Finding Innovation at the Future of Care Luncheon

Want a peek into the future? Attend Seton’s Future of Care Luncheon next year.

It’s here, years ago, that I first learned about the new University of Texas Dell Medical School and its partner, the Dell Seton Medical Center. It’s also at this lunch for civic and business leaders that I first heard about the integrated care model envisioned by Central Health and its partners, a medical path that some believe will be a blueprint for the rest of the country, if not the world.

Kristi Henderson and Griffin Mulcahey at Seton’s Future of Care Luncheon.

This time, I picked up futuristic clues from the finalists among 85 companies that competed in the first-ever Innovation Awards. As the super-sharp Kristi Henderson explained, this time the competition focused on links: distance care, cloud-stored medical records, a patient’s connected communities and so forth. Mind blowing stuff!

I also viewed a glossy video on preparations for mass trauma at the new teaching hospital, efforts headed by four battle-tested surgeons gathered there, along with top talents who have left their previous homes and jobs to join the Austin experiment.

Finally, emcee Pete Winstead, chairman of the medical center’s capital campaign and a veteran of past superhuman civic efforts, convinced me that Austin is going to be a life science center in the way of San Diego, Boston and other cities.

So add to a high-tech economy, manifold cultural activity, a quest for sustainability and widespread start-up capacity, another signature Austin theme.

Blue Lapis Light Lunch delights at Chez Zee

It’s always gratifying to see a benefit ideally matched to its cause.

Such is the case with the Blue Lapis Light Lunch for Blue Lapis Light at Chez Zee.

Jordan Hill and Gina Hill at Blue Lapis Light Lunch.

More than 50 lunchers soaked up the springtime decor and eats in the cozy banquet room as they chatted about everything under the sun. I was seated with author Sarah Bird (“A Love Letter to Texas Women”), consultant and journalist Khotan Shahbazi Harmon, lawyer and environmental activist Melanie Barnes (Waller Creek Conservancy), tech developer Michael Esposito (Blue Moon Software) and environmental strategist Melita Elmore (BSI).

So you can imagine the range and quality of the exchanges. Yet all eyes and ears were on Blue Lapis prophet Sally Jacques when she described the aesthetic and spiritual goals and deeds of her esteemed aerial dance company. Then, of course, came the eye-popping video of their high-flying exploits, which sealed the deal for the assembled backers.

Note of approval: The simple vertical card that showed the menu on one side and the pledge outreach info on the back.

Update: In a previous version of this post,  Khotan Shahbazi Harmon’s name was misspelled.

University Co-Op salutes George Mitchell

The path has not always been smooth for George H. Mitchell.

Yet he surely deserved the fond tributes offered upon his retirement from the University Co-Op during a dinner celebrating the George H. Mitchell Student Awards for Academic Excellence. After all, he labored in the college store field for 49 years, of those, 29 in Austin.

Wesley Matingou and Belinda Matingou at University CoOp Mitchell Awards.

Under his leadership, the store swapped cultures, turned profitable, and invested in real estate (smart move). Meanwhile, the Co-Op has given millions back to UT, especially the women’s sports program, an arts student activity center, the Spring Fashion Spectacular and enrichment programs.

He also created three sets of honors — the Hamilton Book Awards for faculty, the Granof Awards in Excellence in Graduate Education for grad students and the undergraduate laurels later named for him.

As he would want it, most of the program focused firmly on the University of Texas students, past and present, at the AT&T Center. Former Grand Prize winners — including playwright John Meyer, biologist Abigail Green Saxena and electrical engineer Brian Harden — returned to express their thanks and to update us on their careers.

As always, the student projects were crazy smart. Take for instance Aydin Zahedivash‘s “Automated Coronary Plaque Characterization and Risk Assessment Using Intravascular Optical Coherence Tomography and Smart Algorithm Approach.”

This, from an undergrad!

The $10,000 Grand Prize winner was Nell McKeown, whose impressively titled thesis was “A Woman’s General; What Should We Fear?”: The Women of Shakespeare’s Histories in Performance.”

Makes my old undergad papers look like kindergarten exercises.

UPDATE: In earlier version of this post, John Meyer’s name was wrong.

Amy Mills wows at Emancipet Anniversary Luncheon

Is there a better public speaker in Austin than Amy Mills?

The CEO of Emancipet, which recently merged with Animal Trustees of Austin, is clear, concise and  persuasive.

She’s clearly ardent about the welfare of animals, but that doesn’t get in the way of effective storytelling.

Karen Kelly, Ashley Montgomery and Kimberly Strenk at the Emancipet Anniversary Luncheon.

Mills includes personal anecdotes, but they aren’t the type of facile archetypes one hears in a politician’s stump speech.

She’s inspirational, but her command of the facts is so definitive, that her speeches never flitter off into the abstract.

I challenge anyone to resist her vision of pet heath care for every needy neighborhood in the country, whether performed by Emancipet — which is now anchored in six communities by my count — or by allied groups trained by Emancipet.

No wonder the organizers of the charity’s streamlined Anniversary Luncheon, emceed this year by event co-chair Kelly Topfer, give over almost the entire program to Mills.

They wisely leave just enough time — after the scrumptious Four Seasons Hotel vegan meal — for a potent video, which this year ended with the testimony of a homeless man who went sober to care for his pooch.

“Not just one, but two lives were saved.”

Best Texas rivers: Pedernales River

Saturday, Joe Starr and I traced the relatively short Pedernales River, only 100 miles or so long. It rises in spring-fed pools and dry hollows in southeast Kimble County.


Between Harper and Fredericksburg, it begins to take regular shape. (“It’s not a river until you can hear it,” Joe says.) The country here is hilly, but not spectacularly so. Pastures sometimes drop right down to the riverbed. Eventually one can find green scoops deep enough for a cooling dip.

Man has tamed the Pedernales — at least somewhat — at Stonewall and Johnson City. Below, a couple enjoys the peace of a weir at the foot of the LBJ Ranch.

The river turns more rugged at Pedernales Falls State Park, downstream from Johnson City. Here, flash floods put vacationers in constant danger, and playing on the huge boulders by the falls, even when almost dry like this week, is carefully policed.

Perhaps the loveliest section of the Pedernales, or at least the easily accessible part, can be found near Hamilton Pool Road, where people hike, kayak or fish in summer splendor.

The Pedernales empties into the Colorado River. During the recent drought, one could see the rivers connect, but now the Pedernales branch of Lake Travis is full — and full of lake enthusiasts, including a little knot of boaters, bathers and jetskiiers at Camp Pedernales, an old tourist camp that must date back to the earliest days of the Highland Lakes.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to

Best Texas rivers: Bastrop Bayou

Even during the Reading Week, one may trace a Texas river (our ninth during the past year).


The modest watercourse followed by car and on foot from its source to its mouth yesterday was Bastrop Bayou, which rises from soft, slack, cafe au lait pools in Richwood, between Clute and Angleton. It inches through a Spanish-moss-draped neighborhood, clearly flood-prone, then pours out onto the Gulf coastal prairie, foregrounding pastoral scenes out of De Cuyp.

Furry, half-abandoned hamlets of vacation homes, decorated double-wides and a few permanent homesteads fringe the banks of the broadening Bastrop. As it eases into the Brazoria National Wildlife Preserve, the fishing, crabbing and boating amenities improve.

At last, from a vaulting bridge on County Road 227 near Mims, one can just spy Austin Bayou as it joins the Bastrop upstream, and, the other direction, the lacy delta of the main stream as it filters into a series of lagoons — Bastrop Bay, Christmas Bay, West Bay and, ultimately, Galveston Bay.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to

Best Texas books: Neches River

Friday and Saturday, Joe and I traced the spring-perfumed Neches River, which rises in Van Zandt county northwest of Tyler, flows into recreational Lake Palestine, through the pruned Davy Crockett and Angelina national forests, into the (nearly dry) Lake B.A. Steinhagen before pouring into the big and thick Big Thicket above Port Arthur and Lake Sabine.


Photo courtesy of TheHistoryCenterOnline.Org.

We supped on high-end eats at Rick’s on the Square in Tyler and Cajun delicacies at Esther’s Sea Food in (or near) Port A (the industrial one, not the booming Port Aransas down the coast). We visited the well-interpreted Caddo Mounds and the hidden, solomn Battle of Neches site (Republic of Texas Pres. Lamar broke treaties with the Cherokees and other Indians, chasing them into Oklahoma).

We understand that part of the Neches basin is endangered by a proposed dam and reservoir to water Dallas. We hope the peaceful hardwood bottom lands and rising pine hillocks won’t be endangered by this proposal.

Oh, and Homeland Security is working: We were questioned and tagged for taking pictures at the port/mouth of the Neches.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to

Best Texas rivers: Guadalupe River

College buddy Joe Starr and I spent the weekend tracing our seventh Texas river, the prettiest yet. The Guadalupe River, best known to Austinites for tubes and floods, rises in Kerr County near Sisterdale, flows swiftly through Guadalupe River State Park and rugged Hill Country before folding into Canyon Lake. It picks up speed again below the dam, caressing Gruene, New Braunfels, Seguin, Gonzales, outer Cuero and Victoria before joining the San Antonio River near Tivoli, just above San Antonio Bay.

Photo courtesy of

We did the 250-mile course by car and on foot, overnighting in New Braunfels and Victoria. We ate smoked meat on the road to Seguin, German pastries in New Braunels, seafood in Victoria and Mexican breakfast in Cuero. We also lingered at the small, tidy Texas Zoo in Victoria, where a good portion of the species are indigenous to the state. We wandered through historical districts and parks, noting the effects of the 1998 and 2002 floods and soaking up two days of resort-like calm. And no speeding tickets this time.

The Guadalupe rises among rolling pastures in Kerr County.

Yet almost immediately, the Guadalupe becomes a strong, swift river of exceptional clarity.

Campsites cling to ledges above the river as it heads through rugged country.

Entering Guadalupe River State Park, the stream slows sweetly.

Then ribbons into swift rapids.

Several parks around Canyon Lake are closed for repair after the latest floods, endemic on the river.

From the dam, the Canyon Lake looks like the lower pouch of Lake Travis, though only one boat skimmed its surface on a brilliant Saturday.

The last big flood, in 2002, cut a gouge around the dam, then tore through valley below, a truly terrifying sight, even now and seen from a distance.

At quaint Gruene, the river is playful, inviting.

Work continues apace on raising the low-water crossing that regularly snagged tubers at Gruene.

Graceful Cypress Bend Park in New Braunfels fools one into thinking the Guadalupe has been civilized, but two big floods have wiped out homes along its banks in the past decade.

Max Starke Park in Seguin is a gorgeous remnant of Depression-era public works. This mill dam predates that period and was first impounded in the 19th century.

At Independence Park in Gonzales, the Guadalupe betrays its cuts through prairie and oak forest, turning a bottle green, broadened by the addition of the San Marcos River’s flow.

Victoria’s Riverside Park is enormous, perhaps larger than Zilker, and borders the now sandbar-clogged Guadalupe. One can see the devastation from previous floods among the huge trees smashed ashore.

The Guadalupe’s end looks a lot like its beginning. Just beyond this exact tree line — we were stopped in our tracks by a big bull fence, and bulls to go with — it joins the San Antonio River, outside the farming community of Tivoli.

Another river traced.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to

Best Texas rivers: Lower Sabine River

The Lower Sabine River, which divides the states of Texas and Louisiana, takes on three characters. The southern third around Lake Sabine is industrialized on a scale found in few other places in the world. The northern third consists of the broad, breezy, pine-flanked Toledo Bend Reservoir. In between, one finds a clear, swift river lined with calm, sandy beaches. Watch out, though, because along with the beaches comes quicksand, which explains local place names like Quicksand (the town) and Quicksand Creek.


Our most recent previous river tracing — more than a year ago — took us from the source of the Sabine northwest of Greenville to the upper reaches of Toledo Bend at Logansville, La. The Upper Sabine passes through open prairie, hardwood bottomlands and rolling piney woods. Longview is the biggest city along its banks, but we visited many a small town and some small lakes spun out from the Sabine’s tributaries.

This time, college buddy Joe Starr and I started at the very end of the river, along a marshy spit of land just south of the village of Sabine Pass. Here, the river has been dredged to created a channel for ocean-going vessels and canal barges that visit the ports of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange.

Heading down a broken-up, ditch-lined road, the visitor can get quite close to the true mouth of the river — the Sabine is joined by the Neches River to form the oval Sabine Lake above this pass — and fishermen wade out into steady current of the Gulf of Mexico.

We spent time at the historical park dedicated to Dick Dowling (imagined in statuary above) and the Battle of Sabine Pass. Dowling was an Irish American bartender from Houston who, with a band of 50 or so men turned back some 5,000 Union troops on Sept. 8, 1863 during the Civil War.

Dowling and his men cleverly set up their fort and cannons where an oyster bed splits the narrow channel, then staked the two watery passages with white gunner targets. As with Civil War river battles to the east, the defensive position was almost unassailable and Dowling was considered a great hero (though one must add that the victory may have contributed to a longer war and extended the institution of slavery).

The strategic fort remained in play well into World War II and the current park is built around latter-day concrete bunkers, with the requisite explanatory signage and slab monuments. One fresh marker is dedicated to the Union dead, with a footnote about the unrecorded African Americans who died with that naval force.

“This is the ugliest spot in Texas,” Joe said about the refineries and chemical plants that hugged the road north into Port Arthur, a city that has looks sadder and more abandoned each time we visit it. The thrilling bridge over the Neches and into Bridge City didn’t promise anything more tantalizing, nor did the entry into Orange, lined with a dozen or so industrial plants.

Downtown Orange is hard to describe. It has clearly been scrubbed to welcome tourists: Open square, modern art museum, large modern theater, carefully tended Victorian home and grounds that belonged lumber magnates, the Stark family. Yet we saw not one tourist during our explorations there. Instead, we startled a tour guide and a security guard at the Stark mansion with our request to walk around the grounds.

(H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas benefited from this family’s beneficence. Named for the late UT regent, it contains, among other things, a vast library of muscle magazines.)

Just above Orange, the terrain turns intensely rural and wooded. Tiny towns pop out of the trees. We touched base with the Sabine here — it was bordered by rusty warehouses in Orange — and discovered holiday tribes boating or sunning on the riverside beaches. Along the way, we spotted a white ibis, a red-headed woodpecker and flocks of rusty blackbirds. Magnolias, sweet gum, water oaks and willows join the pines of various sizes and species.

Arriving past midday at the Toledo Bend Dam, we ascended a high point to view hundreds of families frolicking on the lake’s sandy shore. A lookout point at the Texas headquarters of the Lower Sabine River Authority allowed us to guess at the lake’s expanse and to see the stream below the impoundment.

We crossed into Louisiana. This rather remote area is lightly developed and the winding roads through woods turn hypnotic. We exited the forest long enough to survey Toledo Bend at its mid-point, then headed inland to Many (man-ee), La. Here we stayed at the tidy Starlite Motel and ate hillocks of fried food at the Country Boy counter cafe across the highway.

Here, ancient social customs are observed. The older white patrons, dressed as if for religious services, sat in a semi-circle around us, while the black customers ordered take-out only. From the look of both sets, they like their spicy, hot, fried seafood and hushpuppies. A lot.

While the trend in big cities and suburbs may be the mega-church, in rural East Texas and Louisiana, the smaller, the better. Every variety of American splinter faith is represented here, including tiny non-demoninational Bible churches. On the Louisiana side, however, those places of intense worship share the roads with pop-up casinos and drive-through daiquiri joints.

On Sunday, we visited 4,700-acre Hodges Garden. Devised by Shreveport oil-and-gas man A.J. Hodges inside an old quarry, these gardens rival the palaces of the acien régime in scale, the Romantic period in atmosphere and the works of Frank Lloyd Wright for Asian-inspired modernism.

Lightning had disabled the hilltop gardens’ artificial waterfalls temporarily and the primary blooming season was long over. Yet we spent a good two hours exploring this little paradise which I had not visited in at least 50 years (when my family lived in Shreveport). There are not many reasons to travel on Louisiana Highway 171, but if you do at the right time of year, stop.

Even this shrine to refined tastes, however, exists within a local cultural context. The thin, prim caretaker of the gift shop waved us away, since we arrived 10 minutes before opening. (For almost our entire time in the park, we were the only guests in sight.) When we returned, loud gospel music jangled through the shop and the clerk refused to greet us beyond a chilly stare. There were no maps or related printed material to be found. Exactly one book was for sale: It dealt with the state agricultural extension service.

All other items could have purchased at a roadside shop offering kitsch objects stamped with uplifting phrases. As we wound our way out of the gorgeous park, we chuckled about how travel sometimes reinforces, rather than erases our prejudices, no matter how hard we try to suppress them.

Fashion X Austin Fashion Week

Location is all.

Austin Fashion Week started out a bit awkwardly at the oversized Long Center for the Performing Arts. It moved to multiple locations, including the sad, old Austin Music Hall, although this event came closest to making the doomed venue work.

Lauren Nicole look at Fashion X Austin Fashion.

Now it’s at the JW Marriott, where I caught the Friday night edition.

Good to be almost all in one place. (Remember running around town to scattered events?) Great to have all the support, equipment and staff of this three-ring-circus convention hotel at one’s disposal. Comfort, centrality, elbow room and a chance to spread out in the future all recommend the place.

You’ll have to ask others about the parking situation. I walk, if not always from home, at least from the American-Statesman.

Sally Daneshjou look at Fashion X Austin Fashion Week.

The organizers, including Fashion X headman Matt Swinney, gave guests plenty of time to mix and mingle. Then we sat down for 10 full collections, three capsules, some swell singing by Kenny Williams and a loving exposé of the closet contents of the evening’s honoree, Bobbi Topfer.

Why Williams and Topfer along with their friends and fans? Each night of Fashion Week this year is dedicated to a local leader, such as philanthropist and event planner Topfer, and a portion of the evening’s proceeds go to that leader’s top charity, this time out Zach Theatre, also Williams’ artistic home.

Linda Asaf look Fashion X Austin Fashion Week.

Among the local designers, I was most struck by Linda Asaf‘s supremely at-ease looks and Gail Chovan‘s edgy radicalism, which included identical breathable bags hung over the models’ heads.

Gail Chovan look at Fashion X Austin Fashion Fashion Week.

A protest? A statement? We don’t need to know. It was memorable for whatever reason.

13012771_10156785451865316_3987209032693840510_nFrom the “Project Runway” stable — always a draw — no question that the runaway hit was Korto Momolu‘s bold creations which included elaborate wraps but only one big splash of her signature coloring at the end.

DtE by Jeffrey Sebella look at Fashion X Austin Fashion Week.

I also liked the swirling curves by Sonjia Williams and the ultra-simple unisex outfits from DtE by Jeffrey Sebelia.

OK, so what’s the tiny fly in the ointment? The patterned carpet. Hey, it didn’t look so bad through my little iPhone lens, but I’m sure fashion purists cringed. Cool white next year?