Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas cruising down the Buffalo Bayou

This might just be me, but I love saying the word 'bayou.' It could be because unless you live in the south, you never get an opportunity to say the word. And really, people living without a bayou have been missing out, because there's just something about saying "baaaa--youuuu" that is so fun.

So when I discovered that the Buffalo Bayou was offering Christmas cruises I had to check it out.

The rides are 30 minutes long and take place on their pontoon boats. But these aren't your regular everyday bayou rides. These ones are festive.

The boats are decked out for the season with decorations and a whole bunch of lights. But that's not all. There's also holiday music - Yay!!

There's only one drawback to the cruises; they only happen on three dates - November 29, December 13 and December 20.

So here's the deal: If you are looking for great family fun or a little festive romance - because nothing is more romantic than a moonlight cruise on the bayou - you have got to get there quick. They limit the boat rides to 20 people per trip and they don't take reservations.

Private tours are also available, so if you're looking for something to do as a family - call 713.752.0314 ext. 4.


When: November 29, December 13 and 20 - 4-8pm (weather permitting*)

Time: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Boat landing and pick up location is at Sesquicentennial Park at Preston and Bagby Street (in front of Mel Chin's stainless steel "Seven Wonders")

How much: $7 for adults and $5 for children (ages 4 -12) no strollers please. Cash only please

Parking: Parking is available in the Theater District parking garage and metered street parking

* Visit for cancellations due to weather.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Get 'naked' while shopping

I have a confession to make. I'm not big on shopping - especially during the holidays when the malls are crowded and my wallet is feeling light.

But that was before I discovered Naked Body & Bath in the Rice Village. They put the Zen back into shopping - and that's a good thing for tired, stressed out shoppers like me.


If you visit Naked, be prepared to take your shoes off. I mean it. They have this whole foot soak thing going on that is heaven...and it's free. Bonus!!

I admit I was reluctant to try it at first, just because I felt a little bit weird relaxing on the job, but then I figured I might as well give it a go. Besides, how could I write about it if I didn't know what it felt like?

So I plopped myself in one of the comfy chairs and let the "Naked" associate fill up the brass tub with hot water.

Then I prepared myself for the most relaxing shopping experience of my life.


When the people at Naked say their stuff is "naked", they mean it.

"Everything here is at least 95% natural - a lot of it is even more than 95%," said Janine Abmagr, one of the three co-owners of the store. "All of our handcrafted soaps, bath salts and scrubs come from natural ingredients."

This means that you're not going to find detergents or parabens in any of their stuff. Instead, the products are created to nourish your skin. They are also hypo-allergenic which makes them good for most people who happen to get rashes from everything.

HERE'S WHERE IT GETS FUN there I was resting in the foot bath, and letting my stress melt away as a fizzy bath ball moisturized my tired feet. And what was I thinking about? Was I thinking about my story deadline? Was I worried about how I was going to get everything done this week? Nope...all I was thinking about was what scents I would like.

You see, this is how it works. Everything starts fragrance-free and then you choose your own essential oils (or fragrance oils) to custom create your own bath products.

"You can choose one oil or you can mix a couple together. I've seen one customer mix up to seven in order to get the scent she was looking for," said Abmagr.

Once you pick your fragrance, the associate will add it to your product - whether it's a lotion, a bath salt or a scrub. It's fun to watch because she really does scoop everything into a mixing bowl and mix it up. But the customizing doesn't stop there.

"We have three types of lotions and three types of bath salts depending on your preference," said Abmagr. "Of course you can try them. That's our whole philosophy - try before you buy."

Hmmm...another decision? I think this calls for an additional soak in the footbath.


Even though I was relaxing the whole time, Naked Body & Bath did help me with my Holiday shopping.

By the end of the 10 minute foot soak (I choose a vanilla/honey/coconut scent), I was able to cross my sister-in-laws and a couple girlfriends off my list.

I would love to tell you what I got them, but sometimes they actually read my blog and I don't want to give it away. But let's just say, they all will have soft, great smelling skin in 2009.

Oh...and one more thing. Because most of the store is unpackaged, the "Naked" associates gift wrap your purchases in cute little boxes and bows so you don't have to - and it's completely complimentary.

It's a small thing, but just like the footbath, a little pampering goes a long way.


If you want to get Naked this holiday season, visit them at:

2516 Times Blvd Houston, Texas

PS: All this customizing isn't as expensive as you would think. My custom-made gift sets were around $25 each, but you can create your own for as little as $15.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Seduced into the "Twilight" zone

I admit it. I'm hooked. I tried to resist, but after hearing all the hype about Stephenie Meyer's best-selling series "Twilight," I finally caved and bought the books...and then I couldn't put them down.

Yes, it's true...I've been seduced into the Twilight zone!!!

Thankfully, I'm not the only one who has gone gaga over the whole girl-meets-vampire phenomena. Millions have read the series (there's 4 books and one online book). And now there's a movie that has fans lining up. In fact, according to Fandango, a company that tracks movie ticket sales, theaters have been selling up to five tickets per second.

And get this....they claim that Twilight advanced ticket sales have surpassed "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" sales.

So what's the big deal? Is it the magic? Is it the forbidden love? Is it the danger?

I'm convinced that it's a combination of it all.

Underneath all the supernatural fun, the story is your traditional romance. You know the one where the girl is just your average teenager who happens falls for someone totally out of her species -- kind of like I did for Kermit the Frog when I was five.

Of course, the hero of Twilight is a little less green than Kermit, and much more seductive. But then again, he was created to be irresistible to his prey -- namely humans. Sigh.

I'm not going to tell you anything more. You'll just have to read the book...or see the movie which just came out on November 21. Yay!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Girl About Town sweats buckets at the hottest yoga studio in Houston

A little bit of stretching, a little bit of deep breathing and a whole lot of sweating is what you'll be doing at YogaOne in Houston -- but believe me, you'll love it!

Located at 3030 Travis, YogaOne opened their doors the beginning of October, but they are already heating up Midtown with their state-of-the-art studio and expertly taught yoga classes.

"I go three to four times a week," said Grace Pangia, YogaOne member. "I was bored doing the treadmill and elliptical machine. I needed a new challenge."

So can yoga really challenge someone who already goes to the gym?


"I really love the Hot Hatha class," said Pangia. "I find it more challenging because you have to concentrate on the moves."

Hatha is one of the yoga classes taught at the studio. In the 90 minute class, the students go through 32 different poses that are designed to stretch out the body, improve strength and raise your heartrate.

But what makes this yoga sizzling hot is the heat they pump into the room. It's literally a balmy 105 degrees.

"The heat helps facilitate the stretch, and it cleanses your liver and your skin," said Nicole Haagenson, YogaOne Instructor.

Haagenson has been teaching Hatha yoga for six years, but she's only started teaching "Hot" Hatha, the studio's signature class.

"It's an excellent workout. It's comparable to running three miles," said Haagenson.

Okay...I know what you're thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. How can doing a few stretches in hot room give me the same workout as running?

So I took her up on the challenge and did a class.


Guess what? Yoga is tough. By the end of the class I was tired...and I did hydrate through the whole thing and I'm not exactly a fitness rookie. I run the Memorial Park Loop a couple times a week and do the treadmill on off days. I was certain that I could breeze though the class.

I also didn't expect to sweat, but sweat I did. In fact, I was shocked at how much water poured out of my body. It's going to sound disgusting, but I was dripping.

Thankfully, this was totally acceptable because everyone else was just as soaking wet as I was.

"Someone told me that your karma soaks into your mat," said Roy, YogaOne member.

Well, I couldn't deny that something was soaking into my mat. And neither could I deny the good karma that was all around the studio.

Everyone at YogaOne was nice and couldn't stop telling me all the good things about the studio. Most of students were new to yoga, but even the ones that were there for the first time, said they were coming back.

"It's additive," said Grace. "I love coming here. The instructors really seem to care about you and take the time to help you."

Roy, another member, told me almost the exact same thing.

"Unlike some places I've been to, the instructors here treat you well," said Roy. "I recommend the Explorer's Club. They'll spend one-on-one time with you to help you get into the poses."

As for me, the Hot Yoga was definitely something I would try again. I slept really well that night and my body did feel more relaxed, so the stretching helped. Plus, they told me that once I do it a couple more times, I'll feel re-energized. You can't beat that.

So here's the scoop on Yoga one:

1) If you plan on doing the hot yoga, bring lots of water and a towel. You're going to need it.

2) Hot Hatha is suitable for people of all fitness levels, but if you don't like it, they do teach Ashtanga yoga (the yoga Madonna does), Vinyasa yoga, a slow flow stretch class and something they call the Explorers Club for those who want to perfect their moves.

3) On Sunday at 4:00 they teach a free Pranayama breathing class.

4) They also teach a belly dance class on Thursday night.

Oh...and they have an introductory special going on right now. Until the end of November, you can get 10 days of yoga for $10. Now that's one hot deal.

See you on the mat. Until then...ommmmmm.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Kicking back at the Latin Grammy After Party

I must admit that have a weakness for Latin music. But I didn't realize how much I missed it until I walked into the George R. Brown Convention Center and heard Oscar d'Leon belting out a popular salsa tune during the Latin Grammy after party.

It only took a verse, and I was already moving to the music and ready to take in the Latin Grammy nightlife.

Now let me just say that after the Latin Grammy Awards show on Thursday night, there were parties everywhere throughout the city, but there is only one "official" after party...and that is one put on by the Academy.

The official party is a black tie affair and only Academy members, Grammy nominees and winners, and special guests are invited - or at least is that is what I was told. I'm sure there were some other people there-- but don't worry, your secret is safe with me.

For those of you that were there, you know that night which was sponsored by Heineken was filled with great food, fabulous Mojitos and unforgettable music.

The night began with a performance by up-and-coming Latin artist De la Ghetto.

Ghetto has just recently released a few songs, and while his name sounds like he should be tough and scary, he was a really down-to-earth guy when I talked to him. And for the girl-fans out there, he really is kind of sweet.

Ghetto's performance was followed by the legendary Latin superstar Oscar d'Leon, who I totally love. Like I said, I enjoy Latin music, but had no idea that d'Leon sang so many of my favorite songs.

But what made my night was Frankie Needles.

Frankie was the official host, emcee and DJ of the event. It was his third year doing the official after party for the Latin Grammys, but what I didn't know was that Frankie took his job as "host" serious.

No really...Frankie made sure that me and my photographer, Christine DiStadio, not only met De la Ghetto and d'Leon, but made sure that we got pictures of most of the stars that were present at the show including actress Claudia Camacho and singer/songwriter Melissa Jimenez from Kumbia AllStarz.

Of course, Needles is a superstar himself. He's has a cable show on mun2 called "One Nation Under Hip Hop." He also has a syndicated radio program on LBC and Westwood "One called The Top 20 Latin-Urban Countdown. But what you may not know is that Needles is big into helping new artists.

He found De la Ghetto and made sure he got into the Grammys, and he's also worked with other artists over the last 10 years.

"It's what I like to do," said Needles. "I know what it's like to start out in this business, so I try to help new artists break into the music scene."

Needles is true to his word. He's even in the process of making his first album that will include a mix of new and well-known artists - many of whom he helped break into the business. He told me that many of the songs for the CD, which is due out in January, are already done.

"Pooh Bear, who produced a couple of Usher's songs, helped with the first song,"

said Needles. "I'm also doing one that combines the talents of a Cuban band with the Marley's from Jamaica."

But while Needles career is booming, Thursday night, he was there for the attendees. It was all about having fun and making sure that the crowd that included actresses, Grammy winners and everyday people were having a good time.

"It's like doing a big wedding," said Needles, when asked how he decides which songs to DJ. "You have to spin the music in a way that pleases everyone."

That's a hard job when your audience includes Mexicans, Cubans, Columbians and other Latinos, as well as newbies like me. (That's me pointing at Frankie in the photo to the right).

But when it was Frankie's turn up on stage, I was amazed. He was even more fabulous than the Urban Hip Hop videos I had watched. He was able to mix pop music with Latino mix with Hip Hop classics.

Once he got up there up in the booth and began mixing up his magic Latin beat, it was non-stop dancing all night.

Naturally, I had to do a little salsa dancing too...because how often do you get to attend the Latin Grammy after party? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's hot and fabulous in the Latin Grammys swag bags?

It seems everyone I meet is getting in on the Latin Grammy action this week. My co-workers will be reporting from the red carpet, I'll be hanging out at the after-party interviewing celebs and watching the very cool Frankie Needles who will be DJing the event.

Even my friends who aren't working that night have either bought tickets to the show or are seat-fillers and ushers. But none of that compares to what one Houstonian is doing.

"I'm a personal shopper for the celebrities," said Jennifer Joseph.

Yup...that's right. Jennifer has one of the coolest volunteer jobs that I've discovered so far at the Grammys. She and a bunch of other volunteers, including Cynthia Alcocer, Guadalupe Velasco, and Zhenia Angles, will be personally guiding the Latin Grammys nominees down an aisle filled with vendors to help them pick out what they would like in their gift bag.

"We get to meet them AND help them shop," said Cynthia. there anyone in particular they really want to meet? Most of the girls were too shy to tell me, but Guadalupe had her favorite celeb already picked out.

"Eugenio Siller. He is in a Mexican Telenovelas," said Guadalupe.

While I wouldn't mind meeting Eugenio myself, I wasn't there for the Latino eye-candy. I was there to find out what free stuff they would be getting -- with the help of Jennifer and her newly acquired celebrity shopping skills.


In total, there were 10 vendors who had merchandise ready to give away to the presenters and nominees. The cost for each of the items is approximate, but based on the retail values we found on the internet -- a full swag bag would contain close to $1,200 worth of merchandise, not including the free trip.

If you were Latin Grammy talent, here is what you would get:

Maru and Friends Doll
Maru and her friends are new to the doll market, but are becoming popular among the celebrity class. Each doll is sculpted by award-winning American doll artist, Dianna Effner, who has been making collectible porcelain dolls for over 25 years. The dolls are famous for their realistic childlike features and each one of the dolls is one of a kind.

"They have the detail of a porcelain doll, but are safe and fun to play with like regular dolls," said Maritza Gutierrez, Creator.

The Latin nominees can pick out a doll of their choice and a "Forever Friends" story book. Together, the doll and book are worth approximately $100.00

Houston's Own Xtreme Lashes
Xtreme Lashes is a Houston-based company that usually does shows like this in other cities. But this time they were thrilled to have the opportunity to "extend" their services to the 9th Annual Latin Grammy Awards.

That's because in addition to providing presenters and nominees with a gift bag filled with eye makeup remover, a heated lash curler and more, the stylists will also apply eyelash extensions of the talent's choice ($300 and up value) for free.

"We have a booth set up and can apply the lashes right now if they want, or we can do it in their hotel room later on," said Jo Mousselli, company president. "With celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Estefan coming to the show, you never know who will need our services."

The semi-permanent lashes are available in various lengths, colors, thicknesses and curl, so the Latin stars have the chance to go as wild, or as natural, as they want.

GoChi Juice
GoChi is the juice of the stars. Retailing at $50 a bottle, just four ounces of this stuff will help you sleep better, relieve stress, and increase your energy. The berries are harvested from the Himalayans and are packed full of nutrients.

Latin celebs will also get to try Chi3 which is a new powerful energy drink that has only 16 calories and 3 grams of sugar. Not bad considering Red Bull has 110 calories and Rockstar has 420.

Luxury Vacation in Cabo Villas
Ah...the trip. After working hard all year long, what Latin performer doesn't need a luxury vacation in the "heart of the Cabo?" Cabo Villas Beach Resort is giving away gift certificates for three day and two night vacations at their beach resort and spa. But they aren't just giving away a traditional room. The celebs will get to stay in one bedroom deluxe suites.

"If you have never been, you need to go there. It's heaven," said Sabrina Franchini, Marketing and PR Manager for the resort.

Thirsty Bathrobes
I must say, these were nice, and range in price from $100-$200 depending on which one you picked out. Made from Turkish cotton, the bathrobes felt soft and luxurious.

"We're a family owned company from Pennsylvania. My mom is the owner," said Duygu, who was there at the show. "For the celebrities, we are featuring a special Swarovski crystal robe."

Redken Hair Products
Redken was offering celebs their complete line of "Real Control" hair care products. The Latin superstars could get everything from shampoo and conditioner, to the hair repair and leave-in treatments.

"The line was especially designed for dense, coarse hair to help keep it in control," said Kaz Amor, who is one of Redken's partners from West Hollywood . "But some of them, like the overnight treatment, works for all hair types."

The total line is worth approximately $75.

Chi Flat Irons and Other Chi Products
Chi is famous for their ceramic flat irons. But when it comes to handing out celebrity treats, the company holds nothing back. The lucky Latin nominees will receive a Chi Digital Ceramic Flat Iron that comes in a little bag ($80), the full color line of Chi nail polish ($50), a Miss Chi bath and perfume gift set ($50), and a scented candle. Men can choose clippers and trimmers.

"We use NASA technology to develop our products. Even our nail polish is made using CHI ceramic for long lasting durability," said Jessica Marie Gutierrez, Public Relations Manager for the company.

Gayle Gaston Jewelry
It's not a true swag bag unless it has a little bling, and Galye Gaston's jewelry designs have the shine to make it happen.

"The women will be getting rhodium plated sterling silver earrings with high intensity cubic zirconia," said Santago Postigo, who works as the company's International Director of Sales & Marketing.

But if the $40 earrings weren't enough, the celebrities could also choose from a wide array of necklaces, bracelets and rings.

Cubavera Clothing for Men
Now, this was something strictly for the men, but something that the women would love. Cubavera clothing is a men's line that embraces the Latin culture. The clothes are modern, stylish and casual. Priced around $60, Latin Grammy presenters and nominees could pick out a shirt -- or two -- so that they would not only look good during the show, but anytime.

Oh, and the clothes not only look good, but they are environmentally friendly. They are made from 100% organic fibers.

Sinceramente Hallmark
The Latin Grammy swag bag offers something for everyone. There are even Spanish singing greeting cards with actual famous singers such as Luis Miquel.

"This collection is new from Hallmark and we are giving the Latin Grammy celebrities a gift bag with 10 Spanish singing greeting cards," said Noeida Kuhnert, Business Manager of Sinceramente Hallmark. "We also have boom box cards that are really loud."

With so many things to choose from, what happens if a celebrity just wants one of everything?

"No problem. We can do that," said Jennifer. "They can have whatever they want."

Jennifer and the other volunteers will be leading the celebrities through the booths until 9pm on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday afternoon.

Distinctive Assets is the company behind this year's Latin Grammy gift bags (they've done for the last eight years). They said that the gifts that I saw were for only one of the two gift bags the celebs will receive.

Talent will also get another bag full of fabulous items from companies such as Pardon By Spanglish by Bill Santiago, Verizon Wireless, Banyan Tree Mayakoba, B&B Fit, Context Global, The Sports Club, Hilton Los Cabos, Traveling Bear and more.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Crave Cupcakes: It's a cupcake kind of day

Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry...oh my! The hardest part about going to CRAVE Cupcakes in Houston is choosing which flavor you want. Of course, this could be the reason why people go back time and time again...and why the five month old Uptown Park bakery has become a popular place for Houstonians with a craving for sweets.

"It's a good corner to be in," said Brad Dorsey, one of the three partners for CRAVE Cupcakes. "We felt Houston was the right place to be, and so far, our customers agree."

I had to agree with Dorsey. I've been to the place twice in less than a week (all in the name of research - I swear), and both times, it was packed with people looking for a little sweet indulgence.


You'll be happy to hear that CRAVE is owned by three Texans, which could one of the reasons for their success -- as I'm learning that when Texans do something, they do it big and they do it right.

But one of the real reasons their cupcakes are so addictive has to do with the company's philosophy.

"We like to keep things simple. There are only a few ingredients in the recipes. There are no preservatives and no artificial colors or flavors," said Dorsey.

In fact, the pink colored icing on their strawberry cupcakes is actually made from real strawberries - which explains why it tastes so good. But then again, everything at CRAVE tastes incredible...and here's why:

"We source the finest quality ingredients including American artisan butter, Texas milk products, Belgium chocolate and even Madagascar vanilla," said Dorsey.

So which flavor is the customers' favorite? According to Dorsey, the strawberry cupcake is pretty popular, followed by the Red Velvet. But the CRAVE customer doesn't just stop at the basics.

"A lot of our untraditional flavors have been doing well, such as the cinnamon cupcake and the cranberry and orange flavor. The apple cupcake is also doing well," said Dorsey. "We've had to increase our batter batches just to keep up with the demand."


You know how they say "good things come in small packages?" Well, this is especially true at CRAVE cupcakes. That's because for a limited time, they're going to offer special cupcake flavors inspired by the holidays.

"Starting on November 10, we're going to have a pumpkin cupcake with cinnamon cream cheese icing," said Dorsey.

But wait, there's more. On December 1, CRAVE will introduce a gingerbread cupcake with cream cheese icing and a little gingerbread man on top, along with a yummy eggnog cupcake with nutmeg frosting.

I don't know about you, but the holidays just got a little bit sweeter.


So while I was doing a little taste-testing, I learned a couple of more things about the bakery. Did you know that their forks are made from cornstarch and their plates are made from sugarcane? I didn't know that either.

But I should have guessed. Every detail in the place has been carefully thought out -- from the sleek and sophisticated decor, right down to the environmentally friendly cutlery.

"We try to source things locally whenever possible," said Brad. "Our coffee comes from a local roaster, and our bottled water comes from a spring in Jasper County."

Dorsey also said that they ground and brew their coffee by cup so the customer gets the freshest tasting coffee possible each and every time.


I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is CRAVE Cupcakes only has one location and it's at Uptown Park at 1151-06 Uptown Park Blvd. The good news is that if their business keeps growing, they may consider expanding to other places next year.

"We are only five months old, so we want to make sure that we can be consistent before branching out," said Dorsey.

In the meantime, if you live in the Houston area and don't want to drive all that way, they do deliver.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hotel Icon's Voice: Go for the duck

Just like me, the restaurant Voice in the Hotel Icon is fairly new to Houston. Opening in April 2008, the restaurant is where The Bank used to be in the Hotel Icon on Congress and Main. In fact, if you go, you'll still see the big vault door from the days when the building actually was a bank.

History aside, the food is spectacular, and the other foodies I met at the restaurant agreed.

"We came a couple of times when this was The Bank. At first, it was great and then they changed the chefs. We came again and didn't like the menu," said one couple. "This is our first time coming back since they reopened."

Executive chef Michael Kramer has created a menu that has a little something for everyone. He dubs his style as "Progressive American," and melds classic French techniques with a South Texas and Gulf Coast focus.

To put his melding to the test, I started my meal with his Gulf Blue Crab Cakes, and I must say he passed with flying colors. The crab cakes were the best I've had in Houston so far.

But that was just the beginning of my culinary experience. Let me tell you about the duck. It was fabulous, and days later, I'm still craving more.

In the last couple of years, duck has become the new chicken. However, not everyone knows how to cook it so that it's tender. I'm happy to report that Chef Kramer isn't one of those chefs. He is the master when it comes to duck.

The duck he makes at Voice is Honey Laquered and it will melt in your mouth. It comes with a fig mostarda (which is like a fig puree/gravy) on the side that complimented the flavor of the meat perfectly. I must admit that I practically licked my plate clean and was tempted to order another serving just because it was so good.

But if you don't have time for dinner, dropping in for a drink at the lounge is also worth it. Some customer favorites include the Spicy Man-Go with tequila and mango puree, the Scarlett Jo made with Southern Comfort, and the Lemon Drop Martini.

But at the recommendation of the couple beside me, I decided to get the classic Cosmopolitan.

Now normally, I'm not a Cosmo drinker just because I think it was over done in 'Sex in the City'. They also tend to be too sweet or taste like Kool Aid.

This was not the case at Voice. In fact, a Cosmo there is not going to be red. Instead, the drink is going to be as it should be - slightly pink-tinged. The flavors of citrus, Cointreau and cranberry were perfectly balanced. And while I still love a good dirty martini, after having this one, I may try a Cosmo again.

One of the reasons, I decided to go to Voice was because I had read that its d├ęcor was breathtaking. And it is.

It's classic, but with a contemporary edge that includes cowhide-back barstools.

But while it is nice and tastefully done, I found that the one thing the place was lacking was atmosphere. It was a little too perfect and it felt like you were eating in hotel. It's missing some of that warmth that you get when eating at other Houston venues.

Even with that being said, I would go back to Voice. The duck was just too good to pass up.

Monday, November 3, 2008

California Dreamin' with The Beach Boys in Galveston

Who needs California when you've got Galveston? Sure they get hit with hurricanes every 20 years, but California's got those massive earthquakes. It seems that if you want to live in paradise, you've got to be willing to lose everything ...and then laugh about it.

At least, that 's the way the 7,000 fans attending The Beach Boys concert in Galveston saw it.

I spoke to people who no longer had homes, were living off of family and friends, and had lost everything. Then there were the people that had their house, but were still struggling to make it a home.

"Well, it's livable. There's no power, but we're living in it," said one Beach Boy fan.

Man, that's harsh. But these beach-side Texans are tough. They knew what to expect, unlike Gail and Brooks Hirsch who had moved to Galveston from New Jersey just two years ago.

"We rode out the storm. We thought it would be like a New York blizzard and we could just shovel out the next day. Nobody told us about all the water," said Gail, while laughing.

But while Hurricane Ike hovered in the background of these people's lives, the future was sending them some good vibrations - and it was starting with Moody Gardens' Beach Boys concert that doubled as an affordable fundraiser (lawn tickets were only $20 and part of the ticket proceeds went the United Way).

After a month and a half of cleanup, Galveston was ready to open their doors to tourists and locals, and there is no better way to do it than with the boys of summer - California's own Beach Boys.

The gates opened at 5 p.m., with the first band, The Intercoastal Pirates hitting the stage at 6:30. They warmed up the audience with their mix of 60s and 70s music.

The next band was a local favorite from Baytown, called the Coastliners. (That's me in the red jacket getting quick interview withTommy Meekins)

"Back in the 1960s, we were called the Gulf Coast's answer to The Beach Boys," said Tommy Meekins, singer and keyboardist for the band.

The Coastliners had six number one hits in the 1960s, and toured with bands including Sonny and Cher, and Roy Orbison. Over 40 years later, the band is still performing with many of their original members and a couple of new additions.

"My son joined the group when we reformed in 1998. He plays lead guitar," said Tommy.

The Coastliners thrilled the audience with hits from the 1960s and 1970s. They also played a few of their original songs that got the crowd out of their lawn chairs and dancing away.

And then it was the moment the crowd had been waiting for. It was time for Mike Love and The Beach Boys to hit the stage. I tried to get an interview with Mike Love, but he's a slippery little devil. Even though I staked myself out backstage, he snuck right past me. It wasn't until the lights when up on the stage that my photographer and I realized we missed him.

But so did all the other fans waiting behind the stage. Not that it mattered. We weren't there to talk; we were there for some California Dreamin'. And after singing and dancing under the stars, The Beach Boys gave their fans the relief they needed from the storm.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Luling: It's on the barbeque trail - really!

Once called the toughest town in Texas, Luling is now famous for being medium-rare. But this time their fame comes from their barbeque, and not from the residents - although I'm sure you can find a couple tough old Texans hanging around if you really looked.

I didn't meet up with any, but I did come across the town's two barbeque joints: City Market and Luling Barbeque.

So here's a question that you might be able to answer: Which one of these is the best?

Both of the barbeque places, which are located down the street from each other, claim to be the best, so I decided I was going to try both. Unfortunately, City Barbeque was closed on the Sunday that I decided to take my trip down the Texas Barbeque Trail (yes, this trail really does exist -- there is even a website), so I had to settle with only trying Luling Barbeque.

I'm glad I did. I can't say it was the best barbeque I've ever had, but you did get a lot for your money. Their menu includes brisket, pork ribs, chicken, sausage, and pork tenderloin. Combination plates are available with choice of two sides including potato salad, coleslaw, pinto beans, and macaroni and cheese for less than $7.

I had the chicken with scalloped potatoes and beans, and my friend got the pork ribs with macaroni and cheese. While my chicken was pretty good and better than most barbeque places I've been to, it was my scalloped potatoes that won me over. They were the real deal.

But if you do go to Luling, go at the end of June. That's when they have the Luhling annual Watermelon Thump, which may be the only chance you have in your life to become a melonhead for a day. No really...they have pictures of people wearing these things on their heads.

During the Thump, there are watermelon eating contests, watermelon seed spitting contests, watermelon auctions, parades and even bands.

I might have to go back for the seed spitting contest. There's something about it that tells me it's going to be one melon of a good time!