Unwind. Decompress. Relax.

February 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Spa Week is the perfect time to try new services at discounted rates.

Stress. There are very few who can escape its tenacious hold. From busy schedules to demanding deadlines to impossible tasks, stress can easily become a part of our daily lives taking a serious toll on our overall health. So much so that it is estimated that by 2020, stress will be a common contributing factor to the top five diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
Rid your mind and body of all the strain and anxiety during the biannual Spa Week Spring 2013 event taking place at hundreds of spas and salons across the country in April. Spa Week invites clients to take a break and try something new with affordable $50 treatments. Discounted services will include a variety of treatments from advanced laser facials, acupuncture, colon hydrotherapy, non-invasive body contouring and more.

In order to receive exclusive information on spa and wellness locations as well as the $50 services, spa-goers should register on www.SpaWeek.com as early as possible. Check out the complete directory online to begin booking services. It is recommended that spa-goers sign up and book in advance to ensure they reserve their top treatment choices.

 

To date, more than a dozen Houston area spas have signed on to participate in the nation-wide event including:
• Avalon Massage & Bodyworks
• The Facial Center for Plastic Surgery
• LifeSpa – Champions, Cinco Ranch, Houston City Center, Kingwood, Lake Houston and Sugar Land
• Norris of Houston
• Organic Spa Houston
• Spa at the Waterway
• The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Houston
• Spa Alexis Massage & Spa
• Wrapped In Wellness, Houston at Arenas Towers

Being Home

February 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Traveling far and wide, appearing on Broadway and in a new hit television series—it all sounds exciting—but for Katy native Kearran Giovanni, her home is where her heart is.
by Sue-Ella Mueller

 

Broadway and television actress Kearran Giovanni has put down stakes on both sides of the coast, but at heart, she’s still a Texas girl.“I’ve lived in New York and now in LA, but Katy [Texas] is where I grew up. It’s where my dad and my brothers and their families live and where so many of my friends still live. Katy is my home,” Giovanni says.

Best known for her role as Dr. Vivian Wright on One Life to Live, but now making a name for herself as Detective Amy Sykes on TNT’s hit show Major Crimes, the 5’7”, Giovanni was the beautiful girl-next-door in the Katy neighborhood of Cinco Ranch. A dancer, gymnast, track star and head cheerleader at Taylor High School, she says she had a “pretty great childhood,” but just about the time she was to enter her senior year, her dad, who worked for Halliburton, was transferred to Venezuela.

“I didn’t want to move,” she says. Her love of dance and the opportunities available in Houston for dancers, convinced her parents to let her stay back in the States. “They told me if I could get into the Houston School for Performing and Visual Arts [HSPVA], I could stay,” says Giovanni. “I made it in for dance and it was a really great school. It was small compared to Taylor’s 3,500 students. There were only about 130 people in my class and you got to know everyone. It was very open-minded and diverse; I had my eyes opened a lot.”

It was at HSPVA where Giovanni’s eyes were also opened to the idea of pursuing her love of dance as a career. “At the end of our senior year, HSPVA set up these ‘mini-auditions’ for us in front of colleges from all across the country. That’s when I met Professor Richard Hess from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He told me ‘I think you can do this. I think you can work in musical theater.’ I believed him and I got into his program and was like a little puppet. I did whatever they told me. It was four years of intense acting. I ended up graduating with a bachelor of arts in musical theater.”

Giovanni credits the university with setting her on the right path to stardom. “Before graduation, we did a 55-minute showcase for casting directors. There were 12 of us in my graduating class. The casting directors were given a list and they circled who they wanted to sign. We got to skip the search for an agent, bypassing one of the hard parts,” she says. “The school taught us much more than just about our craft. They taught us how to be our own business, how to move to New York, how to mingle and how to brand ourselves. I’m not saying you can’t go to New York without a degree, but it just takes a little longer to land a job and meet the right people.”

Giovanni did indeed meet the right people. She began appearing on Broadway the moment she landed in New York. She worked on productions such as Lion King, Sweet Charity and Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway. And it wasn’t long before she began being cast for television roles on shows including Royal Pains and Law and Order. In 20009, she was selected for a major, recurring role, Dr. Vivian Wright, on the soap opera One Life to Live.

“At the time, I was performing in Guys and Dolls and doing One Life. I was working two to three days a week on the soap shooting about 50 scenes a day and then doing the musical at night. I did that for three years until the soap ended,” she says. “It was a fast-paced world; like speed dating for TV. But I can memorize stuff now pretty easily. You don’t have a choice; you have to learn your lines, so you train your brain to do it.”

The training apparently paid off for as soon as the last episode of One Life to Live ended, other television shows came calling. “I was performing in Anything Goes when I read the script for Major Crimes. I loved it and I told my husband it was the perfect role. During my first audition, Meg Simon [the casting director] was a mama bear, giving me tips and I made it past the first round. They wanted me to go to LA to do a screen test, but the stage manager for the Broadway show said ‘Well, sweetie, I don’t think that’s going to work.’ That’s the harsh side of Broadway. I was heartbroken,” Giovanni remembers. “But they were willing to let me do the screen test via Skype in New York to the director in LA. All the girls in the show were so sweet, waiting with me, like a gaggle of geese. When I made it past the network, they asked me to fly out to LA. I thought I was going for one more audition, but they had me meet them at lunch, which was a little strange. Am I going to have to audition right here at the table? Instead, they said, ‘Welcome to Major Crimes. We wanted to tell you in person.’ I was crying and they were laughing. It was a ridiculously storybook ending.”

Giovanni, her husband and their two young daughters had to pack up everything they owned and make the move from coast to coast within a month’s time. Despite leaving the Big Apple, Broadway, her husband’s family and many good friends behind, it was a role of a lifetime for the actress. Giovanni’s character on Major Crimes, a spin-off of TNT’s The Closer series, is Amy Sykes, an ambitious undercover police detective and military veteran.

“She’s funny and smart but also quirky and a bit socially awkward. She doesn’t know when to hush and says whatever comes to mind. I’m a little bit similar to her—I was that girl in class that always had her hand up. I can’t help it. I just want to shout I know the answer, pick me. Amy is like that and everyone just rolls their eyes at her, but in the end, she is usually right,” says Giovanni.

During its initial season, the show shot 10 episodes and was recently picked up for a second season. “They thought we’d do okay, but our numbers were great! We’ll start filming the next 15 episodes in March,” she says.

That gives the mother of two something she rarely got when she was working in musical theater—time off. “I miss the instant gratification of Broadway; being able to see the audience and whether they are happy or moved. I heard that familiar ‘five minute’ call for ten years and everyone was there waiting in the wings to go on. I miss that part of Broadway,” Giovanni says. “But I don’t miss working eight shows a week, missing out on weekends and nights with family and friends. TV is good. I’m still doing something I want which is creating a character, but I have a life. I get to spend time with my family and be a wife and a mom. I love being home.”

 

Want more Kearran?

Catch her on CW’s Beauty and the Beast as she guest stars as Police Commander Joe Bishop’s wife Thursday, February 21, and tune in to Major Crimes’ second season beginning July 2013. You can also watch the first season of Major Crimes in its entirety on Netflix and at www.tntdrama.com/series/majorcrimes/.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

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

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

Bask in the Tuscan Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing and Singing with the Stars

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Features

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

by Laurette M. Veres

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

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

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

Planning Your Perfect Houston Weekend

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

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

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

 

When you have a free Saturday, would you rather:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which scent makes you feel the most nostalgic?

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

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

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

Your Halloween costume this year may or may not include:

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

Would friends describe you as: 

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

Answers, Don’t Peek

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreaming Gold

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

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

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

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

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

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

Marlen Esparza

SPORT Boxing

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

AGE 23

HOMETOWN Pasadena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Horton

SPORT Gymnastics

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

AGE
26

HOMETOWN Houston

MARRIED to Haley DeProspero
Horton (former collegian gymnast)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Loukas

SPORT Diving

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

AGE 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

COACH’S TAKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving Me Crazy

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Driving in Houston–A Crash Course in Chaos by Lynn Ashby


It was famed racing driver and Houstonian A.J. Foyt who once observed, “I feel safer on a racetrack than I do on Houston’s freeways.” He should know, because Foyt got paid to win the Indianapolis 500 four times while you and I actually have to pay for the privilege of risking our lives on Houston’s roads. Remember several years ago when Houston police were pulled off of patrolling our freeways because it was too dangerous? That was rather unnerving.

As we sit in gridlock, listening on the radio to some semi–literate, thumb–sucker explaining why Obama is a vegetarian cannibal, let’s look at where we are in terms of driving in Houston. For openers, yes, we have traffic. There are more vehicles in Harris County than there are people in Houston; more vehicles than there are in 26 states. In 2010, we had 3,372,647 motor vehicles registered in this county, an increase of 434,272 from 2005. That means that every single day last year when you backed out of your driveway, seven days a week, there were almost 1,190 more cars on the road than there were in 2005. No wonder we can’t find a parking place in the Galleria.

Today, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, Houston drivers spend an average of 58 hours each year stuck in traffic, costing each person $1,322 annually.  (Dallas drivers spend 48 hours a year in traffic, costing $1,077.) What’s more, it takes longer to get there. The average rush hour speed on our freeways is 40.3 miles an hour, down from 48.3 in 1982 and 44 in 2003. Multiply Houston’s wasted time and money by our number of vehicles and there is no question why we have road rage, dirty air and big gas bills.

In addition, demographers predict that the Houston area will grow by 2 million more people in the next 20 years. If you think we’ve got traffic jams now, wait awhile.

Not to get bogged down in statistics, but some of these figures may explain your blood pressure. In the 10–county Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), last year we traveled 139,283,043 miles every day. If you are the average motorist in this MSA, you drive just under 30 (29.9) miles per day. At almost $4 a gallon, go figure. Houston leads the nation in HOV lanes with 103 miles.

Harris County contains 1,835 miles of freeways and toll roads. It could have been more. At one point the Harris County Toll Road Authority considered running a toll road right through Memorial Park. When the authority didn’t think up its own stupid ideas, it received some from Washington. In 2003, the Government Accounting Office, or GAO, studied toll roads and recommended that our authority increase the tolls during rush hours. The report said this plan would keep more people off the toll roads.

Huh? Isn’t the whole point of our very expensive toll road system to put people on those roads and take them off  our city streets? The GAO report did point out a few negatives of increased rush–hour tolls including, “little system–wide reduction in travel times” and “increased gridlock on some alternate routes.” Our tax dollars at work.

As you drive around town, does it seem you have to stop and start a lot? You do, because we have – count ‘em – 2,600 traffic signals and another 1,660 yellow flashing signs at school crossings within the city. That’s a lot of signs, so we have 68 workers going around town inspecting all these electronic gadgets. They have a 27–point check list which they go through with each device twice a year. Most other cities only do it annually, and some other Texas cities are coming here to see how we do it.

Still, we don’t have to use our roads. We can always take our extensive subway system. Oh, that’s right. Unlike most large cities in the world, Houston has had no mass transit since the mule died. I blame our backwardness here in Space City on the three amigos: Bob Lanier, Tom DeLay and John Culberson. Singlehandedly (triplehandedly?), they prevented Houston from getting any kind of mass tracked transit, while Dallas was eating our lunch – and our tax dollars.

They led the fight against any sane transportation system, and often took steps by themselves to defeat good projects. Let’s start with Lanier. He was head of Metro and was against light rail. Then–Mayor Kathy Whitmire favored some sort of rail system (including an elevated monorail which never got off the ground, so to speak).

Lanier, being a wealthy and powerful person, simply ran for mayor against Whitmire, won, and scrapped any move towards rail. More than that, he destroyed all plans to build a significant light rail system in Houston for years to come by taking an enormous amount of Metro money, which had been set aside for rail, and spending it on everything from curbs to cops. The funds siphoned from Metro were a nice addition to the city’s coffers, but his immediate feel–good plan was a disaster for Houston’s long range transportation needs.

Tom DeLay is another case. He consistently and aggressively fought Houston’s receiving any federal funds for light rail. He took away $45 million in federal transportation grants that were earmarked for the Houston area and immediately gave the money to Dallas. Because of DeLay, Houston was the only city in the nation specifically banned by federal law from receiving federal funds for rail transit. Come to think of it, whatever happened to Tom DeLay?

This brings us to John Culberson. He took over the safe, west Houston, solid GOP Congressional district from Bill Archer (who had held the post for 30 years until he retired, to give you an idea of how safe the seat is). Even though Culberson was a veteran state representative, he faced a lot of opponents in the Republican primary. He ran, and won, mostly on a platform of widening the Katy Freeway.
The freeway was vastly widened, creating more concrete, more flooding, more noise, more air pollution and, of course, more traffic. There is probably a Parkinson’s Law of Transportation: traffic will expand to meet the lanes available. A year or so ago, Culberson wrote a letter to the Chronicle calling for a rail line out to the Katy Freeway. Outraged letters to the editor showed elephants—and donkeys—never forget.

Rail transit to the center of Houston is older than most of Houston. If you look at an old map you will see that railroad lines came into Houston like spokes on a wheel. Virtually every one of our freeways parallel, or are built on top of, rail lines. Indeed, the city motto was: “Where 17 railroads meet the sea.” That must have been one hell of a splash. Even today our city seal shows a locomotive, and, with great foresight, black soot is belching out of its smokestack. A few years ago, while most large cities were building new tracks, we ripped up those alongside the Katy Freeway to expand the concrete. Dumb!

Amidst all this gloom and doom, let us remember that Houston has some beautiful sights while motoring. Have you ever come into our town on a freeway at sunset when the air is clean (Wednesdays) and the sun’s rays reflect off our magnificent skyline? Depending on construction, high–speed police chases and ICE roadblocks, you can spot gorgeous views coming up the Gulf Freeway, on the Pearce Elevated, on the Katy going from the loop to downtown and other spots. No doubt the same can be said for sunrises, but noon is my dawn.

Another great sight is going through the Galleria (bumper to bumper) at Christmas time, looking at all the buildings festooned with lights and haloes on top. One time I forgot the day, and came upon a Go Texan trail ride. Suddenly, I rounded the corner and there were a hundred horses, cowboys/girls, wagons, flags, everyone waving and laughing. Now you just don’t see that in Detroit. We also have some delightful streets. North and South Boulevard, with those huge trees, spring to mind. Athletic coaches at Rice actually point to the beautiful campus as a selling point for potential Owls.

Don’t laugh, but auto accidents in Houston are declining, and experts credit the lousy economy – with high unemployment, fewer workers drive to work – and higher gas prices. Also, the drought helped, with dry streets. In terms of numbers, 23,432 auto accidents were recorded in Houston from the middle of last November to the middle of April of this year. That’s a drop of 13 percent from the 26,662 crashes that were reported between mid–June and Nov. 14 of last year. However, fatal traffic accidents in Houston have remained steady during the last three years. Last year, 216 people died in Houston auto crashes, compared to the 207 killed in 2009 and 217 dead in 2008.


AGGGGGG!!! I am driving through an intersection and a car comes whizzing from the side, runs a red light and almost slams into me. Alas, our red light districts were shut down by a public vote. It rather boggles the mind that our friends and neighbors would vote to unplug the already installed cameras at 50 of our more deadly intersections. Do they like to get themselves and my grandchildren crushed to death by speeding, law–breaking idiots?

Opponents to the cameras said the devices were only money–making operations for the city. It is unclear how they feel about parking meters, zoo tickets and parade permits, and those expenses don’t even save lives. By shutting down the cameras, the city lost between $10 and $14 million in revenue a year and had to—guess what?—order lay–offs in the HPD. But, just as our overall accident rate has declined, so have wrecks where the cameras were unplugged. Following the five months after cameras were turned off (they are still in place) those monitored intersections had 362 accidents—a 16 percent drop from the previous five months. Cops credit the drought and more police traffic enforcement.

This trend of less driving is also reflected in the city’s SAFEClear program in which the city of Houston pays tow trucks to assist stranded motorists on freeways. The towing used to be free. Now a cash–starved city is planning to charge $50 per tow. If you are stopped dead, or wrecked, in the middle lane of the Southwest Freeway at 5 p.m. on a rainy weekday, $50 is worth every penny. Even more if it’s 3 a.m.

So welcome to Houston, where road rage is all the rage. Just consider our fellow drivers around town, some of whose cars need training wheels: No one is allowed to use a turn signal. Stop signs are for wussies. That’s not a Mercedes hood ornament, but crosshairs for the nose gunner. Even baby buggies in Houston have roll bars. Avoid any cars that have notches on their bumpers, stickers reading: “I’d Rather Be T–Boning” or has a personalized license plate: “DWI.” As for our city motto, forget “Where 17 railroads meet the sea.” It should be: “Where two cars meet each other—constantly.”

I just roared passed A.J. Foyt on the South Loop. He looked scared.

Matt Schaub

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

On and Off the Gridiron: Matt Schaub is Making a Difference by Keith Calkins


Our long, sweltering, summer has been drenched in NFL strike–inspired inactivity. But the Houston Texan’s quarterback was anything but idle and focused much of his summer on giving. The people who know Matt and Laurie Schaub were not surprised.

Schaub has already given Houston football fans all they could have expected and much more. The unproven, little used, back–up QB acquired from Atlanta four years ago is now the face of the Texans’ franchise–committed, confident and professional.

Schaub’s quarterbacking dates back to his childhood on the outskirts of Philadelphia in West Chester, PA.  Even then, he displayed great skill, poise, smarts, dedication and talent. In 2009, he guided the Texans to their first-ever winning season. He threw for 4,770 passing yards, the best passing record in the league for the year and the sixth highest total in NFL history. His efforts won him a trip to the Pro Bowl where he was named MVP. In 2010, he added 4,370 more yards, placing him among only 18 quarterbacks in NFL history with multiple, 4,000-yard passing seasons. Of those 18, only five have ever thrown for more than 4,300 yards in consecutive seasons. And only a hand full have executed with Schaub’s lethal combination of high quarterback efficiency rating and low interception turnover.

His on the field leadership is mirrored in Gr8 Hope, the foundation he and his wife, Laurie, started. “We’ve done a lot of things with different organizations and different charities, but Laurie and I really wanted to start our own foundation,” Schaub says.  “We had an idea on a name a few years ago, but we didn’t know what direction we wanted to go.”

The foundation’s name is an obvious spin on the number eight, Schaub’s jersey number. And the direction is now crystal clear–bring healing to children with medical needs. “After going to Texas Children’s Hospital and visiting and spending quality time with these kids you just realize how they can influence your life,” Schaub says. “When we had our daughter (Madison) last year it just hit us between the eyes that this is where we wanted to go and there’s no looking back.”

Matt and Laurie were immediately taken, if not overwhelmed, with Texas Children’s Child Life department and its goal of normalcy for children battling to live one more day. After meeting families, doctors and specialists, they knew their foundation should support the department’s efforts. “It was kind of a no–brainer to help kids out,” Laurie says.  “We have one little one and two on the way, so that just solidified where our hearts were—to make a difference for children.”

This summer the Schaubs organized and spearheaded a weekend fundraising gala and golf get–together. They raised  $108,000 for Texas Children’s new West Campus.  The dollars will be used to equip and furnish a Child Life Playroom on the third floor of West Campus, Houston’s first community hospital designed, built and equipped exclusively for children. “I hope it creates smiles and a sense of promise for them,” Matt says. “When you have play, you forget about all the treatments you’re undergoing.  It helps you be a kid again. And we want that for those children.”

The children come to Houston from all corners of the country. They are in dire need of healing and recovery as they fight debilitating and life–threatening diseases, along with the stress and psychological effects brought about by their conditions.  Once here, in the Child Life Playroom, they can simply forget, if only momentarily, why they’re in a hospital.

On the field, the single gauge that matters most to Schaub is winning. After 54 Texan starts, his record is a pedestrian 25-29. And last year was a shipwreck: 10 losses. Each and every week, the team seemed to create new and excruciatingly painful ways to lose.

For full and lasting effect, Schaub chose to relive the wretched details throughout his off–season; better to assure history never repeats. “Every day I thought about them,” Schaub says.  “I sat (at home) and watched some of the copies I had from television and just rehashed those thoughts and was just chomping at the bit to get back to work.” His work was delayed by the NFL strike.

In the midst of the labor unrest, Schaub consistently gave his teammates structure by orchestrating make–shift, group workouts, including a mini–camp of sorts, for 35 teammates at Rice Stadium. He barked instructions in the midst of blazing, 100 degree temps, beating down on the artificial turf just as if he were leading the teams regularly scheduled, off–season drills at Reliant Park.

Honing skills, maintaining focus and conditioning were benefits, but the true goals were team–building, bonding and camaraderie. And, for comic relief, the simulated practices even included Schaub as a pass grabber. “It’s more or less just fill in the bodies for the defense,” Schaub said during a break in the mid–June sweat shop. “So they know where receivers are. It just so happens they don’t cover because they don’t respect me out there. So I get a few catches.” But don’t expect that in real games. “It’s not part of my repertoire,” he says.

Schaub fully understands this season is an opportunity for the Texans to finally crash the NFL playoff party for the first time in franchise history. He has his most balanced offensive team ever with tight-end Owen Daniels and all-world, wide–out Andre Johnson healthy again.  And Arian Foster is ready to repeat his performance from last year—2,200 total offensive yards and 18 touchdowns.

This next Texans’ outfit is stacked with more talent and experience than ever before, on offense and defense. The Texans clearly take their lead from Schaub like never before.

“I’m coming on my fifth year here,” Schaub says. “So with each year you get a little bit more of that.” His leadership goal is clear—making it to the playoffs.

Schaub has high hopes for this season; however, he readily admits, professional success cannot replace the satisfaction he enjoys through the kids he meets with Gr8 Hope. “They are the most positive and inspirational people out there,” he says.

The mission of GR8 HOPE Foundation is to provide resources and support to promote lasting improvements and bring healing to children with medical needs, hope for our future generations, and happiness to the children and their families enduring medical challenges. To make a donation go to www.gr8hopefoundation.com.

A Product of Texas

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Texas Native & Internationally Recognized Beauty by Sue-Ella Mueller


Without a doubt, some of the best looking people in Hollywood are from Texas. Matthew McConaughey, Renne Zellweger, Eva Longoria, Dennis Quaid, Jennifer Garner, Hope Dworaczyk. What? You haven’t heard of Hope Dworaczyk? Well, you obviously didn’t watch last season’s Celebrity Apprentice or the tall, lithesome beauty would be indelibly imprinted on your brain. But have no fear, even if you don’t know Hope, you soon will.

The 26-year old, Port Lavaca native began making tiny waves in the fame pool when she earned the title of Miss Teen Texas at age 16 in her first attempt in the pageant world since her toddler years. The title came with a modeling agency contract that soon had her finishing up her education early at Hope High School in order to head out on her own to New York City.

“I’m very fortunate to have such supportive parents. I’m not sure if I had a daughter, that I’d let her go,” says Dworaczyk (pronounced dor-ah-sic; ‘like Jurrassic with a D,’ she says). “But I think it was hard for my parents to say no to me when I was getting these great offers to start my career.”

With her 5’10 stature and natural beauty, not to mention the number of hours she spent perfecting her walk under the tutelage of a walking coach, it wasn’t long before Dworaczyk caught the attention of fashion designers from across the globe. Her modeling career skyrocketed as she stepped onto international runways in places such as Paris and Milan for names like Versace, Balenciaga, Lana Fuchs and Robert Rodriguez. A daunting task for most young girls, but the tall Texan says she approached it just as she has many things in life: head on.

“I tend to not think about things like that (being nervous),” she says. “With most big moments, I just take a deep breath and tell myself, okay, here we go.”

It may have been just that attitude that gave her the self confidence to pose for Playboy magazine in 2009; well, that and a nod of approval from Grandma.

I was working out in the same gym as Holly Madison (one of Hugh Hefner’s former girlfriends), when she came up to me and a friend of mine and asked if we would be interested in doing a test shoot for Playboy. We just did some Polaroid-type shots,” says Dworaczyk. “Then I got a call saying they wanted me to fly out to L.A. for a real test shoot. I was nervous about telling my parents, but I got my grandma on the phone and she said, ‘If I was your age, I would go for it.’ So that’s what I did.”

Oddly enough, Dworaczyk had entertained the idea of posing for the magazine eight years earlier. “A good friend and I had come across her boyfriend’s Playboy magazine and had a big discussion on whether or not we would ever pose (for the magazine). It’s kind of funny, because at that point, I was too skinny. Playboy would’ve never asked me to do it. Anyway, we made a pact that, if we ever got the opportunity, we would do it,” Dworaczyk says. “I took that same friend with me when I did the shoot. Her being there when I shot it was special.”

Dworaczyk became the April 2009 Playmate of the Month and was featured on the front cover with actor/comedian Seth Grogan. Her photos were so popular among readers that she was later named 2010 Playmate of the Year and again graced the cover. When asked if she plans to pose again, Dworaczyk sounds a bit unsure.

“It was a great experience for me and I’m glad I did it. When I’m my grandmother’s age, I know I won’t regret it. I want to experience everything, but now that I’ve done that, I’m ready to move on,” she says.

And moving on is exactly what the beauty has done. For the past three years, Dworaczyk has been producing the Canadian television show Inside Fashion for E! Channel. She was also hand-chosen by Donald Trump himself to take part in the 2011 spring season of Celebrity Apprentice where she was able to make it to the ninth week. Before being “fired” however, she was able to earn $20,000 for her charity of choice, Best Buddies International and, equally as important, Dworaczyk made good with the opportunity to prove she was more than just a pretty face.

“Celebrity Apprentice was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had,” admits Dworaczyk. “We were working 16-17 hours a day, from make up in the morning to shooting late into the evening. It was great exposure for me and, overall, a great experience, but I wouldn’t do it again. It’s a one time thing.”

With the television time under her belt, Dworaczyk now has hopes of doing a bit more acting. “I’ve started taking (acting) classes and I’m working on a couple projects now. I recently went on my third call back for a movie; I should find out soon if I get the part. I’m currently doing an animated show where my character has an alter ego that no one knows about. It’s been so much fun,” she says. “And, I’ve also got plans for a makeover show that will involve people who have had to deal with real hard ships. We are bringing in life coaches and will be changing people’s lives.”

As if that wasn’t all enough, the model/producer/actor has been asked to create an exclusive line of jewelry for the designer Sam Lehr. “There will be six pieces in all and we’ll be using precious stones,” says Dworaczyk. Once completed, the jewelry will be sold at Neiman Marcus and Saks.

With so much going on, you might think the California resident would have trouble making it back to the Lone Star State. But her close-knit family did manage to bring her back this summer. “When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to leave. Now, I love going back. I think if I hadn’t gotten to travel to other places, I might not appreciate how great Texas is,” she says. “In L.A. or New York, if you’re walking out of a coffee shop, people aren’t normally going to stop, wait and hold the door open for you. People are just busy. But in Texas, they’ll wait while you make your way to the door and they’ll even take the time to exchange a few words or a smile with you. It’s not like that anywhere else.”

Down home hospitality is not just something Dworaczyk admires, it’s also something she tries to live by herself. “People comment all the time about how friendly I am,” she says. “I tell them that’s because I’m a product of Texas.”

Photo credit: Brie Childers Photography

Tailgating

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

A junkie’s paradise of football, friends, and food. by Rick McMillen

Let me be perfectly honest right up front—I love football,  it matters not if it is high school, college or pro. I love the fall cool air that begins to return replacing the blistering summer heat. I love cheerleaders. (Yes, Dear, I’m sure that is no surprise to you. I know you figured out long ago that our seats near the field weren’t just to see the players better.) And, let’s get this straight, I am a Texans fan, through and through. Sure, I get upset with them, but when I last checked it’s healthier to allow your emotions to vent, helping to rid your body from the fat infused into so many great, tailgating foods. This leads me right into my favorite thing that football brings—TAILGATING! This wonderful, weekly fan fest lets you tip a beer back with a stranger parked in the next slot and he soon becomes one of your best buddies by the time you pull your last sip on the bottle, all because you have one common denominator­—the love of the home team. Now the beer, the football and the new friends are great, but the serious part of tailgating is the FOOD (the all capped words should be yelled out very loud, to the point of scaring the dog).

Is there any better way to start off a perfect weekend of pure football than to devour a scrumptious, baby back rib, generously coated with a beer infused sauce, a serious helping of chili powder, jalapeño and garlic, that has been slowly smoking for three plus hours while surrounded with your best friends all dressed to kill wearing team colors and helmets. Sometimes it’s hard to eat that way, but let me tell you, it does taste better. It’s important to yell your passions very, very loud. I can’t always do so at home, the neighbors already think I’m strange. While all of this is happening, you must maintain your position near the keg of beer making it simple to easily refill so you can be ready for the feast of chicken poppers, chili baked beans and the red pepper corn bread just waiting to be charged with queso (that’s how I like mine). The beauty here is that I typically do not eat Thursday or Friday with only a lite, lite meal during the college games on Saturday so I can be ready to be the One and Only True Tailgating Food Junkie of All Time!
If you don’t like this go to the museum, we have a ton of them, sip your chardonnay and leave me with my friends, football and food. But, ya gotta love it; this is the most American icon event ever!

On the following pages you will find many recipes designed to help make your tailgating experience the very best. Granted, we all have our favorites. However, the primary bases are well covered, the barbecue meats, incredible beans, fantastic sandwiches, creamy pastas along with the hard core stand by of potato salads, chips and dips. And, let’s make the wife happy, I have included a recipe for a fruity Sangria wine that will keep her and her friends near that pitcher allowing me and my friends to properly dissect the game and make the critical coaching decisions long before kick-off.

Okay, everyone ready? I’m now off to get a new Texan’s jersey—JJ Watt’s. After all, he is destined to be the rookie of the year in the NFL and I look like him—a big, solid, mass of muscles (want to buy a bridge?). Plus, I’ve also got to find my football. I think my wife hid it. She thinks my friends and I will hurt ourselves running fly patterns in the parking lot. Can you think of a more honorable time to get an injury requiring stitches? That’s a war wound to wear with pride the entire next week, silly girl!

So, GO TEXANS! Let’s grill up a few QB’s from the opposing teams on our pits at the end of the game (football always brings out my inner barbarian)!

Rick, the Terrible Texan, number 69 in your tailgating program, but number one in your heart and stomach!

Quarterback – Queso & Chips

Name one wild and crazy Texan fanatic who does not frequently crave QUESO? The appetizer gods knew milleniums back that when football was discovered, chips and queso would be the hit of the party. If you fail to serve this one, your loyal buds will be checking out other tailgaters.

YIELD Serves 10-12
PREP TIME 20 minutes
COOKING TIME 30 minutes

1     Pound Velveeta cheese
1     Pound cream cheese
1     Jar of your favorite picante sauce, 16 ounces
1     Pound seasoned meat – sausage preferred
1     Cup fresh cilantro, rough chopped
1     Cup of white onion,  diced
2     Bags of your favorite dipping chips

Preparation: Queso
Place both cheeses into a crock pot (great for easy transportation to the game) gradually stirring to blend. While cheese is melting prepare, your meat. I prefer to use spicy Italian sausage, removing the meat from the skin and browning over medium-high heat until brown. Once meat is done, add it, along with the onion, to the cheeses and allow them to incorporate for another 20 minutes on medium heat. Right before serving, add the cilantro and blend well.

IMPORTANT: You can control the spiciness of this dish by the heat level of the salsa you select!

Playoff Bound – Bacon Wrapped Filets

OK, time to splurge and open up the wallet. When the Texans finally make the playoffs the perfect food to celebrate with is Juicy Filets wrapped with Bacon. This simple and easy favorite will have everyone praying for another win. The only problem will be what do you serve if the Texans make the Super Bowl?

YIELD Serves 8
PREP TIME 15 minutes
COOKING TIME Preference of guests

8    6 ounce filets
8    strips of bacon
salt pepper available for tailgaters

Preparation: Bacon Wrapped Filets
Wrap each, individual filet with one strip of bacon. Insert a toothpick to hold the bacon in place. Place into a freezer bag and into the fridge over night. Prepare the grill at the party with hot-white-coals and place the filets over direct heat. Cook as requested by guests: 4-5 minutes each side for medium-rare, adding an additional 2-3 minutes per side  for medium and more for medium-well to well-done. The heat level of the grill/coals will dictate cooking time. Remember, this is a hard one to follow-up!

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