Sunday, April 26, 2009

Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid reopens

This past weekend Moody Garden's rainforest exhibit re-opened for the first time since Hurricane Ike. But because I am new to Houston, it might as well have been the first time ever - as I had never seen it. And, it was fab!!

The exhibit under the landmark glass pyramid in Galveston suffered extensive water damage during the storm that ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast on Sept. 13, but the staff has been working on rebuilding it for the last seven months.

"This is my baby. I watched it grow and nurtured it. During the hurricane, I was glued to my TV and worried about what could be happening," said Donita Brannon, the Horticultural Exhibits Manager. "I was pleasantly surprised when I got here that the glass pyramid was intact. Not one piece of glass was broken."

I was amazed, too. With all the damaged that occurred in the area and the homes that were literally washed away, you would have thought that the glass structure would have had suffered more damage than it did.

But what did get damaged were the plants inside. Brannon says about a third of the pyramid was flooded with up to five feet of salt water - and if any of you have a green-thumb, you know that salt water and plants don't exactly mix.

"If you saw the amount of water and damage that was here, you'd be amazed that everything is so green," Brannon said. "A lot of the plants are re-blooming."

But nature has a way of coming back and throughout the entire rainforest, there were signs of new life in the form of blooms, new leaves and seeds. The staff says that after the storm, they even noticed that the fish were breeding more than usual.

"In nature, after high water storm, a chain of events starts to occur. The same thing happened within the pyramid," said Greg Wittaker, Animal Husbandry Manager. "Even in here, nature takes care of its own."

Inside the pyramid, you'll find an acre of new tropical plants from Africa, Asia and the Americas along with colorful macaws, turtles and freshwater fish. In fact, the collection of plants is one of the most complete reproductions of the actual rainforest in North America.

"We really want people to learn about why the rainforest is important to us and why we should preserve it," Hamachek said.

Check it out and let me know if it really is better than before.

Oh...and by the way, the Palm Beach part is opening on May 16. I don't know what that is, but it sounds tropical and relaxing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spending the day with WWE superstar John Cena and 50 surprised kids

More than 50 kids' wishes came true at Reliant Center when World Wrestling Entertainment superstar John Cena showed up for a pizza lunch and a special fan session.

Let me just start by saying that John Cena was great with the kids. In fact, he was such a nice guy, that he is now not just the kids' hero, but mine too.

The 50 kids and their families came from all over the country to take part in the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania in Houston, and somehow, Cena was able to make each of them feel special.

"Moments like this are special for me," Cena said. "As long as Make-A-Wish wants me, I'll be happy to keep granting wishes."

Based on the response from the kids, Cena may be granting wishes for a long time. The children cheered, shook his hand and hugged the wrestling superstar as he spent a little one-on-one time with each of them. Cena also signed hats, shirts and books.

It was an afternoon these children would never forget. In fact, some of the older ones were texting and calling their friends right after meeting the wrestling superstar to share the news.

That's because the kids had no idea they were going to personally meet Cena until that moment.

"I didn't know I was going to meet John Cena until just now," said Paul, who was there with his brother, grandfather and mother. "Not until they called my name to go up and meet him."

Paul Wilson was just one of the children at the event. He was diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition a couple of years ago.

"They flew my family and I down from Indiana," said Paul. "It's my first time seeing the WWE live. I've only seen it on TV."

Over the weekend, the kids had a private tour of the Houston Zoo, an autograph session with the WWE Superstars and Divas, a special WrestleMania Axxess event and of course, the Make-A-Wish pizza party with special guest John Cena.

Paul's grandfather, William Wilson, says the entire event came as a surprise. (Paul is the boy in the orange t-shirt and glasses in the photo).

"They asked if we were available this weekend and flew us out first class from Indiana. It's been nice. We didn't need to worry about anything," said Wilson.

Watching the kids laugh and smile, you almost forgot that each of them had a life-threatening condition, including Paul.

"They found a tumor in my brain when I was 16. That's when I joined the Make-A-Wish Foundation," said Paul.

Paul was one of the luckier kids in the room as his condition is currently in remission. His grandfather said that after they found the tumor, Paul underwent intense radiation treatment.

"He just had a MRI and it came back clear. So we're hoping it stays that way," said Wilson.

But just in case the tumor does return, the family is thankful for each day and especially for the support they've gotten from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"The foundation has been really wonderful. I can't say enough good things about them," Wilson said.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New dinner series promotes 'green' dining

Close to a hundred people were having a really good time on Saturday night. They were sipping on springtime cocktails and enjoying a farm-to-table dinner at FM150's first dinner series.

Yes, I know FM150 sounds like it's a radio station, but believe me, it's not. Instead, it's a really innovative dinner series that showcases local farmers within a 150 mile radius of Houston. Their goal: Raise money for Urban Havest and introduce people to green dining.

And this isn't just for vegetarians. Green dining basically means eating anything that is raised fresh on the farm. So while the produce is going to be mmmm....mmmm....good, there is also going to farm-raised meats, poultry and seafood from the Texas Gulf.

Each dinner event in the series will challenge Houston's top chefs to travel to these local farms to meet farmers and gather produce to create a fabulous family-style meal for the event's diners.

The first event was held on March 28 in Bellaire at the studio of photographer Ralph Smith. The venue was absolutely breathtaking. Tables were set up in the courtyard around a candle lit pond. It was intimate, cozy and a totally different experience from eating in a busy restaurant.

The meal, which consisted of locally grown produce, fresh seafood from the Gulf and farm-raised pork, was prepared by culinary star Randy Evans, the executive chef and owner of Haven Restaurant. Haven is scheduled to open this summer and be a green-certified venue. It will feature every "green" feature possible including a shade garden in the restaurant tended to by the staff.

In addition to the mouthwatering meal, guests enjoyed homemade desserts created by award-winning pastry chef Rebecca Masson and wines that were hand-selected by Cory Graf, the sommelier for Haven.

For more information visit: