Web Extra (Archive) (94)
By Haley Dawson
Nothing awakens the Christmas spirit better than a brisk winter walk through a lighted wonderland. Candy canes are a must, and if you plan ahead, a thermos of hot chocolate with melting marshmallows creates the perfect accompaniment to such an excursion.
As a child, I spent many December evenings with my family exploring the numerous lighted displays around my hometown of Houston. Years later, I now find myself a resident on Austin’s famous 37th street, known for years as the unofficial “Christmas Lights Street,” and it has been a delight to watch the groups of sightseers stroll down the block, stopping to admire each home’s dedication to the holiday cheer.
My family also frequents the South Texas coast during the winter months, and it has recently come to my attention that folks down there present an interesting twist on holiday cheer: lighted boat parades. I have yet to witness one such event, but I can only imagine the spectacle they produce. I’ve made a vow to visit at least one this December, and I encourage anyone itching to get in the holiday spirit to do the same. Listed below are some of the best parades the coast has to offer.
Corpus Christi: Harbor Lights Festival
December 4. Corpus Christi Marina.
Festivities take place throughout the day with a number of vendors and holiday activities. The official ceremony begins at 6 with the lighting of a giant Christmas tree followed by a lighted boat parade. Visit www.harborlightsfestival.org, or call 361/633-7293.
Port Aransas: Carolers Afloat/Boat Lighting Parade
December 4, Roberts Point Park.
Sing Christmas carols aboard vessels as they cruise the city harbor in a lighted boat parade. Begins at dusk. Visit www.portaransas.org, or call 800/452-6278.
December 4, Little Bay.
Gather on either Broadway or Fulton Beach Road to watch as lighted boats cross the bay and participate in a contest sponsored by the Rockport Yacht Club. Boats are judged in several classes from sailboats and powerboats to commercial vessels. Visit www.rockport-fulton.org, or call 361/463-9641
December 4, Port Isabel/ South Padre Island.
For the 24th year, boats are judged at the White Sands Resort in Port Isabel and then travel through the Intracoastal Waterway to Louie’s Backyard on the Bay in South Padre Island for viewing and awards. The parade can be viewed anywhere along the waterway. Visit www.portisabel.org, or call 956/943-2262.
December 11, Kemah Boardwalk.
Lighted powerboats and sailboats cross the Clear Lake channel from the South Shore Harbor Marina and the Nassau Bay Lagoon to Galveston Bay. This year marks the 49th annual parade. Visit www.kemahboardwalk.com, or call 281/334-9880.
July Texas Highways features a story on voluntourism opportunities across the state. Texas Highways intern Sheri Alzeerah brings us the scoop on the Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s Pay It Forward package.
Just as volunteers give back to the community, the Four Seasons Hotel Austin hopes to give back to volunteers by offering bighearted guests a big reward – nearly 50 percent off their hotel room rate.
The hotel’s Pay It Forward package awards guests who volunteer with one of two local non-profit organizations during their stay with room rates starting at $225 per night, a savings of 46 percent.
“The feedback from guests who’ve done it is incredible.”
Guests can either serve meals at Caritas of Austin’s Community Kitchen or lend a hand to Keep Austin Beautiful by cleaning up litter downtown and helping with beautification projects near Lady Bird Lake.
“My favorite part is that people are able to come to Austin and see what an incredible city it is, but at the same time, once they leave, they’ve left it a better place,” says Kerri Holden, the hotel’s director of public relations.
Volunteers donate half a day to either charity to have access to Pay It Forward, giving guests the chance to stay in a lavish hotel without spending lavish amounts of money.
The Four Seasons Hotel Austin, a 291-room luxury hotel cradling the shores of Lady Bird Lake, boasts top-notch amenities – from flat-screen TVs to a heated saltwater pool. The hotel’s TRIO Grill & Bar whips up contemporary Texas cuisine and features a lively wine bar, a private dining room, and a terrace overlooking the lake.
The Pay It Forward program was originally scheduled to run from May 1 through September 6, 2010, but the hotel has added an extension. Pay It Forward will be offered again November 15 through February 28, 2011. “The feedback from guests who’ve done it is incredible,” says Holden.
Bookings can be made by calling 512/685-8100 or through http://fourseasons.com/austin. Rates are subject to availability. Bookings must be made at least 48 hours in advance.
Champion windsurfer Glenn McKinlay, who owns South Padre
Island’s On the Beach Surf Shop, spoke with Texas Highways Senior Editor Lori
Moffatt about the fortuitous life twists that took him from the coal mines of
northern England to the sunny shores of South Padre.
“I grew up in Nottingham, England, and my father was a coalminer, and my mother worked in a factory. So, like a lot of kids, I did what my father did, and I started working in the mines, too. This was in 1979.
“When I wasn’t at work or in school, I went skateboarding at the local youth club—kind of like the YMCA. And the guy at the youth club said he had found a new sport called windsurfing that he wanted us kids to try. So I’d go to the coast with a friend who lived across the street, and we got pretty good. The manufacturer of the boards was located in Nottingham, and the company took us under its wing, and started taking us to races.
“In 1983, we broke a world speed record for tandem windsurfing at Weymouth, England, in an event called the Weymouth Speed Trials.
“But I was still working at the mines. Then, some friends said they were going to Texas to go surfing and to visit their sister, who lived at Port Isabel. I came along on a five-week vacation, and loved it. I didn’t have to wear a wet suit, and there were dolphins swimming around me; it was pretty much like paradise.
“In South Padre, I met Gene Bagley, who was building a store called On the Beach. He had been in South Padre since 1976, and had a couple of other stores on the island. He said to me, ‘I need someone who knows about windsurfing. Can you be here in March, when I complete the store? You can take over the windsurfing sales portion.’
“So that was my release from the coal mines. I worked for him for 13 years, then took a detour and moved to Houston for awhile. A few years later, I talked to Gene, who said he was retiring and did I want to buy the store? I said sure.
“You never, never know where your sports can lead you. Life has some strange twists. I’ve learned to just go with them. Every time I sit back to think about my life, I’m just glad I found South Padre Island.”
When Dan and Cathy Brown aren’t taking care of avian and human visitors at the Hummer House B&B, you’ll likely find them fabricating gemstones ranging from topaz to amethyst, which they mount in custom-made rings, pendants, and earrings. Family members created the Browns’ signature facet design—a time-consuming, unusual cut that features a five-pointed star—in 1974, and Dan Brown established the Texas Gems company the same year. The Texas Legislature adopted the “Lone Star” design as the official Texas State Gemstone Cut in 1977.
Interestingly, Dan, who’s a geologist by training, uses three of the same pieces of equipment when he’s fabricating gems or helping band hummingbirds: a loupe, a digital micrometer, and a jeweler’s scale. “Both activities require the same attention to detail and hand-eye coordination,” he says.
For details about Texas Gems, visit www.hummerhouse.com/gems.htm or call (325) 255-2254.
Planning a Houston with Kids Getaway
My husband and I enjoy exploring different Texas destinations with our son and daughter-in-law and two grandsons. We usually plan at least one of these multigenerational getaways a year. Some general tips: We plan the trips so that arrival and departure do not fall in the middle of rush-hour traffic. Traveling with kids, we have learned to balance the types of events (only one museum a day, for example), to include some down time, and to make use of hotel swimming pools.
For our Houston visit, we opted for two one-night trips, centering one around the Space Center and Kemah Boardwalk, and the other around the Museum District (which also is near Hermann Park and the Houston Zoo.) We obtained discount tickets for some attractions online.
Where to Stay
A museum employee recommended we stay at Hotel ZaZa, and while I have been a happy guest there, it is too “boutique” for my little grandsons. My son chose Embassy Suites (2911 Sage Rd.), near the Galleria shopping area. Our $119 package included a complimentary full breakfast and happy hour, live swans in the lobby, a pool, and a hot tub. Call 713-626-5444; www.embassysuites.com.
The 52-room Boardwalk Inn at Kemah Boardwalk is 10 minutes away from the Space Center. We found a $109 online off-season deal. Call 281/334-9880; www.kemah.com.
Where to Eat
Pappas in Houston has a variety of restaurants, but for family outings, we can’t pass up the peppercorn ranch burger at Pappas Burger (5815 Westheimer Rd.). The $10 burger is so big that my husband and I usually split it. Call 713/975-6082.
James Coney Island, with 21 locations in the Houston area, is another local favorite. Its hotdog menu has expanded from The Original (mustard, chili sauce, and onions) to about nine different kinds of hotdogs, plus burgers. One of its locations (5745 Westheimer Rd.) is less than a block from Pappas Burger. Call 713/785-9333; www.jamesconeyisland.com.
GPS note: The address of the Johnson Space Center is 1601 NASA Parkway, but the GPS devices in both of our cars got confused on this road.
In the May issue, New York-based writer Margaret Shakespeare, who for two decades reported on endangered species and remote destinations for Wildlife Conservation magazine, writes about Texas’ critically endangered Attwater’s prairie-chickens.
A species of grouse, Attwater’s prairie-chickens were once abundant in the coastal plains of Texas and Louisiana, but have dwindled to fewer than 90 in the wild —a result of habitat loss, predation, and numerous threats brought on by the spread of imported fire ants.
Terry Rossignol, manager of the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge in Eagle Lake, tells me that because Attwater’s prairie-chickens nest on the grounds, scientists once believed that fire ants were killing chicks when they hatched. While this behavior has been observed, scientists now think the more immediate threat results from a depletion of the chickens’ primary food source: In areas where fire ants have invaded, there are far fewer insects to feed the chickens. Studies continue in this area, but on nesting grounds where the ants are controlled, more chicks appear to survive to adulthood.
If you’re interested in seeing the chickens, there are two places in Texas that offer opportunities to watch them in the wild—the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Refuge in Eagle Lake (979/234-3021; www.fws.gov) and the Texas City Prairie Preserve in Texas City, on Galveston Bay southeast of Houston (409/945-4677). During mating season, typically February through April (though last year, the season extended through May), the male chickens put on quite a show—stomping their feet, inflating the orangeish-yellow air sacs on their throats, and making a sound similar to blowing across the top of a soda bottle—all to attract a mate. The lengths we animals go to! (You can hear an audio clip of this performance—called “booming” in chicken circles—on the Web site of the National Attwater Prairie Chicken National Refuge.)
As Shakespeare explains in her story, Rossignol oversees captive-breeding efforts at sites across Texas, including the Houston Zoo, the Abilene Zoo, the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, the San Antonio Zoo, Sea World San Antonio, and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, as well as Texas A&M University. At most of these sites, visitors can’t see the chickens without making special behind-the-scenes arrangements. However, we think these sites are worth your support—not only for the enjoyment you’ll experience as you witness other species of the animal kingdom, but also in recognition of the work conservationists here do in bringing the Attwater’s prairie chickens back from the brink of extinction.
In the May issue’s Postcards section, we shine a spotlight
on the hamlet of Gruene—officially a historic district located in the New
Braunfels city limits—which celebrates a 35-year milestone this year. Pat
Molak, the businessman who purchased Gruene’s 1880s dance hall in 1975 and
kicked off the area’s renovation and resurgence, tells us that festivities will
continue throughout the year. Special concerts at Gruene Hall and associated
events will mark the 35th anniversary of his involvement with Gruene, as well
as the 35th anniversary of Gruene’s listing in the National Register of
Many of Gruene’s structures—some of which were established
in mid-19th-Century when Gruene was a cotton-ginning town— survive today as
inns, bars, boutiques, restaurants, and shops. For example, town founder H.D.
Gruene’s Victorian home now operates as the Gruene Mansion Inn, the 1870s
cotton gin now operates as the Gruene River Restaurant and Bar, H.D. Gruene’s
1903 mercantile now serves as the Gruene Antique Company, and Gruene’s 1922
electric gin now houses the Mexican restaurant Adobe Verde. You’ll find plenty
of information on the historic district’s Web site, www.gruenetexas.com.
As we were going to press with the May issue’s story on the Festival Institute at Round Top, we learned of a new book coming out—The Parisian Cowboy’s Guide to the Round Top Experience—that promised “the ultimate guide to antiquing, lodging, dining, and year-round activities.” Intrigued, I rang up author Gretchen von Rochow, who co-authored the book with fellow Round Top fan Kerry Rupp, to learn more.
“The book is a travel guide to Round Top and the surrounding Fayette County area,” von Rochow told me. “I’ve been interested in antiques for 20 years, mostly as a novice—collecting things I like. The cost, and the value, is usually secondary. Most antiques dealers will tell you to buy what you like, and if it happens to be collectible, that’s great.”
She acknowledges both the challenge and the thrill of Round Top’s twice-yearly antiques shows, which draw dealers from throughout the globe to sell their wares at more than 60 venues throughout the countryside. (The spring show takes place March 31-April 3—and yes! the bluebonnets are already blooming!)
“That the show is held in a very small town—population 77—and that it comprises many shows, each with its own style and merchandise, scattered along a 20-mile stretch of roadway, in fields and barns and tents, creates a very festive atmosphere,” she says. “It’s fun to see a 200-year-old French dining set in a field under a tent with hay scattered about. The show has everything from ‘shabby chic’ to refined antiques. My advice: If you see something you like, don’t wait—buy it, or someone else will.”
But the book concerns more than the two major shows. Along with details about Round Top’s long-running July Fourth celebration and coverage of the aforementioned Festival Institute, von Rochow and Rupp profile many of the businesses and attractions that make visiting the area a year-round pleasure. Learn more at www.theroundtopexperience.com.
See related: Taste: Triple delight of tres leches
Not ready to bake your own tres leches cake? Look to your local panaderias (Mexican bakeries). Also, Fiesta Marts in Austin, Houston and Dallas carry a crowd-pleasing tres leches for sale by the slice or whole cakes in various sizes.
Be forewarned. The minute you walk into a panaderia, your senses will be stimulated by the impressive display and smell of freshly baked goods, and some of their most fragrant ingredients, like cinnamon and anise. You will quickly discover that the tres leches aren’t necessarily the star of the show. The supporting cast of pan dulce (sweet bread) can definitely hold its own.
Some panaderias, like long-time family favorite Arandas Bakery in Houston, offer trays and tongs for customers to grab their own selections. This self-help method feels a bit more adventurous, but don’t feel cheated if you don’t get a tray to fill yourself. Having someone grab your selections for you (like they do at another family fave Mi Tierra in San Antonio) will help you practice moderation. Either way, you’ll walk out with a bag full of goodness.
PANADERIA HOT LIST
The following are some of the most popular items at panaderias.
- Pan de huevo (egg bread): A round yeast, mildly sweet bread with stenciled patterns of puffy white, yellow, pink or chocolate sugar topping.
- Empanadas: Traditional favorites are empanadas de calabaza
(pumpkin turnovers) and camote (sweet potato.) There also is an array of
fruit-filled empanadas in a flakier (pan fino) pastry.
- Marranitos (little pigs): Soft pig-shaped gingerbread molasses cookies.
- Polvorones: Bite-sized cinnamon shortbread dusted in sugar.
- Galletas: Yellow, pink or chocolate sugar cookies. Some come with colorful sugar spinklings, others with cherry centers. A favorite comes with cornflakes baked into the cookie and a cherry center.
- Semita de anis: A fragrant and delicious anise-flavored bread. Just sweet enough to enjoy alone with a cup of coffee.
Other panaderia offerings to look for and enjoy include bolillos (personal-sized white bread rolls), French-influenced cuernos (croissants), bread pudding, flan and candies like pralines and banderilla de coco, a popular coconut candy in the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag.
- Aranadas Bakery has multiple locations in Houston at 912 Fosbak, 713/694-1813; 8331-C Beechnut St., 713/771-3616; 9803 Gulf Fwy., 713/941-0100; and 11919 Eastex Fwy., 281/227-3600; www.arandasbakery.com.
- Fiesta Mart has multiple locations in the D/FW Metroplex, Houston, and Austin. Call 713/869-5060; www.fiestamart.com.
- Mi Tierra Cafe Y Panaderia, 218 Produce Row, San Antonio, 210/225-1262; www.mitierracafe.com.
Currently “Lit” Texas Drive-Ins:
Lamesa: Sky-Vue Drive-In: 806/872-7004; www.skyvuelamesa.com.
Lubbock: Stars & Stripes Drive-In: 806/749-SHOW; www.driveinusa.com
Midland: Big Sky Drive-In: 432/617-3001; www.bigskytheatre.com.
Abilene: Town & Country Drive-In: 325/677-9899; www.towncountrydrivein.com.
Tyler: Sky Vue Drive-In: 903/535-9993; www.tylerdrivein.com.
Amarillo: Tascosa Drive-In: 806/383-3882; www.tascosadrivein.com.
Clarendon: Sandell Drive-In: 806/874-0685.
Gatesville: Last Drive-In Picture Show: 254/865-8445.
Graham: Graham Drive-In: 940/549-8478; http://grahamdrivein.com/home.
Granbury: The Brazos Drive-In: 817/573-1311; www.thebrazos.com.
Mercedes: Wes Mer Drive-In: 956/565-9050; http://wesmerdrivein.com.
Rule: Tower Drive-In: 940/997-0137; .
Ennis: Galaxy Drive-In: 972/875-5505; www.galaxydriveintheatre.com.
Shiner: Crossroads Drive-In: 361/594-2257; www.crossroadsdrivein.com.
Midland: Big Sky Drive-In: 432/617-3001; www.bigskytheatre.com.
Hockley: Showboat Drive-In: 281/351-5224; www.theshowboatdrivein.com.