Category Archives: Are you taking the kids?

20 Reasons to Love Houston

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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.

Adventures in pottying

squat toiletAirline toilet

The Boy had all sorts of potty adventures on his first trip to Europe.  He started off with the airplane potty.  Definitively different from the potty in his bathroom at home.  Then the train potty, which is kinda like the potty at the rodeo or the carnival – a hard box with elaborate flaps to keep the contents from being too offensive.  That was just the beginning, though.

Did you know that some places they expect you to pay to use the potty?  What kind of fool idea is this?  What if people don’t pay to use the potty?  They’ll still pee, right?  Isn’t this how you get places that smell like pee all the time?  Of course, the upside is that once you pay to use the potty you discover that it’s like a little poo poo palace in there.  Everything’s shiny and clean.  The water’s hot (unlike those stinky non-pay potties).  They have soap, paper towels, and fancy Dyson hand dryers.  The AC works almost as good as an American AC.  Almost.  There might be a mirror.  There are stalls with doors on them.  All mucho bueno.

And that fancy potty is worth something.  Toilet facilities are far from standard.  You know how some restaraunts in the US have kinda crummy restrooms?  They have no toilet paper or smell or something?  Well they ain’t got nothing on a European crummy restroom.  We went to one fancy restaraunt in Rome with no seats on the toilets.  Not as in the seat was broken off and hadn’t been replaced yet.  As in “What?  They make seats for these things?  Never heard of it.”  Of course that was nothing compared to the restaraunt in Vicenza where the potty consisted of nothing more than a ceramic circle around a hole in the floor.  Even a 5-year-old knows you aren’t allowed to pee through holes in the second-story floor.  Where is it supposed to go?  Into the kitchen?  No way, man.

And public toilets aren’t the end of the adventure.  Those hotel bathrooms seem to have two potties right next to each other.  One has no seat and no flusher.  Just a faucet and a handheld shower thingy sticking out of the top.  Come to find out you’re supposed to use the one as, you know, a toilet, and the other is a butt washer.  A butt washer.  What kind of pooping are these people doing that they need a special fixture for frequent butt washing?  Butt washer.  Crazy.

Speaking of flushers, they’re all different.  Some of them are little pedals on the floor.  Some are giant white plastic switches on the wall, several feet away.  Some are knobs you turn, like a kitchen faucet.  Some are big giant buttons on the top of the tank, like an Easy button.  One thing’s for sure, though, not a one is a little lever on the front of the tank. 

Happy flushing.  Butt washers.  SMH.

Don’t get me wrong, our kids are awesome

We just got back from a 10-day trip to Europe with our two kids.  I need a bottle of Jack Daniels. 

Don’t get me wrong, our kids are awesome.  Everywhere we went people talked about how well behaved they were and what sweet kids we have.  Really they were pretty darn awesome.  For a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. 

Trouble is that a damn good 5 year old still gets tired of walking when you’re only halfway back to the hotel, and just doesn’t understand what the big deal is about you carrying him.  If he can walk halfway, surely you can carry him the other half.  Maybe you could bribe him, and spend twice as long looking for whatever bribe you promised as it would take to just walk back to the hotel in the first place.  By the way, there are no Hot Wheels for sale between Piazza Navonna and the Roman Forum.  Just an FYI.

And a 7-year-old just can’t wait until 9pm for dinner, even if that is when the restaraunts open.  Now it might be an awesome kid who loves adventure and has a blast looking at all the ancient stuff.  Still, at some point they need sustenance, and that point is not at 9pm, regardless of the level of excitement.  If you haven’t fed her when the inevitable bedtime arrives, you might find yourself scrounging for a tic tac stuck to the lining of your purse.

Oh, and when a 5 year old says “I gotta go potty”, you better take it seriously.  He did change his mind pretty quick when he realized that the best “pot” available was a ceramic circle around a hole in the floor.  He wasn’t even willing to pee in there, much less squat over it.  You can take your “adventure peeing” and shove it.  He’s out.  Helpful hint:  if you don’t get to the potty on time, throw those underwear away.  They aren’t worth it.

No matter what happens with your 5-year-old and your 7-year-old, take a lot of pictures.  We did get an irreplaceable one of The Boy’s expression after he drank some mineral water “with gas” and a fabulous one of The Girl doing her best movie star routine at the Trevi Fountain.  That stuff really is priceless.  Can’t wait to show the pics to their friends to embarass them.