WELL-WORN WORDS

July 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

CLUB CLICHÉ – The chairman, Bottom Line, brought the membership to order as quick as a New York minute and as sly as a fox. “Welcome, fellow clichés, to the 2012 meeting of the overused, unimaginative and tired expressions constantly trotted out by the rhetorically challenged. It’s good to see some old members such as My Way or the Highway, There’s a New Sheriff in Town and Perfect Storm.”
“I’m here, too,” said Skin in the Game, “and, speaking of ancient axioms, I brought along Redouble Our Efforts and its cousins, Double Down and Take It to the Next Level,”
Bottom Line smiled like a Cheshire cat. “You all certainly qualify for our club’s membership. The first order of business is to say goodbye to some old members who had their 15 minutes of fame but no longer qualify due to lack of overuse.”
“For instance, You Go, Girl and Here Come De Judge?” asked 15 Minutes of Fame. “Not to mention Alpha Male and A List. Frankly, I haven’t heard of Gravitas and Shovel Ready in a long time, so maybe they should take a dirt nap.”
“You’re right as rain, 15 Minutes of Fame. They seem to have been forgotten, but we can all remember when they were a daily dose of repetition. Oh, you mentioned Shovel Ready which reminds me that the current political campaigns have generated any number of yawning clichés. So let me introduce you to Class Warfare and Nanny State. Newt Gingrich ran Drill, Baby, Drill and Drill-Here, Drill-Now into the ground, so to speak, until BP puked up the Gulf, then Newt switched to Elite Media. He used that term in every sentence. Sort of like that 2008 presidential election when every one of Rudy Giuliani’s speeches, interviews and utterances consisted of a noun, a verb and 9/11.”
“Certainly these are overly qualified for redundancy and thread-bare usage,” said Spot On, “but I want to add Vulture Capitalist, which Governor Rick Perry used and used and used until Romney started saying ‘Ooops.’ And we have One Percenter. It’s just about all Occupy Wall Street gave us, that single term, although One Percenter is no kin to Giving 110 Percent which every mouth-breather uses constantly. Also, during the primaries, how often did we hear Run the Table? Every single time a pundit or talking head pontificated about the various GOP presidential candidates winning this primary or that caucus, we heard, ‘Can he run the table?’ And we should send a nice note to Sarah Palin for giving us Lamestream Media and You Betcha!”
The chairman spoke up. “While recalling the 2008 campaigns, I see you down there, Family Values. You are so last election. Besides, when used by Herman Cain and Gingrich, it was hysterical. Next thing we know, John Edwards will renew his constant Two Americas drumbeat. One America thinks he’s a slime ball and the other thinks he’s only a cheating, lying hypocrite.”
Suddenly there was a new old chestnut at the door. “Excuse me, but I’m Climate Change. Is this the meeting of the Used To Be?”
When Bottom Line looked lost, Climate Change explained. “I used to be Global Warming, but in the dead of winter when Buffalo was getting record snow falls, I re-named myself Climate Change. It’s like Liberals are now Progressives. Same thing, only it sounds more, well, progressive. You remember when Rich, Fat Cat, Blood-Sucking Warmonger was around? He’s morphed into Job Creator. It’s the same with Torture. That title was sort of a put-off to most people, but it’s got a new handle, Enhanced Interrogation. No change in water-boarding and sleep deprivation — same threats and humiliations, but today Enhanced Interrogation is welcomed at all the better parties, especially the Tea Party. Gaming used to be gambling and Psychiatrist became Life Coach. Our chairman is the best Used To Be in the club. It was given to us by that same Governor Rick Perry. It is Lean, Finely Textured Beef, once called Pink Slime. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. Oh, I see the Pond — formerly the Atlantic Ocean — is motioning to me. Olympic announcers couldn’t live without saying the Pond once a sentence. Our meeting must be down the hall. Ciao – once known as Goodbye.”
“Getting back to who’s In and who’s Out, we salute On Steroids and No Brainer – we are so sick of you two. Give a Shout Out qualifies for membership, as does Real Time. Austintatious and its sister, the People’s Republic of Austin, qualify. Sports writers, announcers and sports talk show hosts are always a gold mine for the aging aphorisms. We have long since brought in America’s Team, Came to Play and Pro Hoops. Now we add Walk Off Home Run, Tebowing and the record-setter for simultaneously being both new and old, Linsational.”
Déjà Vu All Over Again asked to be recognized. “Is there a category for food clichés of the day? We now have gluten free. No one is sure what it means, but it has supplanted fat free, sugar free, salt free, the South Beach diet and low carb.”
“That’s good as gold,” the chairman said. “Next I want you to meet some new members who are new but already everyone is tired of them. First we have Went Viral on the Internet. Note that nothing is ‘very popular on the Internet’ or ‘heavily used’ or ‘even in great demand.’ No, any popular new item on the Internet is always, always Viral. Then we have Outlier. So new, so exhausted. Have you noticed that Writ Large is now in every news story, letter to the editor and column? Let’s welcome Writ Large along with Hashtag. Finally, voted in by unanimous consent I want you meet worn-out phrases that are as stale as day-old bread: Please meet Man Up and his brother, Man Cave. That’s a wrap. All’s well that ends, and remember our motto. Everyone together, avoid clichés like the plague.”

Ashby clichés at ashby2@comcast.net

2012 Treasures of Texas Trailblazers Luncheon

July 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

Friday, October 12, 2012
        11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Place:        River Oaks Country Club, 1600 River Oaks Blvd., Houston, TX  77019
Sponsor:    Mental Health America of Greater Houston
Contact:    Mary Catherine Sears at 713-520-3478 or email mcsears@mhahouston.org
Luncheon Chairs:    Anne & David Frischkorn and Bess & Rob Wilson III
Website:    www.mhahouston.org
Individual Tickets:     Starting from $250    Sponsorships:     Begin at $5,000

Join Mental Health America of Greater Houston at its Treasures of Texas Trailblazers Luncheon to celebrate the living legacies of mental health pioneers Marjorie and Raleigh Johnson (Methodist Hospital Foundation Board and The Menninger Clinic-Board of Visitors), Nancy and Clive Runnells (Co-Founders, The Gathering Place), and Henry Groppe and Bob Dickson (Founders, Southwest Health Technology Foundation).  The keynote speaker for the event is young trailblazer, David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, a New York Times bestselling author and the director of both the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine, and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law.  A book signing with Eagleman will occur at the Trailblazers Luncheon.

For tickets and sponsorship opportunities contact: Mary Catherine Sears at mcsears@mhahouston.org or 713-520-3478.

WE DON’T NEED NO EDUKASHUN

July 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Dear Student,
As you no, the State Board of Education has replaced the TASK tests with the TAKS which replaced the TAAS, TEKS and also the TACKY. A motion to approve the TYTOD (Take Your Teacher On a Date) died for lack of a second. But there’s more! Texas has now refused to adopt new nationally developed standards for teeching science. They are officially called the Next Generation Science Standards which were written by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science – like they no ennything about teeching science.
Those standards have been rejected by lots of other states. OK, in truth they have been adopted by 45 states, with possibly more to come. But if Joey jumped off a bridge would you jump, too? Worry not, as Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman of Texas’ State Board of Education, or SBOE, said, there is a “zero percent chance” of the standards being adopted, which makes it almost nothing. So as a substitute for whatever liberal-Godless teaching program those pointy-headed akademix thought up, here is Texas’ own Sience (or is it Sciense?) Test. Take your tim and feel free to ask your teecher for help – or for a date.
Circle the korrect answer: The earth is: flat, round, sort of egg-shaped, in danger of being overrun by Muslims. Volcanoes are: God’s boils, mountains built by unionized government workers, a contraction for “voluntary canoes.” Thomas Edison: invented electricity, bankrupt candle makers, founded the Church of Scientology, was a Muslim candle maker. The wheel is: a danger to our vital bodily fluids, not yet proven, useful for making a good rack for heretics, endorsed by the Obama administration (need we say more?). Global warming is a hot topic (a little SBOE humor there). It is: a new iPad game, being pushed by the polar bear lobby, a cottage industry for commie college professors who make a living by scaring the bejesus out of everyone else, all of the above.
Much has been said about the controversy over Texas text books approved by the SBOE, although we feel a great conciliation was made by the more conservative members in allowing the use of moveable type. To test your knowledge of science, choose the korrect selection to be Texas’ new science textbook: “Air Pollution – Fact or Fiction?” “Science From A to E-Coli,” “The Thesaurus and Other Dinosaurs,” “A Fresh Look at Toxic Dumps.”
True or false? Lenin’s Tomb is a communist plot. “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” explores the proliferation of scuba team competition. A lot of tax money could be saved if Texas students was home schooled. Praying in class to the God of your choice is the Christian way to heaven. High school football is to be maintained even if science classes are eliminated. The Nobel Prize for Science was awarded to Jules Verne. People who recycle are mostly druggies like seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.
Name one endangered species worth saving. (Extra credit if you can’t name any.) Is the EPA really necessary? Should the law of gravity be repealed by the next Texas Legislature? Does your teacher believe in evolution? If so, name your teacher. When was the War of 1812? Complete this sentence: Planned Parenthood is an un-American, leftist organization which should be: (use back of test form if necessary)
Some theorize that science is close to medicine and have even given it a term: medical science, although science fiction is closer to the truth. Following this tree-hugging policy, in an annual report card just released, the federal government has rated Texas very last in its delivery of health care services – 51st — behind every state and the District of Columbia. Gov. Rick Perry discounted the ranking as “fake and false.” Under heated grilling by Fox News, he also voiced suspicions about “our Kenyan President” and called the earth going around the sun “an unproven theory, like germs.”
Gov. Perry followed up this last-place report by announcing that Texas would not participate in expanding Medicaid in Texas under the federal health-care reform law, this in a state where a quarter of the people are uninsured, another dead last. This leads us to our next question: Gov. Rick Perry is: a great governor or our greatest governor?
In the most recent meeting of the SBOE, members learned of the governor’s action when a messenger raced in, yelling to the secretary who was keeping the minutes, “Stop the chisel!” In appreciation for Perry’s actions in progressive education, the board had polled the state before voting to name a school after him: the Gov. Rick Perry School for Xcellance an Stuf. One member read from a student’s essay on the plan: “He sure has did a good job here.” Another wrote: “Governur Parry rox!”
In other action, the board considered whether fire is a passing fad and if vaccinations were, as one member put it, “the devil’s secret for stealing our children’s soul at the pinochle of their lives.” Next the members discussed whether they should be elected, appointed or chosen by lot. The latter idea was dropped when one member noted Lot had a somewhat lurid private life and his wife was a pillar of salt. It was agreed that if sex education is limited to female students who are already pregnant, why bother? The boarda also agreed to distribute bumper stickers for student-athletes: “Labs and Abs – no place but Texas”.
Finally, the SBOE returned to discussing whether Texas should adopt the Next Generation Science Standards if only to compare our state’s students’ grades and comprehension in science with those of the other 45 states. Considering Texas’ ranking in most other categories, the plan was rejected unanimously, which meens almost all. Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman, spoke for the entire board when she told reporters, “We write our own standards here in Texas.” How troo, especially for sience (or is it sciense?).

Ashby is scientific at ashby2@comcast.net

Hard to Say Goodbye

July 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

Club Med Ixtapa Pacific staff and amenities make it tough for vacationers to say good bye.

story and photos by Matthew Abernathy

Try the trapeze school for fun!

Vacations are meant to be relaxing, enjoyable, invigorating and memorable. All too often, however, the stress of where to stay, what to eat and what activities to participate in can cause travelers mountains of anxiety and waves of tension. The Club Med Ixtapa Pacific website offers a better solution for mountains and waves: “A heavenly, Mexican hacienda-style, all-inclusive family resort nestled between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the shores of the Pacific Ocean.”

Encompassing more than 30 beautiful acres, Club Med Ixtapa Pacific sits just off the west coast of Mexico, near the village of Zihuatanejo. With a list of available activities all taking place inside the resort, it is the perfect retreat spot for families, newlyweds, singles and retired people of all ages. And with several restaurants, spas and shopping venues located on site, one never even needs to leave the resort to enjoy a full vacation. My wife and I had an opportunity to stay at Club Med Ixtapa Pacific and for us, the only bad part about this vacation was having to leave. We were spoiled beyond measure by the friendly staff, including our very own concierge (by request only and subject to availability).

Families with children, from infants through teens, can take part in the many kids programs the resort has to offer. These signature programs include Baby Club and Baby Welcome for infants and toddlers. While there is an extra charge for Baby and Petite Club Med, it is well worth it for new moms and dads who may need a bit of their own pampering. There’s no need to bring your own stroller, crib, baby tub, bottle warmers or any of the other dozen or so apparatuses that usually accompany a baby on vacation. For older kids, the Mini Club has its own pool and the kids participate in fun activities and sports geared towards kids of their age group. There is also a Circus School that has juggling, trampoline and trapeze classes. Club Med is always adding new programs for the mini-club. A highlight of the evening entertainment is the weekly Mini-Club show where the kids perform the dances they learned in the kids’ club, in a professional theater setting with lights and sound effects—very cool. For the older kids they have their own signature club; the Junior Club Med has similar activities to the Mini-Club. Teen programs are less formal, and include various fun activities, such as night-time water polo.

Adults need not feel left by the pool or left out in any way. Try out the trapeze school, kayaking, deep sea fishing, archery, volleyball, soccer, mini-golf, inline skating, rock climbing, tennis, basketball or one of the water sports available. At the end of the day, the same staff that has been serving you throughout your many activities, comes together to perform a stage production. We found the show very entertaining and amusing. What we really found amazing, however, was the energy of the staff; we were very impressed with their gracious, upbeat attitudes after a very long day!

A view of the resort where boats cruise by.

The main restaurant, El Encanto, has outdoor tables, and several differently-styled areas indoors with air conditioning. This restaurant is buffet-style, and also has a special section for baby food. The beachside Miramar has a la carte items and is open late. The fine-dining restaurant is the elegant Luna Azul; please note, reservations are required for this establishment. For our group, the chef of Luna Azul prepared the Bonita fish that was caught during our offshore fishing trip. There is nothing better than freshly caught fish prepared by a renowned chef!

While it is an inclusive resort, it is fun to venture outside the walls at least for a bit. My wife and I were fortunate enough to be in Mexico at the same time as Food & Wine magazine’s Food & Wine festival. There were chefs from all over the world creating dishes with local fare that were absolutely amazing. I believe my wife was “star struck” with Chef Marcus Samuelsson and his lovely wife, model Gate Maya Haile. The winner of Top Chef Masters Season 2, Samuelsson is an award-winning chef, best-selling cookbook author and the youngest chef to ever receive two three-star ratings from The New York Times, as well as, a very considerate and grateful host! The food and wine was exceptional and the group we were with had a wonderful dining and entertainment experience close to Club Med in the small village of Zihautanejo.

The Food & Wine festival was a great opportunity to taste exceptional food and make some new friends.

There are many half-day outings available including a lovely horseback ride along a beautiful beach, an ATV outing, and the snorkeling trip to a nearby island is popular, too. You can easily reach Zihautanejo by taxi and then stroll along a walkway by the beach, shop for jewelry, hammocks, and souvenirs to remember the occasion.

If you ever wish to escape to the beautiful, lush landscape on the west coast of Mexico, we strongly suggest Club Med Ixtapa Pacific. It is one of the most beautiful settings my wife and I have ever shared together and we plan to get back there soon with the entire family. Hasta luego!

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO GUESS?

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

 

 

GUESS WHO’S COMNG TO GUESS?

THE BREAKFAST ROOM – We have all been told to get a second opinion. That is why we have appellate courts and instant replay. Second-guessing is especially popular in medicine. Whatever our doctor says, we are told to get a second opinion. We don’t, of course, because we have child-like faith in our doctors. But when a shade-tree mechanic says our car engine’s wheedle gear is twangling and the rear jerryknob needs a new fristict, we might want to seek another view.

This can lead to confusion, delays and despair. Let me explain. I am looking at a long, jagged, ugly scar across my breakfast room ceiling which no one can ignore. Friends wander by and look up, grimace, and say nothing except maybe, “Who decorates your ceilings? Michelangelo on meth?” One neighbor visits wearing a hardhat, which is not very subtle.

The crack is the result of last summer’s drought and heat which did a severe number on Texas soil. You may have endured the results of the record temperatures and Dust Bowl dryness. Some towns were almost without any water. Cattle were sold off or simply went to that great rendering plant in the sky. Swimming pools were closed. The ground changed. Water pipes broke. Sidewalks buckled. So I can’t feel terribly sorry for myself with this crack which is causing me all kinds of trouble and it means my slab foundation is split along with all the water and sewer pipes under the house, and to readjust the foundation all the tile floors will crack into confetti and I shall be out tens out thousands of dollars. Wait. Yes, I can feel very sorry for myself.

I consider smearing some white toothpaste in the cracks. One of my sons recommends, “Just hire a painter to patch and paint it.” I get an estimate: $720. But the crack might come back. I need a permanent fix. Step Number Uno is to find an expert who will fix the problem. I check with one of my many neighbors who had major surgery on their foundations. “Step Number Uno is to get an engineer to see if you really need to repair your foundation.” So a PhD in consulting engineering comes out with his instruments, makes a detailed chart of the floors, maps the entire house, then sends me four pages of drawings along with a single-spaced three-page explanation – and a bill for $475.

With all this info in hand I am ready for the foundation guys to do their thing. Right? “No, you know the effect – you’ve got a cracked slab. What’s the cause?” says my neighbor. A leak detection company comes out and determines that, sure enough, I’ve got broken pipes under the house which are washing away the soil causing the slab to crack which causes etc., etc. They make two trips. One visit costs $295. The second runs $485. Thus far I am down $1,255 and the crack is still there, but now I am ready for the foundation fixers to fix.

Not to bore you with the details, but I get estimates of – no kidding — $5,787.50 and $4,500. One comes in at $8,560, another at $10,549. The lowest bid is for $3,480. The highest is $39,275. Oh, and one says, “Just hire a painter to patch and paint it.” These experts want to either saw a small hole in the driveway or jackhammer the entire drive. One says my chimney is the culprit and needs to be jacked up. Another expert says I should put beams under the house. Yet another wants to tunnel and trench from the house across my yard to the main water and sewer lines, and none of these estimates include the biggest expense of all, replacing the shattered tile floors.

There is the East Indian story of the blind men who touch an elephant. Each touches a different part – tail, tusk, etc. – and describes a totally different animal.

But all my experts are touching the same elephant, looking at the same house, cracks and engineer’s charts, and they come up with completely different causes, solutions and prices. It makes no sense. There was a time when President John Kennedy sent a U.S. Marine general and a State Department official to check out a growing conflict in a place called Vietnam. After their return and their presentations to JFK, he asked, “Did you two gentlemen witness the same war?”

In business we have parameters or yardsticks. We know how much rent to pay per square foot for a ghetto-front pawn shop; what’s the going price to stuff an endangered bald eagle. The Secret Service knows how much to pay for entertainment. Of course, price isn’t everything. John Glenn once noted just before his first blastoff he realized he was sitting on 90,000 parts, each one made by the lowest bidder.

Deciding what to purchase is easy, although women are better at this than men. Women will compare, savor, mull. Men just take the first item offered and consider it a done deal. Repairing is a different story, although today we don’t repair, mostly we just replace. Our cars are a good example. Have you ever driven around town getting various estimates to fix your car? It’s a pain and we do it only if the initial estimate is horrendous. Our house is another. How much to paint the gazebo and horse stalls? How much is too much to wallpaper the garage? Filing your taxes is iffy. My brother sent his last year’s filled-out IRS forms, which were close to this year’s amounts, to three different CPAs asking for their price. He got fee proposals from $250 to $2,500 for the exact same job.

It would be easy to say I’m back where I started, but I am actually behind. If I knew what to do I’d fix it myself and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I need a second.

Ashby is confused at ashby2@comcast.net

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Features, Travel Blog

Every June, the loud, joyful screams of school-aged children echoes all across the US. School is out, summer is here and it’s time for vacation! It’s not just the kids that get caught up in the excitement. Who doesn’t love to travel, to leave it all behind, to explore new lands, to savor the tastes of other cultures, to take chances on new adventures? Escape with H Texas as we journey across oceans, across continents, and even just across the yard so to speak and then get ready to book your own trip and enjoy a summer vacation worth writing about!

Bask in the Tuscan Sun

H Texas goes boot scootin’ across the Tuscan region of Italy. by Laurette M. Veres

If you’re looking for vineyards as far as the eye can see, one-of-a-kind culinary stores, gastronomic nirvana, and of course a unique blend of art and architecture, Italy is for you.

Renting a villa with friends is the perfect way to explore the vast Tuscan region of Italy. From this home base, you can explore seductive parts of the magnificent countryside.

Home Base  “Whoever gets there first will need to check in with Paola, the owner. She’s extremely nice but doesn’t speak much English so just do what she does and wave your arms around a lot,” says the preparatory e-mail from Andrea Stroh, our trip organizer with whom we were planning our vacation.
The biggest challenge arriving at Torre di Vignale, a refurbished fort in a suburb of Arezzo, is the road leading to the house. Paved at first, then turning to loose stone and gravel, the driveway gets very steep and windy. But the top of the hill gives way to the circa-14th century military tower, which has been carefully restored and transformed into a grand and comfortable villa. There are indoor-outdoor living areas to congregate; most notably, the outdoor terrace offers glorious 180-degree views of the rolling Tuscan countryside.

Because the initial drive out of Florence was a little vexing, we were all in need of a drink. And that’s the beauty of renting a Tuscan villa. Each evening, the standard modus operandi is to catch up, swap stories about the day’s activities and drink wine—fabulous, diverse and plentiful Italian wine! Possible day trips from this central location are endless: Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Rome, Assisi and more. You can also travel from Tuscany to the Umbria and Emilia Romagna regions with ease.

Florence  In Florence, the capital of Tuscany, you can get lost in the romance and history for months. From the fashion forward inhabitants, to the historically significant art, it’s easy to awaken your senses to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Most importantly: visit Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, on display at the Galleria Accademia. Purchase tickets online, however, to avoid the crowds and lines.
The Duomo, one of the main cathedrals in Florence and a globally recognized example of Renaissance architecture, can be seen in the city center from many vantage points. Giotto’s Tower is adjacent to the Duomo, and offers magnificent 360-degree views of Florence and the surrounding area. Be sure you’re ready for the 414-step climb.

Assisi  This small medieval town is perched on a hill in the region of Umbria and is the birthplace of St. Francis. Attending mass at Assisi’s most famous cathedral is magical as you connect to the spirits of the millions who have prayed here since the 1200’s. St. Francis’s tomb is located in the lower sanctuary and is an after mass must-see.
In front of the Cathedral, Via San Rufino takes you to the center of town where Bar Trovellesi offers the perfect Sunday afternoon respite. Enjoy the Lion fountains as you have an Italian coffee.

Cinque Terre  One of the true hidden gems of Italy, the Cinque Terre, was mostly unreachable until the 1980s when a train was installed to connect five cliffside fishing villages.  It’s still a challenge to get there; there are only two, small highways allowing access to the narrow, cliff-hugging road that winds along the steep, rocky coast. Because of this limited approach, the villages have been virtually frozen in time. Similar to sister villages in better-known Amalfi, the buildings are meticulously engineered into the seaside mountains.

Montelpuciano  The Tuscan wine country, with winding roads, terraced hills and cypress-lined pathways have some of the most memorable vistas in the world, and Motelpuciano seems to sprout strait out of the landscape to touch the clouds. Distance makes it a surreal spot, almost like a movie set. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it was chosen as a location for New Moon, the Twilight saga’s Hollywood blockbuster. “You are here” signs indicate where specific scenes were shot. We settle into the arch-covered terrace at Caffe Polziano to enjoy breathtaking vistas as we partake of Valdipiatta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the region’s Pici pasta.This wine is made from a lineage of grapes famous since the 15th century. As you explore the village, picturesque arched walkways beckon the past, and lead to product specific shops offering free wine tastings, olive oil and cured meats like Sotterraneo. The meats and breads picked up here are ideal for sharing picnic-style upon our later return to the villa.

Montalcino  Continuing the quest to sample the Tuscan region’s best wine, visiting the hill-topped village of Montalcino is a must. The ancient road to this village was once a principal road between Florence, Rome and France. Wine has been made here for a millennium, and records of commercial wine production date back to the1400´s. La Fortezza—the14th century defense castle is fairy tale quality.

Dancing and Singing with the Stars

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Features

Houstonian who danced his way into our hearts, recently released his debut album.

by Laurette M. Veres

CLAIM TO FAME: Emmy nominated Mark Ballas has wowed over 20 million viewers on ABC’s number one show, Dancing with the Stars, for nine seasons. He is a two-time champion (Season 6 with Kristi Yamaguchi and Season 8 with Shawn Johnson), and caused a media frenzy when he took performance newcomer Bristol Palin all the way to the finals in Season 11. Mark garnered a 2011 Creative Arts Emmy nomination for Outstanding Choreography for his creative pieces during Season 12 with his partner Disney star Chelsea Kane. This past season, he was partnered with UK opera sensation Katherine Jenkins, making it to the finals again and placing second. When the show first started Mark was apprehensive. “I thought, who the heck is gonna watch this?” Today, he knows he is part of a generation-impacting show. “I think it’s the most epic, fun and entertaining show ever,” he says. “My fans are the reason I do what I do. I love them, appreciate them and I am so grateful for them.”

NEWEST PROJECT: Something many may not know about Mark is that he is also a singer and a guitarist. Mark’s debut solo album HurtLoveBox focuses on the trials and tribulations of life and relationships. The first single Hotwire won MTV’s Freshman Five for 2011 award. Thus far, it has received over 100 million documented views, and appeared on feature reels in over 100,000 retail and business locations worldwide. Mark was named the Clear Channel “Artist To Watch” in July, 2011.

MARK ON HOUSTON: Mark has strong ties to Houston, where he was born and his dad still lives. Mark’s late grandfather, George Ballas, opened the largest dance studio in the world in Houston in the late 1950s, but was best known for inventing the Weed Eater. Each Christmas Eve, Mark performs at his family’s church, Second Baptist Church. “Whenever I’m in H-town, I love to go to the Second Baptist services. Performing at Christmas Eve has been extra special,” says Ballas. You can expect to see him there this year.

Planning Your Perfect Houston Weekend

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Explore Houston in a new way this weekend and discover the endless possibilities! by Laura Jackson

Are you ready to break free from the weekend rut? Whether you’re a visitor exploring our city for the first time, or a long-time resident ready to rediscover the action, Houston offers something for every personality and taste imaginable. Take a look at H Texas’ weekend planning quiz designed to help you map out your escape.

 

When you have a free Saturday, would you rather:

a.  Shop till you drop
b.  Coach a Little League game
c.  Watch classic movies
d.  Engineer your next home project

When you kick back in front of the TV, which network or program would you most likely watch:

a.  Home Shopping Network
b.  Monday Night Football
c.  Glee
d.  The Discovery Channel

If you could bring someone back from the past for a coffee date, would you choose:

a.  Coco Chanel
b.  Joe DiMaggio
c.  Judy Garland
d.  Albert Einstein

When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

a.  A fashion designer
b.  An NFL quarterback
c.  A ballerina
d.  An astronaut

Which scent makes you feel the most nostalgic?

a.  New leather and shoeboxes
b.  Stadium hot dogs
c.  Buttered popcorn
d.  Formaldehyde

Which song lyrics are you most likely to be caught humming under your breath?

a.  “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…”
b.  “Take me out to the ball game…”
c.  “Start spreading the news, I’m
leaving today…”
d.  “She blinded me with science…”

Your Halloween costume this year may or may not include:

a.  High heeled boots and/or a
feather boa
b.  A baseball cap
c.  A tiara
d.  A lab coat

Would friends describe you as: 

a.  A fashionista
b.  Athletic
c.  Artistic
d.  Always curious

Answers, Don’t Peek

 

If you answered mostly “A”, get ready for:
The Ultimate Shopping Experience.

Get ready for the treasure hunt of a lifetime! From chic boutiques to mega-sized luxury complexes to bargain hunting havens, Houston has it all.

Boasting over 26 million visitors a year, spanning 2.4 million square feet of space, housing 400 stores and restaurants, an ice-skating rink, two high-rise hotels and three office towers, there’s a reason Houston’s Galleria ranks as the fourth largest shopping complex in the nation and Texas’ largest.

For a more boutique experience, there’s always Highland Village, Uptown Park, and River Oaks Shopping Center just for starters. For the true bargain hunter, the Harwin District provides a multitude of designer look-a-likes, bona fide bottom-price bargains, and even a few vendors ready to wheel and deal with you. You can also find outlets like Houstons Premium Outlets and Katy Mills Mall west of downtown. So put on some sensible shoes (really, it’s a lot of walking), and get ready for some power shopping Houston style.

 

If you tackled mainly “B”,
start cheering for: Sports Mania.

In a word, Texans love affair with sports could be described as legendary. No matter the time of year, you are sure to find a game being played in H-Town. Whether you’re looking for a touch down, batter up, tip off, goal kick or face off, the Texans, Astros, Rockets, Dynamo and Aeros all call Houston home.

With four massive stadiums less than 10 years old, Houston is also known for drawing world-class sporting events from the World Series to the Shell Houston Open to the NCAA Final Four and more. Our newest grand stadium, the 22,000 seat BBVA Compass Stadium, boasts a European-style soccer experience, and is the first soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer located in an American city’s downtown district.

Check out www.houstonsports.org for a comprehensive listing of games around town.

 

If you sang out middle “C”
consider: A Night at the Theatre.
Spanning 17 blocks and approximately 13,000 seats, Houston’s downtown Theatre District is internationally known and provides one of the best experiences on or off a Broadway stage.

Our city’s professional resident companies include the Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony and the Alley Theatre. Houston is one of only five U.S. cities with permanent professional resident companies in all of the major performing arts disciplines.

You’ll also find a diverse array of smaller stage companies all around the city offering a wide variety of theatre productions. And, Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park offers world-class free performances throughout the year. You won’t want to miss their unforgettable Shakespearian Festival held in August each year.

For a detailed calendar of shows, concerts and festivals happening around the clock, visit http:/houston.culturemap.com/events/.

 

Answering “D” points to:
A Day at the Museum.

With over 150 museums and cultural institutions in the Greater Houston area, it’s fair to say that museums are a large part of Houston’s cultural scene. They cover science, art, history, nature, children’s interests and almost anything else you can dream of. The Houston Museum District Association’s fitting tagline states, “Something new every day!”

There are actually 19 museums located within a short 1.5 mile radius of Houston’s Herman Park, making it possible to plan an amazing walking tour of the District.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science ranks as one of the most visited museums in the U.S. featuring the Wortham IMAX Theatre, Burke Baker Planetarium, the Cockrell Butterfly Center and constantly revolving traveling exhibitions.

If you are looking for an out-of-this world experience unique to Houston, Space Center Houston offers a behind-the-scenes journey through NASA’s Johnson Space Center. You can also dine with an actual astronaut. Reservations are required (www.spacecenter.org).

Did you know that many of Houston’s museums offer certain days and times of the week free? Be sure to visit www.houstonmuseumdistrict.org for all the details, plus a calendar of amazing events happening at the various museums around town.

Dreaming Gold

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Several Olympic hopefuls call Houston home. H Texas talked to three of them about their life-long journey and the road to London. by Sue-Ella Mueller

Every four years, we are hit with the summer Olympic fever that unites the world. Our television sets glow long into the night while we watch, fascinated by sports we never even knew existed. We cheer on our favorite athletes as they take the podium and together, we sing the anthem of our homeland. But as the last flag is lowered, the final firework extinguished, and regularly scheduled TV shows resume, our thoughts of the Summer Games retreat. With the exception of seeing a star Olympian on a Wheaties box and another make an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, for most of us, the summer festivities will remain an event of 2012 that we will barely be able to recall in 2013 and one that will be replaced by a new event and venue in 2016.

But for the athletes that train year after year to compete in the summer games, thoughts of the Olympics are never far from their minds. It is what drives them to wake up at 4 a.m. day after day to train in an outdoor pool even in the cold winter months; it is what forces them to get up off the mat and grab a hold of the high bar to try again the body contorting trick they’ve failed to hit forty times before; it is the need to spend just a half hour more after a five-hour day at the gym pounding a bag they will never beat. For these athletes, it’s not just an event—it’s their dream, their goal, their life.

Many an Olympic medalist from both winter and summer sports alike has called Houston home: Carl Lewis and Eric Thomas (track and field), Tara Lipinski (ice skating), Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics), Laura Wilkinson (diving), siblings Steven, Mark and Diana Lopez (taekwondo), and Zina Garrison (tennis), to name just a few. For the 2012 London Olympic Games, Houston will once again be well represented. To date, there are five area athletes who have already qualified for the Games, offering Houstonians an opportunity to root for more than one hometown hero. There could be even more if all goes right for other H Town athletes who will compete in their sports’ Olympic trials in the next few weeks.

H Texas magazine had an opportunity to speak with three Olympic hopefuls from Houston. Each has a different story, but their dream is the same (get the gold!). However, what we discovered is that whether these athletes make the Games or not—or are actually able to achieve their wildest dreams of gold—their spirit, drive and determination is well worth our admiration.

Marlen Esparza

SPORT Boxing

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS First ever USA qualifier for Olympic women’s boxing; Six-time U.S. National Champion (from 2006-2011); 2008 Pan American Games Gold Medalist; 2006 World Championship Bronze Medalist

AGE 23

HOMETOWN Pasadena

SURPRISING FACT Marlen also plays volleyball and basketball as well as runs and swims. During her down time, her favorite television shows are The Simpsons and House.

When the 2012 Olympic Games are over, with or without a medal, Houstonian Marlen Esparza will have made history going down as one of the first women to ever compete in the newly added Olympic sport of women’s boxing and the first-ever Olympic qualifier for the sport from the United States.

While women’s boxing is not new to the ring, it has been an uphill battle to get the nod of the International Olympic Committee and even now, there will only be three weight classes as opposed to men’s boxing which has 10 weight classes. “The best [female] fighters from each country have been competing against each other internationally for years, just never at the Olympics,” says Esparza. “This is huge for the sport. We have fought to overcome so many challenges and obstacles to get to this point.”

The 23-year old is used to working hard and overcoming obstacles. She started boxing at the age of 11 after years of watching the sport on television with her dad and later watching her brothers train at a nearby gym. Although her family wasn’t sure about having their little girl compete in the ring, after she won her first national tournament and they realized how much she loved the sport, they were quickly in her corner. She boxed throughout high school and managed to maintain a 4.6 GPA. Despite a vigorous training schedule, not only was she class president at Pasadena High School, she also graduated among the top 3 percent of her class in 2007.

While education is clearly important to Esparza, she has put college on hold for now as she gets ready for the games. “My training is really tough. I workout two to three times a day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I do weight lifting in the morning and then go to the boxing gym [Elite Boxing Gym] from 5-8 pm and do a run before or after my gym workout. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I do swimming in the morning instead and I usually only take one day off a week [Sundays],” she says.

With so much going on, one might think Esparza would be a little stressed about the upcoming games. However, Esparza is known for her cool demeanor when approaching the ring. “I am actually more calm and mellow before I fight. Some days, I take naps before I fight at night and usually listen to Christian music before I go into the ring,” she says.

Don’t let that fool you, though. When the London games roll around, Esparza plans to come out swinging. “This means everything to me. I’ve been working so hard and for so long; my whole life has been about boxing.” She also hopes the addition of women’s boxing will drive home the point that, “It’s not just a male sport anymore. It’s for everyone.”

Jonathan Horton

SPORT Gymnastics

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS Silver Medal 2008 Beijing Olympics (High Bar), Bronze Medal 2008 Beijing Olympics (Team), Bronze Medal 2010 World Championships (All-Around), Gold Medal at the Visa National Championships 2009 and 2010 (All-Around)

AGE
26

HOMETOWN Houston

MARRIED to Haley DeProspero
Horton (former collegian gymnast)

SURPRISING FACT Obsessed with personal hygiene; a clean shave, smelling good and fresh breathe are part of the daily routine; loves fast cars and motorcycles

Olympic veteran and Houstonian Jonathan Horton is poised to assume a place on the medal podium once again. Having earned an individual silver medal in high bar and a team bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Horton has high hopes of adding gold to his collection.

“I remember watching the women’s team win gold [1996 Atlanta Olympics] and from then on, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” says Horton. “My entire life, I’ve always wanted to be able to say that at one point in time, I was the best in the world.”
Horton, captain of the U.S. National Men’s Gymnastics Team, stands a good chance of doing just that. But first he has to get through the Olympic trials set for June 28 and June 30.

“In 2008, I was blind and didn’t really understand the Olympic hype. So, my mental approach to this year’s games is different; I know what to expect,” says the 26 year old Horton. “I think you’re more stressed at trials than at the games. Everyone wants that dream to come true, but if you don’t make the team, you don’t go. The trials are where you see gymnasts fall apart or have their greatest moments ever.”

Horton has been involved in gymnastics since he was four years old. He was a phenom at the University of Oklahoma where he earned a Sooner record of six NCAA National Championship titles. Today, he works out six days a week anywhere from four to six hours a day.

“It’s a lot of conditioning and strength training. There’s a lot of repetition of skills obviously too. You’ll do it a million times until you get it right,” he says. “It’s the mental and physical side that makes you successful. I mean, you have to have talent, but talent is worthless without the desire to persist and push.”

A little older and a little wiser, Horton says his training is still just as intense as ever, but now he trains more efficiently. He also trains often with other Houston gymnasts such as Chris Brook who have the potential to make the Olympic team as well. “It [training] definitely takes a toll on your body. It’s a little harder to recover than when you were 18. But we take better care of ourselves. It’s quality work that matters rather than quantity,” says Horton, who trains at the Cypress Academy under Coach Tom Meadows.

Horton has long been known as one of the hardest working men in gymnastics. He has set his goal on getting gold and believes that this year’s team should be a strong one for the United States and has a legitimate shot of standing together and singing the Star Spangled Banner, not only as individuals, but as a team. It’s a sure bet that he’ll do whatever it takes to increase the team’s odds.

“My goal is gold,” Horton says. “On the days when I’m tired, that’s what gets me through training.”

Christina Loukas

SPORT Diving

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS Nine-time national champion (1-meter 2007, 2008, 2009 x2; 3-meter 2010, 2011; synchronized 3-meter 2009, 2010; synchronized 10-meter 2006); Won the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials on 3-meter and placed ninth at the 2008 Olympics; Silver medalist on 3-meter synchro at 2012 FINA Diving World Series (Dubai, Tijuana), bronze medalist on 3-meter (Tijuana); Fourth on 3-meter at 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai (first top-four finish by a U.S. woman on 3-meter at Worlds since 1994)

AGE 27

HOMETOWN Riverwoods, Illinois; Houston transplant now living in The Woodlands

SURPRISING FACT Her family owns a number of rooftop buildings around the Wrigleyville area as well as the Cubby Bear lounge. As a result, Christina is a huge Chicago Cubs fan.

While Christina Loukas is not a native Houstonian, she has lived and trained here for the past two years and, by virtue, has become an adopted daughter of the city. Born in Chicago, Loukas grew up having to shovel snow and de-ice the car windows in order to get to diving practice. But it wasn’t the snow that drove her to look for a new residence; it was the burning desire to do everything she could to become not just a better diver, but the best diver.

And, if you are a diver looking for the best coach, what better place to look than Houston? It is after all the home of the famed Woodlands Diving Academy’s Coach Ken Armstrong, who helped propel diver Laura Wilkinson, competing with a broken foot at the time, to a gold medal in platform diving at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“I’d been training for six years at Indiana University. Indiana has a team of great divers, but I’d kind of hit the top there and I needed a new set of eyes to watch my diving,” says the 26-year old Loukas. Loukas’ first place finish at the 2008 Olympic trials had earned her a spot on the team, but her ninth place finish had her wanting to do more to succeed in international competitions.
With the support of her family, Loukas made the move to Houston in 2010. She says it was the right decision for her and has helped her regain her focus. “I was taking diving too seriously. Kenny makes it fun; he is always joking around. It’s just a better learning environment for me.” She also had the opportunity to train with Wilkinson through this December. “I’ve always looked up to Laura. She has such a passion for the sport and such a great work ethic. She is a good source for me, someone I can talk to,” says Loukas.

Wilkinson is now devoting much of her time to taking care of her one year old, but Loukas is not alone in the pool. In fact, another bright, native Houston hopeful, 16-year old Kassidy Cook, trains with and is Loukas’ synchro partner. “We train together all the time. She is so mature, probably because she is one of six kids, that I forget how old she is,” Loukas says.
With or without Cook, Loukas spends about five hours every weekday training including dryland work, trampoline work, Pilates, and, of course, board work. Olympic trials will take place June 17 through June 24. However, making the team is not the only thing on Loukas’ mind.

“Going into the trials, I have the experience and I have more confidence now,” she says. “For me, this time around, just making the Olympics isn’t the goal. The goal is to make the Olympics and get the gold.”

 

COACH’S TAKE

Swim Coach Allison Beebe shares what it is like to coach an Olympic hopeful.

It is 60-hour work weeks with very few days off. There for every dawn and twilight practice and present for every Saturday meet, game or event. On hand to act as a surrogate parent, physical therapist and career counselor. The pay can be small and the glory little. Yet, these amazing individuals clock in each day to support, to train, to motivate and to coach some of the best athletes of our time.

In the world of swimming, there are literally hundreds of thousands of athletes training in the water every day. To even qualify for trials, regardless of where one finishes, puts a swimmer in an elite crowd. For non-college, age–group swim coaches, having one swimmer go to trials is an accomplishment, having two swimmers make it is a quite a feat and coaching three or more swimmers to trials, well, that would be considered by some a triumph.

For one club coach in Sugar Land, however, it seems like the Olympic trials, set to take place June 25 through July 2 in Omaha, is just another day at the office. “The mindset of our program is about not putting limits on what you can do,” says First Colony Swim Team (FCST) Head Coach Allison Beebe, named the 2010-2011 Gulf Coach of the Year. “So for us, it wasn’t will we get someone to trials, it was who is going.”

Who indeed as Coach Allison and FCST, are sending not one, not two, but eight swimmers to the 2012 US Olympic swim trials. Of the swimmers heading to Omaha, Coach Allison says they all have one common denominator: They are consistent and never miss practice unless they are sick. That’s practicing eight times a week during the school year and nine times during the summer. And it’s not just the kids who are making the practices. Coach Allison and her team of coaches are there too.

“It’s important that we emulate what we expect from them. We have to show up. We expect them to work hard and we work harder,” Coach Allison says.

Perhaps one of the most trying parts of her work comes when she has to say good-bye to her age–group swimmers and, hopefully, send them off to college to be trained by another coach. However, when asked if it is disheartening to be somewhat of a stepping stone in the sport, she says, “It’s my job to get them ready for college swimming and I expect them to continue to compete. I’d be angry if I was a stopping point.”

As far as this year’s trials go, Coach Allison says she is treating it like any other meet. “They are as prepared as they can be,” she says. “My hope is that they get up on the blocks knowing they did the best they could to train for this moment. And I hope they leave hungry, wanting to come back and do even better in 2016.”

FIGHT HEART DISEASE ONE STEP AT A TIME

July 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

FIGHT HEART DISEASE ONE STEP AT A TIME: JOIN THE AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION FOR THE 2012 HOUSTON HEART WALK

WHO: An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Houstonians will participate in the Heart Walk presented by Memorial Hermann Health System and Reliant Energy. The Heart Walk is part of the Association’s new My Heart. My Life. national platform, sponsored locally by FMC Technologies and ConocoPhillips, which is designed to change the way Americans think about their health, and help people feel better and live longer.

WHAT: Fun Activities and non-competitive 5k walk to promote walking as a part of a healthy lifestyle, while raising funds to support cardiovascular research and educational programs for the American Heart Association.

WHEN: Saturday, November 3, 2012  8:30 a.m.

WHERE: Reliant Park
1 Reliant Park
Houston, TX 77054

WHY: Heart disease and stroke — the nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers — and all other cardiovascular diseases, claim more than 870,000 American lives a year.  The American Heart Association’s goal is $ 2.2 million for the 2012 Houston Heart Walk. Research funded by the American Heart Association has yielded or contributed to many important innovations such as CPR, life-extending drugs (including clot-busters), pacemakers, bypass surgery, the heart-lung machine and surgical techniques to repair heart defects.

HOW: To participate in the annual event, walkers can register online by visiting www.houstonheartwalk.org  or by calling 713-610-5042. There is no registration fee, but donations are appreciated. Walk as part of a company team or form your own team with family and friends.

25-54 OR FIGHT

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

This just in: “NBC executives suggest that the impact of the end of the ‘Today’ streak has been overstated, primarily because it continues to show strength in the category that is most important in generating television news revenue: viewers aged 25 to 54. ‘Where it counts we have not had slippage,’ said Steve Capus, the president of NBC News. ‘That’s what’s real. The rest is spin and noise.’”

It seems after an 852-week first-place run – the most in the TV industry – NBC’s morning “Today” show slipped to second place behind ABC’s “Good Morning America.” This slippage is bad news for the Peacock network, because the show has been a cash cow, bringing in an estimated $484 million last year with minimal expenses (unless you count Ann Curry’s contract buy-out).

But Capus’s defense is an insult to millions of Americans, and may include you. He proudly points to the morning show’s strength in the 25 to 54 year old category, “That’s what’s real.” As for those under 25 or over 54 years of age, sitting in their dens deciding what to watch on TV: they are “spin and noise,” which sounds like a law firm or an English pub. They don’t count for squat in Nielsen ratings, sponsors’ marketing meetings and program planning. Just put them on an ice floe and push them out to sea.

Companies do extensive research to determine who is and who is not buying their product, then spend their advertising bucks accordingly. This is why Saturday morning TV shows are mostly cartoons, sponsored by firms that make stuff to rot out kids’ teeth, turn 5 year olds into diabetics (“Kids, remember what Mary Poppins sang, just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.”) And cause 8-year-old girls to inquire about deodorants.

I, personally, don’t fit into the 25-to-54 age category, but shall on my next birthday. (Incidentally, what was Y2K?) But you older readers, don’t you buy things? Like food and cars and Depends? You do have an income and you do spend it on something. The median income of married couples between the ages of 65 and 69 is $61,000, and a quarter of these households bring in more than $100,000 annually. Much of this money – tens of thousands of dollars per walker – goes to the Over the Hill Gang through Social Security and Medicare — funds, which, are taken from the 25-to-54 generation, thus widening the gap.

As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote recently, “The wealth gap between households headed by someone over 65 and those headed by someone under 35 is wider than at any point since the Federal Reserve Board began keeping consistent data in 1989. The gap in homeownership is the largest since Census Bureau data began in 1982. The income gap is also at a recorded high; median inflation-adjusted income for households headed by people between 25 and 34 has dropped 11 percent in the last decade while remaining essentially unchanged for the 55-to-64 age group.” In addition, the current economic slump has hurt the young more than any other group.

Thus you old codgers may have more to spend than the average 25 year old who is unemployed, moved back in with his parents and plans to tell them about his pregnant girl friend and soon as he kicks his meth habit. This aging adolescent is the networks’ target? He and his kind are the people Madison Avenue and NBC are trying to reach with ads for Charles Schwab, Carnival Cruise Line and Johnny Walker Red? That is “what’s real?” It’s clear that the 25-to-54 age category may not be “the most important in generating television news revenue.” Of course, maybe they just spend more because they can’t control their budgets, credit cards and unemployment checks.

We can tell a lot about a program’s viewers or listeners by their commercials. Companies know who is watching and listening and who is not. Budweiser, for example, is constantly advertising on televised sports events. Its research no doubt shows that most of the company’s potential customer are adult males, and that is also who watches most NASCAR races in which fuel efficient machines (one mile, one gallon) race around an oval track for 4 hours while a quarter of a million sweating fans are chugging Bud.

It’s why Rolex and Mercedes advertise during TV coverage of Wimbledon. Note, too, which companies advertise on the evening network news: Big Pharma: commercials for aching backs, bad eyesight, drooping chins and infected wounds from Bull Run. These companies know who has time at 5:30 (or 6:30 on the coasts) to sit on the sofa and watch TV: the AARP Army. Everyone else is at work.

In this regard, which firms do heavy sponsoring on Sean Hannity’s radio show? Companies which specialize in dead beats, tax cheats and those with questionable reputations. “Do you owe more than $20,000 to the IRS?” “Only one complaint from a former customer can ruin your name.” Turning it around, those who run businesses catering to tax dodgers, credit card abusers and shady businessmen, think: “How can I best reach these slime balls? Who has nothing better to do in the middle of the day? They listen to Sean Hannity, of course.” Rush Limbaugh has many of these same sponsors, which tells us a lot.

We who do not fit into “what’s real” should take heart. These executives are the same type who brought us the New Coke, Edsel and the Longhorn Network. Like Dick Rowe, in charge of evaluating new talent for Decca Records, wrote in 1962: “Not to mince words, Mr. Epstein, but we don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars particularly are finished.” So much for the Beatles.

NBC’s prime-time performance is as weak as any network has been in broadcasting history, although the Olympics coverage will help temporarily. And we must note that Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, is 49 years old. Keep that ice floe handy.

 

Ashby is growing older at ashby2@comcast.net

South Padre Island

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

There’s Always Time to visit the Texas Riviera

by Laurette M. Veres

The water at South Padre Island looked like the Caribbean.  Well, almost.  It’s close enough considering the flight time from Houston.  The parasail’s yellow Parachutes smiled down on the beach chairs as happy groups of parasailers flew past. It seemed as though every woman on the beach was caught up in the trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Don’t miss

Yummies Bistro is packed for breakfast and lunch.  Breakfast tacos are served on homemade tortillas.  You’ll enjoy many healthy option and the opportunity to have breakfast all day.  The spacious patio at Padre Rita Ville is the perfect place to enjoy the margaritas.  They come to the table steaming with a dry-ice affect.

THE ICEMAN COMETH

July 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE OFFICE – “Hello, Mister Uhgr Zzzwrrj. I’m Officer Johnson. Welcome to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE as we’re called in English. We’re called other titles in other languages, some of which I can’t repeat. You have applied for a DREAM exemption so you can stay in America legally rather than be tossed back to that mud hut in Tajikistan to live on feral hogs in the forest. There are several strict criteria that you must meet in order to circumvent the law and bypass all those honest people in other lands who patiently stand in the snow outside our consulates with their tattered documents trying to get here legally.”

“Is good be here to. Moonrog.”

“First and foremost, this new policy applies only to young people who were brought to the U.S. ‘through no fault of their own,’ as everyone keeps saying. If you came over by yourself, it’s your fault, and out you go. You need to have arrived here before you turned 16 and have resided in the country for at least five continuous years before your application. I see your arrival date was Tuesday. I assume you meant on a Tuesday. Very efficient.” Uhgr Zzzwrrj nods in agreement.

“To qualify, you can be no older than 30.You look like you’re closer to 45, but I see the notation here that Tajikistanians age early and start growing beards as soon as 12. The boys somewhat earlier. We would like to check your birth certificate with our embassy in Tajikistan, but unfortunately it has been under siege for the past five months by the Modern Goth Party, or MGP, and we have lost all communications. In addition, your Bureau of Records was torched by the MGP when it lynched your president. So we’ll consider this is a true, if unverified, answer.”

The ICE man turns the page. “You must not take away jobs from Americans, which, with unemployment hovering just under 10 percent generally and around 50 percent for young minorities, seems an overly harsh restriction. You can only take positions that other young Americans won’t take, like staying off drugs, not getting pregnant and remaining free of tattoos. You can qualify for weaseling out of our normal deportations if you have served in the military. I see on your application form that you did, indeed, serve in the military: the Tajikistan Camp Guard’s 456th Rendition and Water Boarding Battalion. That particular outfit doesn’t seem to be on our list of suitable armed service units, but I’ll look into it. Another qualification is that you must be fluent in English. Are you?”

“Da.”

“Close enough for government work, except in Arizona. Incidentally, DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Fox News says it is actually the Devious Response for the Election of A Muslim. Now I’m supposed to read you the reason for this abrupt change in U.S. immigration policy. ‘After years of increasing the number of border guards, building fences, calling out the National Guard and Marine Reserves, a tripling of the Border Patrol budget, plus the use of search towers, helicopters and now drones, it has come to the attention of the Administration that allowing you to leapfrog over all other illegal immigrants is, in the President’s words, the right thing to do. It allows families to stay together, keeps our bright young visitors here to contribute to our society and, most importantly, it’s an election year.’ Any questions?”

“Vat ist dis comprehensive immigration reform I hear all time? Moonrog?”

“No one has a clue what ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ means, but it sounds good, so politicians pandering to immigrants use the term all the time. Anyway, we come to the educational qualifications. You must stay in school or have a GED. If you are an illegal alien – excuse me, we’re not supposed to use that term – if you are an undocumented immigrant, citizenshiply challenged or a person of non-papered persuasion but have been in Texas at least 48 hours, Governor Perry says you qualify for in-state tuition. At last count there were 16,476 such students – 614 at UT-Austin. Texas awarded about $33.6 million in state and institutional financial aid to them between fall 2004 and summer 2008.”

“I in the West Pampa Arc Welding Academy & Taxidermy Shop. Take courses on-line and on time every other Wednesday in every other March. Incidentally, how you spell GED?”

“Any way you wish. We can’t engage in racial profiling. Now, if you qualify you will be one of 1.4 million persons who can ‘come in out of the shadows,’ as the panderers like to say. Of those, 170,000 are in Texas. Together, you would make up the population of Brownsville and sometimes I think you do. Moving on, you must not have any major crimes on your record. I see here on your form that you have been charged with burglary, arson, kidnapping, high treason and conspiracy to lurk. How could you be guilty of high treason when you aren’t even an American citizen? Let’s just put down ‘usually innocent.’ That’ll work.”

Officer Johnson continues: “We can’t let you stay if you pose any threat to national security. In this regard, you list your sponsor as someone named Al Kayda and his occupation as ‘serial suicide bomber.’ That’s obviously a joke. Under Questions and Comments you ask if you would qualify as an anchor baby. Of course not, but anchor cousin is possible for your 13 relatives packed and waiting in Toronto. Finally, the President’s change of heart, not to mention the changing polls, means if you receive deferred action for a period of two years, that period will be subject to renewal for either another two years or until the next election. But don’t worry. If Romney wins next fall, you’ll be back hunting feral hogs.”

“Moonrog.”

“You keep saying that. What does it mean in English?”

“Amnesty.”

 

Ashby is illegal at ashby2@comcast.net

 

“Mr. Marmalade” – Childhood Fantasies, Adult Irrealities

July 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

The Country Playhouse

August 10—25

To open our 2012-13 Black Box season, The Country Playhouse presents Mr. Marmalade by Noah Haidle, for three weekends only, August 10 – 25. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, with Sunday matinees on August 12 and 19 at 2:00 pm, plus a weeknight show on Thursday, August 23, at 7:30 pm.
Lonely little four-year-old Lucy fantasizes about adult life and dreams up an imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, who takes on a troubling life of his own, personifying her fearful fascination with grownups and their games. Enter Larry, the little boy next door, at age five the youngest attempted suicide in the history of the state, and the two neglected youngsters awkwardly unite to dispel Mr. Marmalade’s sinister power and break through into a normal childhood.
Directed by Scott McWhirter, the cast features Monica Passley, Taylor Biltoft, Danny Seibert, Laura Chapman, Louis Crespo, Keshia Lovewell, and Beverly Hutchison.
Premiering Off-Broadway in 2005 and starring Michael C. Hall opposite Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer, Mr. Marmalade draws on the “Alice in Wonderland” scenario of a wise child in a mad, mad world, casting adult actors in children’s roles, to heighten its irreality. Amid TV catchphrases and psychobabble, hints of cruelty and pornography nibble at the edges of the story, shadows of forbidden knowledge to whet the curiosity of modern girls and boys who seemingly know too much, yet understand little. Comedy and pathos interweave in this delightful funhouse fable of naïve worldliness on the brink.
Ticket prices are $22 for adults, and $19 for students and seniors. Groups of 20 or more receive a $5.00 discount off the adult price. Call the box office at 713-467-4497 for reservations, or make them online at  www.countryplayhouse.org (at no additional charge).
Country Playhouse is located at 12802 Queensbury (in Town & Country Village, across from City Centre), just 2 blocks east of the Sam Houston Tollway.