Newsflash

Key West

Key West Before I visited Key West I had the mistaken notion that the city was a part of the United States. After a day shopping Duval Street and an evening watching the sunset from Mallory Pier, I realized the degree of my mistake. I was 150 miles from Miami, and 90 miles from Havana. I was 45 miles south of the Tropic of Cancer. I was in the Conch Republic.

Normality assumes a different definition the farther one travels south of the mainland. Normal for Key West has been hard to define since before John Simonton, an Alabama businessman, paid Spain $2,000 for the island in 1822. Only mosquitoes and pirates inhabited the forsaken speck of land and, of the two, malaria was the lesser health threat. The West India Anti-Pirate Squadron chased out the pirates by 1830, leaving the island in the domain of rum-runners and wreckers, people who lived off the ships that regularly crashed on the shallow reefs. Tourists had to wait until 1912 when Henry Flagler’s railroad reached the southernmost point of the continent.

Tonight at Mallory Pier, as though it’s an unexpected occurrence, people cheer as the sun slips into the crimson sea. Technicolor clouds frame the horizon, discordant drum and guitar cords drift above the hubbub like gulls sailing overhead, and people elbow their way past jugglers, Tarot card readers, portrait artists, and self-proclaimed gurus. Mallory Pier, more famous for its sunsets than the Grand Canyon, is not the place for a tourist to blend in with the locals. But, I don’t particularly want to blend in with a drop-out stock broker with tie-died hair.

After my first day in Margaritaville, I’m not sure who owns the island, the crazies with cameras or the crazies with the Florida license plates. But twice, I was given the opportunity to own a piece of paradise myself. Time-share condo salesmen stalk tourists like barracudas after a school of sardines.

Just as seeing the sunset on Mallory Pier is obligatory, shopping Duval Street is the required introduction to the Key West scene. After strolling the first block, I realized that there is no way to walk down the crowded street and maintain a shred of dignity. But if I wanted dignity, I would have bought a ticket to Williamsburg, not the Conch Republic.

Key West has never been known for attracting, encouraging, or even condoning, a dignified image. Pirates and smugglers aren’t dignified; neither are tee-shirts with lewd messages, street vendors blowing conch horns, corner musicians emulating Jimmy Buffet, or bars that start filling shortly after breakfast. Where else could the mayor protest the military by water skiing to Cuba (a six-hour trip), and no one thinking it a particularly odd thing to do?

But for what Key West lacks in dignity, it compensates with style. It is the only town I know that can absorb a million tourists a year and maintain its identity. Duval Street is a study of Key West kitsch. Unlike most coastal tourist towns or the mega-theme parks in Orlando, Key West has turned tacky into authenticity. This town isn’t about to take anything seriously, much less itself. And it imparts the same carefree, accepting attitude to its visitors. If you can’t be laid back on a subtropical island, stay home and read the Wall Street Journal.

What endears Key West to conchs (locals) and tourists alike is the sense of place that permeates every street in the town. Key West has roots that reach back in history and give permanence to what would otherwise be a one-night-stand tourist town. The elegant architecture of 100-year-old homes, some converted into intimate hotels, towering kapok trees and luxuriant tropical gardens, and the salubrious days and balmy nights transport visitors into a separate reality, which is what vacationing is all about.

I make my first pilgrimage into Key West’s rich historical heritage when I step into Ernest Hemingway’s home. I previously visited Sloppy Joe’s bar, where Papa was apt to spent his afternoons after a heavy morning of writing. Now, I’m seeing where he wrote 70 percent of his life’s works, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, filled the 19th century, Spanish Colonial house with furnishings and memorabilia from his travels in Spain, Africa and Cuba and with his famous polydactyl cats. He kept 50 of them, all with more than five toes, and all named after famous movie stars and celebrities Hemingway knew. Forty- two of the descendants still loll around the grounds and on the catwalk, which connects the house to Hemingway’s study. Feline lovers can buy a kitten, but the waiting list is five years long. Literary lovers can sit in the Nobel Prize winner’s airy upstairs room and imagine the clatter of his manual typewriter, then go downstairs and see the urinal he brought home from his favorite downtown bar to use as a cat watering trough. Tacky? No, pure Key West.

The Conch Train is the best way to see the historic sights of the town. Once again I swallow my dignity and board one of the decorated cars. A jeep disguised as a miniature train engine pulls the tram, while a narrator fills the trip with a blend of interesting history and senseless trivia. Somehow even the corny jokes seem appropriate here.
We drive down streets lined with palm trees and bougainvilleas, past the Audubon House Museum (in which Audubon never stayed), past Truman’s Little White House (which the President loved to visit), and old Fort Zachary Taylor, which captured 1,500   Confederate ships. This is like a Disneyworld ride, except the people passing on bikes with dogs in their baskets are real, not robotic figures.

The tram rolls slowly through the streets, but nobody appears to notice something as mundane as a tiny locomotive cruising their neighborhood. I feel as if I’m in the Twilight Zone between Oz and Wonderland where Alice and Dorothy are discussing who’s more interesting, the tourists or the locals. But the conchs are too busy enjoying each other to pay much attention to the tourists. Maybe Key West’s best kept secret is that the tiny island is big enough for everybody.

Going Topless

GoingTopless2Recently, we asked readers of Houston Woman Magazine to tell us “why they drive convertibles.” It came as no surprise that there are a lot women out there going topless! Below are just a few of the responses we received.


I own a black 500 SL Mercedes convertible. It is fun to drive, and I drive it with “attitude.”  Going to the beach with the top down makes me feel like I have left my “challenges in life” at  home for the day. It makes me appreciate how God has blessed me with not only my good health but...the finer things in life, and I realize hard work does pay off. I bought this for myself. -- Carolyn Faulk

My ‘06 Solara convertible is totally cool on all levels. When I’m driving with the roof down I feel exhilarated, free and on top of the world – sorta, kinda like wonder woman sans cape. There’s also a feeling of luxury, wealth and empowerment as weird as that may sound (Gimme a break; I’m a Leo hear me roar!). People who drive convertibles smile at others driving convertibles. It’s that birds of a feather thing working like a private club. I’m a tall red- headed single gal looking for my Mr. Right without the benefits of starring in “Sex in the City. This car is a dude magnet. I’m SO driving it to the altar! -- Theresa Behenna

I drive an Audi A4 Cabriolet. It’s silver with black leather. I bought it as a last hurrah before I got engaged and married. It even has a personalized LSU plate 'KT.' I love how I feel when I drive my car. It’s sporty and honestly gets me all sorts of positive attention and is very helpful when I need to gain a lane. I just smile, and no one has an issue letting me in — unless the top is up and its another female. Men are pretty accommodating! But convertibles can be trouble:  mine has a blind spot and a soft top. Not kid-friendly. I will be parting with mine soon. -- Katie Mehnert

I drive a red PT Cruiser convertible, and I love it! I like driving with the sun shining down on me and feeling the wind in my hair and on my face. Somehow, that feels like real driving! I also love that my car is a little unique. When I first got it, I got a lot of looks, double-takes, horns honking and people waving at me (my car). People want to know more about it. I have discovered it is fun to be noticed. --Evalyn Shea

My first convertible came to me in a dream as a young girl – a yellow Cadillac convertible. So, when my Dad drove one into our driveway, I fell in love! As a divorced woman, I bought my first non-carpool car – A Toyota Celica convertible that I loved and drove for 17 years. With a push of a button, I feel freedom, and all the pressures of the day fly out of my head. To this day, at age 64, that is still possible in my new Ruby Merlot Mitsubishi. The dream is still alive. -- Beth Ann Scher

I drive a silver BMW 330cic convertible. It was one of those someday things that I always wanted but never thought I would actually own. One day I got on the internet and started looking. About two months later, I found the car of my dreams. I put down a deposit, called my insurance company, flew to Dallas and drove my car home. I love the way it makes me feel.Smart, Sassy and Sexy.  They say you are what you eat.. I say you are what you drive. -- Pam Ortiz

I drive a 2007 Audi A4 Cabriolet, and I love it...When my boy-friend began thinking about buying a new car, I got him to look at convertibles. Thought I could keep my Explorer and drive his convertible when I wanted to. It was a good fantasy. I get a free convertible without giving up my SUV. Unfortunately, my boyfriend did not want to spend the money for a new car. In the process of trying to convince him, I fell in love with the Audi.  After finding a one-year-old model with only 3500 miles on it, I bought it. But, there’s a happy ending. My boyfriend bought my Explorer, so I still have it when I need it. -- Teri Walter

Nutcracker Market

Nutcracker MarketThe Houston Ballet will usher in the holiday season in grand style November 11-14 when it presents the 30th Annual Nutcracker Market, "Under the Big Top," at Reliant Center. Over 300 merchants will be on hand with unique offerings for the entire family — home and garden décor, gourmet foods, clothing and accessories, toys and novelties and more. All proceeds from the market benefit the Houston Ballet Foundation, Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy and its scholarships.

All Nutcracker Market special event tickets include repeat admission for all four days.

The Wells Fargo Preview Party will be held held on Wednesday, Nov. 10 from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Tickets start at $150 each; and the chairs are Lara Bell, Roseann Rogers and Kristi Schiller.

The Saks Fifth Avenue Fashion Show and Luncheon is slated for Thursday, Nov. 11 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tickets start at $135 each, and the chairs are Leticia Loya and Randa Duncan Williams.

Macy's Fashion Show and Holiday Brunch will be held on Friday, Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tickets start at $85, and the chairs are Philamena Baird and Hattie Parker-Ball.

Priority Shopping, with tickets priced at $35 each, is set for Thursday and Friday, Nov. 11-12 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 13-14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In 2009, the Nutcracker Market welcomed over 85,000 shoppers and raised more than $2.5 million for the Houston Ballet. Merchant sales totaled $13.7 million. More than 500 volunteers staffed key positions throughout the market.

"The Nutcracker Market is the largest source of contributed and special event income for Houston Ballet's $18 million budget," said Houston Ballet Managing Director Cecil C. Conner. "Over the last few years, the market has contributed between 11 and 12 percent of Houston Ballet's annual budget. The growth of the Nutcracker Market has been vitally important to Houston Ballet's overall success. We are very fortunate that Houston Ballet Guild and our corporate volunteers are so passionately committed to this event, and contribute so freely of their time and talents."

To celebrate the Nutcracker Market's rich history, this year's chairman, Shawn Stephens, found inspiration in the exciting and fun-filled world of the circus.

"An anniversary of this magnitude calls for a great concept," she said. "I wanted a huge, fun, colorful theme for our 30th anniversary."

Stephens, a past Houston Ballet Guild president, seasoned market volunteer and trustee of the Houston Ballet Foundation, continued, "The market has so many moving parts and comes at such a busy, festive time of year, that a circus theme instantly came to mind. The circus concept is completely fresh and happy, and it suits a venue as large as Reliant Center. Both the designs from our professional decorator and the playful displays that our merchants create in their booths should make the market a sensory treat for our shoppers."

The Nutcracker Market has indeed earned its rightful place "Under the Big Top." It has evolved from the simple European-style holiday fair conceived in 1981 by ballet patron Preston Frazier as a fund-raising project for the Houston Ballet Guild into a holiday shopping extravaganza. Beginning in churches and hotels, the market quickly outgrew these venues, and made its debut at the George R. Brown Convention Center in 1988. Due to its continuous growth, the Nutcracker Market moved to Reliant Center in 2002.

This year's attendees will find a check-in near the ticket windows for strollers, carts, rolling bags and wagons, as they are not permitted inside the market. (Pets are not allowed either.) Free shuttles run throughout the parking areas, and pedi-cabs will transport shoppers to their cars.

For more information, call 713-535-3271 or visit This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Women on the Move

2010 Women On the Move

Texas Executive Women held its annual Women on the Move Luncheon Thursday, Oct. 14 at the InterContinental Hotel. During the big event, 10 top female business leaders were honored for their professional accomplishments, community service and life journey. The annual luncheon benefits the scholarship and mentoring programs of TEW.

This year’s honorees include: Beverly Denver, president and CEO of Distaff Publishing LLC and editor and publisher of Houston Woman Magazine; Irma Diaz-Gonzalez, owner of Employment & Training Centers, Inc.; Charleta Guillory, M.D., F.A.A.P., associate professor of pediatrics in neonatalogy at Baylor College of Medicine and associate director of Level II Nurseries and director of Neonatal-Perinatal Public Health Program at Texas Children’s Hospital; Winnell Herron, group vice president, Public Affairs & Diversity, H-E-B.; Clare Sullivan Jackson, president and CEO, The Sullivan Group.

Dr. Renu Khator, chancellor and president, University of Houston; Holly Montalbano, vice president of external affairs, ARAMARK; Gilda Ramirez, vice president of small business development, Port of Houston Authority; Y. Ping Sun, Rice University Representative and Of Counsel, YetterColeman LLP; and Peggy A. Whitson, Ph.D., chief astronaut, NASA, Johnson Space Center.

The honorees were among 20 finalists, who were each interviewed by the a selection committee composed of current TEW members and former Women on the Move honorees.

Margo Snider, former chief nurse of the Houston VA Medical Center who retired in 1999, has served as the chair of the annual Women on the Move program and event for the first time in 1993, when she was president of TEW. In 2002, she was asked to chair Women on the Move activities again. She agreed and has been responsible for its great success continuously since then.

Snider said, “The Women on the Move event is always exciting and inspiring. All classes bring unique stories, but the common thread is that all of the women [honored] have been mentored along the way. The bottom line is that no one does it alone, thus the importance of our responsibility to mentor.”

The first Women on the Move Luncheon was held in 1985. Since then, more than 250 women have been recognized.

TEW and its members are dedicated to supporting programs that recognize, develop and fund the advancement of women and girls in the community. Through its diverse membership, the organization works to inspire women and girls to achieve their goals and give back to the community.

Those wanting information about nominating someone next year, as a Woman on the Move for 2011, can find it online at www.tewhouston.org or by calling 713-473-3222.

Filthy Secrets

Every morning at about nine-o-clock, a little ray of sunshine comes through the window of my kitchen and ruins my life. It taunts me, mocks me and points a gleaming spotlight directly on my flaws, exposing them to the world.

I am not sure if that beam of light is a random act of nature or a call to action. All I know is that it shines right on what I thought was my relatively clean floor, clearly magnifying a shocking amount of dog hair, fuzz, crumbs and dirt.

Each time this truth is revealed, I grimace and run to the laundry room to grab the broom, mop and dustpan. As the shaft of light moves around the room, I follow it, frantically extracting the newly discovered filth.Some days, I wonder if my reaction to this exposure is healthy. Do a few crumbs really matter in the whole scheme of things? Is there something wrong with me because I want my floor to be clean? Am I anal-retentive? Do I have OCD?Over the years, philosophies on the importance of cleanliness have run the gamut. The best-known adage, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” has biblical roots, and similar proverbs about the spiritual benefits of being physically clean are found in both the Talmud and the Koran.

Now that Leprosy and The Plague are no longer worries, the maxims of modern society attach a negative stigma to cleanliness — as if it were a disease itself. Refrigerator magnets tell us, “Immaculate homes are run by dull women.” Paperweights and coffee cups suggest, “An untidy desk is a sign of genius.”

Somewhere in the 1980s, use of the Freudian term “anal retentive” became trendy, showing up in “you might be” lists and Saturday Night Live skits making fun of people who thrive on order and control. Similarly, the psychological label “obsessive-compulsive disorder” has become a part of pop culture; it is the primary feature in TV shows like Monk, Obsessed and The OCD Project.

During bunco last week, some wives and I chatted during a break in play.

“I hate dusting,” I said, and a few others agreed.

“How about stubble in the sink? Drives me crazy.”

“Hair on the bathroom floor is the worst,” another wife said, and we nodded.

The banter went on, covering issues such as the dehydrated peas and carrots under the fridge, dust on the fan blades, unmentionable substances behind the toilet seat and gloppy hairballs in the drains. We all agreed there is nothing more satisfying than putting the crevice tool on a Shop Vac and sucking it all up – the dust, the hair, the old candy wrappers under our teenage sons’ beds and the peanuts between the couch cushions. None of us was ashamed or embarrassed to admit it – we like our houses to be clean and tidy. 

That truth is illuminated every day by that pesky little ray of sunlight and, as long as the sun continues to shine, I will run and get my broom.


Lisa Smith Molinari is a free-lance writer and new contributor to Houston Woman Magazine. (http://www.themeatandpotatoesoflife.com)

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