbs, stumps and unlucky Mafia hit men, all to be picked up by waste disposal technicians, aka garbage men. Then again, maybe they do it tomorrow.

My problem, and possibly yours, is the City of Houston is beginning yet another convoluted but necessary garbage program. This new one deals with “tree waste.” I did not know trees have waste, although the Red Cross has a program to dispose of used pine needles.

Mayor Bill White says, in his stump speech, the tree waste operation “will help us divert at least 20 percent from area landfills and postpone the day when we have to invest in costly new ones,” giving a new meaning to branch offices. Fortunately, waste landfill around here is cheap, so the cost of burying our daily dead is low. But eventually we shall need new areas for our landfills. I suggest Arkansas.

As good citizens of Houston, we will certainly take part in this new plan, but when do we do what? “The City will collect tree waste exclusively on designated months on the resident’s current heavy trash collection day. On the alternating months, residents may set out their heavy trash or junk waste at the curb for City collection.” Sergeant, have this decoded at once!

We need to improve our garbage game, especially recycling. Actually, we couldn’t do much worse. As noted at the beginning of this column, Houston stands at the very bottom among the 30 largest U.S. cities in recycling: a miniscule 2.6 percent participation. In percentages, this compares to 34 for New York City; 62 for Los Angeles; and 55.4 for Chicago. To no one’s surprise, those tree-hugging San Franciscoites (Franciscoans? Friscoers? residents of San Francisco?) lead the nation with 69. The national average is 34 percent. Among Texas cities, Dallas stands at 11.5 and San Antonio battles Houston for the bottom with 4. Clearly, Houston’s recycle needs training wheels. The situation is not all our fault, as Rumsfeld told Cheney. Indeed, many Houstonians couldn’t recycle if they wanted to, which they don’t. Our city picks up garbage at 340,000 households, but fewer than half (162,000) have those green, plastic recycling bins. About 25,000 households are on the waiting list, some as long as 10 years, but the city says it cannot afford more bins. Those without the special bins must cart their recyclable garbage to one of only nine full-service drop-off depots around town. Yeah, that’s customer friendly.

The money needed for recycling caused the City Council to introduce a new plan: impose a mandatory $3.50 monthly environment fee for every single-family home. It was negotiated to a voluntary $2.25 charge and eventually dropped entirely because of fierce opposition. Incidentally, another unique point about us: Not only do most other cities have a separate garbage fee, the more they toss the more it costs. We are the only major American city where we can constantly throw away huge amounts of residential garbage and not be charged extra.

My neighborhood, Running Rats Acres, is fortunate to be a participating dealer in recycling. Every Friday we can look up and down the street and see the usual 90-gallon, black plastic garbage cans. In addition, every other Friday, alongside the black cans sit their Sancho Panzas, the mean green, lidless recycling machines, stuffed with Christmas catalogues, soggy copies of Sheep Dip Monthly and Bud cans, plus jugs of old motor oil and cat litter.

Wait! We can put out plastic only if the containers are made of categories Number 1 through Number 5 and Number 7, all of which must be rinsed and drained. “Sorry, Honey. We can’t go out to dinner tonight. I’ve got to separate our Number 2 cooking oil plastic bottles from the Number 8 mouthwash bottles, then clean them out. And no pizza or cereal boxes. Hey, how’d that coat hanger get in our bin? They’re not allowed. We could be reported to the Recycle Rangers.” Finally, to dispose of your used motor oil, drain it back into its original container. No empty oil cans. This makes no sense.

Be honest now. Do you really know the difference in Number 1 and Number 2 plastic? I have here an empty Gulden’s spicy brown mustard bottle, made of plastic. There is no code, secret or otherwise, confirming the bottle is made of Number 1, 5 or 324 plastic. On the bottom, however, if I get out my Hubble Telescope, I can spot the triangular recycle logo. Since different cities have different standards, does this logo mean the mustard bottle is recyclable for Houston or for Augusta, Maine? What’s my first clue? Did Colonel Mustard do it in the library?

Perhaps Austinites can toss this type bottle in the correct bin of which they have 45 — they separate Cokes from Pepsi, Coors from Miller, with each container separately steam cleaned, dried and flattened. We must wonder just how much energy they actually save. Los Angeles residents already have three separate recycling/garbage bins and are experimenting with yet another — for table scraps. There is more news, my garbage-scoffers. A recent letter from Mayor White warns 43 neighborhoods with 23,000 homes are not team players. Fewer than 10 percent of the residents in these areas are putting their recycle bins on the curb for pickup. If some neighborhoods — and he knows who you are — don’t start cluttering up their streets every pickup day, whenever that might be, they will be dropped from the recycling program, their homes given to evacuated Katrinians and salt sewn in their yards. Their children will be prosecuted even unto the fifth generation or until the Astros win the World Series, which ever comes first (I’m betting on the fifth).

In summation, put your trees on the curb each Arbor Day. Separate the wheat from the chaff, wash out your mouth with soap, put your used motor oil back in your engine and drive to San Francisco. Just remember: no coat hangers.

Suddenly I hear the groan of gears. We’re saved! Here comes the recycling truck, which stops at my neighbor’s curb. The truck is an interesting contraption with two big bins or black holes in back. Apparently one receives paper and the other is for mustard bottles. The waste management disposal technician walks over and eyes my neighbor’s work. Next to her big, black garbage bin is carefully separated waste — paper, plastic, metal, wood, animal, vegetable and mineral, each in its own sack. I am not making this up: After due deliberation, the technician opens the garbage bin and drops in every single sack, then leaves. Mayor White, I think I’ve spotted the problem.

Down-the-Aisle Style

October 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Bridal trends hot off the runway

When it comes to weddings, there’s one item most brides stress over more than any other: the dress. After all, they are literally the center of attention. But with so many gorgeous dresses out there, how’s a girl to choose? You’ll want to express your personal style, of course. Are you the girl who grew up wearing a pillowcase as a veil, your petticoat and some of Mom’s heels? Chances are you’ll be opting for the ball gown silhouette—the Cinderella-style silk, satin and tulle construction your inner princess has always dreamed of. Maybe you’re thinking old Hollywood glamour in the mode of Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly. In that case, you’ll probably want a silky sheath accented with just enough sparkle, or a mermaid style gown highlighting your best assets. Perhaps you daydream about a classic, traditional wedding. Dresses of all shapes and sizes feature vintage inspired lace and filigree-style beading. Regardless of your personal style, you don’t want to look outdated. Check out these trends we saw on the couture catwalk at the Bridal Extravaganza Show.

Splish, splash
This season designers are enamored with mermaid gowns, which hug the body until slightly past the hips, then flare into trumpet-style skirts. If you’re a curvy girl, you’re in luck—the mermaid silhouette works best on coveted hourglass figures. However, this year’s mermaids are more forgiving as designers use rouching, pleats, draped fabric and other subtle tricks to camouflage pesky, little figure flaws. For example, many mermaids feature balconette or bandeau-style bodices, which balance trumpet skirts by adding fullness to your décolleté.

If the mermaid gown isn’t what you have in mind, the ball gowns, sheaths, and ever-popular A-lines all made a big impression on the runway. Ball gowns are appearing in decadent fabrics like duchesse silk satin, and accented with varying levels of sparkles, allowing you to opt for subtle shimmer or serious bling. Sheaths are a popular choice for beachside destination weddings and range from simple halter-style silk with beading at the waist to layers of Victorian-style lace. A-lines, which flatter most figures, are being modernized with splashes of color, filigree beading and layers of tulle. Trains this season are mostly chapel-length at 4 feet or less.

Details, details
Rouching is the darling of the wedding fashion industry this year. We saw dresses with this centuries-old sewing technique used in creative ways—layered to give the illusion of a balconet-style top, asymmetric to draw attention to the smallest part of the waist and centered at the small of the back to accent the narrowest part of the body and highlight the bare skin above. Pleating is also a popular decorative technique, adding glamour to mermaid gowns, giving a neat, structured appearance to the bust of A-line dresses and ornamenting the hems of a silky sheaths.

Accessories often worn with jeans are now becoming hot additions to wedding dresses. Belts and sashes were everywhere: on mermaids, A-lines, ball gowns and even the simple sheath. We saw belts with rhinestone accents, ribbon sashes with bows and dramatic two-tone belts in bold color combinations like red and purple. Most belts sit on the natural waist, giving slimmer looks to brides with straighter figures needing definition.

Layers aren’t only for the cake this year. Designer dresses feature layers in a variety of fabrics to give fullness and depth to skirts, or create wrap looks on the bodice; very flattering on women with larger busts. Many of the popular mermaid gowns have tiered tulle skirts. Another popular style is classic A-line silhouettes, jazzed up by rouched, drop-waist bodices of smooth, shimmery fabric. Layered on top of a full tulle skirt, this style adds great contrast and interest to the dress.

Dresses this year are highlighting the side of you most of your guests will be seeing: your back side. Dramatic details on the back abound, including daring keyholes, striking swaths of color, bustles and down-to-there plunges. As you stand beside your groom, you can be sure your guests are as entranced by the back of your dress as they were by the front.

Purple reigns
Purple is the color for accents, attendants and flowers. Not limited to shy shades of lavender, designers are using bolder hues of deep amethyst, violet and plum. Dresses and bouquets combine complimentary tints of purple to give elegant, shaded looks. We also saw purple accented with marigold and forest green creating earthy, Tuscan ambiance.

But purple isn’t the only color currently commanding bridal couture. We saw vintage-style gowns accented with dusty rose, mauve, Wedgwood blue, pale sage and antique gold. Traditional crisp, lily white shades were also on display, in addition to off-white and deep champagne.

Bright color hasn’t disappeared from the spectrum. Apple green looks divine alongside hot pink for attendants and flower girls; beachy, pool blue is a cool accent for bridal and attendants’ gowns. Canary yellow is a new trend for beach weddings, where grooms don’t have to be dressed in black—the runway was hopping with guys in sepia or mushroom-toned suits that would blend well with sand and surf backdrops. An abundance of black, white and sliver combinations on gowns and attendants were also on display. The stark contrast of black and white lends to a classy, timeless look.

Today, wedding gowns come in limitless styles and colors. Pick a combination of trends to reflect your personal taste and highlight your best features. Enjoy navigating through all the taffeta and tulle, in your quest to find the perfect dress.

My Cell Phone Is Magic!

October 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Last Tuesday night, something happened. I saw a UFO. I’m kidding. It was just a plane. Southwest, I think. (I could tell because peanuts rained down on my head, and I heard singing.) But something else did happen, and it was freakier than a UFO.

My Blackberry spoke to me.

It was last Tuesday night. I was asleep in bed, having my usual hot, sweaty, athletic, um, evening rendezvous with Keanu Reeves. (Tuesday night is Neo Night.) Wednesday, I reserve for Clooney, (Ocean’s Up!) and Thursday I’m booked solid with Brad Pitt. In my dreams, I’m Angelina.

But back to my cell phone. It was on my nightstand, and suddenly it began to buzz. Madly. It was buzzing so much, I looked over at Keanu, patted him on the head, and told him to please hurry up because I was about to wake — BZZZZZ!!!

I woke up. Crestfallen, of course. Instead of Keanu, my bed partner turned out to be a goose down body pillow from Bed Bath and Beyond Me. (I mean, please. That store is uber expensive. Even with the coupon.)

I pick up my cell, turn it over in my hands, stare at it, and go, “WHAT?!?”

And, I swear—as God is my witness—my phone said, “You’re getting fat.” I sat up in bed, stared at my cruel Blackberry and said in a cool as cucumber voice: “I’m not fat. This is water weight.”

At this point, my phone flashed a photo of me. “Check out your stomach,” it said. I glanced down. And I hate to say it, but my phone was right. I felt angry. Confused. A train wreck on two fat feet.

How could it have known? Had my Blackberry looked at me one day and thought, “I can’t believe she’s eating another cookie?” Was my phone becoming invaluable? Like a little personal trainer?

Now, I know some of you probably don’t believe this story. But I’ve got proof. I still have the photo. Yes, it’s the photo my Blackberry took of me in the middle of the night while at the same time telling me I was becoming a real porker.

A question soon began to haunt me. Should I upgrade?

I mean, my phone was snapping photos and telling me I was getting fat. But was that really enough? I mean, was it possible for another phone to exist out there that could do even more than my Blackberry? I stayed awake the entire next night (Clooney night, shame) researching the features of the new iPhone. Here’s what I came up with: 1) The iPhone costs a million dollars.

2) However! The iPhone brews Starbucks coffee and delivers it to your desk with a smile.

3) The iPhone drowns out Paris Hilton’s voice on Larry King. (This is why it costs a million dollars.)

4) The iPhone will fix a flat tire on any car except a Hummer—out of principle.

5) For every dollar spent on the iPhone (red!), $100 goes to Bono, $1 million goes to Oprah, and a penny goes to the African health care crisis. Whoa! Wait a sec. That was out of line. But please don’t point the finger at me.

My phone totally typed that! It wasn’t me.

In fact, my Blackberry is taking over this column as we speak …

Ahhh, stop it, phone!

I can’t—

It’s … just … too … powerful!

(P.S. If you happen to work for Apple, and want to send me hate mail, please direct it to jobarrettbooks.com. I don’t answer emails on Friday nights. Friday is DeNiro Night. Think: “Raging Bull.”)

Curb Your Mustard Bottles and other tales of curbside calamities

October 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

“The city’s shimmering skyline may wear the label of the world’s energy capital, but deep in Houston’s dumpsters lies a less glamorous superlative: It is the worst recycler among the United States’ 30 largest cities.” — The New York Times

THE CURB — If this is the third Thursday of the month, but with no holiday in the week, a full moon and if I have an odd numbered street address, except February which has 28 days, then I put out tree limbs, stumps and unlucky Mafia hit men, all to be picked up by waste disposal technicians, aka garbage men. Then again, maybe they do it tomorrow.

My problem, and possibly yours, is the City of Houston is beginning yet another convoluted but necessary garbage program. This new one deals with “tree waste.” I did not know trees have waste, although the Red Cross has a program to dispose of used pine needles.

Mayor Bill White says, in his stump speech, the tree waste operation “will help us divert at least 20 percent from area landfills and postpone the day when we have to invest in costly new ones,” giving a new meaning to branch offices. Fortunately, waste landfill around here is cheap, so the cost of burying our daily dead is low. But eventually we shall need new areas for our landfills. I suggest Arkansas.

As good citizens of Houston, we will certainly take part in this new plan, but when do we do what? “The City will collect tree waste exclusively on designated months on the resident’s current heavy trash collection day. On the alternating months, residents may set out their heavy trash or junk waste at the curb for City collection.” Sergeant, have this decoded at once!

We need to improve our garbage game, especially recycling. Actually, we couldn’t do much worse. As noted at the beginning of this column, Houston stands at the very bottom among the 30 largest U.S. cities in recycling: a miniscule 2.6 percent participation. In percentages, this compares to 34 for New York City; 62 for Los Angeles; and 55.4 for Chicago. To no one’s surprise, those tree-hugging San Franciscoites (Franciscoans? Friscoers? residents of San Francisco?) lead the nation with 69. The national average is 34 percent. Among Texas cities, Dallas stands at 11.5 and San Antonio battles Houston for the bottom with 4. Clearly, Houston’s recycle needs training wheels. The situation is not all our fault, as Rumsfeld told Cheney. Indeed, many Houstonians couldn’t recycle if they wanted to, which they don’t. Our city picks up garbage at 340,000 households, but fewer than half (162,000) have those green, plastic recycling bins. About 25,000 households are on the waiting list, some as long as 10 years, but the city says it cannot afford more bins. Those without the special bins must cart their recyclable garbage to one of only nine full-service drop-off depots around town. Yeah, that’s customer friendly.

The money needed for recycling caused the City Council to introduce a new plan: impose a mandatory $3.50 monthly environment fee for every single-family home. It was negotiated to a voluntary $2.25 charge and eventually dropped entirely because of fierce opposition. Incidentally, another unique point about us: Not only do most other cities have a separate garbage fee, the more they toss the more it costs. We are the only major American city where we can constantly throw away huge amounts of residential garbage and not be charged extra.

My neighborhood, Running Rats Acres, is fortunate to be a participating dealer in recycling. Every Friday we can look up and down the street and see the usual 90-gallon, black plastic garbage cans. In addition, every other Friday, alongside the black cans sit their Sancho Panzas, the mean green, lidless recycling machines, stuffed with Christmas catalogues, soggy copies of Sheep Dip Monthly and Bud cans, plus jugs of old motor oil and cat litter.

Wait! We can put out plastic only if the containers are made of categories Number 1 through Number 5 and Number 7, all of which must be rinsed and drained. “Sorry, Honey. We can’t go out to dinner tonight. I’ve got to separate our Number 2 cooking oil plastic bottles from the Number 8 mouthwash bottles, then clean them out. And no pizza or cereal boxes. Hey, how’d that coat hanger get in our bin? They’re not allowed. We could be reported to the Recycle Rangers.” Finally, to dispose of your used motor oil, drain it back into its original container. No empty oil cans. This makes no sense.

Be honest now. Do you really know the difference in Number 1 and Number 2 plastic? I have here an empty Gulden’s spicy brown mustard bottle, made of plastic. There is no code, secret or otherwise, confirming the bottle is made of Number 1, 5 or 324 plastic. On the bottom, however, if I get out my Hubble Telescope, I can spot the triangular recycle logo. Since different cities have different standards, does this logo mean the mustard bottle is recyclable for Houston or for Augusta, Maine? What’s my first clue? Did Colonel Mustard do it in the library?

Perhaps Austinites can toss this type bottle in the correct bin of which they have 45 — they separate Cokes from Pepsi, Coors from Miller, with each container separately steam cleaned, dried and flattened. We must wonder just how much energy they actually save. Los Angeles residents already have three separate recycling/garbage bins and are experimenting with yet another — for table scraps. There is more news, my garbage-scoffers. A recent letter from Mayor White warns 43 neighborhoods with 23,000 homes are not team players. Fewer than 10 percent of the residents in these areas are putting their recycle bins on the curb for pickup. If some neighborhoods — and he knows who you are — don’t start cluttering up their streets every pickup day, whenever that might be, they will be dropped from the recycling program, their homes given to evacuated Katrinians and salt sewn in their yards. Their children will be prosecuted even unto the fifth generation or until the Astros win the World Series, which ever comes first (I’m betting on the fifth).

In summation, put your trees on the curb each Arbor Day. Separate the wheat from the chaff, wash out your mouth with soap, put your used motor oil back in your engine and drive to San Francisco. Just remember: no coat hangers.

Suddenly I hear the groan of gears. We’re saved! Here comes the recycling truck, which stops at my neighbor’s curb. The truck is an interesting contraption with two big bins or black holes in back. Apparently one receives paper and the other is for mustard bottles. The waste management disposal technician walks over and eyes my neighbor’s work. Next to her big, black garbage bin is carefully separated waste — paper, plastic, metal, wood, animal, vegetable and mineral, each in its own sack. I am not making this up: After due deliberation, the technician opens the garbage bin and drops in every single sack, then leaves. Mayor White, I think I’ve spotted the problem.