Thanks to Hurricane Alex keeping a safe distance away from the Corpus Christi area, specifically Ingleside on the Bay, my dear old dad was able to take part in one of the most extraordinary and beautiful Independence Day celebrations across the country this past weekend: Billed as “an international celebration of liberty, sailing, and friendship,” tall ships from around the world sailed into Naval Station Ingleside on July 1st, courtesy of Sail South Texas, including:

The United States’ Eagle – nearly 300 feet in length with a 39 foot beam, a 17 foot draft and a crew of 12 officers, 38 crew and 150 cadets.

Mexico’s Cuauhtémoc – 270 feet in length, a beam of more than 39 feet and a 17 foot draft, and carrying a crew of 185 cadets and officers.

Chile’s Esmeralda – 371 feet long and 159 feet tall, currently the second longest and tallest sailing ship in the world. Operated by Chile’s navy, the Esmeralda has sports 43 feet of beam and nearly 20 feet of draft. The four-masted barquentine carries 300 sailors and 90 midshipmen.

Uruguay’s Captain Miranda – built in Spain in 1930 the schooner has a length of 205 feet, a 27 foot beam and a 12 foot draft, carrying 33 cadets and 11 officers.

My dad was nice enough to send in tons of pictures of the event for those of you interested, take a look below:

 Our state’s largest city has become a hot-bed of hip-hop activity in the last few years. Going back even further to the heyday of The Geto Boys, H-Town’s style of rap has been as unflinching and brutal as it’s been celebrated in recent times, thanks to M.C.’s such as Chamillionaire and Paul Wall. Houston’s D.J. Screw, the groundbreaker who ushered in the Chopped and Screwed style, influenced an entire movement that added shine to Houston’s star in the Hip Hop universe.

Given that Frazier Thompson III, aka, Trae tha Truth has a day named in his honor, I’d say that he has also been a key reason that the Gulf Coast has taken much of the rap world’s attention away from the other two coasts that have dominated for so long. This master of the mix-tape has been slinging his fierce brand since 1999, as he has been a part of both the underground unit Screwed up Click, as well as another group, Guerilla Maab.

Whether Trae’s been a featured guest on an album with his cousin, fellow Houston rapper Z-Ro, sending out his own mix-tapes or popping out his solo-albums, Tha Truth has indeed lived up to his name when relaying his vision of life in Houston through a mixture of aggressive and abrasive lyrics that aren’t going to have anyone confusing him for the Fresh Prince any day soon. Judging by the esteemed list of collaborators that have joined him on his solo releases, including the soon to be released Tha Truth, it’s easy to see that Houstonians aren’t the only ones buying into what Trae is slinging. All-world talent like Lil Wayne, Young Joc and Slim Thug have carried out guest roles for Trae in recent years.

Yes, Trae’s truth is hard-core and extremely in-your-face, he even turned Kings of Leon’s sensitive smash, “Use Somebody” into a hefty piece of mix-tape masculinity. Trae’s authoritative beats and authentic, honest insight makes for a version of the truth that most of us should at least try to handle, even if it’s a bit tough to accept at times.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob

The lovely and effervescent Karen over at Whole Foods sends Superbowl word this morning that though you may fight/divorce/end friendships over team loyalty, you don’t have to break up over the beer:

Sadly, you can’t choose the winner of Sunday’s big game, but you can choose which beers you will be drinking. Purchase any four 6-pks or any two 12-pks of ANY BEER (Mix n’ Match) & receive a 10% CASE DISCOUNT. Today through Sunday at any Whole Foods.

As for being a football fan, I’m gonna have to go with the Saints – even though I really only watch for the commercials.

As for the beer? Make my six-packs Shiner-based, please. Oh, and you can throw in a couple of Franziskaners for Mr. W., that would be fantastic. KTHXBAI.

It’s unanimous.

There will be six more weeks of winter, according to three famous groundhogs.

First up was Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, who saw his shadow when he emerged from his den at Wildlife Park after being roused by bag pipes and a town crier.

Canada’s famous pancake breakfast hosting and weather prognosticating albino groundhog, Wiarton Willie, has confirmed the prediction as well. Visit him online!

As for Punxsutawney Phil, who was awakened by fireworks this morning, his handler says the famous groundhog sent a text and said, “Six more weeks of winter it will be.”

Are you like me and wish that Texas had their own prognosticating critter to predict our unpredictable weather?

You’re not alone! Andy Thomas in San Antonio has a solution for us Texans, “something Texan like an armadillo. If it sees its shadow (and feels the heat of the sun) it would go back into its hole and that would mean six more weeks of summer.”

P.S. More critters are challenging Punxsutawney Phil for the crown of Groundhog Day prognosticator. According to the Wall Street Journal, in his home state of Pennsylvania, Phil has rivals including Octorara Orphie of the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge in Quarryville, and Sammi II of Monroe County, who was pressed into service after Sammi I died of heatstroke after riding in a parade. Last year, Mel, a groundhog in Milltown, N.J., got into the act.

Two historic Galveston hotels, Hotel Galvez and The Tremont House, will celebrate Mardi Gras with history, live music, food, parade viewing and even a salute to the Chinese New Year this year. Two which I say, yay! Starting January 23rd and running thru February, Galveston will be packed with everything from Art Walks to Mardi Gras masquerade balls. Take a look:

As part of the 2010 Mardi Gras! Galveston celebration, The Tremont House is hosting an exhibit entitled, “26 Years of Celebrations Through Invitations and Doubloons” on Saturday, Jan. 23 from 6 to 9 p.m. as part of the city’s ArtWalk. The exhibit features framed invitations and doubloons from its annual Mardi Gras balls dating back to 1985 when the hotel opened in conjunction with the city’s revival of Mardi Gras in Galveston. The event is free and open to the public.

New Orleans Style Brunch at Hotel Galvez
Sunday Brunch at the Hotel Galvez will take on a New Orleans flair during the Galveston Mardi Gras season beginning on Sunday, Jan. 24 and continuing on every Sunday through Sunday, Feb. 14, complete with Mardi Gras beads for all guests. This themed brunch is featuring various New Orleans cuisine favorites as well as the popular brunch items including carved prime rib, assorted seafood, made to order omelets & pasta bar, an incredible array of desserts and complimentary champagne and mimosas. The cost is $32 for adults; $28 for senior citizens; and $19 for children ages 6 to 12. For reservations, call (409) 765-7721 or visit bernardosathotelgalvez.com.

Three Parades Traveling Past Hotel Galvez on Feb. 6
The first parade of the season in Galveston is at noon on Saturday, Feb. 6 with the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius 25th Annual Parade. The parade starts at 14th and Seawall Blvd. and passes directly in front of Hotel Galvez. The Galveston County Firefighters Association Fire Truck Parade begins at 3 p.m. on 14th and Seawall Blvd. This parade also passes directly in front of the hotel. The last Seawall parade of the evening, The Krewe of Gambrinus “Cheers to Our Buds: The Del Papa Family” Parade, begins at 6 p.m. on 23rd and Seawall and just two blocks west of the hotel.

Free Live Entertainment on Feb. 12
Guests at The Tremont House can enjoy a special preview performance by the Quaker City String Band at 5 p.m. in front of the hotel. The Quaker City String Band is known for their colorful costumes and lively music and has performed in the Philadelphia Mummer’s Parade since 1931 and has been a Mardi Gras! Galveston tradition since 1985. New Orleans native and jazz clarinetist Dr. Michael White and his Jazz Quartet performs in the hotel’s Toujouse Bar from 7 to 10 p.m. As part of the evening, Tremont Café is featuring some Mardi Gras inspired menu items. Shortly after 8 p.m., the Krewe Babulu 5th Annual All Krewe Parade is passing in front of the hotel.

The Tremont House 26th Annual Mardi Gras Ball on Feb. 13
Galveston’s Mardi Gras celebration peaks during The Tremont House 26th Annual Mardi Gras Ball and Parade Viewing Party celebrating “A Chinese New Year” on Saturday, Feb. 13. The ball begins at 6 p.m. and tickets are $350 per couple which includes an open bar, an extensive buffet featuring Asian cuisine, live music by The Brew from Austin in the lobby and the Dr. Michael White Jazz Quartet in the dining area. Ball guests will also enjoy prime viewing of the Momus Grand Night Parade as floats and marching bands stop directly in front of the hotel to perform. After the parade, ball goers will venture to the after party in the hotel’s ballroom for performances by Chinese cultural dancers Lee’s Golden Dragon Dance Troupe from Houston followed by dancing to the sounds of Eclipse Band and Orchestra. Breakfast will be served at the conclusion of the evening. A portion of the proceeds from the ball will benefit Rosenberg Library. The Tremont House is offering a two-night package that includes accommodations, two tickets to the ball on Saturday, Feb 13, 2010 and parade viewing of the Momus Grand Night Parade For Mardi Gras ball reservations, call (409) 763-0300 or purchase tickets online.

So back in May I raved on and on about Black Kettle Soap Co. soaps and detergents. So I was super excited this week to see that my pals at Lakewood’s Rocket Science Salon- one who owns the salon, LeAnn and the red-haired rogue who has been working her hair badassery on me for seven years, Sarah -  now carry Black Kettle products! Seems that my insistence about BK products paid off!

Back in May I started yapping about how getting by on a ridiculously tight budget is akin to following a strict diet. If you don’t reward yourself from time to time and within reason, you’re bound to fall completely off the wagon. So while we’re all still tightening our proverbial belts, it is important to remember to set a few bucks aside for something special, because in this economy, life’s little luxuries are even more so than ever.

blackketOne thing I love to splurge on is the bedroom, specifically the bed. There’s nothing finer than collapsing into our pillow topped, feather bedded and pillowed cozy cloud of a bed and wrapping up in cottony soft sheets and a down comforter. To make the bed even more special, I used to use The Laundress’ detergent and fabric conditioner. The smell of our sheets was heavenly and lasted for days. Then I found Houston’s Black Kettle Soap Company. Now the only thing I’ll use on the sheets, pillow cases and duvet is their Lavender scented detergent and dryer sachets.

Compared to store bought detergents and soaps, Black Kettle Soap Company’s laundry products are an affordable way to treat yourself to a little luxury. For less than six bucks, their 100% natural detergent will give you 40 loads of the most divine smelling laundry you’ll ever have. Think scents like the sultry Vanilla Patchouli, sweet Sugar Cane, crisp Summer and more.

Want to save even more on your laundry costs and utility bills? Pop a few of Black Kettle’s wool dryer balls into the dryer with each load. Not only will your laundry come out static-free, they cut your costs by cutting down your drying time. Sold in two to a set at just under 15 bucks, the more you use, the more time and money you’ll save.

arabian_spiceBut Black Kettle doesn’t just serve your household needs. They also have an extensive line of women’s and men’s bath and beauty products, plus a kid’s line. Think bath cupcakes, bath bombs and body butters for the ladies in addition to other bath indulgences. My hubby uses both BK’s Spice and Black Pepper Lavender soaps and the scents last all day, but not in that overpowering and obnoxious Axe body wash way.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Dallas or Houston area, there are now places where you can purchse Black Kettle’s products.  Otherwise, order online. Either way, BK’s affordable products makes any of these indulgences a no-brainer.

Be sure to visit the Black Kettle blog for great tips on environmentally and heath friendly ideas and solutions to every living, too!

So, the summer is almost over and I was still craving more Texas coastline even after seeing Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula – the only way to go was to head further south – to Rockport. I have been to Corpus Christi and was anxious to try a place I had never been. What I wasn’t counting on was a 5 hour drive to get there.

The Rockport-Fulton area is 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi and 160 miles south of San Antonio on the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Texas A&M College is only 30 miles away. It was named for the rock ledge underlying its shore and began as a cattle slaughtering, packing, and shipping port shortly after the Civil War. The town’s most famous citizen is country musician George Strait.

By the time I got to Rockport, it was 11:00pm – I guess didn’t plan my trip as well as I should have – I didn’t even book a hotel. So, I’m arriving in a town that I’ve never been to – it’s pretty late – this isn’t New York City, after all – they roll up the streets after tem p.m. at night here in small-town Texas.

I was thankful that I found my way to Hunt’s Castle. The hotel’s neon sign was like a lighthouse beacon drawing me in. And, I was very grateful that there was a room available – for a reasonable price.

The night manager graciously gave me a room on the second floor – and assured me there was a working elevator. Even though I was only staying for one night, I had a fairly heavy suitcase – I am a girl, after all – and I had to bring at least three pair of shoes.

So I got to my room and it was pretty big – a queen bed and a set of bunk beds – perfect for a family of four – I was tempted to soothe my inner child and sleep on the top bunk but then I thought better of it. The room also was equipped with a full kitchen, a microwave and a coffee maker. Each room has a pair of Aiderondack chairs for sitting on the balcony overlooking the (drum roll here) parking lot. But you can also see part of the quaint town.

I was so tired after that long drive – plus there wasn’t much to do. I slept like a baby. The next morning I woke up to a beautiful surprise. The hotel is actually built in the shape of a castle – set at the tip of a crescent harbor with a huge fishing pier. I found out later that the pier is the longest private fishing pier in the area.

While I was checking out, I talked to Susan the day manager – a very nice woman. Susan says that the majority of their guests in the winter are what’s known here in Texas as Snowbirds – people from the northern U.S. and Canada who come south to Texas to escape the harsh winters.

Hunt’s Castle
725 S. Water Street
Rockport, Texas 78382

I was in Rockport a few weeks ago and was trying to find the city’s famous beach – some say it’s the best beach – a blue wave white sand beach that’s a litter free swimmable lagoon. While searching for the beach, I saw the Texas Maritime Museum in the distance, across the street from a dock filled with fishing boats – a fitting place for a maritime museum.

The Texas Maritime Museum is one of a dozen museums statewide dedicated to preserving the state’s maritime history and displaying relevant artifacts to tell the story of the state’s sons and daughters life on the sea.

The museum houses artifacts that tell the stories of the Spanish flotilla that wrecked off Padre Island in 1554 including a 1:12 scale model of La Salle’s flagship Belle, which sank in 1687. The museum’s displays show the role of the Texas Navy in the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836 and during the years of the Texas Republic and describe the Civil War battles at Galveston and Sabine Pass. Its displays recounts major developments of the nineteenth century the development of the state’s seaports and lighthouses, artifacts recount the story of the disastrous Galveston Hurricane in 1900. And, the museums artifacts tell the story of the state’s maritime contribution to the 20th century – the state’s seaports’ role in the oil and gas industry – including a scale model of Bullwinkle – the largest offshore oil drilling platform ever built and the state’s maritime contribution to World War I and II.

The Texas Maritime Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

There’s also a great gift shop where you can buy hats, t-shirts, jewelry and nautical themed gifts including an adorable maritime coat rack that would be perfect for a beach house or a sailor’s bedroom.

Texas Maritime Museum
1202 Navigation Circle

While I was in Galveston recently I stayed at the newly re-opened Tremont House Hotel. The hotel lobby required extensive renovations after Hurricane Ike.

galvestThe Tremont’s four story atrium lobby – a popular design in the 1800’s – required extensive renovations after it was inundated with seven feet of water and muck. Walk inside and up the low slung staircase to the huge light filled lobby and you’re greeted warmly at the ornate marble registration desk. But, the lobby’s showcase is the imposing carved mahogany and mirrored backed Toujouse Bar. The bar itself is 18 feet long and made of carved rosewood that’s polished to a brilliant shine. The decorative Italian marble floors feature a white and gray design. The lobby café has just reopened and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It hadn’t reopened when I visited, though.

This is the third Tremont House. The first one opened in 1839 on the southwest corner of Post Office and Tremont Streets. A grand ball opened that hotel in honor of the third anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto which paved the way for Texas to become a Republic. In 1861, General Sam Houston made his last speech warning against the South seceding from the Union standing on the first Tremont’s north gallery. Four years later, a fire destroyed the first hotel while it was occupied by Confederate soldiers. A second Tremont House opened in 1872 two blocks from the original in the half block bounded by Tremont, Church and 24th Streets. The second hotel closed in 1928. The current hotel opened three blocks north of the second one in 1985 in what was once the headquarters of an import export business – the Leon and H. Blum Company – built in 1879. The Tremont House is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America program.

Three ghosts are believed to haunt the Tremont House – a Confederate soldier, a murdered businessman and Jimmy – a street urchin who was run over by a streetcar in front of the hotel. The soldier can supposedly be heard marching up and down the lobby hallway in front of the elevator bank. The businessman was murdered in the 4th floor hallway for his gambling winnings and continues to appear there. And, the final ghost is known as Jimmy. He supposedly plays with the bottles behind the lobby bar. Alas, I didn’t see or hear any ghosts during my overnight stay.

The large rooms are tastefully decorated in a black and white theme. The brass bed was comfy cozy. The large marble bathroom had a European towel warmer – a classy touch.

The Tremont House is located downtown just steps away from the Strand and the newly reopened 1894 Grand Opera House. Although the hotel isn’t right on the beach, you have use of the pool and have signing privileges at the historic Hotel Galvez which is right across from the seawall – giving you the best of both worlds. And, all this luxe comes at an affordable price – plus check the website for specials.
The Tremont House Hotel
2300 Ship’s Mechanic Row

The adage that when disaster strikes people come together to help each other was played out on the Bolivar Peninsula after Hurricane Ike struck and flattened many of the structures on the island, but not the character of the wonderful people I met on the peninsula last weekend.

Karen and Chris Gatlin – no relation, btw – own the Tiki Beach Bar and Grill in Crystal Beach. Just like many homeowners and business people, their restaurant was damaged by Hurricane Ike. Despite the damage, Karen and Chris were able to feed the people who stayed on the peninsula as well as the rescuers and first responders – for free - for months after the storm.

And now, not only do they need our support and business because they’re good Samaritans – their food is absolutely wonderful. I had the best grilled shrimp when I was visiting. They also serve something called the Crimp burger – a mixture of crab and shrimp that’s fantastically good.And, their regular burgers have been touted as the best in Southeast Texas. Plus, there’s a good vibe at the Tiki – interesting crowd, kitschy décor – perfect for part of your beach vacation.

The most harrowing story I heard was from builder/contractor Bob Anderson. Bob decided to stay and ride out the hurricane despite the evacuation warnings from officials. They first were going to stay in a house on the beachfront. But, as the storm surged they knew they had to get to higher ground. Bob eventually made it to the Rancho Carribe golf course pro shop. As the water began to rise, Bob climbed up into the rafters (seen in the photos below) where he held on for dear life for more than 12 hours as the waves and debris kept dashing his body into the concrete columns. Bob suffered two broken ribs and lots of bumps and bruises but survived the storm.

But that was just the beginning. Surviving the aftermath wasn’t going to be easy. Once the storm was over and the waters receded enough to put feet to the ground, Anderson began looking for transportation. He and a friend found a truck and began working on it to get it running. They went to a nearby mechanic’s shop and found the parts to fix the truck. And, just as they were able to get the truck to turn over, an alleged first-responder said he was commandeering the truck on behalf of President Bush. Well, Anderson was having none of that and he told the guy the truck wasn’t working – and just as the guy was out of sight – he started the truck and Bob was finally able to make his way to the mainland.

Tiki Beach Bar & Grill
1369 Highway 87
Crystal Beach

This is the final chapter of a three part series on Crystal Beach, read part 1 and part 2.