Monday, January 25, 2010

Sew Crafty Continues to Be So Neat

I finally made time to catch up with Sarah Gabbart of Sew Crafty fame. We talked back in May, while Sew Crafty was at the White Oak location, and I wanted to follow-up and see how things were going at the new location street on 321-B W. 19th Street (the old location of Tansu).

Wow! The new space is beautiful--airy, colorful, and fun. The front of the shop showcases many retail items available for sale: appealing fabrics, helpful books, patterns, kits for folks who want a convenient way to do a project, basic supplies like seam rippers, yarns (primarily vegan), scrapbooking supplies, and embellishments. Although the main focus of Sew Crafty is still the classes, the retail options are certainly substantial enough to inspire a bit of crafting, and there are definitely enough things to "help people in a pinch," says Sarah.

There were enough fabrics, patterns, and fabrics to satiate my crafting habit, and they even had my favorite applique mainstay--Steam A Seam--which I wasn't even able to find at Wal-Mart (after I realized the Jo Ann's on north I-45 closed down).

In the back, there was a knitting class going on. The new space is large enough to accommodate four classes simultaneously. Upstairs, there are two separate areas for sewing classes, which include a wall of sewing machines, a wall of irons and ironing boards, and large tables for laying out one's work. As someone who has taken sewing classes in the past, I was super-excited about the prospect of not having to wait in line for an iron! Plus, the upstairs space has natural light streaming in from a full wall of windows, so the atmosphere is very welcoming.

Due to the larger space, Sew Crafty is able to offer more classes and expanded options. They also continue to offer private parties (for birthdays, girls' night out, baby showers, etc.) and private classes.

They also have drop-in crafting. For $3-$5 per project, you can stop by and make an entire project from start to finish. Sarah got the idea from her own frustrations with crafting. She would get excited about doing a project and then have to purchase all the separate items that she would "maybe use one." As a result, she jokes that she has "a million different hole punches." Drop-in crafting means you don't have to buy separate supplies or an entire package of something. Sew Crafty supplies everything you need. When I stopped by this weekend, the drop-in craft option was making little pie brooches in honor of National Pie Week.

Sarah and her staff continue to be full of positive energy, and I thoroughly enjoyed my hour in the place. I'll also be participating in their "Crafting a Year" contest. In an attempt to inspire more crafting, they are holding a monthly contest that will culminate in a grand finale. To participate, you:
  1. Send a photo of one new project each month to Alanna at
  2. Photos must be submitted by the fifth of each month. Ex. February 5 is the deadline for January submissions.
  3. All submissions must be your own projects. (No pictures of Grandma’s quilt or Aunt Betty’s knit scarf).
  4. Each month the submission with the most Facebook comments or “likes” wins! In December one grand prize winner will be announced and receive a $150 Sew Crafty gift card and a gift bag full of crafty goodies.

Note: You don’t have to be on Facebook to win - we will upload the photos and folks can vote on Facebook or on the blog with their comments!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Heights Happenings: Jan. 20-27, 2010

Saturday, January 23; 2-3:30: Exploring Mindful Eating Class
  • Join Personal Chef Adam Miles for a 90 minute introduction into the habits of mindful and intuitive eating at NiaMoves Studio. Learn practical ideas on stopping the war with food; it’s time to make peace with what’s on your plate.
  • During our journey, we will carve through the myths and bad information about dieting and return to a more natural and sustaining balance that makes sense to our minds and bodies. There will also be food demonstrations which highlight some super foods which are easy to overlook on the grocery store shelf.
  • Participants will leave with valuable information to make some revitalizing changes to their diets and health. A recipe booklet will also be included in the price of the class.
  • Cost: $25 early bird registration week before, or $35 regular registration.
  • TO REGISTER contact Adam Miles 832-231-2312 or at for payment information.
Get Tickets Now:

Sunday, February 28; 5-8pm: HHA Volunteer Appreciation &Community Improvement Dinner
  • The Annual HHA Volunteer Appreciation and Community Improvement Awards Dinner will start things off this year at 5pm with a cocktail hour on the first floor of the HHA Fire Station. The theme and attire this year are "The Art of Volunteering" with "smArtfully Casual" attire. At 6pm, the dining experience will be presented artistically. The evening will continue with the recognition of past and present volunteers.
  • Tickets at $20 per person or $175 for a reserved table of 8. Click here to purchase online. Seating is limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, so please act fast!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Houston Heights Time Bank: Neighbors Helping Neighbors

There are a lot of taglines that encapsulate The Heights in my mind, such as:
  • The convenience of the city, the comfort of a neighborhood
  • Quirky and quaint
  • Neighbors helping neighbors
It's my belief in that last tagline that inspired me to start a time bank in our neighborhood when I moved here in 2008.

The Heights is a neighborhood where neighbors help neighbors. We certainly saw it in the impromptu barbecues following Hurricane Ike and in the extension cords stretching across streets to share power, but I also see it when my neighbor puts my trash can on the curb when I'm out of town or when another neighbor mows a piece of my lawn, since he's already doing his. We see it in more formal endeavors like the Anti-Graffiti Squad and the Heights Kids Group.

A time bank is another way to expand the network of neighbors helping neighbors. It's 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 system is similar to bartering, but everyone's time is worth the same. An hour is an hour is an hour, and you don't have to provide services for the same person that helped you. It's a network of sharing, which ensures that you can get what you need out of the exchange.

The Houston Heights Time Bank currently has 38 members who offer a wide range of services, including (but certainly not limited to!), rides to the airport, backyard chicken eggs, cooking, web database programming, babysitting, copy-editing, fitness buddies, house/yard work help, help with budgeting, and knitting lessons. The services include things that people do professionally, as well as things they do as hobbies.

All offers and requests are tracked by an online site. You can browse people's offers or set up a specific request. If there's a match, you can e-mail the other person within the system and it sends a notification to their regular e-mail account. You e-mail back and forth until the exchange is set-up, and both of you agree on the date, time, location, and total number of hours. After the exchange, you record the hours in the system, and the other person confirms them. If there are any disputes (which there haven't yet been), you can contact the Houston Heights time bank coordinator for support.

Time banking is an international movement with more than 300 time banks throughout the world. The Houston Heights Time Bank is specific to The Heights, in order to minimize the amount of driving that people have to do to provide or receive services. The boundaries are north of I-10, west of I-45, south of 610, and east of Shepherd.

Anyone interested in joining the time bank attends one of two monthly events: either a new member orientation or a monthly potluck. The next new member orientation is Sunday, February 7 @ 3pm, and the next monthly potluck is Friday, February 19 from 7-9pm. New members automatically receive 5 free Time Dollars for signing up.

The time bank got started last April, and since then, I have participated in a number of exchanges. I helped a woman organize her office, drove a couple to the airport for their honeymoon, and sewed someone a bed for their dog. I have received fresh chicken eggs, a home-cooked meal, and help hanging a rain gutter.

Time banking is an amazing way to meet new neighbors across The Heights and to get valuable services without opening our pocketbooks. Participating in the time bank is completely free to members, thanks to the sponsorship of the Brazilian Arts Foundation on 11th Street and Sew Crafty on 19th Street.

If you are interested in learning more about time banking, you can visit the website or e-mail me, the Heights Time Bank Coordinator, to RSVP for one of the upcoming events.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Heights Happenings: Jan 13-20, 2010

Sunday, Jan 17 and Sun, Jan 24, 4-5 PM: Bellydance classes at Samadhi Studios
  • Belly dancing in the Heights! A class that is fun and functional: Lose weight, flatten your belly, firm your butt, hips and thighs, sculpt a curvy body, increase your energy level, build stamina, improve muscle strength and balance your emotional stability, look and feel younger. You will definitely have more fun and success with this total body workout. This class is also recommended during pregnancy.

Thru January 31: The Ggallery is proud to present Academy Award Nominated Film Maker and Artist Ramzy Telley

  • Filmmaker/Artist, Ramzy Telley will be exhibiting "Charmed", new work of sculpture,video and digital prints.
  • Ramzy Telley graduated from the CalArts experimental film program in 1984. His film work has been screened at notable museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and the Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China.
  • In 2000 Ramzy photographed Academy Award nominated film The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo and his film "Death In Vegas" was awarded the Grand Remi "Best of Show" at the 2007 Houston International Film Festival. Ramzy has produced numerous art performances, such as live indoor bullfighting, for the Houston art troupeRubber:An Art Mob and is currently a film professor at Pratt Institute in NYC.
  • 301 East 11th Street

SAVE THE DATE: Saturday, January 23, 6-9 PM: Hello, Lucky SECOND Anniversary Party

  • Making the Heights a more beautiful place for 2 years!
  • There will be a small fashion show at the shop, drinks and music.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Hop, Skip, and Bus Ride to Downtown

Many of us live in The Heights because it provides the best of both worlds: quaint, quiet town near the amenities of the city. As much our proximity makes it easy to commute to downtown, it makes it even easier to take mass transportation.

Although our city is nowhere near New York or Boston in terms of scope or convenience, we do have a mass transit system and some of our neighbors are using it. I wanted to interview a fellow Heights resident who uses mass transit every day (to commute to her job in the oil industry) to get an insider's perspective on what it's like to hop on the bus from The Heights.

Without further ado, here's Katie of Rutland Street:

Where do you work?
  • I work for Chevron in downtown Houston.

2. Why did you decide to start taking public transportation to work?

  • My motivations were equally about economics and environmental responsibility. Chevron incentivizes employees to carpool or take public transportation. While they would have also subsidized the cost for me to park in a nearby garage, I preferred the option to have them pay my entire bus expense. I’ve already saved a couple hundred dollars by taking the bus instead of driving and parking. We moved to the Heights from the San Francisco Bay Area. Though I didn’t commute by bus, I commonly used the train and bus system to go to the airport or into San Francisco from our house in Oakland. Eight years in the Bay Area made me more aware of alternative transportation options (ridesharing, casual carpool, biking, etc.). Now that we live so close to my work downtown it seemed like an obvious solution to take the bus.

3. When did you decide to start taking public transportation?

  • As soon as our team was relocated from Sugar Land to downtown (October 2009). The Heights-Sugar Land commute by car was a nightmare!

4. Describe your typical day taking public transportation to work (e.g., How far away is the bus stop?

  • There are two lines that pass within 3 blocks of our house – the 40, which goes down 11th, Watson, Bayland and Houston on the way downtown, and the 50, which follows Heights Blvd all the way to Washington Ave, then Sawyer and then Memorial to downtown. I typically pick up the 40 on 11th at 7:09 AM, but I have a whole hour’s worth of bus times for both routes times written down in our kitchen (just in case I am running late). It’s normally on time within 5 minutes—thankfully late rather than early—and I have it worked out as to exactly what time I have to be out the door to make it. It’s a twenty minute ride to downtown and then three blocks (five minutes) walking to my office. Going home, the 40 and 50 share a stop downtown so I just take whichever one comes by first. The whole bus commute, assuming average waiting times, takes me about 40 minutes compared to about 20 for driving, parking and walking from the garage to the office.
  • The buses are, for the most part, clean and well-maintained. Other riders are quiet, but on the occasion when there are loud discussions I am grateful for my headphones. There are two buses I normally use (the 40 and the 50) and neither is ever crowded. In fact I have never even had someone sitting directly next to me. I’ve taken other bus routes to destinations around town and none of those was crowded either.
  • Of course there are minor annoyances- on really rainy days the seats are wet, one time I nearly sat on a cheeseburger, and I have seen a homeless man take up the entire row of disabled seating with his sleeping bag. The driver once passed me up and I had to chase him in the street waving my umbrella. But that’s part of the experience!

5. Would you recommend that others take public transportation? Why or why not?

  • Absolutely, if it is a one-bus trip to your destination. Connections can be a hassle. Getting to downtown from the Heights is a breeze, and getting from downtown to anywhere in Houston can pretty much be done on one bus. I’ve taken the bus from downtown to meet friends at Rice Village, the Galleria and Washington Corridor after work. It’s less convenient to get back to the Heights from these areas so I had a friend drive me home.

6. Do you have anything else to add about public transportation in the Heights?

  • I used Google Maps Public Transit option to find out what bus lines were near our house. Google Maps also shows you the scheduled bus times and estimates your walking time. I’ve found it to be very accurate with bus times, but it tends to underestimate walking time a little bit. You can also download Metro bus routes to your iPod
  • If you plan to commute, get a Q Card. It saves time and money (for every 50 paid rides you get five free). The Q Card works on buses and the light rail.
Thanks, Katie!

Do any of you have experience (positive or negative) with using mass transit from The Heights? Do share!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Your Neighbor Can Sing

I am not a jealous person by nature and I rarely find myself coveting parts of anyone else's life. After all, I have a great life. Wonderful husband, healthy children, loving family, fabulous friends, cute house in a wonderful neighborhood. What more is there, right? So, I can go about my daily life and be pretty happy. Until... I meet someone like Kinga Skretkowicz-Ferguson. You see, Kinga also has a really great life: job she loves, wonderful husband, adorable child, lives in a cute house in a great neighborhood, has lots of wonderful friends. She is a very happy person. The difference between Kinga and me that turns me green with envy is: she can sing. Not just sing. SING. Really sing. Opera sing.

An old boyfriend once told me that I had the worst singing voice of anyone who sings as much as I do. I enjoy it. And when I am in the car (with my poor children), I pretend that I can keep up with anyone- from Nina Simone to Crissy Hynde to Alicia Keys. The real world, and old boyfriends, tells me different.

I met Kinga before I knew she could sing. She lives in my lovely little part of The Heights, Proctor Plaza, and her son is just a little younger than my oldest. We met at a playgroup or the park or something to do with mommy life. Kinga is the kind of person you automatically like. She friendly and smart and pretty. Anyone will be drawn to her. I knew her quite a while before I knew she was an Opera singer and it pleased me to no end, despite the jealousy. Pleased me because it was yet another confirmation of what I already believe- that in this neighborhood, more than most others, you just never know what kind of story you'll find behind the front door of a tidy, little mint green bungalow.

Lovely Kinga, on the day we had lunch at Shade

Kinga grew up in Poland and her route to the Heights was circuitous. She was a student at a Polish university in the mid90s and it was there, through student theater, she met a visiting American professor named Jamie. They started to date and not long after his job took him to Paris to teach. Kinga was headed to graduate school anyway and decided on Lyon University where she could get an MBA and be close to her beau. There relationship solidified and they were married in Paris in 1999 (yeah, so yet another reason to be jealous of her).

Together, their mutual education goals then brought them back to the States. Jamie would be going to Indiana University to complete a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. Kinga would also enroll in their Opera program, the largest in the country, and get her Masters in Opera and her Performers Diploma. Then upon completion of their degrees, Jamie was offered a job at University of Houston in their Honors College.

Studying a role

Kinga and Jamie were tasked with finding an apartment from Indiana. Contacts they had in Houston told them there were only two neighborhoods they would enjoy: Montrose and the Heights. Initially, they chose Montrose and, in a bit of small world freakishness, actually lived on the same block where my husband and I lived before we moved to the Heights! They were enjoying their new neighborhood, the proximity to everything, the general feel that Montrose has. But life progresses and soon they had a baby on the way. Their needs changed and they felt they wanted something more residential than Montrose but with a lot of the same key factors- "close and cool." They remembered the Heights and started to look around here. Like many of us, they were "enamored with bungalows" and fell in love with the Proctor Plaza neighborhood for this reason. In addition to the bungalows they coveted, they also saw bustling Proctor Park and knew it would be great for their child to live so close to a great outdoor space.

Kinga as Adele in Strauss's Die Fledermaus when she was performing with the Chicago Opera Theatre

Kinga feels strongly that they made the right decision. She says the "sense of community is so important because life in a city can be alienating." This sense of community in the Heights helped her in a way she never anticipated. When Kinga and Jamie moved to Houston, she was working with an opera company. Singing. Remember that part? Anyway, it involved constant travel and she knew she wasn't going to be able to keep it up forever. Still, singing and travelling were a big part of who she was. It was not going to be easy to make a change. But then she was pregnant and there is no bigger change than that. She faced a watershed moment where everything was going to be different. Living in an area with such a strong sense of community allowed her to get entrenched and really aided in the transition from "an active career to a more stationary life." With new friends and supportive neighbors, Kinga felt a strong support system developing around her. Little things- like the ability to go places with the baby in his stroller- became very important as she transitioned to her new lifestyle.

Kinga gave up travelling but not her place in the world of opera. That MBA she got in France came in handy when she decided to embark on a more settled life. With a family to think about, arts administration was a great way to be practical and passionate at the same time. Kinga found an ideal situation with Houston's Ars Lyrica as their Executive Director. The Heights is as much home to Ars Lyrica as the stage at Zilka Hall. The Artistic Director, Matthew Dirst, also lives here. Many business decisions for the organization are made in the Heights at places like Antidote. Living in the Heights makes it easy to work a job that takes you to different parts of Houston as well. From home to her office in the Galleria takes Kinga 10-15 minutes and the "commute" downtown isn't even worthy of the term. Kinga made a comment that is something I often find myself saying: when you live in Montrose you feel like you are so central, so in the middle. Then you move to the Heights and realize that this is the most accessible neighborhood in Houston.

In her life as a Heights citizen and Ars Lyrica Director, Kinga hopes to find a way to bring the two together. While the ensemble performs at places like Rienzi and Bayou Bend, Kinga would love to be able to bring early music to a greater audience by organizing concerts in less obvious places. She hopes to be able to reach out to the community and see if people would be interested in experiencing Baroque music, all played on period instruments, in intimate settings or at local events. If you know of an event or venue where some early music would be welcome, you can contact Kinga

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Heights Happenings: Jan 6- 12, 2010

TONIGHT! Wed, Jan 6, 6:30-7:30 PM: Informational Meeting on TXDoT's I-10 Feeder Road Project
  • This project will (more than likely) affect you. TXDoT representatives will be available to explain their plans for construction and answer questions.
  • For additional information, check out this post on Off The Kuff. Many people fear this will cause major flooding issues for the Heights, so show up and get the skinny.
  • Hosted by State Representative Jessica Farrar
  • Stevenson Elementary School (5410 Cornish St., Houston, TX 77007-4302)

Starting Jan 9, 2010: The Art Car Museum presents a retrospective of Houston artist Ron Hoover

  • "Ron Hoover was one of the most gifted artists of his generation and one of the few painters in Houston, Texas to achieve an original style. His death in 2008 was a terrible loss to the Houston community."


Closing this weekend, Jan 10: "rock, scissors, paper" at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

  • " 'rock, scissors, paper' features the work of five artists (from the U.S., England, and Taiwan) who use commercially printed found paper in their work. From cutting to folding, stitching, layering and collage, Claire Brewster, Renata Lucia, Inca Pan, former HCCC resident artist Lisa Qualls, and Wonil Suh use found pages, scraps, and prints in their work—sometimes as the sole material and sometimes as an element."

Friday, Jan 8, 6:00 PM: House of Blues "Texas High School Rock Off"

  • It's exactly what it sounds like. At last tally, 4 local bands competing for $500 and a chance to open for some yet unknown band at HOB. What's more fun than some bands with heart? Someday it could be your kids!
  • Tickets start at $6.75

Monday, January 4, 2010

Behind the Scenes with Andrea of Aurora Picture Show

Pictured: Andrea Grover giving Jonas Mekas a fruit basket and the 2009 Artist Award from NAMAC

I get a lot of weird looks from my friends who live in other states when I proudly declare that I love living in Houston. They simply can't fathom it. The concrete? The traffic? The pollution?

I know, I know.

But I live in The Heights. I live in a neighborhood chock-full of inspiring, amazing, creative, and innovative people like Andrea Grover (and that pithy list doesn't even do her justice).

Andrea is the "curator, artist, writer, etc." behind Aurora Picture Show. When I try to tell people that H-town is quirky, I cite the Art Car Museum, The Orange Show, and Aurora Picture Show (and the presidential busts, even though I have no idea what those are all about).

Andrea didn't start with the vision to spearhead the microcinema movement in Houston. It just sort of happened that way.

She was born in Oceanside, New York, and studied art at Syracuse University. She continued her studies in Chicago and then in New York. After graduating, she applied to the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts for a two-year residency.

During that time, her "fondness for Houston" grew, and she couldn't ignore the incredibly priced real estate that her artist friends were gobbling up. They were buying homes and studios, something that would have been nearly impossible back in her home state.

A friend of hers showed her an old church that was for sale in The Heights for a whopping $49,000. At the time, it was still an operating Church of Christ. Andrea and her boyfriend "fell in love" with the history and obvious personalization of the church. For example, knitted afghans graced the backs of pews and two lazy boy chairs were available at the back of the church for older members.

Simultaneously, she and her boyfriend started creating short films. It was the beginning of the digital video and desktop editing boom. Suddenly, making your own videos was very affordable. However, in the pre-YouTube days, there weren't a lot of venues open to filmmakers. They realized that their new home would be the perfect theater, and Aurora Picture Show was born.

When it came time to promote their first show, they had no mailing list and "no sense of how to market." They sent out 50 zeroxed postcards and hoped for the best. To their delight, a 100 people came. Apparently, the microcinema movement was gaining momentum, and they were a part of it.

Andrea explains that being part of the microcinema movement in the late '90s was like a "return to the early days of cinema." She describes "an audible response to what people saw on the screen" and explains that it was "much more social."

Over the years, Aurora had a couple big media moments, like being featured on national PBS and the Sundance Channel. After ten years of ongoing success, it became apparent that Aurora had staying power.

However, Andrea says that "Houston loves novelty," and the Aurora road shows started showing better attendance. Since then, the theater has moved out of the old church and now screenings take place at the Menil or Discovery Green or at truly offbeat locations like junkyards and breweries.

Currently, Andrea no longer runs Aurora Picture Show, but she still plays an honorary role and helps "a little behind the scenes." She still lives in The Heights and says she likes the way "the culture...spills out onto the streets." She finds the neighborhood to be "very cooperative" and helpful. She explains, "I grew up on Long Island, where we didn't make eye contact with our neighbors, even though the houses are closer than they are here."

She frequents 19th Street and Shade for happy hours and went through a period where she tried to do all her shopping within a mile of her home.

Spending an hour with Andrea reaffirmed that I love living in The Heights. Andrea cites this quote from Jonas Mekas as the reason why she founded Aurora Picture Show:
In the times of bigness, spectaculars, one hundred million dollar movie productions, I want to speak for the small, invisible acts of human spirit: so subtle, so small, that they die when brought out under the clean lights. I want to celebrate the small forms of cinema: the lyrical form, the poem, the watercolor, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, and bagatelle, and little 8mm songs. In the times when everybody wants to succeed and sell, I want to celebrate those who embrace social and daily failure to pursue the invisible, the personal things that bring no money and no bread and make no contemporary history, art history or any other history. I am for art which we do for each other, as friends.
I am so thankful to have neighbors with interesting passions and the courage to follow them.