San Jose Island

St. Joe's Island

San Jose Island (also known as St. Joe’s or Saint Joseph’s) is a pristine island accessible by ferry from Port Aransas. Uninhabited with vehicle traffic prohibited, it’s a pristine beach great for sea shell collecting. 21 miles long, one brochure I read said that the best way to see the island is to rent bikes with sand tires and take them on the jetty boat to the island.

Waiting for the Jetty Boat

All set to explore, my sister, my nephew and I headed to the island on the 10 am Jetty Boat. The heat index was going to be pretty high (over 100 degrees), so we opted to go early, pack a picnic lunch and made plans to splash around in the water rather than hoof it too far around the island. The boat ride was short and pleasant (less than 10 minutes). We unloaded with our beach bag and picnic basket ad headed down the jetty to the shoreline. I was glad we weren’t laden down with more things because it was a bit of a walk to lug our stuff to our beach spot. More experienced (and better prepared!) beach goers rented carts at Fisherman’s Wharf for $10 for the day. We saw several families with rented carts loaded with tents, boogie boards, fishing poles, coolers etc. ready for a full day on the island. There are no facilities on the island, so bring plenty of water if you go in the heat of summer. Ferry’s run about every hour, but be sure to check the return schedule.

San Jose Dunes

We spent two delightful hours on St. Joe’s. The waves were gentle and the water clear. There were a few families with us on the beach but fairly well spread out. My sister and I ate our sandwiches standing in the water to keep watch over my nephew who couldn’t be bothered to get out! We eventually convinced him to take a stroll down the beach (he splashed and played his way along behind us) to look for shells. My sister found a tiny sand dollar about the size of a dime. I was surprised to not see more shells on the shoreline. We stayed along the stretch of beach that would be easily accessible from the ferry by foot, so perhaps if we’d ventured farther along the shoreline by bike, and maybe earlier in the day, we would have seen more shells. After the stroll and a little more time in the water, we caught the 12:10 ferry back to Port A and for us, that was a perfect amount of time.

Taking a beach break

Heading home!

Heading home!

Is the Beach Safe?

I’ve received two calls over the past week from guests concerned about the bacteria counts in the water at the coast and one about shark attacks. Heavens! Worries can sure ruin a vacation. We have had a ton of runoff from the recent rains which unfortunately is impacting the contaminate (bacterial, viral or protazoan) counts in some locations. Thank goodness for www.texasbeachwatch.com from the General Land Office. Check out the map to see the status of the water near your location. Samples are taken once a week during the peak summer season and every other week the rest of the year. When beaches have a high contaminant level, an advisory is posted and levels are supposed to be tested every 24 hours until considered safe.

The beach over July 4th weekend in Pointe West.

The beach over July 4th weekend in Pointe West.

I found this news release from the Galveston County Health Department about the hot topic (http://www.gchd.org/press/2015/July-4-beach-advisories-press-release.pdf):

Scott Packard, Galveston County Health District spokesperson states, “Advisories are not uncommon after periods of heavy rain. Rain runoff from across the state flows into rivers and streams and eventually the Gulf. It’s a natural process that sometimes briefly increases bacteria levels at a handful of testing locations.” Advisories typically last just a few days, sometimes less, and are primarily aimed the people with weakened immune systems or open cuts or wounds. In fact, it’s routine for GCHD to recommend people with such health issues to consult their healthcare provider before swimming in untreated water, anywhere, anytime. The beach water advisory is simply a reiteration of that message. “If you are a healthy adult, you have little reason for concern when such advisories are issued,” said Packard. “If you are at a beach that’s under advisory and have concerns, we simply encourage you to go a block down the street to another one of the many beaches without an advisory.”

No worries at Pointe West over the 4th of July weekend. We got in the water and had a great time!

Tropical Storm Bill – You Nearly Gave me a Heart Attack

Hurricane Season – I’m not ready.

Having a beach house on the coast isn’t for the faint of heart. We’ve already had an incredible year of storms and we are only 17 days into the 2015 Hurricane Season. The month of April was a monster and the storms over the 17th/18th resulted in two new roofs – one on each beach house!! I thought having homes in two different parts of the coast would protect us (somewhat) from doing major repairs from storms on each house at the same time. Well, not so my friends!

One of my Pointe West neighbors had a indoor security camera running and caught the storm on video. We had a mini tornado with 100 mph winds. The wind and hail in Galveston were incredible and seriously, why ANYONE would not evacuate in a hurricane, I have no idea. It was terrifying just watching the video and listening to the wind howl (yes it sounded like a train) and the hail pound and the hanging light in the foyer start to sway in the worst of of the wind. HOLY MOLY. The hail sounded like someone dumping rocks on the house. In case you are wondering, no one was at our place at the time.  Thank heaven!!  My first experience putting in a claim with TWIA and new roof and new paint job and Las Brisas is back in business thanks to Morgan Roofing and John Brock Painting.

Now all the wind and rain we had took a toll on the Port A home as well. But, sadly, that roof was just OLD and worn out and had to be replaced. Good thing that house is cute because it’s a bit of a pain. The blue roof they had to rip off, actually had been put on OVER a tan roof which also had to be ripped off, resulting in lots of extra work and a bit of a schedule delay.

The roof in progress:

Port a roof in progress

finished roof side Finished Roof back

We were very happy with Ricky at Upgraded Roofing and the job they did.  I think the grey of the roof makes the house look even more blue. Of course that gorgeous sky also helps. Perfect beach day!

And now onto Tropical Storm Bill – 16 days into the hurricane season. Seriously! I JUST put TWO NEW ROOFS on the beach houses. I was glued to the twitter feed from Galveston County OEM  (@galvcountyoem) and the Nueces County OEM (@nuecesoem) as well as the National Hurricane Center – Atlantic Ops (@NCH_Atlantic) for about 24 hours. My phone buzzed like crazy with updates. They were incredibly informative on the status of the storm. I was also in frequent communication with the guests at Las Brisas. Nothing indicated that it would be nearly as bad as the April storm, so I was not at all concerned for the guests at the house. It would be windy and rainy, but that’s about it. Gusts up to 40 mph. Luckily for all of us, the storm came ashore over Matagorda Bay – between Port Aransas and Galveston. And luckily, it moved just enough that the Galveston house received some rain, but not nearly as much as it could have been. Port A actually got more rain today, the day after the storm, than it did in the storm. My housekeeper said that some places may have received 5 inches of rain in an hour. Glad to have that new roof!!

Here’s hoping the REST of the summer is free from storms of any sort and full of sunshine.

I saw this at HomeGoods (my favorite store) this week and despite the drama and the trouble with homes on the coast, the statement is true. Let’s go to the beach!

Heaven closer

Gearing up for Summer 2015

I’m so excited! We put an ad in the May edition of Houston House and Home. Every May they run a “Galveston Island Guide.” The ad is on page 51 on the right side of the page. I was especially happy that we were able to put the vrbo links in for both houses – Port A and Galveston. We’ve only advertised via websites before, so I’m interested in seeing if this impacts web traffic to the Pinterest boards, the Facebook pages, the blog and of course the inquiries.

We were in Port Aransas for Easter – one of my favorite times to be there. The community gathers at sunrise for a short worship service at Robert’s Point Park. This year we were lucky enough to see a lot of dolphins and were there at just the right time for a ship to pass through the channel.

Dolphin in front of ship

Dolphin in front of ship

While there we also had the chance to relax, did a little geocaching and replaced the old refrigerator. This one has bins that are whole and work!

Geo caching is great fun for family time at the beach! Walking the jetty in Port Aransas is a family adventure! Everyone gets to work with the family vacation rental!

The coast had some terrible storms in mid and late April. Lots of damage in the Pointe West community to window screens and roofs. There were report of 100 mph winds and a tornado. One of my neighbors shared the video from their security camera – it was terrifying! The screaming of the wind, inside pendant light started to sway ever so slightly and the hail sounded like someone was pummeling the house with rocks. I love being at the beach, but, I am so very glad we weren’t there for that. Holy Moly it was intense. Thus far, we’ve only needed to replace a screen. However, enough of the roofs nearby are needing to be replaced, we are having ours inspected. I’m headed down shortly to do the seasonal restock of supplies at the house in Galveston and will find out more about the storm damage.

2015 is a big year for us – Bruce turned 50, one kiddo 16, the other one 18 and she’ll graduate in about 5 weeks! In between the usual busy and the celebrations, it’s been great to get away to the coast with the family. Life is about to change for us and it’s a precious thing to be aware of that in the midst of it. Enjoy those beach days friends!

Life in Gerunds

As we enter these last two months of 2015, I’m either too busy or not busy enough, sometimes in the same day! It’s entering the quiet season for the beach houses, but continuing the busy season of fall activities for the family: college search travel, lacrosse tournaments, goat and horse shows. In the three weekends past, we’ve covered North Texas, Coastal Texas (The Blue Roost in Port Aransas), and West Texas. And in the weeks to come various members of the family will see Orlando, Galveston at Las Brisas, Boston and Chattanooga. And then it will be Christmas when international students with Christmas International House will come to us!

I saw this at my friend Kristen’s blog this week and loved the idea. So, in the midst of the busy, here are my gerunds 🙂

Traveling: everywhere and

Enjoying: being home this weekend!

Cleaning: the kitchen. Does that ever end?

Reading: Grain Brain – all I can say is hold on to your hat if you read this one! Also reading The Third Plate – beautifully written story about our food. I love non fiction.

Listening: to NPR, always. Music makes me cry. Well, so do some of the stories on NPR….

Walking: around the neighborhood with my husband and pup.

Working: on social media for the beach houses

Trying: to stay ahead with record keeping of finances in prep for the FAFSA (college financial aid form) in January

Praying: for my kids and my friends JJ and John and their families

Dreading: cleaning the pool today

Enjoying: lunch plans with husband. We love Freebirds 🙂

Needing: motivation to get started on that accounting….

Believing: in peace in the midst of chaos

Seeing: a beautiful day outside my kitchen window – cool, crisp, bright and lovely

Wishing: time would slow down just a pinch!!

Any others?

Sunset and the Lydia Ann Lighthouse

Dreaming: Sunset and the Lydia Ann Lighthouse

Traveling Light

Galveston, You Look Good

Another vacation rental summer has nearly come to a close. As school started this week, I spent some time merging all the necessary calendars – school, lacrosse, FFA, church, vacation rental bookings etc. Good thing I did because this week worked out to have the best open days to head to the beach house in Galveston. I did the usual end of season status check: extra cleaning and painting, inventory the supplies, etc. all the while having an HGTV marathon with Property Brothers and Fixer Upper. It always takes me about 24 hours to settle into being at the coast whenever I come, even if it’s supposed to be for vacation.  I get here, work hard and usually get to sleep very late the first night,  but I’m especially manic when I come alone!

There were flood warnings most of the day and half the cul-de-sac beside us is a swimming pool. Happily, there are no mosquitos about and the breeze has an ever so slight promise of fall in it.  As I sit here writing this, the sun is gilding everything around. After seeing nothing but heavy rain for most of the day, the sun breaking through is a welcome sight. Against the backdrop of the next storm clouds rolling in, it’s also spectacular. As the sun sets, the water is tinged with gold, lavender and now peach. It is a beautiful night. I’m very glad I’ve settled down in time to enjoy it.

2014 Las Brisas sunset

Sunset over pond out back

 

Sunset over cul de sac

Sunset over cul de sac

4 Great Things about Traveling – and Bringing the Kids

I don’t always enjoy traveling. Dealing with the details of the trip can often feel like more trouble that the trip would be worth – child care, dog care, currency, language, dietary restrictions, laundry (pre and post trip) and packing. There are a million reasons not to go, not the least being that I like my orderly, predicable world.  I moved a lot growing up – New York, Canada, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas. My kids, on the other hand, have moved 3 times, but all in the same zip code. My husband is an adventurer – having visited all 50 states but 2 and jumps at the chance to go abroad. So, despite my reluctance, here is why I go.

 

1. Novelty – breaking from the routine

We just returned from a trip to Norway and Sweden. My husband spoke at conferences in Oslo and Stockholm and the girls and I tagged along. One of the most striking cultural differences I notices RIGHT AWAY – those folks sit down to eat. Even in the airports. Real dishes, real silverware are the norm. The only think I saw people eating while walking was ice cream!

Ice cream break

Ice cream break

There were no paper coffee cups. Anywhere. We lingered long over meals. It was great not to have to rush from one activity to the next.

Dinner at the oldest restaurant in Oslo.

Dinner at the oldest restaurant in Oslo.

I was really impressed with the public transit system. We used the trains, subway and ferry. And walked and walked. When I came back to Austin and sat in traffic on MoPac. I found myself wondering why haven’t we figured this out yet.

2. Education

I was so excited about taking the kids to the museums and learning some of the history of the places we were visiting. It was so worth it to see the spark in their eyes as they showed me ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin at the National Gallery in Oslo and paintings by Manet, Monet, Munch and Picasso.

Thinking about art at the National Gallery in Oslo.

Thinking about art at the National Gallery in Oslo.

 

Oslo and Stockholm are both costal cities, so we sought out nautical history as well. We toured the Fram Museum where we saw some amazing exhibits about Norwegian Polar Exploration. That stop was a happy accident – we were walking to the Viking Museum and got lost in the rain! In Stockholm we saw the spectacular Vasa Museum. The Vasa set sail in the 1600’s and promptly sank in the harbor. It was raised again the the 1960’s and is now on display.

 

The Vasa

The Vasa

The Fram

The Fram

3. Food

I love to cook and to eat. I am allergic to soy and also to gluten, so travel comes with some complexity about what I am going to eat. Happily, navigating the dishes in Norway and Sweden was incredibly easy. We all tried traditional Norwegian cheese (it was delicious but brown) and whale (tasted like steak). The sushi was the best – salmon and tuna.  We ate fiskesuppe (fish soup) at every chance – and spent time talking about how to replicate it once we got home.

Big vats of yummy

Big vats of yummy

 

Fish curry

Fish curry

We had some excellent Indian food at Happy India in Stockholm – Tikka Masala, Chicken Curry, and Vindaloo were all great.

The breakfasts are different that what we experience at home. The buffets at the hotels all included a bounty of scrambled and boiled eggs, smoked salmon, cold cuts of meat, sliced cheese, yogurt (more tart than ours) and muesli as well as other cereals. I tasted a gooseberry and ate lingonberry jam. I really enjoyed the small cups of delicious coffee and rough cut sugar cubes. The rhythm of the meals was a little different as well. We at very large breakfasts, a little snack around 2 or 3 and a big dinner around 8.

4. Seeing Differently, Making Connections and Memories

One of the greatest benefits of travel for me is seeing how other folks ‘do life.’ The summer days are really long in Scandinavia. The sun set around 10. It got dark after 11 and the sun rose again around 3 am! There were people out at the parks and restaurants late into the night. The hotel in Stockholm was close to a park. On Sunday afternoon we saw families with young kids hanging out enjoying the sun. That same park had groups of teens playing ball, others listening to music. At night we saw people gathered on the grass listening to an acoustic guitar player. I loved walking everywhere!

We talked to some of the locals about the pace of life there. I left wondering if it would it really be so bad if my day wasn’t packed as full? I sit here thinking about this as I drink my large latte from a paper cup….

New Year 2014

Where did the 2013 go! It seems just yesterday we were ringing 2013 in with friends at the Oasis in Austin.

Last night my kids went to a party and the husband and I went out to eat and went home to see a movie. A nice night in after a flurry of holiday activity. I woke up this morning to the realization that 2014 is the last full year I will have my oldest at home. She’ll graduate high school in 2015 and head off to college. 2014 will hold a lot of new activity for us – SAT/ACT, college visits and applications…the future is here. It’s an exciting time.

Kayla in motion

Kayla in motion

Plans for 2014 include – travel to NC for the Overtime Tournament for girls lacrosse, a few horse shows, a wee bit of home updating (paint and flooring in my bedroom, crossing my fingers!) and some other trips that are as of yet undetermined. We did quite a bit of remodeling in Port A in November to prepare for 2014. This spring, we’ll touch up the paint in Galveston, inside and out. In January the rest of the family will be involved in a youth retreat and I’m running away to the beach for a few days for some R&R and to do some planning. I. Can’t. Wait. I so need an infusion of some salt air!

2014 will likely hold a lot of firsts and probably as many lasts for our family. And I’ll be faced with plenty of opportunity for TRUST. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11).  It may not look ok in the moment, but it will be all good in the end. Happy New Year to all!

 

 

Restaurant Reviews – Beach and Station Street Grill

Beach & Station Street Grill (Bruce’s Yelp Review)

Beach and Station Grill

Beach and Station Grill

Category: Seafood

5/5 Stars
Places near the beach in any tourist town are usually more miss than hit. For me, the keys to building a good place are three:- Know who you are. It’s much better to specialize than to try to be a generalist.  Decide who your customers will be. Let the rest go; there will be plenty of people.
– You want to have a few dishes that you can execute well, even when there are a bunch of people waiting.
– Don’t compromise on quality. Some beach places make the mistake of believing that there will always be customers. If you establish a bad reputation, the tourists can bail you out. But if you establish a great reputation, you’ll take your business into the off season, and that’s the secret between turning an average balance sheet into a good one.So Beach and Station Street. They know who they are. And on a Thursday morning at 11:30, their parking lot was packed. With locals and repeat customers, mostly fishermen. That’s a good sign.They had a signature dish: their gumbo. I didn’t have it, but every single customer was raving about it. I wanted to stay Gluten free, so I stayed away from it because of the flour used for thickening. But the fish I had and the shrimp appetizer broke the two iron clad Beach fare rules:- you must overcook everything so ignorant customers won’t send it back
– you must avoid flavor at all cost so the older customers won’t send it back

I had a shrimp appetizer which was probably the best shrimp I had all week. The entree was a mahi mahi tuna with a shrimp and avocado pico on top. Really, it was more of a tomato relish. Either way, it was absolutely perfectly cooked, with simple and wonderful flavor.

The place isn’t much to look at. But they know who they are. If you want a place with a soul, you have to start with a chef that has a plan. Beach and Station, you have a soul. I’ll be back.

Restaurant Reviews – Fish House

Fish House (Bruce’s Yelp Review)

Category: Seafood

2/5 stars
This review continues my week of reviews of places in Port A while I am stuck in town doing beach house maintenance. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know about the beach rules which grade on the curve.What’s in a location? Well, pretty much everything. In a tourist town like Port A, there are not enough places to eat, so you’re guaranteed your slice of the pie. Throw in a downtown location mere steps from the gulf, and you should be able to coast to relative success.

What’s in a name? The fish house. It could symbolize a simple and powerful name, that says “We are fish, and that’s all you need to know. We don’t need to charm you with clever word play or kitschy metaphors. We stand by this strong, simple, direct name.”

Or it could be a lack of imagination.

Yep. I’ll take Restaurant Cliches for $1000, Alex.

You want cliches? I asked the waitress how the fish would be prepared. She said grilled.

…waiting for elaboration…

…a little panic in my eyes that this might get awkward…

…yep, it’s awkward.

Just grilled. I should have taken that as a clue. Later, she came back and said “It’s not wahoo (or whatever). It’s trout. Very fresh.” I can see why the name of the place is not so highly specialized. Fish house covers your bases. But she came back with a caesar. Fresh, but not really a caesar, with long red onion slices on top. But it was fresh and I’ve had worse.

And then the fish came. and it was…

grilled. Just grilled. Not seasoned. Not embellished in any way. Just grilled. I guess they let the sides do the talking. That would be the potatoes. Beige foods unite!

Yep. Definitely a lack of imagination. The fish was not overcooked, like you’ll usually find in Port A. But that’s the extent of the nice things I can say about the Fish House.

We’re grading on a curve here because of beach rules. A star and a half.. we’ll round up. Beach rules, you know.