Monthly Archives: July 2013

20 Reasons to Love Houston


Houston is still a whiskey-and-trombone town, and proud of it. We aren’t trying to be Paris, France. If that was what we wanted we’d just skip over to Bush Intercontinental Airport and hop on over the pond. We like us, and we like you. We have a sense of humor, even about ourselves. It’s easy since we’re pretty sure we’ll have the last laugh.

Here for you is a list of 20 things to love about Houston. If you live here or are from here you’ll know these are awesome. If you aren’t from here, maybe you can see how wonderful Houston is.

20. NASA. No, I can’t move it farther up the list because it’s not really Houston any more. However, the legacy is and will always be Houston. The phrase is “Houston, we have a problem.” Which is good for a certain movie actor, since “Cape Kennedy, we have a problem” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

19. The Galleria. Any shopping venue that draws international tourists who stay at the hotel attached to the mall and never, or rarely, leave that mall during their visit has to be something. Plus, you know, Nordstrom’s.

18. Higher Education. Houston has something for everyone in post-secondary schools. Rice is an excellent major private university. The University of Houston is another well-respected research university. Texas Southern University is only the best-known of the HBCUs in town. Religious schools abound, as do junior and community colleges. Plenty of other schools round out a full plate of colleges and universities.

17. The petrochemical industry. Between bringing in big money and providing a good living for blue collar workers, the petrochemical industry is a vibrant, sustaining part of everything Houston. Its very grit is part of what shapes the essence of Houston – rough, tough, strong, confident, and resilient.

16. Air conditioning. Nobody does it like Houston. You can practically catch a chill in some of the malls and museums, which is pretty striking considering that the temperature outside is approaching “surface of the sun” for about six months of the year.

15. Amateur athletics. The Texas Bowl is a highlight of the college football season. There are lots of opportunities for the average Joe to enjoy a game of golf or a run, as well as fantastic high school football and basketball, and the full range of other high school sports from baseball to swimming to lacrosse, and everything else.

14. Traffic. I’m not kidding, either. Although Houston traffic can be outrageously heavy, it’s rarely gridlocked unless there’s a major catastrophe, and those are rare. They’re so rare because Houstonians are notoriously courteous drivers. Everyone knows the rules, even the unwritten ones, and everyone has the same goal in mind – a smooth commute.

13. Nature. The climate and estuaries on Galveston Bay provide habitat for many species of birds, fish, and other animals. Houstonians appreciate that biodiversity, so we protect it through various entities such as The Houston Arboretum and Armand Bayou Nature Center that provide education in and protection to specific areas, as well as organizations that provide education and protection in general, such as The Galveston Bay Foundation and Houston Wilderness.

12. The Museum District. Everything from Egyptian mummies to environmental art to interactive children’s installations are waiting for people to appreciate them in the museum district. Just because we’re down-to-Earth doesn’t mean we’re uncouth, ya’ll.

11. Performing arts. The Houston Grand Opera is world-class, and the Houston Ballet and Houston Symphony added to the opera provides plenty of high-toney entertainment. Broadway touring shows and local companies provide plenty of other live entertainment. The Theater District provides plenty of beautiful, fun venues.

10. Diversity. You don’t hear about it a lot because it’s not something Houston or Houstonians work at. It just happens. We come from everywhere, and we aren’t really that into getting all het up about where someone’s from or what religion they are or what they look like. The youth of Houston as a city helps Houstonians stay focused on what people do, instead of who their people are.

9. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Yeah, you can claim that you’re too sophisticated for the rodeo, but that just shows you haven’t been to this one. Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and Alan Jackson aren’t the whole lineup. Bruno Mars. Mary J. Blige. Styx. Pitbull. It’s not your grandfather’s rodeo.

8. Travel. If you want to go somewhere else, Houston is a great place to start. Non-stop flights to six continents and dozens of countries, as well as nonstops all over the US make it easy to get where you need to go. Two cruise ports make great couples getaways or family vacations quick, easy, and affordable.

7. Galveston. It’s far enough away to make you feel like you went somewhere, but easily close enough for a long day trip. Since Ike they’ve really been classing up the joint, too. The Pleasure Pier, Moody Gardens, the San Luis, and a ton of great restaurants make it a great day trip or weekend stop. Not to mention a fine destination vacation for out-of-towners. Did I mention the beach?

6. Food. Houston has a diversity of food genres that fits the diversity of Houstonians, but what makes all of it great is the availability of fabulous ingredients fresh, fresh, fresh. The Gulf of Mexico offers up a bounty of seafood fresh daily. Local farms and ranches provide fresh meat, game, and fowl, and the climate provides for fresh produce almost year-round. That ingredient trifecta improves the quality of everything made with them, and are a nice draw for excellent chefs who know about the importance of great ingredients.

5. Professional Sports. It’s like a smorgasbord of major- and minor-league pro sports. The Texans. The Astros. The Rockets. The Dynamo. The Shell Houston Open. The Aeros. The Skeeters. The Houston Marathon. The Houston Rodeo. Auto racing. Wrestling. Tennis. Softball. Houston has the big-time in whatever sport floats your boat.

4. Herrmann Park. 445 acres including The Houston Zoo, the golf course, the railroad, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the lake, the reflection pool, Lake Plaza, Miller Theater, and all the other accoutrements of a great urban park, plus easy access via metro rail or car make Hermann Park a grand destination that draws in people from the suburbs and provides a welcome respite from the urban pace for inside-the-loop dwellers.

3. Houstonians. People in Houston are down-to-Earth. They take care of each other in a very basic way. The way that makes you go buy a new couch and give the old one to your neighbor’s nephew not because you want to protect the environment or because you want to support the economy, or even because you need an excuse to buy a new couch, but because your neighbor’s nephew needs a couch. The way that makes you spend half a morning making enchiladas for a coworker with a sick child, just because they need dinner, even though you don’t really like that coworker. The way that makes you let a car in front of you at the 288/45 merge, even though he obviously didn’t read the merge signs for the last mile.

2. The Medical Center. This is an easy no-brainer. When you have medical facilities that people come to from around the world to get great treatment in great conditions, you have something worth keeping. I’ve got my beefs with hospitals around here, because spending a lot of time with anyone makes it easier to find their flaws. Still, in terms of technical skill, you just can’t do better.

1. January. Average highs in the mid-60s is the kind of weather other places dream of in January. Just cool enough to make the mosquitoes lay down a little and let you take out a sweater. Warm enough for pretty much anything you want. Generally perfect.


On My Birfday


The Boy has figured out that there’s a catch to this birthday thing.  For three years he went along and every year at the same time he would have a birthday.  It was pretty cool because there was new stuff and it made his parents happy.  The first time it was like some big stinking deal where, like, everyone he knew came around and we all ate at a restaurant.  The second and third were fine, too.  Lots of people came around and generally poked into everything, and there was cake. Who doesn’t want chocolate frosting, right?  No big deal, though. 

Last year, though.  Last year was different.  First he had a birthday when we had cake and there were presents.  Who doesn’t like presents?  And, you know, chocolate frosting.  Plus, he turned four.  Every time someone says he can’t do something his sister can do, they say he’s too little, so getting older must be a good thing.  His sister is older and she gets to do all kinds of things he’s not allowed to do.  When did he turn four?  On his birfday.  Bring on the birfday, man.

Then, only a few days later, his friends from school came over for his birthday party.  More presents and more cake.  Yay!  This is awesome!  Everyone knows what birthdays mean, too:  On each birthday you get one year older.  He had a birthday last week, when he turned four.  This week he’s turning five.  When did he turn five?  On his birfday.  At this rate he’ll catch up to his sister.  Score!

Then, about two weeks later, his grandparents showed up and put a playset complete with swings and slide in the back yard.  What did they say?  Happy birthday.  Awesome again!  Now he’s six!  When did he turn six, you ask?  On his birfday.  His parents don’t seem to get it, but it’s not the first time he’s noticed that they’re not the brightest crayons. 

For two months he was the same age as his sister.  Then she had a birthday and turned seven, but still, he was closing the gap.

A year later, he had another one of these great cake/frosting/presents events.  It was so awesome that he decided to humor all the people who seem to have missed his last two birthdays and think he’s now turned five.  They can’t help it. 

Within a couple of months, though, he realized something.  The service around these parts was starting to suck.  He kept hearing that he was five years old, so he was big enough to brush his own teeth, buckle his own seatbelt, wipe his own butt, put on his own clothes, or get himself a drink.  Nobody told him that accepting birthdays obligated him to take care of himself.  What are parents and teachers for if he’s brushing, buckling, wiping, dressing, and drinking all by himself?  This situation can’t be allowed to stand.  It’s just wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

After some clever thinking, he found a solution.  He’s sending some of these birthdays back.  He’s going back to being four.  He’ll just declare that he’s no longer five.  He’s four.  Now every time someone tells him to be a big boy he says, “I’m too little.  I’m four.”  When did he turn four?  On his birfday, of course.  This is a great system.  And four is apparently the perfect age.


HI! How can I not help you today?

I think I might have completely irrational expectations from customer service.  I have this vision of people who answer the phone or work at the front desk who say things like, “I can’t do that, but I can solve your problem this other way” or “I don’t know.  Let me ask my boss.”, or even “Yes.”  Reality is not so…..useful.

About three months ago The Hubs and I took the kiddies out to dinner at our favorite local Cajun seafood restaurant.  While we were there a vicious thunderstorm blew up, and we ended up driving home in a hailstorm.  Scared the peewaddle out of The Girl and The Hubs, and The Boy still gets kinda weird every time he sees a cloud.  After we pulled in the garage we noticed a bunch of little dings in the car.  Well, crap.  They weren’t bad, but the car is less than a year old.  We decide to get it fixed.  We have insurance, right?

We call the insurance company.  This is the new agent – not the one we The Hubs started getting insurance with back in the 70s or something.  I think that guy had the nerve to retire.  Just ’cause he’s been doing this for 50 years he thinks we don’t need him anymore.  Anyway, these new folks aren’t very invested in us.  When The Hubs called them in January and asked to be sure we have rental car coverage and “anything else we might need”, they didn’t think he meant rental car coverage for non-collision.  So, we pay for the rental car out of pocket.  Joy. 

We call the place that did the bodywork when my car had a run-in with a stray shopping cart at a big-box store.  They tell us that getting hail damage fixed is a big stinking deal, and that everyone has hail damage at the same time, so they’ll call us when our number comes up to let us know when they’ll fix it.  This is around the first of April.  In mid-May they call and tell us that we’re lucky – they can fix it starting on July 22. Yeah, we sure are lucky that after six weeks they were able to tell us that it would only be another two months before they got started on the work.

We get back from vacation in late June and I call them to ask how long they think they will have the car – I want to make plans for things like us maybe visiting my parents and The Girl going to camp.  The girl who answers the phone tells me that there’s a process and they have a waiting list, so I’ll have to bring the car in for an estimate and go through our insurance company before they can even start the process.   


Sweetheart, that’s why I started the convo by telling you that we have an appointment with you to begin the work on July 22. We’ve already done all that. All I’m asking is how long it usually is, like a rough estimate. Gimme a days/weeks/months guess, based on your experience.

She tells me she really doesn’t know, and that they’d have to see the car first, which is why she told me it’s a process and I have to bring the car in before they can start the process. It’s like the world’s biggest circle jerk, and she’s pulling it all off completely on her own.

After several trips on this merry-go-round I ask if there is anyone there who can help me figure out a rough estimate of how long they’re going to have my car. Mike, her manager, gets on the phone and tells me that it’s a process and he’s going to explain how the process works.

They can’t both be this dumb, right? I interrupt him to say that I really don’t need another round of “the process”, and I’d appreciate it if he could just give me a rough estimate of how long they will have my car. Again, I ask for a days/weeks/months estimate, and tell him that after 30 minutes listening to the explanation of their “process” I’d appreciate it if he’d go ahead and cut to the chase. He actually has the nerve to say, “if you start acting like a human being I might.”

What the Hell? Clearly the company policy is not “the customer is always right”. In this case they don’t even adhere to “the customer is always a human being.”

Anyway, I hang up on him. When I walk in the door to the house The Hubs is sitting there playing on his computer, and I ask him to please call these people and try to get some kind of estimate on the time frame. He asks what’s going on and I give him the blast. He calls them.

The same Mike guy gets on the phone and explains that they have a process and launches into the 10-minute stock explanation of the process. The Hubs listens politely and then asks how long they think it will take, explaining that we know it’s an estimate and it might end up taking more or less time, but roughly what should we expect.

At this point the guy explodes and yells at The Hubs about how he is prohibited from giving out that information. Seriously, I’ve never run into anyone, from house painters to surgeons, who couldn’t give me at least a rough estimate of how long something was going to take. These guys are prohibited from doing it, though.

After that was when we decided to call someone else to fix the car. Their first statement: Well I don’t see why you would wait months. How’s Monday sound? It’ll take about two weeks.

The new place has the car now. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Not a tigers one, Mama.

My son is super awesome.  Just today I told him we were gonna go have an adventure this afternoon.  We were going to meet The Hubs for lunch and then try to maybe go for a ferry ride.  Not terribly exciting, but hey, take the adventures you can get. 

So I told The Kids that we were going to have an adventure.  The Girl wanted to be sure she could bring a book.  The Boy?  He said, “I love adventures!  But not a tigers one.  No tigers, Mama.”.  OK, so he’s not into tiger wrestling.  Too bad, since I was totally planning that for next Saturday.  About ten minutes later he’s giving me more detail about this adventure.  He tells me, “We’ll have to take an airplane.  A China one.”  Clearly he and I were not on the same wavelength about the term “adventure”. 

I categorize going to the grocery store with both kids as an adventure.  Seriously, will this be a “two sweet angels everyone wants to steal” kind of grocery trip, or a “no, I’ve never seen those two Hellions before” kind of trip?  Will they help me remember what’s on the list and run to various parts of the store to get things for me, or will they tear up the list and laugh maniacally as they throw boxes and bags of food to the floor?  Will the people at the store ask if the kids want stickers, or ask us never to return?

He imagines snarling tigers that we must defeat to continue on our way.  Probably while walking the enitre length of the Great Wall on our way to traverse the Mongolian steppes riding semi-wild horses.  Bareback, of course.

Me, I think of the time I didn’t cancel the dental appointments that The Hubs was not going to be able to help with after all.  Wondering if The Boy is running down the highway as I worry about what the dentist is finding in his sister’s mouth, all while I’m trapped under the leaf blower and the jackhammer the hygenist has in my mouth.  At home The Girl can climb a towering bookcase to get down the hidden iPad so she’s got something to do besides play with 5 trillion toys or read 5 thousand books.  At the dentist, she can’t find the iPad in my purse so she’s stuck putting her hand on every item in the dentist’s treatment room while my mouth is full of hands and suction keeping me from telling her to stop and sit down. 

The Boy, he’s off the the wilds of Asia. 

His adventures sound a lot more fun than mine.

Clean: I don’t think it means what you think it means

dust bunny

Some helpful tips for people who are unfamiliar with the term “clean” and it’s ramifications.  Particularly my husband and my kids, all of whom seem to think it means pushing things off the bed and putting the shoes in lines on the floor. 

When you set out to clean a room you should:

  1. Put everything in the room away.  That means that you actually pick up the items and put them where they belong.  Pushing the items to the edge of the room does not qualify as putting those items away.  Neither does putting them under the bed or in a pile near the bed.  Similarly, gathering them in a stack and putting that stack in another room doesn’t count as putting things away.  Even if the things belong in that room, they aren’t put away until they are back where they belong.  Inside drawers, shelves, cabinets, closets, boxes, buckets, or magic treehouses.  Nothing belongs in a pile on the floor or in a pile on the bed.  Nothing.
  2. Throw away any trash.  It’s not ridiculous.  Stop laughing.  You have to gather up any used packaging, papers you no longer want, and other items that no longer serve any purpose.  Then you have to put those items in the trash.  You also have to take the trash out and put it wherever trash goes – like the big rolling trash can outside.  Then you have to wipe off the trash can – inside and out.  That way there won’t be leftover shampoo slime stuck on the side of the trash can in your clean room when you’re done.
  3. Dust.  Dusting is when you run a duster or wipe over a surface to remove the constantly-building layer of fine particles that land everywhere.  Dust gets everywhere.  It isn’t because you’re living filthy, unless you leave it so long that it organizes itself into bunny colonies.  That only happens if you’re the kind of slob whose kids only see you dust in the summer.  Not that I speak from experience or anything.  Anyway, you have to dust.  You have to do it before you do the floors or any wet wiping because if you do it after you end up with dust on the places you just vacuumed, wiped, mopped, or swept.  If you do a half-assed job dusting, it will be even more obvious than not dusting at all.  You have to dust everywhere – the tops of door frames; the bottoms of panels in doors; the tops, bottoms, and fronts of pictures on the wall; the tops, sides, and holes in knick knacks; the tops of shelves, furniture, cabinets, baseboards, and chair rails; the legs and braces on chairs and furniture; the tops and sides of fixtures and features; windowsills; everything.
  4. Disinfect.  This means that you use some kind of disinfectant to wipe down any fixtures, appliances, and countertops.  This includes stoves, microwaves, refrigerators, sinks, tubs, showers, toilets, and anything else you find.  You have to wipe it enough to scrub off any spots or blobs of gunk on there.  Cabinet fronts may not need to be disinfected, but they definitely need to be cleaned.  Otherwise you end up with trails of gunk and goo stuck on them that show you up as a poor housekeeper.  We all know what horror that strikes into your soul.
  5. Vacuum and/or sweep.  Back in the day we were taught that vacuums have no business on floor surfaces except for carpet.  They would damage the floor beyond repair and probably make you go blind one day.  Or something.  If you are hanging onto those ideas, you can sweep the hard floors.  Whatever.  It’s faster and avoids the dustpan to vacuum, though.  This is your shot at any bunnies who escaped your dusting, too.  By the way, if you run the vac over the carpet and stuff stays on there, you have to pick it up.  Like that plastic bag you were gonna just vac out of there.  You’re gonna have to pick it up and put it in the trash.  See step 2.
  6. Clean glass.  Use an actual glass cleaner and an actual clean cloth to wipe down the glass in windows, mirrors, pictures, and knick-knacks.  You have to touch every bit.  Really, you do.  And if your cloth leaves lint all over the glass, you have to wipe that off, too.  Use something lintless, like a woven dishcloth.  Not the nasty one you’ve been using to wipe your boots.  A clean one.
  7. Mop.  In this process you use some kind of cleanser in hot water and a mop to go over all of the hard floors in a room.  If there are spots, you have to scrub them to get them off the floor.  The up side of mopping is that you get to keep everyone out of the room until it’s dry.  That means that you have longer before it’s messy again.

Sounds pretty complicated.  Maybe we should all just have a Scotch and relax.  Maybe we can talk the bunnies into putting on a show later.