Monday, August 31, 2009

Our Neighborhood Schools

My husband and I don't have any kids yet, so we haven't had to face the stressful question of where to send them to school. According to most the families I've talked to within our neighborhood, my top-choice for elementary school should be Travis, and if I can't get in there, Harvard should be my next choice.

It saddens me to look at other schools in our neighborhood, some of which wouldn't be at the top of my list.

It seems to me that those of us who are parents-to-be and parents-of-young-ones (and anyone else who cares about our neighborhood) should join forces to help the schools in our neighborhood become the kind of schools that are at the top of our list. We have beautiful neighborhood schools that have a lot of potential.

But where to start?
  1. Step One: Recruit a core group of people interested in helping our schools reach their potential (including administrators and teachers from the schools who want to be part of the process).
  2. Step Two: Solidify a vision of what an excellent school looks like, sounds like, and feels like. During the vision-setting stage, it would be helpful to observe at excellent schools in the area (both public and private).
  3. Step Three: Diagnostically assess where our schools currently are. This diagnostic process could take the form of observations, meetings with the administration and teachers, focus groups with families of currently-enrolled students, etc.
  4. Step Four: Generate a strategic action plan that delineates how to get our schools from where they currently are to where we want them to be.
  5. Step Five: Implement the plan, collect data about how it's going, and make adjustments as necessary. Schedule regular meetings to ensure that the action steps are being implemented and that the momentum is carried forth.
Of course it sounds a lot easier than it actually is. School reform is a Herculean task, but it's definitely possible with the passion, commitment, time, and energy of dedicated families and community members. We have a living, breathing example of families impacting the school system right up the street.

I started my new job this past Monday. I now teach in a Montessori classroom at Garden Oaks Elementary (1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders). Garden Oaks Elementary is a mere three miles from my house, and it's a unique school because it's a traditional HISD school that has a public Montessori program within it. As you may or may not know, Montessori is an approach to education that seeks to create autonomous, competent, respectful, critically-thinking, joyful children who identify and follow their passions in life. The approach has been around for more than a hundred years, although it is typically primarily available in a private school setting.

There are a few other public Montessori programs within HISD: Whidby Elementary and Dodson Elementary are similar to Garden Oaks. Wilson Elementary in Montrose is actually a full Montessori campus from pre-K through 8th grade.

Public Montessori in HISD exists due to the concerted efforts of concerned and committed families in collaboration with educators, administrators, and HISD. Over a decade ago, a group of families started an organization called Friends of Montessori. The non-profit group works tirelessly to advocate for Montessori options within the public school system and raise money to support all the public Montessori programs.

This particular organization has shown that community members and citizens can make a difference if they work with the school system and commit to making it happen. The same thing can be done in our neighborhood with our schools.

Is something like this already underway? I'd love to be part of it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Your Neighbors Can Give A Second Life

See this cute little duplex:

Don't you just love it? Tidy, nice curb appeal. Symmetrical. Perfectly quaint.

And isn't it perfect that inside this bungalow live fun, creative sisters. Twin sisters. Lynne and Julia are native Houstonians who have made The Heights their home for the last 15+ years. They were part of the 1st wave of former Montrosians to head for tree lined streets and cheaper real estate. How cheap? Well, let's just say they got this perfect home for under six digits. Talk about your smart investment. After renting a bungalow on Key Street for a few years, they saw this duplex and thought a house couldn't be more perfect for them.

Because they moved to The Heights at the very beginning of its gentrification, they were able to get a home that was affordable and also retained so much of its original character. Because they live in the Proctor Plaza neighborhood, historic and deed restricted, the house will always remain as close to original as possible. They have beautifully restored the inside and live very well in its two spaces. In fact, their clean, organized spaces even got them on HGTV! Featuring Julia's chic, simple living room and Lynne's custom cabinetry, this HGTV article shows how to be stylish and functional in a small space: Half the Space, Double the style. If you read the snippets below the photos, you'll find the really impressive thing about Julia's fireplace is that she built the custom cabinetry herself!

From the time they were young children, Lynne and Julia's mother encouraged them to be crafty. Knit, sew. What I call "Home Ec skills." As adults, the sisters took it beyond those basic womanly arts and got in to some serious DIY. Lynne clearly has some wood working skills. Her love of the hands on creative process lead her to take upholstering classes as well. Remaking furniture has been a hobby for the sisters for years. And then... they found and realized- hey! there is a market for what we love.

Some pieces in process at their workshop

Now Lynne, a corporate oil&gas travel agent, and Julia, the manager of an architecture firm, have taken their love of DIY and design to launch a new venture: l+j industries. l+j takes what some people see as old or worn out and breathes new life in to it. Furniture with solid bones and good style is broken down to it's bare soul and then carefully built back up in to something wonderfully unique. The sisters' love of mid-century style can easily be seen in many of the pieces they have saved from the landfill.

But their work is about more than just one specific style. Its about hours invested in browsing junk shops from junk shops in Pasadena to antique stores on Yale. Julia and Lynne look for great shapes and "really good bones." They think it's sad to see good furniture "look pathetic." They rescue furniture and give it a second chance. A second life.
While they love the mid-century look and are thrilled when they "see a glimpse of that blond wood" in a junk shop, they don't limit themselves. They want to offer new life to all good furniture. It all deserves it (and, again, keeps it out of the landfill). They are happy to offer unique pieces to all kinds of people via their etsy site. They have been pleasantly surprised to find that more pieces go to small towns than big cities. They figure people in small communities are looking for one-of-a-kind items. They have had inquiries from as far as Singapore about some of their pieces.

Before and After: Black & White Chair

Before and After: Habitat Chair

Lynne and Julia are enjoying doing something they love. They are also happy to be a part of the handmade revolution taking place. When they first started breathing new life in to old furniture, it was at a time when fabric stores were closing and it was often hard to find all the supplies they needed for a well done project. These days the sisters buy fabrics from local stores ( High Fashion Home is a favorite) and the internet. They have found great sellers on eBay and even a site where they can buy the ends of bolts from furniture manufacturers.
On deck for l+j: finding expanded studio space in The Heights. Lynne is also considering teaching an upholstery class along the lines of the one she took over 10 years ago. They'll continue to comb the shops around The Heights and get inspiration from blogs like Design*Sponge.

Lynne and Julia Schaefer of l+j industries

And, while Julia and Lynne don't really do curbside sweeps for furniture pieces, they do scour The Heights for boxes. They send their pieces Greyhound and need large boxes to pack them. If you have any of these, let us know:

A lover of mid-century style myself, I have a couple of beautiful Scandinavian chairs that I bought from the back of a truck when I took the wrong exit off 59 once several years ago. I am going to swing them by Lynne and Julia's and see if they can get them out of my attic and in to my living room. They are ready for their second life.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Heights Happenings

Wednesday, August 26, 6:30pm: PIP Meeting

  • Concerned about crime in The Heights? Attend the Positive Intervention Program, or PIP, meeting at 1602 State Street.
  • PIP meetings exist because dealing with the police and knowing what they do in our neighborhood can be confusing to some citizens. The PIP monthly meetings feature speakers from different divisions (Burglary and Theft, Homicide, K-9, Helicopters, etc.) explaining how their division operates and what has been happening in the neighborhood. For more information on what PIP is and what you can gain from attending this meeting, visit the HPD website HERE

Wednesday, August 26, 7-8 pm: Washington Corridor Quiet Zone Meeting

  • This is the second public meeting , which will discuss the results of the comment period from the first public meeting and outline the necessary steps to make the Washington Corridor a quiet zone.
  • West End Multi-Service Center, 170 Heights Blvd

Thursday, August 27, 10 am- 2pm: Gratefulimages MEGA SALE

  • The lovely ladies at Gratefulimages are trying to make some room for new goodies! Best discounts ever on tons of their gorgeous cards and gift items
  • Deep discounts on discontinued items, plus receive a gift with any purchase and 4 FREE cards just for stopping by.
  • Some examples of the great buys: $4 - 6 Pack Greeting Cards (regularly $15), $5 - Notepad Gift Sets (regularly $13.95), $15 - Baby Gift Sets (regularly $36)
  • 1801 Yale

Saturday, August 29, 1-4pm: How to Walk in High Heels at NiaMoves Studio

  • An Afternoon of High Fashion Functionality! Beautiful high heels are SEXY. However, wearing them makes you more prone to bunions, as well as foot, ankle, knee, and back pain. Maybe you've already traded in those beautiful pumps for sensible flats. Good news! All is not lost! You CAN be fashionable AND comfortable. No more limping and wincing, or wearing shoes like your grandmother wore. This workshop will use the Feldenkrais Method to teach you how to walk safely, gracefully, and without pain, in those fabulous high heels.
  • $35 online, $40 at the door
  • Sunday, August 30, 3pm: Craft Is as Craft Does from Aurora Picture Show

    • Come learn about the art of the craft from the 1950s with fun film titles including At Your Fingertips: Boxes, Rag Tapestry and Puppets. After the screening join in for your own crafting fun experience.
    • Location: HITS Theatre

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Craft Classes

    Photo courtesy of Sew Crafty

    A lot of things make our neighborhood special: White Linen Night, Heights First Saturdays, a pair of yellow-crested night herons who inspired collective community action to save a tree...

    I'm personally adding one more thing to the list: a craft studio and sewing lounge that offers hands-on classes that can turn anyone into a bona fide crafter.

    I finally got around to taking a class at Sew Crafty on White Oak, just west of Onion Creek and the bicycle shop. It's taken me a while to sign up for a class because I'm trying to save money. I keep asking myself, "Why spend money for a class when I can just find an internet tutorial and do it at home?"

    The answer to my question is that it's a whole lot easier (and more fun) to waltz into a craft studio, meet other interesting people who enjoy being creative, have all the materials already sitting out and ready to go, get step-by-step directions for how to do something, and to walk out with a finished piece of art (without being the one who's responsible for putting it all away).

    Sew Crafty is a cute and comfortable place to spend a Saturday afternoon. I walked into the main room and the receptionist immediately greeted me with a big smile and confident, efficient service. Two classes were in progress, and she directed me to a separate room where I could learn all about making my own stamp and then using it to print on fabric.

    There were five of us enrolled in the class, and the small group size allowed us to connect and get to know each other quickly and easily. Each of us brought a black-and-white image that we wanted to turn into a stamp. I--of course--brought an image of a bloodhound because I'm obsessed with my drooling beast, and I was in a rush to grab something right before leaving my house.

    The first step was to rub pencil all over the back of our image. Then the instructor gave us a piece of white, soft rubber. We placed the pencil-side down on the stamp, and taped down the image. We then traced over the lines of our black-and-white image, which transferred the image to the rubber. Next, we used a tool to carefully carve the rubber away from our lines. When we thought we had carved out enough, we tested our stamps using an ink pad. We could easily see where we had to carve more.

    When our hand-carved stamps were complete, we rolled a water-based block printing ink onto a piece of glass with a roller. Then we stamped our stamp into the ink and pressed it to the fabric (and held it for approximately five seconds). We repeated the stamping across our entire fabric.


    I quickly realized that a piece of fabric stamped with bloodhounds is pretty much only good for one thing: a bandanna for my bloodhound.

    I also realized that craft classes are worth the money (I paid $35 for the class). They provide a convenient opportunity to learn something new without investing a whole lot of time or money. They also provide an opportunity to meet new people and to relax and have fun in a unique way. I'll definitely be back.

    If you're interested, here's a list of some upcoming classes at Sew Crafty.

    • Sewing an Amy Butler bag
    • Quilting
    • Cable Knitting
    • Crocheting
    Have any of you taken classes at Sew Crafty? What has your experience been like?

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Heights Books- Libros

    The world is full of talented and creative people. There are people who can create something special, unusual or beautiful. We may never even know that the person in the cubicle next to us is a gifted writer or the guy who mows our lawn also paints gorgeous landscapes. You see, while there are many creative people it’s a very small percentage of them who get to make a living doing what they love. Blanca Alanis was one of these people. After working for 10+ years in the non-profit sector (something I am familiar with- a lot of work and little financial reward), Blanca decided she was going to do something to become part of that artistic minority- making a living from her creativity and passion.

    Blanca has written poetry for more than 20 years. Artistic talent must be genetic. Her brother, Dante Rodriguez, is a talented artist as well. Like most people, she did the whole work to live thing “just making money and spending it” and then writing when she could. Eventually she got married and kids came in to the picture. Suddenly, just going through the daily grind wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Blanca wanted to do something better for herself and her family- she wanted to juggle family and work and have time to be creative as well. She also wanted an outlet for what the right side of her brain was producing. Her desire for balance and a “general love of literature” lead her to open a tiny bookstore in the neighborhood she grew up in. The Heights.

    Currently over a dozen artists are represented on Heights Books-Libors' walls.

    Blanca’s shop, Heights Books- Libros, opened last May in a little strip on 20th Street. She has been able to realize her dream and find balance, living and working surrounded by books and art. But Blanca’s shop isn’t just about her own work. Heights Books is an outlet for all kinds of artists. Anything handmade or any art is welcome. On the walls there are paintings and photography. Every shelf without a book has something else to offer- sculpture or pottery or gift items. Currently she is displaying work from 13 local artists. She also has written materials from 10 local writers and poets. Her own poetry is available on gorgeous picture cards. Did I mention she does photography as well?

    While any artists are welcome to display their art for sale (on consignment), the store definitely has a mission to promote Blanca’s own Mexican American heritage through Mexican art and culture. Because she has a focus on her and her brother’s own Latino art, other Latino artists are “naturally attracted to the shop.” They find Heights Books/ Libros on line, via the store’s own webpage or social media sites like Facebook and a MySpace page.

    Blanca's own poetry printed on photographs she has taken

    And, of course, there are books. Heights Books sells both new and used books. Blanca has a great selection of bilingual books, including many classic and loved kids books in Spanish! She will order books for you and the store also buys books. Had enough of fighting traffic to get to ½ Price Books? Here is locally owned and operated shop that can give another life to the books you are finished with. She will also take donations of unwanted books.

    A great kids' selection of English, Spanish and bi-lingual books

    Now that she has settled in to owning and running her own bookstore, Blanca is ready to branch out and do more to support arts and literature in The Heights. In July she hosted the 1st poetry reading at the store. She looks forward to giving a showcase to local writers more often. In fact, she would love to do readings and events all the time, but Blanca and her family also love to get out of the store and be a part of the greater Houston arts scene- attending events elsewhere. Then there is that balance thing. The next scheduled event will be a reading at the store the 1st Saturday in November, in conjunction with the Día de los Muertos celebration. Blanca would also love to have bilingual story time for neighborhood kids, so any of you moms reading this post can email her via her website and let her know you would be interested!

    It was a lot of fun stopping in the store and finding out more about Blanca’s mission to promote literature, heritage and creativity. This is a great little gem in The Heights and I look forward to a little Donde Viven los Monstruos soon myself!

    Blanca with a pretty cool Dia de Los Muertas head made by her brother, Dante

    502 E. 20th St. #D
    Houston TX 77008
    Business Hours:
    Monday - Friday 9 - 6pm
    Saturday - 9 - 5pm
    Sunday - Closed

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Heights Happenings

    Thursday, August 20, 4-7 pm: Free Back To School Immunizations
    • The Houston Fire Department and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Care Van have teamed up again in 2009 to offer free childhood immunizations at neighborhood fire stations. This is the perfect time to get your child up-to-date on their immunizations for school and avoid the rush before school resumes after the summer.
    • The immunizations are FREE. All you need to bring is your children, your identification and your children's immunization records.
    • The Heights immunization location is Fire Station 11, 460 T. C. Jester
    • Visit the Houston Fire Department website at for more information. Any questions? Contact the HFD Public Affairs office at 713-495-7900.
    Thursday, August 20, 8pm: Aurora Picture Show: Short Documentaries from doxita
    • doxita is a traveling festival of documentary films that are under 40 minutes in length. The program, comprised of approximately ninety minutes of film, represents a wide variety of documentary – domestic and foreign, super-short and longer format, serious and funny. These filmmakers have crafted beautiful, and sometimes humorous, portraits of their subjects’ daily work through labor including Chinese jade mining, organic bread making in Edinburgh, Northwest US wood logging, shaved ice treats in Peru and a Pakistani tailor in Barcelona.
    • Donate-what-you-can
    • Location: Spacetaker, Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter Street
    Friday, August 21, 7:00-9:00pm: Heights Time Bank Potluck
    • Interested in meeting some of your Heights neighbors in a relaxed situation with delicious food and friendly folks? Attend the monthly Heights Time Bank potluck! The Heights Time Bank is a time exchange system that builds community. For example, if you spend an hour doing something for a neighbor (like pet-sitting, small home repair, a guitar lesson, etc.), you earn a time dollar that you can then spend to get another neighbor to do something for you. The monthly potluck is a chance to connect with each other and meet new people.
    • Location: 1133 Winston Street; 77009
    Saturday, August 22, 8am-12pm: 2009 Annual Heights Graffiti Squad Paint Drive and Fundraiser
    • You can help keep graffiti at bay by bringing any gently used cans or buckets of latex paint, cans of spray paint, and empty (and clean!) 5-gallon buckets. You can also contribute monetary donations through cash, checks, and gift cards. If you can't make it to the library on Saturday, you can also send donations to Houston Heights Association, Inc. at P.O. Box 70735, Houston, TX 77270-0735 and write "Graffiti Squad" on the memo line.

    Tuesday, August 25, 7 -8 pm: Proctor Plaza Neighborhood Association Monthly Meeting

    • If you live in North or East Norhill, you are in the Proctor Plaza neighborhood. Come over to Proctor Park and see what's going on in your historic, deed restricted neighborhood.
    • Proctor Plaza Community Center is located at 803 West Temple.
    • There will be brownies, neighbors and a drawing for a $25 Target gift certificate as a door prize for one of the people who attend the meeting!

    Every Saturday and Sunday through August 30, 2009: Leon and Molly Bee Collins: Recollections at Redbud Gallery

    • This very special father/daughter exhibition is artists' first show in an art gallery. Not classically trained as "artists," the duo tells a family's rich oral history through pictures more full of meaning than tecnique. Painted with their hearts the amazing stories, events, and characters of a family are brought to life in brilliant color.
    • Gallery is open Noon - 5pm. Admission is FREE


    Sunday, August 30: Houston Theater District Open House

    • See the inner workings of the Alley Theatre, Hobby Center, Wortham Center and Jones Hall for a family friendly day preparing for the 2009-2010 Theater District season
    • "Houston is one of only five cities in the U.S. that boasts permanent professional resident companies in all of the major performing arts disciplines of opera, ballet, music and theater, and is the only city in America that has a collective Open House involving all of these groups and their multiple venues."
    • Enjoy a FREE concert by the Houston Symphony at Jones Hall beginning at 4 pm. One lucky attendee will win a trip to New York City to see the Houston Symphony perform at Carnegie Hall.

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    A Superhero with a Paint Sprayer

    A few years ago, my friend Jamie and I decided to dress up as superheroes for Halloween. She was Super Freak and I was Super Ego.

    We drove around H-town in our costumes and did good deeds along the way. For example, we passed out lunches to homeless people and campaigned for a congressperson.

    Although we had an immensely fun time, at the end of the day, we took off our costumes and were no longer superheroes.

    The real superheroes are those people who make a difference day in and day out, like Paul Luccia, the man behind the Heights Anti-Graffiti Squad.

    Paul has lived in our neighborhood since 1999. After Hurricane Katrina, he noticed a drastic increase in the occurrence of graffiti in our neighborhood. He had seen other people volunteering in different ways to help our neighborhood, and he decided that painting over graffiti was something he could do. At the time, he was spending approximately six hours a day, 3-4 times a week dealing with the graffiti (in addition to working full-time as a contractor who has done kitchen and bathroom remodeling for the past 30 years).

    With support from the city, local businesses, neighborhood associations, and neighbors, Paul pretty much singlehandedly responds to graffiti incidents in our neighborhood. He takes donated paint, mixes it together to create a "Heights-appropriate color", and repaints the graffitied surface. Usually, the job requires "a person and a half," so he pulls in friends and neighbors as necessary. His goal is to "make it go away as fast as possible."

    Paul admits, "Some of it is actually quite nice, but I can't be the arbiter of what stays and goes." He says most of the graffit is produced by "kids who want to flaunt the law and think it's okay to destroy other people's property."

    Paul covers the 13 square miles of our neighborhood from 610 to I-10 and from Durham to I-45. His efforts have reduced graffiti by over 99%. He has also inspired other neighbors to step up and do their part, like the woman who cares for the rose garden on Heights Boulevard. After she heard of Paul's work, she asked herself, "What can I do?"

    Paul approaches his work with humility and characterizes it as his "way of paying back." He quips, "It's less time than a soccer coach would put it." He enjoys our neighborhood and recognizes that we all must do our part to keep it safe and beautiful. He says, "It takes a neighborhood."

    Paul will be hosting the 2009 Annual Paint Drive and Fundraiser this Saturday, August 22, from 8am-12pm outside the Heights Library, which is located at 13th Street and Heights Boulevard.

    You can contribute to the cause by bringing any gently used cans or buckets of latex paint, cans of spray paint, and empty (and clean!) 5-gallon buckets. You can also contribute monetary donations through cash, checks, and gift cards. If you can't make it to the library on Saturday, you can also send donations to Houston Heights Association, Inc. at P.O. Box 70735, Houston, TX 77270-0735 and write "Graffiti Squad" on the memo line.

    The Heights Anti-Graffiti Squad can be reached at and at (713) 880-4877.

    A Few Ideas for Preventing and Dealing with Graffiti from Paul:
    1. Don't create a solid surface when remodeling or building
    2. Don't inadvertantely create a ladder around your property (with trash cans or other things)
    3. Install extra lighting
    4. Repair holes in fences
    5. Call 311 to report graffiti and then call Paul for help: (713) 880-4877
    My conversation with Paul reminded me that it doesn't take a costume to be a superhero; it takes a commitment to contribute to our neighborhood on a regular basis. Thanks for the inspiration, Paul!

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Heights Happenings

    Saturday, August 15 from 9-10am: Nia Class

    • Introduction to Nia White Belt at the Pecore House of Studio NiaMoves. The White Belt is the foundation for teaching and learning Nia. Everything begins with Principle #1 – The Joy of Movement. The principles of this belt focus on the physical realm of the body and learning how to sustain and increase sensation in the body for pleasure and self-healing. The Nia principles are explored through the lens of science, craft and the art of the body and movement.
    • Free

    Thursday, August 13, 7:30 pm & Friday, August 14, 7:30pm: HITS Theater presents: VIOLET

    • An acclaimed off-Broadway show, “Violet” has astounded critics and audiences with its powerful story, its energetic, toe-tapping Gospel, Rock, Country, and Rhythm and Blues score by Jeanine Tesori, and its well-crafted book and lyrics by Brian Crawley that are not afraid to deal with important, sensitive issues.
    • "Set in 1964 in the Deep South during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, 'Violet' follows the growth and enlightenment of a bitter young woman accidentally scarred by her father. In hopes that a TV evangelist can cure her, she embarks on a journey by bus from her sleepy North Carolina town to Oklahoma."
    • Tickets are $15-25. Additional shows available. Check the website link above.
    • 311 W. 18th Street

    Outside The Heights:

    Now - Feb, 2010: Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust at The Holocaust Museum Houston

    • Colorado-based photogrpaher Norman Gershman's thoughtful black-and-white images and oral history tell a story of a part of the Holocaust largely unexplored. Albania "got it right" when dealing with Nazi Germany- almost all Jews in Albania, a majority Muslim country, survived/were saved. This exhibit tells the story of the code of honor Albanians adhered to which involved refusing to turn over Jews to the Nazis.
    • Regular viewing hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
    • 5401 Caroline. For additional information, call 713-942-8000
    • Free

    Friday, August 14 @ 8pm: Summer Movies Outside the Menil w/Aurora Picture Show

    • High Ho Silver: A Ride Through TV Westerns highlights short excerpts from some of your best-loved television classic westerns. Take a trip back to the golden era of television westerns when the genre was at its peak and families gathered around the television for new episodes of Bonanza, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, The Roy Rogers Show and many other six-shooter classics.
    • Free admission

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    A Thank You and a Tribute

    Birthday card envelope made from a recycled Whole Foods bag

    How do I love The Heights?

    Let me recount one of the ways...

    On White Linen Night, we went to Onion Creek to celebrate my neighbor's birthday. The aforementioned neighbor does a lot for us. He and his wife water our plants when we're out of town, share their basil with us, provide expert consultation (and often labor) on our home improvement projects, call us when there's something on Woot they think we might like, put my name on estate sale signs at midnight (while I'm sleeping) to ensure I get a good spot in line--the list goes on.

    After Hurricane Ike when my neighbor was rebuilding the fence between our two houses, he followed my request and built a gate connecting our two yards. How cool is that?

    When his birthday rolled around, we decided to make him a handmade card and give him a gift certificate to Lowe's. We presented it to him at Onion Creek at his impromptu birthday party.

    Then we went away to an educational conference for a week. When we returned, the card (and gift certificate) were on our front porch with this note attached:

    My name is Mark and I manage Onion Creek. This GC was found by my staff and I wanted to get it back to its rightful recipient. Call me if I've dropped it at the wrong house please.

    Apparently, our neighbor left his present on the table at Onion Creek, and the manager took it upon himself to figure out that it came from me and to hand-deliver it to my house.

    That's pretty much all the evidence I need to proclaim that we live in the Best Neighborhood Ever.


    I called Mark to thank him for being such a superhero. How easy would it have been for any of the staff members at Onion Creek to throw the card away? Or to keep the gift certificate for themselves? Or to set the card and gift certificate to the side and forget about them altogether?

    It takes a lot of integrity and follow-through to hand deliver a lost item to someone's house. This is the kind of neighborhood we live in. It's a place where normal people morph into superheroes to help a fellow neighbor out.

    Thank you to Mark, the manager at Onion Creek, and to all of you who have gone (and will continue to go) above and beyond to help out a fellow neighbor. You make our neighborhood (and the world) a better place.

    Friday, August 7, 2009

    Heights Bites: Vietnam Restaurant

    I believe the understanding is typically "new = improved." Sadly, I really don’t think that is the case with beloved Vietnam Restaurant on 19th Street. There was great anticipation when they closed for a month last winter to renovate and expand. The restaurant certainly looks more… I dunno… upscale but everything else about the experience has suffered. I think the root cause of this is probably that no one really expected (or dare I say even wanted) Vietnam to be fancy. It was the kind of place that was never meant to go upscale and that is probably why the attempt has failed, right down to the plastic covered dining chairs. I can see where maybe they thought they had to compete with newer spots like Thai Spice, but did they really? Thai Spice never has a line out the door on Friday nights.

    This was not my family's 1st trip back to Vietnam Restaurant post-renovation. We have been twice before but it was very soon after they reopened and we have waited, giving them some time to work out (what we thought were) kinks before we returned. We were never “regulars” at the old location but it was one of those "neighborhood places" that was here before The Heights was such a popular destination.
    EDIT: Per comments, I took out a two-line story regarding comment a friend had made about the metal security shutters on the restaurant. The story implied that Vietnam Restaurant had been in the Heights for 20+ years, but apparently was in midtown before coming, like so many other smart people, to The Heights.

    On this last trip, the whole night started with nonsense. Our friends, frequent dining partners of ours, arrived first. We would have 5 adults, 2 toddlers and a baby. The baby would not require a seat, so they told the hostess “5 adults and 2 high chairs.” She escorted them to a round table set for 5 and said “We will just cram the highchairs in.” This wasn’t going to work regardless of the baby, because our toddlers are older and require a full place setting like an adult. We just like them in highchairs to keep their craziness strapped in. So, they told her we would need a bigger table and that there would also be a baby. She said “Yes, I know. Five adults and 2 babies.” No, 5 adults, 2 toddlers and a baby. We would need more room. She gave them a lot of push back and made the situation very awkward. She finally acquiesced but only after asking our friends “Well, how long will you be here?” After 10+ years in the restaurant business, I can tell you that is one of the rudest questions a table of customers can ever be asked.

    The new interior of an old favorite

    But they got the table and sat. One of the reasons we eat with them often is because they brought beers and a bottle of wine. Well, we like their company, but still they are always good for vino! Seeing the bottles, the hostess (who might also be a manager) says “Let me ask you another question…” and follows with inquiries about if they are going to buy drinks or pay the corkage fee. Now, the corkage fee is only $1.50, best deal in town, but they said they would have water (which you have to buy at $1/bottle. This is nothing new, but I always thought it was straaaange). Hostess/manager lady then proceeds to lecture them on how the whole table had to buy drinks if they wanted to avoid the corkage fee- not just them. Including the kids. So they said fine, everyone or we’ll pay for the bottle opener. Then they ordered their mandatory-or-pay-the-fee-drinks and asked for milk for their daughter. One of the strangest drink ordering conversations ever got so much stranger when she said that “Well, all I have is my personal milk. “ Um, what? They got her lemonade instead.

    By the time we got arrived, all this had already gone down and they were just shaking their heads and drinking beers. We got a good chuckle out of the table story and thought the worst was behind us. Until our waitress arrived. Now, remember I said that this wasn’t our 1st time back? Well, service was a big issue on our last two trips but they obviously had new servers after the re-do so we were understanding. After this dinner, I think you might have to fail an IQ test to work there. Our friends were having beers while they waited for us, but also brought a bottle of wine. Hubby and I also brought a bottle of wine, prompting our waitress to ask how many wineglasses. We said 4 (ones of the adults was not of drinking age). She stared at the table for 10 seconds that felt like 10 minutes trying to figure this out. We told her we would all be having wine and she literally could not compute that the beer drinkers would also have wine. At this point I was not yet aware of the milk comment and ordered milk for my son. She didn’t say anything and he got a cup of it, but we all had a good laugh wondering whose it was.

    It’s hard to explain with words how dim the waitress is. She looked confused with every order. We wanted spring rolls for the table. She was confused. We had questions about the menu. She was confused. The kids were going to split an entrée. She was confused.

    But the food came and we did get to eat, despite all the drama.

    We started with Spring rolls and Imperial Rolls. They were all good, although the Imperial Rolls were a little on the small side compared to other places we eat (Vietopia, Miss Saigon). Pretty standard and good finger foods for the kiddos, although the sauces were too spicy for the little ones to share.

    Imperial Roll fixins and the wee rolls themselves

    We ordered several entrees for the table to share (which also seemed to confuse the waitress even though I think this is pretty typical).

    Orange Chicken:
    This was tasty but it was almost like the sauce was burned or over cooked. You couldn’t really taste orange/citrus at all. It still tasted good, though, so maybe that was how they intended it. The chicken was mostly white meat and it was still crunchy-ish under the sauce.
    Fried Rice:
    Basic. Nothing to complain about. Nothing to write home about.

    Fried rice was the usual and not-so-orangy Orange Chicken

    Sweet and Sour Shrimp:
    My husband ordered this after he was told he couldn’t order some dish he used to love off the menu. Oh well...

    While the S&S sauce was pretty standard, it was a little too heavy (maybe "thick" is a better word?) for shrimp. It was acceptable, but again not really “good.”

    Just more "average" when it came to Sweet&Sour Shrimp

    Black Pepper Chicken:
    This was the biggest disappointment. As the person who ordered it said “I keep eating it, but it’s not great.” It was very bland. There was no real sauce to speak of and, even though you could see flecks of pepper and spices on the chicken, it tasted more like friend chicken strips with no flavor in the breading.


    Chicken with Egg Noodles:
    This isn’t the exact name of this dish, but it is under the “Noodle” section on the menu. This order once again confused our waitress- we ordered this for the 2 toddlers to share. We had to tell her 3 times, in 3 different ways, that this dish was for them. To share. Odd, I tell ya.
    This dish is really pretty good and my son eats some variation of it whenever we go out for any Vietnamese or Chinese food. It had a light, white sauce and lots of noodles. All the usual veggies were present- broccoli, snow peas, carrots, bamboo shoots, bok choy, water chestnuts and baby corn. They happily accommodated our request for extra baby corn, as well. In the end, I think the toddlers got the best meal on the table!

    Yummy noodles covered with veg and sauce. "Toddlers' Delight" should be the new name :)

    So, as I reread my comments above, I see that the food wasn’t bad, just not great. So, why did I leave so disappointed? The service has certainly been questionable in the new space and I feel the real loss after the renovation has been the atmosphere. It’s all new waitstaff and they just seem clueless. I don’t know if it’s bad hiring or bad training, but it’s just bad. Their attempt at fancy leaves the restaurant so unwelcoming and patrons no longer get warm’n’fuzzy feeling that comes with eating an old school, divey, neighborhood joint. Even the new hostess stand seems so close to the door that I feel like it keeps me out instead of welcoming me in.

    Plastic covered chair. My Italian grandmother would be proud!

    All's well that ends well, though, and our night ended well indeed:

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    White Linen Night Photos

    Just a little slideshow from up and down Studewood on White Linen Night.

    There were several reasons I decided to start this blog. As an advocate of the neighborhood, I am always trying to tell people how great it is here- especially people who are relocating to Houston from other parts of the country. In the past, I would search for interesting webpages about the area. No offense to the HHA, but theirs was probably the best I would come up with and it still doesn't exactly entice. Part of the purpose of The Heights Life is to offer a snapshot in to life in The Heights. So, while this slideshow doesn't seem to do WLN justice and is just a few very amateur photos, it might give someone who isn't here yet a better reason to check us out. Just sayin'....

    Heights Happenings

    Thursday, August 6th, 11:30 am - 1 pm: Opening Reception for Landscapes: A Photography Exhibit by Houston and Texas Artists
    • Presented by: The Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs, Houston Center for Photography and Houston Arts Alliance
    • City Hall, 901 Bagby, Rotunda / Level 1. Tours of the artwork throughout City Hall will be available.
    • For further information, contact the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs at 832.393.1097
    • Refreshments will be provided.
    Saturday, Aug 8, 10 am-2 pm: Second Saturday Buffalo Bayou Boat Rides ! (weather permitting)
    • These 30-minute boat rides are a unique way to spend the afternoon with friends or family. Feel like you've escaped the city as you glide along the bayou's waters. Look for graceful herons, jumping fish, and even the occasional alligator sunning on the bayou's banks.
    • No Reservations (20 person capacity per trip)
    • Boat picks up at Sabine Street Bridge North Boat Landing
    • Cash Only: $7 - adults, $5 - children (ages 4-12. Children under 4 not permitted)
    • Parking available on Sabine Street Bridge and in City Lot H
    Saturday, August 8, 9-10am: Meditation at Studio NiaMoves

    • Life Bliss Meditation will take place at the Pecore House. There is a $5 suggested donation. Relax, Rejuvenate, Radiate! Come experience Bliss of a meditation technique developed by Paramahamsa Nithyananda, a young enlightened master from India, especially to counteract the stresses of modern life. The Life Bliss Meditation is designed to help center ourselves in our Being and re-connect ourselves with our true meditative nature. There will be a short intro explanation, followed by the 40 minute, 5 stage meditation.
    Sunday, August 9, 12:30-4:00pm: Conquering Craft Area Clutter at Studio NiaMoves

    • Creative types have lots of trouble with clutter. Most will tell you that it’s just a sign of the creative process. The only problem is that too much clutter interferes with your ability to be creative! You re-buy supplies because you can’t find the ones you know you already purchased. There’s no clear surface to work on, either. Come learn ways to control your creative materials and space, so you can stop dodging clutter and create freely.
    • Price: $35 pay by Aug 5th, $45 after. They encourage you to register in advance so they can plan materials and refreshments for you.

    Thursday, Aug 13, 5-9 pm: Traveli'N Gals Social at OoLaLa

    • Bring your girlfriends and enjoy a night out with snacks, margaritas and sangria.
    • See photos from the Gals' past trips and find out where the Gals are headed in 2010
    • Free gift for the 1st 25 guests

    Outside The Heights:

    Friday, August 7, Saturday, August 8 and Monday, August 10: Super Happy Fun Land presents: The Ornery Theatre: Rough for Theatre I and II

    • Two plays, performed together, by Nobel Prize winning minimalist Samuel Becket.
    • Produced and Directed by Michael Switzer, the first show is “typical Beckett. There’re two men, a blind man and a man in a wheelchair, who are, as far as they can tell, the last people around.” The second show opens with “a man poised at a window waiting to jump out. Two men enter to discuss whether or not he should jump.” Both plays are about trying to find some sort of solace in a devastating word
    • 3801 Polk. For additional information, call 713-880-2100 or email
    • All shows at 8:00 pm. $10.

    Saturday, August 8 & Sunday, August 9: Free Press Summer Fest

    • 50+ National and Local Bands- this is some serious music, y'all. From NY hip-hop innovator Prince Paul to Houston's own country-folksy The Small Sounds and everything inbetween, this is the most ecclectic (and possibly most impressive) musical line-up to ever hit Houston.
    • Great music plus art market, beer garden, games and giveaways
    • One Day, Two Day, Fancy Pants and High Roller passes available HERE plus info where you can buy them in person
    • Eleanor Tinsley Park, 12 pm - 10 pm
    • Portion of the proceeds benefit Project Row Houses, a non-profit organization in Houston's 3rd Ward, which believes that "art—and the community it creates—can be the foundation for revitalizing depressed inner-city neighborhoods."

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Coping with Crime

    I hate to say it, but I seem to have bad luck when it comes to crime.

    In my early twenties, I had my first car stolen (yes, I've had more than one stolen). I parked it in a Staples parking lot (in Tampa, FL) to carpool to a professional development course for my new job. When we returned a few hours later, everyone else's cars were still there; mine was not. It turns out that Dodge Neons are very easy cars to steal, and certain sixteen year-olds playing hookie from school enjoy popping out the lock, busting the steering column, hot-wiring the vehicle, and joy riding around town. A cop caught them going through the McDonald's drive-through the same day it was stolen, and my lovely car was returned to me with approximately $800 worth of damage.

    My second experience with crime happened a few years later when I was teaching in rural Louisiana. I awoke on a Sunday morning to knocking on the front door. I pulled the French door curtain to the side to see who it was, and the guy started banging on the door and yelling, "Open the door, _________!" [insert a profanity that involves taking the word "mother" in vain].

    As I dialed 911, the perpetrator started kicking the door. I managed to escape out the back door, just as the glass was breaking on the front door.

    (Long story, short: it turns out that the guy was high on drugs and thought his friends were locking him out of their house.)

    Several years later, the third incident occurred. My partner and I left our house in Denver to go to a 10am yoga class. When we returned, our house had been ransacked by a guy who was apparently looking for cash. We had accidentally left the bathroom window unlocked, and he used a raised carrot bed box from our garden as a step-stool to get into our house. He managed to break into five houses within an hour before being caught.

    When I moved to The Heights last year, I had some trepidation about living so close to N. Main and Studewood, due to my past experience with crime. Our neighbor who has lived on our street for more than 20 years assured us that she felt very safe.

    Less than four months later, we had both our cars stolen (one was parked on the street and the other was parked in the driveway), even though both of them were locked and one of them had a security system.

    And just last week, I woke up at 6:45am to the dog barking next door. I fought the urge to cover my head with a pillow and go back to sleep. I got up and walked to the window to see what was going on. As I got closer to the window, I thought I heard the sound of breaking glass either coming from my driveway or my neighbor's house. Then I heard the sound of an alarm coming from next door. I grabbed my dog and my cellphone and ran to another neigbhor's house across the street, so I wouldn't have to be alone. On the way, I called 911, and three officers arrived after a few minutes.

    After a little investigating, the officers discovered that someone had attempted to break into my neighbor's house. Nothing was stolen, but the experience reminded me of the need to be vigilant when it comes to crime. It's easy to get lulled by the quaintness of our neighborhood.

    As a result of my most recent close encounter with crime, I'm recommitting to the following:
    1. Checking on Things Consistently: It would have been easy to roll over and go back to sleep when I heard the dog barking unusually loudly and ferociously. Even when I heard the glass breaking, I could have chalked it up to being half-asleep and hearing things that weren't really there. We can't drive ourselves crazy with fear, but a little checking up is a good thing.
    2. Bringing a Cellphone: Whenever I walk my dog around the neighborhood, I'm going to make sure I have a cellphone with me, so I can call the police if I see anything sketchy.
    3. Getting My Neighbor's Contact Information: I tried to call my neighbor at work to let him know his house was broken inot, but it turns out I didn't have the rigth number. I'm going to make sure I have the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for everyone on my street.
    4. Keeping Each Other Informed: When a crime occurs on our street, it's important that we keep each other informed, so neighbors can be on the lookout. I was able e-mail several of my neighbors to let them know what happened.
    5. Letting Neighbors Know When You're Away: If you're going to be out of town, ask a few neighbors to keep an eye on your house. They'll be more likely to call the police if they see something unusual happening.
    6. Keeping Doors and Windows Locked: Locked doors and windows won't keep a determined miscreant out of your house, but it definitely increases the difficulty.
    7. Using the Alarm System: It's tempting to leave the alarm system off when I make a quick trip to Fiesta or Antidote. But if I'm paying for it each month, I might as well use it.
    8. Always Locking the Car and Removing Valuables: It's easy to get lazy and leave an iPod or a wallet in my car. I now try to hold myself accountable for removing all valuables. I even use an anti-theft bar, in addition to my car security system.
    9. Call the Police When Something Doesn't Look Right: It's better to be safe than sorry (but remember that a Latino or African American man walking down the street in The Heights should not be immediate cause for suspicion or alarm).
    Overall, we live in a safe neighborhood, and we shouldn't focus too much on crime. However, if there are relatively easy things we can do to keep ourselves a little safer, it's worth it.