Thursday, October 29, 2009

Music Is In The House

First, I have to say it feels good to be back at the key board. It was a rough week when I couldn't make my original post and then being out of town. I did think about The Heights quite often when we were on our vacation. Old Quebec was built in the 1600s and the city is gorgeous. It's very regal- big stone buildings nestled in to the sides of hills. Then there was St Johns, Newfoundland- the oldest city in North America. It makes me laugh, thinking what is considered old in Houston and it makes me sad that too often the conventional wisdom is old = bad. What would those other cities be if that was the prevailing attitude? How much history would have been lost? Anyway, I digress...

And on to the real story...

A couple years ago I heard chatter about something called "house concerts" happening in The Heights. I was really intrigued by this whole concept. "Where have you been?" you might ask, but it was all new to me. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to experience but didn't know how to find them. None of my friends were attending house concerts and I started to think of them as being along the lines of Masonic rituals or Skull and Bones.

I don't remember at this point even how I stumbled across Lindsey Lee and Deb Rouse and their house concert series, Rouse House. I am just glad I did. A few weeks ago I was able to attend a concert at their wonderful home on 7 1/2 St and learn more about the house concert tradition they are carrying on.

Deb and Lindsey met while they were students at South Texas College of Law. These days neither practice and Lindsey like to say, "The best thing I got out of law school was a wife." It has been my experience that marriage introduces you to a lot of new things- your spouse's family will have their own traditions and when they become your family, those traditions become yours as well. Lindsey never could have forseen having musicians set up shop in his living room and opening his home to strangers to hear them- even providing these strangers with dinner. It was Deb who grew up around folk music. Her parents were regulars at the Kerrville Folk Festival, which they started attending in 1974, and they were the original Rouse Housers, holding concerts at their home in Austin for almost 15 years. During that time, they hosted over 100 musicians, including the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Gary P. Nunn. So, Deb had really been raised around music but she took her own path and did not have much of an interest in following her parents folky footsteps after graduating from Rice and going off on her own. The closest she got was playing the oboe in highschool band.

Then it was 2002. Lindsey was out of town at a political function and Deb decided she would join her parents at the festival. She came back "raving about how much fun it was and we needed to go back at Labor Day for The Kerrville Wine and Music Festival." They did just that and little by little the traditions of Deb's parents became a passion of Deb and Lindsey's as well.

Deb and Lindsey have lived in or around The Heights since before they were married (which was incidentally Halloween weekend. Happy Anniversary, guys!!) When they 1st started dating, Lindsey was living in an apartment in the Heights and Deb lived off of Washington. This was the late 80s/ early 90s and neither area was remotely like what it is now. When they got married, they lived in Oak Forest in a house purchased from HUD for $40,000. After a decade in that house they were ready to upgrade. The couple "looked for about 2 years before finding the house on 7 1/2." When Deb's father, Bruce, came down to check out the house before they signed on it the first thing he said when he walked in was "It's perfect for a house concert." Indeed!

Our hostess for the evening, Deb Rouse.

After Bruce passed away, Deb and Lindsey decided they would carry on his work of promoting singer/songwriters via house concerts. They had their 1st house concert in January of 2006 with 50 people attending.

Lindsey introducing the evening's musician, KC Clifford. He gave me a nice shout out as well! Thanks again, Lindsey.

On October 3, I attended a performance by Oklahoma singer-songwriter KC Clifford. This was a great night to attend as it was also a food drive for the Houston Food Bank. Lindsey and Deb agreed to let me bring my husband and kids along, which was very nice of them. I'll be honest, I am all about dragging my kids everywhere but if you decide to attend a show, get a sitter. They would never frown on kids, but it's such an intimate venue and quarters are close. Better for a date night. Still, my older son is obsessed with instruments and, before sneaking quietly out the back door during the 1st set, he did sit cross legged on the floor and stare intently at KC's guitar.

My big boy, who at one point was actually tapping his toes.

Included in the price of admission is dinner. Deb made red beans and rice for the 65 guests in attendance. This is extra generous since all the money from ticket sales goes directly to the musicians; none to the hosts. When we first arrived, people were mingling, including KC. Honeslty, I was not familiar with KC Clifford before the show at Rouse House. When I 1st got there, she said hello to me and chatted up my son. I didn't realize it was her until later when she gave me her card. I guess that is the point of the concert, though. Exposure.

Jessica, right, lives in Rice Military and came to the show with her mom, Laurie. Even though Laurie has known Lindsey since they worked together in the late 80s, this was the 1st house concert for both. Like me, Jessica was not familiar with KC Clifford before the show but thought a show in this kind of environment would "have to be worth checking out."

Anyway, people were eating and drinking and chatting. I got a chance to talk to a lot of them and was suprised to find that most of the concert goers were actually not from The Heights. There was a group of friends from Champions area and a couple in from Pearland. These folks did kind of confirm for me that house concerts are part of a secret society. I mean, not intentionally secret, but when I asked how they heard about Rouse House and ended up coming to the shows, their answer was "word of mouth." They almost could have said "secret handshake" with the same effect. Ha! In the end, it can all be traced back to Kerrville. Someone met Deb there or someone goes to house concerts at a home in Spring Branch whose sister knows Lindsey or their niece is a singer and she told them to find them at the festival.

Terry, Kay, Kent and Jim came in to see KC's show from Champions. They have attended 3 or 4 Rouse House concerts after finding out about them via "word of mouth."

Beverly and Jim live in Pearland and know Deb and Lindsey from Kerrville. Beverly sais she really enjoys the atmosphere of a house concert where you get to meet the artist. She also mentioned that a lot of people think "60s" music when they think folk, but Kerrville and house concerts are more about "acoustic music and singers who also write their own songs."

It was definitely an new experience, being that upclose and personal with the performer. KC Clifford played her guitar and sang without a microphone. It was just the pure projection of her voice. The crowd watched and interacted with her between songs. Lindsey says the initmacy of the venue is a perk for the performers as well. I can imagine it's nice to be able to sing your songs and tell the stories of how and why they were written to an audience who definitely wants to hear it.

KC and her partner played acoustic guitars and she sang, unincumbered by sound checks

Yes, Deb and Lindsey did start Rouse House in Houston to carry on a tradition started by her parents. Still, the plight of the musician does resonate with them. They know the life the singer-songwriter can be hard and is rarely glamourous. This type of venue offers a performer an opportunity to gain exposure with a new crowd and make some money, sell some CDs. Word of mouth goes a long way.

KC's cds for sale in Deb and Lindsey's den.

As far as I know now there are 3 series of house concerts in The Heights. Rouse House is one. You may have seen another, Kolanowski House Conerts, in our weekly Heights Happenings. The 3rd is Cortlandt Street House Concerts hosted by Mary Scott Hagle. Lindsey says they have become good friends with the other proprietors of house concerts and that they all work together to support eachother and the musicians. Quintessential Heights, I tell you.

Kim and Greg Kolanowski were at the show and talked about upcoming shows in their own house concert series

What it looks like to pack 65 people in to the living room of Deb and Lindsey's house

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Heights Happenings

Friday, October 30, 11:30am: Houston Heights Woman's Club Luncheon

  • Bats, Rats, Cats? Nah ... It’s Witches who rule! The Houston Heights Woman’s Club will hold its First Annual Witches Luncheon on Friday, October 30. The location will be the new restaurant at 1001 Studewood (the former Bedford Restaurant, now under new ownership).
  • Spirits will flow at 11:30 AM. Edibles (no one you know) served at Noon. Member price is $35; Non-Members $40. Cash Bar. Cauldron Awards: Good Witch and Bad Witch, Best Witch Hat/Outfit, Door Prize from Oolala!
  • RSVP to for an Evite Invitation (with option to pay online) OR mail check payable to: Houston Heights Woman’s Club (HHWC), P.O. Box 7782, Houston, TX 77270-7782.
Saturday, October 31; 8am-2pm: Heights Urban Forestry Day

  • Learn about your Heights Urban Forest. Pick up treats and learn about the tricks for living in tandem with trees, as well as bird, butterfly, and vegetable gardening. Heights families & neighbors are invited!
  • Location: Heights Fire Station at 12th & Yale Streets.
  • For more information, e-mail

Sunday, November 1; 3-8pm: Day of the Dead Celebration at Monte Beach Park
  • Dia de los Muertos festival at Montie Beach Park, 915 Northwood, sponsored by Brooke Smith Heights Art Coalition and several local businesses.
  • This is a FREE festival including mariachi's, food, art displays from neighborhood schools (Love, Helms, Travis, Browning, Looscam, Hogg, Hamilton, Lee and Reagan).
  • There will be local artists showing their Dia de los Muertos inspired work as well as pieces for sale. The community center will have interactive crafts for kids of all ages.
  • There will be a map available for a self guided tour of the Brooke Smith Heights residences with "ofrendas" that honor relatives that have passed.

Saturday, November 7, 5 pm- 7 pm: Dia de los Muertos Poetry Reading at Heights Books-Libros

  • Reminder that Daniel García Ordaz, a.k.a. The Poet Mariachi, and founder of Art That Heals, Inc., will be reading from his book, You Know What I'm Saying?, at Heights Books-Libros.
  • 502 E 20th St Ste D


Saturday, November 7, 9:30 AM - 3:15 PM: The Houston "It's Time. Make Yourself Count!" 2010 Census Training and Conference

  • I am going to show my really geeky side here and say I AM SO EXCITED FOR THE CENSUS!! I love statistics and the Heights is going to see some cool changes in its demographics since 2000. As a mom, a headcount of families is the big one I am excited for.
  • Every 10 years the U.S. Constitution calls for a census count of all persons living in the United States.The Census is Based on census numbers, nearly $400 billion of federal resources are allocated annually to states, communities, and community-based organizations.
  • 9:30 a.m. Opening Remarks and Welcome
  • 9:45 a.m. Census 101: Why the Census is Important & LCCREF (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund) National Campaign
  • 10:30 a.m. Census Bureau - Mechanics and Operations
  • 11:00 a.m. Panel: Challenges to a Complete Count
  • Noon Lunch and Keynote Speaker
  • 1:00 p.m. Panel: Campaigns Responding to the Challenges
  • 2:15 p.m. Breakout Sessions
  • 3:15 p.m. Adjourn
  • For more information, please contact Catherine Han Montoy

Saturday October 31, 1-4 PM: Trick or Treating Alternative

  • Gather the goblins for a free family event at The Galleria's Nordstrom wing
  • Enjoy family entertainment, trick or treating at participating retailer doors, face painting, magic shows and more in a safe and fun environment. Don’t miss the spooky, 34-foot spider hanging over the ice rink.
  • Additional activities include:- More than 100 retailers will provide candy to trick-or-treaters- Polar Ice will offer free skate rentals for children dressed in costumes- Picture People will offer free family photos against a harvest-themed background
  • On site contact:Nicole Davis, Director of Mall Marketing, The Galleria(713) 966-3525

Tuesday, November 17, 7:30 pm: Virtuosos at The Menil Collection

  • Three virtuosos perform solo works by major contemporary composers, including a major new piano work inspired by the great paintings of American artist Cy Twombly. Australian composer Liza Lim, known for the visceral energy and vibrant color of hercompositions, is winner of Australia's most prestigious composition prize and recipient of commissions from such ensembles as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and BBC Symphony. Nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award, the brilliant Avery Fisher prize-winning violinist Jennifer Koh and acclaimed Moores School of Music saxophonist Valerie Vidal make their Da Camera debuts.
  • Tickets are $35.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Contrary to What You May Think, Contradancing is Fun!

On Saturday afternoon, I started wondering what I was going to write my Monday blog post about. It's been a long week with a certain sinus situation commandeering my head and my attention. I haven't had much chance to think about the heights life.

Then, miraculously, I got this text message from a friend in the 'hood:
In case you are not abreast of the foul news, Mother Clucker has passed on to the next life. Tonight we will host a funeral + memorial dance party at our place. Mourning attire suggested but not required.
I thought, "Yes! A homespun Heights event to showcase the utter quirkiness of our neighborhood." What could be more interesting than a funeral for a chicken followed up with a backyard dance party?

And then I got a message a few hours later that said, "News flash: MC funeral and memorial dance party canceled due to lack of attendants."

I was back at square one. I thought about reviewing a restaurant, but it seemed like too much work. I opted for a veggie burger from the Burger King at 20th and Yale instead (embarrassingly enough).

Then, on my way home around 8:45pm, the story hit me. I saw a sign that said, "Contradance Tonight!" with a sign pointing toward St. Andrew's in the Heights, the Episcopal church at the corner of 19th Street and Heights Blvd.

I haven't seen or thought about contradancing since 2005 when I went on a self-subsidized sabbatical that included a stop over at the John C. Campbell folk art school in North Carolina. Contradancing was a huge deal there, and in an effort to immerse myself in the full experience of folk art school, I took up contradancing. It's a partnered folk dance that involves lots of twirly skirts and live music.

I followed the notebook-paper signs inside the building and up the stairs. I met some very friendly folks who informed me that this here event has been happening for years and years every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month (except December). So, um, I'm behind the times and am not exactly an up-to-date journalist, but at least I went in to get the first person perspective, right?

The dances are hosted by a non-profit organization called the Houston Area Traditional Dance Society. All the dances include live music, and they run from 8-11pm. Newbies can arrive at 7:30 for an introductory lesson. The cost of admission is $8, $6 for members, $3 for students 16-25, and free for children under 16.

Generally 30-40 people show up for the dances, according to member Roy, and about a quarter of the people on the dance floor this past Saturday night were new. When I asked Roy how someone completely new to contradancing should go about trying to learn, he said, "Just say, 'Yes, I'll dance with you.'"

And he's right. Although it's helpful to attend one of the 30-minute intro sessions to learn a few of the staple moves, contradancing is easy to pick up. At the beginning of each dance, the caller spends a few minutes talking through each move of the dance and giving everyone a chance to practice it before the music starts. Although it is a partner dance, you are welcome to show up alone.

I somehow let Roy talk me into doing a dance, even though I was quite intimidated by my lack of recent experience (I tend to be a perfectionist, so spontaneous partner/group dancing without months of lessons is not really my thing). But boy was it fun! Sure there was the requisite guy who takes dancing way too seriously and gets impatient with my inexperience, but everyone else was super-friendly and fun. As you pass from person to person, you make eye-contact and smile. They even provide name tags! What a great way to build community.

So what are you waiting for? Tap into your curiosity and sense of adventure and head over the next dance. I'm not sure that I'll be able to talk my husband (a.k.a. "Partner in Adventure") into going with me, so I may need a partner!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heights Happenings


Wednesday, October 28; 5:30pm

  • The Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Foundation for the Arts will preview the documentary television series, "Houston Arts Television" on Wednesday, October 28 at the Continental Theater located in the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Center located on the first floor of City Hall, 901 Bagby. The program will begin at 5:30 p.m.; due to limited seating, the 30-minute documentary preview will be shown at 5:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.

  • The "Houston Arts Television" series will showcase Houston 's arts scene, promoting the City as a center for the arts. It was created as a documentary directed to PBS stations, which will premiere on Sunday, November 1 at 9:30 p.m.

  • The Texas Foundation for the Arts is a nonprofit organization that develops, secures the funding for and writes and produces documentary films that shine a spotlight on Texas arts and culture. The Organization is also a 2009 Special Initiative Grant recipient, a fund administered by Houston Arts Alliance through the Mayor's Office.

  • For more information regarding this preview, please contact Veronica Mosley with the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs at 832.393.1053 or via email at

Monday, October 19, 2009

Restaurant Review: Lola

I've been dying to eat at Lola ever since it opened in the old Eckerd Drugs building at the corner of 11th and Yale. I'm a huge fan of "fresh, local ingredients," and I was eager to add a new restaurant to my list o' "Heights Faves."

The owner, Ken Bridge, has built his reputation through his other ventures: Pink's Pizza and Dragon Bowl Asian Bistro.

I had a hard time dragging my husband along with me because he had heard rumors that it was "overpriced." We've recently been on a frugality kick in our household, and eating out has had to take a backseat. Finally, we went out for a late lunch with our neighbors after the Heights Bicycle Rally and Scavenger Hunt, and they suggested we eat at Lola.

As soon as we walked in, we saw one of my husband's colleagues. Then we spotted one of the key players in the Dia de los Muertos celebration happening at Montie Beach Park who was sitting next to one of the fathers of a student who attends the school I work at.

Oh, how I love living in a small town!

In terms of the ambiance and decor, I appreciated the abundance of natural light streaming in from walls of windows, and I didn't mind the order-at-the-counter action.

As a vegetarian, I wasn't overly-impressed with my options, but I wasn't depressed either. I opted for the Grilled Portabella sandwich with fresh mozzarella, roma tomato, and basil. I was tempted to order the Goat Cheese Crisp Salad with honey pecan vinaigrette, but the sandwich came with "hand tossed fries." Done deal.

Our food came out quickly, and the staff was friendly and helpful.

Of course I dove into my bountiful pile of fries first. Delicious! They have an interesting sweet/salty thing going on. Very intriguing and unique.

Sadly, my sandwich wasn't particular good. In fact, the mushrooms tasted distinctly liked canned mushrooms (oddly enough), and the bread was just okay. I longed for the vegetarian sandwich on ciabatta from Onion Creek (it's cheaper and much tastier, but, alas, it comes with chips or salad instead of fries).

One of our neighbors opted for the interesting "Day After Thanksgiving" sandwich: roasted turkey, cranberry, cornbread dressing, and gravy. The other neighbor got the "Wet Roast Beef Debris" sandwich: sourdough, angus roast beef, and provolone. They both liked their sandwiches enough, but commented that they didn't quite seem worth $11.

I'm sad to say that I won't be standing on any soapboxes to champion the newest restaurant addition to our little 'hood, but I am willing to give it another try. Although $9 seems a bit pricey for a salad, the Goat Cheese Crisp Salad is calling to me, and I'm crossing my fingers that the $7 pancake plate (with any of the following toppings: banana, blueberry, strawberry, peanut butter, and candied pecans) will be delicious.

Dearest neighbors: What do you think about Lola? (Viula, I'm hoping you'll give us a review of your experience once you return from Canada!).

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I had a really great story to run for tomorrow (Friday) but was sidelined all day today by a 5 month old with a 101 fever. Considering we are supposed to be leaving bright and early for 9 days in Canada, my little man had to take priority over finishing my blog entry (although I did get the wonderful pictures uploaded earlier in the day). I'm sorry. But at least you know you will have a great story to read on Rouse House house concerts in the Heights in a couple weeks. Plus Sara will have something Heights-tastic for you to read on Monday.

Have a great weekend and I hope to bring you back some cooler weather from Vieux Quebec and St Johns, Newfoundland.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Heights Happenings

Saturday, October 17: Boob Tube Flash Screening, Aurora Picture Show

  • In honor of breast cancer awareness month, Aurora is going to flash you! Sign up now for our email newsletter or text ‘pink’ to 78247 so you can find out when and where. We will have special activities in honor of breasts, followed by a screening of short films titled Boob Tube that will cover the gamut of candid emotions and feelings, some funny and some serious, that are central to any conversation about this sensitive and sometimes controversial body part. A portion of proceeds from this event will be donated to Pink Ribbons Project.
  • Time and Location: Revealed via newsletter or text on 10/16

Saturday, October 17, 6 PM: Angel Store Opening Supporting Justice For Children

  • JFC's mission is to raise the consciousness of our society about the failure of our governmental agencies to protect victims of child abuse, to provide legal advocacy for abused children and to develop and implement collaborative solutions to enhance the quality of life for these children.
  • “ANGEL STORE” is an Exhibition featuring "Angels and Art" by artists from all over the world. The store will be open from Oct 17 thru the end of December.
  • "This is going to be a great event for art lovers and supporters of the life-saving efforts of Justice for Children." Randy Burton, Founder
  • Hosted by the Betz Gallery - 1208 W. Gray

Tuesday, October 20, 6:30 pm- 8:30 pm: Shopping on the Plaza hosted by Plaza Moms Society

  • Get a head start on your holiday shopping. The Plaza Moms Society of Shepherd Park and Candlelight Plazas are hosting their annual market: Shopping on the Plaza.
  • 30+ vendors with gift items, products for women, babies, kids, toys, clothing, jewelry, purses, and art. Raffle drawings every hour with great items from each vendor. Food and drink! Free reusable shopping bags for the first 100 shoppers who spend $50.
  • Clean out your jewelry box and bring your old gold to receive cash.
  • Vendors include: Dorie Kerr Jewelry Design, GamiWorks hand cut glass jewelry, Discovery Toys, Houston Home Cooking , Sweet Tooth Stationery, Watkins natural skin care products, Sweet Sophia Baby, Stella & Dot and more...
  • Contact Co-Chair Julie Landreth with additional questions
  • Durham Elementary, 4803 Brinkman Street, Houston, TX 77018

Saturday, November 7, 5 pm- 7 pm: Dia de los Muertos Poetry Reading at Heights Books-Libros

  • Daniel García Ordaz, a.k.a. The Poet Mariachi, is the author of You Know What I’m Sayin’? (2006, El Zarape Press). He was born in Houston in 1971 and raised in Mission, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. After high school, he served in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves as a Hospital Corpsman then worked his way through school towards a BA in English from the University of Texas-Pan American.
  • Garcia is the founder of Art That Heals, Inc. a nonprofit organization that deals with HIV/AIDS and art; he also founded the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival.
  • 502 E 20th St Ste D


Harris County Citizen Corps CERT Breakpoint Entrance Controllers Needed

  • The BP MS150 and CERT are looking for highly motivated, enthusiastic individuals to assist the Country’s largest charity Bike Ride. Breakpoint Entrance Controllers (BPEC) control traffic in and out of the Ride’s breakpoints ensuring a safe seamless transition of bicycle traffic. Teams are assigned a breakpoint each day and work collectively contributing to the overall safety and success of the event. For more information please contact Gary Fortier, or 713-782-3863.

The Harris County Public Library’s adult literacy program needs literacy tutor volunteers

  • Volunteers are needed to assist adults in reading at a grade 0-5 reading level, as well as English as a second language tutors (who assist adults new to the United States) at many Harris County Public Library branches. Training and materials are provided for new volunteers at no charge. More information is available at If you are interested you have other questions about the library’s adult literacy programs, please contact Steve Zack at 713-749-9035 or by e-mail at

Monday, October 12, 2009

National Night Out

National Night Out was officially August 4. However, Texas celebrated it on Tuesday, October 6. Is that because we are essentially a separatist state (I mean, we do, after all, encourage our children to recite the Texas pledge on a daily basis in K-12 schools across the state)? I know it's a lot hotter in Texas in August than it is in other states, but it's also hot in states like Florida and Louisiana. And they don't have a separate date...

Anyway, my partner Matt and I decided to host a block party. We aren't overly social people, but we do want to know our neighbors. We want to have people to turn to if we need to borrow a cup of sugar (cliched, but it's definitely happened to us!), and we want to have people who will call us if they see a moving van parked in front of our house with a random stranger loading all of our valuables into it.

Oftentimes, community is built reactively. For example, we met more of our neighbors than ever before after the devastation of Hurricane Ike.

But why not build community proactively, too?

Well, it takes time, and we're all busy, aren't we? The thought of hosting a big party for strangers was admittedly a little daunting, but it was for a good cause. Therefore, we tried to host the simplest party possible.

Here's how we did it:
  1. We made an invitation, printed it on our home printer, and taped one to every mailbox within a three-street radius.
  2. We asked people to bring their own drinks, dishes to share, and chairs. We made some mini-pizzas, Hibiscus and Ginger Iced Tea, and cookies from ready-made dough that we picked up at Fiesta at the last minute. Easy-peasy.
  3. We decided to host the party in our front yard, which meant that we didn't really have to clean our house. We simply put some folding tables on the front porch to hold the food and drinks, and we scattered some chairs on the front lawn for folks who didn't bring their own.
  4. We set up a portable speaker and an iPod for some musical accompaniment.
  5. We moved our cars out of our driveway and used it as a makeshift Bocce Ball court.
  6. We set out some games (like Taboo, Apples to Apples, Boggle, and Jenga).
  7. We set up nametags to facilitate conversation among strangers.
And that was it!

Honestly, I thought hosting a block party in the middle of the week might put me over the edge, but it didn't. It was actually a very quick, painless, and fun process. I met new people, dined on scrumptious food, and enjoyed the evening.

If we can do it, you can do it too! (And if you do decide to do it, will you send me an invitation?)

Thursday, October 8, 2009


When you look at this space, can you see a giant synthetic piece of squishy cheese just asking to be climbed on? Probably not. But if you know any kids, I bet they can.

And can you see a giant art installation on the left and a 52” plasma screen tv straight ahead with the sole purpose of welcoming kids in to some place like no other in Houston? Maybe, but maybe not. But if you know Deborah Helman, you know she certainly can.

Deborah can because these construction scenes are the beginning of her wildy creative vision. Deborah is one of three women who have come together to offer families in the Heights something special (And all through the inner loop. Heck, they can even come in from the ‘burbs. It’s going to be that good). Wonderwild is going to be the kind of indoor playground you usually find outside Houston proper in lands of sugar and pears, but this inner-loop version is going to have creative twists that make it very much The Heights.

Way back when, in a past life, in another city, Deborah was one of the first 60 employees of Martha Stewart Inc. When the company was small, the title Assistant Director of Marketing meant many things and Deborah wore many hats- some creative, some business focused. When she left MS (and the company had reached over 600 employees), she worked as Director of PR for Parsons The New School of Design, the country’s first design school, and again had an outlet for both creativity and business acumen. These experiences alone are a solid background for an adventure like Wonderwild. Then also consider Deborah has two sons, ages 3 and 2, and yeah, you can see how something like this is right up her alley. From an extra large men’s room equipped with changing areas for dads on diaper duty to custom play pieces made in Europe to healthier food options from Zoe's Kitchen, every inch of Wonderwild has been thought out from the creative side, from business side and, of course, from the parent and child side.

The concept was imagined about a year ago. Deborah had met and forged a friendship with Kayla Corey. As they became close friends, they had this feeling they had “to do something… wanted some venture together.” They would sit around and brain storm all kinds of ideas. At one point they actually thought they would convince their husbands to form a kids’ band “like the Wiggles.” Seeing Deborah's husband is Bureau Chief for Forbes in Houston, I think that was probably a stretch! The ideas kept flowing and one day the concept of Wonderwild hit. This time they “knew it was real.” This idea was going to happen. They got Deborah’s best friend (since they were 5!) involved as well and there it was: a trifecta of “Type A” women channeling the skills from successful careers to take on a business venture that will ultimately benefit their families.

If I had a dollar for every time I wished for a place like this in my neighborhood for my kids… I am glad someone had the smarts and creativity to actually do it.

Wonderwild is located at 707 N. Shepherd Dr, Ste 500, in the Corporate Centre business park (near Discovery Gymnastics)

The opening date is approaching quickly with 2 grand opening Halloween parties and I can’t wait to see the final product. I already have two friends who have booked birthday parties for their toddlers. The whole space is going to be reserved for parties on the weekends. This is part business decision and part kid decision. That 52” plasma tv I mentioned will have pictures of the party honorees, welcoming them in to a space which- on that day- is just for them. The 2 party rooms will open to the main play area via huge garage doors, making play and party seamless (If you have ever been to a party where the fun moves from room to room you can probably imagine how cool this will be. If you haven’t, just trust me) and giving it what Deborah describes as a “block party feel.”

The whole set up is intended to create a different vibe than similar venues. It will be an “environment for community.” Wonderwild is intended to be a place where the whole community gathers- beyond our smaller mom circles. Classes will not just be time fillers, but really geared toward critical thinking and engaging kids’ minds. They will be goal oriented, working toward something. Example: art classes will be about more than just come in and do a daily craft for 6 weeks. Instead, the kids will do daily art projects that will culminate in a gallery show at the end of the class series. You can read about the art, music and other classes here: Art, Music, Science, Etc.

And then there is that play area: a 28x17 ft “jump-o-leen,” guaranteeing a solid post-Wonderwild nap for the kiddos; a kid powered train; the essential inflatable slide; and a huge, custom play system (read: indoor jungle gym) that will impress even the most adventurous 3 year olds. In the extreme heat of the summer and rainy days of winter, you’re sure to see plenty of Heights’ kids burning off their high-carb diets at Wonderwild.

This huge, 4200 sq ft space will soon be transformed by the bright colors of playscapes

It took Deborah and her partners eight months to find a location for this adventure. Inner loop real estate doesn’t come cheap and, well, she lives in The Heights. And she loves it. A Seattle native who lived in the city to end all cities, New York, Houston wasn’t necessarily where Deborah ever thought she would end up. But, like many of us, you follow a career path or a spouse’s career path and then make the most of where you are. Moving from Park Slope, Brooklyn, Deb and her family wanted a similar feel. When they found The Heights, they realized there was “no other place [they] could have lived” in Houston. I know that feeling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Heights Happenings

Thursday, October 8, 5 pm- 9pm: Oolala Boolala Open House
  • Items on sale, great door prizes, "potions and creepy treats."
  • 833 Studewood
Friday, October 9, 6 pm-8pm: Nundini'sMonthly Wine Tasting

  • Taste 2 Italian and 1 Argentinian wine in Nundini's recently updated space
  • The Nundini Chef's Table has been providing authentic Italian foods in The Heights for over 8 years. They have a large selection of pastas, tomatoes, olive oils, meats, cheeses, wines, and more. The deli provides sandwiches and salads made to order and the gelato and sorbetto are made in house.

Nundini's Eat-In Italian specialty shop at 500 N Shepherd, Suite B

Fridays and Saturdays this month (Oct 9-10, 16-17, 23-24), 8 pm: UpStage Theater presents Agatha Cristie Takes Manhattan

  • The show is a comedy/whodunit written by a couple of native Houstonian playwrights
  • Tickets are $15, but THIS FRIDAY OCT 9 is Pay What You Wish Night--come out and make a donation to the Upstage Theatre Company

SOLD OUT Saturday, October 24, 7 pm: Sara Hickman house concert at Kolanowski Studio

  • Sara is Official Texas State Musician for 2010-11.
  • Sara was raised in Houston and launched her professional career at age 14 at a Houston Oilers party with just her guitar and voice. This led to performances at bank openings, psychiatric units and weddings. She graduated from the High School for Performing Arts and received a B.A. in painting from the University of North Texas.
  • Performances are presented at the house of Greg and Kim Kolanowski, located in the Houston Heights.
  • RSVPs with payment are required due to limited seating and will be on a "first come/first served" basis. Please call or email Greg or Kim to RSVP (713) 802-0232 • or
  • The cost is $20 per person, with all proceeds going to Sara. CDs are usually available for sale at the concert.

Saturday, October 24, 12 noon - 6pm: Emile Street Community Farm Community Green Fest

  • 711 Emile Street in Houston's 5th Ward
  • Celebrate the good earth with good people and good music

Friday, October 23, 6pm- 9pm: International Décor Gallery & Hannah Bacol Busch Fine Art Opening Event

  • Artists: Michael Bracey, Kenneth Martin, Margaret VendryesKerry Coppin, Pali Dacanay, Don Gurewitz,Margaret Lewis and Susie Shapira
  • Live Music, Wine, Hors d'oeuvres
  • Artists' Talk 6pm--7pm.
  • $20 Admission. Portion of proceeds from fine art sales will benefit March of Dimes-Houston and Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Greater Houston
  • R.S.V.P. 713.527.0523 or

Monday, October 5, 2009

Heights Bike Rally: Rain or Shine

We live in one fun neighborhood. We really do.

This past Sunday, I coaxed my neighbors and reluctant husband to join me for the Heights Bicycle Rally and Scavenger Hunt.

Although the event started at 7:30am, we made it over to the park at 18th and Studewood around 9:30am. I had pre-registered online earlier in the week for $15, but everyone else registered on site for $20.

The volunteers were incredibly friendly and organized. They handed us a map of the 20-mile route, our 21 clues, and a coupon for a free coffee at Onion Creek. Within ten minutes, we were on our way.

For the most part, the route was incredibly bike-friendly (despite the rain and occasionally intense wind!). We wound through The Heights and down around the bayou. We read clues like, "Who knew TV's Greg had a wife who cooked here?" and looked around for the answers along the path (Dharma Cafe). All of the clues followed the same order as the bike path, which made everything a littler easier.

Still, some clues were difficult: "This place is buzzing with activity on New Year's Eve, but forgotten the rest of the year." [The Resolution Center on T.C. Jester]

While others were easy: "If James Dean could Two Step, he'd be a regular here." [Rebel Honky Tonk]

It took us about five hours to wind our way through the various neighborhoods. I have to say that bike riding is a lot more conducive to spotting interesting sights than driving is. I saw new restaurants, organizations, and foliage that I had never noticed before.

After we dropped our answers off at the point of origin, we ran home for quick showers and a bite to eat at Lola (which is now open at Yale and 11th!). We returned to the park for the announcement of the winners. While we waited, we enjoyed free popcorn and drinks, as well as music from a local bluegrass band.

Although no one on my team came even close to winning (some of the answers were a little kooky, if you ask me), 75% of us walked away with door prizes. My neighbor and I both won bike shorts (no more butt pain!), and my husband won a bike toolkit and water bottle + cage. Other winners claimed gift certificates to local businesses (Collina's, Shade, Waldo's, etc.).

What a fun way to spend a Sunday! The event was well-organized, entertaining, and quirky all at once.

Hooray for the Heights!

P.S. I'll think I'll be using this map to take out-of-town guests on a bike tour of our area (although I'll probably try to avoid getting sopping wet next time...).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Things Are Really Moving

I always refer to 19th Street as our "main street." It is the center of the little town we call The Heights. Its our primary shopping destination and for years was the only place in town you could get a fancy-ish meal.
These days we have a lot of options for eating and shopping around The Heights. 19th Street is still a worthy destination, though. This weekend brings 1st Saturday and if it's been a while since you've been or even if the last time you were on 19th was last First Saturday, I think you'll be suprised to see all the changes. What's interesting is that things haven't just opened or closed. A lot of the same places and faces, just moved to different spaces!
One of the biggest moves was M2 Gallery moving in to a new space in the old theater. A brightly lit corner has been dedicated to Chicle de Anya and the gallery

A new use of a cool space. The gallery and boutique have been in this location for just under 4 weeks.

Greated by the the theater's (?) vintage projector.

Chicle de Anya's corner

Walking down to see what went in to Erica Del Gardo's old space, I noticed Felix at Behind The Garden Gate has a new friend. CODA, which opened on August 1st just in time for White Linen Night, sells inexpensive gift items like Tyler Candles and other home furnishing items. When you stop in, say "Hi" to the proprietor, Frank. He's a really nice guy.

CODA and Behind The Garden Gate, 355 W 19th Street

Felix and Frank gave me a heads' up on what was in the old jewelry store at 365 19th. Donell Marks has opened Center Stage Furniture & Home Staging. Her shop has been open around 3 weeks and has some pretty cool mid-century and vintage pieces.

Erica Del Gardo moved in to an expanded location a few doors down. Now she can offer even more of her handmade, unique jewelry items. She makes all the pieces in the store, so you may even catch her in process. I forgot to ask if she is going to offer classes, but she has done cool metal work classes in the past. Be sure to ask if you see her...

The new store is more than 2x the size of the previous location.

In addition to her handmade jewelry, Erica also has fun accessories for sale.

A Heights Life fave, Sew Crafty moved from it's cute White Oak location to an expanded space in Tansu's old location. I'll miss Tansu a lot, but I was glad to hear that her reasons for closing were personal and positive, rather than lack of business or anything like that. Again, this change is less than a month old. The new space looks awesome and I expect SC will be able to offer more cool classes for crafty peeps.

I didn't get an opportunity to go in or speak with anyone here, but looks like a fitness place of some sort is opening in M2's old place. The sign had information for a bootcamp.

Also, this Gilbert Joseph Home store should be opening soon.

Not all the changes were fun, though. Three stores are going or gone.

The 2nd shop was Balinska's or something like that. I never really went in there because... well a few years ago I was bit by a chijuajua in that store. Weird and random, I know...

For those of us who live to eat, Conroe's popular Pie In The Sky Pie Company is moving in to The Heights as well. This bright green eye-catcher is just west of Vietnam Restaurant, 19th and Shepherd. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Pie may be some competition to the newLola.

19th Street isn't the only part of The Heights going through some changes. I am giddy with excitment about some of the new things on deck and extremely curious about what some others will offer down the road. All in all, a very exciting time to be living life in The Heights!

I think this renovated bungalow across from Berryhill is set to be Zelko Bistro

Wondering if this is really going to happen?


Redevelopment on Studewood

Plenty of opportunity on White Oak