Buffalo Bayou Cistern now open for public viewing


Buffalo Bayou Partnership debuted the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, a renovated architectural relic, on May 13. The Cistern, reminiscent of the ancient Roman cisterns under Istanbul, is a cavernous space the size of 1.5 football fields. It  features 221 tall, slender concrete columns, each measuring 25 feet high. 
Visitors can make online reservations to tour this unique space at Admission is $2 per person for a 30-minute, docent-led tour.
The 87,500-square-foot underground drinking water reservoir was built in 1926 for the City of Houston. It supported the municipal water system’s goals of fire suppression (water pressure) and drinking water storage. After operating for decades, an irrepairable leak was discovered in the mid-2000s, and the reservoir was later decommissioned.
BBP re-discovered the site in 2011 when it was developing the $58 million Buffalo Bayou Park project. Realizing the historical and architectural significance of the highly unusual space, the organization — along with the City of Houston — worked to take over management of the site. With research, 3-D modeling of the interior by SmartGeoMetrics and community input, BBP developed a plan to repurpose the Cistern into a magnificent public space that could house temporary, environmental art installations. BBP secured grants of over $1.7 million from The Brown Foundation, Inc. to bring the space up to code, make it accessible to the public and, ultimately, house art installations. 
Architecture and engineering firm, Page, was charged with designing a ground-level entry structure to help transition visitors from the outside world to the Cistern and making improvements to the shelf on the perimeter of the space to create a six-foot-wide walkway with guardrails.
“Buffalo Bayou Partnership is excited to be opening The Cistern to the public. We have had incredible interest and, now, we will be able to share the site’s beauty and uniqueness with Houstonians and visitors to our city. We think it will attract attention from throughout the country and abroad,” said BBP President Anne Olson.
As the architect for the cistern improvements, Page Senior Principal Larry Speck said, “Descending into The Cistern the first time was like discovering some ancient ruin. It was so strange and exotic in the setting and clearly ‘lost’ to people’s consciousness. That vast field of columns, the reflective layer of water on the floor and the tiny bits of light creeping in from above were really beautiful.”
The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern will be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $2 per person for a 30-minute docent-led tour, with free admission on Thursdays.
Another aspect of experiencing The Cistern will be through New York artist Donald Lipski’s Down Periscope, which was also unveiled. The installation, commissioned by Houston Arts Alliance in partnership with the City of Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering, sits atop The Cistern on The Brown Foundation Lawn and allows park and online visitors (www. to peer into the periscope and view the Cistern. 
To purchase tour tickets to view The Cistern, please visit

Eileen Morris: 'Making art is like making gumbo'


The Ensemble Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and Eileen Morris, its artistic director, has been involved since 1982 –– almost from the beginning. 
After earning a degree in theater arts from Northern Illinois University and getting married, Morris came to Houston, occasionally, “to get away from the cold” and to visit family. It was her sister, Nia Becnel, a professor of architecture at the University of Houston, who introduced her to The Ensemble Theatre’s founder, the late George Hawkins. 
Hawkins launched The Ensemble Theatre in 1976 to create a place where artists of color could practice and perfect their craft.
According to Morris, “He wanted to give the community a view of the richer breadth of the African American experience –not just roles depicting maids and butlers and slaves.” 
When she moved to Houston permanently in the early 1980s, Morris volunteered as The                 Ensemble Theatre’s stage manager. Later, when Hawkins received a grant from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, he was able to hire Morris as managing director. 
Morris has since produced more than 78 productions. Under her leadership, the company has been recognized for excellence and won numerous awards, including the 2013 Best Season Theater Award from The Houston Press, and the 2008 Best of Houston Theater Award from The Houston Chronicle
“Making art is like making gumbo,” Morris said, “but most people who enjoy eating gumbo don’t really understand the process. There’s the shopping, the prep work and the actual cooking —  all of which takes a long time. Because the flavors need to blend and settle, it’s actually better the next day. That’s also what happens in the theatre, where all the behind-the-scenes work happens months before a play is ready for the audience.”
Morris makes the initial selection of possible plays to produce. Then, they are discussed and, finally, chosen by The Ensemble Theatre’s  program committee — comprised of board members, staff and artists.
 “When you gather human beings who come from different walks of life and different experiences, and you put them together to create art, you don’t know what you're going to get,” she said. “You have to believe in the recipe.”
While she has acted, directed and produced –– all the elements for good theatrical gumbo –– Morris has not yet tried her hand at writing a full two- or three-act play. She has, however, assemble the elements for a one-woman show and a medley of playwright August Wilson’s female characters. 
“Everybody has a story to tell because our lives are so rich and full of challenges. Of course, I have a story to tell, too, but I don’t feel like I have the time to sit down and write it,” she said. 
Of playwrights, Morris said, “They are great human beings. They often report that another voice or unplanned character will come into the play, interrupt the process, and take it in a different direction. This inspiration may come from the Heavenly Father, a higher power in the universe or just the energy from the ebb and flow of living and breathing, but magic does take over.” 
She added, “When I’m able to create, it’s because I’ve taken a walk or been near water, or I             release myself from the four walls. Maybe I’m watching children play in the park. Sometimes, I’m at the movies, and it happens, or I’m driving. When the mind is able to drift and release the things we deal with day-to-day, the creative energies get an opportunity to awaken themselves.”  
Morris commented, “Although George passed away in 1990, not a day passes that I don’t hear his voice in my head, giving me guidance. 
“His voice comes to me at times –– ‘Ok, now we’re here,  and we’ve got to maintain and keep deserving to be here.’ 
“So, when I’m choosing plays, I’m doing so for our artists and for the needs of the institution. At the same time, I try to make sure the community is enriched, that it understands what The Ensemble Theatre’s mission is and why we do what we do,” she said. “George Hawkins set the pace for us to be able do that.”
Deborah Quinn Hensel is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Brent Clanton: Vacationing this Summer

The summer doldrums have set in early this year. Houston’s vast matrix of concrete simmers and shimmers in the harsh sunlight, and it’s only 10 in the morning. The hourly growth rates of St.                     Augustinian lawns soon will be stunted by the blast furnace of July. It’s time for a vacation.

I am a very low-maintenance vacationer. I am just as happy camping out in my living room for a week as I am laying on the foredeck of a cruise ship (although if you are offering me an expense-paid choice, I’ll take the latter over the former) I have learned to eschew air travel — it’s no longer fun to fly — and to appreciate the slightly longer, less-traveled, but less crowded, routes from A to B.
Time should be no object while on vacation. That’s why traveling from Houston to Dallas by car, for example, can be made to stretch into an all-day affair if you’re careful. Getting off the Interstate and traveling the original route that US Highway 75 carved through this part of Texas can be an adventure in itself. Stop in the little towns along the way, and savor the rolling, winding vistas in between. My cousin operates a café on the town square in Madisonville. Walker’s Café is worth the detour.
Austin and the Hill Country are also favored destinations for city-stricken Houstonians. You can get there in under three hours — if you live on the west side, or leave before dawn. But,  why rush? Turn off Highway 290 at Chappell Hill, and follow your GPS to Washington on the Brazos, the birthplace of Texas. Get out of the car, and walk around.
I believe there’s not a more scenic, tranquil and beautiful county in the entire state than Washington County. There’s a reason those Blue Bell cows are so happy up there. It truly is Heaven on Earth.
From Washington on the Brazos, drive north to Highway 105 and head west to catch William Penn Road to connect with Loop 390, the scenic La Bahia Highway. Originally an Indian trail, this appealing ribbon of asphalt connects Burton, Gay Hill, Long Point and Independence. 
Burton boasts the country’s oldest operating air system cotton gin; Gay Hill features an ancient railroad viaduct; and Independence is steeped in Texas history, with the ruins of the original Baylor University. Independence Baptist Church, into which Sam Houston was baptized in 1854, also marks the gravesite of Houston’s wife, Margaret Moffett Lea.
Between Independence and Gay Hill is the cabin of the naturalist, Gideon Lincecum, at Long Point. Gideon was an explorer of the southeastern territories beyond the 13 colonies, and a correspondent with Charles Darwin. He lived among the Choctaw in Mississippi, learned their language and recorded their oral histories. He moved to Texas in 1848, settling on 1,828 acres centered at Long Point; he passed away in this cabin in 1874.
There are plenty of similar, back-road trails to sate your summer wanderlust. Most can be reached within a few hours of Houston by car. I fill up the tank, clean off the windshield, drop the top, and go. No airport lines, no luggage, no surly TSA attendants. And, the best part about any vacation: the first night back home in my own bed! 
Brent Clanton is a native Houstonian, member of Texas Radio Hall of Fame and regular contributor to Houston Woman Magazine. 

Sarah Gish and Labyrinths

The idea of walking around and around in circles may seem like an ideal way to get dizzy, but veteran labyrinth walker Sarah Gish knows she can always find serenity at the center. 

“A labyrinth is a walking meditation. It’s a way of getting centered, of getting connected to God and to myself,” she said. “It’s kind of a weird paradox the way it works, because you’re active — but I love it  because you are active. The action of moving your feet forward helps you calm down and get focused.”
Unlike a maze which is a puzzle with multiple dead ends, a labyrinth is a series of winding loops that lead only to the center. 
“It’s always one path in and one path out,” Gish said. “You’re unlikely to get lost.”
Gish said there are many parallels to be drawn between labyrinths and life itself, and it’s easy to understand them if you think about the center as the soul. 
Labyrinths can be traced back to the Minoan era of ancient Greece and Pliny’s World History, published in Latin long  before his death in 79 AD, references labyrinths in Crete, Egypt, the Greek island of Lemnos and Italy. 
Those following the traditional Cretan design consist of seven circuits, but some may contain nine or 11 layers of loops that meander toward the center. Others can be very creative in their designs, with heart shapes or utilizing a cross as their center point. 
Today, labyrinths are commonly located at hospitals, retreat centers, parks and even prisons. Gish said she’d like to see a labyrinth constructed at every school, because of its calming benefits. 
In 2006, John Rhodes, Ph.D., past president of the Labyrinth Society, developed a questionnaire for 122 respondents to report on their feelings after walking a labyrinth. More than 80 percent reported feeling “much more” or “more” relaxed, peaceful, centered, quiet or reflective. And, 73 percent reported less anxious, while 80 percent reported a reduction in their stress level. 
The Labyrinth Society’s website (  provides a labyrinth locator that includes 5,100 listings in 80 countries.  There are at least 43 within 100 miles of Houston, and the locator includes photos and notes about size,  materials, hours and whether or not they’re on private property. 
It’s no coincidence that many of these labyrinths are on church grounds because in Europe during the Middle Ages, they were frequently used for prayer, reflection and meditation when actual pilgrimages to Jerusalem were impractical. One of the most famous is the one built in 1200 AD at Chartres Cathedral, south of Paris. 
In Scandinavia during the 17th century, about 500 non-ecclesiastical labyrinths were constructed near fishing villages to trap trolls or rough winds, thus ensuring a safer fishing expedition. 
Gish, a Houston native, is the administrator of the Houston Labyrinth Walkers Facebook page, which has 350 followers. She organizes and leads labyrinth walks regularly across the Houston metropolitan area, many of which are paired with art projects. 
In May, she led a group of walkers on World Labyrinth Day, wherein people all over the world agreed to “walk as one at 1 p.m.” The event will  repeat on the first Saturday in May 2017, with the goal of “creating a peaceful wave of  energy across the time zones.”
Although she is not invested in any one traditional religion, Gish said she has studied a few and, now, characterizes herself as “a seeker.” is also her site, leading other seekers to find inspirational activities in the Houston area. 
While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art history, Gish spent six months studying in Europe and then lived for three years in Japan as an ESL teacher and radio deejay. Today, this mother of two grown sons maintains a weekly e-newsletter,, which is a guide to cultural activities for families, and, a guide to day camps for kids. 
She launched a campaign and ongoing community art project at to inspire others to find their passion. In honor of her brother who died in 2003, a portion of donations to the site help                  fund Archway Academy and Teen and Family Services, two organizations that support teens recovering from alcoholism and addictions. 
Gish calls herself an “infopreneur” because she loves to peddle information via all these websites.
“That's what I love to do –– ignite lives and create connections,” she said. “For me, that includes all kinds of connections, including the labyrinth.” 
“Labyrinths are just a beautiful way of getting quiet in this crazy, crazy world and connecting to yourself and whatever you call your higher power –– God, creator, the universe or nature,” she said. “If everyone walked a labyrinth every week, then we’d have a different world.”
Deborah Quinn Hensel is a staff reporter of Houston Woman Magazine.

Take the panic out of packing!


Do you struggle with a large suitcase on a trip but only wear half of what you’ve packed? Or, are you at the other extreme, throwing things into a suitcase just a few hours before leaving for the airport and praying you’ll have the right things to wear? Both scenarios can be maddening!
Panic-free packing is a result of careful planning. It’s time well spent, so you can relax and travel with confidence and ease.
Planning ahead is key.
My husband and I are traveling south this week – way south to Buenos Aires and the Argentinian wine country. For him, it’s to revisit the sites of his early-career business travel and taste the wines of the Uco              Valley. For me, it’s finally seeing “Paris of the South,” and tasting the wines of the Uco Valley!
Planning my wardrobe for this trip was a little challenging because Argentina’s seasons are reversed from ours in the U.S. Planning well ahead of our departure date was critical since I had need of a few new city-chic, yet hot-weather and comfortable pieces.
End-of-summer sales reaped a few nice basics, but online research and shopping resulted in bigger wins. The weather will be in the 80s and 90s, with high humidity. Light cotton gauze is a good, easy-care, easy-to-wear fabric for the casual tropics, but it’s not city-chic. I focused, instead, on lightweight, breathable and travel-friendly rayon knits and added separates from J. Jill’s Wherever Collection.
Easy packing is a process.
1. A week to 10 days before a trip, I set up a collapsible clothes rack in our guest room. I hang up every clothing item I’m considering taking. This rack makes coordination of separates easier (four tops can hang by one pair of pants); shoes go on the floor below, matching up with the selected clothes.
Note:  When I lived in a New York City apartment, I didn’t have a spare bedroom, so I hung a clothing rack over our bedroom door. You might use a section of your closet. The key is to see everything before you edit and start packing.
2.  I chart out each day of my trip on a blank calendar page, noting where I’ll be and expected activity, day and night. Glancing at the rack of clothing, I plan what I could wear each day, and make a note on my calendar. This exercise helps me edit my wardrobe.
Note:  The calendar also provides me with a daily wardrobe guide when I unpack at my destination. I don’t need to think about what to wear; I look at my notes, and I’m dressed and out the door.
3.  I try everything on, creating outfits and adding accessories that will be the most versatile with all clothing. My mantra is to “pack smart; pack light.” Each top should go with each bottom. Take more tops than bottoms.
Neutral colors are the most versatile. Black/white/beige are my favorites for warm weather travel (city-chic and also country smart).
Plan to wear each item several times during the trip (accessories are another key to versatility, and they can take wardrobe basics from day to evening).
Double-duty items are golden – a tunic-length blouse that can also be worn as a jacket over a camisole.
Limit shoes to three pairs, and be sure to include a comfortable, supportive pair for daytime walking.
4.  I check out all of my toiletries and cosmetics to be sure they are replenished and ready to pack. I collect samples of my favorite skin care products and save them for trips; others are transferred to travel-size, leak-proof containers. 
Note:  Most hotels have shampoo, conditioner and body lotions, so you only need to bring the toiletries that you cannot live without.
5.  I prep a little each day or night before I leave to spread the chore out. For those of you who tend to over-pack: Look at your rack of travel clothing frequently and use this time to edit, following the tips in #3 above.
Note:  Ignore the urge to keep in any “but what if…” items. Smart travelers plan what to pack based on the weather and activities, packing only for what is known and logical possibilities. (There’s nothing wrong with shopping for a suddenly- needed item when you get there, that’s part of the fun of travel!)
6.  I do my final packing the day before departure. Before you shut your suitcase, however, check the weather forecast again for your destination. Forecasts change daily, and if you didn’t think you’d need that extra sweater yesterday, now you might!
I’m ready, relaxed and off to Argentina! Follow me on Facebook, where I’ll share street scenes of Buenos Aires, shopping highlights and the beauty of the vineyards in the Mendoza wine country!
Leslie Willmott is the founder of Smart Women on the Go, which provides image and wardrobe consulting to women with busy lifestyles who want to polish their look, enhance their style and streamline their routine. Willmott combines her corporate experience with her fashion and travel savvy, to teach others the strategies to build a wardrobe that is flattering and stylish…anytime, anywhere. She has a degree in fashion merchandising from Florida State University and holds a certificate in image consulting from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She’s lived in Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York and is now based in Asheville, NC, where she “was discovered by our publisher.” For much more information, go online and visit
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