Escape Into Nature Without Leaving the Metro Area: Houston’s Best Hiking Trails

Escape Into Nature Without Leaving the Metro Area: Houston’s Best Hiking Trails
by Carolynn Waites
Mar 17, 2014

Do you want to escape from the city without leaving the city? Houston has several hiking trails that can take you back to nature without having to leave the metropolitan area. These three popular hiking trails are good for all levels, so anyone can get out on them and lose themselves in nature for an hour or two.

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is an oasis within an oasis in the city of Houston. Located within Memorial Park, the nature center has many different trails. The most popular trail with hikers is the Outer Loop trail. This smooth, unpaved two-mile loop encircles the arboretum and gets you away from the more crowded trails in Memorial Park. The southern portion of the trail has a remote feel to it and you can forget that the big city surrounds you. Entrance to the Houston Arboretum is free and the trails are open seven days a week from 7:00am to dusk. Dogs are allowed on the trails as long as they are kept on a leash at all times. Parking is free, but fills up quickly on weekends. There is additional free parking one-quarter mile away in the Running Lot in Memorial Park.

Armand Bayou Nature Center
Armand Bayou Nature Center is in the Clear Lake Area. The Armand Bayou/Holly Bay trail is a crushed-limestone five-mile long point-to-point trail located within the 2,500-acre nature preserve. Following the trail will take you through this region’s different original ecosystems including wetlands, tall grass prairies, and bottomland forest. Armand Bayou Nature Center is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. Dogs are not allowed anywhere in the Nature Center. Entrance fees are $4.00 for ages 13 to 59 years old. There are discounts for younger children and seniors age 60 and up. Three years old and under get free admission. There is plenty of parking inside the gates.

Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens
Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens is located on the north side of Houston in Humble. Aldine Westfield Road divides the 325-acre park into a west side and east side. Both sides feature crushed gravel loop trails that consist of smaller loops. The trails run alongside Cypress Creek. The trail on the west side of the park is two and a quarter miles if you hike the entire loop. Dogs on a leash are allowed on the trails on the west side of the park. The trail on the east side of the park takes you through the Botanic Gardens. The entire east side loop is one and a half miles long. Dogs are not allowed on the east side of the park. Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens is open seven days a week from 8:00am to dusk during March through October and 8:00am to 5:00pm during November through February. Entrance is free and there is parking available in the park.

Additional Information on these trails and others: AllTrails


Five Things to Consider Before Buying Your First Horse

Five Things to Consider Before Buying Your First Horse
by Carolynn Waites
Apr 27, 2014

Owning a Horse is Rewarding, but Make Sure You Are Ready Before You Buy

The first thing you should do before deciding to buy a horse is to take regular riding lessons with a reputable riding instructor. Your riding instructor will not only teach you the skills involved in riding horses, but he or she can serve as your horse expert during the buying process. You should continue taking lessons after purchasing the horse for a while until you get comfortable in the saddle.

Where will your horse live and how much are you willing to pay for it? The least expensive option is pasture boarding. The horse lives outside and eats grass from the pasture. Full board costs more, but the horse is kept inside, is fed hay and grain, and the stall is cleaned. If you are going to keep the horse on your own property, then you must invest in safe fencing. Other considerations are shelter, the cost of hay and grain, and pasture management.

You have your initial expenses of the purchase price, buying the horse trailer, tack and gear, and paying for a pre-purchase vet exam. Other regular expenses include veterinary and farrier care. Horses feet are always growing and a farrier will need to trim or shoe their feet every six to eight weeks. Horses require vaccinations twice a year and their teeth need to be filed at least once a year. Bedding, supplements, and grooming supplies are necessary. There is also the time commitment of regularly exercising your horse.

When you are ready to see a horse that you are interested in purchasing, bring a horse expert along. Ideally, this could be your riding instructor, but it can also be another experienced horse owner. Request that the horse not be saddled up before you arrive. You want to see how the horse behaves while being led around, groomed, and tacked up.

Ask the seller of the horse to ride the horse first. Watch how the horse moves and behaves. If the seller does not look comfortable riding the horse, chances are that is not the horse for you to purchase. Next, ask your horse expert to ride the horse. If this goes well, then it is time for you to experience riding the horse yourself.

When you do find a horse that is a good match for you, always get a pre-purchase vet exam from a veterinarian of your choosing. It is recommended that you have the vet draw blood at the time of the exam. It is possible that the seller has medicated the horse to mask lameness or enhance performance. Having the blood work in storage, the vet can test it if the horse’s behavior changes after you purchase it. Ask the seller about the history of the horse. Ask if there are registration papers on the horse. Find out any previous owners, if possible. Always ask the seller for their regular farrier and vet’s contact information. Call them, explain who you are, and find out about any health issues for that horse.

Once everything falls into place, you will become a first-time horse owner. Congratulations to you and good luck!

Buying Your First Horse: A Guide to Avoiding Misery and Financial Ruin
10 Tips for First-Time Horse Owners
A Primer for the First Time Horse Owner: What to Expect

No-Kill Animal Shelters in Houston

No-Kill Animal Shelters in Houston
by Carolynn Waites
Mar 15, 2014

Shelter and Rescue Groups That Do Not Euthanize Animals Need Support

There are a number of animal shelters in the Houston area. There are rescue organizations for every type of breed, groups covering different areas of town, and local city and county shelters. No-kill shelters need support from the community to be successful.

Not All Shelters are No-Kill
The shelter names that you are most likely familiar with in the Houston area are large shelters that are popular places for animal adoptions. These shelters do good work and deserve support, but they are not no-kill shelters. According to No Kill Houston, there are five kill shelters in Houston that are killing approximately 80,000 cats and dogs a year.

About No-Kill Shelters
No-kill shelters work to educate the public about spaying and neutering their pets and adopting homeless animals. They do not get the publicity that the larger shelters receive, and they are usually much more reliant on donations from the public and volunteers. They rarely have the resources to seek out financial grants or large-size donations. They have higher veterinary bills, because they will save animals that can be saved and not euthanize every sick animal that comes in their door.

Community Support
Many no-kill shelters and rescue groups do not have a building that you can visit to see their animals. They rely on fosters, people who temporarily keep the animals in their homes until the animal is adopted. The shelters help with the costs of food and veterinary care for these foster pets, and the animals get used to being around humans and other animals. You can see the animals they have up for adoption by checking their websites or visiting local pet stores or veterinary clinics on the weekends. PetSmart and Petco support local homeless pets by providing space to rescue organizations for adoption events on the weekends.

Support Local No-Kill Shelters
Next time you are looking to support a shelter or rescue organization, consider supporting one of the many no-kill shelters in the Houston area. Here are four no-kill rescue groups that are recommended:
Homeless and Orphaned Pets Endeavor (HOPE)
Buster’s Friends
Homeless Pet Placement League
Friends For Life

Houston Area Wildlife Attractions

Houston Area Wildlife Attractions
by Carolynn Waites
Feb 20, 2014

Houston and Its Surrounding Area Is Home to Zoos, Museums, and Parks That Attract Animal Lovers

Houston offers many fun attractions for wildlife lovers and animal lovers to enjoy. These featured attractions are all on the south side Houston, from the museum district near downtown to Galveston Island. They will entertain and educate visitors to the area or locals looking for an interesting and fun way to spend a day.

Houston Zoo
The Houston Zoo, located in Hermann Park in the museum district, offers the largest selection of animals for viewing in the area. There are 6,000 resident animals living at the zoo. The beautifully landscaped zoo and animal habitats represent the natural living environments of the animals. There is a petting zoo in the children’s zoo section allowing interaction with the resident goats.

Cockrell Butterfly Center
The Cockrell Butterfly Center is located at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in the museum district. Hundreds of live butterflies in a lush tropical atmosphere surround visitors. The 50-foot waterfall is also a highlight of this three-story exhibit. Exotic plants are everywhere as the butterflies alight on the plants and other food sources, as well as on the occasional lucky visitor.

Bayou Wildlife Zoo
The Bayou Wildlife Zoo in Alvin is a mix of a wildlife safari and petting zoo, with over 500 different animals. The highlight is the 45-minute tram ride that takes visitors through the park. Purchase a bucket of animal food for the journey to entice many of the animal residents to the open sides of the tram. Feeding is encouraged and some of the bolder animals will eat offered food from hand or even stick their head inside the tram to eat out of a bucket. Save some food, if you can, for the petting zoo after the tram ride.

Brazos Bend State Park
Located in NeedvilleBrazos Bend State Park is a must-visit for close encounters with alligators. An easy hike around Elm Lake will provide many alligator sightings. They are lounging in the water and sunning themselves right on the pathway. Covering around 5000 acres, the park also hosts a large variety of birds and other wildlife. Bring a camera; there are fantastic photo opportunities everywhere.

Moody Gardens
Galveston Island‘s Moody Gardens has two attractions of interest for wildlife lovers: the Rainforest Pyramid and the Aquarium Pyramid. The Rainforest is a 10-story glass pyramid with animals and plants living throughout the tropical habitat. Visitors can walk pathways along the treetops to see monkeys and birds or follow the river at the bottom of the pyramid to see otters, turtles, and more. The Aquarium Pyramid is the only place in the Houston area to see penguins. The 1.5 million-gallon aquarium also features sharks, stingrays, and seals.

Ten Increased Health Risks for Women in Our 40s

Ten Increased Health Risks for Women in Our 40s
by Carolynn Waites
May 6, 2014

Women Over 40 Should Be Aware of These Health Issues

The decade of our 40s can be a crucial turning point in our health. We may begin developing higher risks for serious health issues. It is more important than ever to control our weight, eat healthy diets, and exercise. These are the building blocks to maintaining our health and lessening our health risks as we age.

Weight Gain
It becomes even more important to watch our weight once we hit our 40s. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease are all higher risks with weight gain. In our 40s, our metabolism changes and it can become more difficult to lose weight.

Osteoporosis can strike at any age, but once we hit our 40s bone density begins to decrease due to lower hormone levels. Weight-bearing exercises and healthy diet changes are the best ways to slow down the loss of bone density.

Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. The risk factors for heart disease increase in our 40s, as high blood pressure and high cholesterol become harder to fight. To lower these risks we should quit smoking, eat less salt, get moderate exercise, and cut out fatty foods.

Stress & Anxiety
The 40s can be a difficult and stressful time for women. At this point in life, it can be common to be a caregiver for both children and aging parents. Juggling work and family obligations can be overwhelming and raise our stress and anxiety levels. A relaxing bath, a trip to a day spa, or even just a 15-minute time-out can reduce stress.

Breast Cancer
After the age of 40, the risk of getting breast cancer increases. According to the National Cancer Institute, the lifetime risk of a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer is one in seven. The main risk factors are gender, increasing age, and family history. A yearly mammogram beginning at age 40 will help with early detection.

Vision Problems
Our vision and eye health begin to change once we hit our 40s. The risk of glaucoma increases beginning in our 40s. Glaucoma is a serious eye condition caused by high-pressure fluid build-up within the eyeball that can lead to loss of vision. It is important to get regular eye exams beginning in our 40s, even if our vision remains clear.

According to Netdoctor, up to 70 percent of strokes are directly linked to high blood pressure. Women also have some unique risk factors. These include taking birth control pills, pregnancy, and using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

Many women believe that once we turn 40, we no longer need birth control because we cannot get pregnant. Unintended pregnancies are common to women over the age of 40. Pregnancy over the age of 40 carries more risks to both the mother and child, but can still be healthy.

As we age into our 40s, we are more likely to develop diabetes. Decreasing hormone levels make it more difficult to lose weight. Weight control through a healthy diet and moderate exercise is important for preventing diabetes.

Cervical & Ovarian Cancer
Cervical cancer and ovarian cancer risks increase with age. After having children, we may still get cervical cancer. It is important to continue to get pap smears throughout our adult lives up to the age of 60. The risk of ovarian cancer also increases as we age, and the risk is higher for women who have not had children.

It is important that we talk to our doctor about any changes or symptoms we may be experiencing. That is the best way to prevent or diagnose any health issues.

Monarch Butterflies in the Garden

Monarch Butterflies in the Garden
by Carolynn Waites
May 11, 2014

The Butterfly Garden Proved a Success when Monarch Butterflies Were Born

My husband and I first planted a small butterfly garden in our backyard three years ago. The next year, we expanded it to triple the original size. It has attracted a fair amount of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to my backyard. This year we hit the ultimate success! Monarch butterflies began their lives in the garden. Yesterday, we bid goodbye to the last of the newly formed butterflies as they began their month-long journey to the north.

Monarch Caterpillars Appear
Toward the end of March, I was checking on the plants in the butterfly garden. It had been a particularly long and cold winter for the Texas gulf coast, and the plants had only begun to re-emerge from dormancy and freeze-damage. The two milkweed plants had some interesting caterpillars crawling on them. I did some research that afternoon to identify the black, yellow, and white-striped visitors. I was excited to learn that they were monarch caterpillars! After a couple of more days, caterpillars covered the two plants and they had eaten every leaf. My husband and I ran to the nearest garden center and bought two more milkweed plants. We planted them that night. The caterpillars happily moved on to the new plants and continued their eating frenzy. By the time they were done, they had stripped one of the new plants and the other was nearly there.

Caterpillars Become Cocoons
The next step in the process was for the caterpillars, now full from the milkweed leaves, to begin looking for the perfect spot for their cocoon. They were crawling all over the back of the house, the garden, the windows, the fence, and the eaves of the roof. After finding their spot, they attached themselves to it with a white sticky substance. After a few hours of hanging out, they began “jaying,” making an upward bend in preparation for the cocoon. Next thing we knew, our house and garden were covered with bright green cocoons. We never saw the caterpillars transform. It must have been a quick process.

Monarch Butterflies Emerge
Over the next week or so, the wind knocked down some of the cocoons and some turned dark and never did anything else. Most of the cocoons remained a bright green and as time went on, the gold specks on them increased. At our highest count, we counted 23 cocoons. After a big windstorm, we were down to 18. We only counted the ones that we could find, so there may have been more. After a week and a half, suddenly one or two of the cocoons were empty! We had not seen any butterflies yet, so we were not sure if this was good news or bad. The next day we got our answer. Butterflies were emerging from the cocoons! It was a beautiful amazing process and we were so excited to have played a small part in it. Over the next few days, most of the cocoons produced butterflies. After a few hours, the butterflies took off and were on their way to the next destination.

Goodbye Monarchs
Yesterday, the last of the cocoons produced our last butterfly. It was the end of our little monarch butterfly adventure for this year. We lost a few cocoons, and two of the butterflies did not make it after emerging from the cocoon, but overall somewhere around 12 to 15 butterflies successfully emerged from our garden. We are like proud parents and feel blessed to have been a part of this awe-inspiring natural encounter. We hope we are lucky enough to do it again next spring.

Anxiety Disorders: The Most Common Forms of Mental Illness

Anxiety Disorders: The Most Common Forms of Mental Illness
by Carolynn Waites
Apr 26, 2014

Don’t Be Embarrassed: Many Americans Suffer from Common Anxiety Disorders

During times of stress, we can all suffer from anxiety. However, if the anxiety persists or becomes severe it is an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in America. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders affect around 20 percent of the population at any given time. These disorders can be difficult to recognize and many do not seek help because they do not realize they have a problem or are too ashamed to seek treatment. It is important to consult your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Medication or therapy can lessen symptoms. These are the four most common forms of anxiety disorders.

Panic Disorder
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), six million American adults experience panic disorder in a given year. Panic disorder is characterized by sudden feelings of terror. The symptoms of a panic attack may include heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and upset stomach. Some people will avoid going to places or situations that caused a panic attack out of fear that it will happen again. This is agoraphobia. People with agoraphobia will often avoid places with large crowds where they feel immediate escape might be difficult.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, people may feel anxious for some time after the event. Common symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares, being easily startled or scared, emotional numbness, anger, and irritability. These symptoms can last for weeks, months, or in the most severe cases, years. According to the ADAA, 7.7 million American adults suffer from PTSD and 67 percent of those who experience mass violence are likely to suffer from PTSD. Trauma survivors who suffer from PTSD have problems with trust and communication, which affects their ability to have close relationships with friends and family.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
People with OCD suffer from intrusive thoughts that they cannot get out of their heads (obsessions), which may cause them to perform behaviors and routines repeatedly (compulsions) to ease their anxiety. Some sufferers of OCD have specific compulsions that they must perform throughout the day in order to ease their anxiety that something bad will happen to them or a loved one. Some obsessions may include worry about dirt and germs, excessive concern about order and arrangements, or fear that negative thoughts or impulses will cause harm to themselves or others. Some compulsions may include repeatedly cleaning one’s hands or household items, hoarding, touching and arranging, or inability to stop repeating a phrase or activity.

A phobia is an irrational fear of a situation that really poses no threat or very little threat of danger. Many of us do not like spiders or flying, but the difference between these normal fears and those experienced by a person with a specific phobia is the intensity of the fear response and the level of dysfunction that it causes in their life. This fear can be disabling because people who suffer from phobias will go out of their way to avoid situations involving their phobia. There are five subsets of phobias: fear of animals, fear of natural environment, fear of blood/injections/injury, fear of situations, and other fears. The other fears category can include fear of death by illness or fear of bodily sensations. Symptoms often include sweating, a feeling of imminent danger or death, nausea, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or the feeling of smothering, or the desire for immediate escape.

Do Not Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Please know that if you are experiencing any symptoms of anxiety disorders that you are not alone. It can be embarrassing to ask for help, but it is important that you do seek treatment. Anxiety disorders are more common than you think and medication may be all you need to get back to your life.