Bidder Sweet Deal

October 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

My latest get-rich-quick scheme didn’t work out as planned. Still, I thought the Hurricane Harvey Weinstein Rebuild & Rehab Center combined the best of two worlds. I had heard of people making a fortune by cornering the gold market or the corn market. I tried to corner the flea market. That was about as bad as my franchise for the Bernard Madoff Investment Advice Co. I tried selling Testosterone Mighty Pills door-to-door, but the FDA said the testosterone fad was a snake oil hoax and my pills were worthless. It was then that I sought out financial help from my long-time money guru, Cash O’Hand. Fortunately it was during visiting hours. “OK, I admit the New Coke bombed,” he said on the phone from behind the glass window. “And I’m sorry about your betting on the Jamaican bobsled team, but this is a sure-fire winner. Amazon.”

“Amazon Grace? It’s been recorded by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the Black Watch Bagpipe Band.”

Cash sighed his condescending sigh. “No, Amazon, the company that has taken over marketing, selling and delivering everything from toothpicks to hit men, putting Mom and Pop stores out of business quicker than your neighborhood WalMart. Even Macy’s and Sears are reeling because of Amazon. They are based in Seattle, but plan to open a second headquarters, called HQ2. The facility will cost five billion dollars, take up land the size of Idaho, hire fifty-thousand workers, who, Amazon promises, will each earn a hundred thousand dollars annually to start, bonuses will double that amount. So, naturally, governments are drooling at the prospect of landing such a prize. I mean, they are groveling like a Trump cabinet. You need to get in on the greed by brokering the deal.”

That sounded like a good idea, so I began with the State of Texas. Both our U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, had written a letter to Amazon explaining why Texas would be the perfect place to locate HQ2 – top quality schools that finish just below average on virtually every state-to-state comparison, a legislature that imitates Larry, Moe and Curly, and no transgender school bathrooms, something Amazon cannot resist, except that they sell them on-line. Even Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went plugging for the facility, pointing out that Texas has low wages, unions are considered a commie front and child labor laws are actually rather childish. Texas had a good chance to get the new goldmine. Then Michigan said it would bid for HQ2. New York followed. Amazon noted these states had high taxes, and the company wanted a low tax rate. California said it would create a generic tax loophole for any company whose name began with an A and ended with an n, but it must contain the letter z. New York promised to turn over the entire state treasury to Amazon.

I was hired on by Texas to push our bid. I discovered that the company CEO, Jeff Bezos, had moved to Houston as a child and attended River Oaks Elementary School, and thus should reward his old hometown. Detroit countered with offering to rename a high school the Jeff Bezos School for Shaking Down Communities. Amazon said the winning city must have a first-rate international airport. D/FW offered to become the Jeff Bezos Intergalactic Spaceport & Fast Delivery Terminal. Atlanta promised no taxes. Amazon said it would levy a tax on Atlanta should it get the prize. I fired back with a plan to rename the Houston Ship Channel the Texas Amazon River. New York City vowed to change Times Square to Bezos Squared. He said he didn’t need the Times, he already owned the Washington Post. The bidding got so rough that San Antonio dropped out. “We thought the Amazon Alamo would do the trick,” a city official sobbed. “But they wanted to sell it stone by stone. We didn’t have enough stones to make it worth their while.”

Some economists who have investigated incentives for companies to move to a town – tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, more schools – say locals are giving away the store. (One particular move, the economists figured, would benefit the host city by 2050.) But my job was to lure Amazon to Texas, and the store could be given away. Speaking of stores, I promised to put a Whole Foods in every company cubicle, with free vending machines. Then I found out Bezos owned Whole Foods. At that point I dropped the idea of putting a church in every lobby.

“I’m not doing very well,” I told my financial guru at our next meeting. He adjusted the phone. “You need to steal ideas from the very best. Buy Donald Trump’s book.” I got out a paper and pen. “The Art of the Deal?” I asked. Cash shook his head. “First of all, Trump never wrote it. Every word was ghostwritten. Besides, there was nothing in it you couldn’t learn from MSNBC on mute. You want his latest book, ‘The Art of the Heel,’ in which the Donald shows how to lie, cheat and twist facts and quotes and get away with it.” So I bought the book and read the first chapter; “Benghazi Blizzard — Accuse You Enemies.” Trump wrote (or someone did) that if you keep pounding away at a lie, some dumb people will begin to believe you. I went on Facebook to anonymously state that Atlanta had been burned to the ground, a hurricane had swept through New Jersey and San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake. All true, I just didn’t say when. New Mexico offered old Mexico, but Amazon demanded its first-born and a sibling to be named later. I made our final offer: Texas would name Jeff Bezos its king for life, if Dan Patrick didn’t object. It didn’t work, and I was fired, but I left the “For Sale” sign in front of the state Capitol.


Ashby’s store is at ashby2@comcast.net

Split-Second Guessing

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV – “Nimrod has a good changeup, but isn’t going to make the playoffs. Mugwump, on the other hand, may go all the way.” No, this isn’t a sports show. These are talking heads discussing a political campaign. It isn’t surprising, since there are number of basic appeals to both sports and politics, and in both cases the rest of us get to tell the participants what they should have done. The first similarity is simply that we like to choose sides. Democrats position themselves as underdogs, fighting for the little people, opposing the fat cat Wall Street Republicans, and the cheer for the Mets. Republicans picture themselves as patriotic and God-fearing upholders of traditional American values. They root for the Yankees. Here in Texas we had the Cowboys vs. the Oilers and now the Texans, and it’s easy to figure out who is cheering for whom.

In choosing sides, we tend to salute their virtues and ignore their problems. Baylor fans are still Baylor fans, and there is no such thing as an ex-Aggie. There are even those who would still vote for Donald Trump, while Hillary Clinton continues to sell books. This leads to the nation’s major problem, which is not global warming, Harvey Weinstein or FEMA, but polarization. Some, like Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow, are getting rich pandering to this divisiveness, the worst since the Civil War. Fox News leads in ratings by stoking the fires of anger and laying blame, so the worst thing that could happen to that network is for Americans to start agreeing.

Take something as simple as mass transit. For some obscure reason, liberals and conservatives take opposite sides on rails, subways and toll roads. Then there are fight over pollution, immigration, gun control and paper or plastic. This polarization is reflected in Congress, the Supreme Court, elections for almost any office and, still even now, Vietnam. When anything of major importance happens in this country, everyone takes sides.

Sports are a little less important than how we run our governments and who runs them for us. I really don’t think God cares who wins the Super Bowl, although there is this observation: “The man is an atheist. He watched Notre Dame play Baylor and didn’t care who won.” Houston sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz once wrote: “There must really be something to religion. People keep comparing it to Texas high school football.” Amen. Not only do we cheer for our candidate or team, we say tacky things about our opponent. During this past presidential election, the anti-Hillary jokes and cartoons I received via email vastly outnumbered the anti-Trump screeds, but maybe that’s because conservatives are funnier than liberals. We have bumper stickers on our John Deere tractors, we put flags and signs in our front yards boosting our side, depending whether it’s a political campaign or football season.

Those who follow politics also tend to like sports. Richard Nixon, a Redskins fan, even drew up some defensive plays for the team. (I always thought that when a member Congress or a journalist thinks of the Redskins as the home team, it’s time to leave, because there’s a whole other country out there and they have lost contact.) George F. Will, one of the last sane conservative Republican pundits, is a life-long Chicago Cubs fans. (He once descried the club as “in the middle of its 100-year re-building program.”). Will detests football as “embodying all that is wrong with America – a committee meeting followed by violence.” George H.W. Bush was captain of his Yale baseball team, and his son, W., was president of the Texas Rangers. This list goes on, but perhaps our major link between politics/government and sports is Teddy Roosevelt. He once wrote, “In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!” It should come as no surprise that many of his fellow Rough Riders were former football standouts.

Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for settling the Russo-Japanese War, then came his biggest task: saving American football. It had become so violent in the early 1900s that The Chicago Tribune reported that in 1904 alone, there were 18 football deaths and 159 serious injuries, mostly among prep school players. The Beaumont Express proclaimed: “The once athletic sport has degenerated into a contest that for brutality is little better than the gladiatorial combats in the arena in ancient Rome.” Football was on its way out from school campuses, until President Roosevelt stepped in. Long story short, he saved the game, set up safety rules and created what would eventually became the NCAA.

1902 football game between the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan

Finally, we have this observation from the bully pulpit about sports, politics and the delightful condescension the rest of us practice. It’s rather long, but good, and I think of this quote every time I read or hear some sports columnist or political pundit waxing eloquent on what should be done: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

We bystanders, sports and political fans that we are, should remember Teddy’s observation every time we criticize a candidate or a quarterback. Where’s the remote?


Ashby suits up at ashby2@comcast.net

Guest Work Without Reservations

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

THE HOTEL – The nice part about staying in a hotel is that someone else empties your wastebaskets, picks up your soggy towels and puts new little bottles of shampoo and bars of soap in your bathroom each day when you steal the ones put out the day before. My wife and I have been living in hotels since Hurricane Harvey, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, flooded my house. So I have become somewhat of an expert in the business.

For example, room rates. They vary more than airline fares. Book through one of those agencies that guarantees the lowest rates and you are using a “third party.’ This can cause all kinds of trouble if you want to change anything from arrival dates to the sheets. Some hotels book a lot of weekend and holiday business, thus their rates are higher then. Others cater to business people who arrive on Sunday nights and leave on Friday mornings, so they offer good weekend rates. One place where I stayed was so empty on weekends that they closed the bar. Speaking of bars, there are those lodgings which offer a free happy hour each afternoon. Don’t go. They pour the absolutely worst booze on the market. The free breakfasts are just fine, however, if you want to get up at dawn.

This is the perfect segue into what to do when you first enter your new room. Check the alarm clock because the previous guest set that alarm on his last night for 4 a.m. so he could catch the 7 o’clock flight to Goose Bay, Labrador, for his annual baby seal hunt. Time after time I have been awakened in the middle of my first night by the alarm, then spend 15 minutes trying to turn it off. Bring a clothespin. There must be a law that hotel rooms’ curtains must never meet, so that as the dawn breaks – about noon for me – light from the crack between the drapes hits you right in your face. A simple clothespin clamps the two drapes together and lets you sleep. The room temperature: for the last week I have wearing a sweater when it is 94 degrees outside because I can’t shut off the a/c, can’t open the window, and can’t get management to do anything about it. Maybe if I call the front desk and say, “How do I start a fire in the bathtub?” they’ll take action.

Also, you don’t have to be Howard Hughes tromping around the room with your feet in Kleenex boxes, but take certain health precautions. The dirtiest thing in your room, travel experts say, is the TV remote. Give it a good bath under the faucet. Then check out the channels. I am against any more federal rules and regulations, but there should be one ordering all TV remotes and channel numbers to be the same in each town. While traveling, have you ever plopped down to watch your favorite program and it’s halfway over before you find which channel it’s on? Oh, I had a funny situation happen to me a few days ago. I was walking through the hotel room and the local news came on. It was KPRC, Houston, and then it hit me: I was in Houston. I had never stayed in a hotel in my own town.

Conrad Hilton bought his very first hotel, the Mobley, in Cisco, Texas. He then moved on to other West Texas towns. Hilton later observed, “At Lubbock I found that Texas had no use for an imported French chef.” This brings us to hotel food which usually tastes like hotel food. The chef was fired when he couldn’t cut it at Wendy’s. There is the convenience of taking the elevator to dinner, particularly if you are in a strange town and don’t know where to eat and don’t want to be walking the streets at 10. And I can’t make blanket condemnations. I recently had one of the best shrimp cocktails ever at a restaurant at an Embassy Suites.

Hotels used to have ice in a bin in a little room at the end of the hall. The state passed a law authorizing only ice machines that dispensed ice from a chute, after hearings in which all kinds of horror stories were told — one guest reported opening the bin door to find a dead cat. The problem is that they give you these plastic bags to line the ice bucket. The very first cubes to drop in collapse the plastic liner which renders it useless. Another helpful hint. If you are staying at a hotel which doesn’t have a bellboy, porter or Boy Scout in need of another merit badge, and you have to handle the bags yourself, and use one of those wheeled racks or dollies or whatever, pull it, don’t push it. Now you know.

Tips for checking out. Do it beforehand, like the night before, or you’ll be in a long line in the lobby behind every other frantic guest trying to catch a plane. Also, gather up all the notepads, pens and Kleenex boxes in the room. Hotels used to put out matches, but now you can’t even light up a cigar unless you are across the street from the loading dock. My daughter used to work for Marriott and told me that maids usually change rooms, floors and workdays, so don’t wait till the last day to leave a tip. Leave a couple of bucks or more on the bed when you head out each day. I once read that John Kerry, as a campaigning presidential candidate, would leave a twenty-dollar bill at each hotel room, but he’s married to the widow of the Heinz fortune, so you probably can get by with less.

This is all you need to know about staying in a hotel, especially in your own town.


Ashby checks in at ashby2@comcast.net

Retreat at the Ranch

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Features

Rancho la Puerta, a luxury wellness resort in the Baja region of Mexico, revives and reboots the mind, body and spirit, making for an unforgettable getaway with memories that will last a lifetime.

by Nicholas Nguyen

After months of back-to-back deadlines, you could say that I needed a vacation. Badly. So when I got an invitation to visit Rancho La Puerta, a resort nestled in the hills and valleys in Tecate, Mexico, it was just the ticket I was hoping for.

Little did I know just how different Rancho La Puerta was from the average Mexican getaway. Instead of the usual crowded pools and long buffet lines, the intimate resort is dedicated to wellness, to helping guests relax and recharge through a variety of classes and workshops (that of course, includes plenty of spa time and delicious cuisine). Lovingly dubbed by guests as “the Ranch,” Rancho La Puerta attracts visitors from all across the country, and from Houston, it’s a short flight to San Diego and a quick bus ride across the border.

I would never have known that the city existed around the Ranch unless I hadn’t passed through on the drive in. The lush, green grounds house hacienda-style villas, which are newly renovated and complete with gorgeous views of the hills or one of the resort’s four pools. Immediately, I was truly able to unplug from the rest of the world, especially since the resort only offers Wi-Fi and television in a few select lounges and the lobby.

On that first day, I received a folder that detailed the week’s activities and events; I had chosen to visit during a special Pilates Week. Every single day, there were activities from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; there were so many options that often I wished I had a time machine so I could try them all. Since science hasn’t made my Back to the Future dreams a reality yet, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was also supposed to take this time to slow down. Here’s how I reinvigorated my mind, body and spirit in just one week.

MIND

Spend the early morning relaxing in your room before taking off for some exercise.

It’s always hard for me to shut my mind off, but at the Ranch I only had myself to focus on—and no smartphone in sight—so it felt a little easier to let go. Being an artist by nature, I loved the creative outlets at the ranch, which complemented all of the physical activity.

MEDITATION AND HEALING At Rancho La Puerta, there’s no shortage of activities for decompressing and clearing your head. Guided meditation and yoga are obvious choices, but for a unique and tranquil experience, try Sound Healing. A guide plays sounds from large, resonant crystal bowls to help you completely relax and lull you into a stress-free state. At least half of the class participants dozed off midway through the session (which is fine as long as you have a friend who will poke you if you start snoring), but everyone came out of it feeling rejuvenated.

ARTISTIC ENDEAVORS The ranch invites artists and writers to help guests flex their creative muscles. Take a watercolor, sketch, jewelry-making or sculpture class to create your own custom souvenir, which is a nice break from physical activities midday or a good way to unwind after dinner. While I visited, memoirist Larry Grobel (known for his books Conversations with Capote, Al Pacino and The Art of the Interview), led writing workshops that helped attendees dig deep and jot down short, but poignant pieces about their lives.

LIFESTYLE LECTURES During my stay, a few other special guests gave talks on a variety of health-related subjects. Dr. Rubin Naiman, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona, lectured on how to overcome sleep problems and opened our minds on the science and psychology of dreams. Professor Emerita Beverly Whipple spoke about sexual health and intimacy in a really relatable way.

BODY

On the trail for the breakfast hike, which leads to the ranch’s organic farm and breakfast to boot.

In 2016, I started a fitness journey that included learning Pilates to stay healthy and prevent any issues that may come up as I age. Choosing to visit during Rancho La Puerta’s Pilates Week—offered several times throughout the year—was a no-brainer. In addition to the numerous Pilates classes offered, there were so many other workout options—some of which I’d never even heard before! To fuel my active schedule, I ate delicious food, and didn’t skip breakfast once (like I’m guilty of doing at home).

SWEAT SESSIONS There are too many cardio-centered classes to name, but if you want to get your heart rate pumping, Zumba, Cycling or Cardio Drum Dance—where you work your entire body while banging on giant barrels to energizing music—are some great options. After all of that action, cool off in the pools for a few laps, or take it further with a challenging water aerobics class. Even though I had trouble staying afloat and splashed around quite a bit, it was fun because I had taken it with a new friend, Ann Eshabarr, a dance teacher from San Francisco. She summed the exercise program up at the Ranch quite nicely: “The Ranch is like a well-oiled machine. They have made it very easy to navigate the classes even though the property is huge. I learned to take off in the morning with clothing for hiking, swimming, dance and Pilates so I was prepared for everything. I would be walking around and see a class I liked and drop right in!”

MIND/BODY BLISS Jennifer Lee Ho, a teacher trained in many different movement modalities from the Bay Area, led Pilates Week. I took two mat classes from her every morning—she, like many of the instructors at the Ranch, exuded a motivating, warm energy—and learned a lot about pelvic stability. (The Pilates studio at the Ranch also offers classes on the Pilates Reformer and other equipment.) A lot of my fellow Ranch-goers attended classes dedicated to stretching and tried Feldenkrais, which, similar to Pilates reinforces the mind-body connection.

ON THE MENU The Ranch’s all-inclusive program provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, all made with fresh, local ingredients; they even offer cooking classes. Like me, Jennifer has a love for food: “Though fitness is a priority in my life, eating properly (most of the time) is my other joy,” she told me. “It was fantastic to sit down for three organic and tasty meals a day with other interesting guests from all over the world.” Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, while dinner has service. At dinner, Ranch veterans let us in on a secret—you can sample both of the entrée options instead of choosing just one. I’m still dreaming about the fresh fish tacos we had for lunch one day and an amazing eggplant parmesan that was served for dinner.

SPA SERVICES There are separate spas for both women and men, along with two other treatment centers, so there’s no excuse not to treat yourself after a couple days of working out. The spa offers a wide range of massages and facials; I tried the classic Ranch massage with some aromatherapy one late afternoon, a perfect prelude to dinner. The women’s and men’s centers also have lockers for reservation so you can stash your belongings instead of lugging things around or having to return to your room.

SPIRIT

Dinner time is a joyous occasion every night.

I think the reason the Ranch has been thriving for so long is because of its lingering effect on you, even long after you’ve left. I met so many people who make it a tradition to visit every few years, and even make it a spot for special occasions like weddings, anniversaries and reunions. Mothers who visited the Ranch decades ago return with their daughters to relive the magic all over again. Here’s why.

THE SENSE OF COMMUNITY I think all the classes, from creative to fitness, help people open up. There isn’t a feeling like you’re being judged or a reason to feel self-conscious, like the way you might feel at a large gym, for example. Everyone is there to learn and share. Ann agrees: “I loved the sense of community with my fellow Ranchers. This took place mostly at mealtime, and I found it very interesting and humorous how most guests would tell you how many years they’ve been coming. It was a source of pride. Just for the record, five was a low number. Since I was a rookie, everybody was happy to help me acclimate.”

BONDS THAT LAST I traveled alone, but it was easy to make fast friends like I did with Ann and Jennifer. Many visitors travel with a friend or spouse, but I also met some larger groups, like 13 women who came together to celebrate a friend’s 50th. What was most surprising to me at first was meeting people who first met at the Ranch and now make it their tradition to come back together. Now that I’ve experienced what Rancho la Puerta offers, I understand it better—it’s an experience unlike any other that can tie you to strangers, and together, you forge something new. I will never forget all the laughter with Ann and trying so many new classes with her, nor will I forget the wisdom Jennifer generously imparted. See you soon at the Ranch, Ann and Jennifer! H

Houston: The Melting Pot

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Features

 

Not to mention the humidity.

by Lynn Ashby

Tan Tan, Dynasty Plaza, Fu Fu, lots of signs in Chinese that I can’t read. No, this is not downtown Hong Kong or Shanghai. It’s that wild and exotic bastion of mystery, noted for its international intrigue, crossroads of the world and multi-dialects: Bellaire Boulevard. In other neighborhoods you can see signs and hear languages in Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic and even English. Austin may host the University of Texas. Houston hosts the Diversity of Texas, and the world. We have heard so much about our city’s diversity, maybe it’s getting to be old hat—or sombrero, yarmulke, Stetson. We have almost 12,000 Indians and Eskimos. Okay, to be PC, they’re Native-Americans and Alaska Natives, plus 304 Hispanic Hawaiians and Hispanic Pacific Islanders. Eleven of our 32 skyscrapers are fully or partially owned, or financed by foreign investors. We have more Muslims than Jews; at home 5,895 of us speak Tagalog (Filipinos).

Not to get bogged down by statistics, but Houston leads the Southwest with 19 foreign banks from nine nations. In addition, 14 foreign nations maintain trade and commercial offices here. We have 32 active foreign chambers of commerce and trade associations. Almost a quarter (24 percent) of Harris County residents were born not in a different Texas county, not in a different state, but in a different country. In this eight-county region, almost half of the foreign residents are relative newcomers, having entered the U.S. in the 1990s.

They have to live somewhere, so our new arrivals can search the Houston Assn. of Realtors’ properties database (har.com) in English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Italian and Vietnamese. The association’s more than 5,600 multilingual members can even tell you that if the house is dry, it’s underwater, a fixer-upper or on a fault line, and tell you that in 99 different languages. Students in the Houston school district speak 124 native languages at home, and at Bellaire High School, a language magnet school, the students can be taught any of 11 languages from Arabic to Hebrew, from Japanese to Mandarin Chinese. The main campus of UH last fall had 3,995 temporary foreign students. Of the total enrollment, 25 percent were white and 31 percent were Hispanic, and although Houston is 6 percent Asian-American, they make up 20 percent of the UH student body. Another good example of Houston’s role in the international scene is the Texas Medical Center. People come from all over the world to die in Houston. And most of them need translators to say, “Yes, I have health insurance.”

One reason for so many foreigners coming to Houston is that refugees like it here, and have for a long time. They arrive from everywhere: Syria, Nigeria, Brooklyn, Buffalo. Some 75,000 refugees have come to Houston in the past 35 years, which makes Houston the number-one city in the nation for these newcomers. Among the States, Texas leads the nation in refugee resettlement. It is home to 2,677 refugees who have been settled in the state since October 2015. Of these, a third were settled in Houston. Indeed, Houston is the U.N. General Assembly South. During a visit here in early June, Kelly T. Clements, of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, called Houston’s open-arms approach, “a testament to the diversity and progressive nature of Houston.”

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Harris County received refugees from 40 different countries in the fiscal year of 2014. We don’t have any current data, since Texas ended its participation in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program in 2016 due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s fear that the feds couldn’t adequately guarantee that none of the newcomers would pose a security threat. To our surprise, the number of terrorist suicide bombings, lethal truck drivers and nightclub shootings within the Loop has been held to a relative minimum. Gov. Abbott released his statement withdrawing from the refugee program with a financial plea: “Will you support my campaign with a contribution to help fight the attacks on me coming from Washington?” So much for the state motto: friendship. One aspect of all this internationalism that’s especially appealing is the restaurant scene. It used to be the closest we could get to foreign food was the International House of Pancakes. Now in the Houston area there are 10,286 eating and drinking establishments, with 70 national categories. Houston is not so much a melting pot as a cafeteria.

LICENSED TO PARK FREE                                   

What with the Port of Houston, NASA, the Texas Medical Center and the awl bidness, Houston hosts the nation’s third-largest consular corps—behind New York City and Los Angeles—with 94 nations represented. The diplomats deal with their worried fellow citizens, more so now that the Trump Immigration Doctrine is in play. Some nations have full-time, career diplomats, and 43 are represented by noncareer, or honorary, diplomats. This brings us to all those consular license plates we see on cars around town. If the owner of the vehicle is a career diplomat then he or she files the proper papers with the U.S. State Dept., which authorizes the plate. Honorary consuls go through the Texas Dept. of Transportation. In either case, they pay what our diplomats pay in the country the consul represents. It’s called reciprocity. Sporting theses license plates does not give the consuls immunity from traffic tickets, but one benefit is they can park free at the short-term airport parking lots.

Over the years foreign counsels have said that Houston is considered good duty, although the job is mostly commercial work. There had long been a rumor that the British government considered Houston to be a hardship post because the city’s temperatures were similar to those of Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and Accra, Ghana. Actually, the diplomats here did not get hardship pay, but three years in Houston counted as four toward retirement. I broached this matter some time ago with the British consul general who said, “That’s true until I called Whitehall and said, ‘My, God. Haven’t you people ever heard of air conditioning?’” Incidentally, the British consulate here would put up a little sign in late June each year, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, we will be closed on the Fourth of July.” 

Finally on this international matter, adopt a consul. You may need the protection. When Houston was the capital of the Republic of Texas, across from where the Rice Lofts now stands was the U.S. Embassy. On Christmas Eve 1837, the town received a bulletin: 1,500 Mexican soldiers had retaken Bexar. Invasion was imminent. Mrs. Mary Austin Holly wrote: “We were at the house of Mr. Labranche (the U.S. minister), a good cabin—he promised us the protection of the flag if necessary.” The invaders never appeared, but you never know when you’ll need to flee to the safety of a foreign consulate, as I was telling Julian Assange.

Closer to home, it’s estimated that 250,000 Katrinians fled to Texas, mostly to the Houston area. Today, 40,000 of them are still here. Meanwhile, immigrants from south of the border have always come—and stayed. But Texas holds a particularly warm spot for youngsters from ravaged lands. They have fled the gangs, the drug lords, extortion, the midnight shootings and kidnappings, to ford the river and arrive in Texas. I wouldn’t want to live in Chicago, either. Youngsters also poured in from Central America, and of the estimated 58,000 who came to the U.S. in recent years, 40 percent arrived in Texas.

COWBOYS AND INDIANS

We like to call this sleepy fishing village on the bayou a “World Class City,” but maybe a “World City with Class” is better. Where else does the mayor’s office rent out flags for another country’s national day, or the birthday of your spouse from Croatia or maybe a visiting Saudi sheik? Daily fee rental is $10 per flag, or you can rent all of them for $500. “Please treat the flags with respect and courtesy,” the mayor warns, otherwise you will be hunted down by the French Foreign Legion, Scotland Yard or Canadian Mounties, depending on which nation you offend. When you drive along Will Clayton Parkway to the George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport and Trans-Galactic Star Terminal, can you spot the speed limit signs: “50 mph,” and below that, “80 km.” A nice touch for that visiting sheik anxious to make the last Emirate flight to Dubai.

WHO WAS THAT MOSQUE MAN?

An interesting sideshow of our changing population is our religions. Stephen L. Klineberg, founding director of The Kinder Institute for Urban Research, reports in his latest survey: “In all of the 35 consecutive surveys, the percentage of Protestants in the Harris County population has dropped from almost two thirds (63 percent) in 1982 to less than half (46 percent) in the most recent years.” Our Catholic percentage—bolstered by the influx of Hispanics, Filipinos and Vietnamese—has grown from 25 percent in the early 1980s to 31 percent. In recent years, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus have also grown. Despite these many different sounds, smells and religions, we tend to get along. Sometime after World War I Houston Post columnist Hubert Mewhinney wrote, “Houston is a whiskey and trombone town.” Today Houston is more like a full bar and a multiethnic orchestra, all playing the same song. H

Sources: Kinder Houston Area Survey, U.S. Census, Houston Facts and my own ethnic restaurant hopping.

Ashby is 100 percent at ashby2@comcast.net.    

Best of HTexas 2017

October 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Features

Congratulations, Houston! We took centerstage during Super Bowl week. Like the Astros, we stepped up to the plate—and hit the ball out of the park. Selecting these winners was just a little easier this year, perhaps because we all brought our A game. Let’s keep the momentum going. (And oh, yeah, Lady Gaga rocks!)

by Laurette Veres, Shelby Reininger, Marian Jacobs, Candace Miller and Stephanie DiCiro

Eat & Drink

Best Steakhouse: Perry’s Steakhouse and Grille

Check out the Texas steakhouse champion! Perry’s award-winning menu and satisfying service makes it perfect for both business meetings and private events. With Perry’s, you’ll never worry where to take her for a romantic dinner. Make the night special with a selection of world-class wines or one of their flaming desserts.

perryssteakhouse.com


Best Tex-Mex: The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation

Craving real Tex-Mex? You can’t get more authentic than The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Dig into sizzling favorites like Mama Ninfa’s Original Tacos Al Carbon, Queso Flameado or Navigation’s Famous Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp Diablo. In 1973 when Mama Ninfa first created her famous fajitas from this very location, Ninfa’s own Alex Padilla was there, and in 2006 he returned to continue the tradition of serving up what’s known as “The best Mexican food in Texas.” Make no mistake, “There is only one original Ninfa’s on Navigation, and this is it!”

ninfas.com


Best Juice Bar: Nourish Juice and Smoothie Bar

You can always find your favorite veg on Nourish’s kaleidoscopic list of targeted juices. Each juice combination features vitamins and nutrients that provide different health benefits. Whether you’re looking for a healthy snack, to drop some pounds or just to drink some groovy juice, check out Nourish today.

ilovenourishjuicebar.com


Best Way to Buy a Cupcake: Sprinkles Cupcake ATM

What could be more satisfying than being able to purchase a cupcake all hours of the day? At Sprinkles Cupcake ATM, with just a touch of the screen and swipe of your card, you can do just that. If you just can’t get enough, come back during business hours, when, in addition to a variety of unique cupcake flavors, Sprinkles Highland Village location offers cookies, ice cream and other frozen treats. Located on Westheimer, just a mile east of the Galleria, this cupcake stop can easily gratify your sweet tooth 24/7.

sprinkles.com


Best Salad: Bubba Lump Salad at BB’s Café

Looking for a place to spend a summer Saturday night with old friends, good food and plenty of beer? The answer is BB’s Café! There are tons of authentic Cajun favorites on the menu, but if you want to lighten things up, go with the Bubba Lump. This signature salad combines boiled shrimp, lump crab meat, fresh tomato and avocado with refreshing lemon wedges and parmesan-garlic dressing. It’s perfect alone or alongside a cup of gumbo!

bbscafe.com


Best Sushi: Uchi Houston

James Beard Award–winning Chef Tyson Cole brings his signature brand of Japanese and modern French fusion to Houston with Uchi, a contemporary Japanese restaurant and sushi bar located at the corner of Westheimer and Montrose. The menu will refresh your idea of sushi as it combines traditional Japanese offerings with new textures and flavors and tapas-sized servings, making Uchi a one-of-a-kind experience not to be missed.

uchihouston.com


Best Dog-Friendly Restaurant: Empire Café

The Empire Café’s warm service, fabulous food and ample indoor and outdoor seating have made it a popular spot for years. With two pet-friendly patios, the Empire often attracts people walking their dogs. In fact, you’re likely to find several pooches there at any time, so feel free to bring your “best friend” to brunch. It’s also a great spot to sip your morning coffee, have a light lunch or dinner, or even a great glass of wine.

empirecafe.com


Best Brunch: Tiny Boxwoods

This elegant hidden brunch spot is the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a beautiful meal with friends or family, or to host an unforgettable event. Nestled in the lush surroundings of a nursery, this modern space has a rustic-chic feel and a menu focused on food made from scratch. Their mission is to offer good food from good places and elegant service in an inviting atmosphere. Don’t miss their most popular item, their legendary chocolate chip cookies, hot from the oven every 20 minutes. You won’t be disappointed.

tinyboxwoods.com


Best New Sports Bar: Biggio’s Sports Bar

Biggio’s is located in the fabulous new Marriott Marquis in Downtown Houston. Named after Houston Astros legend Craig Biggio, this new bi-level venue offers an exciting atmosphere, a menu full of Texas favorites and nonstop sports entertainment. Watch live games on two 30-foot HD screens while you browse their bar food Hall of Fame menu, which includes everything from pretzels, hot dogs and nachos to salmon nicoise and filet mignon. Biggio’s also serves up a wide selection of draft beers and unique signature cocktails. Win or lose, catching a game here will be an unforgettable night.

biggioshouston.com


Best Tacos: Torchy’s Tacos

Originating in Austin in 2006, one man’s street-food taco dream became a reality with a trendy food trailer and some “damn good” tacos. Using locally and responsibly sourced ingredients, Torchy’s now has 30 locations and a trailer park dedicated to creating edgy tacos that will keep you coming back for more, from a.m. to p.m. Be sure to wash them down with a Main Root soda and finish with some Lil’ Nookies, aka their devilish, deep-fried chocolate chip cookies. Their Taco of the Month just might turn you into a “Taco Junkie!”

torchystacos.com


Best Casual Lunch: The Black Walnut Cafe

The Black Walnut Café is the perfect setting to enjoy a meal with friends, a business chat, a drink and an appetizer, or a special occasion. With zero wait time, you can even make it a habit to stop in for freshly prepared comfort food. With menu items like The Litigator Salad, Anderson’s ‘Bout Time Chicken Sandwich, Lobster Tacos and Pot Roast Grilled Cheese, you’re bound to find something that caters to your every craving.

blackwalnutcafe.com


Best Vietnamese Restaurant: Le Colonial

Vietnamese has never been so French! Reminiscent of 1920s French Colonial Southeast Asia, this famed Vietnamese dining spot is located in the prestigious River Oaks District off Westheimer. Serving classic and upscale Vietnamese comfort food and unique French-Asian cuisine, Le Colonial features classic, upscale tropical Asian décor. Here in Houston, Le Colonial is the only place to have a Vietnamese royal dining experience among the thousands of Viet-Pho noodle cafes.   

lecolonialhouston.com


Best Macarons: Bite Macarons

Bonjour from Houston’s top French dessert spot! When you enter the Bite Macarons bakery, it feels like you’ve been transported to Tokyo…wait, why Tokyo? Isn’t this a French patisserie? Yes, but once you take in the immaculately clean, white interior, soft ambient lighting and bright contrasting colors of the exquisite macarons, Bite brings you to a French café on Tokyo’s petite street. Nevertheless, you’ll find the best macarons in the city!

teambite.com


Best Breakfast: The Breakfast Klub

Recognized as one of the “best breakfast restaurants in the nation,” The Breakfast Klub is a casual, family-style dining destination in Houston and a well-known hot spot for country-soul food. Houstonians and visitors alike have been lining up for 15 years to savor southern specialties like their fluffy, buttery Biskits and Gravy and signature Wings and Waffles. Open for breakfast and lunch, they even have a heart-healthy menu, but we suggest saving the diet for another day.

thebreakfastklub.com


Best New Hotel Bar: Bayou and Bottle, Four Seasons Hotel, Houston

This highly anticipated lobby bar opened to rave reviews just in time for the Super Bowl. With Four Seasons flair, the Bayou and Bottle is focused on introducing patrons to new bourbons and whiskeys with features like their Bourbon Steward and personalized bourbon lockers. Other features include a grab-and-go counter, the Angel’s Share private dining room and the first-ever Topgolf simulation experience. Best of all, the food is top-notch; choose from candied bacon, pimiento cheese crudités, sashimi, bone marrow and more. 

fourseasons.com/houston


Best Wine Presentation: Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyards recently released Rarity 2013, a limited-edition high-quality vintage that’s been produced only four times in the winery’s 117-year history. Only 1,500 1.5-liter magnums were produced at $1,000 per bottle. Rarity 2013 is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot from the finest vineyard blocks on Beaulieu’s famed Rutherford ranches. The Rarity Collection remains a tribute to the cabernet produced by winemaking legend Andre Tchelistcheff. Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor, who joined the Beaulieu winemaking team in 1989, has presided over the most recent vintage of Rarity to ensure it maintains its legendary quality. 

bvwines.com


Best Ice Cream: Creamistry

This unique ice cream shop uses only high-quality, all-natural, organic ingredients and a liquid nitrogen process to prepare fresh ice cream instantly. With more than 70 flavors and toppings, this rich and creamy frozen dessert can be both healthy and indulgent. Customizing your own ice cream has never been more fun!

creamistry.com


Best Brazilian Steakhouse: Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse 

You’re sure to leave content after a meal at Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse in the Galleria. Carnivores can’t get enough of the unlimited flame-roasted meats served tableside. The recent launch of the à la carte menu offers lighter fare with the same succulent flavor. On a recent visit, we couldn’t resist the shrimp ceviche and jumbo bacon-wrapped asparagus. The new menu, which allows guests to select their favorite USDA Prime cut of meat, along with two sides and a choice of homemade soup or salad, also features appetizers like a gourmet cheese platter. As soon as the summer heat subsides, be sure to check out the new covered patio—it’s perfect for al fresco dining. 

chamagaucha.com


Best Food Truck: Cousins Maine Lobster Truck

As the “#1 food truck in the nation,” Cousins Maine Lobster offers up authentic Maine seafood throughout the U.S., and since 2015, in Houston. What started out in 2012 as two cousins selling lobster rolls from a truck in L.A. has led to a nationwide brand with 20 food trucks, a brand-new restaurant and feature appearances on several TV shows, including Shark Tank.

cousinsmainelobster.com


Best Tequila: Código 1530

Privately available only in Mexico for many years, Código 1530 Tequila launched in Texas in 2016 with the help of country music legend George Strait as one of its investors. Strait had enjoyed this authentic Mexican tequila many times on his frequent visits to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, so he jumped at the chance to share it. Its moniker honors “Los Códigos,” the time-honored codes and Mexican family traditions used for generations to create this one-of-a-kind sipping tequila.

codigo1530.com


Best Celebratory Drink: Moët and Chandon

Elise Losfelt, winemaker and oenologist at Moët and Chandon, visited Houston recently to discuss the magical process of creating the world’s most famous champagne. Her visit was timed to the summer release of the brand’s new Grand Vintage Brut 2006. This is one of the Champagne region’s most prestigious and valuable collections of vintage wines dating back to 1842. The Grand Vintage Collection, among the finest of the Maison’s fine wines, celebrates winemaking excellence and savoir-faire. Surprisingly, we drank out of wine glasses, not champagne flutes; better for technical tastings.

moet.com

Getaways

Best Bed and Breakfast: La Maison

La Maison in Midtown is an urban bed and breakfast with seven elegant guestrooms featuring the luxury amenities you’d find in a five-star hotel. Each uniquely designed, well-appointed room sleeps two guests in a king or queen, but two rooms have an adjacent living room option and one is equipped with a unique king-to-twin sleeping arrangement, making La Maison a very versatile alternative to the average hotel. This European-inspired B&B could be your perfect weekend getaway in the heart of the city.

lamaisonmidtown.com


Best Adventure Golf Hole: Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown, New Zealand

Just above Lake Wakatipu in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, golf goes to the extreme! Fly in with Over the Top Helicopters, and then tee off from 4,500 feet at the world’s most picturesque golf course, and enjoy a wine-and-cheese basket to celebrate!

matakaurilodge.com


Best Tropical Bachelorette Party Location: Aruba

Planning a bachelorette trip to the island of Aruba is an exciting way to kick off the wedding festivities. Find all sorts of fun activities like snorkeling, kitesurfing and parasailing, and new twists on some others, like beach tennis and stand-up paddleboard yoga classes. When the sun sets, there are just as many nighttime events and entertainment to be found. Start the evening with a toast to the bride-to-be at super-swanky newcomer, +297 Restaurant (named for the island’s area code). You’ll feel like a Miami celebrity as you enjoy exciting flavor fusions from Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. Enjoy a bar-hopping bus tour, or hit a casino or one of the live shows to make it a truly memorable night.

aruba.com

297restaurant.com


Best Pool: Marriott Marquis Houston

Located on the rooftop of the new Marriott Marquis, the Parkview Terrace brings all the amenities of a resort experience to a downtown hotel. Kick back and relax as you float in the one-of-a-kind Texas-shaped lazy river, or enjoy the view from the rooftop infinity pool and whirlpool. Spend a peaceful day in the sun enjoying a cocktail with the warm breeze at the High Dive Bar and Grill. At the Marriott Marquis, your next getaway could be just an elevator ride away!

marriott.com


Best Weekend Getaway: South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center

The resort at South Shore Harbour may be just a quick 30-minute drive south of Houston, but it seems like worlds away. Relax and float for hours in the marina-side pool, and sip drinks from the swim-up bar as stately yachts glide by. Or dine and shop at Kemah Boardwalk. This weekend getaway is so close you can wait until Monday to return home.

sshr.com


Best Beach Club: Pointe West Beach Club

Since 2006, Pointe West Resort has become one of Galveston Island’s favorite vacation retreats. Pointe West is a 1,000-acre master-planned complex of condos, cottages and homes, located on the last three and a half miles of the island’s west end. The Pointe West Beach Club offers resort guests exclusive access to an infinity pool, a large hot tub and a kiddie pool for families. Rent a cabana or grill out while you unwind. Guests can also enjoy the fitness center, a game room and more than a mile of private beach.

pointewestbeachclub.com

Family

Best Children’s Story Time: Discovery Green

Located in Downtown Houston, the 12-acre park is designed as an engaging, family-friendly spot for all ages and pets. Explore and enjoy Kinder Lake, the John P. McGovern playground, refreshing water features, public art displays, dining options and more! The open lawns and amphitheater stage make for a great community space to host both private and public events. Make sure to check out the online calendar for scheduled programs all year round, including Toddler Tuesday, with interactive storytimes and activities for kids.

discoverygreen.com; bigkidsmallcity.com


Best Way to Occupy Kids on a Road Trip: Wipenote Reusable Whiteboard Notebooks

On your next road trip, develop your child’s imagination and avoid hearing “Are we there yet?” every few minutes by giving your kiddo something he or she will enjoy. Get your child curious about new destinations while nurturing a love for art with an accessory that’s great for long trips. Kids can write, draw and erase as many times as they want on this fun, reusable notebook.

wipenote.com


Best Mommy and Me Class: Conmigo Spanish Program

Conmigo is a Mommy-and-me-style Spanish language class for children and their parents or caregivers. Literally translated to “with me,” Conmigo is a fun introduction to Spanish for ages 15 months to three years, made interactive by the use of puppets, song, movement and games. Enrollment is limited to eight per class, but siblings under 15 months attend at no charge; classes are 45 minutes.

conmigospanish.net


Best Waterslide Wonderland: Typhoon Texas

Located in Katy, TX, the Typhoon Texas waterpark is a great place to bring family, friends, campers or students. Don’t miss out on featured attractions like The Gully Washer or Howdy Hollow for the little ones. If you’re up for a thrill ride, try the Monster Storm Typhoon, or just relax and float on the Lazy T River. There’s also live entertainment and a variety of eateries, including the famous Smokehouse BBQ. 

typhoontexas.com


Best Stadium for Kids: Constellation Field

Constellation Field is home to the Sugar Land Skeeters Baseball team. With five different venue options, The stadium can host any affair from sporting events and concerts to weddings, corporate events and much more. For the kids, the Memorial Hermann Play Land is a playground complete with a jungle gym, carousel and splash pad. The Astros Buddies Kids Club, baseball camp and summer reading programs are great ways for your kids to stay active all year round.

sugarlandskeeters.com


Best Fun Day for Kids: Children’s Museum of Houston

Located in the Museum District, the Children’s Museum features new activities and exhibits every day to facilitate learning with a big dose of fun! Standouts include Kidtropolis, an interactive, kid-powered, mini city designed to teach children life skills, and Invention Convention, a hands-on technology workshop where kids are encouraged to design and build their own inventions. With 12 other interactive exhibits, kids can discover a whole new world with every visit.

cmhouston.org


Best Natural Bath Products for Kids: Hip Peas

Hip Peas is a new line of natural hair and skincare products for babies’ sensitive skin. Great care has been taken to create products that are not only effective, but safe. Icing on the cake: 10 percent of all profits go to children-focused charities.

hip-peas.com

Culture & More

Best Ranch: George Ranch Historical Park

Visit an authentic Texas cattle ranch from the 1830s just 30 miles southwest of Houston in Richmond, TX. Having passed through four generations, this 20,000-acre ranch has become a living history site, showcasing the rich heritage of American pioneers. Travel back in time to explore the original “Home Place” of the George family, the 1830s Jones Stock Farm, 1860s Ryon Prairie Home and the historic 1890s Davis Victorian Mansion. The George Ranch books school, youth group and adult tours, and is even available for private events like reunions, anniversaries and weddings.

georgeranch.org


Best Theater: The Hobby Center

The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Houston’s premier performing arts facility, is located in Downtown Houston’s Theater District. With convenient access by the Metro Rail, catch Broadway Across America shows such as Cats, Wicked or Hamilton (coming in 2018!), or experience one of the Broadway-quality musical theater performances by Houston’s own Theater Under the Stars. The Hobby Center’s stunning grand lobby and two brilliantly designed theaters offer the ultimate theatrical viewing experience. Inside The Hobby Center you’ll also find another award-winning Andrew Cordua restaurant, Artista, offering first-class dining before or after performances.

thehobbycenter.org


Best New Arts Institution: The Moody Center for the Arts

Located on the 300-acre historic campus of Rice University, this contemporary arts center brings together arts, humanities and science innovations. The art gallery, studio, theater, classrooms and library offer visitors, students and international artists an experimental space for learning and creativity, while presenting art from all disciplines.

moody.rice.edu


Best Array of Local Artisanal Gifts: Space Montrose

Located in the heart of Montrose, this unique gift shop is home to thousands of handcrafted pieces of jewelry, art, accessories and home goods made by artists and artisans in the U.S. Several collections are only available here, so you are sure to find a one-of-a-kind gift for any occasion.

spacemontrose.com


Best Futuristic Office: DesignHive by Brookfield

DesignHive is a collaboration between four leading architectural firms to design four distinctively styled, cutting-edge, adaptive office suites. Now leasing in downtown at 1600 Smith, each suite is a new interpretation of the “next generation” work environment with an eye toward the future. This new vision of uncommon workspaces is sure to make DesignHive the brand to watch in the workplace solutions market.

designhivebybrookfield.com


Best Event Turnout: 2017 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

With a record 2.6 million in attendance this year, our own Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has the world’s largest rodeo attendance to date. Each year the show is kicked off with a historic trail ride, a downtown parade and the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, followed by 21 days and nights of rodeo and concert performances. People flock to NRG Park and the Rodeo Houston fairgrounds year after year to root for their favorite cowhands, see superstar performers, go on their favorite rides, eat carnival foods, attend the livestock shows and shop until they drop. The proceeds from Rodeo Houston are devoted to educational funding to encourage and promote better livestock and agricultural practices, which also create more than 7,000 jobs locally.

rodeohouston.com


Best Church: Lakewood Church

As the largest church in the U.S., averaging about 52,000 attendees per week, Lakewood Church is committed to providing Houstonians with infinite opportunities to worship, learn and participate in the church’s inspirational work. Joel Osteen carries on his father’s work, serving as senior pastor, alongside his wife Victoria Osteen. With great worship and fellowship opportunities and consistent, positive messages, the Osteens and Lakewood Church provide more than seven services a week, including a Young Adult Worship Service and two in Spanish.

lakewoodchurch.com


Best Museum: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Dinosaurs, butterflies, planets and more! Learn about life sciences and more at the Houston Museum of Natural Science located in the Museum District. Take your family to the Burke Baker Planetarium, the Cockrell Butterfly Center or any of the 16 permanent and featured exhibitions for even more educational fun. Don’t forget to get a ticket to the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre to see amazing wildlife and stories come to life in 3D.

hmns.org


Best Wine Festival: Sugar Land Food and Wine Affair

We were transported to Italy on the opening night of the annual Sugar Land Food and Wine Affair. Bold and vigorous Italian wines were served alongside exhilarating international imports. Tasting and pairing were delicious and entertaining with master sommeliers Craig Collins and Drew Hendricks. The outdoor kitchen was no hindrance for Chef Andrew Curren as we dined al fresco in the Piazza (aka Sugar Land Town Square).

sugarlandfoodandwineaffair.com


Best Cooking Class: Main Course Cooking School

Lost in the kitchen? Or maybe you just need to refine your cooking skills? The cooking classes at Main Course Cooking School, located inside the Main Street America show home park just north of Houston in Spring, has something for everyone. Accommodating up to 24 students per class, the school offers a variety of sessions that cover everything from basic cooking skills to date-night events to explorations in international cuisine.

mccooking.com


Best Bookstore: Brazos Bookstore

Just minutes away from Rice Village, this classic bookstore has long been a hub for Houston’s most engaged readers and creative writers. From children’s books to classic literature, Brazos will not only have the right book for you, but with frequent book signings, film screenings, the Writer’s Ball and other literary events, Brazos can connect you to a whole new world of knowledge, inspiration and imagination.

brazosbookstore.com

Beauty & Fashion

Best Boutique: Backwater Boutique

Nestled in the heart of downtown Richmond, TX, the Backwater is a charming boutique partially housed in a historic red caboose. The Backwater Boutique offers chic designer collections, versatile jewelry and accessories. Unlike some shops, the Backwater carries junior’s, women’s, and plus-size clothing so anyone can create a one-of-a-kind outfit for a fabulous night out. The welcoming staff greets you by name and offers a personalized shopping experience. Don’t miss their exciting Facebook Live sales and weekly events that are sure to make each experience something memorable. Like their Facebook Page at Backwater Boutique to receive exclusive updates.

facebook.com/Backwater-Boutique


Best Eye Cream: Parry Botanicals Restorative Cream

At Parry Botanicals, the mission is to “offer products that make you feel good inside and out.” One of their top-rated products is the Restorative Cream, two ounces of highly emollient, long-lasting ointment that works on even the driest skin. Made from only natural botanicals, it’s great for all the rough spots but gentle enough for the entire body. Use as a heavy-duty restorative treatment for eczema, to minimize stretch marks, as a baby diaper ointment, or even as an ultra-moisturizing eye cream.

parrybotanicals.com


Best Makeup: Thalio Beckham Makeup Artistry

Looking for that flawless look? Thalio and his talented team of makeup artists and stylists, aka The Glam Squad, are experts at creating a stunning look for any special occasion. Using only the highest-grade products and suppliers, they offer airbrush makeup and traditional makeup, sunless tanning and hairstyling.

thaliobeckham.com


Best Facial: The Houstonian Hotel Trellis Spa

Ready for a luxurious escape? Indulge in a visit to the Trellis Spa at The Houstonian Hotel. Relax in Mediterranean-inspired surroundings and take in the 80-minute Diamond Life Infusion facial, using a Youth Elixir that provides unrivaled skin-reviving effects. This intensive treatment brings out brighter, firmer, noticeably younger-looking skin. The result is an overall rejuvenation, restoring facial contouring, improving skin texture and diminishing fine lines and wrinkles instantly. 

houstonian.com/thespa


Best Nail Salon: Akyish Japanese Retreat and Spa

Akyish is Houston’s premiere Japanese nail- art destination—and the best choice for unique trends for your tips and toes. Marbled nails, glass nails, mermaid nails, 3D custom crystals, chrome nails, you name it! Akyish accepts walk-ins, but it’s better to book ahead of time.

akyish.com


Best Vintage Boutique: Cheeky Vintage

Touted as “modern couture with a past,” Cheeky Vintage is loaded with classic fashion from high-caliber brands from a time when designer clothes stayed in style for decades. This store can turn the modern shopaholic into a vintage junkie overnight! Located off Richmond at the Shepherd intersection, you can find just the right ensemble or statement piece that will make you stand out in a crowd.

cheeky-vintage.myshopify.com


Best Spray Tan: A Tropical Haven

For that bronze goddess glow without the sun, A Tropical Haven in historic Downtown Rosenberg is the ultimate tanning and skin-care salon, offering everything you need to get that glow in no time. With a friendly staff, top-of-the-line tanning beds, California Tan spray tanning and only the best products, this salon will make you look simply luminous.

atropicalhaven.com


Best Laser Hair Removal: LaserAway

If you dream of being free from unwanted body hair but you’re scared of traditional painful treatments, fear not. LaserAway recently opened in the Houston area, bringing painless laser hair removal with them. LaserAway uses a unique process in which the laser equipment blows cold air onto the skin to minimize pain. Any time is the perfect time to get your skin smooth and beach-ready.

laseraway.com


Best Men’s Clothes Company: Balani Custom Clothiers

Balani was established in 1961 by Master Tailor Peter Balani with a mission to unwind the uptight image of custom clothing. Initially inspired by Cary Grant and Gregory Peck’s custom wardrobes, Balani epitomizes the highest level of customer experience and quality by collaborating with clients to forge a fully customized experience.

balanicustom.com

Health & Fitness

Best Therapy: MIZU Integrative Medicine Clinic and Float Center

MIZU Integrative Medicine Clinic and Float Center is the first luxury clinic in Houston to offer Floatation Therapy via three state-of-the-art floatation pods. Floatation Therapy leads to deep relaxation, and can help relieve joint and muscle pain. (It’s a favorite of JJ Watt.) Each pod, resembling a sleek, futuristic spaceship, is filled with a solution of magnesium sulfate salt and water, allowing the body to naturally float and the musculoskeletal system to decompress and stop fighting gravity.

www.mizumed.com


Best Triathlon: IronMan Texas North American Championship

The IronMan Texas North American Championship is held annually just north of Houston in The Woodlands. Consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run, it’s regarded as one of the most rigorous triathlons in the world. The race starts in The Woodlands, continues through the countryside of East Texas, and returns to The Woodlands Waterway finish line. The IronMan is designed to test the limits of human capabilities and the determination to accomplish the unimaginable.

ironman.com


Best Trails: The Sandy Reed Memorial Trail (Buffalo Bayou Trail)

With 20 miles of trails from Shepherd Drive to the Turning Basin, Houstonians and visitors can run, walk and bike along the Buffalo Bayou. The new asphalt footpath is designed to accommodate both walkers and joggers for a safer journey along the waterway. Be sure to download the Buffalo Bayou Guide, and take some time to explore the beauty and history of the bayou along the way.

buffalobayou.org


Best New Park: Levy Park

This once-forgotten, recently renovated, premium park land has become a space that the people of Houston are embracing. Located in the Upper Kirby District, the park now offers a family-friendly splash pad, a putting green, an event pavilion and a dog-friendly park.

levyparkhouston.org


Best Meditation Spot: Body and Brain

Relax—this is not a gym! Body and Brain teaches holistic health and wellness with a five-step approach to activate the brain and create a deep mind-body connection. Whether you’re just searching for somewhere to relax after work that’s not a bar, or for inner healing and strength, you can find it at here.

bodynbrain.com


Best Spin Class: Ryde

Ryde is an exceptional, high-intensity and results-driven indoor-cycling experience in a cool glow-in-the-dark studio. You can “ryde” to the beat of the music while working your heart and toning your core, legs, arms and back. You even receive an email with your performance metrics after each class. What’s even more exciting, Ryde has donated more than $50,000 to a variety of incredible causes. #rydeon

letsryde.com


Best Barre Class: Trilogy Barre at Equinox

This unique barre class employs an innovative triple-barre anchoring system and resistance bands that elevate the typical ballet-inspired muscle-training techniques to a new level. Use fine-tuned resistance bands to sculpt and shape muscle tone by switching anchor points from barre to barre to challenge your entire body.

equinox.com


Best Sports Complex: O Athletik

Everyone in Houston is talking about this new super-charged sporting complex. O Atheltik combines the quality and service of several boutique fitness studios under a 35,000-square-foot roof. Every one of your workouts can be unique! Devotees can pull up the floor plan and schedules on their phones. Enjoy martial arts, swimming, boxing, sand volleyball, yoga and so much more in this massive workout facility.

oathletik.com

Editor’s Choice

Best Engagement Photo Shoot Location: Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park

Once you see it, you will know. The Waterwall in the Uptown/Galleria District is the perfect backdrop for your engagement photos. Surrounded by 186 live oak trees, this 64-foot tall, u-shaped fountain cascades water over its towering, sculptural walls day and night. The Waterwall has been a Houston landmark for 25 years, drawing visitors, couples, ceremonies, weddings and photographers to its stunning urban beauty.

uptown-houston.com


Best New Cookbook: Houston Soups and Sips

Bayou City foodie Erin Hicks, author of the popular Houston Classic cookbook series and Houston Small Plates and Sips, gets Houstonians ready for cooler temperatures with Houston Soups and Sips, pairing the best of H Town’s soups with wine and beer. From entrée to dessert soups, Hick’s 60 recipes promise delicious results. The book also makes for a fantastic gift idea for culinary-inclined friends, family or coworkers.

erinhickscooks.com


Best Honky Tonk Venue: The Redneck Country Club

The RCC, or Redneck Country Club, is more than just a members-only dance hall; it’s a community for rednecks, honored veterans and welcoming people. Located in Stafford, The RCC attracts top live music acts and serves up some of the best homemade southern cooking around. It’s is also a great place to host your next event, or to just to relax with a drink in hand.

theredneckcountryclub.com


Best Indoor Amusement: iFly Indoor Skydiving

Afraid of jumping from an airplane? iFly can give you that true free-fall experience through a wind tunnel flight simulation. iFly has locations in Memorial and The Woodlands. Their First Time Flyers flight packages include pre-flight training, the necessary flight gear, a certified flight guide and a personalized certificate to commemorate your thrilling adventure.

iflyworld.com


Best Photo Booth: iHeart Flipbooks

iHeart flipbooks is a unique new way to capture life’s most memorable moments and cherish them forever. Their mobile studio is equipped with professional lighting, cameras, photo backdrops and fun props for your guests. These animated flipbooks are great keepsakes for your wedding or special event.

iheartflipbooks.com


Best Building: Heritage Plaza

Known as the gem of the downtown business district, the Heritage Plaza houses several offices in the heart of Downtown Houston. Inspired by Mayan architecture, the granite features at the top and the interior lobby design make for a unique, historic building. Heritage Plaza is one of the most visually distinct skyscrapers in the city’s skyline.

brookfieldproperties.com


Best Hidden Space: Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

What was once Houston’s drinking water reservoir located underground below Buffalo Bayou Park has now been restored to a remarkable historical space featuring changing art installations. Peer into the Down Periscope, which sits atop the cistern to view 87,500 square feet of vastness, dubbed an “ancient ruin” of Houston.

buffalobayou.org


Best Brewery: 8th Wonder Brewery

Located in EaDo and named after Houston’s original eighth wonder, the Houston Astrodome, the 8th Wonder Brewery offers unique and flavorful beer selections in a fun, casual environment. From signature brews like Dome Faux’m and Hopston, to good eats from the Eatsie Boys Food truck, to the Yoga & Hops course, have a fun night out at one of the best spots in Houston.

8thwonderbrew.com


Best Online Framing: Framebridge

Need to frame those family photos to display in your home? Framebridge is an online framing service that offers custom framing delivered right to your door. After you send them your images, the Framebridge designers will work with you to choose the right size, frame and mat for your project, and then deliver the final product direct to your door free of charge. In just three easy steps, you will have a beautifully framed photo for your home or the perfect gift for your loved one.

framebridge.com

Le Dîner en Blanc

October 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Dining, Events, Foodie Events

A leading summer event in Paris for nearly 30 years, this elegant and secret affair is well on its way to becoming a Houston tradition! On Saturday, November 18, 2017, Le Dîner en Blanc – Houston will return for its third year. The breathtaking scene of thousands of guests elegantly dressed in white, descending upon one of the city’s most prestigious public spaces, is extraordinary for guests and passers-by alike. To learn more about this event, visit houston.dinerenblanc.com.
—Cassidy Irish

A Damper on the Day

October 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE DEN – Have you ever had one of those days? The Astros lost, the Texans lost, the Longhorns are dreadful. Oh, and did I mention that my house flooded? The residence is a soggy mess, with everything wet, moldy and/or ruined. I blame the hurricane, of course, and the U.S. Army. But let me give you some background so the same disaster won’t happen to you. A few months ago I did a story on Houston’s water – rain, swamps, drinking and floods. One section dealt with the bayous and the dams, specifically Barker and Addicks dams west of Houston which were built to protect the city after two devastating floods inundated the downtown in the 1920s.

During the interviews, officials from both the Harris County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assured me that the dams, although more than 70 years old, were in prime shape. That seemed right, because dirt and rocks and concrete don’t age. Then Harvey arrived and the rains came, and came, and came. The hurricane was not a hurricane in the usual sense, at least not in Houston. There were no 120 mile-an-hour winds, no tide surge, just rain. That was no big deal here in my neighborhood of Running Rats Acres. It rains here a lot, but even Tropical Storm Allison, which dumped up to 36 inches on parts of the town, didn’t bother us. Our streets all end in a cul de sac (French for dead end) a few hundred feet from Toxic Bayou, which never floods. Water never even reached beyond the top of the curb, so no one around here was worried. Other parts of town started to flood, but not us. TV news showed cars with only the rooftops sticking above the water, but not here. Canoes and kayaks appeared on our screen floating down in streets and freeways. We were safe.

The water level actually began to drop, then began to rise again, and crept even higher, to the top of the curb and then up the front yard, an event we had never witnessed before. Higher and higher, but this made no sense. Why did the flood level drop, the rise? This brings us to the U.S. Army. It seems that the two dams were getting swamped, the water level behind the barriers was getting dangerously high, so they – get this – started releasing more water, which caused the bayou down at the end of the street to spill out of its banks and through the neighborhood. I mean, what’s the point of having a dam to prevent flooding when authorities open the flood gates to flood the town? Am I missing something here the Army knows that I don’t? So the water level, which had actually been receding, began to rise up past the curbs, flow across the front yards, to the door steps and into the houses. The dirty green lines on the walls show how high the water came — two feet.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

That was the highest level of the water, but it seeps upwards into furniture, beds, sheetrock, hanging clothes and cabinets. Floors buckle, drawers stick, then power goes off so that everything in the freezer and refrigerator starts stinking. Speaking of which, the entire house begins to smell. Some say it’s the aroma of backed up sewage. My father’s wonderful old huge oaken roll-top desk which I planned to leave to my lawyer son is warped, stained and bleached white two feet up. Everything in it is soggy, or I guess so since the bottom three drawers won’t open. Sorry son. My computer is ruined, so is my wife’s. Techie nerds are always telling up to back up everything on our computers in case our hard drive fails. No one mentioned to back up in case of a national rain record of 52 inches. Clothes are wet and stink and need to be dry cleaned, but my cleaners says she is so busy she will only take one load per customer a day. She must be, well, cleaning up. Books are the worst. Clothes can be cleaned or tossed and replaced, but most books are a total loss. The pages stick together and rip if you try to pull them apart. The late comedian George Carlin had a routine about his “stuff,” objects he received along the way that he kept for no particular reason. I have mountains of stuff, and I’ll bet you do, too. Here’s a small flag from the French Foreign Legion I got in Marseilles. A paperweight. Who uses or even has a paperweight? Old newspaper clippings, clothes I haven’t worn since Y2K, more stuff. If there is anything good to say about a flood it is that we have to get rid of unneeded stuff. My children and grandchildren were a huge help in moving the heavy stuff, and things really got moving when one grandson brought along his high school football team. Huge guys.

We were told that sheetrock is soggy up to 4 feet from the ground, and must go, so everyone is knocking out walls up to 4 feet, then hauling the mess out to the curb. Running Rats Acres is Baghdad on the Bayou – soggy planks, sheetrock, couches, chairs, stacks of junk – and looked even worse after the flood. Some nice folks even set up a canteen for the neighborhood with bottles of water, Clorox, all sorts of snacks, and one fellow set up his barbeque pit and started handing out hamburgers. There was some other good news as neighbors got to know neighbors, total strangers showed up to help. I noticed next door at the Birdbath’s house that movers were hauling out his gun collection, liquor cabinet and big screen TVs. Later I found out that Birdbath had not hired any movers.

Another positive point is that I have flood insurance from FEMA. I’ll use the money to hire a good flood insurance lawyer and one who can take on the Army Corps of Engineers.


Ashby is wet at ashby2@comcast.net