Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heights Happenings

Saturday, Oct. 3, 11 am- 6pm: The First Saturday Arts Market returns to daytime hours

  • Houston's only monthly outdoor fine arts event, the Market will be open on the first Saturdays of each month through May from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the parking lot of Wind Water Gallery in the Heights.
  • First Saturday Arts Market features local and regional artists whose offerings include original paintings, photography, jewelry, sculpture, wood and metal arts, ceramics and fiber arts.
  • And, if you mix in a little character from area farmers markets, throw in an ice cream truck on steroids, the best local talent up front entertaining -- all under dozens of white canopied tents -- visitors will find themselves in the middle of a mini arts festival in full swing.
  • Kenneth Scott, Houston's soul-rocker, will be the featured performer in October. Scott considers himself as much of a spiritual activist as a songwriter & performer.

Saturday, October 3, 7:00PM: Samadhi Yoga & Dance Studios Studio Celebration

  • Samadhi Studios has now been open for 7 months and now its time to Celebrate.
  • They are hosting a Studio get-together for you to come meet your fellow yogis and instructors, make new friends and say congrats to our Samadhi Studios owner and founder Turkan Aydogmus for creating such a welcoming Yoga and Dance community.
  • There will be performances and surprises. Drinks and snacks will be provided.
  • 07.00 PM Welcome Guests; 07.30 PM Belly Dancer Performance; 08.00 PM Capoeira Performance; 08.30 PM Yoga Demo; 09.00 PM Price Drawing; 09.30 PM Belly Dancer 10.00 PM Live Music
  • On going activities: Bliss Organization will provide a spiritual healer that will be present the most of the evening. Tarot card readings.
  • 217 E 28th Street. Phone: 832 295 0099 RSVP to Claudia Da Silva <>



  • The Houston Solar Tour features local residences and commercial buildings with solar and other renewable energy systems.
  • The main purpose of the tour is to raise awareness, and provide an opportunity for the public to see working systems in place. Get a firsthand look at Real Solutions for Real People. With their solar arrays, the City's George R. Brown Convention Center is the second stop and The Green Building Resource Center is the third stop on the Tour!
  • Pre-Start Solar Social at Discovery Green Park 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.
  • Self-Guided Solar Tours of the Greater Houston Area from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • The event is FREE for all ages and is sponsored by the City of Houston, American Solar Society, Houston Renewable Energy Group and Houston Advanced Research Center. For more information visit

Saturday, October 3, 11 AM - 4 PM: 8th annual B.I.R.T.H. Fair

  • The fair is a family-friendly, free event at the United Way Center on Waugh Dr. Come and learn about cloth-diapering, babywearing, meet doulas and lactation consultants and enjoy the Fashion Show.
  • Samples from local, naturally-minded vendors.
  • For more information, call 832-344-6060 or visit

Saturday, October 3, 6 - 9 PM: 5th Annual Winter Street Studios Artists' Exhibition

  • Since 2005 Winter Street Studios has been and continues to be one of the most exciting workspaces for Houston’s creative community. An old furniture factory scheduled for demolition has become the home of 75 art studios for over 87 local artists.
  • Join Winter Street's wonderful artists for a special opening reception. Guests will have the opportunity to view art, talk with the artists and learn about technique, inspiration and processes all while enjoying musical entertainment, refreshments and snacks.
  • Gallery Hours: October 2nd-4th 1PM-5PM

October 8 - December 31, 2009: Houston's urban park, Discovery Green, will be home to "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet"
  • The public art exhibit being presented by Reliant Energy in partnership with the City of Houston will feature 50 supersized Cool Globes that each convey a different message about what ordinary citizens can do to combat global warming. The five-foot diameter, seven-foot-tall globes will be decorated by local, national and international artists.
  • 1500 McKinney Street
  • For more information

Saturday, October 10, 10 AM - 5 PM: Houston Firefest
  • OCTOBER IS FIRE PREVENTION MONTH and FIREFEST is a great opportunity to receive valuable fire and life safety information, meet your local firefighters, witness live fire and rescue demonstrations, see antique cars and fire trucks, shop, eat, hear music and experience the Kid's Zone.
  • Houston Fire Department's Val Jahnke Training Facility at 8030 Braniff just south of Hobby Airport. All proceeds go toward the education and outreach programs of the Houston Fire Museum.
  • Admission is FREE as is the parking/shuttle service at the corner of Monroe and Meldrum.
  • For more information on Firefest 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

How Do You Say "Quirky and Cool" in Spanish?

Photo courtesy of Casa Ramirez

The quirky diversity of our neighborhood never ceases to amaze me.

This weekend, I went to my Spanish class, which meets in a back corner of Cricket's Creamery & Cafe on 19th Street. Then I walked a few doors down to attend an El Día de los Muertos workshop for teachers at Casa Ramirez.

Have you been there already? If not, what are you waiting for? It's such a treat to meander among the aisles, touching handcrafted, colorful pieces and flipping through books with vibrant images of Mexican culture. It's a mini-vacation without the plane ride, hotel expense, and risk of bacterial infection. Did I mention the rolls of oil cloth available for purchase?

I found my way to the back room for the workshop. Because of my pre-existing commitment to my Spanish class, I was an hour late. I caught the tail-end of the presentation about the rituals and customs of El Día de los Muertos, which was free to teachers and presented by the owner of Casa Ramirez.

After the formal presentation, however, some members of the Brooke Smith Art Coalition spoke about the El Día de los Muertos they are planning for Sunday, November 1 from 4-8pm at Montie Beach Park. I didn't even realize there was such an active group of artists living just across N. Main. One of the members talked about how his house functions as an impromptu art studio for the community. Folks can use the hidden key to let themselves in and start working on some art.

Several of the artists volunteered to come to our schools to help our students work on pieces for El Día de los Muertos, and they volunteered to help us find porches for any altars we wanted to construct for ourselves along the processional route.

I was so inspired by their friendliness, commitment to bridging the divide between different cultures, their desire to preserve ritual and create new traditions, and their quirkiness. I can't wait to participate in the events in some way. For those of you who are also interested, here's a a list of related events:
  • Tuesday, October 20-Sunday, November 15: El Día de los Muertos Altar Exhibit at Casa Ramirez
  • Saturday, October 24, 6-9pm: Opening Reception
  • Sunday, November 1, dusk: Procession in honor of los muertos
  • Sunday, November 1, 3-8pm: El Día de los Muertos event in Montie Beach Park
If you want more information about the holiday to honor the deceased:
  1. Go to Wikipedia for a description of the holiday
  2. Learn how to make an altar to honor the deceased
I love our neighborhood. I really do.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Heights Happenings: Bike Lovers Edition

Grease up your chain, inflate your tires and get ready. Next weekend is all about bikes in The Heights!

EDIT: CANCELLED. The ribbon cutting has been cancelled because they have apparently found some additional structural issues with the bridge over the bayou. However, the other events listed below are going on as planned.

_City of Houston Bikeway Program presents: _
MKT Rails to Trials Ribbon Cutting
Saturday, October 03, 2009

For more information contact Daniel Raine, Bicyclist Pedestrian Coordinator, Houston Bikeway Program, at or call at (713) 837-0136. To find more information on Houston's Bikeways go to

Also, celebrate with the neighborhood at

In conjunction with the ribbon cutting, the Heights best bike shop, Blue Line Bike Lab, will be hosting a party benefitting Bike Houston. Bike Houston promotes bike education in the City. They sponsor the awesomely fun Moonlight Ramble.

  • Beer provided by Pyramid Beer. Rumor has it you can buy a souvenir mug and fill it as many times as you want.
  • Maui Waui will be selling smoothies
  • Brats, hotdogs & veggiedogs
  • There will also be a raffle for different items including a GT Mountain Bike.
  • Music provided by the Whiskey Saints

Events at Biketoberfest will include:

8:30AM – Kids Parade & Community Bike Ride. Meet at Blue Line Bike Lab at 3302 White Oak.

9-10AM – City of Houston Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Meet on Bike Path near the Target Development.

10:30AM – Biking activities include bike tours of trail, Cyclocross Race & much more.

12:00 – 5:00PM – BiketoberFest Party at Blue Line Bike Lab

October 4, 7:30 AM start time: Houston Heights Association 4th Annual Heights Bicycle Rally and Scavenger Hunt

This isn't a race, rather a self-paced event where bike riders receive a packet containing a rally card, map and scavenger hunt clue list. The rally starts and ends at the fire station on 12th and Yale Streets.

This year participants will cycle a 20-mile course on City of Houston bike trails going through the Heights, Montrose, Morningside, Southampton, Braeswood, Medical Center, Hermann Park, Midtown, Downtown and Norhill.

There will be two check point/water stations. The rally card must be validated by a rally volunteer at each check point in order for the participant to be eligible for prizes. Both the completed clue list and the rally card must be turned in by 4 PM. Rally will end with a party.

Plan to celebrate with food, soft drinks and music while awards are announced and door prizes given! Awards will be given in both Adult and Youth categories. Award in the Scavenger Hunt goes to the participant who finds the most mystery objects along the course.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heights Happenings

Thursday, October 1, 2009 from 7pm to 10pm: The Houston Heights Woman's Club Cork and Fork gathering

  • This "wonderful social organization for women" is hosting the 1st of a series of "Cork and Fork" gatherings. Cork and Fork will take place every few months. Before each meeting the group will select a different theme or region to explore. They envision a casual atmosphere where friends can "relax and savor while conversing about the different wines and culinary delights" brought to share.
  • The Clubhouse at 1846 Harvard StreetCost: A bottle of your favorite Spanish wine and a small plate or "tapa" for sharing
  • RSVP: Email Shea Sandefer Hill at
  • Membership dues for the Houston Heights Woman's Club are $100 per person per year. If you would like a membership form or have further questions about this event or other activities at the HHWC, please contact Shea Sandefer Hill at 713-864-3466 or
  • Must be 21 years of age or older to attend.

Saturday, September 26, 2009, 8:30 am. - 10:30 am: Wildflower Planting at Stude Park

  • Seeds and instructions will be provided at the park. Volunteers are asked to dress for the outdoors, wear closed toed shoes and be on time.
  • Children are welcome when accompanied by a parent. Registration is encouraged prior to the event but not required. Site maps are available on line at To register, contact Oneika McCarthy at (713) 865-9348 or
  • 1031 Stude near the corner of Studewood and Interstate 10


Saturday, September 26th, 7pm: Garden Party

  • Bring your blankets and enjoy a night under the stars in Mandell Park with a garden party of film, food and flowers. Take a tour of the garden and learn how to plant your own seeds, bring a culinary delight inspired by your garden and watch short films about gardening and nature. Share your garden inspired dishes and be entered in a drawing for a prize from Whole Foods Market. Special thanks to State Farm Agent E. Bailey Moore for his support of this community event.
  • Location: Mandell Park, corner of Richmond and Mandell

September 28- October 31: Images by Susan Sheets at the Daily Review Cafe

  • Susan is a wonderful artist and wonderful person. My husband (this is Viula, by the way) grew up with her son and we own 3 of her paintings and love, love, love them. I am so excited to be able to get her some more exposure. Her work is truly amazing! Have a chicken pot pie at DRC while you're there :)

And I am going to sneak a little more personal business in here and wish my very wonderful husband a very Happy Birthday!

Monday, September 21, 2009

How to Make Friends in The Heights

I find that the older I get, the harder I have to work to make new friends.

It was so easy in elementary school, and college, and even when I taught in rural Louisiana through Teach For America. In those situations, you're immersed in a sea of many like-minded individuals who are undergoing very similar life experiences. You can easily identify with each other, and friendships form quickly.

Now that I'm a verifiable grown-up, it's harder and harder to make friends (but it's no less important!). The situation is compounded by the fact that I'm married. Ideally, any friends that I make will have a corresponding partner who will want to be friends with my partner.

It's complicated.

I thought I would pull together a list of my ideas for making friends in our neighborhood, and then open it up to you for your suggestions:
  1. Get to know your neighbors: Our neighborhood saw a proliferation of neighbors getting to know each other after Hurricane Ike. Neighbors came together to cook rotting meat, share electricity via extension cords stretched across the street, and provide an extra set of hands. Why wait for a natural disaster to get out and meet each other? Consider hosting a block party on October 6, which is National Night Out for Texas. Let's get to know our neighbors proactively rather than reactively...
  2. Frequent a specific place: Folks in our neighborhood tend to have their preferred hang out spots. The more you get out and get social, the more likely you'll come across new friends. I border on the homebody side, but one of my favorite hang-out spots is Antidote. The more I spend time there, the more I start to see the same people over and over again.
  3. Get involved with the neighborhood association: I volunteered to be the newsletter editor for my neighborhood association, which is how I met Viula, which is how I got involved with this blog!
  4. Start an organization: I started the Houston Heights Time Bank to strengthen community in the Heights and to make new friends. We have a monthly potluck (see picture of homemade cake above) for members, which is a great source for new friends.
  5. Attend neighborhood events: Every Wednesday, publishes a list of things going on in the 'hood. There's a neighborhood book club in Proctor Plaza, First Fridays, etc.
  6. Throw dinner parties: As hard as it can be to make time for a homecooked meal (yet alone hosting other people!), dinner parties can be a great way to meet new people. Encourage friends to invite their friends and neighbors.
  7. Hang out at impromptu dog parks: Dogs are amazing conversation starters. Enough said.
So what other strategies do you all have for making friends in The Heights?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rockin' Robin



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Saturday, September 19, 2009


Have you seen this art car? Last week it was stolen from it's home in Garden Oaks.

Art Cars are always a labor of love and this one especially. AC-8 was built by Johnny Rojas for his wife Cynthia.

AC-8, Art Car #8, made it's debut at the 2008 Houston Art Car Parade. AC-8 has been featured at the Art Car Museum and has made several appearances at schools and other venues.
What made this art car special was it being small in size. It was a great one for children, who could relate to it. A custom car their size!

Johnny and Cynthia's biggest fear is AC-8 being scrapped for the steel. About 400 lbs.

Please, if you have any information about AC-8, call Johnny Rojas @ 713-899-9900

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lucky, Indeed

When I was growing up, my mother often shopped at a Co-op. We were pretty poor but she always believed in the value of wholesome foods. If it was all we could afford, we would eat pb&j for dinner nightly- heavy, like rock heavy, wheat bread with homemade jam and that thick natural peanut butter that you could never really get blended again once it separated. When you bought from the co-op you knew it was natural and local.

Now that I buy my own groceries, I try to buy natural/organic/local when I can. It kills me that there is nowhere in Houston you can buy your whole grocery list and have it be inexpensive, local and natural. So, I often spend my food money at Whole Foods but I find this happening less and less these days as they bring in more and more “conventional” products- especially produce. I used to like that I could buy groceries without thinking about it. This is going to be natural, I knew. This won’t have HFCS, I was certain. Now, it’s just too much work for the price. You have to sort organic fruits from conventional ones; pay a premium for conventional foods found elsewhere cheaper; read labels to see how much science has made it in to food. I miss the small town Co-op and the ease of having a sort of no-brainer, principle based shopping experience.

Good thing Hello, Lucky is just down the street from me. I can satisfy my need (yes, need) to buy something cute- all the while knowing I am supporting artists, non profits and my neighborhood all at once.

Teresa O’Connor is an artist. Not a small artist. I mean she is small in stature, yes, but her art has always been big. She does installations, fun to watch/look at/enjoy but not so easy to take home. But people enjoy what she does and at one point she realized she did want to offer them something to take with them to remember their experience. Teresa did this by making tshirts and selling them at her installations. The tshirts were a hit and soon other artists were doing the same. It snowballed in to Teresa curating a shop she called Art Star during exhibitions in Houston and around the country. Other artists she knew who did “multiples” (i.e. things that can be recreated) would give pieces to Teresa for sale at her Art Star shop.

It was so successful that Teresa found a semi-permanent home in Retropolis on 19th Street. During the time Art Star lived and breathed at Retropolis, Teresa found selling her own multiples becoming more of a focus. She was taking her own designs and offering them at other places. She was also meeting more and more artists who were doing similar things- they were artists but also “consistent and business minded” and she thought she could work these other artists in to a more focused space.

In 2007, the time seemed just right for Teresa to make her move. “Eco-friendly” was becoming a trend, even a boom. More than ever, Joe Q Public was aware of the concepts of green, recycling, up-cycling and caring about how and where things were made. Teresa found a space for her focus in an adorable little house facing Studewood and in December ’07, The Heights was blessed with Hello, Lucky.

Currently Teresa has ~25 artists selling everything from tshirts and jewelry to home accessories and bath products in her shop. It’s a delightful hodge-podge of art and funk with a “primary focus” on being eco-friendly. Many of the artists she works with up-cycle, or re-purpose. It’s important for her that they use as many American made pieces and parts as they can find- from fasteners to ear wires. Sadly, not everything can be found from US based factories these days, but the artists are always sure that overseas suppliers are sweatshop free.
Super fun, funky handbag made from reclaimed fabrics

In addition to an eco-friendly focus, Hello, Lucky gives back to the community. The obvious is supporting artists and giving them (the majority are Texas based and several live here in our neighborhood) an outlet. The not-so-obvious is a portion of the store’s sales are donated to a local non-profit. Currently, Teresa is supporting Friends 4 Life Animal Rescue. Past organizations include our friends at Aurora Picture Show, Lawndale Art Center and Glasstire.

On top of the donations based on store sales, there is even more giving to be done. Hello, Lucky sells several items that are permanently tied to a cause. Teresa’s own “You Are Amazing” tshirts are the “official” Friends 4 Life item. Proceeds from sales will go to the organization for the life of the shirts. She is also selling a Hurricane Ike book with proceeds going to Galveston Art Center and It’s OK To Love Houston tshirts by Dean Haddock that support Spacetaker.
Top left corner, Teresa made some felt feather earrings for her vegan friends who like the look of the trend but don't wear animal. I'm not vegan, but I couldn't resist the purple/green combo and brought them home!

Teresa is open to all kinds of art and items in her shop, but she says “the individual’s attitude matters.” Your designs can be great, but to sell through her shop you have to be charity minded and compassionate as well. People like me can thank Teresa for doing all the leg work. All I have to do is buy something fun and feel good about my purchases!
Teresa, holding a candleholder her husband, also an artist, made from reclaimed wood.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Heights Happenings

Now through September 23: Ggallery presents the art of Whitney Riley
  • Goddesses, Shed Your Parasol at the Field of Battle is a show "by one woman with many voices"
  • In this exhibition Riley used several art making styles with "irony, sensuality, sincerity and humor" to illustrate the complexities of self-identity in our airbrushed age. Her goal was "to create images that celebrate the beauty of the fairer sex while also creating a safe place for the limitless dialog surrounding this subject."
Friday, September 18, 7pm: Heights Time Bank Potluck
  • Are you interested in learning about a time exchange system that builds community? The Heights Time Bank is holding its monthly potluck this Friday. If you live within the Time Bank boundaries (south of 610, north of I-10, west of I-45, and east of Shepherd) you are welcome to attend! 1134 Jerome Street

Saturday, September 19, 12-2pm: Houston Participates in World Drumming for the Earth!

  • Houston's World Gratitude Drum Circle is part of a global drumming event to show gratitude and respect for Mother Earth. Thousands of people across the planet will drum in community on this day to send the message, "We care about our planet that sustains all life. We care about future generations. We love the Earth." A diverse group of sponsors for the event will bring drummers from many different cultural backgrounds including Native American, Indian, African, and Middle-Eastern drummers. The opening and closing ceremonies for the event will be led by She Goes Laughing, a local drum maker of Native American Cherokee descent. Houston 's World Gratitude Drum Circle will be donating proceeds from the event to Mr. Holland's Opus, a National organization that donates instruments to school and after-school music programs. Funds raised will be designated to provide percussion instruments for children's music programs in Houston. The World Gratitude Drum Circle is a family-oriented event. Children are welcome to participate. Friends and families are encouraged to bring rattles, drums or other percussion instruments.
  • Cost: $5 suggested donation for Mr. Holland's Opus
  • Bring: Your drums and rattles - bring a blanket to protect the floor. All kinds of drums are welcome!
  • Location: Studio NiaMoves--508 Pecore


Saturday, October 3, 11 am- 5 pm: Books On The Bayou Kick Off Celebration

  • Books on the Bayou is a citywide project focusing on readings held throughout the month of October. The idea of the project is for the entire city to read the same book at the same time, provoking discussion among co-workers, friends, families and classrooms.
  • Kick off party will be at the Central Library, 500 McKinney. Special guest, Lucy Anne Hurston, Zora's Neale Hurston's niece, will speak at 1 p.m.

Saturday, October 3, 8 am- 11am: Bellaire Moms of Multiple Annual Garage Sale

  • Need maternity clothes, baby gear or any manner of toys? What better place than the BAMOM garage sale, where mothers of multiples unload all the stuff that comes with having 2 or more babies at once.
  • Westbury United Methodist Church, 5200 Willowbend Blvd, Houston, TX 77096-5298

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Horizontal Fence Fad

When my partner, Matt, and I moved to The Heights last July, we intentionally bought a house that didn't need a lot of renovation. We knew we didn't have the patience for such an endeavor (but kudos to all of you who do!).

However, our house did need a fence to close off the backyard. Simple enough, right? Somehow it's taken us 14 months to undertake and complete one measly fence.

Even though we had every intention of prioritizing the fence for our beloved bloodhound, life seemed to get in the way. First, Hurricane Ike gave us some other problems to deal with. Then, our cars were stolen and we had to scrounge together some money to cover our deductibles and purchase new ones.

Plus, we just had some general indecision about it. Initially, we thought we wanted a wood and wire fence. Do you know the ones I'm talking about? The wood frames the hog paneling. We got two quotes for the type of fence we wanted, but we were skeptical about how stable that type of fence would be for the ten-foot gate that needed to stretch across our driveway. Additionally, I worried that our bloodhound--who happens to be obsessed with little dogs who pass by our house--would annoy the entire neighborhood with his deep baying. It seemed better to block his view. We were back to square one.

We did what we always do when we want to change or add something to our house: We drove around the neighborhood with a camera to get some ideas from other bungalow owners. That's how we got the idea that we might like a horizontal fence (see above photos).

We got two quotes on horizontal fencing and quickly learned that it's not recommended by official fence builders. They argue that it's just not as effective as a vertical fence, especially in the case of a gate. We decided to prioritize aesthetics over function in this case, since we don't need to open our gate very often.

We asked AZTEC Castings to build an iron frame for us. After they finished the iron frame, we lived with a gate that looked more like a sculpture for several months (classic dragging-our-feet-on-this-project). Finally, we found a carpenter to add the wood slats. The slats are a quarter of an inch apart, so there is a good balance between privacy and openness.

In the end, we are very happy with our fence.

Front View

Back View

It prompted me to share this List of Advice for Undertaking Home Improvement Projects (which includes things we did and did not do):
  1. Ride around the neighborhood with a camera to get ideas. Sure, it looks sketchy, but it's worth it. There are a lot of design-savvy homeowners in our neighborhood. Borrow their ideas and apply them to your own house! If necessary, knock on the door to ask clarifying questions or leave a note. Our neighbors are overwhelmingly friendly, welcoming, and helpful.
  2. Ask neighbors for recommendations. A lot of neighbors helped us think through this decision. Some of them had thought through similar decisions, so they were able to provide the pros and cons of different options. Other neighbors had worked with different companies and were able to give us specific recommendations. That's how we found a carpenter to put on the wood slats for only $270 bucks!
  3. Turn a big project into smaller action steps. If I just write "get a fence" on my action plan, I'm likely to ignore it because it's too daunting. Instead, I have to break it down into smaller action steps: 1) drive around the neighborhood to get ideas 2) call three companies for estimates, etc. Also, it helps to assign specific deadlines for each action step. Our fence would have been finished a lot earlier if I had done just that...
  4. Keep a prioritized list of home-improvement projects. The number of projects that we should and want to do to our house can be overwhelming. It helps to keep a centralized list of our ideas and to constantly prioritize and reprioritize the list as new ideas get added.
Any other advice for undertaking home improvement projects?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Sweet Life

Life takes some interesting twists and turns. When I came to Texas in 1995, it was for a one year volunteer commitment through V.I.S.T.A. and I planned on heading back to MA when my year was up. When I applied to the program, I actually wanted to go to Louisiana. I was 21 and I have always enjoyed a good time. I thought New Orleans was a city that offered ample opportunity to help on a grassroots level but where I could also enjoy myself. However, in the first of many turns, a position with Big Brothers and Sisters came up and it hit close to home, since I was from a single parent household myself. I packed my bags and headed for Dallas of all places- my friends saying things like “Say Hello to Sue Ellen for us” as I prepared to leave.

Now it’s almost 15 years later and here I am. Still in Texas. I waited tables, worked for Arthur Andersen, waited tables, worked for Pottery Barn, had 2 serious boyfriends, met my then-future husband, moved to Houston, worked as a retail manager, office manager and ended my working career as an IT recruiter; had two babies and now I am a stay at home mom (which is surreal to me), filling the spare 3 minutes a day I can find writing a blog about the neighborhood I live in and love. Many twists and turns in the road, but no complaints. My life is pretty good.

Life has taken some similar twists for fellow Heights resident and entrepreneur Jennifer Diaz. Born in Houston, Jennifer moved with her family to Lufkin as a child to be closer to her grandparents. She lived there until she went to Stephen F Austin to study International Business and, after graduation, came back to the Houston area where she settled in Jersey City. Like many, she met a nice guy and got married and was working a good job in the steel industry. The job twisted her road around the first time by sending her (and her husband) to live in Monterey, Mexico, where she was doing inside sales for a steel processing company. Her husband travelled a lot for work anyway and could telecommute when he was home, so they enjoyed being expats and had some “crazy fun” along the way.

Then, twist #2. Jennifer was transferred back to the corporate office in Houston where she was working on the functional side of a system migration. Sounds fun, no? Back in Houston, Jennifer didn’t want to be tied to her car and spending all day commuting. She had already been doing that in Monterey. Her parents grew up around Crosstimbers and I 45, so this part of town seemed to have roots for her. She settled in The Heights and life went on.

Then she got laid off. That, as we all know, is a big twist. This twist made Jennifer want to plan the next turn on her own. She was “burned out” from a decade in the steel industry and wanted a change. She tried all kinds of avenues to make a career switch but it was challenging and the only real callbacks she got were from the industry she was trying to leave. She wasn’t sure where the road was going to take her from there…

Through all the changes in her life, from a child in Lufkin through college, up to travelling internationally for work and relocating back to where she was born, one thing that was always a big part of Jennifer’s life. Baking. In Lufkin, she started baking with her mother and grandmother before the age of 7. Never did her family ever have pre-packaged or store bought desserts. They made everything and made it all from scratch. Holidays meant “the dessert table was bigger than the dinner table.” Gifts for friends and family were Jennifer’s mother’s homemade candy, hand dipped by Jennifer and her sister, Holly.

She took baking with her through all the stages of her life, wowing her Peruvian in-laws with Southern style desserts that couldn’t be more different from the whipped, tropical concoctions they were used to. In Monterey, she would make it “feel a little more like home” by whipping up pecan and pumpkin pies or rum cake.

So, when Jennifer was laid off from her steel job, you would think that “dessert” would have been the 1st thing on her mind. But baking was something she did for the sheer pleasure of it. She focused on volunteering and trying to figure out what the next step was. Event planning? Non-profit? But nothing bit. Finally, her mother-in-law put her foot down and insisted that Jennifer give baking a try as a professional. Her pecan pie was worth it!

Jennifer's traditional Pecan Pie sells for $25.95. She also offers a special holiday gift package for Christmas which is $27.95.

And the idea did appeal to Jennifer, but she didn’t want to do it willy nilly. She wanted control of the twists and wanted to make it real, make it work. She started asking around, seeing what other people who took similar paths with great success did to get there. She met with Anthony from My Fit Foods and talked at length with Teresa, who owns Bocados. How did they get from their kitchens to store fronts? She knew that she had something very important in common with these people: she was “starting from zero, but with a love for the food.”

This summer, her plan went in to action. She got her DBA and Porchswing Desserts was born. Specializing in the Southern style desserts she grew up with, Jennnifer started spreading the word amongst her inner circle. She had a dozen orders in her 1st month. Now she is using word of mouth to build her business. She had a great table of her homemade, hand dipped cream candies at Christine Tremoulet’s studio on White Linen Night, which generated a lot of leads. She is excited about the upcoming holiday season and has started doing monthly specials on some of her more popular items. She hopes the holiday season will bring some parties her way and help her maneuver the next turn in the road--moving to a larger scale kitchen and eventually opening a store front here in her own neighborhood.

Jennifer and her sweets on White Linen Night

Porchswing Dessert's homemade candy called Mrs. Taulbee's, a hand dipped flavored cream candy. Sells for $15.95/lb and comes in awesome flavors like lemon, vanilla, orange, peppermint, and coconut.

While Porchswing Desserts wasn’t even on Jennifer’s radar when she moved to the Heights, she thinks this is going to be the best place in Houston to have the kind of business she wants to develop. She loves how the neighborhood passionately supports small, local businesses and thinks that this is where she is most likely to find people that appreciate food that is fresh, local, organic and still delightfully Southern and traditional.

Gift packaging, great for any event!

This month, she is having a cake special: Buy a cake, get half dozen chocolate chip cookies on her!

And hold on to your hats for this great event:

October 4: Jennifer and sister Holly, a 1st grade teacher, will be holding a Kids’ Halloween Treat Cooking Class!!

  • 2:30 - 4:00 pm at Christine Tremoulet's studio on 1024 Studewood.
  • Due to space, class is limited to 10 children but if there is enough interest, she may be able to offer another class.
  • Children should be 5 – 10 years old and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
  • $15 per child. To register just email her at

Jennifer has a long road to travel to get where she wants to be, but I agree with her. If there is any neighborhood where she will find support, it’s the Heights. She deserves it- her desserts and chocolates are truly awesome!

And, even after all the turns and detours and finally gaining some control, Jennifer and her husband have one more big twist coming up: she is 4 months pregnant!! So much for having any control over life now! Ha! CONGRATS AGAIN, Jennifer!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Heights Happenings

Wednesday, September 9, 8:30pm: Free Yoga

  • Attend the Night Owl Yoga class at Studio NiaMoves for free!
  • Location: 508 Pecore
Fri & Sat, September 18-19, Wednesday September 23: Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theater

  • Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre proudly returns to its rowdy roots with a collection of old and new short shows built specifically for nightclub venues.
  • Longtime fans will have the chance to revisit shows where they first experienced wrong puppets can get, and new fans will finally get a glimpse of the early Bobbindoctrin history, before they got all fancy with two-act large stage productions with ponderous existential themes. These shows are fast, loud and hilarious, with a healthy dose of guilt over having laughed.
  • SUPER HAPPY FUN LAND, 3801 Polk St.
  • Friday and Saturday $10, Wednesday is "pay what you wish"


Friday, September 11, 6pm:
Fresh Fest

  • As part of the Fresh Arts Coalition, Aurora Picture Show is proud to participate in the first Fresh Fest. This FREE community event will showcase all the organizations that collaborate to be the voice for the best alternative arts in Houston. Our screening, The Aurora Goodie Bag, will showcase a collection of short treats from the 2009 Extremely Shorts Film Festival and Flickerlounge. The screening will start at 8:15PM, but the party gets started at 6:30PM.
  • Location: Discovery Green Park, 1500 McKinney
  • Saturday, September 12: Volunteer your time for the 6th Annual "Reach Out for Drop Outs" Walk

    • The event is part of the citywide initiative "Expectation Graduation," a collaborative effort founded by Houston Independent School District, Houston A+ Challenge, and the City of Houston. The walk has brought thousands of students back to class to continue their educations and now is being replicated in districts and cities across Texas.
    • After the first week of school, addresses of students who have not reported back are verified. Teams of volunteers then go door-to-door encouraging students to return. School districts can arrange to enroll returning students on the spot. The program has garnered so much attention that officials from several other cities and states have called to get advice on how to do the walk.

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Dreaming Big

    Photo courtesy Spanish Over Coffee

    The Heights certainly has a surplus of quirky and creative people who accomplish big things--like Gena Scurry Vaughn, the CEO of Spanish Over Coffee.

    About a month ago, I heard an advertisement for Spanish Over Coffee on NPR. I've been trying to learn Spanish for years so that I can better communicate with the Spanish-speaking parents of my students, but I've struggled to translate my knowledge of grammar into actual conversation. I was attracted to Spanish Over Coffee because of their emphasis on learning how to be a learner. The idea is that no Spanish class can teach you everything you need to know about speaking Spanish fluently. Therefore, the goal should be to learn how to continue to teach yourself everything you need to know about Spanish, once your formal classes are over.

    I called to schedule my initial lesson (which is a one-on-one interview to help place you in the right level). I accidentally dialed the direct line of the CEO (oops!) and ended up talking to Gena for more than 30 minutes. Near the end of the conversation, I suspected that she might be a Heights resident based on her general coolness, so I asked her flat-out where she lived. It turns out that she lives a few blocks away from me in The Heights.

    I asked if I could interview her for The Heights Life, and we met at Daccapo's after work last week. She told me the story of how she turned "$5 and a bicycle" into a successful business.

    Gena's relationship with Spanish started as a young child when she lived along the Mexican border. She crossed over every day to attend a Mexican Montessori school, so speaking Spanish was "just how life was."

    While enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin, Gena found herself "more into rock-climbing" than anything else. After graduation, she worked at Whole Earth Provision Company to make ends meet but quickly found herself wanting more income.

    Soon thereafter, a woman asked her for a Spanish lesson, and Gena's life path quickly took a turn. Gena realized that she had profound ideas about how to make Spanish instruction more relevant and engaging. The answer seemed obvious to her: If you want to learn something, you do it (e.g., "if you want to learn rock-climbing, you climb rocks").

    Gena created an approach to Spanish instruction that encourages learners to speak Spanish to "anyone, anytime, anywhere." Her approach encourages learners to "learn from every opportunity." Gena realized that she wanted to transform her $25/hour tutorials into a full-blown business. In cut-offs with no car, she managed to connect herself with an executive coach who helped her move beyond "magical thinking" to make her business ideas a reality.

    Several years later, Gena now owns a business that spans Austin and Houston and employs multiple teachers and staff members. She moved the The Heights in June and enjoys local establishments like Waldo's, Shade, Asian Market, and Cricket's Creamery.

    She's a role model for all of us who have big dreams and humble beginnings.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Eating With Purpose

    One thing that I love about living in The Heights is someone here is always on a mission. This week's mission: Healthy food in schools. And, also in typical Heights fashion, the way to do it is through engaging our sense of community. In conjunction with the national Slow Foods movement "day of action", an Eat In (read: pot luck) is being held in The Heights.

    If you don't have anything going on Monday (except nursing your hangover), join me and some other fun Heights residents for a pot luck lunch at Heights Presbyterian Church on 18th. Reverend Downs from HPC has generously opened his Fellowship Hall to host the Eat In.

    Communities like ours all across the nation are breaking bread to show that America cares about what our children eat in schools. The impetus is the Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization this fall. Throughout the U.S., Slow Foods hopes potlucks will bring people together. At our Heights event and others like it, pictures will be taken and sent to Slow Foods which they will then present to Congress about the desire to get children the real food they need.

    What is "real food?" For Slow Foods, real food is good at every link in the chain. It tastes good, it’s good for us, it’s good for the people who grow it, it’s good for our country and it’s good for the planet. Real food costs more money and currently, after expenses, schools are left with only $1.00 per day to pay for lunches. The organization is having this day of Eat Ins to prove we can do better.

    Please join your local Eat-In at

    11:00 am at Heights Presbyterian
    Church, 240 W. 18th Street
    You can RSVP at
    Call 281-881-3881 for information and to RSVP.
    If you want to join us, bring a dish to share (a good guideline is at least enough to feed the people in your party).

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Heights Happenings

    Saturday, September 5: Heights 1st Saturday

    • Celebrate Labor Day Weekend at Heights 1st Saturday. Special events include tamale sampling from 11am-1pm (while they last!) at Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery on 241 W. 19th Street, as well as a school supply drive benefiting Field Elementary from 12-3pm by Karen Derr & Associates (1545 Heights Blvd.). They are accepting uniforms, art supplies, musical instruments, coats, shoes, paper, pencils, etc. Lemonade and cookies will be provided.


    Monday, September 7, 1:05 pm: Houston Astros Dog Day

    • Bring man's best friend to the Astros game versus the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:05 p.m. Deadline to register is September 3rd. Based on availability, additional tickets may be purchased after deadline.
    • $20 Combo Ticket- Includes tickets for you and your canine with $10.00 benefiting the Houston Humane Society with access into the Barking Room only section along Conoco Alley and H-E-B Dog Zone located in KBR Plaza.
    • NOTE: ALL dogs must remain on a leash at all times and you must sign a waiver stating that your dog's vaccinations from a licensed veterinarian are current.

    All Month Long: Hunger Happy Hours to Benefit Houston Food Bank

    • September is Hunger Action Month and several bars around town are helping the Houston Food Bank raise awareness and money over the next four weeks.
    • Bars close to the Heights include Beaver's and the new Sawyer Park Sports Bar.
    • Antidote's sister spot, Poison Girl in Montrose is participating with live music and a can of food as the cover charge.
    • Some of the bars are offering special happy hour events with food drives, raffles, and special concoctions.