Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting bit by the biking bug - and liking it!

I've decided to christen Julie Urlaub as Houston's "IT girl" of the week. Not only is she beautiful and intelligent, but she's an adrenaline junkie who's incredibly inspiring.

And here's why. Julie just finished the 24 Hours of Adrenalin Bike Competition in Canmore, Canada this past weekend and she came in third for her age class (she's in the 40 to 45 age group). Whoo-hoo!!

The competition played host to 1,400 cyclists from all over the world and you have to qualify to get into it.


So is Julie the female version of Lance Armstrong? Well, not exactly. She is actually a managing partner for Taiga Company in Houston and has only been cycling for about six years.

"Houston really has a great community for cycling, whether it's road racing or mountain biking. I just got bit by the biking bug," said Julie.

Julie completed her first race about four years ago, but this was the first year she had participated in the 24 Hours of Adrenalin Competition. She says even though she had been training for a while, the course was challenging.

Because it was in the mountains, there was a lot of climbing. In fact, Julie says the climb was about 1,800-2,000 feet per lap and each lap was 12.5 miles long. Julie was able to complete nine laps in the 24 hour period.

"The race was really awesome. Aside from the climbing, there were a lot of technical sections that required you to pay attention," said Julie. "It wasn't like riding the flat terrain in Houston. You had to be in and out of the saddle and be aggressive on the bike."

While she admits the race took a toll on her body, the backdrop was spectacular and made it all worthwhile.

"It was in Canmore, which is the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It was unbelievably beautiful. Incredibly gorgeous," said Julie.

But Julie wasn't the only one feeling the pain. Rebecca Rusch, who won the female division of the competition, also said that it was a hard course.

"I figure if Rebecca says it's hard, then it must be hard," said Julie. "I have a lot of respect for her so if she says it's so, then I'm going to believe her."

But the race would not have been so fantastic if it wasn't for the hard work of Stuart Dorland, the founder and creator of 24 Hours of Adrenalin. He leveraged social media with twitter and other platforms, which made the race engaging. Julie said it felt like a world class event.

"It was incredible. The participants at the competition really looked out for each other. They were so supportive. You would be so tired and feel like your legs were going to fall off, then you would drive by a group of people and they would yell, 'Way to go! You can make it up this hill'," said Julie. "It was so inspiring to hear this. I've never been in an environment where people were so amazingly supportive."

Julie trained hard for the race, but says she couldn't have done it without the support of her husband and her friend Tony DeOre, who were her pit crew during the competition.

"You think it's just one person out on the bike, but it's not. It's you and your pit crew. They can make and break the race. My husband and Tony helped me get through it," Julie said.


For those of you who haven't been to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, they are the complete opposite of Houston's landscape. In fact, the word "flat" doesn't even make the list when describing them.

"Houston is as flat as a pancake. I did a lot of training miles here before going to Canmore. I also did some other races where there was more climbing," said Julie. "But if you can't climb hills, you can push on your gears for sustained effort and work with a trainer to try to prepare your body for it."

Julie bikes five or six times a week, but she's not always going for distance. Some days she rides long, but other days she works more on intensity.

"It all depends. Mileage isn't always the goal. You try to work different systems within the body," said Julie. "There are a lot of micro/macro building within your training."

Julie says she learned her cycling training tricks by talking with other cyclists, getting a coach, surfing the Web and getting to know what her body could handle. But it's not just being on the bike that's important. She also watches her nutrition to ensure she's getting enough protein and carbs. Sleep is also important as recovery is almost as important as the training.

"The misconception is that you are only working when you are on your bike, but really it has to do with keeping a positive mindset and balancing your life and work," said Julie.


One of the great things about biking is that all you need is a bike and a helmet. And you don't need to buy a fancy bike unless you really get into it.

If you are looking for equipment, Julie recommends paying a visit to her favorite bike store, BikeSport. They can give you information on cycling gear, local trails or joining groups in the area. They also have a team that you can join

In case you were wondering what Julie rides, her bike is a Pivot.

"I love my bike," said Julie. "I really encourage women to get out there and try cycling. There is a great organization here in Houston called There are a lot of great women in the group and they are at all different levels."

Julie says joining a group will help you improve your cycling skills, as well as make new friends.
"The best thing about the sport is that everyone cheers each other on," said Julie. "The people become dear to your heart."


You don't have to go all the way to Canada to cycle great trails. Julie says she has two favorite places around Houston that she likes to bike.

1) Double Lake off of 59 in Coldspring, Texas - Double Lake is about an hour outside of Houston. It's a fun course because regardless of your skill level, you can find some way to challenge yourself. The course is twisty so you can practice cornering, but it's also a great place to bike if you just want to go for a leisurely ride with friends. Julie says she's seen deer and rabbits on the trail. There is also a pretty lake in the area.

2) Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville - Rocky Hill Ranch has 25 miles of trails. There are also some areas where you can practice your cycling climbing skills. Rocky Hill offers more technical challenges than the Double Lake trail.

Julie also says there are some great trails in the San Antonio area.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Love Criss Angel Mindfreak? Check out CoRE

I'm going to be honest here -the event I'm about to blog about is not for everyone.

But if you are looking for a show that is memorizing with powerful movements, imagery and music, then check out CoRE at the Meridian on July 25.


When I first heard about the event, someone told me it was a performance that blended theatrical arts with ancient and modern day rituals of suspension and body piercing.

I know - it sounds a little different from your traditional theatre experience, but I had two big questions: "People really go see that?" and "What exactly does it mean?"

So I had to find out more. And guess what? While it's not exactly a family event, it's kind of cool. That's because the theatre performances of CoRE are sort of like a combination of Criss Angel Mindfreak and Cirque du Soleil, except a lot more raw and intense. In fact, after checking out some their stuff I'm beginning to think Criss Angel may need to kick it up a notch.

"The show is similar to the small original street performances of Cirque du Soleil before they hit the bit time," said Gary Driscoll, Marketing Director of CoRE.

Yup, that's right. There's great lighting, original music, costumes - the whole works. And just like other theatrical performances, the entire audience becomes immersed in the event while becoming a part of it.

But instead of acrobats swinging around or Criss Angel being burned alive or getting run over while laying on a bed of nails, these performers use piercings, swords, spears and other ancient ritualistic items in their performance. There are also no magical illusions. This is the real thing.
"What we do is not new by any standards. The rituals that we do have been done by cultures all over the world. We just put a modern day spin on them and throw in some theatrics," said Driscoll.


Saturday's performance the Meridian is a special show.

CoRE started in Houston nearly 10 years ago and has since branched out to Los Angeles and Oakland, California. The LA group recently lost their costumes and theatrical equipment in a fire, so showing their true Texas spirit, the Houston group has rallied together to put on a fundraiser for them.

"This show is a small one and it's got a carnival free to it," said Driscoll. "We want you to 'step right up and see the sideshow freak'."

Like all of their shows, this event will have lighting, costumes and original music. The audience will feel like they have been transported into a carnival, but there's a twist: This carnival has a real life voodoo doll as the main attraction.

"To raise money, we want people to buy a dart to hit the voodoo doll, and get a real live person pierced," said Driscoll.

Can you say "ouch"?

Of course, there are some restrictions. There are no piercings on the face, hands or private areas.

Are you ready to "Mindfreaked" Houston style and transported into a carnival that will open your eyes to an ancient artform? If so, check out CoRE at The Meridian.


Doors open at 9 p.m.
Cover is $10 for ages 21 and up and $12 for 18-21
Location: 1503 Chartres St., Houston , TX 77006
Performances by: ION, Morgue City and CoRE.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Meeting up with a cool Nike Dunk collector

Sometimes the most interesting people are in your own backyard - or in this case, working on a Web site in Dallas.

While at a training seminar, I ran into this guy who had the coolest sneakers, so I had to ask him about them. It turns out, he doesn't just have one pair of cool sneakers but over 900!!

Yes, that's right. That equals 1,800 shoes.

I must admit when he told me this, I went into instant shoe envy. His collection makes my 24 pairs look pitiful in comparison.

But these aren't just any shoes, these are Nike Dunks.

"Some of them are rare and hard to find, so now I'm invested," said Doug, Nike Dunk collector.

Doug says he started collecting the sneakers in 1999 and they just started to grow. In fact, the collection is so massive, he's had them insured for $100,000, but says they are probably worth at least three times more.

I have never meet an avid collector like this before. Yeah, I've met stamp collectors and some people that think their collection of Barbies is pretty big, but they have nothing compared to this. I mean, where do you store 900 pairs of sneakers?

"I have them stacked up in the office, and stacked up in other places in house," said Doug. "But my collection is nothing compared to other people's collections."


After meeting Doug and researching Nike Dunks, I discovered Doug showing off his shoes on Good Morning Texas. This video is a couple of years old, back in the days when he only had 400 to 500 pairs of shoes.

Like a true collector, Doug is always looking for pairs he doesn't have. He's on the Internet, visits skateboard shops around the country and has even camped out in London for a rare pair of laser Dunks.

But he has a method to his purchases. He says, at first he used to just buy one pair of the sneakers, but now he buys three.

"One pair to wear, one pair to save and one pair just in case something happens to the other two pairs," said Doug.

Doug has Dunks ranging from the "Tiffany's" (which have a little diamond on them), the "Huf Dunks" (which are made with the San Francisco Giants colors) and the Melvins.

After meeting Doug, I was intrigued - not to buy a pair of Nike Dunks, but to see if there were other Nike Dunk sneaker addicts out there.

I was surprised to find that there were. There's actually a whole little community of Nike Dunk sneaker wearing people around that I had no idea existed. (The photo on the left is proof that other collectors love these shoes as much as Doug. They guy filled up his entire sofa!)

But if you're a collector, don't bother calling Doug. He loves his shoes and doesn't want to part with any of them.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Beyonce is the bomb

This weekend when I had the chance to meet Beyonce, I was both psyched and a little apprehensive - because meeting people you've seen in magazines can be a little bit like finding out Santa Claus isn't real.

I know they are all airbrushed to look perfect, but a little part of me really wants the illusion to be real.

So when Beyonce Knowles came back to her hometown of Houston to promote her "Show your helping hand" campaign, I couldn't resist covering the story for the station. Not only was this a great non-profit event that would help Houston's hungry, but I would discover whether the image was real.


Let me just tell you, Beyonce is bigger than life. Literally.

She may say she's 5 feet 6 inches on paper, but when you see her in person, she seems like she's at least 6 feet tall. Of course, she was wearing these gorgeous four inch heels.

She's also stunning. Really stunning. I swear, her skin is flawless and her hair is fabulous. She's one of those women that make you say "wow". Just take a look at these photos that I took at the press conference and judge for yourself. Yup...she's gorgeous.

But what really makes her incredible is her sense of humor and down to earth personality. Even though she is super famous, she has been able to keep it real. She's even still in touch with her childhood pastor, Rudy Rasmus of St. John's Downtown Church. In fact, he was there supporting her and helping to promote the importance of donating food to Houston's Food Banks.

Pastor Rudy says the cause was important to Beyonce because she had witnessed poverty growing up as a child in Houston.

"Beyonce grew up sitting in a pew beside hungry people," said Pastor Rudy. "She grew up in a church in downtown Houston."

Beyonce says that the "Show your helping hand" campaign is one of the ways that she can spread the word that hunger exists in the United States.

"To know that I can use my voice to do something that helps people makes me feel good," said Beyoncé, when asked why she partnered with General Mills Hamburger Helper for the cause. "There is no better feeling than giving back."


Sure Beyonce is beautiful and wants to help people, but what got me was that she is still a down-home Houston girl at heart. She's still got the southern accent and still says "y-awl". She's also got her family close to her heart.

"It's July 4 and my mom made gumbo. It was hard to leave her house," said Beyonce.

Gotta love a girl who loves her homemade gumbo.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Turning the witching hour to happy hour

One of things I miss now that I'm working the night shift at KHOU-TV is that I never get to go to Happy Hour, especially because Houston has so many good ones.

I mean there's the $6 drinks at Benji's Lounge (and $5 appetizer menu), $2 longnecks and $4 pints at The Red Lion Pub, $1 sake and $2 sushi at Ra, and Sambuca downtown has $3 house wines and $4 martinis.

And don't even get me going on all the Mexican places that have Happy Hour Margaritas. It's paradise.

But when you work nights and get off on average around 12:30 a.m., Happy Hour quickly becomes a distant memory.

At least, that's what I thought until discovered that Max's Wine Dive does a reverse Happy Hour.

Don't get me wrong. They do a regular Happy Hour too and it begins at 1 p.m. on Friday for all you lucky people who work only half days in the summer.
But for late nighters like me, they do another Happy Hour during the last two hours of every night. So on Fridays and Saturdays, this is from midnight to 2 a.m.


I have to say their Happy Hour is not too shabby. All their full-size dishes are half price and many of the appetizers are half price too.

I went this week and got their Nacho Mama's Oysters for $4.50 and then got their award-winning and totally yummy Max & Cheese for another $4.50 to go (this is my favorite thing on the menu and makes a great lunch the next day).
You can also get ribs, buffalo sliders, calamari and more - all for less than $5.50 a dish.

The couple beside me got this incredible Pan Borracho for $5.50 which was out of this world.

If you don't know what this is, let me explain because I didn't know what it was either. When it came out, it looked like some sort of cheese casserole, but it's not that at all.

Instead, it's a sourdough baguette that's been soaked in white wine and seasoned with spices. Then they top it with cheese and procscuitto and bake it into yummy goodness. was so good, I may actually get it next time.


While I do love the food at Max's (so nice to be able to order something more than a burger and fries after midnight), I love the wine more.

The best part about Happy Hour (whether you go to the early one or the late one) is that many of their wines are also half price.

Sure you can get a cheap $4 glass of wine, but I like to take advantage of the deal and order the $30 glass of wine I normally wouldn't buy and savor it for the reduced $15 price. Of course, I'm a light drinker so one glass is basically my limit.

Besides, now that I don't get to go out as much, I'm finding it's all about quality.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Saving Toby the Dolphin

I know driving is bad for the environment, but in Houston you have to drive AND you have to use AC in the summer (which I know is also bad). So to help ease my guilt, I have those Texas dolphin license plates where $22 goes to save Texas marine animals.

Now you would think I would just screw them onto my car and drive off....but nope, not me. I just had to put a face to my plate.

That face is Toby's.

Toby's currently in Galveston. In November, the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network rescued him after he ended up on the beach.

"Basically, dolphins like Toby end up on the beach where they can't survive very long," said Heidi Whitehead, State Operations Coordinator of TMMSN.
Whitehead says many times the mammals end up stranded because they are ill and are not able to maintain their normal activity. In Toby's case, it was a combination of illness and a shark attack.

"Toby had some fresh open shark bites on his body. He was very thin and we found severe pneumonia in his lungs," Whitehead said.


So now I'm feeling sad about Toby because being bit by sharks can't be fun -- especially as he's still a toddler in dolphin years.

But the good news is since being brought to Galveston, the young bottlenose dolphin has been been getting the medical treatment and the nutrition he needs.

"He's gained over 80 pounds since he's been with us. During that time he's been on various medications including antibiotics," Whitehead said.

But even though Toby is recovering, the organization is still concerned about releasing him back into the ocean because he's so young.

You can't blame them for being concerned. Whitehead says that usually marine mammals stay with their mothers until they are 2 or 3 years of age.

The team also thinks that Toby may not have learned all the survival skills he needs to live on his own in the wild because he is so young. Plus, after working so hard to save Toby, they would hate to send him out there without a fighting chance.


The non-profit group is taking care of Toby, but he's not the only guy on their minds. They've also got a couple other projects on the go.

In fact, in addition to picking up close to 150 deceased marine mammals, the organization usually rescues about five to ten live strandings like dophins a year.

But even though they may be alive on the beach, there is usually only a 50 percent chance the animals will survive.

"Usually you can tell within the first couple weeks by how they respond to treatment if they are going to survive. Many times they are so ill that they cannot come back from their sickness," said Whitehead. "It's rewarding when you see one like Toby come back."

Seeing Toby swim and play does make their work worthwhile, but taking care of him has placed a huge strain on the TMMSN's budget. The cost of caring for one live dolphin can range from $200 to $400 a day. Toby  also requires 24 hour supervision.

"We have about 300 active volunteers. Toby has anywhere from 50 to 100 volunteers working with him," said Whitehead.

So does my little license plate contribution help? Well, a little...especially as they hope the people who buy the plates will continue to do so every year and that will help increase their yearly funding.

But right now Whitehead says they need more volunteers and supplies, such as 3-inch pool chlorine tablets, bleach, bathroom cleaner, kitchen trash bags, disinfectant wipes, paper towels, antibacterial dishwashing soap and toys for Toby -- he really likes frisbees.

But they also need donations.

"Our greatest need now is donations towards Toby's care. The medication that he has been on has been very expensive. Plus, the upkeep and the amount of supplies that we go through has been tremendous," Whitehead said.

To help Toby or for a list of needed supplies, visit: