Houston Rodeo Horticulture Competition Shows Off Beauty and Wildlife

Courtesy of HLSR
For many, the word "horticulture" evokes memories of biology class and the geeky side of the plant world: scientific classifications, pH balances and the like. However, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's Horticulture program is much more interesting than it might sound on the surface. It's a collection of programs with plenty of practical life applications. Just about everyone can benefit from understanding what makes for a good photo or how to set an attractive table for a party.

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The 5 Best Houston Skate Parks to Visit During Winter Break

Categories: Environment

The biggest skate park in North America right here in H-town.
It's a sound most skate heads crave: That click-clack of the board slapping concrete, the distinct rattle of the wheels as they hit the ground and keep spinning.

Over the Christmas holiday there's no doubt plenty of skaters had their stockings stuffed with all manner of skateboard accessories. But where's the best place to break in all that gear? Houston has invested millions in its skate parks and options feel plentiful, especially if you're willing to travel.

We asked local amateur street skater, and professional pizza delivery dude, Brad Dunn, what he thought the best locations for skating around Houston were. He shared with us his top five spots to practice your tricks and kick-flips, and his thoughts on what makes them worth the trip (or not).

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A Few Survival Strategies Hurricane Ike Taught Me

Photo by Born1945
Not the radar picture any of us want to see

Growing up in Houston and the surrounding area, the threat of a hurricane hitting the coast was something we came to expect. Anyone living in the region knows it's not a matter of if, but when one of the big storms spins into Galveston, bringing a whole bunch of wind and water our way.

Those of us who have lived in the greater Houston area know the drill. Secure things that can blow around, put plywood over the windows, and be prepared to evacuate if you live in an area prone to flooding or other predictable storm hazards. Have your storm radio and enough non-perishable foods and water to last you and your family for a couple of weeks. Have a plan in place for your pets if you have any. Most of these things are common sense.

For some reason, even though hurricane season runs from June to November every year, a whole bunch of us seem to just forget to prepare until there's a huge storm bearing down upon the city. The mad scramble to get last minute supplies always seems to occur, and we would save ourselves a lot of headaches if we had our supplies stocked sooner.

The other predictable hurricane problem concerns evacuations. Sure, if someone lives particularly close to the coast, or lives in housing that is particularly at risk from wind damage or flooding, evacuating is the sensible thing to do. But a panicked, last minute mass exodus of Houstonians who live in sturdy homes is not a good idea.

Hurricane Ike was a good lesson for me, and for a lot of people living in the Houston area. I got off lucky. My electricity was only off for five days, and I knew people suffering without it for a lot longer than that. But living without electricity and a few other things in the days following Ike helped me develop a few good strategies for hurricane survival.

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5 Things People Should Quit Putting on Their Bucket Lists

Photo by Purple Slog

Bucket Lists have become very popular in recent years. The idea of compiling a list of things to do or achieve before shuffling off the mortal coil seems rather appealing to a lot of people, and it's understandable. We all want our lives to mean something, and most of us have longed for adventure at one point or another. It's easy to end up 40 or 50years old and realize that time is not an inexhaustible commodity in our lives. Having a list of stuff we want to experience before we die seems like a rational way to plan and make those things come to pass.

But I'm beginning to hate a lot of the common things I see on bucket lists. Not judging people's choices, but if one scours the Internet, there are lots and lots of "Top 10" and "Top 100" bucket lists. Some of these are undoubtedly fantasies that some writer came up with for a website, and others seem to be the most popular answers from surveys, so who knows how many folks really have these things on their personal bucket lists. Still, some of these entries seem pretty badly thought out for one reason or another, and maybe it's time to rethink them before they end up on another list.

5. The I'm a Good Person List Item

I think most people want to be considered kind and compassionate to others. Yes, there are some unrepentantly selfish people that don't seem interested in being nice, but most of us seem to place some importance on that. That's probably why I see quite a few Internet bucket list "best of" articles that include something like, "Perform a kind deed without expecting anything in return."

Yes, we should perform a kind deed without expecting the person benefiting from your kindness to repay it in some way, or without it benefiting us at all.

Shouldn't we do that kind of thing anyway? Why is that a bucket list item? Unless a person is a total rat bastard, shouldn't he or she be treating people kindly and trying to be helpful throughout their lives? If being kind or acting selflessly is such a rarity in a person that they reserve it for a once in a lifetime bucket list activity...wow.

I can see them walking off afterwards saying, "I hope y'all enjoyed that one act of kindness of mine, thanks for helping me scratch something off my bucket list, I'm going back to being an awful person now."

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The Reasons a Person Is Unlikely to Be Attacked by a Shark in Texas

Photo by Travelbag Ltd.
Probably not going to see this in Galveston anytime soon.
In Texas, your chances of being killed in a shark attack are less than being struck by lightning. A person has a higher chance of being bitten by any number of snakes in this state, or getting crushed by a tractor trailer on the drive to the beach.

Although recently a teenage girl was bitten by a small shark in Galveston, unprovoked shark attacks are exceedingly rare in Texas, with the International Shark Attack File recording a mere 38 since 1911. Of those, only two were fatal, the last occurring in 1962. Considering that the last time a person was killed by a shark in Texas waters was before Beatlemania, it makes the chances of a fatal encounter with a shark around these parts look unlikely.

Contrast that to Florida. Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach, which is statistically the area of this country with the highest number of past shark attacks, has 257 recorded since 1882. We're looking pretty good here in the Lone Star State.

The honest truth is that people are a lot more dangerous to sharks than vice versa - something that we hear over and over watching the Discovery Channel's famous "Shark Week", usually during a show exploiting our collective fear of sharks.

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When was the Last Time You Visited a Downtown Houston Park?

Categories: Environment

Photos by Yuri Peña
Allen's Landing
As you read this, it may be pouring rain outside. Alternatively, it may be so bright outside that you're not sure if you're in the greatest state in the union or on the best star in our solar system. This is Texas, so it really could be either. Hell, this is Texas, so it could be both.

But it will not always be raining, nor will it always be so hot you start making references to cliches about eggs and sidewalks. No, this is Texas, which means we get our fair share of beautiful days too.

And if you're looking to spend one of those days outdoors, why not flip the script a bit and head to one of Houston's downtown parks?

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Hermann Park Switches It up With Its Parking. Get Ready.

Categories: Environment

Photo courtesy of Hermann Park
Get ready for a new parking place

Starting today, Parking Lot C at Hermann Park -- the one outside the Houston Garden Center, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Miller Outdoor Theatre -- is no more.

Instead, a new, bigger lot -- also called Parking Lot C -- will open in its place today. To get to it, drive along Hermann Drive and enter at either Jackson or Crawford streets.

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New Family Garden Set to Open at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Categories: Environment

Photo courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin

Reading over the press materials for the about to be opened Luci and Ian Family Garden (a new venture for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin), I was struck by how much sounded like the kind of fantasy garden created by a children's book author,

"A maze made of native shrubs, giant tree stumps for kids to climb on, giant bird nests made from native grape vines, a grotto with caves and a waterfall, a lawn designed with native turf, a creek with dinosaur footprints and water activities," are just some of the promised windfalls.

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10 Adult Toys that Aren't Full of Banned Toxic Compounds (sNSFW)

Photo by The U.S. Army

Hey, so you know those adult toys you've got stashed away in your sock drawer? They might be full of toxic compounds that are banned for use in most items in the United States. Fo' real. It's time to start side-eying that vibrator.

You see, earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Customs confiscated 200,000 dolls that were shipped over from China, just in time for the holidays, because they contained high phthalate levels. Phthalates, or chemical plasticizers, had been used to soften the dolls' plastic outer materials, which would presumably make them more cuddly and all. But as helpful as those plastic-softening phthalates can be, they're equally as pesky on the toxic side. They aren't good for your health, especially when items that contain them are chewed on.

The FDA considers phthalates a "possible human carcinogen," and studies on lab animals have showed some nasty results, even in low doses. Exposure has even been linked to preterm birth in recent studies.

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The Bayou Planting Guide: Updated and Ready to Help Save Houston

Categories: Environment

A spirit guide in handy form
When I lived in Mississippi on the edge of undeveloped land, our family spent a lot of time and effort beating back the kudzu during the year. We were beating it because it couldn't be killed. At least we never figured out how.

Kudzu was one of those well-meaning efforts to improve upon nature. Years earlier, as the story goes (and I believe it because I had a friend there who said he did this as a kid) Boy Scouts had been sent out to fight off erosion with this handy dandy import, planting it along fields and streams and everywhere a little green was needed. Turns out, as most people now know, kudzu is incredibly invasive and chokes the life out of native plants. It was a great bad idea.

In Houston, through the ages, we've made a habit of trying to improve upon nature as well, as Terry Hershey, co-founder of the Bayou Preservation Association, notes in her forward to the second and latest edition of The Bayou Planting Guide for Houston. And the results have been calculated in increased flooding and lost opportunities. We thought bayous weren't that important. Now we've changed our minds about that. And now, we could use a little help in putting things back together.

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