Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why 'Murder Mansion' obsession is so persistent

Seabrook's former List Mansion property was back in the news last week, with stories about a disgruntled tenant who was allegedly unaware of the property's shocking past prior to renting a tract subdivided from it, stories that made their way all the way to publications in New York the United Kingdom (correction per reader observation).
The Houston Chronicle ran this teaser photo, but it showed photos of the present-day mansion, which is not the mansion with which local people are still firmly if not increasingly obsessed.

Photo screengrabbed from this Houston Chronicle article.  
That would be this mansion, the original as built by murdered owner Bill List.  To make a long story short, List was a wealthy business owner who was shot to death by a few of the young men he had recruited to stay with him and whom he had allegedly molested sexually.

Photo screengrabbed from this Travelers Today article.  
Here's what I find most remarkable about this bit of local history:  Thirty years after the murder that defined it, the interest in the long-demolished mansion is growing rather than fading.  About 10 years ago as I was sitting around with friends doing the typical beer-and-banter thing on a Friday evening, the subject of "the haunted house on Todville Road" came up, and we searched the internet for information regarding it.  At that time, there were a few references to the fact that it had existed, but nothing in the way of substantive content.  We had only our own memories to go on as we compared notes.  Each of us had independently been inside the thing because, back in the mid-1980's, it was a rite of passage that any consummate Clear Laker had to find a trespassive route into the massive abandoned structure for their own personal look-see.
I took this Flickr photo and attempted to photo process it to make it look more like I personally remember the mansion.  There's not enough dynamic range remaining in the faded photo for me to do it justice, but I remember the brick having stronger orange tones and contrast than the Flickr photos and most of the other historical photos show.  
By 2014, however, you can find all kinds of information regarding the place - it's remarkable how that information base has grown.  There's even a closed Facebook group called "Todville Murder Mansion" with almost 2,100 members!  And other online references to the place abound.
There's even this YouTube video which is a snippet from an obscure indie film shot (pun intended) within the mansion.  The movie does have an IMDB listing.

Image screengrabbed from the YouTube snippet.
So what does it all mean??  I'm not entirely sure, but I have a few ideas.  On its face, a wealthy eccentric builds a one-of-a-kind residential structure and gets murdered there.  This in itself is not radical by American standards - that kind of thing has happened before.  But what was radical was the structure itself.  The fact that it has been emphatically denounced as "a grotesque monument" and "a supremely depressing, tacky, hideous place" belies a deeper truth.
Tell me that there are not now a bunch of inner-loop residential lofts selling for $400,000 that bear a certain curious resemblance to this facade.

Screengrabbed from this site
That's right.  Bill List, as reviled as he is, was quite possibly the first person to ever attempt that residential design aesthetic which we now refer to using the phrase "industrial chic" or a similar term.  He certainly did not hit that ball out of the park, but if you delete the obvious dated and incongruent elements in his construction, there's a certain resonant familiarity to the residuum that people are just not ready to admit, but which preoccupies them subconsciously nonetheless.   When I stood in the middle of that mansion in 1986 or 1987, that was my dominant realization:  This place is way, way, WAY ahead of its time.  My fateful day of trespass, almost 30 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday, had an enormous and lasting impact on my own residential design aesthetic.
If you doubt me on that point, here is your head-slapping "HOLY SH****TTT!!!" moment of truth.
Stacked stone landscaping photo from this post.  
What's happening when people describe the List Mansion as "grotesque" is that they are combining their visceral reaction to the murderous events that happened there with their awareness of its obvious design flaws, and they are projecting the resulting emotional amalgamation onto the mansion as a whole.  They are consciously missing its corresponding strengths in the process, but the subconscious misses nothing, and so this tantalizing fragment of cognitive dissonance twigs at them, contributing to the persistence of the thing in their awareness.

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.  Thirty years after he was murdered, Bill List is still way, way, WAY ahead of his time.  But with the internet and social evolution being what they are, that may very well change.  I hope so because, criminal elements notwithstanding, he deserves more visionary credit in death than he ever received in life.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Best business casual clothes for normal weight women

Answer:  The obesification of America has left physically fit professional women with drastically diminishing options when it comes to their professional wardrobes, but I'll show one of my favorite workarounds in this post in the hopes of giving my peers a coping strategy.

But first, let me describe the problem fully so that the need for a specific solution becomes more evident.

Thirty years ago when I was just beginning my acquisition of a professional wardrobe, the size difference between the very smallest and the very largest American female clothes shopper probably amounted to about 50 pounds.  I had no trouble finding clothing that fit in those years.

However, with the coming of the Obesity Age, that smallest-to-largest spread increased to, what?  At least 100 and perhaps it could be more accurately stated as 200 pounds!  That had two effects on the market:

  1. Manufacturers changed the dimensional ratios of clothing to account for the excess weight now carried by the average woman.
  2. The difference between successive sizes increased to account for the greater spread.

Both of those market responses are evident in these example dressing room photos:

No, that's not a store mannequin - that's your friendly neighborhood blogger.  As bad as this photo looks, it was actually much worse to start with - I had to Photoshop it to tone down the grossly revealing effects so that it would be fit for posting.  I'm 50 years old - I can't go around with my rack hanging out like that.  That's ridiculous.  
OK, so it's obviously inappropriately tight across the chest even while fitting well through the torso, waist, arms and shoulders.  But look what happens when I go just one size up:
It's a tent.  It looks like I stole a man-shirt out of my husband's side of the closet.  And this is just one size up.  
I'm sure many readers are muttering, "If that's your biggest problem in life, you have nothing to complain about" and it's true that there are many worse challenges a person could face.

However, I and women like me still have to deal with this.  Those of us in the conservative, educated professions are expected to be appropriately tailored:  traditional shirts with collars and a well-put-together deportment.  I work in a male-dominated profession, so it's even more important that my presentation be unassailable in every way, including appearance - I can't go around looking like either a slob or a Barbie doll caricature, especially as a middle-aged woman.  For the past several years, I've been operating with only three appropriate shirts.  Three business meetings with the same parties and my entire wardrobe is exhausted.  I sometimes have this imaginary dialog in my head whereby one of my clients asks, "What the hell?!  Do we not pay you enough to properly dress yourself??" And I reply, "Yes you do, but there's virtually nothing available for me to buy."

Retailers don't make this process any easier because each and every one of them engages in flagrant deception when it comes to their wares.  They all sell tent-like clothing for the masses, but you can't confirm that until you actually waste your time by walking into the stores and inspecting more closely.
Whether casual or dressy, all of the shirts that they sell are pinned in the back to take up excess fabric.  What from the front  looks like it might fit a normal-weight woman is actually a tent in disguise.   

Yes, this particular mannequin is anorexic.  But even if the mannequin were filled out to the size of a 130 lb. woman, this shirt would still be tent-like.  
Much of the time, the retailers aren't even subtle about this practice.  Some of them use big file binder clips instead of discrete pins.
You can't even find relief if you try to go for a traditional conservative knit instead of a tailored shirt.  They're all tents regardless of style.  
Complicating the shopping challenge further is the fact that the euphemisms have reversed in a rather confusing manner.  Thirty years ago, the word "curvy" was a polite way of saying that a woman had a bit of extra weight on her.  These days it means exactly the opposite - a woman is "curvy" if she is still in possession of a waistline that has not been filled in with excess fat to the point where she becomes straight-bodied.
A waistline that must be accounted for in the fit of the clothing.  I am the 21st century's definition of curvy, apparently.  These are the pants I was wearing in the ill-fitting shirt photos above.  They fit fairly well.  Loose but reasonably proportioned. 
Anyway, keep those annoying perversities in mind if you're a woman facing this predicament while shopping for yourself: what looks at first glance to be made for normal-weight women may actually be made for overweight women, and what looks like it might be referencing overweight women might actually be made for normal-weight women.  Duh.

And now for one of my favorite workarounds:
Go ahead and get the traditional tailored shirt, capitulating to the fact that it's never going to fit through the bust while simultaneously fitting through the ribs, waist, hips, arms, and shoulders, because they just don't make shirts like that any longer.  Those years are gone.

Focus on achieving the proper dimensions through the rib cage, waist, and arms so that the fit looks neat and clean.  But then underlayer the shirt with a coordinating sleeveless so that it looks like you want to leave the front of the tailored shirt open, rather than it being a situation whereby you have to leave the front of the shirt open because it is so ill-fitting.

Make sure that the sleeveless is a silk or a very thin polyester so that it won't add sloppy bulk beneath the tailored outer layer.  The sleeveless should have one color in it that matches the outer shirt so that the combination appears stylistically legitimate.

I'm essentially using a shirt to act more like a light jacket or blazer here.  It's a bit unusual, but I think it works.    
If anyone else has any good workarounds in this same vein, I'd love to hear from you, either through the Comments section below or via - at - gmail.  Thanks and good luck.
Coincidentally, about three hours after I wrote this post, someone shared this meme on Facebook.  I had to pass it on.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why League City needs a bicycle safe passing ordinance

Answer:  Because this type of ordinance provides new tools that empower the public to assert their rights in a way that would not otherwise be practically achievable, tools that are absent from the existing regulatory framework.
This gentleman, a public edu-activist whose creative methods appeal mightily to my own dash-camming heart, capitalized on Houston's new 3-foot passing ordinance by creating (drum roll, please) a 3 foot space on the traffic side of his bicycle.  This screengrab from his helmet cam shows a car entering his space, and the scary part is that he was in a dedicated bike lane when that happened.  It's not like he was sharing a shoulderless road with traffic such that they were squeezed into proximity.  Drivers in our area won't even give clearance to cyclists when they have their own lanes!  That's how bad things are here.

Video screengrab from this YouTube entry by the cyclist.   
The argument against adopting bike passing ordinances and laws (which also include provisions for giving adequate space to pedestrians, the handicapped, construction workers, and other non-motoring right-of-way users) is that we already have laws on the books which make it a crime to (duh) run over and kill or maim people and therefore, any additional laws would only add meaninglessly to our society's cumulative regulatory burden.  In Texas, Governor Perry vetoed the Safe Passing Act for this reason despite its overwhelming bipartisan support (it passed 25-5 in the Senate and 140-5 in the House).   
Sure, it's against the law, but that doesn't mean that people stop doing it:  Photo of a car after its driver rammed and killed a bicyclist.  Screengrab courtesy of this site.  
The superficial declaration "we need to enforce the regulations already on the books rather that create new ones" belies the nuances and complexity of some of our underlying social precedents.  Houston's safe passing law (PDF) furnished a quantitative performance standard that allowed Houstonian Dan Morgan to gain a great deal of positive publicity by documenting the extent to which the law (and common sense) were being routinely violated (e.g., this story and this story and this story).  His effort is particularly meaningful because it comes on the heels of numerous high-profile bicyclist deaths in Houston, deaths that have intensified public calls for a sea change in the way vulnerable road users are treated.  It's the kind of peaceful public protest that can effectively be built upon by others to eventually bring about positive change.
And of course it's not just in Houston that cyclists are being killed.  Just over a month ago, this story of a fatal hit-and-run riveted the attention of folks all across greater Houston in part because LCPD was so effective in using surveillance footage and social media to help track down the alleged guilty party.

Screengrab courtesy of KHOU.  
As near as I can determine, League City has no analogous safe passing law.
When I searched through Municode, which is the third-party repository for current ordinances, it mostly contains boilerplate reflecting the fact that bicycles must be operated in conformance with existing rules of the road.

Screengrabbed from Municode.  
That being the case, I too could stick a 3-foot flag on my beloved Gary Fisher hybrid mountain bike and ride around League City with it, but it wouldn't mean much because it would be a propos of no existing rule or precedent.  I, too, could bring video evidence of unsafe passing before City Council and/or the police department, but I'm not sure they'd be able to do anything about it even if they wanted to because we lack a concise enforcement framework.

I have a hunch that, some day, 3-foot traffic lane flags are going to be widely available commercially for bicycles and the expectation that they be honored by motorists will be standard.  Until that time, we can continue to push for additional culture-changing measures that help inch us in the direction of that better place.  Safe passing laws are one of the tools that provide us with additional concrete options in that regard.
I recently started rehabbing my scruffy old bike, which hasn't been on the road in years.  I stopped riding it because it was just too dangerous - I have a child, I have responsibilities in my life; I can't go getting myself killed by engaging in denial about the degree to which Texas lacks a protective road culture.

But it shouldn't be this hard.  I should be able to ride my bike to Walgreens this morning without risking my life.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The missing monarchs

The local decline in monarch butterflies this year has been remarkable.  In a bad way, that is.  In contrast to the past few years, now there are almost none.
I've been growing milkweed and serving as a backyard nursery for wild migrating monarchs for the past several years.  This was one of 2013's newborns, a male.  You can see his busted cocoon under the fence rail he's clinging to.  Hard to believe that whole creature was stuffed inside that tiny capsule just moments before.  
For the past two years, I watched hordes of caterpillars devour everything I could throw at them in the way of their milkweed dietary staple. This is also a photo from April 2013.  
Late April 2014, and this particular milkweed plant hasn't even been touched by a caterpillar (the adult females recognize milkweed and lay their eggs directly on the plants).  I have three large pots of the stuff.  One was well chewed, the other barely, and this one not at all.  Last year, all three were eaten down to the stems.    
I've found only two cocoons so far this year, and one of them is attached haphazardly to the side of a planter and looked to be in substandard condition.  The one above looks healthy - I've noticed that cocoons attached beneath cedar fence rails result in a high rate of successful butterflies.

In contrast, by this time last year, I had at least a dozen cocoons (plus probably many more hidden away that I didn't manage to find).  
According to the folks who monitor the health of the monarch population, their current numbers have fallen to the lowest level ever measured.  A number of causes are postulated, mostly involving habitat loss.
There's no habitat loss in my back yard.  They don't call it milkWEED for nothing - it spreads and grows as a weed, with no cultivation required.  Last year I dug up a bunch of volunteer milkweeds that had seeded themselves randomly in my yard and distributed them among my neighbors, hoping that folks would plant a pot and provide additional food to the fluttery migrants.   
Milkweed is only half the battle, though.  Monarchs also need other types of plants to supply nectar, and flowering plants have been in short, late supply in North America due to the whole polar vortex thing that happened this winter.

Anyway, it's a conspiracy of weather and habitat circumstances that is apparently intensifying their decline, but ordinary suburbanites have the option of making a low-effort contribution to help offset those losses.
I used the term "backyard nursery" above, but in the accepted lingo of monarch enthusiasts, the term is "monarch waystation".  But you don't have to get as fancy as officially registering your site - you could just plant milkweed and flowering plants in your yard.  If you plant it, they will come.  For as long as they are not extinct, at least.

Sign photo courtesy of the Monarch Watch website
On that note, I'll leave you with a re-posted video of an emergence from that same fence in 2013.  It's ten minutes long but most of the action takes place in the first 2:20.  The other 8 minutes show how the critter expands its wings very rapidly after emerging.  It's an amazing process.

URL for mobile devices:


Monday, April 21, 2014

IH-45 ramp realignments at SH 96 / FM 646

In this post, I attempt to shed some light on the well-publicized but poorly-described pending changes to our local IH-45 southbound access.
It's not going to win any graphic design awards:  TxDOT's depiction of the project area (project description page here).  Unfortunately, this is the extent of the visual aids that I've been able to locate on either their website or League City's website.  
It's a public disservice that apparently neither TxDOT nor League City can find it in their schedules to take 30 bloody minutes to create a very simple but accurate visual depiction of what changes residents can expect from this $2 million project.  A red dot and a green dot convey almost no information.  Wordy imprecise descriptions such as League City's public information release also convey very little practical detail.  People need to see pictures.  It's obvious from the comments on GCDN (paywalled) that some folks are confused about this.  Even my husband, a mechanical engineer, said, "I'd need to see a diagram before I can fully understand what you're talking about" when I tried to describe this project to him.
Given the lack of a better alternative, I gave diagram-making a shot. This is essentially what we've got right now.   

This is approximately what the end result will be, based on what I've read. 
Why is this project really necessary?

Well, to my untrained eye, the biggest existing problem is that there's now so much traffic and the existing 646 exit ramp is so close to the exchange itself that in certain conditions, traffic might be expected to back all the way up onto the mainlanes themselves.  Plus, exiting traffic interferes mightily with shopping center access.  Anyone who has ever been to HEB Bay Colony knows this.

For those of you who have lived in this area for a long time, this predicament is quite similar to what we used to see years ago at FM 518 before they pushed its southbound (SB) off-ramp further north.  During evening rush hour, traffic exiting IH-45 SB at FM 518 would back all the way up onto the mainlanes and remain stopped there, creating quite a safety hazard.  This was occurring because the original off-ramp had been situated much too close to the intersection of FM 518 and IH-45.

The new configuration at 646 strikes me as serving property interests as much as motorists, however (LC admits as much in the fourth paragraph of this press release).  In order to obligate traffic to pass by valuable commercial land (thus increasing the chances that people will stop and spend money there), the FM 646 exit will be situated such that motorists traveling southbound from SH 96 will be forced to travel all the way down the feeder (an extra distance of about a mile and a half) until they get somewhere close to 646 in order to enter the freeway.  There's probably enough room so that TxDOT could have left the existing SH 96 on-ramp alone and simply pushed the FM 646 off-ramp further north, analogous to what they did to correct the FM 518 off-ramp.  But they chose not to.

And all that wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that it imposes additional feeder negotiations that are not currently required.  Right now, people accessing IH-45 SB from SH 96 simply get on the ramp and enter the freeway with no interferences - it's an uncomplicated transaction.  Under the revised configuration, those same people will be forced to drive further south and they will be forced to jockey for freeway access with motorists who are simultaneously trying to get off the freeway.

As such, this project increases safety by reducing congestion at the FM 646 intersection, but does it optimize safety?  At first glance, it arguably optimizes property values by increasing traffic to those properties, perhaps even at partial expense of safety.

And that notion prompted me to re-access TxDOT's official mission statement because I didn't recall that "increasing the property values of a select few at the expense of the many" had been crafted into their official governmental agency mandate.

Alas, what I found when I looked it up this morning was not what I remember from a number of years ago.  I don't have a copy of the exact previous language, but I recall that it used to have a very simple and straightforward tone along the lines of "to provide safe, effective, and efficient movement of people and goods throughout the state"  (in fact, I copied that passage from the existing Wikipedia entry on TxDOT).  But as of today, TxDOT's official statement instead reads "Work with others to provide safe and reliable transportation solutions for Texas".  The Wiki entry reads as it does because it has not yet been updated.

The new "work with others" smoking gun clause certainly does open the door to a universe of additional nuances, eh?  Including the potential for factors other than maximum safety and maximum traffic efficiency to get weighted into the right-of-way design equation (factors such as property valuations, for instance).

Your tax dollars at work.  Sort of.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Friday night security tape oddity

Our security cameras caught some odd dog walkers yesterday just before midnight.
It appeared to be two females, one with medium-long hair, one with shorter hair.  The one who was not walking the dog was carrying a flashlight.  One doesn't need a flashlight to walk a dog in Centerpointe.  The street lights provide plenty of light.  Perhaps these two felt they needed it for a sense of security?  
But why the need to inspect my driveway and front yard with the flashlight?  
Why the need to inspect my garage door with the flashlight?  
Why the need to inspect my front entrance, tree, and flowerbed with the flashlight?  
Why the need to run like hell after circling the cul-de-sac?  
It's quite possible that these were just youths messing around.  If so, they were up past their bedtimes.

Friday, April 18, 2014

League City's dog park survey

This has been widely announced via a League City official civic alert, through an email blast, and via social media, but I'll post it here as well, for the sake of continuity.  This is the city's online public interest survey for the dog park (the link patches through to a SurveyMonkey site): 

This is an excerpt of the map accompanying the survey.  It shows a proposed outline which is a bit different from the original (circa 2007) proposed map which I re-published in this post.  
I waited until two days into the survey to render my response, because I wanted to see something of the partially-accumulated statistics (it will pop up a "survey results" window after you press "done").  It's fairly remarkable how positive the response has been, at least as of this morning.  Typically when you survey any given social, political, or developmental issue, there's such a variety of opinion and circumstance in our community that a great diversity of responses results.  Not so with this issue.

Should this initiative move forward, I requested of League City that the design phase include public meetings so that those of us whose residences are situated closest to 750 Centerpointe Drive can raise our questions, air any concerns, and provide feedback on the design.

By my count, there are about 21 Centerpointers, half a dozen Oaks of Clear Creekers, and another half dozen Wilshire Placers who would be most directly affected by this development because we are all line-of-sight and within immediate earshot of the tract.  However, the number of potentially impacted Centerpointers in particular could be larger in certain scenarios that I won't get into in this early post, but will address later if things move forward.

By the same token, there are many other Centerpointers who may not have much of an opinion on this thing.  Centerpointe subdivision is about 3,000 feet in diameter (as the crow flies). Those of you on the west (oldest) side probably won't notice material changes in your environment if the dog park does get developed.  

I have already communicated some of my questions and concerns to City Council and will continue to do so.  Our POA may also develop input, but the POA represents all 438 homeowners, not just the 21 of us who are in closest proximity.  I encourage folks to either contact the POA and/or contact me via -at- gmail if you would like to coordinate on communicating your concerns and questions to Council.
A dog park can be a wonderful asset, but like dog ownership itself, it must be properly developed and managed if it is to be considerate of the needs of everyone involved.

Pic of our characteristically blissed-out dog being wantonly spoiled by my husband.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Creature from the suburban lagoon

There's something in Centerpointe's south retention pond and it's not something that I've seen there before.
Augh, dang!!  I even had my long lens with me on Tuesday's dog walk, but he was too quick and I didn't get a shot.  
I did have two other witnesses, though.  Both my husband and our dog also saw him.  
My best guess is that it was either a beaver or a nutria.
Example photo of a beaver, screengrabbed from this page.
Example photo of a nutria.    
The two are almost impossible to tell apart from a distance unless you can get a clear view of the tail, which we did not.  He quickly swam into the culvert that runs under West Walker and was out of sight.

I know what some of you are thinking - how could we possibly have a beaver right here in our subdivision?!  Nutria maybe - they are invasive.  But beaver??
Oh hell yes!!  They are here on the upper Texas coast, and their urban and suburban numbers are increasing.  This is a pic I took a few years ago inside my favorite local park - which happens to be (brace yourself) *inside* Houston city limits.  
If I had to put money on it, I'd bet nutria.  Time will tell.
Time plus evidence.  If it does prove to be a beaver that has moved in with us, we'll quickly see damage done to the trees in the adjacent proposed dog park.  Beavers are small furry machines of biological destruction.  They will exploit any amount of water and any cluster of trees.  

Five Corners finger pointing

As of yesterday afternoon, they are "fixing" some of the mess at League City's infamous Five Corners intersection (post category here), specifically at FM 518 and FM 270.
The previous S-curve lane divider has been torn out and reconfigured to (drum roll, please!) actually follow the traffic lanes.

This is an iconic Five Corners photo to be sure, with traffic shown as characteristically backed up in my rear view mirror.  
This is what the original construction looked like a few weeks ago.  I wonder would they have fixed it if I had not complained and published this picture??  Never doubt the fact that every voice counts.   
However, this work does not change the overall Five Corners situation, which I (and others) believe is being worsened by all that concrete.  
The barriers are worsening congestion.  Note the black truck can't even fit into the now-overly-short left turn lane FM 518 EB to FM 270 NB. Photo taken yesterday.  
Nobody has stepped forward to explain to the public why stuff like this makes sense.  Photo taken yesterday.  
A reader from the east side of League City emailed me and told me that she complained about this project to Mayor Paulissen.  She sent me a copy of his email reply to her which read, "I just talked with staff this morning about this. This is a TxDot project and we have to work with them."  

But if you remember from this previous post of mine, when I complained to TxDOT, they replied by tweeting, "This project was initiated by @LeagueCityTX".  

So this appears to be a classic political response.  For those of you accessing this post on small mobile devices, the sub-caption reads "No one EVER admits to a (brain) fart."

Base image courtesy of Cheezburger.  
A classic political response of buck-passing.  In response to this, I said to my husband, "Well, look on the bright side - neither one of them is trying to blow smoke up our tailpipes by telling us that this project is a GOOD thing.  Maybe we can work with that as a starting point."

I encourage each and every one of you to email or call both Paulissen and TxDOT.  I believe the TxDOT project number is 097603100 and here is the general contact page for TxDOT Houston District (the easiest way to get to them is via @TxDOTHoustonPIO if you use Twitter).  

But all this bemoaning of concrete belies a larger issue:  

With or without a concrete Band-Aid, they still, after all these years, have not fixed Five Corners the way it needs to be fixed in order to serve the people of League City.  

Who are all these League City residents and where are they when we need them?!

Unfortunately on the issue of Five Corners, we've had a lack of continuity leading to a loss of momentum in public pressure.  Welcome to League City, Texas because that's the story of our collective lives.

Photo courtesy of Bay Area Citizen from this September 24, 2010 article describing a public meeting on mobility solutions for Five Corners.  
Did you know that Seabrook and Kemah are slated to receive TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS for improvements to FM 146?!  

Wrap your head around this:  Seabrook and Kemah, combined population 14,314 (2010 Census), will get $200 million to fix their main TxDOT-related mobility problem.  League City, population 84,112 (2010 Census per Google) is apparently getting diddly squat to fix its main mobility problem, namely Five Corners.  

Yes, I know that more people than live in Seabrook and Kemah drive on FM 146.  But League City has literally tens of thousands of people whose lives are negatively impacted by Five Corners on a daily basis.  And yet somehow we cannot get a couple of million bucks worth of solution for this thing.

What is the cause of this?  Really really bad political representation?  If more people would start hounding the decision-makers, maybe we'd get some answers to that.  
Description of the FM 146 improvements screengrabbed from this Bay Area Houston Magazine report.  I'll have more to say about this later.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Healthier banana muffins

I can't tell you how many calories my recipe has because I have no way of measuring calories, but you can be fairly certain that these muffins have less than the up-to-740 calories (!!) in the offenders on this list of "Top 12 Dangerous Muffins".  
And it's not just muffins that are our present culture's sugar-bomb offenders.  WHAT IN THE SAM HOUSTON IS THE MATTER WITH PEOPLE SUCH THAT THEY'D ACTUALLY PUT CRAP LIKE THESE DRINKS INTO THEIR MOUTHS?!

Screengrabbed from this source.  
Physical depictions of sugar equivalents have become very popular since "The Weight of the Nation" was released by HBO (they were one of the first to make this kind of presentation to people).  Read on to see an analogous sugar-in-a-bag depiction for my muffins.

Screengrabbed from this site.  
Seriously, I don't know what the hell goes through peoples' minds when they consume crap that is so obscenely chock full of refined sugars.  It does not take an aggregate IQ over 85 to know by common sense that sugar-heavy drinks and sugar-heavy muffins are extremely unhealthy.  As in, poison yourself unhealthy.
There are no analogous sugar-bag depictions for muffins, just calorie summaries.  This is the standard ridiculous Google return for 'muffin sugar', although obviously muffins will vary tremendously in calories.  
Big Mac, just for comparison.  Both screengrabbed from Google.  
Anyway, here's my ingredient list and I will follow with step-by-step pics of the preparation process.  All dry measures are heaping measures except for the sugar.  

  • 3.5 large bananas, aged
  • About 0.5 cup brown sugar (or less)
  • Dollop of molasses (1 tablespoon)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 0.5 cup Teff flour (if available, else substitute white or wheat)
  • About 3 tablespoons of ground flax meal
  • 0.3 cup light olive oil
  • 0.5 to 0.75 cups ground almonds (depending on taste)

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  As it is warming up, combine ingredients thusly:  
Bananas should be mushy but not rotten.  
Combine dry ingredients EXCEPT for brown sugar in a sifter.  That's the heaping cup of whole wheat flour in the background and my favorite other flour, teff, in the foreground.  Teff is no longer available locally - Whole Foods used to carry it but now it must be ordered over the internet.  It ain't cheap, but neither are cancer and diabetes.    
Sift to the extent possible.  Obviously the flax meal won't go through the sifter, but get as much of the material through as possible and then just dump the remainder on top.  

In a separate bowl, combine eggs, olive oil, molasses, and brown sugar.  Mix coarsely - do not homogenize.  
By the way, this is what my brown sugar looked like in the obligatory plastic sack.  This is not for one muffin - this is for TWELVE large muffins. And I used less than depicted here.  Obviously the muffins also get some natural sugars from the bananas, but my point is, this recipe is not overflowing with refined sugars.   
Ah yes, the bananas.  Peel them and mash them on a plate.  They should be nice and soft.  
Mix the bananas in with the other wet ingredients.  I do not like homogeneous banana bread or banana muffins, so I leave mine lumpy.  Not as extremely lumpy as pictured here, but visibly lumpy.  
Fold together the wet and dry ingredients, again, not making the mix too homogeneous.  You MIGHT have to add a couple of tablespoons of water, depending on how dry your mix turns out to be.  If it looks like this above, you should be OK.  
Once you've got it mostly mixed, throw the almonds in and continue to stir.

This is what my almonds looked like.  You'll notice that the volume of my almonds exceeds that of my brown sugar.  Almonds are good for you.  Refined sugar is not.  
Spoon into a muffin tin.  I like to use muffin papers.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.  

You'll notice that my muffins are a little muffin-toppy-saggy.  I don't have much gluten in this combination of two flours (whole wheat and teff), so they don't rise all puffy like higher-glycemic muffins.  No matter - they are light enough so that you won't notice anything wrong with the texture, and they taste great.  Try 'em.  And for God's sake, stay the hell away from sugary drinks.