Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sunday Supplemental: Calling All ARTISTS

18 Hands Gallery is looking for entries for its 2009 “Dining In: An Artful Experience ,” a juried exhibition that will run the month of August- in conjunction with White Linen Night. This exhibition will feature original hand-crafted items that might be found on a dinner table.
  • All artwork must be original and produced within the last 18 months.
  • All submitted work must represent tableware, either functional or sculptural.
  • All media are eligible and submissions are open to all artists in the United States.
  • Entry fee is $25.00, payable to 18 Hands Gallery.
  • A maximum of 3 works per artist may be entered.
  • SUBMISSION DEADLINE: June 15, 2009
For more information, view the Full Prospectus PDF

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Case Against Grass

Grass. In the middle of the city, especially a concrete jungle like Houston, it has so much appeal. It's coveted. People commute an hour or more from home to work and back just so they can have it. Some people in The Heights have it. We are not them.

When we bought our lovely North Norhill home, we had concerns about the lack of a yard. We have a nice size bungalow on a decent size lot. However, a previously added master bedroom and long driveway with car port took up whatever green space there might have been. We had looked at so many houses, though. This really seemed like “the one” and it was only one block from an esplanade and one block from a park, so we reasoned we would have grass nearby when it was needed.

Time passed and we found that we weren't using the driveway for vehicles at all. This means we certainly never made it far enough back to park under the car port. In fact, it hasn’t had a car under it in 5 years. The primary use of the driveway has been to toss a ball for our dog. We ended up putting our patio table, chairs and grill under the car port. It has been great and very functional. But then… we had a baby. I started to fret about the state of the “yard.” I suggested to my husband that maybe we should jack hammer up the driveway and plant grass. It was a lot of space. Shouldn't we have a yard? Kids need yards, right? If we had the room for grass, we should have it. Kids need yards, right?

...And time goes by. We are not the types that are quick to take on large scale home improvement projects. We hemmed and hawed about the idea of taking out the driveway. I kept thinking about it, but just never got my act together enough to gets bids. I lay in bed at night, envisioning the landscaping and telling myself it would be good for "resale value" to be able to offer a yard. But did we want to deal with jackhammering? What about the gas lines? How much would it cost? But, wouldn't it be more appealing? How fun to have a yard! But we would have to mow it. Ugh!

And then, while I over thought the whole thing, our son grew. Now he’s 2 and, you know what? Kids don’t need yards- not grassy ones anyway. For a 2 year old, concrete is complete perfection. He practices his tricycle riding. He pushes Tonka trucks at near warp speed. We inflate “the pool” with no worries of it killing the grass underneath. Balls bounce and bubbles pop and sidewalk chalk art covers every inch of visible ground.

We just had another baby- another boy. Like our 1st, the new one will lay on a blanket on the deck. He’ll be shaded by the car port and we’ll have no fear of accidentally laying him down in a bed of fire ants. We bought our older son a giant playhouse to help occupy him while we are attending to the demands of a newborn. It has a gas station on one side and his little scooter can easily glide down his “road.” The basketball hoop on the other side benefits from a hard bouncing surface.

So, yes, there are benefits to having a grassy yard. These days more and more people sacrifice yard for more house. We didn’t want that. It’s important to have outside space, for sure. Still, I felt so much pressure for this green yard: grass to play in, to walk barefoot in; a place to lay a blanket and plant flowers. Well, that’s what the front yard is for.

Do you have an interesting use of space in your own yard? Tell us about it!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Heights Happenings

Saturday, May 30, 12:00pm: Introduction to PowerPoint Class
  • The Heights Branch of the Houston Public Library offers free classes. You can learn how to create a PowerPoint presentation (all ages) on Saturday, or on Monday at 12pm, you can learn computer basics: the main parts of a computer, the keyboard, and how to use the mouse. It also defines common computer terminology such as program, data, network, etc.

Saturday, June 6, 6pm-10pm: 1st Saturday Arts Market

  • 548 West 19th Street, every 1st Saturday. Inthis open air market, you can find local artists, jewelers, painters, pottery, photography, fiber arts and great stuff from area farmers markets such as homemade soaps, breads and preserves.

Saturday, June 6: Heights Fun Run
  • The 24th Annual Heights Fun Run! For more information or to register, visit the Heights Association webpage HERE
Outside The Heights:

Saturday, June 13: Crawl For Cancer Benefit
  • Join more than 500 people to "pub crawl" through Midtown raising money for Harris County Hospital District's Breast Cancer Center of Excellence. Teams of ten people will hit 5 Midtown bars between 1pm and 5 pm, and are then invited to an afterparty at Rich's until 8pm. The Crawl For Cancer is well established in several cities, including Dallas and Austin. This will be Houston's first Crawl! For more information on starting a team and participating bars, visit the Web site:
On the Horizon: Summer Filmmaking Experience for Kids
  • July 20-24 from 9AM-1PM; Sign your kids (ages 9-12) up for the Aurora Picture Show filmmaking camp! Aurora's youth filmmaking camp teaches hands-on narrative and experimental techniques using digital video from professional filmmaker, Mike Akel. Campers use the Aurora office and Menil neighborhood to develop, produce and edit their own short films. Working collaboratively on 5-10 minute digital video projects, students are not only exposed to filmmaking techniques but also explore less traditional film and video. Finished films are screened for family and friends at a culminating Friday night showcase at the Aurora Picture Show office.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Small Town Library, Big Town Options

One of the downsides of living in a small, quaint town is that we have a correspondingly small, quaint library.

Don't get me wrong. Our little library at 1302 Heights Boulevard is darling. I find the architecture both welcoming and calming. However, it is a little on the small side, which means it can be difficult to walk in and expect to find THE book I'm looking for.

The good news is that I have a little secret for maintaining the convenience of living less than a mile from a library AND increasing my selection:

That's right. From the convenience and coziness of my own couch, I go online, search the entire Houston Public Library system (which has a lot of books, since we are the fourth largest city in the U.S.!), find the book I'm looking for, place a hold on it, select "Heights Branch" as my pick up location, sit back and wait a few days, and then scoot on over to the library to pick up my hold (which is conveniently located right by the checkout counter with my name clearly displayed on the book).

Since I set my computer to save my library card number and last name, I don't even have to pull out my library card when I log in. It's automatic. Plus, I get automated e-mails reminding me that my books are due in a few days. And, when I managed to ignore those e-mails, I can go online and pay my fines with a credit card.

Hooray for technology!

I really haven't had a single problem (except when three expensive library books were in my car when it got stolen from my driveway). I've checked out books on landscaping, gardening, disciplining children (I just accepted a teaching position for the fall), studying for the GMAT, improving oneself--the list goes on and on.

And, if I need to return a book after hours, I can just slide it into the drop box. Voila!


Monday = 10-8
Tuesday = 10-6
Wednesday = 10-6
Thursday = 12-8
Friday = 12-6
Saturday = 10-6
  • This branch offers free wireless access to customers.
  • Laptop checkout is available for in-house use.

Friday, May 22, 2009

KidCareYears is Can Do!

Have I already said that I am really proud to be raising my family in The Heights? I’m sure I have since I talk about it all.the.time. I just can’t imagine bringing up my boys in any other part of Houston. I hope they enjoy the eclectic neighbors, quaint history and quietly urban life they’ll live here. I hope they absorb the openness, friendliness and acceptance. I also hope they pick up some of the old “Can Do” attitude that pervades The Heights.

That “Can Do” attitude exists a lot of places, I know. I'm told it’s a very Texas thing, this attitude (I think it is a fundamentally New England thing as well, but I will digress on that point). In The Heights, the thing that makes “Can Do” different is that it also come with a “Will Help.” People here like to do things to help other people. This can lead to all kinds of ventures. is just such a venture.

Holly Mitchell is a mom, a Heights resident and a "Can Do-er" with a psychology degree. All these things meshed perfectly in the formation of her internet-based business. Holly didn’t have any trouble getting her kids in to daycare. She knew where she wanted them to go and wasn’t up against that dreaded “wait list.” However, a couple years later when some of her friends were ready to send their kids, they weren’t as lucky. Holly’s kids were in a school they adored. Her friends wanted the same for their own, but-ugh-the wait list and the red tape. They started to look around and it made their heads spin. Why was there no one resource? No comprehensive website to help them manage their search?

Holly thought she could help. She saw so many parents she knew “wasting time looking and not getting anywhere or going to the first place” they found. She knew she wanted better for her own kids and she knew that her friends did too. First time parents she knew were frustrated by the process. She knew she could help based on her own experience.

So, KidCareYears was created. Holly enlisted the help of two other mothers, and they started to get organized. Holly used that Psych degree to put together a rating form for daycares and preschools. She thought about what she looked for as a mother and also what, clinically, she knew was good for kids. She and her Mom partners started hitting local daycares and seeing how they stacked up. Holly first had another mom go to the school her kids attended. She used what she already knew about the school to prove up her rating form and found it was very accurate. After they knew their evaluation criteria was reliable, they started taking tours and fleshing out information about other area schools. They toured anonymously to keep the results honest.

Now the site has over 220 daycares and preschools listed- all over Metro Houston. They are continuing to expand and are even looking toward DFW for expansion. I have to say, as a mom, I am impressed by the site. This is “Can Do” and “For You” at its best. There is nothing out there, no single resource, where you can get all this information. Holly and her team dig through State records and look for violations that aren’t always the obvious ones. Holly says “a daycare can get away with a lot before their license is pulled.” She digs for things other parents may not even know to look for. Wow.

There are a lot of home-based businesses in The Heights. Most of them are crafty and artsy and creative. Holly’s is practical. So, what has her experience been with her business and local families? “The Heights is our total foundation,” she said. They beta tested with local families and used their feedback to create KidCareYears as it exists now. It was the word of mouth and help of local groups/civic organizations that allowed the business to spread out of the Loop and help families all over Houston. Holly sees this as a business but also as a way to help the community, by keeping the steps clear and the organizations accountable. This helps parents. This especially helps new families in The Heights, whether they relocated here or have their first child, navigate the maze of childcare easily and become more comfortable with their decision.

Holly loves living and working in The Heights. Whether it’s going to the little park by her house or roaming the streets of the neighborhood, she loves to be in a place where she feels you can glimpse all kinds of lives and experiences that you don’t see outside of the city (i.e., in the suburbs). She hopes that her business can help people relax and make one task in life easier so that they can enjoy the neighborhood as well.


To tag on the end of a family related story, some of you might recall my mentioning I was pregnant in past posts. On May 2, our little boy became the newest resident of The Heights. His big brother is so proud of him and he is just a doll.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heights Happenings

Friday, May 22, 6-8pm: Sew Crafty Spring Bling
  • To celebrate handmade in Houston this Friday from 6 - 8, Sew Crafty will become a showcase for some of the city’s talented crafters as well as a pretty fun place to mingle. They’ll have food, drinks, drop in crafting and goods from some of the city’s best and brightest, including hosts KnottyByNature Designs and A Punkin Card Company!

Thursday, May 28, 6pm: Meet
Peter Brown- Candidate for Mayor
  • Young Professionals for Peter Brown host its second Happy Hour Bedford Restaurant, 1001 Studewood
  • Meet the candidate and learn about his vision for revitalizing Houston's economy and Quality of Life. Enjoy complimentary valet, appetizers and drink specials. DJ Ceeplus Bad Knives will be mixing on the patio!
  • As this month's featured "new economy" business, Bedford is dedicated to green initiates and historic preservation. Also, learn about the Victory Garden Bedford is planting on their roof!
  • DISCLAIMER: The Heights Life is not endorsing any candidate for Mayor, or in any other election at this time. However, if there is something interesting and/or informative going on in the neighborhood, we believe we should let you know about it! Please feel free to contact us with your events as well.

Through Aug 2: The Great Texas Sculpture Roundup at the Houston Art Car Museum
  • This great exhibit features work by over 2 dozen Texas artists, including The Art Guys, Paul Kittleson, Troy Woods and Sharon Kopriva. These artists represent a who’s who amongst Lone Star sculptors.
  • Open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. FREE.
Outside The Heights:

Thursday, May 21, 6:30pm: Brave Combo at Discovery Green
  • New wave polka from Grammy-winning Brave Combo. They are conquering the world with their peace through polka agenda and will perform tunes from their brand new CD The Exotic Rocking Life!
  • Free polka lessons before the show with Valina Polka!

Saturday, May 23, 7 pm-3 am: Living for The City Benefit Concert and Silent Auction

  • Join for an evening of musical entertainment and culinary delight celebrating the rebirth of Downtown and introducing the area as Houston's newest "culinary district."
  • The evening will begin with a silent auction and hors d'oeuvres created by several of Downtown Houston's prominent Chef's. Great food will be highlighted by wine pairings selected by Robert Hall of Robert Hall Winereies. Mr Hall is hosting this event in his not-yet-open Downtown restaurant, The Rockwood Room, a partnership with renowned Chef Mike DeiMaggi. Chef DeiMaggi, the former front man for Max's Wine Dive, will be preparing a tasting menu as well.
  • Tickets are $20 and can be purchased HERE

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sew Crafty Is So Neat

Who knew that contributing to The Heights Life would introduce me to people I want to invite over for dinner parties?

[Enter stage left] Sarah Gabbart, the owner of Sew Crafty, a crafting studio and sewing lounge on 11th Street.

At 28-years old, Sarah is already comfortable following her passions and taking risks. She says, "I'm young; this is the time to fall flat on my face. If it doesn't work, I'll go back and find a job."

Sarah grew up in Sugarland and started sewing and crafting when she was 11 years old, thanks to the tutelage of her grandmother and her mother who is "The Queen of the Hot Glue Gun." Sarah's early projects included "floral wreathy things" that she bestowed upon gracious neighbors.

She started fashion design school in New York but quickly realized she like the sewing part the most. She then enrolled at the University of St. Thomas and studied communications while she figured out how to pursue her crafting passions.

She waited for Houston to open a crafting studio and sewing lounge (like ones in New York, Denver, and Chicago). When it wasn't happening, she decided to start her own right near her house on Oxford Street.

Luckily, one of her favorite things to do in the neighborhood is to stroll (with her pug in tow), and she happened to pass by the State Farm Agency on White Oak the day it was put on the rental market. She quickly staked her claim and started to move in the craft tables and sewing machines.

Now she runs an amazing craft studio and sewing lounge that offers a little bit of something for everyone. Sew Crafty offers:
  • Classes in sewing (beginner to advanced), knitting (beginner/intermediate) and Crochet

  • Workshops in everything from Gocco printing to quick-and-easy DIY projects to repurposing T-Shirts – each time something new is featured

  • Special events, like the monthly Crafty Cocktails – an evening of craftacular sophistication and socializing

  • Crafting for a Cause – your chance to give back to those in need and take a free class to boot!

  • A sewing lounge where you can use the machines, supplies and cutting tables to work on your projects

  • A well-edited selection of patterns, craft kits, notions, fabrics, yarn and handmade gifts

  • Private parties for your girls night out, baby and bridal showers, and kids parties
Sarah says that a range of people attend the classes, including husbands who are dragged in by their wives and husbands who want to surprise their wives with something handmade. Also, different skill levels (from guru to first-time crafter) can find their niche.

The economic downturn has actually brought more business to Sew Crafty. People are interested in learning new skills to help make them be more self-sufficient. They want to learn "lifelong skills that are fun."

In her spare time, Sarah likes to bake cupcakes and has recently started cooking vegetarian food. She also likes to "upcycle" materials, like transforming men's shirts into cute dresses. She lives with her husband--a jazz instructor at the University of Houston and the trombone player for The Suspects--in a 1924 bungalow.

Her positive energy is contagious. By the end of the interview, I was asking, "May I take some photos and be your friend?" I'm eager to sign up for a class and get my crafting on.

Have any of you taken classes at Sew Crafty? How was your experience?

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Tree Grows In Houston

There are things about The Heights that truly make it stand out. In the concrete jungle of metro Houston, the green space in this neighborhood is like an oasis in the desert. With the quaint older homes come the beautiful and majestic old-growth trees. While many of these trees have withstood the worst Houston has had to dish out, every once in a while we lose some of the biggest and best.

Hurricane Ike was one of those events. While The Heights is by no means Galveston or the Bolivar Peninsula, we had our share of losses. Many a gorgeous tree was felled by the storm- several through the homes they once shaded.

There were trees in Christina Moreland’s yard that looked like they could do some serious damage to her new Shady Acres home. Nervous about the possibility of serious damage, Christina and her husband packed up their toddler and evacuated before the storm. They came back to find that their home escaped any major damage, but they lost the trees anyway- just in a different direction. Returning to Houston to see all the damage wrought by Ike, Christina knew she wanted to do “something.” Should she volunteer down in Galveston? She could, but it could only be short term and she had a real desire to make a lasting impact and counter the impact that Ike had made. She decided she wanted to stay close to home and create that impact in the neighborhood she lived in. She decided to start here, in The Heights. And she decided to start with trees.

Much like Trees For Houston, which started post- Alicia in 1983, Christina started Keep Heights Green to help repair some of the damage from Ike. We know trees don't compare to loss of life or property, but there are many ways to help rebuild. In fact, these two organizations have formed a partnership based on a common mission ans similar roots. Keep Heights Green helps Trees for Houston by taking, in part, one large neighborhood off their plate. They are happy to have an organization with a common mission looking out for an entire section of the city. Keep Heights Green gets to draw on over 30 years of experience from TFH. All in all, it’s a great partnership from which we all benefit.

Keep Heights Green has been lucky to have the support of businesses in the neighborhood. Several members of The Heights business community have signed on as advisers to the group, helping them get off the ground, and making well-rounded decisions that are propelling them forward. They have established themselves as a Texas 501c3 and, with the help of their all volunteer crew, completed one major project in The Heights in an area we can all admit needs some help.

Keep Heights Green has completed a great beautification project at Ella and 610. In partnership with the Shady Acres Civic Club, AJs Landscaping and the businesses that operate around the targeted medians, KHG has been able to plant and maintain 18 live oak trees in 2 median strips, bringing some much needed green to one of the more commercial and concrete-laden parts of The Heights. The project, called Friends of Ella, may sound like a pretty easy task to complete and, yes, money for trees is “pretty easy to come by.” However, Christina points out that maintenance is costly (upwards of $75/tree annually) and keeping theses trees strong, growing and healthy isn’t as easy as planting them. Luckily, the businesses around the medians agreed to let Christina and her volunteers use their water. AJs donated the labor and know-how. Sure, in an ideal world the City would water these trees and make sure they survive the Houston summer, but KHG volunteers are putting in the extra time and effort to make sure the trees are cared for, city help or not. Recently, Phase II of the project was completed, and the medians have not only been planted but mulched and maintained.

What kinds of goals do Christina and her leadership panel have for the organization? Big ones! They want not only to “replant/replace trees lost during Hurricane Ike,” but also to “be an advocate of trees in the Heights area and promote tree advocacy in general.” Additionally, the group hopes to advocate a larger message and “promote positive messages of recycling/re-purposing discarded items into something useful and beneficial.”

How are they going to accomplish these goals? Well, they believe they have a mission people can stand behind. Evidence of this can be seen in places like a University of Houston Public Relations class. For their final, this class looked at several non-profit organizations and their missions. Out of many, they picked one they found deserving of help and support--an organization with a mission they could all stand behind and support. For their project, the class will develop a marketing and communications plan for the organization to use. This will definitely help KHG get the word out and more word means more trees for the rest of us.

For right now, Christina and KHG have a Facebook page and a website is in the works. Their mission is being supported by neighborhood civic groups and people in around The Heights. Christina says the great thing about operating in The Heights is that this is a neighborhood where “neighbors care for neighbors.” We can “care for different reasons, but the end result is the same.”

Do you think they have a mission worth supporting? You can donate the other green (that would be cash) through the Facebook page or you can volunteer your time. Like many residents of The Heights, Christina is excited to do something good and lasting to benefit this neighborhood. She could definitely use your help. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Heights Happenings

Friday, May 15, 7pm: Houston Heights Time Bank Potluck
  • Time banking is a time exchange system that builds community. If you spend an hour doing something for a neighbor (like pet-sitting, guitar lessons, or small home repair), you earn a Time Dollar that you can use to get another neighbor to do something for you. Bring a dish, learn more about time banking, and meet some neighbors at 1134 Jerome Street!
Fridays and Saturdays, May 8-30, 8 pm: Back to the '80s
  • Remember when actors became American Presidents? When Bubble skirts and blue eye shadow were cool? When Atari was cutting edge technology? From the era that brought the world The Rubik's Cube, Max Headroom and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes this "totally awesome" musical in the style of movies such as Back To The Future, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Karate Kid and The Wedding Singer.
  • Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Boulevard
  • Discount tickets available (see website for locations)
Saturday, May 16, 7:30 pm: Full Circle: A Musical Melange
  • Singer/songwriter Sandra Johnson and guest artists will present Full Circle: A Musical Melange at 7:30 pm in the beautiful and acoustically superior sanctuary of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 1819 Heights Blvd. Performing jazz standards, Broadway melodies, opera and folk rock, the program offers something for every music lover. Other featured performers are international composer/pianist Joseph Samuels Messina, local singer/songwriter Paul Hardwick, vocalist Ermelinda Cuellar, classical guitarist Eric Gracia and pianist/composer Thomas Edward Sicard.
  • Tickets are $12/person or $20/couple in advance, $15 at the door and $5 for students and seniors. A portion of event proceeds will benefit St. Andrew's charitable activities. To purchase tickets or get more information, call 936-697-7730 or visit the website
Sunday, May 17, 1 pm: Video Salon with Filmmaker Mike Akel
  • Location: Aurora Video Library, 1524 Sul Ross;Free Admission;Writer/Director Mike Akel will discuss his journey, (High's and Low's) of writing, filming, editing and distributing his award winning film CHALK. Mike will show clips from the film and share his experience that began with an idea and 3 years later ended up in theaters across the country.
Through May 31: Redbud Gallery: “Broken Brushes: Degenerate German Art 1930 - 1940”
  • Redbud Fine Arts opened in May 1999 in the Heights at 303 E 11th Street, at the corner of East 11th and Cortlandt Street. Redbud is one of the smallest galleries in Texas at 400 sq. ft. While the gallery is typically open Saturdays and Sundays, visitors can view exhibitions at any time through the store front windows without entering the gallery or by appointment.
  • Hitler labeled German artists whom he found objectionable “degenerate.” Redbud Gallery has a rare showing of these artists in “Broken Brushes: Degenerate German Art 1930-1940.” The exhibit includes paper work by such artists as Dix, Chagall, Munch and many more. Noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. FREE.

Outside The Heights:

Thursday, May 14, 6:30 pm: Discovery Green's Summer Concert Series presents The Hollisters

  • Relentless rhythms and a Texas twang make this band a honky tonk favorite. When they hit the stage, everyone hits the dance floor. FREE.
Saturday, May 16, 11 am-5 pm: Galveston Bay Day
  • Yeah, yeah. Galveston is a little farther than we usually advocate, but we all know they are a community on the rebound and can use our support. Plus, this event sounds like a lot of fun!
  • Bay Day 2009 will take place on the Kemah Boardwalk. Highlights include free Bay cruises on the R.V. Karma floating classroom, music and entertainment, a scavenger hunt for children, interactive activities, and touch tanks/live animal exhibits. All activities are FREE.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chicago Pizza

I've been wanting to try Chicago Pizza on 4721 N. Main St. (713) 863-9915 for a while now. A few months ago, Matt grabbed a slice of their pizza at a neighbor's party and said it was really good.

I decided to pull together a spontaneous dinner outing and invited our neighbors to stroll with us to Chicago Pizza. It's within walking distance to our houses: score one point for Chicago Pizza!

The joint was surprisingly empty. It's cute and comfortable inside, but we decided to take a table on the patio. The patio ambiance leaves a little to be desired, but it is, after all, adjacent to N. Main. They tried their best to cover the fence with greenery and create a somewhat secluded space.

The waitstaff greeted us quickly and with smiles. We requested our drinks and then immersed ourselves in the menu. Despite lots of different choices--like calzones and pastas--three of us decided to share a pizza and our fourth companion ordered one of the pasta dishes.

We debated between deep dish and thin crust and eventually settled on the former. I'm addicted to bread! I was oh-so-close to ordering their fried sampler appetizer (I'm also addicted to fried foods...) but I switched at the last minute, due to the healthy role modeling of my fellow dinner companions.

Greenery and tomatoes and other things with nice color abounded in our salads--much better than the iceberg lettuce salads I used to endure when I lived in rural Louisiana. And the croutons tasted like my two addictions in one: fried bread. Yum! Although the house dressing was tasty, each bite dripped a bit too much. My neighbor joked about saying, "Bottoms up!" when she got to the end of it.

With the salads, the server set down a full plate of garlic butter bread. Heavenly! I am a big fan of any restaurant that serves free pre-food. However, the bread looked way better than it tasted. It looked nice and spiced, but it tasted bland. I kept wanting to taste butter or parmesan--something! The texture was perfect, but the taste just wasn't there.

Our server was attentive and kept our drinks filled. Even though deep dish pizzas are supposed to take longer, the wait didn't seem bad at all. The server came out to inform us that they had run out of chives for the pasta dish, but she offered to substitute anything else in the dish.

In addition to being addicted to bread and fried things, I'm also addicted to pizza. This pizza tasted pretty good. The cheese, sauce, and ingredients received high marks. However, I had to whip out the red pen and start taking off points when I got to the crust.

Like the garlic bread, it looked delicious! And the texture was perfect! But the taste just wasn't there. It was like--poof! it vanished!

It's similar to when you have a sinus cold and you're eating something you normally really like. The texture feels the same, but you can't taste anything. You keep thinking, "Oh, this experience would be so much better if only I could taste it!" That's what happened to me and the deep dish at Chicago Pizza.

Our service petered off right at the end, and we were forced to bring our check to the cashier, but the majority of our service was good. My neighbors--who are frequent Chicago Pizza visitors--started bad-mouthing their service from past experience, but I'm not going to judge a restaurant on the past. Restaurants--like people--can change.

I'm not about the break out the pom-poms and start chanting "Chicago P-i-z-z-a," but I will go back. I'll try the thin crust pizza next time. Maybe less bread equals more taste.

Overall Grade = B-

HeightsLifers, break out the megaphones and tell us about your experiences with Chicago Pizza in the comments section!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Your Neighbor Likes Beer

If you ask Jeff where home is, he’ll probably tell you “Home for me will always be Victoria/Vancouver Island, British Columbia.” He wasn’t born there and doesn’t live there now, but he spent enough formative years there and says the way of life pretty much shaped who he is today. After graduating from University, Jeff was hired into the oil & gas industry and began a career that has resulted in multiple jobs in multiple cities all across North America- from the Arctic Ocean to South Texas and pretty much every possible point in between. However his heart has remained in Victoria- “a city rich in culture, heritage and beauty.” When I think Canada, I think coooold. Being born and raised in the Northeast myself, I was glad to escape the cold. Jeff doesn’t agree with my blanket opinion of our neighbor to the north. In Victoria, he says, the climate is quite mild because the island is surrounded by warmer Pacific currents and geographically it has a “rainshadow effect” due to the nearby mountains. That provides the area with much more sunshine annually than what is typically expected when we think about Canadian/Pacific Northwest winters. Victoria is also a city built around walkable neighborhoods with charming pubs that locals would come by and hang out in.

In 2001 Jeff made his last big move- to Houston from the French Quarter of New Orleans. Generally, the French Quarter probably couldn't be any more opposite from Victoria, but Jeff says they still shared many similar qualities that he appreciated: an abundance of local artisans, musicians, nice eateries, liberal attitudes, plus character and charm “Bourbon St not included.”

When work as a Geophysicist transferred Jeff to Houston, the first aspect of the city he really got a taste of was the traffic. Like many, he decided life would be easier living close to work, which at that time meant Westchase. He bought a home and lived there for several years. During those years, he explored the city when he could and figured out that Houston proper was much better than where he was and decided he needed to be one of those 'Inner Loopers'. He found Westchase “Boring. No culture. No good restaurants. It took me a while, but much of what I enjoyed about Victoria [could actually] be found in certain pockets, primarily inside the Loop.” In 2006 Jeff made the move, buying a home in Woodland Heights. He bought the home “admittedly not knowing much about the neighborhood, but it was in my price range and gave me access to the areas I had at that time learned to enjoy- Midtown, Montrose, Museum Dist, Rice.”

During his time in Westchase, Jeff would honestly say he “hated Houston.” Hated the concrete, the traffic; that he didn’t feel he could bike anywhere, or go walk in a park. He was dismayed by needing a car for every chore. Does he hate Houston now? No. You know why? The Heights. Moving to The Heights changed how he sees the whole city. Although Houston will never be the home Victoria was, the Heights as a neighborhood has given him “so much more” than he imagined. Prior to living here, Jeff had been to the Heights for Lights in the Heights or Berryhill happy hour, and he admits you don’t get the real feel of the community unless you live here.

One of Jeff’s first objectives was to really get to know The Heights. He donned rollerblades and trolled every street from Heights Blvd to I-45, 11th to I-10. He was amazed to see beautiful homes, art galleries, restaurants, fun shops and, importantly, lots of other people on foot or bikes. Eventually he ended the trek at Beer Island, where he skated up to the bar, got a pint and sat on the patio to people watch. He was hooked. The Heights was somewhere he could embrace and even call “home.” As time went on, other area events surfaced: White Linen Night, neighborhood picnics, 4th of July fireworks seen from the bayou, Home Tours, First Saturday. The greenery and trees, community minded people, architecture, patio cafes, art galleries, antique stores, festivals in an actually walkable neighborhood, “in some way all bring a little bit of hometown Victoria back” to him.

With his new found love and appreciation for Houston- at least our little corner of it- Jeff decided he wanted to contribute, offer something to the neighborhood. What better than a beer club?!? He says it started off as a joke, and “still pretty much is a joke.” Basically, Jeff and some friends are participants in the Montrose Beer and Gun Club cookoff at one of my old Montrose haunts, the West Alabama Ice House. After some beers, he would often wonder if the Heights had something similar to offer. Jeff checked to see if existed as a web site and it didn't. (As an aside, Jeff says “I'm Canadian so guns were never a part of my life, and although I find the idea of a fictitious Beer and Gun club hilarious, I thought I'd just go with the solo beer theme.”) He bought the rights to the webpage and sat on it for a bit, not really knowing what he’d do next. Eventually he came up with “some kind of web theme.” Little by little, aspects of the club came together.

Jeff (right) and his partner in crime, Al (center), making the most of Lights In The Heights

The website has taken shape over the past 6 months. Jeff has a Facebook page as a link between the fairly static Club webpage and the need to email members and other fans. The original list started off as a few dozen friends, but there are now over 100 members on Facebook. Their ultimate goal is to have a full page dedicated to beer topics in the Heights, but this is a side project for Jeff and it only goes as fast as he does. The Beer Club has friends that microbrew, (yay LonePint!) who donated 3 mini kegs to the crawfish boil. They’ve got an official band, Super Pancho Combo. Jeff even put together t-shirts. Sounds like a full-fledged organization to me! Jeff and a friend were sitting on a patio laughing about this whole concept of the Heights Beer Club and having an afternoon of those 'wouldn't it be cool if....' moments. This all goes back to that moment with his buddy, Al. The Club continues to have events, most of which involve the immediate circle of friends, but anyone who is on the Facebook page gets invited. Upcoming events include the Art Car Parade, a May Happy Hour, White Linen Night, and they’re discussing the idea of having a disc golf tournament.

The Club's mascot, The Baron, supporting their official band, Super Pancho Combo.

One of Jeff’s university roommates was a fan of frogs and had a stuffed frog they would travel with and photograph in different locations. That was the inspiration for “the Baron”, the club’s mascot. Jeff searched eBay for a stuffed frog and actually found one that looked drunk. He and a friend came up with the name “Baron Augustus de Rothschild the Fourth.” Sounds like royalty, right? Not so fast. The acronym is actually BARF, but “he doesn't like to be called that.” Jeff’s buddy Al, who he’s known almost since moving to the States, wrote up a history of the Baron for the site. Jeff was fortunate to meet President Obama in Hawaii during Christmas last year and, while recording the event on his camera, spontaneously shoved the frog into the video. It’s hilarious and posted on the Club’s website. Since then, the frog has taken on a life of his own and is on a quest to meet as many famous people as possible.

The Baron engaging in his fave pasttime.

The Baron watching President Obama (red cap) play golf.

Since this group came about in part from Jeff’s desire to create something in The Heights, I asked how the neighborhood has supported the endeavor? He said “Well, so far you're the first.” The group is still new and only minimal effort has been made at this point to get the word out. Jeff figures word of mouth will be enough, plus he wears the t-shirt around. I am betting The Heights Life will help, too. Jeff is quick to remind me that started off as a joke, but conceptually he really likes the idea of a local beer club and would love to promote it to a much larger gathering of folks. Only time will tell whether it remains just a local group of friends, or whether it’s embraced on a larger scale by the neighborhood and even local business community. Either way, Jeff thinks it’s definitely a fun way to fill spare time and a good excuse make new friends.

Oh, and lest you think Jeff is all drunk frogs and such, here he is with his lovely wife, Joanna. She is another good thing that happened to him since moving to Houston. When Jeff originally bought in the Heights, Joanna was less than impressed because her experiences of the area were primarily what you could see from I-45. Once she moved here, she really 'got it' and now loves the area as much as he does. Joanna is an interesting person in her own right- an acclaimed musician who recently finished her doctorate at UH in organ. Joanna works at Moody Methodist in Galveston and also freelances harp and piano. Have a beer and check out her website as well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Heights Happenings

Thursday, May 7, 5-9 pm: Open House Sale at Oolala
  • Enjoy wine and hors d'ouvres while you shop for sales on unique items. Also register to win a wonderful door prize.
  • I want to give a little attention to a near-Heights (Memorial Heights, to be exact) small business. Beadiful Things. Ann sells through Oolala and will be at the sale with lots of great merchandise!


Saturday, May 9, 6pm: Healing Circle with Joi
  • Studio NiaMoves is a fitness and movement studio located in The Heights with two locations: 508 Pecore and 3221 Houston Avenue. For more information about the Healing Circle this weekend, call (713) 864-4260 or visit their website.
Saturday, May 16, 5pm: 2nd Annual Musicfest-Campout at Marmion Park
  • The April event was canceled due to rain, but the band must go on! The festivities start in Marmion Park (corner of 18th and Heights) with opening music from 5-6pm. Then Don Broman's Band will take the stage from 6-8pm. The Big Al's Blues Band will play from 8-10pm.
  • Houston Heights Association members are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and their beverages of choice for an evening of music and camaraderie.Non-member neighbors are free to tag along as guests. There will be a grill and wet sink set up for HHA members who want to bring their own hamburger and hot dog fixin's. There will also be free popcorn.
  • When the music ends at 10pm, card tables and chairs will be set up dominoes or cards. There will be a children's campfire located in the Northeast corner of the park. Members of the Houston Story Tellers Guild will entertain the children. There will also be a marshmallow roasting.
  • Tents can be set up anytime after 8am on Saturday morning. Berryhill's will provide breakfast tacos, coffee, and juice at 8am on Sunday.
  • For more information, contact Paul Carr at 713.869.0505 or You can also visit the HHA newsletter.
Saturday, May 29, 5:30 - 10:00 pm: Great Taste of The Heights
  • I know it's a little early, but this is one of my FAVORITE events in The Heights and I couldn't wait to remind everyone to go! From old neighborhood faves like Carter & Cooley to new spots like Bedford bringing Foodies from all over Houston to The Heights, this should be a great event.
  • Tickets are $21 and can be purchased at Collina's, Eclectic Home, Kojak's Cafe or DaCapo's. They are also available on line
Outside the Heights:

Saturday, May 9, Noon- 5 PM: Midtown Art in The Park
  • The 3rd Annual Midtown Art in the Park is a fine art festival featuring local and regional artists selling their original creations along a quarter mile walking path that meanders through Elizabeth Baldwin Park. Find more information on their webpage
Saturday, May 9, 1pm: Art Car Parade
  • Aaaahhhh! It's finally here! The highlight of my year! The Art Car parade is the example I use to persuade all my non-Houstonian friends that H-town is actually a very quirky and cool place to live. It will be on Allen Parkway between Taft and downtown--and it's free!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Feathered Neighbors: Hens in The Heights

The Heights is full of unassumingly cool people. Seriously.

Right now, raising chickens in urban areas is super-hip. The national craze is popping up everywhere, as featured in The New York Times and NPR. Tons of people are working to create more favorable city ordinances for raising chickens in urban areas.

Meanwhile, back in lil' ol' Houston Heights, we've had neighbors raising chickens in their backyards for, um, years!

Take Debbie, for instance. She's the mother of two children and an active community member. She also happens to manage a chicken coop in her backyard and has been doing so for the past four or five years.

When asked why she decided to take on a feathered flock of her own, she said, "I had lived in The Heights for a while and had seen chickens wandering around. A friend and I decided, 'Hey, we can do that!'"

Her husband constructed a chicken coop near their storage shed. They originally talked about slaughtering the chickens for meat but then decided just to keep them for eggs.

Currently, Debbie and her family own three Americanas that each lay an egg a day during the laying season. They stop twice a year for approximately two months at a time. Debbie and her family use the eggs to make frittata or deviled eggs, and they give eggs to their friends for gifts. Debbie says, "A lot of people take wine; we take eggs."

For Debbie and her family, their chickens are "somewhere between pets and livestock." They are "nice to have around," but they "don't mourn their passing."

Debbie's chickens often attract possums, and, if there's too much extra food lying around, they also attract rats.

Debbie makes taking care of chickens look easy and rustically fun. While I interviewed her, she pulled a hay-covered tray out of the bottom of the coop and started cleaning it off with sweeping and scraping. She says the hay can be added to the compost. She also mentioned that chickens can act like living garbage disposals, as she pointed to the french fry remnants of last night's dinner that she had thrown on the ground for the chickens to peck at.

Debbie knows she's violating the city ordinances that govern urban chicken raising in Houston, but she shrugs off the problem. She keeps only hens (no alarm-clock roosters!), and she says they only make noise when they are endangered. And, if they clean the coop once a week, "there's no smell."

So, Heights residents, what are your experiences with chickens in the neighborhood? Have you noticed a trend? Have you seen any problems? What do you think about the city ordinances that make it difficult to legally raise chickens in The Heights, due to our small plots of land?

Start clucking...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Grateful In The Heights

I have probably driven past it 1000 times. I’ve often wondered what was behind the front door of the tidy brick building on Yale, the one I pass on my way to 19th Street. I always assumed it was some kind of photography studio… I wish I could say that I had took the initiative to find the truth on my own, but it was through the happy coincidence of knowing another mom, Sheri Sakson, that I was able to find out more about gratefulimages .

Their story goes like this:

Emily Beynon has always been an artist, but she was not always a businesswoman. Her art was about healing and faith, not profit. The story of gratefulimages is very much about how the world just has a way of making things happen. Prior to 2002, Emily was a mom of 2 grown daughters who was painting for her own reasons- self expression and sheer joy of doing so. She wanted to create something that brought joy or peace or God or comfort to others. After years of painting, Emily really wanted to make her paintings and their message accessible to more people. Luckily, her daughter Megan was working as a web designer, and Emily knew the web was her answer.

Megan built a site for Emily around 1998- not a retail site, just a way to share the art and allow others find a message in the images. As fate would have it, one fan of the site was a family friend who owned a printing company. The friend thought Emily’s images would be perfect for cards to use as a fundraiser for her church youth group. Of course, Emily was happy to help! As soon as other friends saw the samples, gratefulimages was technically born.

Note cards, primarily blank for your own message, were how it all got started and are still the cornerstone of the business.

Next thing you know, Megan quit her job to help launch the business. She ended up moving home. After all, “you have to sell a lot of cards to make a living.” Emily and her husband put their furniture in storage, and their home became dedicated to the growing business. Finally, the house could no longer accommodate the demand and thus starts their journey to The Heights.
Megan had been living in the Montrose before she moved back home to become her mom’s Creative Director. Being a strong art community, it was the first place they considered for gratefulimages’ new home. However, as a Christian company, there was concern that they wouldn’t be as accepted as they would like.

Megan’s father had always been fascinated by The Heights- its history and sense of community. I thought it was such a testimony to the neighborhood that, although The Heights isn’t what most would consider a “Christian” stronghold, the family saw an acceptance of all kinds of people here. This feeling that everyone is welcome, coupled with a strong community of artists, made The Heights perfect for them.

One day on a routine trip to their digital imaging group, located in The Heights, Megan had to run in to a then-Compass Bank. The former Heights Savings and Loan was only a temporary shelter while Compass was renovating a new building. As Megan did her banking, Emily realized the building would eventually be vacant. This was it, she thought- the space that would be their studio and store front. They purchased the building from Compass and gutted it. In true Heights fashion, they repurposed a lot of materials from the building. Old doors and banking furniture got new life and a bit of history was saved for the rest of us. Gratefulimages moved in and officially became a Heights small business in February 2006. They kicked off life in The Heights right, with a Valentine’s Day party which has become an annual event (you’ll find it listed on Heights Happenings next February, I’m sure).

Emily paints in the well lit northeast corner of the building, facing Yale

Sheri hard at work! Megan says you can take this scene and scale it down to household size and you get a picture of what Emily's living room looked like in the starting phases of the company!

I think “business” is probably different when you are a company with a heartfelt mission. It was nothing that Megan said explicitly, but I almost get the feeling that gratefulimages is successful in spite of itself. Emily didn’t set out for profit when she asked Megan to create that website. She feels that people are connected to God through her paintings and, as a Christian, wanted to share that. I think that when you put your heart in the right place (and this doesn’t have to be rooted in religious faith, either, since goodness comes in many forms, from many places) good things will happen. When you don’t have a singular focus on the bottom line, you can accept whatever result. They started by letting someone else use art for a fundraiser and now they are hugely successful, with a new licensing agreement and more exposure than they ever anticipated.

Fruits of her labor: The Sure Grace Collection will be available in gift shops all over the place! Way to put a Heights business on the map, guys! If you want to buy locally, fabulous Bliss on 19th will be carrying some of the ceramics.

gratefulimages also sells onsies for the wee ones and keeps photos they've been sent on the fridge

One of the most recent ways Emily, Megan and Julia (Julia is Emily’s other daughter. She also works for the company, but from her home in Boulder, CO, as a photographer and the current web designer) have decided to let their hearts rule their business is the Create Hope Challenge. By accepting this challenge, you get 4 notecards to send to anyone you want, just to help spread the hope that gratefulimages sees in the world. After all, Megan says, “How nice is it to get a real note in the mail, between all the junk and bills?” Sure, the Challenge gets more exposure for the company but it mostly goes back to Emily’s initial desire- get the images out there so people can find a message, be it of Faith or hope or just general happiness. Their goal is to get 500 senders, a total of 2000 cards, out to all 50 states. They are about 1/2 way there, so head to the website and participate!

So, has the family been as welcome in The Heights as they hoped? Certainly! From selling their cards at Bliss on 19th to using Heights Glass for their framing to brainstorming creative ideas with Teresa at Hello, Lucky, the neighborhood and other Heights businesses are a real community. In fact, Megan felt so welcome here as a business owner, she and her husband are happy to call The Heights home. She loves the funkiness and embraces the diversity. She also makes a point to find what she needs in The Heights and support local businesses. Why? There is a feeling you get, she says, when you shop in locally owned stores. “You go in to buy something and you talk to the owner.” Small businesses in The Heights “want to help each other succeed.” It’s nice, isn’t it?

Just another day at the office: Megan and Ranger