4th of July Weekend with Mom

Mi madre came down from Arkansas to visit for a few days. It was a pretty calm, non-eventful visit mainly because it was so hot outside. She preferred to stay indoors. But we did manage to go out and have some fun. We went to The Aquarium Restaurant, petted stingrays in their exhibit, visited the Planetarium at the Museum of Natural Science (which made Mom motion sick), and ate some delicious food at Grandma Jane’s house, and more food on the 4th and watched the downtown fireworks show.

Then back she flew to Arkansas. Only $168 roundtrip on United. Not bad!

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Father’s Day and Other Such Things

It’s been a busy few weeks with school ending and the summer season beginning. We kicked off the summer with Ivy going to Robot Camp at the Museum of Natural Science in Houston

Then I decided to try to get back into bicycling riding, and made a stop at the Waugh Bridge one evening to watch the bats fly away (as they do each night around 8:15 or so).

Then June 19th was Father’s Day and the ladies took me to Dave & Busters for some fun and games and good food.

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Ivy’s School Does Bollywoood

When Ivy said she was practicing for a dance in Helms Elementary international festival we didn’t realize she would go Bollywood on us and take center stage, but that’s what she did! She appears in this video at 2:15 and is on the far-right of the stage in the red belly-dancer outfit. Later, at 3:15 she moved to the center and is dancing with the boy in black:

I actually like some of these Bollywoood videos. It is cheesy sometimes, but it also very colorful and bouncy. This is my favorite:

Happy new year!

Non-stop Bollywood! Too much? Yes, probably.

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Preservation vs Progress

This is a little out-dated. I wrote this in 2014 and forgot to finish and publish it. Better late than never, right?! I added an update…
February 2014

It seems a little sign war has erupted in our neighborhood. Some signs say, “I Support a Historic District in the First Ward!” while other signs say, “Stop Historic Districts!” These signs have cropped up like mushrooms in many yards because a vote is on right now to designate 18 blocks as ‘historical’.

A local blog called “Swamplot” also wrote up a blog about the sign drama.

Our neighborhood is in the midst of major renewal with new homes being built one after another. There are at least 5 new construction sights within 5 blocks from our house, and each sight has at least 3 town-homes being built on it. Things are changing dramatically and new people are moving in each day, while many of the old guard are cashing out, moving out, or just dying off. Things are changing all around us! It’s kind of exciting to witness this transformation happening right outside our front door. We can literally see changes every single day.

The downside, though, to this gentrification is this neighborhood may have a lot of history to it, and some of that history could be getting plowed into oblivion. Some people want to preserve that history and restrict what can be built. Preserve First Ward says the new buildings are ‘insensitive’ and the character of the neighborhood is being threatened, so they want to protect and preserve the historic homes in First Ward.

I get that. It’s about identity. They want to keep the identity (the constitution, personality, integrity, uniqueness, appearance, shape, form) of the neighborhood. They recoil at new progress because it makes like a loss to them, or like they are being erased and obliterated. It feels like being diminished. Obliterated. Forgotten.

Or… that could just be a lot of pretentious nonsense. Not everyone agrees and says that sanctioning something as ‘historic’ is just a sneaky way to thwart progress and growth, as well as place everyone under the arbitrary lordship of some judge or board. Who are these little administrative emperors? Who gets to decide what is ‘historic’? And who died and made you King or Queen? The times are changing.

So, it appears the age old battle between Preservation and Progress has erupted once again. Will the greedy, money-grubbing corporate home builders win and line our streets with uniform Townhomes? Or will the little band of moralizing and pretentious know-it-all snobs take charge and control our neighborhood by their loving hands?

I agree with both sides to some degree. It would be nice to preserve some history and maintain a certain character to the neighborhood, but I also like the idea that Houston is growing and changing and a new generation is moving into this area. The biggest problem with preserving history here is there really isn’t much visible or documented history. Even though the neighborhood has been around for more than 100 years, there are very few photographs or stories to go with it. As for ‘character’, well, some of it is kind of ugly and looks like poverty, deterioration, neglect, and ruin. Many of the ‘historic’ houses were known for prostitution and drug deals. In fact, the character – or maybe I should say reputation – of this neighborhood was that ‘it is where you if you want to get shot,’ as some police officers have recanted. It was known as one of the worst neighborhoods in all of Houston.

Perhaps progress would be a good thing. Make some new history? Develop a new character? I say, take a picture of some of the run-down old ‘historic’ houses, and then tear it down and build something much more beautiful. Which side do I predict will win? I anticipate eventually both.


An agreement has been reached and parts of the neighborhood have been declared a historic area, although it is a smaller area than originally requested. If one of the original plans were approved, then the historic area could’ve included our house. It certainly covered a large chunk of Summer Street. But now it is smaller and our house at 1511 Summer Street is not considered historic and not under all those restrictive codes.

Here’s a map of the approved historic district


New Drama – Would you like a High Speed Train in your Backyard?


It turns out there are plans to develop a high-speed train from Dallas to Houston. That sounded pretty awesome at first, until people in the neighborhood learned the train would go right through First Ward! Suddenly, the more hipster, artsy people are complaining and saying, “NO! Not in my back yard!” But I’m not so sure if it is a bad thing. There are train-tracks and trains that run through our neighborhood all hours of the day and night. We’re accustomed to it already. And supposedly the high-speed train would be built on a platform ABOVE the existing tracks. It would also be going very slow through our neighborhood as it would be approaching or departing the terminal.

Some say this will drive property values down, as well as add a lot of noise. I’m not so sure about that either. In fact, it might increase property values since the terminal for the train would be within a mile or so of this neighborhood.

It remains to be seen even if this high-speed train is going to be a reality or not. It is still in the discussion phase. For now, though, it is fun to think about. It would certainly make travel to Dallas and back fast and fun!


Just Some Cool Stuff in Our Neighborhood

  • Swamplot blog – Current news and photos of development and drama in the First Ward!
  • Blighted corner of Houston sees rebirth – “It was a bright yellow wall and a blue door that recently coaxed me off I-45…”
  • Ecclesia Church – “We believe that the Gospel impacts every area of a person’s life and culture. We reject unfounded categories that divide the world into uniquely sacred or purely secular. God is redeeming all of creation through Jesus.” This church is famous for tattoos. Yes, tattoos! CNN ran this story on Ecclasia Church in 2012 – Inking for Jesus.
  • Coffee Shop – Paper Co., which opened this past July, is tucked inside of a refurbished paper factory just outside of downtown that also houses Ecclesia Church. If you aren’t familiar with Ecclesia, it’s a “holistic missional Christian community” church famous for its Cruciformity tattoos.
  • The Artist Lofts – Great before and after pics. This is a Loft that used to be a hospital that was built on top of a cemetary. A municipal cemetery was established on the site in the 1840s, and over the next few decades thousands of people were buried here. The cemetery was not maintained, however, and in the early 1920s the Houston City Council decided to build a new municipal hospital on the site.
  • First Ward Houston – The Official First Ward Website.
  • First Ward Wikipedia info – Just the facts! Wikipedia rules!
  • Chronicle Coverage of Uptick in Housing -The area has been dubbed the “First Ward Arts District” for its collection of artist residents and studios. A bike trail runs through the area, which is one of the closest neighborhoods to downtown just north of Washington Avenue.
  • Winter Street Studios – Art and more Art
  • Spring Street Studios – Art here too!
  • Houston First Ward History – Like it says.
  • East End Renewal – This isn’t in First Ward, but it is right next door. We used to live in an a Loft over there. This article contains some good information on the renewal going on in Houston.


Representative Moonbat

By the way, our Congresswoman is Sheila Jackson Lee and she is a moon bat.


Some Info on Washington Avenue


Other Websites on the topic of Historic Districs and/or Property Rights

  • The Ups and Downs of Living in a Historic District – “To newbies, the law can read like YOUR HOUSE IS HISTORIC AND YOU BETTER NOT TOUCH IT, but to others it’s a siren song, preserving that aspect which makes your house or neighborhood exceptional.”
  • Myth: Local Historic Districts are an un-American violation of property rights – “The myth states that local historic districts cause a loss of property rights. Local Historic Districts no more infringe on property rights than do many other laws and private rules that Americans have long accepted.”
  • Six Reasons to Say NO to Historic Districts – Despite the opinions of all the “experts”, Historic Districts are simply another scheme for government control of private property, and despite all the slick reassurances and arguments to the contrary, Historic Districts are another layer of bureaucracy.
  • Enough! One Town Abolishes Their Historic District – For 20 years, town residents and property owners have chaffed under what has been termed an “unneeded layer of government.” A majority of residents were fed up with what they called “arbitrary decisions,” “ego clashes,” “arrogance” and “bureaucratic restrictions” on economic development, home improvements and private property rights by the Architectural Review Board (ARB) which applied Historic District “Guidelines” for new construction, renovation and demolition. The “Guidelines” were, in fact, not guidelines, but enforceable local regulations patterned on federal and state standards, and their formulation and publication were partially funded through the National Park Service.
  • Historic District vs Property Rights = Serious Business – This local news report ultimately favors the side of Historic District, but at least airs the complaints of the other side: “There are allegations of refusals on the part of bureaucrats to go along with reasonable requests for repairs and upgrades, claims of long delays in getting any decision and reversals once those decisions are made.”
  • National Historic Register Challenges Private Property Rights – This entire website is dedicated to preserving Property Rights and opposing designations of Historic Districts. “The word “challenge” derives from the Latin calumnia, meaning trickery, from calvi, to deceive.”
  • Basic Facts: Wikipedia overview of Historical Districts


The End.

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Fair. Play.

One of my favorite memories of my childhood was going to the fair and rodeo every year, and now I get to pass that same annual fun on to Ivy – only in a much bigger way. The fair at Rodeo Houston is HUGE, and this time around Ivy was tall enough and brave enough to ride some of the bigger thrill rides. Holly hooked us up with some half-price carnival tickets, so we rode LOTS of things. Well, I should say THEY rode lots of things (Ivy and her friend Karma) while I just watched. I’ve learned that some carnival rides make me a bit nauseous, especially that ones that just rock back and forth or spin around and around.

I was a bit surprised at both Ivy and Karma’s willingnes to ride some scary-looking stuff, but then again they did balk at a few crazy rides. I rode a few with them as well and screamed along with the little girls.

After the carnival we went into the exhibit hall and watched a calf being born, some chickens hatching, and lots of little piglets sucking on a sow’s teets. We also fed some llamas and goats and 1 burro, and even got to play with a starfish and a sea urchin (at a rodeo? Whaaaat?). It was a great day!!

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Your Grandmother is a Pomeranian

Holly decided to subscribe to this service called Ancestry.com, and what a treat that has been! I’ve found a wealth of information in her family and mine both that is just blowing my mind. As for her family, it turns out that she (and Ivy) are related to a long-forgotten kingdom of Pomerania, which is the area in modern-day Germany and Poland, dates back more than 10,000 years. Holly’s 14th great grandmother was Sophie of Pomerania (in German: Sophia von Pommern) (1498–1568) was a Queen consort of Denmark and Norway as the spouse of King Frederick I of Denmark. She is known for her independent rule over her fiefs Lolland and Falster, the castles in Kiel and Plön, and several villages in Holsten during her tenure as queen and queen dowager.

The timeline:

  • Sofie of Pomerania 1458-1504 (Wismar, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany)
  • Anna Von Mecklenburg 1485-1525 (Nassau, Deggendorf, Bayern, Germany)
  • Anna Van Solms Laubach 1524-1594 (Neuenstein,Jagstkreis,Württemberg,Germany)
  • Dorthea VonHohenlohe 1557-1625 (France)
  • Wolfert Webber 1570-1630 (Kings Mansion, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands, death: Holland, Reusel-de Mierden, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands)
  • Martje Webber 1603-1677 (Flekkeroy,Sogne,V-Agdr,Norway, death New York, United States)
  • Sara Magdalena Jans 1636-1686 (New Amsterdam, New, Netherlands, death New York, United States)
  • Symon Schouten 1659-1730 (Holland, Reusel-de Mierden, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands)
  • Ephraim Schouten 1758-1807 (Fishkill, Dutchess, New York, USA, death: Half Moon, New York)
  • William Schouten 1784-1870 (New York, USA, death Half Moon, Saratoga, New York, USA)
  • James Schouten 1819-1882 (Half Moon, Saratoga, New York, United States)
  • Phoebe Schouten 1842- (Pennsylvania, USA)
  • Addie C. Bixler 1972- (Illinois, USA)
  • Alice Marie Bixler 1912-1995 (Centerville, Turner County, South Dakota, USA)
  • Jane Louise Heller 1944- (Vermillion, Clay County, South Dakota, USA)
  • Holly Janelle Sommer 1970- (Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, South Dakota, USA)


More about Pomerania

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SkydIVY Dutton

What better thing to do on a pleasant Sunday afternoon than to go skydiving? Indoors, no less!

Holly bought Ivy and I a nifty Christmas present which was a session of indoor skydiving at iFly Houston. What a treat! You put on a jumpsuit and helmet, and then step into a wind tunnel with your instructor, and off you go wobbling and flopping around like a road-sign in a hurricane. It only takes a few seconds to realize this is all about moving and positioning your body correctly to stay afloat. Neither Ivy and I got it right the first time around and mostly just bumped into the walls and fell to the floor. But the second time around we both seemed to get the hang of it just enough to stay in the air and enjoy the ride.

These videos are of our second time in the tube. Ivy did a great job! She was a little afraid to go high, but the instructor held on tight and took up about 1/3 of the way through the tube. She loved it! Here’s her session:

I loved it too. I think I could get the hang of this with a little practice. They do have different classes and levels of expertise you can ascend through, but I’m sure that would cost a small fortune. Still, you can learn to do flips and turns and formations and all kinds of cool stuff.

Awesome Christmas present, Holly! Thank you very much!

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2015 Year in Review

What a year of extremes it has been! It seems like there were long bouts of boring times, but then again as I look back there was plenty of action and adventure… and injuries! Ivy broke her arm, while I cut my hand pretty severely on some barnacles in the Bay. There was also the adventure with Jose who showed up on my doorstep in August with mysterious pain in his side, which I realized (and confirmed later the next morning at 5 a.m.) was as a kidney stone blockage.

There was also lots of travel including 2 trips to Central America, a couple of visits to Dallas, 1 trip to Austin, 2 trips to San Antonio, and numerous trips to Galveston. We fed horses at the Houston Police Horse stables, went to a Children’s Festival, visited Kemah Boardwalk with grandma, visited the Museums, rode an elevator to the top of a skyscraper, and lots lots more. It was a busy year!

Year in Rewind part 1

Year in Rewind part 2

  • Horse Feeding – We discover you can go feed the Police horses carrots and apples.
  • Rodeo Houston – George and Loann from South Dakota come to visit.
  • Spring Break – Mom comes to visit and we do Galveston and Kemah Boardwalk
  • Fifi gets diabetes! – She begins losing weight quickly, but we realize that isn’t a good thing. Sure enough, she is sick.
  • Ivy and I go to Comicpalooza – And we end up the news! Abc13 was there asking people if they had difficulty parking or getting downtown.
  • Floods and the roof falls in! – While sitting in the living room, suddenly a chunk of ceiling falls on to the couch.
  • Mission Trip to Belize – A men-only trip to Belize to do construction work and 2 days at a Boy’s Camp. What an awesome week! It was hard work and exhausting, but very rewarding. We ended the week with a float on inner-tubes through a cave. Awesome!!
  • Ivy & I go to Dallas – We attend a wedding and then an afternoon at the Perot Museum.
  • Ivy breaks her arm! – She thinks she is spider-woman and climbs the door frame, but falls face-first to the ground and breaks her fall (and her arm) as she hits the floor.
  • Ivy joins the Girl Scouts!
  • A night in the hospital with Jose – at 1 a.m. Jose comes asking for help for unbearable pain. I suspect it is a kidney stone. Sure enough! By 5 a.m. the doctor confirms and says it is too big to pass so he must be moved to another hospital for its removal.
  • Mission trip to El Salvador – 6 days digging a water well in a little village. Hard work, but what an awesome week! Lots of rain.
  • Ivy catches her very first fish!
  • Thanksgiving Day fun at the Pleasure Pier in Galveston – After stuffing ourselves with food made by Jane and Holly, all the guys (me, Jose, Ray, and Braden) and 1 girl (Ivy), and we had a fun afternoon riding stuff on the Pier.
  • Jane decides to buy a new house! – The process begins…
  • Ivy has her first Girl Scout Camp
  • Christmas in Arkansas – we hang out with the relatives in Arkansas, watch the new Star Wars movie on Christmas Day, and then stop in Dallas and visit the cousins (Aunt Toni and Nabil) –
  • Six Flags in San Antonio – Ray, Jose, and 4 of our kiddos head to Six Flags for a day of (cold) fun. Ivy rides her very first roller-coaster! We also visit the Alamo.
  • Back to San Antonio – Holly, Ivy and I head back to SA and stay at the same hotel (thanks BhP Billiton for that awesome $500 gift card!) and we enjoy lunch at the Tower of the Americas.
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San Antonio! Then San Antonio Again!

After we returned from Arkansas for a Christmas, Ray Canatella showed up in Houston and we decided to head to San Antonio for the weekend. Holly sat out this trip, so it was just Me, Jose, & Ivy in the truck, with Ray and his 3 teenagers in the car ahead of us. We met up at Six Flags for a (chilly) day of rollercoasters and shows. Ivy rode her first rollercoaster! It was the Road Runner Express. She says she was traumatized and hated it, but I don’t believe that.

We also visited the Alamo, took a boat ride, and had lunch on the Riverwalk at “Dick’s” where the waiters are deliberately rude.

The very next weekend we returned again! This time it was just Holly, Ivy, and myself. We stayed at the same hotel (Hilton) and spent the remaining amount of money on the $500 hotel gift card Holly received from BhpBilliton. We walked over to the Tower of Americas and enjoyed a really nice lunch at the Landry’s restaurant up at the top (thanks April Rabanera for the Landry’s gift card). Later, we also went to the Magic Time Machine for dinner. It was a nice visit to San Antonio… again!

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Christmas 2015

Off we go on another family tour!

We stopped in Dallas to visit with Chuck & Tina, then on up to Arkansas for a couple of days of food, family, and fun. Ivy seemed to really enjoy playing with her cousins and even shoved one down the stairs (no, not really! But this picture looks like that’s what happened)


We saw the new Star Wars movie on Christmas Day with Jim Gooing and his bunch, then later that night headed back toward Dallas. Nice visit! Good to see everyone. 🙂

The next day we visit with Holly’s aunt and Uncle Toni and Nabil and their sons and their kids. Once again, Ivy had a great time playing with her cousins.

As we leave, some nasty storms are rolling in and we even drove through some hard rain. Just a couple hours later a big tornado ripped through that area and destroyed many homes. But no damage was done to our relatives or friends in the Dallas area.

Traffic backs up along I-30 (at right) near tornado damaged apartments Sunday, December 27, 2015 in Garland, Texas. Violent storms ripped through the North Texas area late Saturday, spawning tornados that killed 11 people. Motorists at the George H W Bush Turnpike and 1-30 interchange (seen at top right) were killed. Some cars were thrown off an overpass to the highway below. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)

Traffic backs up along I-30 (at right) near tornado damaged apartments Sunday, December 27, 2015 in Garland, Texas. Violent storms ripped through the North Texas area late Saturday, spawning tornados that killed 11 people. Motorists at the George H W Bush Turnpike and 1-30 interchange (seen at top right) were killed. Some cars were thrown off an overpass to the highway below. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)

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