Season for Caring, Southern Walnut Creek Trail, Two Thanksgivings

lhs_SFC14_Bernard_07CHARITY: Refugee cut off from his culture and from benefits. Taken from my Season for Caring story in the Statesman: “In 1972, when Tutsis slaughtered Hutus in Burundi, farmer Rutankabandi Bernard was separated from his wife and child. “We went in different directions,” Bernard, a Hutu, says softly through an interpreter. “I never saw them again.” His enormous eyes stare into the deep distance. His face, usually lighted up with a big, kind smile, drops a bit. The family had grown beans and cassava in Rumonge, Burundi, near Lake Tanganyika. Bernard, who speaks Kirundi and Swahili but not English, headed first toward the Democratic Republic of Congo, then to Tanzania. He survived in refugee camps for more than 30 years. Seven years ago, he came to America.”

SPORTS: A welcome new trail traces two Austin creeks. The Southern Walnut Creek Trail follows more than seven miles of wooded prairie through East Austin. The 10-foot-wide concrete path winds two lanes over mostly smooth terrain clustered with oaks, pecans and elms. Crows, warblers and chickadees provide the soundtrack. At times, the trail feels as remote as when Tonkawas tracked through these lowlands and the wide, lush Boggy and Walnut creek beds. Then an industrial element, like the Freescale plant, will peek over the tree line, reminders of the city around us. The dogs and I did a seven-mile loop from Govalle Park to past MLK and back, in other words, the southwestern half of the completed trail, which includes some elevated boardwalks. Mostly, bikers seem attracted to it. We were among the only mammals on foot this Sunday morning. Someday, I hear, almost all our urban trails could be connected.

TRAVEL: Why two Thanksgivings? The more thanks to give. Last week, we feasted in Fort Worth, Kip’s hometown, and Houston, mine. Our families are large and lively. Our four parents are living, but fading with each passing month. Our eight siblings and their spouses are thriving, while our 22 nieces and nephews are nearly all grown up. No fourth generation yet, but the weddings come fast and furious. We also met up with some hometown friends, which included a satisfying lunch at Houston’s Pondacheri casual Indian eatery. While the Texas 71-Interstate 10 route is best for reaching my family in West Houston, we’ve settled on a old-new path north through Lampasas, Hamilton, Hico, Glen Rose and Cleburne, then fast up the Chisholm Trail Parkway toll road. Adds 30 minutes to the trip, but saves a week of your life in Interstate 35 stress.

Auctioneer Heath Hale, Season for Caring, MoPac Updates and more

Auctioneer Heath Hale in action.
Auctioneer Heath Hale in action.

BUSINESS: Heath Hale’s auctioneering life. Taken from my column in the Statesman: “Salado-raised Heath Hale attended his first livestock auction as an infant. His father, Tommy Hale, is an auctioneer. So are two uncles and two cousins. As soon as he could, Hale joined the family trade, calling car auctions on weekdays and charity auctions on some weekends. His younger brother and best friend, Seth Hale, is his lead “ringman,” or bid spotter. “I love having the microphone in my hand,” Hale, 29, says. “And I’ve gotten to do that every day for 11 years.” Recently, Hale and his team made news by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars during live auctions for the high-profile Andy Roddick Foundation, Rise School of Austin, and Mack, Jack & McConaughey benefits.”

CHARITY: Reports on last year’s Season for Caring folks. Taken from Nicole Villalpando‘s story in the Statesman: “A safe place to live. A car to drive. Medical bills erased. Peace of mind. That’s what Statesman readers gave to last year’s Season for Caring featured families. Since 1999, Statesman Season for Caring has raised more than $8 million in monetary donations and in-kind goods and services and helped thousands of people around Central Texas through the nonprofit agencies that are part of the program. Today we look back on the 2013 families before we kick off the 16th Season for Caring campaign on Sunday with 11 new featured families.”

 TRANSIT: Extremely informative updates on MoPac construction. Taken from Ben Wear‘s column in the Statesman: “The caller, who spends more of his life on MoPac Boulevard than he would like, had a request for the transportation reporter: Could you do a series of stories, complete with big drawings, laying out what MoPac will look like when all this construction ends? Well, maybe I can do it, or something like it, but only much closer to that (hopefully not mythical) time about a year from now when the tolled express lanes open. What I can do for now, here, is give you a MoPac for Dummies version.”

Preservation Austin Merit Awards, L Style G Style Show & Tell, Dai Due and more

Larry McGuire, Peggy Weiss and Ron Weiss of Jeffrey's at Preservation Austin's Merit Awards.
Larry McGuire, Peggy Weiss and Ron Weiss of Jeffrey’s at Preservation Austin’s Merit Awards.

HISTORY: You, the readers of this column, won two awards this week. You hatched the ideas, shared your memories and then responded to the published histories. That’s why you earned Merit Awards from the Travis County Historical Commission and Preservation Austin. To tell the truth, the awards came with my name on them. But without you, the readers, none of the stories would have happened. I wrote earlier this week about the experience of accepting the first honor at Travis County Commissioner’s Court. Today, Preservation Austin started its always classy awards luncheon with a speech by Johnny K. Campbell, president and CEO of Sundance Square Management in Fort Worth. He told the 30-year history of the Bass family’s unique efforts to revive that city’s downtown through enlightened preservation and new construction. The awards then were introduced, neatly, through a Joe Pinelli video. Honored were the Fletcher-Phillips House, designed by A.D. Stenger and reimagined by owners Josh and Erin Bernstein; the Jeffrey’s Compound, captained by chef-owner Larry McGuire; the gorgeous Sampson-Nalle House, preserved by Karey Nalle Oddo; and the Lindner-Sanchez House, turned into the Friends & Neighbors business by Jade Place-Matthews, Greg Matthews and Jill Bradshaw. Two public projects, Wooldridge Square and the Texas Historical Commission complex, were also lionized. Given a surprise honor: Retiring Downtown Austin Alliance chief Charlie Betts, who has done much to shape our modern city. I felt humbled by their company.

Kathleen Painter and Celina Fabela at L Style G Style's Show & Tell.
Kathleen Painter and Celina Fabela at L Style G Style’s Show & Tell.

MEDIA: L Style G Style started out in print. The magazine told stories about Austin’s LGBTQ community with style and grace. Part and parcel of the original product was the distinctive design realized by founder Alisa Weldon. Now, her life partner, Lynn Yeldell, captains the surviving digital offering that still keeps us informed and entertained. Not surprisingly, the pair found a way to get L Style G Style back into luscious print, at least one more time. At the Palm Door on Sixth, one of the city’s mushrooming supply of events centers, they introduced Show & Tell, a media primer printed on sensuous stock. The first third of the booklet introduces images of their business supporters along with QR codes to connect readers with accompanying stories through mobile devices. A very helpful second section lists and briefly explains local LGBTQ-friendly nonprofits. Finally, the editors shared a “Fab 50” selection of personality profiles from their deep archives.

FOOD: An ecstatic 9.5 out of 10 review from Matthew Odam: “If you or I strolled through the alley behind the Vortex Theater on Manor Road we’d probably see a nondescript concrete path colored with unidentifiable vegetation. Dai Due chef-owner Jesse Griffiths saw inspiration. He foraged wild grapes from the alley the day he signed the lease at his butcher shop and restaurant located across the street. Griffiths used the grapes and a recipe from a Chez Panisse cookbook to create a starter for his restaurant’s sourdough bread. He loved that the yeasts would be local to his neighborhood. It’s fitting that Griffiths would take a lesson from locavore pioneer Alice Waters. Griffiths’ restaurant culls local and seasonal ingredients and, using a from-scratch ethos, creates sensational dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is exemplary Texas food, the restaurant quintessentially Austin.”

UT Community Leadership Awards, Wu Chow Tasting Meal, Travis County Historical Commission Merit Award and more

Rodrigo Sanchez and Armine Olivas at UT Community Leadership Awards.
Rodrigo Sanchez and Armine Olivas at UT Community Leadership Awards.

SCHOOL: The University of Texas takes a social concept and perfects it. For the past few years, it has honored Austinites with Community Leadership Awards. The good will these gestures generate cannot be overvalued. The awards ceremonies are opportunities to embrace good news, for instance: Former Austin Mayor Gus Garcia was the only Latino to attend the 50th reunion of his 1959 UT class. Now, 23 percent of the freshman class is Hispanic. During a party in a spacious tent outside the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, civic leader Vincent Torres received a special nod. Community Partnership Awards went to Community Advancement Network and its leader, Vanessa Sarria, and to the Hispanic Alliance, founded and led by Monica Peraza. Central Health board of managers member Rosie Mendoza won the individual Community Leadership Circle Award, while Seton Healthcare Family chief Jesús Garza took home the Joe R. Long and Teresa Lozano Long Legacy Award. Before, during and after the honors, UT VP Gregory Vincent lauded Bill Powers, now in his final lap as UT president, for his devotion to diversity and for shaping a university recently ranked 30th in the world.

Suzanne and Vincent Torres at UT Community Leadership Awards.
Suzanne and Vincent Torres at UT Community Leadership Awards.

FOOD: I don’t have a favorite Chinese restaurant in Austin. My colleague, Matthew Odam, knows of some good candidates, but they tend to be located a long way from my perch in South Austin. Otherwise, for 30 years, I’ve remained unimpressed. Until now. On the basis of a tasting menu alone — which can’t tell you how a restaurant will work out in practice — I perked up for what business partners C.K. Chin and Stuart Thomajan have planned for Wu Chow, a new spot slated for the IBC Bank Building. Their chefs, Ji Peng Chen and Ling Qi Wu, both from the province of Fuzhao, cooked up a series of hot, cold and dim sum specialties, many with strong Szechuan influences. Shared these nibbles with a frisky and discerning table of guests at Swift’s Attic, Chin and Thomajan’s thriving eatery on Congress Avenue. Maybe now I can learn to make good Chinese food, given their example.

Stuart Thomajan and C.K. Chin at Wu Chow Tasting.
Stuart Thomajan and C.K. Chin at Wu Chow Tasting.

HISTORY:  Humbling day. Slipped in after the citizen who believes that Gov. Rick Perry and Gov-Elect Greg Abbott are terrorists, and another gentleman who thinks Longhorns coach Charlie Strong is Napoleon the Pig, Travis County Commissioners endorsed an Award of Merit for my historical reporting in the newspaper. Bob Ward, chairman of the Travis County Historical Commission, said some kind words. I couldn’t think how to respond with the microphone, so instead I requested interviews with Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe as well as Commissioners Margaret Gomez, Ron Davis and Gerald Dougherty as “living histories.” (The other, Bruce Todd, was absent today.) Later, 14 of the historical leaders assembled at the Driskill Hotel’s 1886 Cafe for coffee and pastries. Most of them shared anecdotes. On the street afterwards, Judge Bob Perkins said that I took Austin’s hidden stories and pinned them up on a sort of community fridge. Nice image.


Rodeo Austin BBQ, Creek Show: Night Light, Forklift Danceworks Party and more

Bill and Terrie McConnico at Rodeo Austin BBQ, Auction and Dance Party.
Bill and Terrie McConnico at Rodeo Austin BBQ, Auction and Dance Party.

SPORTS: This is more a intimate, manageable party than the Rodeo Austin Gala. The big dance in the spring takes up the vasty spaces of the Palmer Events Center. This BBQ, Auction and Dance, recently moved the fall, fits just right into the Austin Music Hall. In cowboy hats and an array of duds, guests munched on PoK-e-Jo’s tender offerings, bid on auction items — silent and live — and waited to scoot those boots. More than one Rodeo Austin insider told me that the group’s increased activity downtown, where the group got its start in the 1930s, was part of a longterm strategy that could bring even the main show back to the center of the region’s social action. Even though Austin is not always considered a prototypical Texan city, it is. A reminder that agriculture was Travis County’s biggest business as recently as the 1950s. And preserving Western culture is an important part of keeping Austin in touch with its roots.

"Creek Show: Night Light"
“Creek Show: Night Light”

NATURE: For almost the entire stroll, I was the only soul on Waller Creek. The Waller Creek Conservancy had extended the hours for the “Creek Show: Night Light” through Saturday. One family with kids greeted me in the dark at the southern terminus of a procession of vertical lamps. The rest of the time, I was on my own. The reflective walk reminded me of two things. First, how much monumental stonework went into spanning the creek during the 1930s, and how much decorative effort was devoted to beautify the waterway during the 1970s. All, of course, aimed at matching San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk, without the advantages of advanced flood control. Secondly, I flashed back to the early 1980s, when I’d wander the creek at night, amazed that nobody else dared. Never stumbled on any trouble. But I got by on that kind of dumb luck for decades. For more on the light show, see Jeanne Claire van Ryzin‘s column.

Juliana Azar and Kevin Smothers dressed up for Forklift's Dance Party.
Juliana Azar and Kevin Smothers dressed up for Forklift’s Dance Party.

NIGHTLIFE: The costumes ranged from intentionally risible to outrageous. Even without a party, Forklift Danceworks is a supremely approachable company that builds community well beyond the realm of dance lovers. Founder Allison Orr has found, not just inspiration from, but lasting connection to waste retrieval workers, utility employees and baseball players, turning their everyday activities into ephemeral beauty. Alongside that laudable work is the socializing. The group’s dance parties, which revive the nightlife of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, are hugely popular. Of course, there are those of us who actually remember those nights, but the first on the dance floor are always youths who couldn’t possibly recall much before 1995. It’s as if, in my younger days, I’d jump out to dance to 1920s, ’30s or ’40s music. Oh wait … Justine’s Brasserie provided the novel munchies and Ilios Lighting the sophisticated light show.

New Milestones Foundation, Hand to Hold, Boys & Girls Clubs and more

Anita Price James and Nedrea Clayton Westbrooks at New Milestones Gala
Anita Price James and Nedrea Clayton Westbrooks at New Milestones Gala

HEALTH 1: They tipped their hats to Beverly Scarborough. That was sweet. The longtime angel of the New Milestones Foundation passed away recently. (Read more about her here.) The foundation, sometimes misunderstood, supports the initiatives of Travis County Integral Care, which oversees help for people with mental health issues or developmental problems. During the group’s gala at the Four Seasons Hotel, musical artist Sara Hickman spoke matter-of-factly about her bouts with depression and her suicide attempt, before leading the audience in a song about being grateful, faithful and loyal. Then, Dr. S. Claiborne “Clay” Johnston, inaugural dean of the new Dell Medical Schoolmesmerized the guests with data about gaping rips in the public health safety net. He thinks Austin is on its way to becoming a model for healthy cities. What an evening! Emotional and informative in equal measures.

Jeanette Lyons and Jackie Price at Hand to Hold Baby Shower
Jeanette Lyons and Jackie Price at Hand to Hold Baby Shower

HEALTH 2: Four-year-old group holds first big benefit event and nails it. Fourteen years ago, Kelli Kelley gave birth to a boy after 24 weeks of pregnancy. He weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces and, in her own words, “looked like an alien.” The boy spent four months in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which folks in the field customarily abbreviate to NICU. Medical bills reached $1 million. Her son is now slightly scarred but healthy. Four years ago, Kelley started Hand to Hold, a small group that is already making a national impact by supporting and educating parents about preemies through peer-to-peer counseling along with neatly organized websites and handbooks. For its premiere Baby Shower lunch at the Austin Country Club, the group filled the room with more than 300 well-dressed women and a handful of men. They touted another group, the Mrs., and its “I’m Enough” campaign and magic affirming mirror, then showed powerful video about the Hand to Hold nonprofit. Author Kristin Armstrong wrapped up the lunch talking about “the perfect plan for the perfect life” and how that rarely works out.

Nicholas Youngblood and Amie Patel at Boys & Girls Clubs Dream Gala
Nicholas Youngblood and Amie Patel at Boys & Girls Clubs Dream Gala

SCHOOL Can’t get over those Zach kids. The theater‘s fantastic pre-professional troupe — can’t we find a better name? — once again performed for the Dreams Gala at the Four Seasons Hotel. The lively event benefits Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, another name-rebranding opportunity in the making. Both groups maintain sterling reputations. A full house heard from club alumnus Bill Noble, who talked about the lifelong ties generated by the after-school specialists, and from chairman of the board Terrell Gates, a businessman who neatly described his journey from skepticism to conversion regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the rapidly expanding group. The clubs, you might have read in the news pages, is moving away from free-standing clubhouses and partnering instead with schools, recreation centers and public housing. Smart move. Smart group.

Stephanie Stuhrat and Ben Youngblood  at Boys & Girls Clubs Dream Gala
Stephanie Stuhrat and Ben Youngblood at Boys & Girls Clubs Dream Gala

Party for Good, Prime Timers, Barton Creek Footbridge and more

Earl Maxwell of the St. David's Foundation, winner of the Libby Malone Community Leader Award at Greenlights' Party for Good.
Earl Maxwell of the St. David’s Foundation, winner of the Libby Malone Community Leader Award at Greenlights’ Party for Good.

CHARITY: Greenlights is all revved up. The nonprofit that helps out nonprofits recently merged with Innovation+. Thus, Greenlights now acts more like a social venture with hundreds of social partners. Its annual Party for Good reflected an entrepreneurial change of tone, mission and energy. The Four Seasons Hotel banquet room was packed with noisy backers of the nonprofit community for a ceremony that culminated in highly anticipated awards. Mark Kiester, dynamic director of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, won as Nonprofit Executive. Small, Medium and Large Nonprofits selected from finalists were Hays County Food Bank, Capital Area Dental Foundation and Communities in Schools Central Texas. Universally admired Earl Maxwell, head of the St. David’s Foundation, was named the Libby Malone Community Leader of the Year. I had a tremendous time catching up at our table with Regina Rogoff, captain of the soon-to-expand People’s Community Clinic.

NIGHTLIFE: Twenty-five years of good times. In 1989, Austin christened the just the third chapter of Prime Timers Worldwide. Now there are more than 75 global outlets of this social group that brings together mature gay and bisexual men. The founder, who prefers his name not appear in publication, lives here in Austin. The Silver Anniversary party at the Brass House played heavily on shared memories, but also included a lively series of solos and duets from the Capital City Men’s Chorus, whose holiday concert is Dec. 6-7 at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church. I deeply grateful to my table host Dallas Heenan for guiding me through the prime anniversary week and a warm visit with the founder, a former professor with a genius for organization.

TRANSIT: Barton Creek bridge delayed. From Ben Wear‘s story in the Statesman. “The city of Austin’s quest to span the Barton Creek greenbelt and nearby Loop 360 with bridges for cyclists and pedestrians, close to a decade in the planning, is six months behind schedule as the city and its state partner grapple with a geology problem. Construction on the almost $11 million, two-phase project began early this year with tree clearing south of the creek and construction of bike lanes on the MoPac Boulevard frontage roads abutting the greenbelt.But the project has been mostly put on hold as consulting engineers redesign underground structures that would support the 1,045-foot-long, 14-foot-wide bridge over the creek and greenbelt. The bridge’s concrete path will be 12 to 14 feet below the northbound highway bridge just to the west, officials said.”

Austin & Gayborhoods, Austin Opera Dinner, Painful Caterpillars and More

Anthony and Marcia Anthony Toprac at Austin Opera Opening Night Dinner.
Anthony and Marcia Toprac at Austin Opera Opening Night Dinner.

CITY: Why doesn’t Austin have gayborhoods? Taken from my story in the Statesman: “You might have heard that Austin could soon join San Francisco, Vancouver, British Columbia, and other cities with a set of rainbow crosswalks. At first, some business owners in the Warehouse District frowned on the idea, put forth by Austin Pride, to paint the intersection of West Fourth and Colorado streets with a spectrum of colors associated with the gay community. Yet few opposed the idea after the Austin City Council took up the matter in September. Private dollars would pay to install and maintain the crosswalks. In other cities, the distinctive rainbows — sometimes temporary — have been placed in gay and lesbian neighborhoods. Austin doesn’t have — never had — a true “gayborhood,” defined as a district with a high density of LGBTQ residents, businesses and street life.”

ARTS: They came from everywhere. Participants in the Austin Opera opening night dinner hailed from Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Houston and elsewhere. They live in Austin now. Yet uniformly, they declared their happiness that Austin supports an opera company as uniformly skillful and fiscally sound as ours. Other mid-size cities are losing their companies, not Austin. After the merry dinner, which included some costumed guests, we settled in for Verdi‘s “A Masked Ball.” Now if a company can take this gloriously messy opera and turn it into an unmessy glory, then it has matured to the point when the whole city should celebrate. Extra drama: The lead baritone, Michael Chioldi, was a last-minute replacement, and the lead tenor, Dominick Chenes, was making his professional debut. Everyone I consulted agreed that they performed magnificently alongside Richard Buckley‘s flawless orchestra and against Richard Isackes‘ set designs and Wendall Harrington‘s sumptuous projections.

NATURE: Perhaps the most compelling story of the week. Taken from Pat Beach‘s article in the Statesman: “Tired of Ebola and ISIS keeping you up nights? Consider switching to the puss caterpillar. They’re fuzzy, cute and very much want to make you cry. Best of all, they could be in your back yard right now. With their brown-gray fuzz, they may look like they’re just begging to be petted, but curb the impulse: Beneath that coat are spines that carry the most toxic venom found in any caterpillar in the United States.heir population can fluctuate because of a variety of factors, including weather and food availability. But for whatever reason, they’re being reported in our area in greater numbers this year, according to Wizzie Brown, an entomologist and program specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for Travis and Williamson counties.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post. Richard Isackes was inaccurately credited with the projections in Austin Opera’s production. He designed the sets.

Kids in a New Groove, St. David’s Anniversary, Big Red & Bubbles, Settlement Home Sale and more

Krystle Hurd and Michelle Davis at Kids in a New Groove lunch.
Krystle Hurd and Michelle Davis at Kids in a New Groove lunch.

MUSIC: It was Robert Duke’s first year as a teacher. Now a distinguished professor and expert on music learning at the University of Texas, Duke told a Kids in a New Groove lunch gathering about an early teaching challenge. “Third period was intermediate band,” Duke says in the droll manner of a stand-up comic. “There was nothing intermediate about them. They just had had their instruments a year longer.” Yet none of the kids had yet learned to how to play. So he let them line up to leave class earlier every day. Then he heard first one, then two sax players working out the bass line for “Louie Louie.” It was then that he realized that what the class wanted to do was play songs, not learn instrumental mechanics. So he directed the whole class to tackle the bass line the next day. Turned around intermediate band. Perfect anecdote, told at a well-catered AT&T Center meal for the nonprofit run by Karyn Scott that has provided music mentoring for hundreds of foster kids.

Dr. Saima Jehangir and Jinous Rouhani at St. David's Foundation Anniversary Gala.
Dr. Saima Jehangir and Jinous Rouhani at St. David’s Foundation Anniversary Gala.

HEALTH: Obviously, something was different about the crowd. The mood at the Hyatt Regency’s Zilker Ballroom was unusually animated. Wasn’t this just another gala, albeit for the St. David’s Foundation? Then I was reminded that the foundation doesn’t need a gala. It distributes $50 million from the profits of St. David’s HealthCare, run with partner HCA, to area health initiatives. Its small-scale Toast of the Town benefit parties fund the Neal Kocurek scholarships. Yet, as the foundation’s Lisa Trahan pointed out, this night was a rare time when all the different pieces of the hospital’s social puzzle, including the system’s medical personnel, gathered under one tent, so to speak. Which explains the high spirits. And why a local news show was broadcast from the room on the occasion of the group’s 90th anniversary.

Brandon Owens, Tam tran, Yuan Gia and Robert van Delden at Big Reds & Bubbles for Texas Wine and Food Foundation.
Brandon Owens, Tam Tran, Yuan Gia and Robert van Delden at Big Reds & Bubbles for Texas Wine and Food Foundation.

FOOD: New faces on the food and wine scene. A keen observer pointed out that, besides the usual food bloggers, wine experts and food industry types, a whole new set of folks signed up for Big Red & Bubbles, a signature benefit for the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas. (They fund scholarships in the culinary fields.) The masses testing chef samples and splashes of red or bubbling wine did look and sound somehow different. A little dressier. A little more choosy about their tastings. Not snobby, per se, but knowledgeable and perhaps more capable of affording the better vintages. Also, a little more elbow room at the Driskill Hotel made all the difference. Other benefits that use the cruciform upper rooms should study their plan and their traffic patterns.

Some vintage cookbooks at the Settlement Home for Children Sale.
Some vintage cookbooks at the Settlement Home for Children Sale.

CHARITY: I’ve never seen anything like it. Didn’t figure chic lawyer, philanthropist and contemporary art collector Deborah Green for a Settlement Home for Children shopper. “Where else am I going to find 30 Santa caps for so little,” she retorted. “I know value!” Indeed, value was thick on the ground at the Palmer Events Center for the charity’s annual garage/estate sale. Sofas, chairs, lamps, gadgets, nicknacks, clothing, blankets, books … the vast space was filled with what used to fill other people’s lives. Each item must have come with a story. The stalwart volunteers at each counter were as helpful as possible during the preview party for the event that comes before the tonier Junior League’s A Christmas Affair and the artier Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Gotta learn more about this ancient Austin group that provides a spectrum of children’s services, especially how it might differ from Austin Children’s Services, formerly Austin Children’s Shelter.

Snack Bar Soiree, Austin Habitat for Humanity, Ben De Leon and more

Georgia Thomsen and Ebonie Trice at Austin Habitat for Humanity Hard-Hat Party.
Georgia Thomsen and Ebonie Trice at Austin Habitat for Humanity Hard-Hat Party.

FOOD: Bethany Andrée created a special place five years ago. The artist and sometime hostess called it Snack Bar. The headline back then was about the epic struggle to transform the former El Sol y La Luna at the Austin Motel into a presentable eatery. Later, the extremely pleasant cafe on South Congress Avenue contended with its overly complicated menu of healthy snacks, later streamlined and updated. That’s all behind Andrée and crew, who toasted the anniversary at a Soiree that included intense bites of food and a full array of anecdotes. New general manager Mark Mansfield, most recently of New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace, formerly of Austin’s Zoot and the Courtyard, talked about Snack Bar as the “third place” — after home and work — where you meet friends and family. I’ve probably conducted more than 100 interviews in these cozy quarters. It’s one of my “third places.”

CHARITY: Soon, all services will all be under one roof. Austin Habitat for Humanity‘s three wings will be united at South First Street and Ben White Boulevard in the former Chuck E. Cheese spot near the long-ago grounds of Civil War-era Fort McGruder. The huge old industrial building with the high street profile will serve the construction, fundraising and storefront needs of the group that builds houses for the needy. On hand for a hard-hat party at the Four Seasons Hotel was Ebonie Trice, a Habitat beneficiary. Development director Georgia Thomsen also showed me plans for a mixed-use center that the nonprofit plans for far South Austin. For a short stand-up party — transferred from the lawn because of the 24-hour shower outside — this one was full of hopeful news.

HEALTH: Ben De Leon’s history of service led him to the Fifty. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “Attorney Ben De Leon has signed on with the Fifty. No, it’s not a cut-rate wannabe Spartan army. The Fifty is a group of young Austin leaders who back the new teaching hospital, Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, which will work hand in hand with the UT Dell Medical School. Recently, the Fifty threw a movie-themed costume party at Brazos Hall (more on that later). Before that, the native Austinite met me for coffee at the original Austin Java location off North Lamar Boulevard to explain his Austin roots and his loyalty to the city’s health care providers.”