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

H Texas Cares: Hurricane Harvey Relief

September 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Features

As each day passes, we are more aware of how devastating Hurricane Harvey has been to the people of this great city.  Our thoughts are with you and our hopes are each and every one of you are safe, dry and coping well with this unprecedented disaster. Our mission is to connect you with organizations assisting with relief.

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund

Houston Food Bank

United Way of Greater Houston

Houston Humane Society

Texas Diaper Bank 

L.G.B.T.Q. Disaster Relief Fund

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster

You Caring

GlobalGiving’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund 

All Hands Volunteers

To the Houston Beat

February 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Features

Now 60, Robert Earl Keen still turns to his Texas roots to make memorable music—and maybe some fried venison along the way.

by Rima Jean

The name “Robert Earl Keen” is indelibly written in the minds of every Texan who came of age in the ’90s. To me, a San Antonio native, Keen’s music is synonymous with homecoming dances and riding to school in the bed of a pickup truck. It’s as homegrown as breakfast tacos and Lucchese cowboy boots. No. 2 Live Dinner came out my senior year in high school, and it was recorded live at the Floores Country Store in Helotes, just outside of San Antonio. That album, particularly “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” got lots of airtime on my rides to school…

Sometimes I can’t believe those days are gone

Most of my friends back then have moved along

One’s in Hollywood one’s a millionaire

Some are gone for good some still livin’ here

Me I’m just the same lost in a crowd

Lookin’ for the rain in a thunder cloud

I have moved around but it don’t matter though

One thing I have found there are just two ways to go

It all comes down to livin’ fast or dyin’ slow

For most teens like myself on the cusp of adulthood, Keen’s music was its lyrics—the way each song told a story that was both personal and timeless. They spoke of very basic human experiences, about leaving home, losing a girl, coming back home, finding the girl again. Today, Keen’s music has evolved, but still holds its fans rapt with each relatable message, each familiar tale.

A Houston native, some of Keen’s most enduring childhood memories are of his experiences in the city. He remembers the streets of Bellaire flooding during Hurricane Carla when he was a young boy, he remembers the excitement of going downtown to visit his parents’ offices; his mother was an attorney and the third female graduate of the University of Houston Law School. “My parents would hand me five bucks, and I’d go wandering the underground tunnels, which I knew quite well. I knew where everything was, like the original James Coney Island and all the places to find good barbecue,” Keen recalls.

As much of a city kid as Keen was, he also got a taste of the country life when he would visit his family’s home away from home between Columbus and Fayetteville, which at the time, was very rural and quaint. “I loved it. It had a totally different culture before it became what it is now,” Keen says. “These people spoke with heavy Czech and German accents. I went squirrel hunting with friends, polka dancing and all that. I was a city brat and a country kid at the same time.”

Keen spent his teen years in Sharpstown before leaving for Texas A&M University in College Station, where he began writing songs and creating his unique sound—which he describes as a “mash-up of country and folk and bluegrass”—and the rest is pretty much history. It was at Texas A&M where he met Lyle Lovett and future bandmate, Bryan Duckworth. “My music was never part of the pop culture. My world was very small. I liked playing the guitar and listening to folk music, so I was a fan of all the local [talent] like Shake Russell, Eric Taylor and Nancy Griffith. That stuff had a huge influence on me. It was music you could see and touch.”

Being able to “see and touch” the music is a must for Keen. “Setting is so important to me when I sit down and write a song, and the setting I know is Texas. If I write music about settings that I know, I don’t really have to think hard about the narrative. The message kinda floats in afterward.”

Even after being inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012 and topping Billboard’s bluegrass charts multiple times, Keen hasn’t rested on his laurels. He recently released his album Live Dinner Reunion in late November in honor of the 20th anniversary milestone celebration of the first “live” REK album (No. 2 Live Dinner). Keen just concluded his Merry Christmas From The Fam-O-Lee 2016 Christmas Tour through Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Tennessee. Rumor even has it that Keen might be playing in Houston around the time of Super Bowl 2017…

As if that wasn’t enough, Keen supports Hill Country Youth Orchestras, the only free youth orchestra in the United States. Every year, he puts on a concert from which all the proceeds go to the organization’s Scholarship and Endowment fund. With Keen’s help, they’ve raised more than half a million dollars since the group’s inception. “It’s totally nonexclusive and completely free,” Keen proudly offers. “Any child can learn to play an instrument.”

And what does the ever-busy Keen do in his downtime? “I like to cook,” he admits. “The newest dish I’ve made up is Madras shrimp. I got into cooking Indian food this summer.” I can hear the smile in his voice. “Curry with lots of shrimp in it.” And what else does he cook? “Southern dishes,” he replies. “Fried venison and mashed potatoes. I can do that in my sleep.”

What could be better than enjoying some “Keen cuisine” (with a bottle or two of Robert Earl Keen’s Front Porch Amber Ale) while listening to Live Dinner Reunion and enjoying the company of friends and family?

Keen laughs heartily. “Not much else, I guess.” H

Anchor Away

February 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Features, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

The story of how Dave Ward made the record books (and probably toppled a tyrant)

by Lynn Ashby

Through winding streets in Tanglewood, behind a gate, are a number of townhouses, one of which belongs to Dave and Laura Ward. It’s a lovely home with a small swimming pool—Dave says it’s been years since he’s used it. On the walls of the rooms are several plaques, including the Silver Circle, an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – the Lone Star Chapter. And this: It was presented by the Guinness World Records, which usually bestows such honors to the tallest man, the largest cucumber and Harnaam Kaur, of Slough, Berkshire, England, whose beard is six inches long in places, making her the youngest woman with a full beard. Then there is Houston’s own Dave Ward. Why is he included? Because, as the plaque reads, he holds the world’s record of having the longest career in television news broadcasting—49 years, 218 days, from November 9, 1966 to June 2, 2016, and the meter kept running until he finally left the anchor desk at KTRK on December 9. (His contract went to the end of the year, but he had vacation time.)

Getting into Guinness isn’t easy. “It all began when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who used to be a sportscaster on Channel 11, was in our station for one reason or another, and stopped by my desk and asked how long I had been at KTRK. I told him about 50 years, and Dan said, ‘Dave, nobody in this business has done that. You ought to be in the Guinness book.’ So the station contacted the company, and they wanted all kinds of verification—letters from two people who had been here when I was hired, my work records, everything. Then last June, they contacted us, and said I was in.” Now that Ward, 77, no longer needs to grind the daily grind, he and his wife plan to take a trip to California some day—he likes long-distance train trips. “My father told me when I was a little boy, ‘Dave, passenger trains are the only civilized way to travel.’” But he is not going to sit back on his sofa and play with the remote. “He’s not retiring. He’s looking forward to the next chapter in his life,” says Laura. (To follow Dave Ward after he left KTRK, “like” his Facebook page, Dave Ward’s Houston.)

More News from Dave Ward

“I was 27 years old when I made it to KTRK. Shortly after I got there, we received seven brand-new state-of-the-art black-and-white TV cameras, and I thought, Well, I guess it will be a while before we get color.” In recent years, his role at the station was diminished. He stopped doing the 10 o’clock news programs two years ago, just hosting the six o’clock news. “I just got tired of coming to work.” Since he worked evenings putting together the 10 o’clock news, “I now get to watch some evening TV. I am so fortunate Houston has been so good to me. I’ve interviewed five presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower. I’ve covered space shots, got to ride in a jet fighter, so much.”

He lives about 15 minutes from the station with Laura, his third wife. Ward has four children from his previous marriages. Laura has three. He used to smoke cigarettes and cigars, from the age of 14. “Then I quit until one day Marvin [Zindler] came in smoking the most wonderful-smelling cigar, and I started all over again. But I quit again.”

As for his opening lines: “I started each program with, ‘Good evening, friends,’ because Ron Stone, who I considered the best TV anchor in Houston, always began with, ‘Howdy, neighbors.’ I wanted an opening like that.”

Is TV Going to Work?

How Ward got to Houston and to Channel 13 is circuitous. David Henry Ward was born in Dallas, although his family didn’t live there. “My mother wanted to give birth in a major hospital, so she went to Dallas.” His father was a Baptist minister who moved his family around East Texas, eventually becoming minister of the First Baptist Church in Huntsville. Young Dave began his radio career with KGKB radio in Tyler while attending Tyler Junior College. Three years later, he joined the staff of WACO radio in Waco as a staff announcer. “WACO is the only radio station in America whose call letters are the city’s name,” Ward notes. A year later, he became that station’s program director.

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

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

“I was hired in a pool hall,” Ward says. “I was working at KNUZ, and a friend at Channel 13 told me there was an opening. Would I be interested? So I met with the top people at the station, General Manager Willard Walbridge, Program Manager Howard Finch and News Director Ray Conaway at Le Que, a pool hall, where they went for lunch several days a week and to shoot some pool. I was hired then and there. The station only had eight people in the newsroom back then. Today we have about 120. I took a pay cut from about $650 a week at KNUZ to $575 at KTRK. My father was not that enthusiastic about my move. He asked me, ‘This television thing, are you sure it’s going to work?’” After his stint as a street reporter, early in 1967, he began to anchor Channel 13’s weekday 7 a.m. newscast. Later that year, he became the first host of a game show, Dialing for Dollars, which later evolved into Good Morning Houston. In January 1968, Ward was promoted to co-anchor of the weekday six and 10 p.m. newscasts with Dan Ammerman.

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

A Cellar’s Market

By 1973, Channel 13 was number one in this market. It held that spot through ’76, ’77 and ’78, and on through the years—a dynasty in the TV biz. During that time, Ward has co-anchored with Shara Fryer, Jan Carson and Gina Gaston. In 1974, Ward suffered a motorcycle accident at the Astrodome during a charity race. He had broken his pelvis in four places, had a concussion and much, much more. “I was in the hospital for seven weeks and received between 40,000 and 60,000 notes. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I answered them all. All of them were supportive except one, which read, ‘What, Ward? Drinking again?’”

In 2003, he was in a car wreck—crashed into an out-of-control SUV on the West Loop, and broke his right leg. Once Ward and his wife attended a wedding, got food poisoning, and Ward was out for two weeks. Then a long-simmering abdominal pain turned out to be diverticulitis. He underwent major surgery and was away for two weeks. Not that anyone should feel sorry for the anchorman. Ward makes a good living. He walks into a nearby room. “I wanted this to be a poker room. Laura wanted a wine cellar.” It’s a really nice wine cellar with 400-year-old doors from Europe, fine oaken wine racks, shaved slate walls. “I spent more on this room than I did on my first house. I once thought that it would be good to make six figures, $100,000 or more, a year. Today I pay more than that to Uncle Sam.”

Then there was the time Dave & Co. probably helped topple a banana republic dictator, Anastasio Somoza. In the 1970s, Nicaragua was hit by a deadly earthquake. Aid was pouring in, and Houston wanted to help, so KTRK organized a relief effort, recruited Houston firefighters to drive five 18-wheelers packed with food, water, blankets and other necessities. It took them months to get through all the borders and red tape, finally arriving in Nicaragua, where Dave and a cameraman met them to film a 30-minute documentary, An Odyssey of Mercy. After leaving Nicaragua for home, the group discovered that the Somoza regime had seized all the supplies and sold them in the markets. The natives found out and riots erupted. Somoza and his family fled the nation. “I always thought we helped start it.” Maybe we will see another entry in the Guinness World Records: “TV Anchor to Topple Most Dictators: Dave Ward.”

Things you should know about Dave Ward and Houston TV:

  • He reads email, but doesn’t write it.
  • After 45 years with KTRK, Ward finally got a reserved parking place. (He drives a four-year-old Mercedes.)
  • As of press time, he has not been approached by any other TV station and is not looking, although some local TV anchors and reporters have changed stations: Steve Smith and the late Ron Stone and Bob Allen.
  • Ward always wears Texas cowboy boots. He prefers Lucchese.
  • Ward and the on-camera crew always appeared in spiffy outfits, but the station did not give them extra pay for clothes, nor did it allow them to wear anything provided by a store in exchange for a plug on camera.
  • In 1960, Houston had three TV stations, each showing 45 minutes of local news on weekdays, none on weekends. Today, KTRK does between six and seven hours of local news a day.
  • Houston is the 10th largest media market in the nation.
  • Politically, he’s not. “I’m apolitical—not as liberal as my Democratic friends and not as conservative as my Republican friends.” H

Ashby watched Ward at ashby2@comcast.net.

Food Network Star, At Your Service

July 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Dining, Features

By Tom Flynn
Photography by Erin Wiese

Gordon Bethune and Laurette listen as Chef Jeff entertains the dinner guests.

Gordon Bethune and Laurette listen as Chef Jeff entertains the dinner guests.


Vegas’ bad boy of cuisine, Chef Jeff Henderson, flies into Bush Intercontinental Airport, where I await in passenger pickup. “I’m at door C-101,” he texts. “Black guy with a bald head.” Many black gentlemen with bald heads exit C-101 and wonder why I’m waving at them before one recognizes my white SUV and red shirt, and heads my way. After quick introductions, I ask, “Can you be a little more descriptive next time? Like, I’m a tall black guy with a black chef’s shirt and designer luggage.” This is the beginning of Shop, Chop, Cook and Eat, the Chef Jeff Experience.

The 6’2” Henderson has a history. His first career in sales earned him $35,000 a week, and a 19-year sentence in a federal institution. Henderson was never a user, just a seller from the Los Angeles projects. During his extended vacation from mainstream American life, Henderson did a lot of soul searching, realized he was not a victim, took responsibility for his actions and then decided to learn how to cook. Before he finished his parole, Chef Jeff had cooked his way through L.A.’s best restaurants and landed a job in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace, where he was voted Las Vegas’ Buffet Chef of the Year. He moved on to head chef at the prestigious Café Bellagio, the first African American to hold that position. Then he wrote a New York Times best-selling book about his life, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and with Steve Harvey, starred in his own Food Network TV show and became a prolific public speaker.

Now he’s riding shotgun in my SUV as we head to Central Market. This is my Christmas present from my wife, the Chef Jeff Experience. We’ll be working side by side to cook a four-course gourmet meal for six. It turns out we have a lot in common. We’re both in our 50s, have three-year olds (him, one girl; me, two identical boys), extended careers in sales (mine, legal) and public speaking, and both love cooking and our wives. Whatever earned his bad-boy reputation is long gone, and we’re looking forward to having some fun.

I love grocery stores. Between 1977 and 1984, I worked every position from sacker to store manager—it was my first career. I still study how shelves and displays are set as I walk the Montrose area H-E-B and Disco Kroger. Part of the Chef Jeff Experience is learning to navigate a store and select the best ingredients. Ten minutes into our trip, he confesses a little frustration; I know this Central Market better than he does. “No worries, Chef. I know the store in your neighborhood better than you do, and I’ve never been there,” I reply. But the big guy has a presence, and a lot of heads turn as my famous new friend selects fresh fruits and veggies, along with jumbo lump crab meat, sea bass and a rack of lamb.

He is a little distant on the ride from the store to the house, and I realize he’s thinking of the magnitude of his task. He’s walking into a kitchen he has never seen, with a guy he just met, to produce a meaningful culinary experience for six people who are showing up in a few hours with high expectations. Wow! He has little clues of the appliances, utensils or pantry goods available. I ask him why he stresses himself out like this. “I left the Café Bellagio 28 days after appearing on Oprah and became a public speaker. This project keeps me in the kitchen and keeps me cooking,” he says.

And he’s in luck. We have a large, gorgeous kitchen with every gadget and pantry item a chef could need. He becomes the general of our two-man army, requesting stations for each dish on the menu and setting up a restaurant-style assembly line in my home kitchen. My first prep task is cutting corn off the cobs. “What’s next, Chef?” “You’ve got to do every ear,” he replies. “I did.” It goes the same way with the potatoes. He looks at my work, and lets out a chuckle and a little sigh of relief. “I didn’t know you had good hands. We’ve got plenty of time.”

Chef Jeff’s photographer shows up before mine (again, we have a lot in common) and starts documenting our progress. They sneak out to the store and come back with flowers; I get a vase. “We don’t need a vase, these are for us. We’re going to add some class to these pictures,” says Chef. We break the flowers down and put a little Mason jar filled with tulips at each workstation. I’m in the middle of chopping sausage for our crab chowder, when Chef asks me to join him at the stove. “You ready, Bobby?” he asks his photographer, now turned videographer. Without warning, Chef puts his arm around my shoulders and turns from being a contemplative chef into the Food Network star. “Hey, all right y’all, Chef Jeff here with my friend Tom in his mac daddy kitchen in Houston, Texas, cooking up some amazing…” Next thing I know, I’m being interviewed about travels and culinary experiences in front of a live camera!

The chef and Food Network star becomes host, server and entertainer as our guests arrive and sit for dinner, sharing his life lessons between courses. The food is phenomenal, the experience one of a kind. And it never really ends.

You can learn more about Shop, Chop, Cook and Eat, the Chef Jeff Experience by visiting www.chefjefflive.com. But for now, check out the recipes here.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 2.57.09 PM


STARTER: Watermelon Cube with Minted Citrus Salad
(Serves 6)

WatermelonCube1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
12 mint leaves
½ kiwi, peeled and diced
½ peach, peeled and diced
½ Meyer lemon, peeled and segmented
8 strawberries, cored and diced
½ cup fig-infused balsamic vinegar
6–8 (1-inch) cubes chilled seedless watermelon

1. Make a simple syrup: Combine the water and sugar in a small pot and bring to a simmer while stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 8–10 minutes. Poor the syrup into an 8-ounce jar and let cool; reserve the remaining syrup for the dessert.
2. Roughly chop the mint leaves, wrap in cheesecloth and tie with butcher’s twine. Add the mint bundle to the syrup, secure with a lid and refrigerate overnight.
3. Add the diced kiwi, peaches, lemon and strawberries to a small bowl and let stand so the flavors blend.
4. Add the vinegar to a 10-inch sauté pan over low-medium and reduce by half or until the desired thickness is achieved. Remove from the heat and let cool.
5. Cut small cavities in the watermelon cubes, about ¼-inch deep, using a sharp knife or small melon-ball scoop. Add a little dollop of the fruit mixture atop each watermelon cube. Drizzle with ½ teaspoon minted simple syrup.

Plate it Perfectly: Dip a small pastry brush into the reduced balsamic and paint a stripe on each plate. Place a watermelon cube in the center of each stripe. Top with a sliver or 2 of julienned mint leaves.


Appetizer: Louisiana Lump Crab–Sausage Chowder
(Serves 6–8)

1 stick unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 pound smoked turkey or hot pork sausage, cut into ¼-inch cubes
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ yellow onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons minced garlic
Salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup Riesling wine
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
2 (32-ounce) containers low-sodium chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1½ cups heavy whipping cream
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, cleaned
Cajun seasoning to taste
½ cup oyster crackers for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives for garnish
Crab-chowder2 tablespoons grated Manchego or Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Melt 1 stick butter in a stockpot over medium. Add the sausage and continue stirring until caramelized. Add the flour and stir constantly until the flour begins to turn brown. Add the vegetables and garlic, cooking until softened. Season with a nice pinch of salt and pepper.
2. Slowly stream in the wine, clam juice and chicken stock and add the bay leaves, stirring constantly to dissolve the flour mixture. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 35–45 minutes, or until slightly thickened.
3. Add the heavy whipping cream and simmer for 12–15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, brown the remaining butter in a sauté pan over medium. Gently fold in the crabmeat and sauté until warm. Add Cajun seasoning to taste.

Plate it Perfectly:
Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with oyster crackers and chives; top with big lumps of crap and freshly grated cheese.


Main Course: Herb-Encrusted Rack of Lamb
(Serves 4–6)

1 (6-bone) rack of lamb, trimmed and Frenched
Kosher salt and black pepper for rubbing
Cajun Seasoning for rubbing
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon freshly minced rosemary
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
rack-lamb
1. Liberally season the lamb with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning.
2. Heat the olive oil in large cast-iron skillet over medium-high and sear the lamb until all sides are golden. Remove from the heat and set aside for 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
4. Combine the breadcrumbs and rosemary in a small bowl and set aside.
5. Rub the fat cap of the lamb with the mustard and garlic, then pack with the breadcrumb mixture.
6. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 118°F–120°F, slightly past medium-rare. Let rest for 15 minutes and cut into individual chops.


Main Course: Barbecue Chip–Encrusted Chilean Sea Bass
(Serves 6)

1 (3-pound) Chilean sea bass fillet
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
8 ounces barbecue kettle chips
2–3 tablespoons olive oil

SeaBass1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the fillet into 6 pieces and remove the skin and lingering bones.
2. Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, sear the fillets, until the bottom sides are brown and crispy. Meanwhile, season the top sides with salt and pepper.
3. Remove from the heat and let rest on a paper towel–lined plate, crispy side up.
4. Place the chips in a food processor and grind to a breadcrumb texture. Using a pastry brush, paint the seared sides of the fillets with olive oil and top with the chip crumbs.
5. Transfer the fillets to a baking pan and bake for 12–15 minutes, or until desired doneness. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Pair it Perfectly:
Cote du Rhone Blanc


Main Course: Corn and Bacon Maque Choux
(Serves 6–8)

choux½ pound thick-cut smoked bacon, diced
10 fingerling potatoes, quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and small diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more if needed
1½ tablespoons freshly minced garlic
½ yellow onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ yellow bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
6 baby portabella mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
5 ears corn on the cob, kernels removed
1 bunch Swiss chard or collard greens, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup chicken stock
Salt and black pepper to taste
Parsley sprigs for garnish

1. In large sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium-high until caramelized. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook until they begin to brown.
2. Add the butter, garlic and remaining vegetables and cook for 8–10 minutes, stirring often until desired doneness is achieved. Add the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper.

Plate it Perfectly: Neatly place 1⁄3 cup maque choux in the center of each plate. Top with sea bass, then prop the lamb chop against the fish, bone pointing up. Garnish with parsley sprigs.


Dessert: Citrus Berry Parfait
(Serves 6–8)
parfait
½ quart heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 pint strawberries, hulled and diced
½ pint blueberries
1 orange, zested
¾ cup simple syrup (see watermelon starter recipe)
¼ Angel food cake, medium diced
8 ounces candied pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
Mint leaves for garnish

1. Place a glass or stainless-steel bowl and the carton of whipping cream in the freezer for 30 minutes.
2. Pour the cream into the chilled bowl and add the honey, sugar and cinnamon. Whip with a wire whisk, until soft peaks form.
3. Combine the fruit and zest in a medium bowl and add the simple syrup; toss gently.

Plate it Perfectly: Make parfaits by layering the fruit mixture, angel food cake, chopped nuts and whipped cream in 8-ounce mason jars. Top with whipped cream and mint leaves. Serve with long spoons.

An Act of Faith

March 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Community, Features

by Matt Bartlett

West End Baptist Church has experienced better days. Founded in 1906, the church dwindled from 2,000 members in the ’60s to just 18 in the summer of 2015. The windows of the sanctuary were boarded and the upkeep of the buildings located at 802 Shepherd Drive was too much for the congregation to handle. After pressure from the city to make repairs and an offer from a third party to buy the land, the church’s future was uncertain. Then the congregation decided to do something truly remarkable: Rather than sell, the members voted unanimously on August 28, 2015 to donate the land and buildings, valued at 10 million dollars, to River Pointe Church of Richmond, Texas.

Renovations on the West End Baptist Church building are well underway.

Renovations on the West End Baptist Church building are well underway.

Led by Pastor Patrick Kelley, RPC was born 19 years ago inside a residential home in Richmond. Growing quickly, the church soon met at a local clubhouse, then two different high school auditoriums, before settling in to a 96-acre campus. RPC launched a Missouri City campus in 2012 and more recently, a West Houston campus at the beginning of 2015. Named the 25th-fastest-growing church in the United States by Outreach Magazine, more than 1,500 members attend weekly services in Richmond, Missouri City and West Houston.

By the summer, the West Houston campus had grown so quickly that church staff began considering a permanent building rather than continuing to rent the Moran Fine Arts Center for services. It was then that Pastor Kelley noticed the nearby West End Baptist Church and reached out to WEBC’s part-time pastor Michael Quintanilla. Through their discussions, the idea of a merger grew into a reality. Ultimately for the members of WEBC, the decision to join forces came down to their desire to “honor the legacy of their grandparents and great grandparents who, in 1954, sacrificed a great deal to build that building. They wanted to see it continue as a church,” recalls Pastor Kelley. In an effort to preserve that legacy, the campus adopted the name West End Church.

Construction is set to begin in the spring, with a grand opening tentatively scheduled for December 2016. Renovations will include a neighborhood coffee shop, a prayer garden, a children’s building and an extensive remodeling of the sanctuary, complete with new air conditioning, electricity and plumbing. During the renovations, the church will return to the Moran Fine Arts Center. For now, they are holding “pre-renovation” services inside the sanctuary.

When asked about what the new church would be like, Pastor Kelley described the merger as a “partnership” in which “the best of both congregations [would combine] to create a really effective ministry.” The people of WEBC have a long history of caring for the community in the heart of West Houston. River Pointe brings an effective ministry model, some great musicians and a large congregation excited about joining in with the good work already underway. Pastor Kelley calls the newly formed church a safe place to “process your doubts [without] feeling any pressure.” Come see for yourself.

Weight-Loss Tips Worth Making All Year Long!

March 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Features, Health & Wellness

by A.J. Henley

The weather’s getting warmer, and beach season feels like it’s just around the corner. It’s that time of year again…when you pledge to overhaul your diet for the sake of your waistline and your well-being. You’re a paragon of virtue to start, but just a few weeks (or even days) in, your motivation begins to flag. Feeling “hangry”—hungry and angry about all that deprivation—you scarf down two pieces of sheet cake at an office birthday party, and then scrap your evening salad for Mexican takeout and a heaping bowl of ice cream.

HTX_diet

Before you blame a lack of willpower (or those cake-loving co-workers!) for your poor follow-through, look at your goals with a critical eye. Ask yourself if they can really be accomplished within the time frame you’ve allotted and what you’ll do specifically to support them on a daily basis. “Without an attainable, detailed action plan in place, you won’t make it to the finish line,” says nutritionist Lisa Jubilee, MS, CDN, a cofounder of Living Proof Nutrition Strength Pilates in New York. “It’s also important that the strategic steps be things that you’re willing and able to work into your schedule.” If you spend long hours on the job, for example, telling yourself you’ll cook every night will only set you up for failure. “It’s more effective to be consistent,” she says, opting for modest vows you can live with (say, two home-cooked meals a week) rather than lofty ones you can’t.

To inject momentum into your best intentions, Jubilee and other experts came up with 11 very doable goals. Adopt a few to start, adding more as the first ones stick. By staying flexible and being patient, these good-for-you behaviors will soon become second-nature, helping you make those weight-loss ambitions a reality.

1. Picture a slimmer, stronger you.
“Like any work project, you should have an idea of what the end result will be” before you begin, says Katherine Tallmadge, MS, RD, the author of Diet Simple: Lose Weight & Get Healthy Without Dieting (LifeLine Press, 2011). She suggests visualizing your life when you’re at your ideal weight at least once a day, be it walking into a party looking fabulous, or clad in workout wear, killing that spin class. The ritual will help boost your confidence, she says, which is a proven prerequisite for success.

2. Commit to three squares.
Consuming small, frequent meals might seem like a no-brainer for keeping hunger and energy dips at bay, but it’s not necessarily the best way to slim down. “It depends on your personality and schedule, but I find mini meals make people more obsessed with food,” Tallmadge says.

There’s a physiological downside to grazing as well: “When you continually eat throughout the day, your body has no reason to tap into fat reserves for fuel,” Jubilee explains. “For most people, consuming moderately sized, nutrient-rich meals less frequently will give the body a greater chance of reaching glycogen depletion and enable fat loss to occur.”

3. Eat more consciously. Multitasking—say, munching while watching TV, reading or texting—can be a recipe for overindulging. Instead, sit down to eat. Clear your desk of distractions and make your dinner table a tech-free zone so you can focus solely on your meal. “Chewing each bite of food until it’s almost liquefied forces you to slow down and allows the body to absorb more nutrients,” says Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of The End of Dieting: How to Live for Life (HarperOne, 2014). “It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive signals from digestive hormones that you’re full.”

4. Allow yourself a daily treat. Nothing not to like here! If chocolate, a bag of chips or a glass of wine is calling your name, go for it—within reason, of course. “Banning foods is not sustainable,” says Susan Moores, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant in St. Paul, MN. “A ‘forbidden fruit’ becomes a bigger draw and a point of focus.”

“A healthy diet is about balance, not extremes,” adds Jubilee. “That’s why I tell my clients to first feed their body what it needs, and save a little room for what it purely wants.” Many successful weight losers and maintainers follow the 80/20 rule, making sure 80 percent of their calories consumed are healthy and saving the remaining 20 percent for an indulgence. Others simply factor a portion-controlled 100- to 150-calorie snack into their daily calorie tally. But be sure to make that treat count; for a sweet or salty snack to truly satisfy, it should be something you’re craving, whether that’s a cup of fruit-flavored Greek yogurt or a few squares of dark chocolate. And if you’re tempted to go back for seconds? Keep in mind that you’ll have another chance to partake tomorrow—and every day after that.

5. Keep tabs. Writing down everything you put in your mouth may be annoying and feel like a lot of work, which is why many people don’t do it. But journaling can up your chances of following through with the changes you need to make, Tallmadge says. In addition to keeping you accountable, jotting down what you eat, as well as your motivation for losing weight and the feelings surrounding every meal and milestone, is a process that’s vital to staying confident and strong.

But don’t shy from documenting the little slips along the way as well. “Negative reinforcement is sometimes just as important as positive reinforcement,” she says. If you’re reading about the stomachache you had after a junk-food binge, you may think twice about polishing off a box of doughnuts or a big plate of fries.

6. Institute Fish Fridays. “Like the concept of Meatless Mondays, this is a clever way to include seafood on your menu,” says Moores. Ounce for ounce, fish contains fewer calories than beef and even poultry, and provides an important dose of omega-3 fatty acids—nutrients linked to a healthier heart and brain. “Still, it’s not a blanket pass,” she cautions. “It hinges on the way the fish is prepared, what it’s eaten with and many other elements.”

There’s one other catch, too: You can easily cancel out the benefits with seafood that’s contaminated with mercury, antibiotics or harmful chemicals like PCBs. To play it safe, look for sardines, mackerel, wild Alaskan salmon, pole-caught albacore tuna and Arctic char. For additional options, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Super Green” list at www.seafoodwatch.org; you can find the best picks for your state or download its free app to your smartphone.

Lasting Impression: The Scholibo and Henry Brashear Buildings (circa 1880, 1882)

March 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Post-Reconstruction remnants.

The Scholibo Building and the Henry Brashear Building

The Scholibo Building and the Henry Brashear Building

In 1880, when former president Ulysses S. Grant visited Houston by rail to celebrate the opening of Union Station, our city’s population was but some 16,000 people—slightly smaller than that of Galveston. In the ensuing decade, however, the growth of the railroads, combined with our state’s cotton- and lumber-based economy, would help the Houston economy to thrive.

Two neighboring landmark buildings from our post-Reconstruction boom still survive today, on the 900 block of Prairie Street: the two-story Scholibo Building (1880) and thew three-story Charles Brashear Building (1882). The former, at 912 Prairie, is named for the family of German-born baker Charles Scholibo (1844–1900). Over the course of the 20th century, the structure, marked by its Italianate architecture, would be home to many businesses. Restored and renovated in the 1990s, it now houses the Fryar Law Firm.

Banker Charles Brashear (1839–1911), born a Houstonian in the era of the Republic of Texas, was the scion of a locally prominent family; one cousin, Sam Houston Brashear, served as mayor of Houston in the late 1890s. The Victorian building at 910 Prairie that bears his name was designed by noted architect Eugene Heiner (1852–1901). Heiner’s other work includes Houston’s old Cotton Exchange Building (1884), at 202 Travis, and a number of courthouses throughout the state of Texas.


Read more in the 2016 Spring H Texas issue, available soon on newsstands and digitally.

Lasting Impression: Blaffer Art Museum

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

lastingimp_blaffer

Founded circa 1971–1973 (formerly Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery)

by Clifford Crouch • photos by Nicholas Nguyen

blafferBlaffer Art Museum, located on the University of Houston campus (near the intersection of Cullen and Elgin), is but the most visible and outward sign of the ways in which the Blaffer family has graced Houston and the art world.

That grace proceeds in particular from philanthropist Sarah Campbell Blaffer (1885–1975), born 130 years ago on August 27. More broadly speaking, it proceeds from the anointing of Texas oil wealth. As the daughter of William T. Campbell (a founder of Texaco) and the wife of Robert E. Lee Blaffer (a founder of Humble Oil, now ExxonMobil), the Texas-born Sarah might almost be viewed as corporate petroleum merger made; but her interest was less in oil drilling than in oil painting. After her wedding—Ima Hogg was maid of honor—Sarah spent a long European honeymoon that included touring the continent’s art museums. She subsequently became a collector of fine art, and then a patron and benefactor, finally establishing the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in 1964. Her son John H. Blaffer also contributed the massive Robert Lee Blaffer Wing (completed in 1953) to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts in memory of his father. The Blaffer Foundation’s extensive collection continues to make works of the old European masters accessible to Texans. H

Houston’s Top 8 Doggie Destinations

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

DoggieDest_scroll

Get your best friend out of the (dog) house! Read on for our city’s hottest spots for well, Spot.

by Ian Kretz

Just because summer’s coming to an end, doesn’t mean you should stop making the outdoors your playground. And for all of us doggie lovers, no family outing is complete without our pups by our sides. Fortunately, digging up exciting and enjoyable experiences we can share with our dogs right here at home is, sometimes literally, a walk in the park. Here are some of our favorite, distinctly Houstonian destinations where your whole family can have a ball together this season.


Doggie_BarnabysWhy it’s a doggie do: The Barnaby’s Café franchise offers Houston’s best-loved doggie dining experience by far. What began in Montrose as a comfortable neighborhood café and tribute to the owner’s departed childhood best friend, Barnaby the Sheepdog, has expanded into eight locations spread among some of Houston’s most recognizable neighborhoods, from The Heights and Memorial to Midtown and Downtown. Each location is dog friendly, though some are friendlier than others; the River Oaks location, in particular, has the same quirky menu as the others but the most spacious patio area, where Fido foodies are invited to sit with their families and enjoy a relaxed evening.

H Texas recommends: Barnaby’s French Dip sandwich, served on fresh bread with natural au jus, makes for a decadent diner classic, and every salad on the menu is fresh, surprising and generous (smaller sizes are available, too). Kids will love the burgers, hot dogs and warm brownies served à la mode. Dog biscuits and water will make your pooch’s evening extra special.

For more information: www.barnabyscafe.com


Doggie_StDanesWhy it’s a doggie do: Saint Dane’s is a fantastic bar to take your children to…as long as your children walk on four legs and prefer barking to talking. One of the few Midtown bars that welcome fur babies, Saint Dane’s prides itself on having “plasmas everywhere you look,” making any spot ideal for watching the big game. Wood-framed, raised tables and plenty of neon lend the bar a dive-y quality that belies a well-stocked bar with daily drink specials and a draft beer selection that will impress. Dogs will love lounging on the covered porch or on the street front before a spectacular view of Downtown; all the game day excitement is sure to keep them entertained.

H Texas recommends: The “Wes” Burger, served with a fried egg on top, is one of Houston’s great bar burgers (available at lunchtime as a special), and the Sweet Chili Lime buffalo wings are crispy to a fault and offer a flavor (and how) off the beaten bar fare path. Live music (most Saturday nights) includes a selection of classic rock favorites; bands usually take requests, so be sure to ask for “Hound Dog.”

For more information: www.saintdanes.com


Doggie_BlackLabWhy it’s a doggie do: Even dogs appreciate the finer things in life, and despite its name and buttoned-up British air, all breeds are welcome to enjoy a dining experience worth begging for at The Black Labrador. Since 1986, this English-style pub, a favorite of Houstonians, has served a mix of authentic British cuisine and more familiar fare in a meticulously recreated English-pub atmosphere. The interior is warm and bright, with characteristically low ceilings and wood paneling aplenty, while the outdoor seating area (complete with cobblestones) is airy, comfortable and shaded by a canopy of trees—perfect for an after-lunch dog nap. All in all, The Black Labrador offers a quiet, distinctly British environment to enjoy delicious food with English Mastiffs, Scottish Terriers and everything in between.

H Texas recommends: The mussels on the appetizer menu are a bountiful yet light entrée to any of the traditional English menu items, including piping hot, flaky Beef Wellington and classic English-style Fish & Chips. The Black Labrador Pub exceeds the promise of its name, offering an exhaustive roster of delicious beers that pair well with any dish. Sunday brunch begins at 11 a.m., and the Bangers & Mash hounds of Houston tend to come running-—be sure to get there early for a cozy table outside.

For more information: www.blacklabradorpub.com


Doggie_GoodDogWhy it’s a doggie do: Reward your dog with a trip to Good Dog Houston, where local ingredients and that American standard, the hot dog, are celebrated par excellence. The restaurant gained its pack of loyal followers during its incarnation as a favorite food truck before setting up a permanent shop in The Heights. You’ll find a curated menu of one-of-a-kind franks (including tofu dogs), handcrafted toppings, classic sides and an ever-changing selection of locally sourced beers on tap. Good dogs and humans alike will find plenty of space on the comfortable outdoor deck to enjoy these highbrow hot dogs.

H Texas recommends: The Texican Dog is a spicy, South-of-the-Border dream that combines refried black beans, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, pickled jalapeños and fresh vegetables atop a perfectly cooked frank. The Fried Corny Dog, served with signature sriracha ketchup, is the be-all, end-all ideal corndog. The average price of one of these masterpieces is about $7, so don’t forget to order something for Rover.

For more information: www.gooddoghouston.com


Doggie_BillArcherParkWhy it’s a doggie do: Think of Bill Archer Bark Park as Houston’s doggie Disneyworld. Located north of I-10, about halfway between Houston and Katy, the park features more than 20 acres of off-leash play space for your pup. These expansive, beautiful grounds alone make the park well worth the trip (about a 30-minute drive from Downtown), and attractions like canine agility equipment for large and small breeds and swimming ponds seal the deal. Extensive, manicured walking trails and shaded benches provide relaxing options for owners and those dogs deemed people persons.

H Texas recommends: The park is open from 7 a.m. until dusk, so peak hours tend to coincide with evening free time during the workweek, while weekend days are busy throughout. Depending on your dog’s temperament around other dogs, you may want to plan your trip accordingly. Note: All the usual dog park rules apply, including no outside food or drink (for either you or your pet), so be sure you both have a snack before your outdoor romp. Water fountains for two- and four-legged friends are available inside the park.

For more information: www.visithoustontexas.com


Doggie_GeneGreenParkWhy it’s a doggie do: This dog park gives adventurous pups a chance to walk or run on the wild side. Gene Green Beltway 8 Dog Park, located about 20 minutes from Downtown, on the northeast side, boasts, in addition to spacious grounds, off-leash play areas and other standard dog park attractions, several areas of natural Texas brush and flora that offer all dogs, particularly sporting breeds, an opportunity to use their instincts and get in touch with their wolfish ancestors. For those dogs that don’t know they are of the canine species, manicured green space enjoyed from one of many shaded benches offers all of nature’s best aspects.

H Texas recommends: The equally top-flight splash park, skate park and children’s playground at Gene Green Beltway 8 Park will be difficult for younger kids to resist for any length of time; be sure to bring swimwear, skateboards and another adult to supervise the kids in their own adventures without taking any time out of Rover’s. Don’t forget the camera!

For more information: www.hcp1.net/Parks/GeneGreen.aspx


Doggie_HotelDerekWhy it’s a doggie do: Hotel Derek is arguably Houston’s most lavish and popular boutique destination hotel. Located a stone’s throw from The Galleria in Uptown, Hotel Derek is a beacon of contemporary glamour in our city. Elegant, comfortable rooms and refined dining, spas and amenities are perfect for Houstonians looking for a luxurious staycation or travelers who prefer to do so in style. Best of all, Hotel Derek is dog friendly, with several unique amenities geared specifically toward pups. Pets do stay for an additional fee, a large portion of which is donated to the Houston SPCA. Your pooch will thank you for, and quickly become used to, a seat in the lap of luxury over a splendid stay at Hotel Derek.

H Texas recommends: Dog-friendly rooms are all on the “dedicated pet floor” with convenient outdoor access for making such trips fast and easy. However, space is limited, so be sure to book your room well in advance. For pampered pooches, the recently unveiled Wag Lounge is an unforgettable relaxation destination located just down the hall from your suite. Beyond the hotel, Memorial Park, just five minutes away, offers exciting possibilities for doggie daytrips.

For more information: www.hotelderek.com/about/pet-friendly-hotels-houston


Doggie_DiscoveryGreenWhy it’s a doggie do: Discovery Green in Downtown Houston is a vibrant, verdant oasis hidden among the buildings and bustle of our city’s center. With athletic fields and walking trails, jungle gyms and paddleboats, and of course, plenty of greenery, Discovery Green has something for everyone, including dogs. Pups are sure to enjoy the more literal jungle within the urban one; the shaded off-leash dog runs (one for large dogs, one for small) offer a chance to play in a new environment filled with fascinating sights and sounds. And when your pup is all done, feel free to leash him up and take him on a tour of the larger Discovery Green area for an even more vivid day of adventure.

H Texas recommends: From outdoor art installations and film to ice skating and free yoga and Pilates classes, something fun is always going on at Discovery Green. Try to time your dog park trip to take advantage of interesting and usually free community activities. A full events calendar is available on the Discovery Green website.

For more information: www.discoverygreen.com/the-dog-runs H

Where Do We Go from Here?

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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A Roadmap for Houston’s (Possible) Future

by Lynn Ashby

You know Houston is on a roll. Boom, boom, boom, with the occasional resounding bust. Our skylines (we have several) are dotted with cranes. Our traffic increases daily. We need more schools, hospitals and animal-control vans. This area is spreading out in every direction. Okay, we all know that, but in the back of our minds is the burning, if not nagging, question: “What’s in it for me? Hey, I didn’t come to Houston from Frost Bite, North Dakota, for the August afternoons or the public school system, not even for the running of the cockroaches. I came to turn a buck, and when that buck quits turning, I’m off like a prom dress.” Good question, and fortunately for you, I have answers. Clip and save so you won’t come sniveling around here in 2030 saying, “But I didn’t know.”

First, a bit of our future depends on other people and events, such as hurricanes, our lawmakers’ ability to feed NASA, the Ship Channel, expressways and light rail, and all those other treats we want from Washington while cursing the federal government. Pollution and anti-pollution laws will affect our future, along with energy prices, cheap labor and, of course, Wang Jing. As for you, buy land. Any land anywhere in these five or 10 counties. Yes, some acres will occasionally be underwater, economically and literally, because Houston was founded by land developers who greatly exaggerated, if not outright lied, about the “abundance of excellent spring water, and enjoying the sea breeze in all its freshness,” and our developers today do love tradition.

Things move quickly around here and so should you. Westheimer Road, which is also State Highway 1093, was named for M.L. Westheimer, an early entrepreneur, who built a five-mile shell road from his home and businesses west of the city into town, then gave the road to Houston in 1894. You can see what it is now. I can remember when R.E. “Bob” Smith had a ranch complete with grazing cattle, just west of the Galleria. Rice University was laid out at the end of the town’s trolley line. The Strake Boy Scout Camp is now in its third location because Houston keeps paving over the wilderness. (If you’re wondering who’s Bob Smith, go back to Newark.)

Invest in food. For reasons that have never been clear, Houstonians eat out all the time. Indeed, Houston residents eat an average of four meals a week outside the home, according to the 2012 America’s Top Restaurants report from Zagat, the bible of eateries. That’s more than any other city in the nation. Ethnic restaurants are hot and will remain so for decades, or until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) moves in. These restaurants are a reflection of our diversity, said to be the most in the nation. Open an Eskimo-Croatian café, or a pub catering to country boys returning from the Mideast wars, Shucks & Awe. We have created a city where one-third of business owners are foreign-born, where the number of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus has tripled in the past three decades, where more than 100 languages are spoken by students attending Houston public schools. Our crystal ball shows more of the same.

Lynn_Roadmap1A BUMPER CROP EVERY SINGLE DAY

We are ever so slowly adding to light rail. Figure out where the next lines will go and buy acreage for cheap housing. (Rich people don’t ride buses or take trams.) Here is Houston’s growing traffic problem in a nutshell: We tear down a one-story strip center with adequate parking and replace it with a 35-story condo. Each condo has owners of one or two vehicles. There are parking places for these cars and pickups in the building, but each morning and each evening, they are trying to crowd into the streets which have added not a lane, nary an overpass, no more space for cars. That two-gallon bucket still holds two gallons, but we are trying to pour three gallons into it. A perfect example is CityCentre, with its new high-rise lofts and apartments, but same streets as before.    

More vehicles arrive in the county every day. Eventually gridlock will paralyze the entire Inner Loop, and people will demand mass transit. Bob Lanier is dead, Tom DeLay is paying off legal bills and U.S. Rep. John Culberson has been MIA since 2000, but now is slightly changing his mind (there must have been a new voters poll), so the three amigos who managed to postpone, if not kneecap, mass transit are no longer effective. Houston hasn’t had good mass transit since the mule died. Speaking of transportation, when what is now the George H.W. Bush Intergalactic Airhub & Uber Outpost was built, it was thought that Hobby Airport would be phased out. Hobby is busier than ever. Air traffic will only increase by great numbers. Buy rice fields west of Katy for the Nolan Ryan Airport & Crop Dusting Extravaganza.

Currently Harris County’s air is near the U.S. average in carbon monoxide, but is above the national average in ozone (one hour) and significantly above the U.S. average in ozone (eight hours) and particulate matter. With the continuing onslaught of newcomers and their vehicles, our air pollution is going to get worse. Go to the coal mines and buy canaries. Have you been by the Texas Medical Center lately, and not in the back of a careening EMS ambulance after you brought a knife to a gunfight? The TMC is growing, in good times and bad. It is, as we like to proclaim, the world’s largest medical center. People come from everywhere to die in Houston. We are going to need more hospitals, doctors and rubber gloves. Another medical school is not if, but when. 

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that Texas’ population, currently 34 million, will hit 54 million by 2050 or even double, and we know Houston will get more than its share of newcomers. (Houston gained 35,000 in population this past year, which was more than it gained in the previous year.) Growth estimates for the Houston area in 2020 are everyone who doesn’t live here now. Word of caution: Ever since the very first U.S. Census in 1790, New York City has been the most populous city in America. Every other city has changed places in the pecking order; next, in that first census, came Philadelphia and Boston. No surprises there, but then came Charleston, SC, followed by Baltimore, Northern Liberties, Salem, Newport, Providence and Marblehead. For the next 50 years, Northern Liberties was among our largest populated cities. I have no idea what or where that place was and is, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Where will we rank in 2050?

Claudia Grisales, writing in the Austin American-Statesman, reports that workers will turn more and more to telecommuting. That’s sort of a new term to me, but we all know what it means: work from home. Texas is second only to California in the percentage of telecommuters—5.2 percent for California, 4.1 percent for us. While that might not seem like much, nationally the figure in telecommuting has increased by 80 percent since 2005. At this rate, figure out how it will affect you.

NAMING RITES FOR SALE

Houston is cheap. Putting the average U.S. cost of living at 100 percent, currently the cost of living index in Harris County is 92.7 percent. When you moved here, you got a raise even if you didn’t. This wage gap will close. So keep getting raises. Two-thirds of us (66 percent) earn a private wage or salary. Just under one-third (31 percent) are self-employed or not incorporated. Only 2 percent work for the government. In the future, we shall all work for the government and just think we don’t. We have been called “the nation’s fattest city” by some fatheads somewhere. Yet 73.2 percent of residents exercised in the past month. This is about average.

  • 39.9 percent of residents smoked 100-plus cigarettes in their lives. This is less than average.
  • 78.6 percent of adult residents drank alcohol in the past 30 days. This is more than average.
  • 63.8 percent of residents visited a dentist within the past year. This is less than average.
  • Average weight of males is 196 pounds. This is more than average.
  • Average weight of females is 169 pounds. This is also more than average. So maybe we are fat.
  • 28.6 percent of residents keep firearms around their homes. This is less than average. The others lie.

Forbes magazine rated Houston the “coolest city in America.” That was not due to our sophistication, but to our air conditioning, because we fit A/C on every structure and some places that are outside. This brings us to 2035 and global warming, which will melt the ice caps, causing immense flooding, creating Bellaire Beach and the Montrose Marina. Houston developers, ever the clever, will show properties by using glass-bottom boats. Stay ahead of the crowd and sell flood insurance—or maybe buy it. Your first clue that high tide is coming is when animals at the Houston Zoo start lining up two-by-two.

Forbes also ranked Dallas as second among U.S. cities in the number of billionaires with 17. Houston finished seventh with 11. This shall change, as our billionaires spawn more scions. Houston’s Theater District is second only to New York City with its concentration of seats in one geographic area, and we have a huge and growing museum district. These two facts—billionaires and couth—are connected. The very rich love to see their names on concert halls, theaters and museums. So in 2020, open the Houston Class Act—home for smart performing artists, or just those with funny names, and sell naming rights.

Lynn_Roadmap2ROOT FOR THE CANAL        

Here are some predictions for Houston’s future (actually have you heard anyone predicting the past?):

2020: Local TV stations will stop breathlessly saying, “Breaking news!” when a Houstonian uses his turn signal.    

2028: Opponents of video cameras at major intersections to record red-light runners will get T-boned by a red-light runner. We shall miss them—sort of.

2040: Ed Emmitt, county judge emeritus, announces the perfect solution for the Astrodome: a monumental, covered, all-weather monument to himself.

2050: Houston lands the Summer Olympics, adding a few new sports: the 20-meter marathon; the parking-place race at the Galleria (which will be followed by the 30-minute destruction derby); yacht racing on the Houston Ship Channel, training-wheels category; javelin dodging and manhole-cover discus; synchronized sweating; and the 100-yard pothole obstacle course.   

2052: Zoning will be enacted after a majority on the City Council mistakes the vote for “enabling strict ozone.”    

2055: The 10,000 children from Central America who arrived in Houston illegally in 2014 will have their court deportation hearings postponed again. Same for their grandchildren.

2060: Every time something goes wrong here, outsiders will stop saying, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

2070: After 55 years, The Houston Chronicle finally wins its second Pulitzer for its series on: The Pulitzer—Who Needs It?

Oh, about Wang Jing. He is a Chinese billionaire leading a consortium that won approval from the Nicaraguan government to build a $50 billion canal across the country, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and, we must assume, vice versa. The Panama Canal is about 450 miles south of the proposed route, so the Port of Houston will be closer to West Coast ports and Asia. Not to be outdone, the Panama Canal itself is being vastly widened to accommodate massive Post Panamax container ships. And since the Port of Houston is the closest major East Coast port to these canals, it is already spending hundreds of millions of dollars getting set to receive. In future decades, the already-mighty Port will become even more important to Houston’s economy. Buy water.

Ashby is futuristic at ashby2@comcast.net.

26 Most Beautiful Houstonians 2015

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In honor of this column’s 10-year anniversary, we salute 25 past honorees—and one newbie worthy of a spot among the greats—for their outstanding service.

by Warner Roberts

H Texas is pleased to present 25 Beautiful Houstonians who, with the exception of one, have been selected from past honorees for their unwavering community service.

It was a beautiful sunny day in 2005 when I had lunch with Editor-in-Chief Laurette Veres to pitch her my idea for an article on “25 beautiful Houstonians.” Immediately, she liked it, agreeing that it would not only be an interesting article, but a great way to honor those who spend much of their lives serving others and making our community a better place.

To open my first article, I wrote something that I still firmly stand by: “I believe that there is something very beautiful about each and every human being. Therefore, this project has been, without question, one of the most difficult I have ever tackled.” And I must say that, choosing 25 candidates from the former 225 honorees, was nearly impossible.

Throughout history, writers have defined “beauty” through poetry and prose. It was Margaret Wolfe Hungerford who wrote, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and many writers and philosophers have expressed different versions of the same sentiment.

Benjamin Franklin wrote,“Beauty, like supreme dominion, is but supported by opinion.” And as we know, opinions differ. In the words of Shakespeare, “Beauty is bought by the judgment of the eye.” Ask 100 people to answer the question, “What is beauty?” and you will get 100 different answers. But our mothers probably described it best when they said, “Beauty is as beauty does.” 

In a most eloquent description of the essence of beauty, John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” Laurette and I both feel that Keats might have meant that, through service to mankind, we shall never pass into oblivion.

We at H Texas define beauty as the ability to spread joy, lift spirits, encourage and inspire, and we measure it through service. The men and women on this list are not only physically captivating, but they make our city a more beautiful place through their generosity of spirit, compassion, creativity and dedication to serving. Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart!” And a quote from Audrey Hepburn, a famous beauty and actress, whose memory lives on, reads, “As you grow older, you will find that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, one for helping others.”

Congratulations and a heartfelt thank you to 2015’s 26 Most Beautiful Houstonians. H

MONICA HARTLAND BLAISDELL

MonicaHartlandBlaisdellMonica Hartland Blaisdell, as the third-oldest child of 14, quickly learned to care for her younger siblings. With an innate willingness to help others, she once committed to donating $83 a month for five years to the homeless women and children at The Mission of Yahweh when she had very little money for herself.

Having experienced her own crisis, her life’s goal is to be a torchbearer for those less fortunate. Monica has chaired The Mission of Yahweh’s most successful gala. For six years, she and her husband, John, have produced “Christmas on a Mission” for The Mission of Yahweh, which provides a snow-covered, fantasy Christmas for homeless women and children. Recently, Monica co-chaired the Houston Ballet Jubilee of Dance, and this year, she co-chairs the Work Faith Connection and the Children’s Assessment Center’s Spirit of Spring luncheons.

ANNE CARL

AnneCarlCelebrating two milestone events this past year—two decades of marriage and a successful family business—Anne Carl has so much to be thankful for. 

While working with her husband, Noble, and raising their two beautiful girls, she still finds time to sit on The Friends Board for the Children’s Assessment Center and will be co-chairing this year’s Clayton Dabney “Sun Kissed by an Angel in St. Barth’s” event on April 15. Proceeds will go directly to supporting families who face the devastating loss of a child to cancer. 

Beginning this year, Anne was chosen as the first official brand ambassador for Valmont skincare. This exclusive French line, sold only at Saks Fifth Avenue stores, features a one-of-a-kind breakthrough technology for skin-care management.

Over the years, Anne has been involved in various charity organizations, including: The American Heart Association, Rienzi, Hermann Park Conservancy, The Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Second Baptist Church and The Children’s Museum of Houston.

DEBORAH DUNCAN

Deborah-DuncanDeborah Duncan has been a media personality for 25 years, anchoring news and hosting talk shows in Austin, Dallas, New York and currently Great Day Houston on KHOU-TV, Channel 11. Her job has called on her to provide calm in the mist of disaster, to give people information to empower their lives, to provide a voice to the business community and to lend a hand to many nonprofit organizations.

Deborah serves on the national board of directors of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers; she is also a board member of the Palmer Drug Abuse Program and Houston Sober Center. She has chaired numerous fund-raising events for such organizations as The Bridge Over Troubled Waters and performed for the past two years at The Mission of Yahweh’s “Unplugged and On a Mission.” Deborah recently won an Emmy for community service with the Star of Hope-For the Holidays album. One of the most popular emcees in the city, Deborah has volunteered her time and talent for countless fund-raisers.

CAROLYN FARB

DrCarolynFarbbyGittingsHouston’s premier volunteer fund-raiser, author, art patron and philanthropist, Dr. Carolyn Farb personifies the essence of a life dedicated to public service. She is a native Texan whose passion shines internationally.

Dr. Farb’s fund-raising style, spirit and successes have set national standards. Her philanthropic service has benefitted more than 100 charitable organizations, raising in excess of $50 million. Once a cause touches her heart, it becomes part of Carolyn’s life forever.

When chairing an event, she is as devoted as any CEO is to their corporation. With each new project, Dr. Farb creates a strategic plan. Her goal is to operate on her “zero budget” philosophy to get expenses underwritten. The key to Dr. Farb’s success is in her dynamic vision, intensity of purpose and total commitment. Her hands-on planning and execution for every project serve as a model for others. Her life is an example of the power of one individual’s commitment to a cause. To quote the heroic Steve Jobs: “Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, do it.”

JOANNE KING HERRING

JoanneKingHerringThe Dame, The Knight, The Ambassador, Hostess, Author, Texas Hall of Famer and now Nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal (the civilian equivalent of a Congressional Medal of Honor), Joanne Herring has been named the Queen of Texas by People, Forbes and Fortune magazines, along with the Washington Post, CNN, Fox and others.

Joanne, with Charlie Wilson, played a critical role in ending the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan without the loss of one American life. Their efforts aided President George W. Bush and Secretary James Baker in the collapse of the greatest war machine in history. This action helped to end the Cold War and many say prevented WWIII. The film, Charlie Wilson’s War, made by Robin King and starring Julia Roberts, was shown to Charlie Wilson, Bill Casey, President Bush, Henry Kissinger and Prince Bandar, who convinced Saudi Arabia to fund half of the war and set in motion these extraordinary events.

Joanne’s biography, Diplomacy and Diamonds, was a best-seller on five lists in 2011 and is still in demand. The Joanne King Show, on the air for 15 years, was rated the fifth-most-popular TV show in the United States. She has been lauded by the press in England, France, Germany, Spain, Pakistan and Morocco, and has entertained their presidents and kings on their state visits to the United States. In her long career, Joanne has supported every ethnic group in Houston, and has chaired and been honored by every major charity.

Joanne also founded the Marshall Plan Charities for Afghanistan to aid villagers by providing them with the means to acquire food, water education, medical care and jobs needed for them to succeed.

Joanne’s family includes two sons, Robin and Beau King, daughter-in-law, Stanisse King, and three grandchildren. Her family and her faith are her main interests in life.

SIDNEY FAUST

Sydney-Faustby-GittingsSidney Faust is married to Don Faust, owner of Faust Distributing. Don and Sidney lived in Baytown until their move to Houston in 1992, when Sidney became involved in a number of organizations. In 1999, she co-chaired the Houston Symphony Maestro Luncheon with Cora Sue Mach. Since then, the successful team has run such events as the Winter Ball, Women’s Health Summit, Baylor Partnership, Greater Houston Alliance Gold Brick Dinner and The Chic Boutique.

Presently, Sidney is co-chairing the Celebration of Champions and New Barc Gala. She has been named a 2003 Woman of Distinction and Ambassador for the Winter Ball in 2013. Don and Sidney were honorees of the Harris County Hospital district. Sidney was also an honoree at the Mission of Yahweh, the Hope and Healing Luncheon, the Salvation Ladies Auxiliary Reflection’s on Style luncheon and the Women’s Health Summit. She served as ball advisor for the Centennial Houston Symphony Ball. Don and Sidney have held 65 retreats, called a Healing Tradition, for the children and their families from Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

BILL KING

BillKingbyGittingsBill King is a life-long resident of the Houston area. He was born and raised along Galveston Bay in Kemah, Texas. He earned an undergraduate and law degree from the University of Houston. Bill has enjoyed a varied business and legal career. He is currently president of Southwest Airport Services, Inc. and also an investor or director in several other businesses.

Bill’s community involvement includes numerous public service and volunteer organizations. From 1992 to 2004, he served in various positions with the City of Kemah, including the Kemah Economic Development Corporation, City Council and two terms as Mayor. He has also served in many capacities with charitable and civic organizations, including Interfaith Ministries, the Methodist Debakey Health, Fire Fighter Foundation of Houston, Crime Stoppers and Galveston Bay Foundation. Bill has received numerous awards for his public service, including the Galleria Chamber’s “Texas Legend” award, the American Leadership Foundation’s Jaworski Leadership Award and the National Hurricane Conference’s Outstanding Achievement Award.

Bill regularly writes for the Houston Chronicle and has authored two books. His most recent, Unapologetically Moderate, has recently been released by Bright Sky Press.

SHELBY HODGE

Shelby_HodgebyJulie-SoeferFor two decades, Shelby Hodge, CultureMap editor-at-large, has been transforming the role of society editor into that of sophisticated social scribe, recording and photographing the comings and goings of Houston’s most influential citizens. Shelby’s coverage of charities, both large and small, of cultural and medical entities and of educational nonprofits, has provided a powerful voice for the nonprofit community. Being spotlighted in one of her columns is a badge of honor; her articles often lead to greater support for the organizations featured.

Even after two decades of covering this aspect of the social scene, Shelby maintains a fresh approach to her tasks, always with a pleasant and engaging demeanor. Along the way, she has been honored for her good works by Legacy Community Health Services, Houston Ballet, Houston Children’s Charity and the YWCA, among others. Shelby was society editor at the Houston Chronicle for 18 years before helping launch CultureMap in 2009.

PAMELA LOCKARD

PamLockhardPamela Lockard founded her award-winning marketing agency, DMN3, in 1992. Today, her 30-person firm helps clients build revenue using lead generation and customer growth strategies. Raised in Galena Park, Texas, she learned the importance of leadership, hard work, perseverance and giving back at an early age.

While never achieving her childhood dream of becoming a missionary in Africa, Pam and her husband, Ronald Sterlekar, donate time and resources to the less fortunate in Houston. Pam has served on the board of The Mission of Yahweh for 25 years. She’s also a life-time member of the Kezia DePelchin Society and a past winner of the HBJ Enterprise Award for philanthropy. The University of Houston Alumni Association honored her in 2013 for giving time, resources and energy to the University.

KIM MOODY

KimMoodybyGittingsKim Moody is a native Houstonian and grew up watching her mother, the late Katherine Blissard, open her heart to serve others.

Kim’s volunteering involves working with Children’s Assessment Center; The American Heart Association; Amschwand Sarcoma Foundation; Ronald McDonald House; The Museum of Natural Science; The Children’s Museum; the Nutcracker Market benefitting the Houston Ballet; The Women’s Health Summit for the Huffington Center on Aging; The Citizens for Animal Protection; the Bridge Over Troubled Waters for Women and Children; Houston Sweetheart Luncheon; Habitat for Horses; Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo; and The Joy School. Kim is currently chairing the Mission of Yaweh Gala, to be held May 8.

Kim has served on the board for the Children’s Assessment Center, and as president of the Children’s Assessment Center Friend’s Guild and of the River Oaks Country Club Women’s Association. Kim and Dan Moody have been married for 25 years, and have one daughter, Makell, who is the light of their lives. Kim and Dan, along with Dan’s mother, Mary, were honored in 2009 by the CAC at the Spirit of Spring Luncheon. They were also the 2007 recipients of the Pacesetters Award from the Cancer League of Houston. Most recently, Kim was named an ABC-13 Woman of Distinction by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

JOEL OSTEEN

JoelOsteenJoel Osteen is the pastor of America’s largest church, Lakewood Church of Houston. He is the most popular inspirational figure in the U.S. and a New York Times best-selling author. Joel’s appeal is universal, allowing him to cross over to audiences that are diverse racially, politically and socioeconomically. His seven books have all been number-one national best-sellers. Each week, Joel’s broadcast is watched by more than 10 million people in the U.S. and in approximately 100 nations around the world. More than 1.2 million people watch his services online each month, ranking JoelOsteen.com one of the top 10 streaming sites in the world. More than 2 million people have attended his Night of Hope events across the U.S. and around the globe.

In 2014, Joel launched “Joel Osteen Radio”, a new exclusive channel on SiriusXM featuring live weekly call-in shows hosted by both Joel and his wife, Victoria. Through it’s many ministries and partners, Lakewood Church ministers to tens of thousands of individuals throughout the Houston area and the nation.

KIM PADGETT

Kim-PadgettBorn and raised in Houston, Kim Padgett serves as the president of The Padgett Group, a strategic marketing and public relations consulting firm based in Houston, and brings more than 20 years of experience in public relations and marketing communications to her clients.

Kim is an active community volunteer and animal advocate, and serves on several boards of directors and advisory boards focused on the health and welfare of Houstonians. She has chaired, co-chaired and served on host, auction and underwriter committees for many Houston fund-raisers, raising millions for local charities. She received her bachelor’s in journalism and foreign studies and her master’s in international journalism from Baylor University. Kim also attended college in Aix-en-Provence, France, and London. She was awarded by the Public Relations Society of America the inaugural “Media Relations Professional of the Year” award, nominated and voted on by media representatives from the Greater Houston area. She is a frequent speaker at public relations and marketing industry events, as well as a contributing author to multiple professional, business and lifestyle publications.

BRUCE PADILLA

BrucePadillaBruce Padilla, the former director for Baccarat Crystal, is now the Regional Manager MCM Worldwide. He is an avid supporter of animal, children’s and medical charities. He is currently president-elect of the development board of the Huffington Center on Aging at the Baylor College of Medicine. He is also a member of the Friends Guild Board of the Children’s Assessment Center, the Advisory Board of
Houston Achievement Place, a member of the SDMC at Grady Middle School, past Capital Campaign Board member for the new CAP Shelter, and was a Man of the Year candidate for the Leukemia Society in 2014. He has chaired or co-chaired numerous fund-raising events for many different charities; his proudest accomplishment was serving as a co-chair for the 2012 CAP gala, which raised a record $800,000, their highest-grossing gala to date.

RACHEL REGAN

ReganbyGittingsRachel Regan has been involved in the philanthropic efforts in the Houston community since the minute she became a Houstonian 17 years ago. Rachel is currently the president of the Baylor College of Medicine Partnership Board, on the board of the March of Dimes, Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital, executive board of VICTORY in support of the American Cancer Society, and the Children’s Assessment Center Friends Guild board. She has chaired or co-chaired events that have raised millions of dollars, including: the inaugural Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital Gala; The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market; Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Gala; and Citizens for Annual Protection Gala. She is extremely proud of her work with The Junior League of Houston, Inc., over the past decade, when she has served as the development vice president last year. She has been honored with the Sarah Houston Lindsey Outstanding Active Award Winner, recognizing her for exemplifying the League’s mission of promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community. Rachel also has given her time to Dress for Success Houston, Houston Zoo Friends and St. Luke’s Friends of Nursing Board, and last year, was recognized as a CCFA 2014 Women of Distinction.

Next up, Rachel is chairing the 1925 – An Epic Era Charity Ball, a three-night celebration of the 90th Anniversary for The Junior League of Houston in February, and in October, will co-chair the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gala.

Rachel is most proud of her marriage to her supportive and loving husband, Tom, and their two beautiful children, Wynn Lawrence, age 4, and Eleanor Kathryn (Ella), age 2.

ROSEMARY SCHATZMAN

Rosemary-Schatzman-byGittingsRosemary Schatzman concentrates much of her time on raising money for organizations centered around children, family, and related health and human services groups. Her primary focus is helping further the mission of the March of Dimes to reduce birth defects and infant mortality. Rosemary has volunteered for this organization since 1997 and has served on the board since 1999. She has chaired multiple events for March of Dimes, and will chair the 2015 Houston Chronicle Best Dressed Luncheon and Neiman Marcus Fashion Presentation. She has participated in the annual March for Babies for 18 years. In 2014, Rosemary received the Elaine Whitelaw National Volunteer Service award.

Rosemary serves on the board of Dec My Room, and is on the Advisory Boards for Child Advocates and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. She has served on the boards of American Heart Association, JDRF, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and Family Services of Greater Houston.

JEFF SHELL

Jeff-ShellJeff Shell has been a principal at the Neal Hamil Model and Talent Agency of Texas since 1997. Established in 1974, Neal Hamil Agency has several divisions, including fashion, runway, commercial, talent, fitness, plus-size and kids. The agency reps models, actors, hair and makeup artists, stylists and more, and they coordinate and produce fashion shows, special events, TV commercials, advertising and marketing services.

Since 2008, Jeff has served as the founder and executive director of the Little Black Dress Designer Foundation, one of Texas’ largest fashion-based competitions for students in fashion design, giving away more than $100,000 in scholarships to students who participate in the challenge to remake the LBD.

For 15 years, Jeff has been rubbing elbows with international fashion designers, including Carmen Marc Valvo, Naeem Khan, Badgley Mischka, Carolina Herrera, J. Mendel, Monique Lhuillier, Nicole Miller, Narciso Rodriguez and Tory Burch.

In 2005, Jeff Shell founded the Green Valentine. Taking root as a community tree planting at Stude Park in the Heights, the Green Valentine has sprouted up as a series of green-minded events promoting our love of community, living a sustainable lifestyle and supporting all things local.

Jeff regularly contributes to several nonprofits and arts organizations, including the Fashion Group International, Inc. of Houston, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, the Alley Theatre, DiverseWorks, Recipe for Success, Dress for Success and more. Jeff is also an artist, entrepreneur, photographer and gardener, and he raises chickens to boot.

MILLETTE SHERMAN

MilletteShermanbyGittingsMillette Sherman has embraced Houston with her charismatic, passionate spirit that makes the city so great. She is the devoted wife to Haag and mother of Carson, 13, and Julia, 8. Millette serves on the Board of Directors for numerous foundations within the Houston community. Her first involvement was with the March of Dimes. She currently serves on the Board of Family Services of Greater Houston, Children’s Museum of Houston and St Luke’s Hospital Friends of Nursing.

She has chaired many luncheons, events and galas over the years. Millette’s community honors include: Easter Seal’s Hats Off to Mothers Award; she was chosen as one of Houston’s Best Dressed honorees by the Houston Chronicle and she was honored with the ABC channel 13 Women of Distinction, Chron’s and Colitis Foundation award. Her business savvy, energy, attention to detail and focus on the bottom line make her an ideal volunteer.

ALICIA SMITH

AliciaSmithbyGittingsAlicia Smith wears many hats: wife, mother, entrepreneur, volunteer and philanthropist. In 1992, she founded Associated Video Services, the first female-owned legal video enterprise in Houston. Her company, Innovative Legal Solutions, has been in business for more than 22 years.

Alicia serves on the board of directors of WBEA, the GHWCC, The Houston Ballet, March of Dimes and UNICEF Southwest Region; she is a member of Entrepreneurs Organization. Alicia has chaired numerous fund-raising events and most recently co-chaired the 2014 UNICEF Audrey Hepburn Society Ball; she is also chairing the Capital Campaign for Lutheran South Academy. Alicia’s honors include the Team Excellence Award – CAC Direct Service Volunteer – Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas; CCFA Woman of Distinction; Leadership Houston Class XXVI, Crisis Intervention “The A List”; The Huffington Center on Aging Excellence in Bloom Award; Social Book Houston Treasure Award; and 2015 Mission of Yahweh Leaders & Legends Award.

She and her husband, Lance, are the proud parents of three sons, Justin, Cole and Chandler, who can always be found supporting their many activities.

MICHELLE LEYENDECKER SMITH

MichelleLeyendeckerSmithMichelle Leyendecker Smith is an active member of the Houston community. As a tribute to her sister Laura, who has cystic fibrosis, she has chaired numerous Gulf Coast Cystic Fibrosis Foundation events since 1995. She and her mother were honored at the Cystic Fibrosis “Mother’s Day Tea.” She has served as auction chair for March of Dimes Signature Chefs event in 2009 and 2011, and on the auction committee and underwriter committee for several “Stoney Creek Ranch” events, a Christian Camp providing scholarships for urban youth since 2005. She has been on the Texas Children’s Lifetime Ambassador Committee, and host committee for events relating to the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute and the Pavilion for Women. Michelle has served on the host and auction committee for The Center for Hearing and Speech in Houston. She co-chaired the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Brunch and Fashion Show, and chaired The Annual Gala for The Center For Hearing and Speech in 2013.

SUE SMITH

Sue-SmithSue Smith’s joie de vie is present in every part of her life and inspires others to live life to the fullest. Along with her husband, Lester Smith, Sue has been at the helm of some of the city’s most successful fund-raising events, including the largest single fund-raising evening in Houston’s history at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. The Lester and Sue Smith Foundation has provided upwards of $100 million to Texas Medical Center institutions, including Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and Harris Health System. In addition, Sue has made significant contributions of time and talent to many other non-profits, including Legacy Community Health Services; March of Dimes; Houston Children’s Charity; The Women’s Home; Holocaust Museum Houston; Mission of Yahweh; Thin Blue Line; and countless others.

Although Sue enjoys supporting charity events, her favorite pastimes are spending time with Lester, yoga, needlepoint, photography and growing orchids.

CLAIR THIELKE 

Claire-ThielkeA native Houstonian and executive with Hines Interests, Claire Thielke devotes her time to numerous arts, health and environmental causes. She serves on the board of directors of Memorial City Bank and is chairman of the Endowment Board of Legacy Community Health Services. Claire also serves on the MD Anderson Advance Team, a cause that is dear to her heart as a former patient.

An urban planner by training with a master’s degree in sustainable construction and historic preservation, Claire founded and chairs Pier & Beam, an organization for young professionals interested in saving Houston’s historic buildings. She is also a member of the boards of Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Preservation Houston, and serves on the advisory board and finance committee for Hermann Park.

A member of the 2014 Houston’s Best Dressed List, Claire has numerous philanthropic efforts planned for 2015. Next up: a capital campaign for a new Gulfton Clinic for Legacy and the 2015 Tee Up for Counseling fete, benefitting the Nick Finnegan Counseling Center. Clair is married to her high school sweetheart, energy trader, Rick Thielke.

PHOEBE TUDOR

PhoebeTudorPhoebe Tudor is an active community volunteer. She earned her bachelor’s in art history from the University of Virginia and master’s in historic preservation from Columbia University. She is the founding chairman of the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners, which spearheaded the effort to renovate Houston’s oldest library. She is also chair of the Centennial Campaign, raising money for the new Centennial Garden at Hermann Park, as well as president of the board of the Houston Ballet Foundation, the former chairman of the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission, and last year’s Preservationist of the Year, designated by Mayor Parker. Phoebe serves on the board of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, is a Best Dressed Hall of Fame inductee, and will be honored at the 2014 Ballet Ball and at Hermann Park’s Gala.

She and her husband, Bobby, are high school sweethearts from Louisiana, and have three wonderful children.

MARTHA FULLER TURNER

MarthaTurnerbyGittingsMartha Fuller Turner is a leading realtor, creative entrepreneur, humanitarian, teacher and family woman with a unique blend of energy, optimism and humor. She graduated from University of North Texas, where she was a member of the Board of Regents. Martha was president for 34 years of Houston’s outstanding independent real estate firm Martha Turner Properties, which was purchased by Sotheby’s International Realty in January 2014.

Since 2001, Martha has been a member of the Alexis De Tocqueville Society. Martha was president and board chair of Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, a founding member of United Cerebral Palsy Women’s Board and a member of Texas Business Hall of Fame, American Diabetes Foundation—their winning “Kiss-a-Pig” Candidate and Fundraiser. She also served on the advisory board of directors of Texas Commerce Bank. She is presently on the board of trustees of Houston Baptist University. Martha was the honoree at the 12th Annual Legacy Community Health Services Luncheon in September 2014.

Martha lives and moves in the arenas of hope and thankfulness, focusing on the positive—on actions to open up possibilities for a brighter future for all people.

JUSTIN JAMES WATT

JJWattThe only new Most Beautiful Houstonian in this column, superstar Houston Texan JJ Watt works as hard on the football field as anyone ever has. But, luckily for many young people, he also works hard to give back. He is the president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, a charitable organization that provides after-school opportunities for children in various communities, in order for them to get involved in athletics in a safe environment. He and the JJ Watt Foundation host a Charity Classic Run/Walk, Golf Outing and Tailgate annually. The Charity Classic is a softball game held at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas, in which Texans players participate in a game and Home Run Derby to raise money for the foundation. Last year, JJ received the Texans Spirit of the Bull Community Award, and was nominated for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award, which honors a coach, player or owner for their efforts in supporting the country’s service men and women.

MARGARET ALKEK WILLIAMS

MargaretAlkekWilliamsbyGittingsMargaret Alkek Williams is chairman of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation. Together with her son, Charles Williams, who is president of the foundation, she continues the legacy of giving established by her parents, Albert and Margaret Alkek.

Once described by the Houston Chronicle as “the most powerful, committed female philanthropist in Houston since Ima Hogg,” the impact of Margaret and her family’s generosity to the medical, cultural arts and educational communities has been profound. The majority of the Alkek Foundation’s support has been to the Texas Medical Center with more than $100 million going to Baylor College of Medicine.

Margaret’s support of the cultural arts in Houston has been nothing short of transformational with major gifts directed by Margaret for the Alley Theatre; Houston Grand Opera; Houston Ballet; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Society for the Performing Arts; Houston Symphony; and Theatre Under The Stars.

Margaret has devoted her life to supporting our community through her charitable giving. Her tireless efforts have helped Houston to become the vibrant, world-class city it is today.

LYNN WYATT

LynnWyattsLynn Wyatt is a third-generation Texan and Houston socialite, a legendary philanthropist, a style icon and an international hostess. Truly a renaissance woman, she is just as comfortable as a member of the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame, or when she was appointed by President Reagan to the Board of the U.S. Naval Academy, being interviewed by Vogue or practicing Tae Kwon Do, even earning a Black Belt First Degree.

Lynn has chaired prestigious events in Houston and elsewhere too numerous to mention. She is a Lifetime Trustee of the Star of Hope; vice-chair of the Houston Grand Opera; executive committee member of The Alley Theater; founding trustee of the Film Department of MFA; honorary director for the American Hospital in Paris; executive committee member of The Houston Ballet; a founding trustee for The Princess Grace Foundation USA; Elton John AIDS Foundation member; and the Rothko Chapel’s Cultural Ambassador.

Lynn’s priority has always been her family: Her husband, Oscar, and their four sons, Steven, Douglas, Trey and Bradford, and her wonderful grandchildren, Ford and Catherine, of whom she is so proud!

Quick Escape: Get Out of the House Already

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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Before camp starts—and before the kids get cooped up—go somewhere special with the family. Take this quiz to choose the right destination for your crowd. 

1. Which scent appeals to you?

a. Sweet salted caramel.

b. Tropical palms and fragrant flowers.

c. Woodsy pine and freshly cut grass.


2. Which animal would your kids be most excited to see?

a. Gorillas. Got bananas?

b. Penguins—they’re the coolest!

c. Deer galloping along.


3. Which of these treats would your kids devour instantly?

a. Funnel cake, nachos and hotdogs.

b. An organic, fresh fruit smoothie.

c. They like trying new things—whatever taco or cupcake truck is the hottest in town.


4. Which of these is a top priority for a family outing?

a. Staying active.

b. Relaxing.

c. Learning new things.


5. What’s your family vacation soundtrack?

a. Upbeat pop and sunny rock.

b. Disney songs.

c. My kids are the soundtrack! Take me to the spa!


6. What’s the kids’ favorite way to have fun at home?

a. Playing with the dog.

b. Going swimming or playing outside.

c. Building a huge blanket-and-pillow fort in the living room.


7. What’s your tolerance for the requisite, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

a. High. I can tune it out as long as the iPod’s blasting.

b. Medium. It grates on my nerves, but it’s par for the course.

c. Low. Get. Me. Outta. Here!


8. What’s the best way to sleep?

a. With the sound of crashing waves outside my window.

b. Camping—nothing’s better than being one with nature.

c. In the comfort of my own bed!


9. Which of these upcoming blockbusters is your family dying to see?

a. Jurassic World, the Jurassic Park sequel.

b. Minions, a story about the origins of the minions in Despicable Me.

c. Pan, a live-action version of Peter Pan by Warner Bros.


10. What’s your favorite thing about living in Houston?

a. Being close to the Gulf.

b. The rich activities and events every weekend.

c. I love Houston, but love traveling even more!


Tally up your score:

1. a – 2; b – 1; c – 3

2. a – 1; b – 2; c – 3

3. a – 2; b – 3; c – 1

4. a – 2; b – 3; c – 1

5. a – 2; b – 1; c – 3

6. a – 1; b – 2; c – 3

7. a – 3; b – 2; c – 1

8. a – 2; b – 3; c – 1

9. a – 1; b – 2; c – 3

10. a – 2; b – 1; c – 3

Here’s Where You Should GO!

If you scored 10–12 points:

Wild Learning Experience:
Houston Zoo and the Museum District

A trip to the Houston Zoo (www.houstonzoo.org) and the surrounding museum district is a quickie way to get away! Make it a “stay-cation” for the family, and take advantage of all the enriching activities that Houston has to offer. Becoming a member of the zoo has it perks: special hours for members to beat the crowds, invites to events and special previews of new exhibits. Keep an eye on the zoo’s daily calendar to know when zookeepers will be giving talks on your children’s favorite animals or when feedings will take place. We’re exhilarated at the thought of the gorilla exhibit—the home for seven new gorillas—coming in May 2015. It will be a part of the African Forests Exhibit that features giraffes, rhinos and zebras.

HMNSNext to the zoo, you’ll find the Houston Museum of Natural Science (www.hmns.org), which will be hosting a magnificent and interactive shark exhibit through September. The museum also has a paleontology hall and a section devoted to Texas wildlife that showcases our great state’s diversity in species. The Cockrell Butterfly Center is a must-see, thanks to the rainforest and 50-foot waterfall housed in a three-story glass structure.

For the young and curious ones, the Children’s Museum of Houston (www.cmhouston.org) offers immersive experiences designed to let creative and scientific juices flow with exhibits that emphasize invention and finding out how things work. Both museums offer free admission on Thursdays; the HMNS is from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and the CMS is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.


If you scored 13–21 points:

Fun in the Sun:
Galveston

Galveston is only an hour away, and you can make a long weekend of it with your family. While there’s plenty of fun to be had on the shores and in the sand, try Schlitterbahn Galveston (www.schlitterbahn.com/galveston), which has thrilling slides and covered attractions to beat the heat. Lounge in style under cabanas that are available through reservations with wait service, complimentary water bottles and more. There’s also bonus perks for purchasing tickets at Schlitterbahn: savings for the Galveston Pleasure Pier!

Galveston-PierThe discount works both ways; you can visit Pleasure Pier (www.pleasurepier.com) first and save on your visit to Schlitterbahn. The Pleasure Pier, newly renovated in May 2012, hosts restaurants, shops, games and 15 rides, like the thrilling Iron Shark Rollercoaster and the Galaxy Wheel, which allows you to take in a stunning view of the coast. For a more breathtaking experience, try the Texas Star Flyer, the tallest swing ride in Texas at 230 feet above sea level!

Continue the adventure at Moody Gardens (www.moodygardens.com) with its new five-tier, obstacle rope course and zip-lining activity. After the adrenaline rush is complete, wind down with the family at Palm Beach, which is Galveston’s only white-sand beach, complete with a lazy river and wave pool. Moody Gardens also has an aquarium, a rainforest experience, and 3D and 4D special-effects theaters.


If you scored 22–30 points:

The Suite Life:
Resorts Beyond Houston

SWFIMG_150113_17460858_N0Q1WHead north to some outstanding resorts beyond city limits. The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center (www.woodlandsresort.com) has been named one of America’s Most Family Friendly Resorts by Fox News. The rooms make you feel zen with their warm décor, and most of them have balcony or pool walkout access. Explore The Woodlands’ surrounding nature with a family bike ride, or take it easy at the resort’s serene Forest Oasis Waterscape, where you can tube down a lazy river surrounded by trees.

Further up north in Montgomery, enjoy La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa (www.latorrettalakeresort.com) at Lake Conroe. La Torretta has an expansive list of activities for kids that will make them feel like they’re at summer camp: arts and crafts, volleyball, dodgeball and competitions for sandcastle building, dancing and mini-golf. The Aqua Park includes an infinity pool, a heated pool, a lazy river and a poolside grill. For a more private experience, the resort also has cottages for rent with separate living areas, all along the golf course. (Pets are welcome with a deposit fee.)

Head northwest toward Hempstead to discover the Lone Star Jellystone Park (www.lonestarjellystone.com) in Waller. The park offers three ways to stay: cabins that can sleep up to
eight and include a full kitchen; campgrounds for RVs and tents; and the Grand Lodge, a luxurious version of the standard cabins. Lone Star also has picnic areas and waterslides and pools to cool off in. Check the park calendar for events every weekend throughout the year. (Call ahead for pet-friendly cabins.) H

Surprising Health Risks

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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We all know the usual culprits behind diseases such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes. But some of the biggest hazards may surprise you.

by Stacy Baker Masand

You’ve got this healthy-living stuff nailed, right? You don’t smoke, you eat nutritiously (give or take a few indulgences), you’ve done tens of thousands of planks and rolled over in Pilates class more than a Mafia informer. You try to lead a well-balanced, stress-free lifestyle—just like the doctor ordered. Problem is, you may be sabotaging your health without even knowing it.

There are a host of unexpected risks for five of the most prevalent diseases. Read on to find out the surprising ways that even seemingly innocuous lifestyle factors may be putting your health at risk.

DIABETES

Most of us associate diabetes with inactivity, a bad diet and being overweight, but that’s only part of the story. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 35 percent of us over the age of 20 fall into the category of pre-diabetes. That means your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be but aren’t high enough to qualify you as having type 2 diabetes.

And once you’ve got diabetes, you’re twice as likely to develop heart disease. “Because of the growing trend of increased body weight, lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle, we’ve noticed an increase in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a surprising jump in the incidence of diabetes and other heart problems,” says Ravi Dave, MD, director of cardiology at UCLA Santa Monica Cardiology. “A lot of these issues start at a surprisingly young age.” Which makes it all the more imperative to avoid these other unexpected risks:

Sleepless-NightBad sleep habits. Studies show that if you sleep less than six hours a day or more than nine, your risk of heart disease and stroke goes up. “Lack of sleep doesn’t directly increase diabetes, but indirectly, it creates situations that put you at risk,” Dr. Dave says. “It prevents exercise and increases your intake of sugars and starches, because you’re more likely to reach for a doughnut when you’re falling asleep midday.”

Reduce your risk: “You need to fall into that sweet spot of sleep—between six and eight hours a night,” Dr. Dave advises.

Abdominal fat. Metabolic syndrome, a condition Dr. Dave describes as having excess fat in your abdominal area and a pear-shaped body, will increase your risk significantly. For women, this is a belt size over 34 inches and, for men, over 38 inches. “This puts you at risk for both diabetes and heart disease,” he says. Metabolic syndrome also includes a host of other symptoms, like increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels, which contribute to diabetes and other health issues.

Reduce your risk: “If this is your natural body type, be extra vigilant in getting exercise and watching your diet,” says Dr. Dave. “Control sugar, soda and sodium intake, and avoid rice, pasta and bread, which increase fat in the abdomen.”

Business-Man-ChairSitting. By now you’ve heard the mantra that “sitting
is the new smoking.” It’s true. Studies show that sitting for prolonged periods of time not only contributes to poor posture, but also impedes blood flow to the legs, creates swelling of the ankles and causes overall fatigue because your body gets used to being sedentary, according to Dr. Dave.

Reduce your risk: Get an adjustable desk, so you can stand for part of the day, or find other opportunities to stand, such as when you’re on the phone. Another option is to walk around periodically. Researchers at Indiana University found that taking a five-minute stroll once an hour can counter the effects of sitting.

STROKE

Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, and nearly 130,000 die from one, according to the CDC. It is a leading cause of serious long-term disability, and can cause partial paralysis, impaired thinking, and awareness and speech problems. You probably know that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are major risk factors, but check out these other, surprising risks:

Depression. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with depression were 45 percent more likely to have a stroke and 55 percent more likely to die from it. Another study showed that people with heart disease had more severe and frequent depression symptoms and a greater risk of stroke.

Reduce your risk: If you’re overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, have lost interest in everyday activities, feel tired and unenergetic, or have feelings of anxiety and irritability, see your doctor or a mental-health professional.

OTC pain killers. If you think nothing of regularly popping an ibuprofen for everyday pain relief, think again. Doing so ups your stroke risk three times higher than someone taking a placebo pill, a 2013 study in The Lancet found.

Reduce your risk: Switch to all-natural pain relievers, suggests Dr. Gabrielle Francis, ND, DC, LAc, and author of The Rockstar Remedy (HarperWave, 2014). “Omega-3s are natural anti-inflammatories that you can take in the form of fish oil or organic flax oil,” she explains. Take about a tablespoon per day, she says. A sweet alternative: One ounce of pure dark chocolate, which, Dr. Francis explains, is high in phenylalanine, which helps alleviate pain and increases endorphins.

A nightly Epsom salt bath can also help relieve pain. “Add two cups to a warm bath and soak for 20 minutes to reduce pain and relax muscles.”

Bad gums. Many studies have shown that people who have periodontal disease have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Columbia University researchers found that people who have higher levels of the bacteria that cause periodontal disease also tend to have thicker carotid arteries, a strong predictor of stroke and heart attack.

Reduce your risk: Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth. Also make sure to visit your dentist every six months or when you notice an issue such as bleeding gums.

LUNG CANCER

More people die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer; it takes more lives than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined.

Though it’s associated mainly with cigarette smoking, 30 percent of lung cancer patients have never smoked a single cigarette. But there are a number of unexpected threats, including:

Radon. Radon causes about 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to Lonny Brett Yarmus, DO, clinical chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He says what’s scary about radon—a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in buildings—is that it cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. While that sounds like something you wouldn’t find in modern homes or environments, the truth is that radon gas can be found anywhere. And high levels of exposure, which usually occur in well-insulated homes or those built on radium-, uranium- or thorium-rich soils, is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Reduce your risk: The Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General recommend that all homes below the third floor be tested for the presence of radon. Consumer Reports gave highest marks to the AccuStar Alpha Track Test Kit AT 100 Radon test kit ($25; www.accustarlabs.com).

Secondhand smoke. Having a partner who’s a smoker increases your chances of developing lung cancer by 20 percent. “Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, of which many are known to cause cancer in people or animals,” says Dr. Yarmus. “About 7,300 people who never smoked die from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke every year.”

Reduce your risk: Keep your home and other indoor spaces, like your car, completely smoke-free, he suggests. No exceptions.

Diesel exhaust. Think a little exposure to urban exhaust fumes won’t be too harmful? Diesel pollution from cars and busses doesn’t just smell bad, but high levels can up your risk of lung cancer by 30 percent, according to a study in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene.

Reduce your risk: Help rid your body of toxins by increasing your intake of detoxifying foods. A recent study in Cancer Prevention Research found that vegetables, like broccoli and kale, help rid the body of cancer-causing pollutants like benzene and acrolein.

HEART DISEASE

Someone in the U.S. dies from cardiovascular disease every 33 seconds, making it the number-one cause of death in America, according to the CDC. A recent study showed that if women control specific risk factors, they can lower their risk of heart disease and stroke by 90 percent, says Dr. Dave. The big five: maintaining a BMI of less than 25; exercising two-and-a-half hours a week (half an hour five times a week); eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables that also limits saturated fats and cholesterol; watching less than seven hours of TV a week; and reducing alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day. Also make sure to avoid these other surprising causes of heart disease:

Being skinny fat. Just because you look thin doesn’t mean you’re healthy. If your metabolism rocks, you may get by despite drinking soda, downing processed foods and avoiding exercise without gaining an ounce. But a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that 25 percent of people with normal weight have issues with blood pressure, cholesterol or heart disease. That’s because all those sugars and processed chemicals cause visceral fat storage, and up your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Reduce your risk: Even though you don’t need to eat better and exercise for weight control, you’ll want to incorporate healthier habits to improve your overall well-being.

Calcium supplements. A 2013 University of Aukland study found that women who took one gram of calcium citrate for five years had twice the risk for heart attack. (Though the reasons aren’t clear, researchers suspect that the supplements may cause blood calcium levels to quickly spike, which could contribute to artery disease. Calcium from foods causes levels to rise much more slowly.)

Reduce your risk: Boost your daily intake of calcium-rich foods, like milk, yogurt, cheese, collard greens, broccoli, sardines and edamame.

Relationship problems. When tensions run high at home between you and your partner, your risk of having a heart attack increases by 34 percent, according to a study conducted at University College London. That’s because the stress associated with these problems may increase high blood pressure, as well as your risk of diabetes and stroke.

Reduce your risk: When you hit a rough patch, seek support from friends, get space, and be sure to sleep six-to-eight hours a night.

SKIN CANCER

While skin cancer is highly preventable, it accounts for more than half of all diagnosed cancers combined. Treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006, and one person every hour dies from melanoma, the most aggressive and serious type, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

While there’s not much you can do to mitigate some of the risks (being fair-skinned, living in a sunny climate), staying vigilant and notifying your doctor about changes in your skin can help you prevent serious issues. And you should try to avoid these other unforeseen risks:

Vitamin A creams. “Topical vitamin A creams, also called retinoids, are used to treat acne and fine lines and wrinkling,” explains Dr. Shannon Trotter, a professor of dermatology with the James Cancer Hospital and Ohio State University. “They may help correct photo-damaged skin as well.” Another form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, is an ingredient in some sunscreens.  But now, two independent studies have shown that retinoids and other vitamin A–packed lotions may actually be increasing the production of skin lesions and tumors.

Reduce your risk: “We recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and reapplying it every two hours,” Dr. Trotter says. But pass up sunscreens that contain retinyl palmitate, and only apply lotions containing retinols or vitamin A at night. “We also recommend avoiding the sun during peak hours of 10 and 4 p.m. and using sun-protective clothing, like hats, sunglasses and clothes that have a UPF rating. A diet rich in antioxidants may be protective against several types of cancer, including skin cancer.”

Viagra. A new Harvard study found that men who took the little blue pill were 84 percent more likely to develop melanoma than non-users.

Reduce your risk: A study from the University of the West in the United Kingdom found that pelvic exercises helped 40 percent of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) regain normal erectile function. Hit up a Pilates or yoga class for exercises that can help strengthen the pelvic floor. Other studies have found that aerobic exercise can also help remedy ED.

HPV. HPV may play a role in the development of a certain type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, according to a new study from the Mayo Clinic.

Reduce your risk: If you’ve ever been diagnosed with HPV, make sure to inform your dermatologist. H

New Heads on the Block

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

newheads_scroll

What every pilgrim should know

by Lynn Ashby

So you’re new to Houston. Big deal. So was everyone here, at one time or another. Just as we put a historical plaque on any building that gets a second coat of paint, anyone who has been in town since the last smog alert is considered an old-timer. But you want to blend in, so here are a few things to know, to avoid and to take on. This way, others won’t think you just fell off the oil tanker.

That road in west Houston is pronounced “san full-LEAP-eh,” not “san FILL-a-pee” or “san fill-uh-PAY.” We have a ROW-dee-oh, not a row-DAY-oh like that fancy-schmancy street in Beverly Hills. When entering a cantina, do not say, “Draw!” Also avoid using such terms as Cougar High, Dallas Cowboys (unless in a pejorative way) and Bud Adams. As a bit of background on this last item, the late Bud Adams owned the Houston Oilers and pulled off the impossible: He made football unpopular in Texas. Adams had a long-running row with Houston Post sports writer Jack Gallagher. They once got into a fistfight at the Shamrock bar. Later one colleague told Gallagher, “Bud Adams is his own worst enemy.” Gallagher replied, “Not as long as I’m alive.” Just trying to bring you up to speed on what happened here before you arrived. 

Houston has several nicknames and some really dumb slogans which never caught on. The Bayou City is the most often used. Space City was a good handle until NASA gave away several spacecraft. Los Angeles got one. So did that hub of space flight, New York City. Houston didn’t. Later we got a cheap mockup made by Mattel or Lego. Another slogan, in an effort to go with our weaknesses, we coined Houston’s Hot. We got burned. Way back in our history, we used Where 23 Railroads Meet The Sea. That event must have made a huge splash, so to speak. We’ve tried Expect the Unexpected (which everyone expected). If you can think of a good city slogan for us, you can stay. 

You may be wondering who are all these people with funny accents. Well, if you came from, say Boston, you would talk funny, too. Texans break any one-syllable word into two, the second beginning with y: Come over HEAR-yer, CA-yut, MAY-yun. One out every four of us is foreign born. Not just from one of the other 49 states. Foreign born. Houston has been called the most ethnically diverse city in America, if not in the world. Any place that has a lesbian mayor and a black police chief, where both Sheila Jackson Lee and Ted Cruz call home, has got to be diverse. Fortunately, we all get along, if you don’t count Aggies and Longhorns. And still newcomers arrive. From July 1, 2013, to one year later, Houston increased its population—due to both immigrants and sex—by 334,202. For Harris County, the new arrivals totaled 82,890. That’s 227 newcomers a day every single day.

Houston-Katy-Freeway-Fwy-traff-76289126A Bumper Crop

Now a word about Houston traffic. There is not much of it except during rush hour, which lasts from 6 a.m. to noon and noon to 8 p.m. If you are the average motorist, you drive 28.81 miles a day, which can, indeed, take a day. At last count there were 4,746,244 vehicles on our roads in this county, all trying to get a parking place at CityCentre. Most Houston drivers are armed and that includes those driving vehicles with training wheels. The term “riding shotgun” is not just a term. But do not be intimidated. Remember, warning shots are for wimps. Do not challenge those vehicles with notches on their front bumper, have the word “police” on the side, whose hood ornament is crosshairs or any vehicle with a tail-gunner. The city briefly had video cameras at major intersections to take photos of drivers running red lights and slamming into other vehicles, wounding or killing their fellow Houstonians. Fortunately, we voted to take the cameras down (and spend millions of tax dollars getting out of the contract). “T-boning” is not just on the menu. As for our mass-transit system, it hasn’t worked well since the mule died.

Austin has its under-the-bridge bats. Dallas has its Big Tex, and Houston has its buffalo. Gather along—where else?—Buffalo Bayou each dusk, and watch the running of the bison. On Sunday afternoons, you can place your bets on them at Buffalo Speedway. That’s where A.J. Foyt got his start. We have the world’s largest medical center. For a town dubbed the nation’s fattest city and smog capital of America, we need it. Houstonians love sports, but since most fans are from somewhere else, at any college or pro sporting event, it is often hard to determine which is the home team. We like to say: “At Minute Maid Park you are never more than half an inning away from Major League Baseball.”

We have 81 radio stations in the Houston area, some of which are in English. We have a public radio station that is so exclusive no one can hear it. Then there is KTRH, whose listeners have trouble dialing in since they tend to drag their knuckles. We have three daily newspapers in Houston; two of them are in Chinese. The other is the Houston Chronicle, which is based in New York City and cares not a very profitable fig about putting out a quality newspaper in some town down in Texas. It’s the same with TV. Our network stations are owned by out-of-state corporations which won’t spend any money. So all the local TV news programs show only murders, apartment fires, muggings and more murders. If you just arrived here, please unpack. We also have house fires.

downtownHUMILITY ABOUT OUR HUMIDITY

Here are a few items of knowledge for you newcomers:       

Telephone Road is not an unlisted number. River Oaks has no river. Chimney Rock is not a dance. Houston Heights is really not very high. Indeed, it’s hard to get a drink there.

• Fracking is good. Zoning is bad. So backyard fracking is acceptable, if not desirable.

• Matching mud flaps on your pickup truck is considered de rigueur. Saying “de rigueur” in most ice houses on Dowling Street can be harmful to your health.

• Students attend Rice for athletics and UH for academics.

• Yes, you can drive northeast on the Southwest Freeway.

• No, Miss Ima Hogg did not have a sister named Ura.

Visitors to Houston often comment about our weather, especially the humidity. Dermatologists say humidity is good for our skin, so we have nine giant humidifiers around town to keep our air moist. It rains here, but only on alternating days. Our summers can be hot, but not if you turn your AC down to 60 and never leave your house. We have roaches, but their size is often exaggerated by city boosters. I, personally, have never seen a cockroach larger than a shoebox. Okay, a boot box. Geographically, within the city limits of Houston’s 655 square miles, you could put New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami. Might as well. Their inhabitants are already here.

Coming from elsewhere, as thousands of you have done, we welcome your arrival. We understand your bit of nostalgia at leaving Newark and Detroit, and we are patient, up to a point, with your NYU bumper stickers and the USC flags on your lawn poles, but by your own choice, you are in Texas now. Here, we name schools and counties after Lee and Jackson, Crockett, Zavala and Navarro. Your school children recite both the U.S. and the Texas Pledge of Allegiance every day. Deal with it or there is a U-Haul near you.

Despite what your job recruiter told you, Houston did not begin with your arrival. This is a city which can actually chart the very day it was born: August 30, 1836, when the Allen brothers ran an advertisement in the Telegraph and Texas Register for the “Town of Houston.” “There is no place in Texas more healthy, having an abundance of excellent spring water, and enjoying the sea breeze in all its freshness,” thus setting a Houston tradition we hold on to this day: Our developers lie. We have on our doorstep the San Jacinto Battlefield, where the Texians won their independence from Mexico but not from bandits, angry Indians who claim they got here first, drought, floods and the rare hurricane. It is easy to see why our side won at San Jacinto. The Texians had lookouts in that tall monument in the middle of the fight and a huge battleship just off shore.


Downtown-Houston-Texas-43528411ASTRO-COMICAL

Be careful when buying a house here. If the realtor says, “It’s a split-level,” check the foundation. A “fixer-upper” is a down-and-outer. A “teardown” means bring a match. Avoid buying any house that has a line drawn in the den at six feet labeled, “high-water mark,” or has the chalk outline of a body in the kitchen. We have some beautiful neighborhoods here, so avoid any that have a moat, guard towers or such names as Toxic Tundra, Cotton Mouth Meadows or Hurricane Alley. Incidentally, the only zoning we have here is the ozone.

Politically, voters in the City of Houston tend to vote Democrat. The county goes Republican. Either way, we send our least talented to Austin and Washington, basically just to get them out of town. A word of caution: Don’t bring up politics around members of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, a cocktail party and especially around the Tea Party who are easy to spot: They all wear flak jackets. 

You won’t be here long until you hear about the fate of our Official City Eyesore, the Astrodome. It’s been empty and deteriorating since the Astros and the Oilers had winning seasons. Suggestions on what to do with the structure have included using it for an indoor drive-in movie lot, a shopping mall and hotel, a space museum (we already have one but two are better), or that monstrous structure should be used to hold Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s ego. One of the silliest ideas was to turn the Astrodome into a baseball stadium, easily converted for football. We had a vote to decide its fate and the demolish-the-Dome side won handily, but, this being a democracy, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett ruled that we keep it. So, the taxpayers just spent a small fortune to give the outside a clean-and-paint job.

Before the Dome was built, the Astros played in Colt Stadium. What happened to it? The facility became an open-air warehouse for junk from AstroWorld. In 1973, it was broken down and sold to a Minor League team in Torreon, Mexico, for $100,000. The stadium was later moved to Tampico, where it still stands, as part of a public playground. Some Houstonians say the Astros should have followed the field of beams.

So welcome to Houston, newcomer. For all our faults, you could be back in Detroit.

Ashby loves Houston at ashby2@comcast.net.

Get to the Country!

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

spaTravaasa Austin is more than your typical luxury resort, with trendy eats, a world-class spa and activities to keep you busy in the quiet. Oh, and did we mention the infinity pool just 2.5 hours away?

by Nicholas Nguyen

As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, I love heading to the capital for quick weekend trips throughout the year. Once I visit familiar haunts that hold fond memories, I’m always on the lookout for new things to try. Usually, that means food, outdoor activities and simply hanging out, enjoying the sights with good company.

So when Jen and Angela, a couple of old college friends, recommended I check out Travaasa Austin, an acclaimed resort set in the backdrop of the gorgeous Balcones Canyonlands of Texas Hill Country, I was a little bit hesitant. I wasn’t exactly the type to go to resorts—they certainly seemed relaxing, but what about food and adventure? Despite my misgivings, my friends convinced me that the Travaasa experience was more than it seemed.

After the easy drive on I-10 to TX 71, a scenic route around the bends and hills of Lake Travis put me in the mood to arrive at the luxurious resort in the late afternoon, nestled among trees, hills and trails. The helpful and friendly staff expanded on what my friends had told me, exceeding my expectations with a meticulous schedule of events and activities offered both onsite and nearby.

The rooms are designed in an upscale cabin-style, grouped across seven lodges that wind around the property and its amenities. I highly recommend snagging a Canyon Room to get a balcony with an unforgettable view of the lush hill country. Settling in was a breeze, with snacks, local coffee and tea waiting in the room. The bathroom was earthy in tone and quite large, a welcome change from city hotels. With a dinner reservation at The Preserve (formally Jean’s Kitchen), I relaxed on the balcony with the reading material from check-in.

404_Dining_Culinary_Demo_300dpiFIT FOR A FOODIE

The Preserve is open to the public, so, even if you aren’t staying at the resort, make a reservation for a great dining experience. I was lucky enough to snag a spot at the chef’s table and watch the charismatic executive chef, Benjamin Baker, and his sous chefs work. The ingredients are locally produced and organic, and the menu changes seasonally, fusing Spanish, Asian and American flavors. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available.

For dinner the first night, I savored an heirloom tomato tart as an appetizer along with a shot of tomato gazpacho (compliments of the chef) that was incredibly refreshing. My partner started with soft-shelled crab that was cooked to perfection. Beginning at such a high note, the meal progressed into a crescendo of flavors and kudos to the chef. I had seared tuna with roasted veggies and a beet puree, the latter being one of my favorite things of the night. I also had a bite of my partner’s flavorful chicken in an achiote-orange reduction that was served with polenta and grilled green beans.

Dinner’s not complete without cocktails and dessert, though! I ordered a cucumber gimlet that was light and citrusy with a burst of lime. For spicy food lovers, try the Texas Heat, made of rum and lime juice infused with jalapeños. Somehow we still had room for dessert—an apple tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and a classic molten chocolate cake.

While the breakfast menu is generally smaller than the dinner menu, the options pack a punch and are a great way to kick-start your morning before you embark on the activities at Travaasa. The kale smoothie with notes of ginger woke me up, and I enjoyed the steel-cut oats served with fresh berries. The polenta French toast was a surprising twist on a classic brunch item.

If available, the Tex-Mex options rule the lunch menu. My friend Angela suggested the fish tacos as a light meal, but I was unable to resist the tamales with braised pork shoulder. 

305_Activities_Zip_Line_300dpiADVENTURE AWAITS

When booking your stay, you can opt for packages, which include special programs and activities for that month.

Morning Pilates or yoga by the infinity pool seemed to be a popular choice, and even if you’re not a devoted student, the view is just so incredible. Stay fit on the trails—one for beginners and one for more advanced hikers—which loop around the resort grounds and take you past the Prickly Pear Challenge Course. The obstacle course is grueling, but it’s worth it when you sail over treetops at the end. If I had the time, I would have loved trying the mechanical bull workout, which puts your core to the test!

Along with horseback riding, visitors can mountain bike, go on trail rides and go geocaching, which is real-world treasure hunting using GPS devices. Travaasa also offers tango, salsa and more. For calmer practices, try a guided meditation course or a drawing class out on the grounds. Along the paths, the zen garden and stone labyrinth make for a nice, mellow stop.

For the ultimate foodie adventure, don’t miss The Farm at Travaasa. The farm produces vegetables, fruits and herbs that are used at The Preserve and in treatments at The Spa. Courses on growing and planting your own garden as well as culinary demonstrations and wine tastings are available.

205_Spa_Facial_300dpiWORLD-CLASS RELAXATION

The Spa at Travaasa focuses on the wellness of the mind, body and spirit. From scalp massages and facials to exfoliating treatments and massages to manicures and pedicures, the services offered cover you from head to toe.

The massages are top-notch—Jen raved about her deep-tissue massage while Angela had the Swedish massage. My partner and I walked away with an invigorating peppermint footbath and neat manicures that really left my nails looking shiny and buffed for weeks (and I cook and wash dishes all of the time at home)!

Travaasa also features a variety of spa packages, ranging from a half-day of treatments to a full day, along with singles and couples treatments. Travaasa’s spa is also open to off-property guests—it’s worth it to make even just a day trip. The treatments utilize natural and organic products, which are for sale at the boutique.

The crown jewel of Travaasa is probably the magnificent infinity pool (which once graced a cover of Texas Monthly) that offers a spectacular view at sunset with a drink in hand. The view of the Balcones Canyonlands is unsurpassable. The pool area also includes a bar that sometimes hosts a happy hour event for guests, dozens of chairs and a handful of cabanas.

Travaasa Austin expanded my view of what a resort could offer—the food was excellent, the activities were varied and fun, and the spa service went above and beyond. Whether you have a special occasion to celebrate or just want to treat yourself, Travaasa Austin is proof that you don’t have to go far to get an unforgettable experience. H

10 Must Try Health Trends for 2015

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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1

Chair-ExerciseTake a stand.

When it comes to bad habits, sitting is the new smoking. In the last year alone, numerous studies have linked too much sedentary behavior with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and early death—even for those who exercise regularly. The remedy: Get out of your chair and off the sofa. In a recent study in the British Journal of Sport Medicine, researchers found that sitting less protects DNA even as it ages, which may extend your lifespan.

Why it works: Researchers speculate movement lengthens the telomeres, the “caps” found at the end of chromosomes in every cell. Longer telomeres prevent the genetic codes in chromosomes from being scrambled (which is what causes disease).

Try it: Those who log long days in front of a computer might want to consider investing in a standing work station or treadmill desk. But if that’s not in the budget, at least make an effort to sit less. “Get up once an hour even if it’s just to stand for a few minutes,” says Sara L. Warber, MD, co-director of the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine Program. Talk to coworkers face-to-face rather than emailing them, and drink water from a small cup rather than a bottle so you’ll need to fill up more frequently. For more of a reminder, set an alarm on your phone to go off at regular intervals throughout the day or download the Take a Yoga Break app ($1.99 on iTunes). It has an alert you can program to remind you to get up every hour or so; you can take a walk, or the app will suggest a simple standing yoga pose that will get the blood circulating. To curb couch potato behavior at home, stop fast-forwarding through commercials, and use them as your cue to get up and move around.

2

Visit the sunshine state.

If you’re looking to slim down, load up on morning light. People who get sun exposure before noon have lower body mass indexes than those who catch rays later in the day, according to new research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The findings were true for everyone in the study, regardless of their levels of physical activity, diet, sleep timing and duration or age.

Why it works: Sunlight can help synchronize circadian rhythms (your internal body clock), which influence energy levels, hormone release and other bodily functions.

Try it: “About 20 to 30 minutes of natural light could be enough to affect weight,” says senior study author Phyllis C. Zee, MD. If you’re not a morning person, get your daily dose by parking farther away from the office, running out for a mid-morning break or even just working or sitting next to a window.

3

Embrace the new sharing economy.

Spanish tapas, Chinese dim sum, Greek meze. Though far from new, “small plates” meant for grazing and sharing are still trending, according to the National Restaurant Association’s latest What’s Hot culinary forecast—and they’re ideal for people watching their weight. “For those who tend to be in the clean-plate club, ordering shareable dishes or two appetizers is a fantastic strategy,” says nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, RD.

Why it works: “In addition to providing instant portion control, these dishes tend to be more interesting than entrées,” she points out.

Try it: “Even though you’re ordering small plates, you still need to be mindful of your choices,” says Middleberg, who advises making one of the appetizers a high-volume (read: satiating) salad or a side of vegetables. Her other small-plate picks include shellfish, summer rolls, grilled chicken skewers and steamed dumplings.

4

Eat the real breakfast of champions.

For a smart start to a pressure-packed day, poach, fry or scramble up some eggs. They’re rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that allows you to think more deeply and creatively, according to a recent study in Psychological Research. Researchers at Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam found that test subjects who drank orange juice spiked with tyrosine were better at solving puzzles than those who were given a placebo. In an earlier study from Leiden University, the same fortified juice was shown to improve reaction time.

Why it works: “The amino acid tyrosine increases production of dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter associated with learning, memory and focus,” explains Cynthia Sass, RD, author of SASS! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches (2011, Harper Collins).

Try it: Not just for breakfast, tyrosine is plentiful in salmon, almonds, bananas, peaches, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, avocado, chicken and turkey, says Sass. “To up your intake, have a small banana mid-morning, snack on almonds or pumpkin seeds throughout the day, and add sliced avocado or tahini to an entrée salad topped with salmon, chicken or turkey.” 

5

Fit-Couple-LaughingLOL.

Laughing is known to bring people together, fostering feelings of closeness and happiness. Now research from George Mason University finds the emotional payoff is far from fleeting. After having an LOL-worthy moment with someone, subjects reported experiencing “greater intimacy, positive emotions and enjoyment,” not only during that brief exchange, but also on subsequent interactions throughout the day.

Why it works: Shared laughter “may cause a rise in levels of the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, which promote bonding,” says study co-author Todd B. Kashdan, PhD, professor of clinical psychology at George Mason University and author of The Upside of Your Dark Side (Hudson Street Press, 2014). “Think of it as social glue.”

Try it: Humor is very individual, of course. But if you learn to appreciate the absurdity of life and see things from other perspectives, the grins and giggles will come more easily, says Dr. Kashdan. “Be silly—make weird sounds or funny faces when something doesn’t make sense to you, and learn to tell stories with compelling characters and a great punch line.”

6

Have a fitness flashback.

Will you ever forget the rush you got when you finally held plank for a full minute? Or the excitement you felt after finishing your first 5K? Use those recollections as motivation. A recent study in the journal Memory showed that people who drew upon a positive experience were much more likely to be active than those who didn’t tap into one.

Why it works: “These memories may temporarily boost self-confidence, while helping to shift your mind-set from ‘exercise is a chore’ to ‘exercise is a fulfilling activity,’” says study coauthor David B. Pillemer, EdD, the Samuel E. Paul professor of developmental psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

Try it: Next time your drive takes a nosedive, conjure a concrete mental image of a workout that made you feel agile or accomplished. And if a less successful experience comes to mind (say, getting cut from your college soccer team or your first, painfully awkward Pilates Reformer class), don’t sweat it, says Dr. Pillemer. “While positive memories had the best effects, negative ones can also be helpful because they inspire you to take actions to avoid those feelings.”

7

Get smart(phone).

Don’t feel guilty about scrolling through your Instagram feed or playing Candy Crush during office hours—the occasional digital distraction may actually be good for business. In a recent Kansas State University study, people who took smartphone breaks reported being happier at the end of their workday. After installing an app that monitored usage, researchers found employees spent an average of 22 minutes with their phones during an eight-hour shift.

Why it works: “Similar to other breaks—for example, chatting with coworkers or walking the halls—smartphone micro-breaks can refresh you and help you cope with the demands of the workplace,” says Sooyeol Kim, a doctoral student who led the study.

Try it: These findings aren’t a green light to tap, talk and text the day away. To keep your cell phone from screwing up your schedule—or your career—aim for multiple, mini tech breaks, each limited to one or two minutes at a time.

8

Recover proactively.

Considering the popularity of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts like CrossFit and Tabata, it’s no surprise that injuries are also on the rise. Enter the wave of “Regenerative” or “Recovery” programs in gyms and studios around the country. “Once viewed as ‘soft,’ recovery has finally become mainstream,” according to Carol Espel, senior global director of group fitness and Pilates for Equinox Fitness Clubs. “People are realizing that excessive training is unsustainable.” (Though not billed as such, Pilates fans know that the method is the original regenerative form of exercise.)

Why it works: Taking a more holistic approach to exercise, she says, is the best way to maximize strength gains, improve performance and stay active throughout life. This means supplementing your regimen with low-impact workouts that promote flexibility and muscle endurance, whether it’s Pilates or a class such as restorative yoga, which marries super-slow, prop-supported poses with meditation.

Try it: The right recovery-to-exertion ratio depends on your goals and limitations, so talk with a doctor or fitness professional if you are rehabbing an injury or unsure how to find the right balance for you. “But in general, regenerative workouts can—and should—be done on a daily basis, even on rest days,” says Espel. If you’re pressed for time, squeeze in 10 minutes of Pilates mat moves before work, or follow a tough cardio session with a 15-minute session of foam rolling. SMR (self-myofascial release), a technique that uses massage balls and foam rollers to ease tightness in the soft tissues and restore your range of motion, is another effective option.

9

Speed up your slim-down.

Add weight loss to coffee’s much-publicized perks. A new Spanish study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism revealed that consuming a cup of joe (or another source of caffeine) before your workout can help you torch about 15 percent more calories for three hours post-exercise than you would sans caffeine.

Why it works: “It’s probably a combination of things,” says Sass. “The stimulant speeds metabolism and boosts both mental and physical performance, which means you can work out harder, longer or both.”

Try it: In the study, the after-burn effect was triggered by 4.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. (For a 150-pound woman, that’s about 300 mg of caffeine, the amount in about 12 ounces of brewed coffee.) “Stick with one cup of coffee about 30 minutes before the start of your workout,” says Sass.

10

Hit the trail with your buds.

To beat the blues, gather some friends for a walk through Memorial and Buffalo Bayou Park. A recent study published in Ecopsychology found that walking outdoors with others can lower stress levels and even reduce the risk of depression.

Why it works: “We’ve long known that walking is good for you,” says Dr. Warber, senior study author and an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Combined with social support and spending time in nature—both which have been shown to have mental health benefits—it can be a very powerful stress-buster.”

Try it: “The current exercise recommendation is 30 minutes five times a week, so add some variety to workouts by making one of those sessions a group walk,” suggests Dr. Warber. Look online to find a walking group in your area or start one of your own by reaching out to friends, family members and neighbors. You might be surprised to find like-minded people who are ready to get a breath of fresh air and hold each other accountable for regular exercise. H


A.J. Hanley, a freelance writer, has resolved to take more standing, walking and Candy Crush breaks in the New Year.

Best of 2015

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

bestof2015

FAMILY

Best Local Children’s Book Author: Chris Field

With his recent release Under The Mango Tree: A Story of Friendship and Freedom (Mercy Project Publishing, $15), Field shares with readers, young and old, the story behind the organization he founded, Mercy Project a sustainable non-profit in West Africa that teaches slave masters a better way of working, so they voluntarily let the slave children they own return to their families. The book explores what they do, who they help, and how anyone, anywhere, at any time can contribute to changing the world. “One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to help them see and believe that they are world changers,” says Field.

www.underthemangotreebook.com


Best Indoor Play Area: Memorial City’s Frolic’s Castle
Calling all children who love to dream of medieval times where sweet dragons, sleeping giants, magical wizards and pretty-in-pink princesses ruled the land. Memorial City opened Frolic’s Castle, the world’s largest indoor soft play area in a shopping center! Located in the Sears wing of Memorial City Mall, the expansive play area features the castle home of Frolic the friendly green dragon, his purple wife Felicity and their young son Puffy.

www.memorialcitymall.com


Best School to Learn Mandarin: The Woodlands Preparatory School
The school, which emphasizes leadership, intercultural understanding and service, recently expanded the language curriculum to include Mandarin. Mandarin is the official spoken language of China, the world’s second-largest economy. The school’s diverse student population represents more than 42 countries.

www.woodlandsprep.org


Best Stroller Accessory: Choopie
CityGrips from Choopie, favored by celebrities, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jason Bateman, Elton John, Tori Spelling and Bethenny Frankel, is the stylish stroller must-have. The durable stroller handlebar covers slip onto any stroller in seconds. The plush material is machine washable, plus the wide selection of colors and styles is sure to set your stroller apart from the pack!

www.choopie.com


Best Way to Spend an Afternoon With the Kids: the Houston Zoo
See the elephants, snakes, lions and more! For just $5, you can feed the giraffes. Your children will love the petting zoo, and the play area is one of the best in the city. Moms in the know visit here weekly.

www.houstonzoo.org


Best Children’s Party Location: Jump N Jungle
Hosting a party at Jump N Jungle means no cleanup—what’s not to like? The perfect party idea, the facility features private rooms with bouncy houses for all ages and skill levels. After the kiddies are tired from jumping, cut the cake in the attached event room.

www.jumpnjungle.com


Best Place For Girls to Play Dress-Up: Sweet and Sassy
Your girly-girl will adore one of the nine themed parties to chose from, including the new “Ice Princess.” Perfect for ages four through 13, enjoy glittery makeovers, themed activities, special gifts and more.

www.sweetandsassy.com/parties


Best Children’s Hair & Body Wash: Dubble Trubble
Going green is easy with Dubble Trubble, a two-in-one organic hair and body wash, created for children ages three to 12. Choose from five kid-friendly scents: Cherry Bomb, Bananaberry, Watermelon, Strawberry and Cool Cucumber.

www.dubbletrubble.com


Best Edible Wild Plant Class: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Foraging is one of those terms trending in the restaurant world, but it’s also a great activity to get the entire family’s heart rate pumping, thanks to lots of walking and bending. The Texas landscape is filled with an abundance of wild edibles, and Dr. Mark Vorderbruggen, a research chemist and avid explorer, teaches you where to find and how to identify wild edibles growing all around you. Grab your walking shoes, water and bug spray, and learn to survive in the woods or add to a great meal.

www.houstonarboretum.org 


Miller-Outdoor-TheaterBest Budget-Friendly Outing: Miller Outdoor Theatre

Located in Herman Park, this theater is the largest one in the U.S. to offer free professional entertainment for a full eight months. On this year’s family-oriented lineup: classical music, jazz, ethnic music and dance, ballet, musical theater, classic films and more. Pack the picnic basket, and eat in a covered seating area before the festivities.

www.milleroutdoortheatre.com


Best Children’s Fitness Class: Kids Yoga and Creative Movement for Children

The Good Space Pilates & Yoga Studio recently launched this kiddie class, suitable for ages four to seven, to help provide respite from a hectic school schedule. The 45-minute session promotes the development of fine and gross motor skills while teaching balance, breathing and group cooperation—all through imaginative play and story telling through movement. And of course, it gets your child moving, something that’s extra-important in this day and age.


Best Park: Discovery Green
Discovery Green continues to impress us with it’s wide range of activities throughout the year. This social hub is the home of must-see public art installations, flea markets, festivals, performances and so much more.
www.discoverygreen.com

 

HEALTH & BEAUTY

Best Beauty Debut: Charlotte Tilbury Beauty at Nordstrom Houston Galleria
Tilbury is recognized as one of the biggest makeup artists in the world. She counts Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Sienna Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Gisele, Rihanna and more as clients, and is beloved by industry insiders from models to photographers and designers who all consider Charlotte their go-to. Charlotte has built her brand upon an empowering message for women stemming from her own personal mantra: “Give a woman the right makeup and she can conquer the world.”

www.charlottetilbury.com


Best Lashes: Amazing Lash
Amazing Lash Studio’s eyelash extensions are semi-permanent, and made from synthetic fibers designed to replicate the curve and size of natural lashes. Each lash is applied one by one, with a patent-pending application process to protect the clients’ own natural lashes. The long-lasting results of Amazing Lash extensions are compared against the most popular and best-selling mascara on the market. Our take: Skipping mascara in your personal beauty routine is one of the most convenient benefits of having eyelash extensions; it eliminates all the time spent buying, applying and removing messy mascara. The lashes are also safe and completely waterproof for bathing, swimming and exercising.

www.amazinglashstudio.com


Best Juicer: Omega Mega Mouth Juicer

Want your juicing fix night or day? Then, you must own your own equipment. The Omega features an extra-large feed chute to accommodate larger portions and even whole fruits! This results in less cutting and a greatly reduced preparation time, allowing you to concentrate more on the juicing itself. Simply flip the switch and watch as the Mega Mouth makes quick work of fruits and vegetables, extracting the maximum amount of juice in minimal time.

www.omegajuicers.com/juicers/mega-mouth-juicer.html


Best Ride in Town: RIDE Indoor Cycling
Get on your bike and pedal! Enjoy high-intensity, music-driven indoor-cycling classes in the Heights. The classes are held on Schwinn AC performance bikes, and feature state-of-the-art sound systems, energizing and colorful LED lighting. An expert team of instructors motivates, inspires and challenges guests to break fitness barriers during the 45-minute sweat sessions.

www.ride-indoorcycling.com


Best Juice: DEFINE foods Juice

DEFINE foods Juice, a raw, organic, cold-pressed product, can be found at the hot workout spot DEFINE. The 16-ounce bottles that sell for $9.50 are available in six vibrant flavors: Nurture with sweet potato, cashew, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and honey; Restore (fuji apple, granny smith apple, lemon, ginger, cinnamon); Nourish (kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, pear, parsley, lemon, ginger); Revive (spinach, cucumber, pineapple, apple, lime, cilantro); Glow (carrot, orange, apple, ginger, turmeric); and Fuel (beet, carrot, apple, ginger, lemon). Each juice contains less than 300 calories and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and chlorophyll.

www.definebody.com


 Best Diverse Fitness Plan: ClassPass

Enjoy unlimited workout classes at boutique fitness studios for a fixed monthly fee. Users can visit any studio in their network up to three times per studio per month. Offering a variety of class types, from yoga to indoor cycling to high-intensity interval training, this unique program allows you to pick and chose your fitness plan. Work out local at the following locations: The Bar Method, Pure Barre, Joy Yoga Center, Hardcore Pilates, Bodyrock Pilates, HIP Fitness, Yoga West, Studio Fitness Heights.

www.classpass.com


Best Online Organic Grocery Store: Greenling

Eating local and organic has never been easier, thanks to online service and shopping experience, Greenling. With produce and products sourced from hundreds of local farms and food artisans, you don’t need to leave the house to reap the benefits of a farmers’ market. The kicker: Delivery is free!

www.greenling.com


Best Beauty App: beGlammed

In the market for a glam squad? The beGlammed app, free to download, lets you channel Tinseltown by bringing cutting-edge and personally vetted hair stylists and makeup artists to your mirror—wherever that may be. You can thank business and beauty industry veterans Jocelyn Loo and Maile Pacheco, the creators of the app, for making getting Real Housewife ready a reality.

CULTURE, FASHION & MORE

Best Book About the Dallas/Houston Rivalry: Bragging Rights: The Dallas-Houston Rivalry by Carlyn Kneese and John Demers; introduction by Lynn Ashby (Bright Sky Press, 2014)

The age-old I-45 rivalry has reemerged as a hot topic. What is it about each place that makes its citizens so proud? Kneese teamed up with Lynn Ashby and John DeMers, respected journalists who have worked both towns, and surveyed the people who make each town great. What emerges is Bragging Rights: The Dallas-Houston Rivalry, a celebration of the similarities and differences between Dallas and Houston.

www.amazon.com/Bragging-Rights-The-Dallas-Houston-Rivalry


Best Pet Fund-Raising Event: Best Friends Brunch
Celebrate aniMeals on Wheels, a program of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, bringing donated dog and cat food to pets of Meals on Wheels seniors, so they don’t have to share with their four-legged friends. At this event, honorees walk the runway with their pets as the festive crowd eggs them on.

www.imgh.org


Best Way to Watch the Galveston Mardi Gras Parade: A&M Mardi Gras Parade Viewing Party

Have fun and benefit and great cause: the George P. Mitchell Society of Texas A&M University at Galveston. Admission includes a Cajun-themed buffet, an open bar, live music by The Line Up and a premier view of the Momus Grand Night Parade as it passes in front of the hotel. Guests will have the option to watch the parade from the ballroom balcony or at street level in a gated viewing area.

www.tamug.edu/mardigras


Best Meet-Up spot in Kemah: Jackie B’s

Jackie’s Brickhouse is a full-service restaurant, sports bar and entertainment facility. Enjoy live music nightly, pub games and a family-friendly environment. The vast menu offers something for everyone, from seafood and pastas to steaks and burgers.

www.jackiesbrickhouse.com


Best Local Designer: Amir Taghi
Taghi is an 18-year-old designer based in Houston, but causing a national uproar across the country. A Houston Episcopal High School student, he started his senior year with a New York Fashion Week debut. He was also featured on the runway at Fashion Houston. He finds inspiration from southern women and his Persian culture.

www.amirtaghi.com


Best Boot Scootn’ Fashion: Lucchese

Lucchese opened its fourth store in Highland Village; the 5,000-square-foot space, complete with a dedicated custom design room where customers can create their perfect pair of boots, promises a shopping experience unlike any other. “With Houston being an epicenter of the boot-wearing population worldwide, the city is a perfect fit for Lucchese,” says Jay Hamby, director of retail sales for Lucchese. The store features the brand’s fashion footwear collection for men and women, which originally debuted in spring 2014, along with its line of Equestrian-inspired handbags, clutches, totes and cross-body bags.

www.lucchese.com


Best Night of Art, Fashion and Music: Houston Press Artopia
This annual party celebrates Houston’s artists throughout all mediums and forms. Enjoy an evening of food, cocktails, galleries, shows and live music, and celebrate the recipients of the MasterMind Awards, given to those who have greatly impacted the local arts community.

www.houstonpress.com


Best Interactive Art Installation: Arts BrookField

This February 12 through May 9, indulge your fantastical side—think unicorns, the circus, black holes, fun houses and carnivals—at the Art Guys’ “Tunnel of Love,” to be exhibited at One Allen Center Gallery. This fun, interactive installation will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

www.artsbrookfield.com


The-Suffers---Press-Photo---Credit-Daniel-JacksonBest Local Artist to Watch: The Suffers

Houston lays claim to The Suffers, the award-winning 10-piece band you’ve undoubtedly heard of. This January, the group launched a new single, “Make Some Room,” to jumpstart their West Coast Tour beginning in February and extending to 11 cities in the area. Make some noise—The Suffers are here to stay.

www.thesuffers.com

 

EAT & DRINK

Best Grilled Octopus: Caracol

It’s the octopus salad, and it comes perfectly chard on a bed of grilled root vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, purple potatoes, with a spicy mole-like sauce and a green verde milder sauce. Perfection.

www.carocol.net


Best Cocktails: Boheme
Located in Montrose, Boheme’s atmosphere is simply magical, the decor having been influenced by Houstonian and owner Morgan Holleman’s worldly travels. They have some of the best house cocktails in the city, and we recommend the Gunpowder, a blend of rums with a hint of cinnamon spice.

www.barboheme.com


Best Sandwich: Juan Mon’s

At this international sandwich shop, each sandwich is named for the city that provided the inspiration. The owner did his research, visiting each city individually to learn the personalities and best sandwichs. Our favorite is the Buenos Aires—breaded chicken Milanesa, Oaxaca cheese, tomato, lettuce, avocado, mayo and chipotle salsa.

www.juanmons.com


Best Grilled Cheese: Tout Suite

Local favorite Houston Dairy Maids’ seasonal cheeses are featured on the monster grilled sensation. Sourdough makes it divine.

www.toutsuite.co


Best Cooking Lessons: Art of the Meal

Want to learn to make homemade pasta, or cook healthy chicken? The chefs at Art of the Meal are here to help. Simply sign up for a class and show up; all of the ingredients are ready for assembly. Great as a team-building event, baby shower or date, this new concept is sure to make cooking a breeze.

www.artofthemeal.net


Best Authentic Pizza: dmarcos pizzeria

Chicago native and Texas transplant Demarco Jenkins opened the pizzeria in Sugar Land last year. Jenkins’ signature recipes, exclusive to d’marcos, were graciously gifted to him by the owners of his favorite Chicago pizzeria, Mama Rigetta’s. Enjoy dishes containing buttery-flavored flaky crusts; marinara and pizza sauces made from scratch with real Italian fresh-ground peeled tomatoes; Italian spice blends in handmade Italian pork sausage; and Italian chicken sausage made with fennel.

www.dmarcospizzeria.com


Best Deviled Egg and Fried Oysters: Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette

Located on San Felipe and serving new American cuisine, the Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette takes great pride in knowing the origins of its resources. They partner with local, family-owned ranchers that dutifully care for the beef, and utilize local Galveston fishing boats that provide fresh and seasonal seafood. A can’t-miss on their menu is the deviled eggs with maple bacon jam and smoked paprika. Be warned, though: It’s on the sharing menu, but you might not feel like splitting the dish after your first bite.

www.libertykitchenoysterette.com


Best Veal Osso Buco: Le Mistral

The eatery made last year’s list for the “best salad,” but we couldn’t pass on giving them another nod this year. Le Mistral has carved out a niche on the west side of Houston, serving elegant French cuisine. Of the many notable items on the dinner menu, the slow-braised veal osso buco with Madeira sauce and Parmesan and mushroom risotto is simply delectable.

www.lemistralhouston.com


Miso-Butter-RamenBest Ramen: Cafe Kubo’s Sushi
As the ramen trend continues to flourish in Houston, Cafe Kubo in Chinatown continues to serve the best and most affordable bowls of noodles to slurp down. We recommend the shoyu and miso butter ramen.

9889 Bellaire Blvd.


Best Sashimi: Aka Sushi House

The happy hour here is amazing, and you just can’t beat the fact that the deals last all day on Saturdays and Sundays. We love the thick slices of salmon sashimi—the taste and texture is lightly buttery and almost melts in your mouth.

www.akasushihouse.net


Best Chips and Dip: Gloria’s Latin Cuisine

Okay, so there’s salsa dancing on the weekend at Gloria’s, along with amazing and authentic Tex-Mex food and delicious margaritas, but what really makes our mouths water is the black bean dip and chips!

www.gloriasrestaurants.com


Best Cronut: The Grove

In Richmond, the city (not the street) on the southwest side of Houston, there is a treasure trove of gourmet donuts that will satisfy your sweet tooth. While we love the made-to-order donuts that come in a variety of flavors like Chocoberry, Strawberry Lemonade and Oreo Cheesecake, we can’t get enough of the shop’s version of the trendy cronut (a croissant and donut hybrid). Our advice? Call ahead to order these delicious treats that come in flavors like S’mores, Strawberry Cheesecake and Crème Brûlée!

www.facebook.com/thegrovedonutsdeli


Best Happy Hour: MKT BAR
Phoenicia Market Downtown includes one of the most entertaining happy hours of the city. Get deals on drinks and appetizers on weekdays between 2–7pm and enjoy nightly events such as game night on Mondays, steak night on Tuesdays and Thursdays and stand-up comedy on Fridays. On Saturdays, happy hour is reversed and run from 9pm–12am.

www.phoeniciafoods.com 

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