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Bayou Greenways 2020 to reshape city's urban fabric

More than 100 years ago, urban planner Arthur Comey laid out a master plan for Houston that included a park system organized around its bayou corridors, a plan that created continuous ribbons of green along Houston’s bayous that tied together parks and diverse communities.

By 2020, that vision could finally become a reality.
Bayou Greenways 2020, a part of the Bayou Greenways Initiative, is organizing and pushing the completion of the greenways connections, a 150-plus-mile, continuous line of all-weather trail along a least one side of Houston’s nine major bayous. That will make Houston the number one city in the United States for off-street walking and biking paths, Mayor Annise Parker said.
The bayous that will be connected by a continuous ribbon of green space by 2020 are Cyprus Creek, Greens Bayou, Halls Bayou, Hunting Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, Brays Bayou, Sims Bayou and Clear Creek. 
“The beauty of these bayou corridors is that they crisscross our city and our county. They touch every corner of the city,” said Roksan Okan-Vick, executive director of Houston Parks Board, which is leading the private fund-raising efforts and managing the acquisition, design and construction of Bayou Greenways 2020. 
“Part of our mission at the Parks Board is to increase equitable distribution of these types of green spaces to benefit all citizens of the greater Houston area. That benefit is that you are closer to this kind of a space where you can take the dog out, throw a Frisbee, and walk an extra day a week because it’s easier, it’s closer to you,” she said.
Those bayous have a way of stitching those communities together like no other method, Okan-Vick said. 
Houston is known as “The Bayou City,” but really, it hasn’t effectively used the bayous, instead focusing on roadways as the city has grown. 
“We really want Houston defined by its most significant natural resource, its bayou corridors. The Bayou Greenways 2020 project will reshape the city’s urban fabric in a way its roadways haven’t quite been able to,” Okan-Vick said. 
“You’re stitching institutions and places together that otherwise did not have a chance to mingle except through roadways,” she said. “And, being out in person, outside of a vehicle, is a different experience. Residents are able to be out there in a space that we all feel comfortable in, in a park space where everybody is equal, and being able to go back and forth between your neighborhood, your little part of the world, through other communities, through other places.”
The green space will be natural habitats complete with birds, bugs, butterflies, tree cover, meadows and/or tall grasses. The width of the “shared-use trails,” which will be shared by bikers, walkers and others – anything but a motorized vehicle – will vary.
That access can have significant impact on the quality of life for residents of a city not so long ago dubbed “America’s Fattest City” by Men’s Health magazine. When a person walks a few more times a week, the health benefits can be considerable.
The bayous float to the top of the priorities list.
Over the past 100 years, connecting the bayous dropped down the list of priorities. It wasn’t deliberate, Okan-Vick said, but city leaders just sort of forgot about it as the city dealt with the pressures of growth. 
“We, sometimes, just looked at those bayous as just the drainage ditches, something that were there by necessity,” she said. However, 10 or so years ago – around the time Houston first earned the “America’s Fattest City” moniker – the city gained an increased awareness of the benefits green space along the bayous could bring. 
Now, this $220 million project is “unleashing” more than $2 billion worth of existing green spaces and bits of trails, Okan-Vick said. 
“We’ve been building hike and bike trails along our bayous for years,” Parker said. “What has been missing are the connections. I wanted the job finished.”
“It’s a huge generator from that standpoint, in terms of bringing some of the assets to life that we really weren’t quite able to use like we will be when these bayou greenways are completed,” Okan-Vick said.
A combination of private funds and public funds from the bond that passed in 2012 are paying the bills for the project. Private funds will cover $120 million; as of press time, the Parks Board had raised $81 million.
“Roksan understands the importance green spaces provide to our quality of life,” Parker said. “Without her drive and determination, we would not have the funding needed to pay for all of the planned improvements. This is a true example of the benefits of a public/private partnership.”
Moving along
A couple of years into the project, there’s activity taking place in different segments.
In the large segments, the Houston Parks Board is acquiring lands which will be turned over to the city after the projects are completed. Other sections are seeing design work and construction.
The Brays Bayou segment was recently completed, and soon the White Oak Bayou segment will be finished too.
Okan-Vick grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, a beautiful, historically significant city with an incredible urban fabric, she said. She came to Houston to earn her master’s degree in architecture at Rice University.
“Thirty-five years ago, I don’t believe we had the maturity to embrace the greenways like we are today,” said Okan-Vick, who worked for the Friends of Hermann Park and was the city’s first female director of the Parks & Recreation Department before joining the Houston Parks Board in 2004. 
She continued, “I think we now have an increased awareness — because of how fast we are growing — that this is the most beautiful natural asset we have. If we don’t protect it, we are really hurting our city. We are doing a disservice to future generations and the future livability of our city. There’s a way to embrace both the growth and the stewardship of these natural assets to make the city one of the top livable cities in the United States.”
Dave Schafer is a free-lance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Bonnie Blue's career in art 'all about making people smile'


On the southeast side of Houston, not too far from Hobby Airport, there’s a  post-World War II neighborhood on a dead-end street. The houses are well-kept, and the lawns are tidy. But, it’s the one yellow-and-white frame house with fanciful flowers, vines and butterflies painted everywhere that immediately catches your eye.

This is the home of artist Bonnie Blue, who has lived here 21 years. But, just this past January, she started seeing her house as a new canvas. 
Painting the house is a project she said she never intended, but it’s a work in progress that keeps revealing itself to her as she paints. It’s also part of a bigger picture that includes two women-centric art cars in the driveway. 
“The neighbors seem to love it,” Blue said, and her husband, Robert, is encouraging her to do more. 
Now that she has finished painting a garden on the front picket fence, Blue is focusing on adding a wall of colorful lizards on the back and painting the figure of a man around her electric meter so he can be a true “meter man.” 
“I love sharing outdoor art. My cars are outdoor art,” Blue said. “When you travel around in an art car, you’re sharing your art with the world. I have compassion for people who will never enter a gallery, but in an art car, everybody who passes by you is getting to view art.”
Inside the house on Colgate Street, Blue runs a boutique where she sells her affordable art. She calls it “art that makes you smile.”  Wine glasses, bras, boots, shoes, hats and salvaged items are all adorned with flowers and women’s faces. Mermaids are a recurring theme because she loves them, and they sell very well in Galveston. 
“It’s not fine art; it’s fun art,” she said.
Blue will even customized wine bottle labels with portraits –– a popular service she offers for parties and events, along with caricatures on rocks. 
It’s the rocks that earned her national attention on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Blue had painted a picture of the comedienne/talk show host on a rock and, somehow, that ended up on the show. Blue said the television exposure propelled her career ahead by 10 years and, suddenly, she was booking parties every week. 
Painting women’s faces on rocks was a serendipitous turn in her art career. She has owned and run Blues Restoration since 1978, and it was the first photo restoration company to go digital. When everyone else went digital –– including amateur photographers with access to computer editing programs –– she found her market dwindling and knew she had to find her next path. Fortuitously, art answered the call. 
Blue was walking along the banks of the Blanco River in Wimberley when she noticed beautiful river rocks, each one unique.
“All of a sudden, I saw women’s faces on them,” she said. “And, it was an inspiration –– a visitation. I don’t know what you call it, but it was very profound. So, I started painting women on rocks. People love them, and I’ve sold hundreds.” 
The ladies on the rocks are everywhere in her shop, and they’re an important part of Blue’s message about honoring empowering women. Even on the hood of her Women Rock Artcar –– the one with ever-changing portraits of women like Mother Teresa, Maya Angelou, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Princess Diana –– she has painted this message: “The Women Rock Artcar was created for women by a woman to honor women, because across the miles, continents, barriers, laughter, abuse, tears, rich, poor, destitute or skin color, we are all connected at the heart.”
Her website, www.womenthatrocks.com, shows just a sample of how the Women Rock car’s side panels have been changed to showcase 36 different faces –– of famous and not-so-famous women. 
Since 2002, Blue’s art cars have been viewed by thousands of people in art car parades and other events in 15 states. She has won eight first- and second-place awards in Maryland, Kentucky and Oklahoma, and in Houston’s Autorama and Orange Show Art Car Parade. 
It’s obvious that Blue’s heart is in creating art, and she’s both self-taught and prolific.  
“My maiden name is Green, and my married name is Blue,” she said. “It seems I was born to be an artist.”
Deborah Quinn Hensel is a free-lance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Melissa Bender: 'Lung cancer is not just a smoker's disease'


For Melissa Bender, the nightmare started with an upper respiratory infection that wouldn’t go away, plus a little more fatigue than usual and a little shortness of breath when climbing stairs.
After about three weeks in which antibiotics didn’t seem to be working, she started to think it might be pneumonia, so her husband insisted she go to the emergency room. 
“When they did the CT scan, they found a tumor on my right lung,” said Bender, a 43-year-old mother of two who moved to Texas three and a half years ago. “Before that, I was running on a treadmill and as healthy as can be. So, it was a shock to us to find out I had lung cancer.”
How it developed is still a mystery to Bender. She had never been a smoker and had never really been around much second-hand smoke. 
Bender had a degree in chemical engineering from Mississippi State University and worked in that field before she became a stay-at-home mom nine years ago. She feels confident she was never exposed to chemicals that might have contributed to her condition. 
“There are no symptoms until it’s pretty progressed,” said Bender, whose Stage 4 cancer  is a mutation of epidermal growth factor receptors. “Many are diagnosed at a late stage because there almost no warning signs.”
“We need to break the stigma that lung cancer is just a smoker’s disease,” she said. “About 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. 
“Anyone can develop lung cancer,” said Sandra Curphey Borne, executive director of the Houston chapter of the American Lung Association.
More people in the United States die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, according to the Center for Disease Control. In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in women.  
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer now causes more deaths than colorectal, breast and prostate cancers combined. An estimated 158,040 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer in 2015, accounting for approximately 27 percent of all cancer deaths.
The rate of new lung cancer cases over the past 37 years has dropped for men (28 percent decrease), while it has risen for women (98 percent increase). 
On May 30, the local ALA chapter sponsored the Lung Force Walk at the University of Houston. The walk aimed to raise funds for research, advocacy, education and awareness –– not only for lung cancer, but also for asthma, COPD and other respiratory conditions aggravated by air pollution. 
Borne said the ALA has the support of celebrity spokespersons, like singers Kelly Pickler and Jewel, who have personal and family connections to lung cancer. Another spokesperson is actress Valerie Harper who   was diagnosed with terminal metastatic lung cancer in 2009 and initially given only months to live. 
Last May, Harper spoke to Congress about providing more federal funding for cancer research and told them, “I am a year and four months past my expiration date.”
Harper is one of the lucky ones. The U.S. National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute reports the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 54 percent for cases detected when the disease is still localized within the lungs. However, only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage. For tumors that spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is only four percent. More than half of people with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed.
Borne also has a personal commitment to fighting the disease; her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer the day after she was offered her job at ALA.
“This movement...every day it’s my job,” Borne said, “But, every day and every night, it’s my personal mission, and the mission of my family also.”
In addition to the walk, the second week of May was designated as Turquoise Takeover, Borne said. The movement asked newscasters to wear turquoise on the air and worked  to bathe buildings in turquoise light to raise awareness. 
Meanwhile, Bender is fighting her personal battle with the support of her husband Eric, 13-year-old daughter Maddie, and her nine-year-old son Matthew. 
“The love, support and prayers of my family and friends are what have kept me strong,” Bender said. 
Some of her good friends put together a team, Mamas for Melissa, for a fund-raising event in February. Bender met Borne at that event and agreed to serve as an ambassador for the Lung Force Walk.
Bender’s oncologist has given her plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Her current treatment consists of a pill called Tarceva®. The company's website explains Tarceva® is not a chemotherapy drug, but is a particular type of therapy that affects certain signals –– those EGFR cells that have mutated in Bender’s lungs –– that cancer cells require to grow. 
Five months after the nightmare began, Bender’s recent scans show the medication appears to be working.  
Deborah Quinn Hensel is a free-lance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine. 

Coming Back from the Edge: Dealing with Stress

By the time Diane (not her real name) came to see me, she was at the end of her rope. She was a working mother, trying to balance a full-time job while struggling to deal with sports activities, dance lessons, volunteer committees, PTA meetings and all the other activities that packed her already full schedule.  

She sat in my office and said “I don’t think I can cope with my world anymore! I just didn’t sign up for all of this!” 
As her therapist, I soon discovered that, in some ways, the stress Diane was feeling were directly connected to things she had actually signed up for.  
But, like Diane, we do not always take time to evaluate the stress that accumulates in our lives. If your life feels a little out of control, here are six ways that you can de-stress:
Recognize the Symptoms
Stress shows up in three ways: physically, emotionally and behaviorally. Some of the common symptoms of stress can be an increased heart rate, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, irritability, anxiety, drugs or an increase in alcohol consumption. If you are having any of these symptoms of stress, ask your self “What is it I am trying to cope with right now?” 
Our bodies give us warning signs when we are stressed out. If we choose to ignore the warning signs, our bodies will go to any extent to get our attention; for example, we may have a panic attack. 
Evaluate the Stress
Take a few minutes to think about the stress you may have in your life. Is it good stress — such as preparing for a fun event like graduation or a wedding? 
Or is bad stress (known as distress). With distress, the stressors can lead to negative effects that will harm you or someone else? 
It is very important to distinguish the type of stress that you are experiencing to know how to proceed.
Eliminate Stressors
What stressors can you remove from you life? Is there anything you can ask for help with? 
If you are a full-time working mother, maybe eliminating stress means hiring a housekeeper, instead of trying to handle all the chores on your own. Or, do you really need to be involved in four volunteer committees or would it be better if you just picked two? 
Being able to remove the unnecessary significantly increases the ability to handle and cope with the stressors that can not be removed.
Organize and Prioritize
Have you made a “To-Do List” today? You might want to start! 
Writing down everything you must get done for the day is a great way to visualize what is going on in your head. Once you put your thoughts onto paper or device, arrange the important from the non-important items and the urgent from the non-urgent items. 
Often, we get overwhelmed with how much we have to get done in a day. Usually there are things that can hold off to another day or time. But, procrastination can also lead to an increase in stress. 
By planning and managing our time and figuring out what needs to be done today — and what can wait until next week — we establish some direction when it comes to our time which can reduce the amount of stress.
Use Positive Coping Skills
When was the last time you had some fun? It is interesting because, as children, play time was built into our day (i.e. recess), but as we become adults, we often lose the time that is meant for us to have some fun. 
Sometimes, stress is due to being overcommitted and not giving our bodies time to relax. Just like recess was planned into our school day as kids, we have to plan time for the activities we love. 
Unless you replace the negative coping skill with something positive, you are likely to return to your harmful way of coping. 
A positive coping skill is anything that is a healthy way of your body dealing with any stress that you may be under. This could be yoga/meditation, listening to music, exercising or journaling, just to name a few.
Find what works for you and start implementing these skills now. In a ]moment of crisis, you know what to resort to.
Get Help
There are certain situations that require professional help. If you feel as though you are not appropriately handling the stress in your life, don’t be afraid to ask for help. 
Whether it is individual or group counseling, a support group or a psychiatric hospital, there are many resources available.
Remember, life will never be completely stress-free, but stress can be greatly reduced when you choose to follow these six simple guidelines. 
Elise N. Banks, MS, LPC-Intern, is a graduate of Baylor University where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and the University of Houston, where she received her master’s degree in counseling.  She is a licensed therapist who works with families and individuals in the Houston area. She is also the reigning Miss Texas International and her platform is “Healthy Mind, Successful Life.”

6 Factors that Make for Extraordinary Friendships


Developing friendships is an essential ingredient to a healthy life. But, few people are intentionally trying to avoid heart disease or improve their blood pressure when they seek out, or stumble into, new friendships. Instead, they just want someone to hang out with, confide in or trust in times of trouble.
Friends can start out from a variety of places, but they still share the same incredible bond. Sometimes, that bond can span a lifetime. Other times, the bond is present just for a short period. Either way, friendships are a vital part of life.
I became fascinated by the motivations behind friendships. Not all friendships are equal and, over the long haul, not all turn out the way people might like.
Having a mutually beneficial relationship is crucial. If only one person is willing to put in time and effort, that friendship won’t work. We tend to intuitively know who real friends are and which friendships are worth our time and energy.
Six factors can lead to great friendships – three that bring people together and three that keep them together.
Similarity. The phrase “birds of a feather flock together” has been around at least since the 16th century, and it’s no wonder it became such a well-worn cliché. It happens to be true. 
We surround ourselves with people whose style, attitudes, personalities, likes, dislikes and mannerisms are similar to ours. Those similarities help to build an instant bond. We feel comfortable around those people and easily slide into conversations about topics that interest both of us or schedule activities we both enjoy.
Intrigue. Sometimes, people are so fascinating that we can’t help but be drawn to them. We can build a great bond of friendship with someone when we are genuinely curious about their stories, their lifestyle or their backgrounds.
History. Growing up together, or going through the same or similar experiences, can lead to a lasting connection between two people. Other people may not be able to have a good understanding of, or empathy for, a situation you went through. But, this person understands you because she went through it, too. Sharing a past with someone definitely can create a special bond.
Positive influence. A great friend will be someone who is a good influence and will support you and your goals. She should inspire you to live up to your highest potential so you can be your best self. The world has enough negativity. You don’t need that in a friend.
Your happiness. True friends want to see you happy. The best kinds of friends are the ones who have your best interests at heart, even to a fault. They may tell you something you don’t want to hear at the risk of fracturing the friendship, just because they know it is in your best interest. At the same time, a true friend will never ask you to compromise or jeopardize any part of yourself in order to be her friend.
Loyalty. A loyal friend will have your back no matter what. She will stand up for you and with you when the need arises. She won’t speak ill of you to others, and she doesn’t let others speak badly about you either. Loyalty is not an easy trait to find, but it’s essential to any really good relationship.
As years go by, I think most of us start to realize it is no longer the quantity of friends that matters, but the quality. You just build a great bond with some people and you can call on each other in times of trouble. Good friends are hard to find, but impossible to forget.
Darlene Quinn is an author and journalist from Long Beach, Calif.. Her novels about deceit, intrigue and glamour in the retail fashion industry were inspired by her years working in management with Bullocks Wilshire Specialty department stores. Her latest is “Conflicting Webs,” the fifth book in her epic Web series(www.darlenequinn.net).

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