Alicia Lee's son is a resident at Willow River Farms, a division of the nonprofit Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation. Every fall the residents of this Brookshire, Texas, facility made fruitcakes. That is, until Barbara Bush, for whom Lee had once volunteered at the White House, suggested they expand their repertoire to include gingersnaps. Six years ago, Lee sent a tin of Willow River Farms gingersnaps to Bush at Kennebunkport. The former first lady liked them so much, she sent out tins to all of her friends at Christmastime. Since then Lee has also added mouthwatering cheese snaps to the Farms' list of offerings. The cookies sell for between $15 and $25 a tin. And last year, Lee sold $215,000 worth of treats. The proceeds have paid for electronic doors for wheelchair residents, extra hospital beds and clinic refurbishing. Get your holiday orders in now.

Meat and Verb Houston is not the best place in the world to go graffiti hunting. Most of the cats out here are merely taggers with limited skill, or have no regard for art whatsoever. But we do have a couple of superstars who take their work seriously -- and who haven't yet graduated to the legal stuff. Meat and Verb have taken over the H-town graffiti scene. The adventurous pair, hands down the 2004 champs, usually paints their unique lettering high in the sky. Some works consist of only one or two colors -- like the ones you might see high above 59 South on the green signs as you approach the Shepherd exit -- and some are straight-up masterpieces. The best way to find the work of these artists is to just look up wherever you happen to be in the center city, and there they are. You'll see Meat and Verb on billboards, walls, traffic signs... these guys are nuts!

God bless that American tradition of elections -- those august times when the populace flows into frayed schoolhouse hallways or churches or even humble homes or garages to exercise their voting rights. But the downtown crowd, at least the Republicans, got a better deal on this democratic notion in the party primaries. While the lesser Democrats of the same precincts were packing into the Knights of Columbus Hall, the GOP (as in Grand Ol' Park) was granted access to the airy delights of Union Station, a.k.a. Minute Maid Park. Makes sense. Ballots take on the look of lineup cards. There's a turnstile of sorts to take the straight-ticket voters. The players in this game have already tapped into their base of fan support with fat PAC backing. A dangling chad dispute? Call in the ump. And electoral turnout would soar if they could only expand the process to let fans vote on fresh candidates for some of the Astros' positions -- or even on a new owner.

If it's September, it must be Stanton Welch -- as artistic director of Houston Ballet, that is. But it was a long good-bye for now-emeritus artistic director Ben Stevenson. He first resigned back in February 2002, but a change of heart kept him here through June 2003. Well, in spirit at least. Stevenson wasn't around much after he resigned a second time and the board selected Welch as his replacement in January of this year. Other assignments, most notably with the Dallas-Fort Worth ballet, kept him on the road. It will be interesting to see what sort of continued presence Stevenson has at HB and how that will affect Welch's direction of the company. It's a tough job to take over from a living legend.

East End native Carol Alvarado has been crusading for other people's municipal campaigns ever since she could walk, and last fall she finally won her own place on Houston City Council. The former aide to Mayor Lee Brown weathered an acrimonious contest against two opponents to win the District I seat without a runoff. This success came to her despite the fact that she was opposed by both her term-limited predecessor, John Castillo, and the other Hispanic member of council, Gabe Vasquez. The 35-year-old Alvarado won her race by utilizing a wealth of contacts built through more than a decade of community involvement. Somewhere down the road she might just face off with last year's Best Politician, Councilman Vasquez, for the right to become Houston's first Hispanic mayor.
This professor-on-the-move replaced sleepy Felix Fraga just a year and a half ago and is already developing into the power player of Houston Hispanic politics. Raised in Corpus Christi and Austin, Vasquez came to town as a communications prof at the University of Houston, and quickly began laying the groundwork for a political career. He used his first term as a Houston Independent School District trustee to build a network of support among Anglos in the Heights, and then steamrollered over a barricade of established Hispanic politicos to win a council seat. Since then he has carefully charted a course as an independent between council conservatives and the bloc supporting Mayor Lee Brown. Vasquez recently demonstrated his growing muscle by joining outgoing councilman John Castillo in an attack on Brown aide Carol Alvarado, who's running to replace Castillo in District I. Gabe has made no secret of the fact he aspires to be Houston's first Hispanic mayor, and at the speed he's been moving, that could put him in the race for the top spot in 2004.

We like our quotes short, to the point and all-encompassing, and Dave Hickey's definition of Tex-Mex fills the bill on all three counts. In the Houston Press issue of December 26, 2002, in an attempt to clarify an earlier pithy quote ("Rock and roll is like Mexican food. As it improves in quality it stops being what it is"), the Texas-born critic said he meant to say Tex-Mex, not Mexican food. What's more, he likes Tex-Mex more than the stuff from across the Rio Grande. "My commitment is to Tex-Mex," he told the Press. "Which I define as the absence of fucking vegetables."

Kyle Janek, a West U anesthesiologist, knocked off former GOP county chair Gary Polland by a decisive 66-34 percent margin in the spring primary for State Senate District 17, effectively putting to sleep Polland's incipient political career. Janek also may have ended Polland's reign as political payout king of the Harris County courts, where Republican judges for years have showered the defense attorney with lucrative appointments to represent indigent defendants. Janek, a rock-ribbed conservative, had to weather a Polland campaign attack that accused him of being a "left-winger." When Republican voters stopped laughing, they went to the polls and voted Janek.
This 40-year-old native Houstonian went public with his battle with severe depression in 1994, and since then he's become a leader in public health care legislation. He's been repeatedly lauded by Texas Monthly in its yearly evaluation of lawmakers and honored by the Texas Medical Association. After disclosing his illness, Coleman began taking antidepressants to control his condition. Last year the legislator was arrested on charges of assaulting the owner of a Montessori school attended by his children. He eventually pled to a misdemeanor and apologized to the man. Coleman denies that the incident was related to his mental illness. Associates point to family history: Coleman's father, the late Dr. John Coleman, a political kingmaker in Houston's black community, was famous for his temper. Coleman also may be taking up the kingmaking role of his dad. He was heavily involved in the campaign of Ada Edwards for the District D City Council seat last fall. Although most of the heavy hitters in the black community went with her opponent, Gerald Womack, Coleman's candidate won.

Just look up. On bridges, buildings, trains, the backs of freeway signs, the tag is everywhere. It's an inspirational call to the "next" generation, a macho throw-up that conveys the adrenaline, irreverence and illegality of its creation. Most of all, it's cool. But the Houston Police Department's antigang task force doesn't think so. Last March, officers raided a legal graffiti show in a warehouse on the east side. Wearing all black with guns strapped to their legs, the officers said they were looking for "intel." But aerosol artists say the cops were really looking for Next, the most prolific graffitist in town. The task force was out of luck, though. Next was nowhere to be found.

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