Meet Sarah Gish of Gish Creative and Gish Picks

At BigKidSmallCity, we believe the more we know about the people of Houston, the smaller our city feels. And who better to meet than a Houston Mom that lives life as an adventure?!

Sarah Gish GoFindFun Credit Danny Clark
Sarah Gish is a Renaissance woman who calls herself an “artist.mama.connector.igniter” and has a gazillion projects she’s working on and things she is doing. She is the owner of Gish Creative which is a personal, family, and business enrichment company that champions culture, creates connections, and ignites lives.

Here’s what she told me about herself and her commitment to Houston, to family fun, and to igniting lives:

I am pretty much a native Houstonian, having moved here when I was six months old, but my parents were born-and-raised Californians who met at UC Berkeley so I grew up with kind of a hippie vibe in the household. And with two parents who loved education and the arts, there was also an emphasis on art and culture.

Sarah Gish of Gish Picks with Geoff at Houston Museum of Natural Science
My childhood was spent going to museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (see the picture of me with my brother Geoff), and the Contemporary Arts Museum; attending live music performances at places like Miller Outdoor Theatre and Jones Hall; and exploring Houston and Europe with my German professor dad and my psychologist mom.

I later lived in Paris and near Sendai and Tokyo (Japan) and spent time traveling in Thailand and Europe and going on many road trips around the United States, especially to California where my grandparents lived. All of those enriching experiences led me to raise my children with a sense of curiosity. From an early age, they learned to fill in the phrase that’d I’d start: (me) “Life is what?” (kids) “An adventure!” We definitely get out there and see the world!

I’ve traveled many places and lived here and there but I always love Houston the best because it’s the most diverse city in the United States (90 languages are spoken here daily!) and because it’s easy to navigate and easy to enjoy without spending big bucks. And I love exploring Houston with my kids.

We used to do weekly field trips in the summer and on the weekends but now that they’re older, it’s harder – but we still explore whenever we can. I always have a pad of paper and colored pencils in the car as well as entertaining books for any stops and I bring a cooler of water and snacks on the days we might be running around longer. That way, we are always ready for an adventure! I also always have bottled water and peanut butter crackers in my glove compartment – we dig into those if I forgot to bring snacks and we share them with the street people we see while driving around – it’s a great way to connect with those in our community at every level.

Sarah Gish of Gish Picks Houston with Matthew and Alexander
I have two boys – Alexander and Matthew Buchanan — and I am married to Stuart Buchanan, someone I have known since I was five years old. He’s the fun dad in the neighborhood! When my older son Alexander was born, I took him to work with me at the River Oaks movie theatre (I was the City Manager, overseeing the River Oaks and Greenway theatres). It was wonderful wearing him on my back in a backpack and nursing him whenever he needed it.

I was a member of La Leche League and nursed both my boys until they were three years old so it was important to me to stay close to them – at work or at play. When I became pregnant with Matthew, I couldn’t work out a happy agreement about working at the theatre and keeping him nearby, so I quit my job to be home with my kids and thus my third “child” was born in 2000 – my company, Gish Creative.

From the beginning, I worked with arts and educational organizations to market their programs and then my business evolved as I began gathering information about cultural activities of all kinds and I became more of an “info-preneur.” I created my e-newsletter/blog, GISH PICKS: A GUIDE TO CULTURAL ACTIVITIES FOR FAMILIES in 2003 to help my family and other families find fun. It’s unique because I sort through the hundreds of events out there and pick only three events for the weekend.

It’s been a blast recommending cool events to parents and the feedback that I’ve gotten is that I find the events that “hip” parents are looking for and that are unique and special and they wouldn’t have found without my help. I branched out 2 years ago and created an e-newsletter/blog for adults, SPIRIT PICKS: A GUIDE TO INSPIRING EVENTS IN HOUSTON, in which I also curate a list of arts, cultural, and spiritual events. I pick six activities to recommend each month and I also highlight one “Spirit Spotlight” (a bricks-and-mortar inspiring place) and I include information on interesting workshops and other happenings around town. And for both publications, I feature a VIDEO PICK.

I struggled to find good summer day camps for my older son the first summer after kindergarten when daycare was no longer enough, so I began voraciously researching places for him to go. I realized I had a goldmine of information for all Houston parents so I gathered my research about camps and compiled it into a guide called THE SUMMER BOOK®: A GUIDE TO HOUSTON DAY CAMPS AND CLASSES FOR KIDS AND TEENS, which was sold at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and 20 other indie bookstores in Houston since its creation in 2003.

Last year, just after its 10th anniversary, I took all the information online as THE SUMMER BOOK® ONLINE: A GUIDE TO HOUSTON DAY CAMPS AND CLASSES FOR KIDS AND TEENS, a free searchable database for the community. I’m proud to say it’s the biggest (over 200 camps!) and most accurate database of summer day camps in Houston! Summertime is a great time for kids to explore their passion and I am happy to help kids find theirs through my guide, which is searchable by several subject categories (arts, sports, cooking, etc.), dates, ages, area of town, and much more. It’s my passion to encourage kids and adults to ignite their lives – as seen in my art project, IGNITE YOUR LIFE! – so THE SUMMER BOOK® ONLINE is a perfect extension of that.

My favorite things in Houston to do with kids are so many! For outdoor fun, I love Miller Outdoor Theatre because it reminds me of my childhood and kids can run all over the place. I love Discovery Green, too – and both places offer excellent free entertainment.

A great spot to visit for calm times is Glenwood Cemetery – it’s one of the most peaceful hidden gems in Houston. And I love the Menil Collection park — although my kids are bummed they can’t climb the trees — and “Pumpkin” Park (River Oaks Park) has one of the best trees to sit under.

Speaking of trees, I love the ancient one at Beck’s Prime on Augusta – we go there sometimes to grab a snack and just hang out, communing with nature. That tree was the inspiration of the cd “Our Roots are Strong” that I co-produced with fab musician Leah White. I told her which Houston landmarks to feature and she wrote songs for each one – in fact, I’ll list those here since they are some of my favorites spots to visit!

  • Julia Ideson Library – 500 McKinney Street – Original copies of Alice in Wonderland and Moby Dick are among their 7,000 rare children’s books. Go see them! The library opened in 1904 and was named after the city’s first librarian.
  • Live Oak Trees – Spindly live oaks can be found all over Houston. Great examples are at Rice University (6100 Main Street); the Menil Park (1515 Sul Ross); and Beck’s Prime restaurant (2615 Augusta Drive).  Live oaks are the Southern symbol of strength and a perfect representation of Houston’s hardiness. In 1912, Rice University opened and hardly any trees existed until they decided to plant live oaks in 1913. Their trees are almost 100 years old!
  • Vaquero Statue in Mood Park – 3725 Fulton Street – This statue is by Luis Jimenez and was part of the City’s efforts to recognize the culture of the growing Latino population in Houston. Vaqueros are the first cowboys of the open range in Texas and they herded cattle from Mexico across Texas before the American cowboy we know today even existed.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Johnson Space Center – 1601 Nasa Parkway – 450 million listeners, out of a then estimated world population of 3.6 billion people, were all tuned into Houston’s Mission Control in 1969 when Neil Armstrong took the first steps onto the surface of the moon and said “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Sadly, the shuttle program ended with the launch of Atlantis on July 8, 2011.
  • The Heritage Society and Sam Houston Park – 1100 Bagby Street – The Heritage Society is a museum and grounds that house ten historic structures dating from 1823 to 1905. The historic buildings are in Sam Houston Park, which is next to the Heritage Society and was the first park in Houston. Take a tour here the modern way: text the number that you find in front of each structure and you’ll receive a text back with valuable historic information.
  • Christ Church Cathedral – 1117 Texas Avenue – Founded on March 16, 1839, Christ Church Cathedral was Houston’s first religious congregation and is the only one still worshiping on its original site from the days when Houston was the capital of the Republic of Texas. From the start, the Church welcomed all faiths and animals could be seen roaming the streets surrounding it.
  • The Rice Hotel – 909 Texas Avenue – In the 1920s and 1930s, the Rice Hotel’s legendary “Rice Roof Dance Pavilion” became the spot where many jazz and swing performers played, including Tommy Dorsey. President John F. Kennedy, Jr. spent his last night alive at the Rice Hotel before driving to Dallas where he was assassinated. It is rumored that ghosts dance on the rooftop.
  • NRG Astrodome in NRG Park – 8400 Kirby Drive – The Astrodome opened in 1965 and baseball players immediately complained that the glare from the roof panels caused them to miss balls. They painted it to decrease the glare which killed the grass! “ChemGrass” was then put down as a solution which quickly became known as “AstroTurf.” The Astrodome was the first covered, air conditioned sports stadium. Its future is uncertain – currently, three different options are being considered for the historic building, which are found in the “Reliant Park Master Plan.”
  • Landmark River Oaks Theatre – 2009 West Gray – The River Oaks Theatre was opened in 1939 during the Golden Age of theatres when people would dress in their finest to see a show. In 2007, the River Oaks Shopping Center was declared a city landmark when the theatre was threatened with demolition. However, because of Houston’s weak preservation ordinance, neither the shopping center nor the theatre is safe from the wrecking ball (the landlord must apply for a “protected landmark” status to make that happen). The River Oaks is Houston’s oldest running theatre and serves as a great example of 1930s Art Deco architecture.
  • The Downtown Aquarium – 410 Bagby Street – The Shark Tunnel you pass through on the train ride is part of what used to be Houston’s first Central Waterworks Building, an official State Archaeological Landmark. Historic Fire Station No. 1 houses the restaurant as well as an amazing variety of aquatic life.
  • Buffalo Bayou and Allen’s Landing – 1001 Commerce Street – Known as our “Plymouth Rock,” Allen’s Landing on Buffalo Bayou was long considered the site where the Allen Brothers founded Houston in 1836 but recent research indicates they actually founded Houston a little ways upstream. There are many graveyards along Buffalo Bayou because of the 1839 Yellow Fever epidemic.
  • Freedmen’s Town in Fourth Ward – Between Taft Street and I-45 and south of Memorial Drive and north of Tuam Street – After the Civil War, freed slaves were able to buy land cheaply near the Buffalo Bayou in an area later known as Freedmen’s Town. The Rev. Jack Yates lived in this community and was instrumental in motivating black youth to strive for education. His home is in now in Sam Houston Park. There’s now a labyrinth in Freedman’s town!
  • The Orange Show Monument – 2401 Munger Street – The Orange Show is a monument created 25 years ago (in 2012) by retired postal worker Jeff McKissack who got a permit to build a beauty parlor on an abandoned East End lot but instead made his now-famous whimsical structure. Comprised mainly of found objects, the site was inspired by his favorite fruit, the orange. He was certain it would become one of the “Wonders of the World”! The Orange Show is open to the public for touring and its Foundation oversees not only that site, but also the Beer Can House, the famous Art Car Parade, and the newly built Smither Park.

We also always enjoy museums – when my kids were younger, we spent many hours and had birthday parties at the Children’s Museum but now we go to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a TON of programs and will soon have a huge new, multi-million dollar campus with a second movie theatre complete with concessions as well as a huge space for the Glassell School of Art! We’ll drop into the MFAH just about any time as there is always something going on. I recommend starting your visit at the Kinder Foundation Education Center and before you go, you can prepare in advance with activities and ideas they have online here.

And Houston is hot, hot, HOT in the summertime so we have found some great water spots: Discovery Green and Hermann Park have fun fountain play areas and “Noah’s Ark” pool at the Quillian Recreation Center is a blast and perfect for all ages since there is a water play area for young ones and a pool for older ones. We love our neighborhood YMCA pools – there is such a huge variety! I would never move where I wasn’t close to a Y because not only do they have great pools but they also have great summer programs, specialty sports programs, after school care, and exercise classes. And the one at the Trotter Y has a yummy, healthy café that I take my kids to if I didn’t have time to make dinner (it’s close to us, thankfully).

I have an art car – the PHOENIX RISING ART CAR – so my favorite annual event in Houston is, of course, the Art Car Parade, presented by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. Thankfully they moved it to the second Saturday in April so it’s much cooler. I’m now offering tours in my art car to see quirky Houston: we’ll meet up at the River Oaks Theatre and then head to the Orange Show, Smither Park, the Art Car Museum, the Beer Can House, and back to the River Oaks Theatre. Along the way, riders will get refreshments and a tour – it’s part of my IGNITE YOUR LIFE! art project and it’s one more way I am able to introduce people to the many sides of Houston!

Meet Natalie Arneson of Manhattan Melodrama – Native Houstonian, Mom, Singer, Actress and One Determined Woman!

At BigKidSmallCity, we believe the more we know about the people of Houston, the smaller our city feels. And who better to meet than the star of Manhattan Melodrama at Ovations?!  Natalie Arneson is a native Houstonian, mom, singer, actress and one very determined woman!

Natalie Arneson and Family
Manhattan Melodrama – Natalie Arneson in Concert, gives you a glimpse into the life of a mom who moves to New York City without a job, contacts or money, in the middle of a recession. And with a baby.

In her own words, Natalie tells us about her family and about being a mom chasing her dreams.

[Read more…]

Caroline Long of West University Wellness Tells Houston Kids About Her Business and What She Likes About Houston!

Houston is a big city but the more we know about it, the smaller it feels. In an effort to better understand how our city ticks, the BigKidSmallCity crew is interviewing the people of Houston!

This time we had the great pleasure of meeting Caroline Long of West University Wellness!  In her own words, Caroline tells us about her family, her business and what she likes about Houston!

Caroline Long of West University Wellness
I was born and raised in Houston. I grew up in the suburbs and really thought Houston was boring. I went away for college but realized soon thereafter that Houston actually has a lot going for it. I also came to understand that it’s the people and relationships that make a place a home.

My husband is from North Carolina but now he loves Houston almost as much as I do. We’re excited to be raising our daughters here, but I’ve realized that for me, I prefer being closer to the heart of the city rather than outside the Loop.

I always wanted to be in healthcare, and over the years came to realize how much I wanted to be a chiropractor. We started West U Wellness almost 10 years ago and now offer chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, Pilates, and other holistic treatments.

I specialize in pregnancy and pediatric chiropractic, and I feel we have carved out a niche in that area. It bothers me to hear pregnant women say, “My doctor said having pain while pregnant is normal and I just have to endure it for the rest of my pregnancy.” No! There are gentle but effective treatments we can offer that make a world of difference.

What advice would I have for kids wanting to start their own business?  Owning your business is not for the faint of heart! You make so many sacrifices, work longer hours than anyone else in the office, and usually are the last to get paid. However, if you’re doing what you love it makes life so much more enjoyable. I also feel I’m setting a good example for my girls by showing them how hard work can pay off.

I have found the secret to success is relationships. You can spend lots of money in marketing, have a slick website, offer tons of promotions, but at the end of the day what keeps a customer coming back is the trust they have in your skills and forming a real relationship with those people you serve.

As for  what I like about Houston, I love the international flavor. All the languages that are spoken, the wide range of food, even the sports teams and variety of arts you can find contribute to Houston’s amazing diversity.

My favorite thing to do in Houston is enjoying the arts whether it’s seeing musicals, the symphony, or an exhibit at the museum. But eating out is a very close second!

Carole Smith of McCheek’s Academy Tells Houston Kids About Her Business and What She Likes About Houston!

Carole Smith of McCheeks AcademyHouston is a big city but the more we know about it, the smaller it feels. In an effort to better understand how our city ticks, the BigKidSmallCity crew is interviewing the people of Houston!

This time we had the great pleasure of meeting Carole Smith of McCheek’s Academy & McCheek’s Mayhem!

The kids (ages 4-7) interviewed her to find out about her job and what she likes about Houston.  Read on!

1.  How did you become interested in ceramic art?  
When I was at high school we had ceramics classes and I immediately loved it. It was my favorite thing to do at school.  I then went on to art college and got my degree and postgraduate degree in ceramics.

2.  Why did you start McCheek’s Academy and what work did you have to do to start it?

I wanted to be able to have fun with kids and adults and show them how to make things and inspire people to be creative. The biggest part of the work to start McCheek’s Academy was to promote my classes and think about different projects to teach.

3.  What is your favorite part of your job?
Teaching classes and interacting with students, both children and adults, and seeing them get inspired and making things out of clay or crafts that they are really pleased with.

4.  What tips do you have for a kid wanting to someday start their own business?
Think about what you’d really like to do, imagine yourself doing it and then go for it!

Running your own business means that you have to be prepared to work hard and keep at it. It takes time to grow your business so remember to be patient with it.

5.  What do you like to do in Houston?
I really like the Menil Collection and the park around it. I like to go and see live music, drink coffee and socialize with friends.

6.  What is your favorite thing about Houston?
I like that there a lot of space in Houston and I love the blue skies and sunny weather. I love being able to grow lemons and hibiscus flowers in my garden.

7.  What is your favorite Houston annual event?
Craftidote – which is the annual craft market held at Antidote coffee in the Heights in December. I like that there are lots of people buying handmade gifts from local makers.

Photo Credit: Trish Badger

Vivienne St. John, Theater for Youth Producing Director at Main Street Theater, Tells Houston Kids About Her Job and What She Likes About Houston!

Houston is a big city but the more we know about it, the smaller it feels. In an effort to better understand how our city ticks, the BigKidSmallCity crew is interviewing the people of Houston!

This time we had the great pleasure of meeting Vivienne St. John, the Theater for Youth Producing Director at Main Street Theater!  Main Street Theater consistently has fantastic youth shows and we were very excited to meet the Theater for Youth Producing Director!

Vivienne St John of Main Street Theater Houston Texas
 The kids (ages 4-7) interviewed her to find out about her job and what she likes about Houston.  Read on!

1. What do you do each day as Theater for Youth Producing Director?

It depends on where we are in the season – some days I am in production meetings for the various shows. I meet with the director and designers to make sure all of the elements (costumes, sets, props, lights and sound) are being realized for the upcoming shows.

Right now I am in pre-production for both THE GIVER and A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD. I also work with our school matinee staff daily to make sure that the school shows are running smoothly.  I prepare all of our special events, so this week I am busily prepping for our annual Christmas party.

There is so much to do – read scripts, read books, hire actors, choose shows for the next season. Every day is different and exciting and rewarding. I have a great job!

2. What work must be done before a show opens at Main Street Theater?

The first thing that happens is that I contact the author (or their agent) or the publishing company to get the licensing rights to produce the show. Once we have permission then I hire the director and designers and start the marketing process.

I work with our marketing director to find commission illustrations for each title, develop a season brochure, posters and mailers.

Every summer we have a general audition where all the directors are in attendance. We cast the whole season from there.

About 3 months before the show opens I hold production meetings with the designers and directors to listen to their concepts for the show and make sure that they are realized. Rehearsals start about a month before the show opens.

3. What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is watching the children’s faces when they are seeing a show. I love to see how much they connect with the characters being brought to life. I love listening to them talk about how the shows have affected them. I love influencing children to pick up a book and read. Reading is my passion and my favorite books to read are children’s books!

4. What tips do you have for a kid wanting to someday work in theater?

Go see as many shows as you can. Sign up for internships and get a first hand look at what it’s all about. Go to school!

5. What do you like to do in Houston?

Go out to eat. No city has better quality and variety of restaurants. I especially love Mediterranean!

6. What is your favorite thing about Houston?

It’s my home. I was born and raised here. I love living in a large city. There is always something to do!

7. What is your favorite Houston annual event?

The Livestock Show and Rodeo. I especially like taking my kids to the Livestock show and getting to see all the baby animals.