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Photo courtesy of HGTV

Recently, I was in for my semi-annual teeth cleaning (Editor’s note: About time, Ken.) and nitrous oxide session when the dental hygienist leaned me back in the barber’s chair and asked if I’d like to watch the TV mounted on the ceiling.

I asked, “What channel do most people ask for?” She said, “HGTV by far, and that includes men and women.”

Okay, while you’re doing demo in my mouth, let me watch David and Hilary Love It or List It.

That was the first question I asked Joe Mazza, star of Home Inspector Joe, a new hit show on HGTV that follows Mazza conducting full cavity searches on houses for prospective buyers.

Mazza is a fast-talking, wise-cracking, tattooed-up, motorcycle-riding, hip New Yorker who searches high and low for hidden problems in a house. It’s fun entertainment watching him tear apart a house discovering structural flaws and safety issues. I’m sympathy sweating for the homeowner who’s praying, please don’t look in the attic.

Mazza will be the star attraction this weekend at the Houston Home + Garden Show at NRG Center. He will appear on the Fresh Ideas Stage at 6 pm Friday September 16 and 11 am and 2 pm Saturday, September 17. Mazza will offer tips and ideas how to make your house more attractive to potential buyers, plus demonstrate DIY tricks of his trade and conduct a live Q&A with the audience.

The Home + Garden Show runs through Sunday. Tickets are available online.

I caught up with Mazza in advance of his big appearance.

CultureMap: Before HGTV gave you a show and made you a TV star, you inspected homes and worked in construction for 20 years as just regular ol’ Joe Mazza. Did you have any idea how popular HGTV was?

Joe Mazza: It’s massive. It’s wild. Every office you go into, everyone I talk to says “it’s on my TV all the time.” Guys will tell me, “yeah, my wife is always watching it.” I’ll ask them, “and you don’t?” They’ll say, “well, yeah.” I’m super honored to be in the position I’m in now. It’s ridiculous, I can’t even explain it to you.

CM: HGTV must have a zillion shows pitched to them every year. How did Home Inspector Joe get their attention?

JM: They found me through Instagram, through social media. USA Today saw me in 2019 and said, “Hey, Joe, you want to do a video for us about first time home buyers? Whoa, that’s crazy, so I did it. The word got out. HGTV saw me. They contacted me and said there was an opportunity for me to possibly have my own show. Fast forward, here I am. It was all through social media. It was me being me, just doing home inspections. I have fun doing what I love and we go from there.

CM: There are thousands of professional home inspectors around the country. What was it about you that caught HGTV’s interest?

JM: My personality was a massive factor how I got the show. I watch all those videos about home inspection on social media and they’re very educational, but they’re very boring. You have to have fun with what you’re doing, even in bad moments. You can joke about things, say asbestos, but be very serious at the same time. It’s all about engaging your audience.

CM: Do people understand the role a home inspector plays in the home buying process? Who do you work for, the buyer or the seller?

JM: I work for the buyer 99 percent of the time. The real estate agent will refer me to the buyer or the buyer will hear about me through word of mouth. I work for the person who’s paying me and that’s typically the buyer. No one stands in my way, no one tells me how to do my job or what to put in my report.

CM: Are home sellers scared of you?

JM: Now they are, but not every one of them. I was at a house recently and the real estate agent and the seller were there. They saw me and went, “oh, crap.” To me that was flattering.

CM: How thorough is a home inspection?

JM: Certain things we can and can’t do. If a place is inaccessible, we don’t have to go in there. If we can’t get on a roof, we don’t have to struggle to get on the roof. What separates me from others, that roof that I can’t get on, I will find a way to get on it. You have to dig deep.

What keeps me out of trouble is, I make sure I’m on point 100 percent of the time. I inspect every house as if my wife and daughter are moving into it. If you go into an inspection with that mentality, you’re going to kick butt.

CM: How sneaky are homeowners at hiding flaws or potential deal breakers in their house?

JM: Very, very. I love it when they try, because I’m going to catch them. If I go through a basement and it’s freshly painted, that’s a red flag right there. “You just painted the basement. Why?” I start digging deeper, not just inside the basement, but outside to see what’s going on. A lot of problems in the basement start on the outside.

I’ll see if they put boxes or furniture in front of a moldy wall. They’ll say, “where else am I supposed to put the furniture?”

CM: What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve found during a home inspection?

JM: I had an inspection close to my house. I was in the crawl space and as I walking around the floor was crunching. I looked down and the floor was covered with teeth. There were thousands of teeth down there. It was gross and terrifying.

Was I going to find hundreds of bodies in the backyard? It turned out the guy was a tooth manufacturer and threw teeth in there a hundred years ago. No one warned me about that. The grossest thing, besides dead animals, people leave stuff out in the open — inappropriate personal stuff. I just keep working around it.

CM: Ever hired to inspect a house occupied by a hoarder?

JM: I’ve done a couple of houses where they were hoarders with wall-to-wall stuff. Usually I’ll just turn around and walk out. There’s nothing I can do.

I will tell the real estate agent that the house is a fire hazard and you’re putting people in jeopardy. If the house is just dirty, yeah, whatever, that’s fine. I’m okay if they have a lot of junk around. But a hoarder’s house, like on that TV show, that’s disgusting.

I had a house that had 15 cats and like 12 dogs. They didn’t clean anything ever. I walked in and the hit of ammonia slammed me to heaven. I got dizzy and started gagging. I went outside and the owner wanted to know what was wrong. She was scratching her arms. I told her, “for one, your arms are bleeding. Your animals are crapping and peeing all over your house. The house needs to be condemned.”

I told the buyer to get the hell away from this house.

-----

Joe Mazza appears at the Houston Home and Garden Show at 6 pm Friday September 16 and 11 am and 2 pm Saturday September 17 at NRG Park. Show runs through Sunday, September 18. For tickets, full schedule, and more information, visit the official site.

Photo by Ezume Images/Getty Images

Ken Hoffman hams it up with the greatest breakfast sandwich no one's heard of — outside New Jersey

he's on a roll

Over the course of my career as Houston’s leading discount restaurant critic, more than 1,000 fast food burger and pizza reviews, I never critiqued a sandwich that wasn’t available at every street corner drive-thru.

Let alone a sandwich that I had to assemble and cook in my professional test kitchen at home. But, here we are.

A friend visited New Jersey recently on vacation, came back and asked me, “Have you ever had a Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich? Everybody I met in New Jersey raved about them.”

Ever had one? I grew up in New Jersey — I practically lived on them.

But here we are … in Houston, where nobody knows about Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches. In fact, once you escape the borders of New Jersey, Taylor Ham is pretty much unknown. Poor every other state.

The story behind the sandwich
Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches are to New Jersey people what McMuffins are to the rest of the sadly deprived country. There’s just something about two slices of Taylor Ham, eggs, and cheese on a Kaiser roll that makes breakfast the most important meal of the day. (At least the most delicious.) It became the Official State Sandwich of New Jersey in 2016,

What is Taylor Ham? It’s processed pork flavored with spices, sweet-smoked and formed into a salami-style log, which Jersey people call a chub.
There’s an episode of MTV’s Jersey Shore where Snooki and The Situation get into an argument. Snooki calls it “Taylor Ham,” while The Situation says “Taylor Pork Roll.” It won’t remind you of Plato debating Socrates at the Lyceum in ancient Greece. (Or even Beavis and Butt-head.)

Even famed director Kevin Smith weighed in:

Taylor Ham (I’m with Snooki) was invented in 1856 by state senator John Taylor. He introduced it as Taylor’s Prepared Ham. However, Taylor had to rebrand his product because it didn’t qualify as ham after passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Your tax dollars at work.

The new name: John Taylor’s Pork Roll. However, spunky north Jersey people continue to call it Taylor Ham. The rest of the state adapted to the new name. That’s how you can tell if somebody is from north or south Jersey – if they call it Taylor Ham or Pork Roll. You could just ask where they’re from, too.

Taylor today
Today, Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches are sold by the millions in every New Jersey diner, greasy spoon and bagel shop. I used to get some from a guy cooking them on the street in front of the Prudential Building in Newark.

It’s startling how a food item can be so dominant in one state and practically nobody’s heard of it anywhere else. It’s like New Jersey says, “We’ll share Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra and Mike Trout with the world, but our Taylor Ham sandwiches ain’t going nowhere.”

So when I was asked, “Have you ever had a Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich?” – that pushed my obsessive button. I had to have one again.

Hoffman hams it up
Of course, I tried our local supermarkets first. A couple say on their website that they carry Taylor Ham, but good luck. “It’s at our deli counter,” I was told. Nope, it’s not.

I gave up fast — it’s my thing. I am told that if you look hard enough, you can find it in Houston. The supermarket will deliver it to your house, if they have it, or when they get it in. If you know a restaurant here that makes Taylor Ham sandwiches, let me know.

It’s easier and less gas just to order Taylor Ham online from Jersey food distributors, like American Butcher Store or Jersey Pork Roll. You can get a 1-pound chub for $10.99, a box of four 6-ounce pre-sliced packs for $17.59, or a 3-pound chub for $31.99 plus shipping. I promise: You will love this sandwich.

I followed the blueprint at home: Taylor Ham, eggs, cheese, butter, salt and pepper, and a roll. I couldn’t find a Kaiser roll so I subbed a brioche bun. I may be onto something there. (Editor’s note: Oh yeah? At what point do we alert Eric Sandler?)

I threw two slices of Taylor Ham into a frying pan, making small cuts around the edges so they wouldn’t curl up like pepperoni on a pizza. I made the eggs over-easy (personal choice). I buttered the brioche bun and toasted it. Because there are no mystery, proprietary, or unavailable ingredients, you can make a Taylor Ham sandwich at home to exact New Jersey specs and it will taste identical.

My ex-pat Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich was perfect, as delicious as any diner down the Jersey Shore where you take a napkin and wipe the silverware before you eat.

Nostalgia is expensive, but still cheaper than a ticket to Newark Airport.

Behold the Offical State Sandwich of New Jersey.

Photo by Ezume Images/Getty Images
Behold the Offical State Sandwich of New Jersey.
Photo courtesy of the Lance McCullers, Jr. Foundation

Ken Hoffman on why a Houston Astros pivotal star's most heroic work is off the field

the hero we need

Saturday, August 13 marked the successful, long-awaited, faith-restored return of a real-life Houston hero — who happens to pitch for the Houston Astros.

Lance McCullers Jr. threw a baseball in earnest for the first time since Game 4 of last year’s American League Divisional Series. He was sidelined for 305 days with a right flexor pronator strain (a body part I never knew existed. If you can’t pull it out with a tweezer in the game Operation, it’s not part of the human anatomy.)

It took him that long, forever in baseball terms, to return to the Astros and Minute Maid Park. How’d he do?

He struck out five, allowed only two hits over six innings, received three standing ovations from 34,000 fans, and got the W in the Astros 8-0 victory over the (for some odd reason) pesky Oakland A’s on Hall of Fame Weekend.

“I was a little bit anxious before the game,” McCullers said after his win. “Everybody’s been so supportive and really have helped me get back to this point. I’m talking about the guys in the clubhouse and they were all excited for me to be back today.”

Lance back = best news for the future
With Jake Odorizzi gone and the possibility that Justin Verlander (who loves him some Nancy’s Hustle burgers) may leave after this season, McCullers’ return was good news for the Astros’ drive to the World Series this year, and the next, and the next.

He’s already carved into Houston legend for the time he threw 24 straight curveballs against the Yankees to propel the Astros to the World Series in 2017. Watch that insane performance here:

And, McCullers was the starting pitcher against the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series when the Astros won their first and only championship. As Yahoo Sports pointed out, McCullers completely owned the boys in pinstripes.

But that’s not why he’s a hero in my book.

More than a sports hero
McCullers and his wife Kara are animal lovers and they’ve put their passion into relentless action. The Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation supports local pet organizations like Houston Pets Alive and Rescued Pet Movement. The foundation’s goal is to promote pet adoption and fostering, raise awareness and donations for animal shelters and continue the journey to make Houston a no-kill community. The motto is “Protecting Pets, Creating Families.”

“Since partnering with the Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation, thousands of pets are being saved each month that otherwise didn’t have a chance. Thousands of homeless dogs and cats’ lives have been saved,” Rescued Pet Movement notes. “To date, because of LMJF, almost 60,000 homeless dogs and cats’ lives have been saved.”

McCullers didn’t just attach his name to the foundation and step back. As we frequently cover here, he personally shows up to help locals in need: whether it’s handing out Thanksgiving turkeys or supplying 10,000 meals to the Houston Food Bank during the pandemic. “This city has embraced me and my family,” he told us in 2019, “everywhere we go, people couldn’t be more gracious to us.”

No big surprise that he handles his foundation the same way—he hosts events, advocates tirelessly for animals, and gets his hands dirty supporting efforts to save pets lives. To donate or volunteer to his organization, visit the How to Help section on the official site.

The Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation is a donor-advised fund at Athletes and Causes, a nonprofit with federal tax exempt status and a public charity.

Here’s the cherry on top why I love and support his foundation. He reminds people that 75-percent of dogs available for adoption in shelters are mixed breeds. I got one of those sitting next to me right now.

Mixed-up makes the best pup
I’ll show you how mixed breed my dog Sally is. When I adopted Sally, she was eight months old, 26 pounds and the card on her cage said “Schnauzer.”

One year later, Sally was 75 pounds and definitely not a Schnauzer. I sent away for a Canine DNA analysis kit. The company said it would use MDRI and EIC screening tp determine what breed was dominant (Level 1) in my dog, plus whatever else was in her DNA gumbo (Levels 2 through 4).

A week later, I received the results. Under Level 1, what Sally supposedly, mostly is, the analysis said “not present.” She wasn’t more of any one breed than any other. Level 2 listed Collie and soft-coast Wheaten Terrier. Level 3 was “not present.” Level 4 was Maltese and Poodle. The whole report simply should have said: “Congratulations, you have a mutt. Your dog is whatever you want it to be.”

Sally takes mixed breed to whole ’nother level. She’s the best.

McCullers has always been hands-on with dogs.

Photo courtesy of the Lance McCullers, Jr. Foundation
McCullers has always been hands-on with dogs.

Ken Hoffman reveals the ultimate insider guide to the Little League World Series — and how he fired The Boss

big little league

Sure, it’s impressive that the Houston Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday, August 9 to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting August 17 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That was the game, as we covered here, that included a moment that went viral for all the right reasons.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a five-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Nothing little about this league
Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats, and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super-neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Major-league kids
Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70 mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

When in South Williamsport...
While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Ken fires The Boss
Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record — literally — was Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A”. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. “Born in the U.S.A.” came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan, but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing.

The executive asked, why not?

Well, you might want to listen to the words. “Born in the U.S.A.” is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year).

The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding.

I wasn’t. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is now considered a serious slur for Asians)

Later, I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I’ve never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA.’ I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

My advice: Play “Centerfield” by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

---

Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.