Oh my gosh, the holidays can get so hectic. Everyone’s schedules are tight, there are different events to bake for, the challenge of finding time to do something special with good friends…oh wait! You can do some of it at the same time!
This season might be the right time to schedule a Holiday Cookie Exchange!
If you haven’t participated in a cookie exchange, here’s a brief overview of how it works.
Make a list of friends, and send the invitations with instructions. We simplified ours by creating a Facebook event for our group. That way we could all keep up with the number of attendees and invitees could ask questions.
Decide on a location and time to hold your get together. Renting a beautiful location to hold your exchange takes the pressure off of any individual to get their house “holiday perfect” so early in the season. And since I was in charge of finding a location, you KNOW I wanted to have it at a beautiful, historic property! We had ours in the dining room of the elegant Lasker Inn in Galveston during the middle of the week, when the inn would most likely not be filled with other guests. Look for a similar location in your community and ask if they will charge a lower fee for a weekday morning. Our event was from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Each person is asked to make (or buy – no guilt trips here!) one kind of cookie to share with others attending the exchange. We asked that everyone bring sampling cookies and enough to send at least four cookies home with each guest, that way the baking process wasn’t overwhelming. (Some exchanges I’ve been invited to ask for a dozen of each type of cookie for each guest!)
Everyone can be asked to bring their own containers to fill, or the hostess can provide containers (the dollar store and craft stores have cute options).
With some exchanges, everyone will bring printed copies of the recipe they used to send home with the others. That way, not only does everyone leave with goodies – but also a stack of new recipes to try for themselves.
Yes, THIS is where we got to have our exchange! (Can you believe how lucky are are?!) The 1870 Lasker Inn B&B and Event Venue in Galveston, Texas. It’s a stunning home inside and out, and the owner is a delight.
I decided to share Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies because….hello…Texas! They are a delectable combination of so many favorite cookie ingredients. My family finds them irresistible. Anything that starts with three sticks of butter just HAS to be pure goodness. And the large treats definitely make a Texas-sized statement when stacked on a platter!
Here’s a link to Mrs. Bush’s recipe on the Southern Living website.
After we spent some time visiting and enjoying our exquisite surroundings (and of COURSE taking some photos), we gathered samples of each kind of cookie to take home. I filled up my pick-up truck (well, at least my truck shaped platter) with all kinds of goodies.
What a great way to spend a morning together and start off the Christmas season!
We all went home with plenty of cookies in a variety of flavors to share with our families or to take to our next event. Phew!
To find out more about the Lasker Inn, visit their website, here: The Lasker Inn
Looking for a reason to travel this fall, and get together with friends spread far and wide?
Plan a Destination Friendsgiving celebration!
The Thanksgiving holiday season is an ideal time to show our friends what an important role they play in our lives. A “Friendsgiving” is a gathering of those people for a feast and time spent enjoying each others company.
If your friends are coming from different parts of the state – or further, it will simplify things to find a bed and breakfast or rental hall as centrally located to everyone as possible. You might even put a fun twist on things by finding a town with a name perfectly paired to a Friendsgiving feast:
Moore, Texas (for the group that’s sure to want seconds)
If most of the members of your group live in cities, consider a country setting where there are fall colors and outdoor trails to enjoy together.
Small town girls might consider staying in the city to enjoy the city lights and shopping.
For accommodations, check Airbnb, VRBO and the local Chamber of Commerce. Finding an inn with room enough for everyone to stay in one place will extend the fun.
For our meal space, we found a local small event venue in a historic building (and you know that makes me happy!) that wasn’t booked on the weekday we were getting together, and was having some work done on the property, so gave us a terrific deal.
The location doesn’t matter as much as the friends.
Next, choose a date that works for everyone. This usually means it won’t actually be the official week of Thanksgiving – which is great. It takes off some of the packed-schedule pressure. The added advantage is getting everyone away from the holiday stresses that at home.
Social media can make the planning easy, but keep things as simple as possible. It’s about the time spent together, after all!
Set up a Facebook event to invite friends, and have everyone add to a master list of dishes they’re bringing. Pie and cookies are the most important, of course (I’m entitled to my opinion), but you’ll want a few sides and at least one main dish too. Since everyone likely will have a traditional Thanksgiving celebration with their families soon, you may even decide to have a more non-traditional potluck meal, with Italian or Mexican food. No rules!
Well . . . maybe ONE rule. There must be pie. (It may be MY rule, but I think everyone will benefit from taking this one to heart!)
If you’re traveling to a destination Friendsgiving, consider picking up smaller essentials at a local grocery store to save on packing lists and ice chest space.
To really put the focus entirely on fun and togetherness, everyone can pitch in on ordering a dinner prepared by a local restaurant and to be picked up the afternoon or evening of the event.
Once the time and place have been decided, do a little online investigating to search for nearby holiday events that your group might enjoy attending together.
So what’s stopping you? Get busy contacting your favorite gang, choose a merry destination and celebrate your own Friends-giving.
This time of year, Texas travel can take on a spookier theme when tourists seek out the most haunted hotels in their area.
Our state has no shortage of hotels with stories of resident spirits and unnatural occurrences. Some are based in fact. Some are more of a “reach.” If you want to test your nerves by staying at a property that might be home to unearthly beings, here are a few to try:
The Hotel Galvez, Galveston
The Driskill Hotel, Austin
Sheraton Gunter Hotel, San Antonio
Menger Hotel, San Antonio
Nutt House, Granbury
The Excelsior Hotel, Jefferson
Jefferson Hotel, Jefferson
Baker Hotel, Mineral Wells
The Ott Hotel, Liberty
Renaissance Casa de las Palmas, McAllen
Gage Hotel, Marathon
Le Meridien Stoneleigh, Dallas
Queen Isabel Inn, Port Isabel
Of course, this list is far from complete, but it’s a good place to start…or a lucky 13 places.
If you’re planning to brave a potentially haunted hotel in hope of having your own other-worldly experience you may make your reservations pretty far ahead of your stay.
Read the stories about the resident spirit(s) and experiences of others. If there is a particular room in the hotel that is purported to be the center of the activity and you want to stay in it (like room 501 at The Hotel Galvez), plan to book your room MONTHS in advance. These rooms are incredibly popular! If you’re thinking about staying there in October, you may need to book even further out.
Don’t trust your own senses, but don’t have expensive “ghost hunting” electronics? No problem. Just download one of the many apps available that claim to detect the presence of spirits…but if the information they give you creeps you out, don’t blame me!
A few to check out:
Ghost Radar: Classic by Spud Pickles
Ghost Communicator by Andrew Gronek
Ghost Detector Free by Purple Penguin.com
Ghost Locator by Sebastien Mougey
Ghost Observer by AKEV
Ghost Recorder by MEDL Mobile, Inc.
Ghost O Meter by Adrian 3
But remember, if all of this ghostly talk isn’t your style, there’s no shame in checking into a brand new hotel, cuing up “Hocus Pocus” on pay-per-view and digging into some Halloween candy instead!
I recently learned that the former Ranger’s Cottage at Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is now available to rent for overnight stays. I didn’t hesitate to make a reservation immediately!
The Varner Hogg Plantation is a State Historic Site featuring the original plantation home and several outbuildings. See my previous post for more about it: https://bit.ly/2Nxki0L
Though the website had basic information about the cottage, the photos online don’t do it justice. Being a Girl Scout leader, I know that the word “cottage” sometimes means extremely rustic and bare bones. While that won’t scare me away, I was pleasantly surprised with this location.
Built in the 1920s, the Ranger’s cottage sits slightly back across the site road from the main house, beneath large pecan trees that probably predate my grandmother.
Rocking chairs and a bistro table and chair set wait on the porch, inviting guests to linger and enjoy the immense trees, heavily draped with Southern moss. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d get much further, since I have in incurable weakness for porches, but I’m glad I did.
The entire cottage has been updated and decorated with comfortable, modern furnishings. No detail has been overlooked in making each room a welcoming space. The living room even has a basket of monogrammed blankets so family or friends can curl up on the sofa to enjoy an evening movie.
A stairway from the rear of the cottage leads to the second floor, and an additional full bath and two large bedrooms. Again, I was surprised by the size of the rooms, considering the age and original use of the cottage!
The yellow bedroom with twin beds and floral bedding seemed bright and cheery even on the dreary rainy day that I arrived.
The second upstairs bedroom was decorated in a lovely shabby chic violet, with full beds.
The cottage was so comfy, it would have been easy to just nest inside, but of course one of the major advantages of staying on site at the plantation is being able to explore the grounds even after visiting hours. Everything on site is within easy walking distance, including the main house, the ruins of the sugar mill and slave quarters, picnic grounds, the old family cemetery and more.
It was a special treat to wander around after an evening rain taking in the beauty and history while being serenaded by the frogs in Varner Creek.
I’m already planning a girls’ trip to share this wonderful find!
For information about making a reservation for your stay at the Varner-Hogg Plantation, visit https://bit.ly/2oHdpkB
Have you ever stayed at a historic site? If so, which one and did you enjoy it?
I’ve ALWAYS been excited about traveling. Can you guess which one is me? Yep! Even at age six I had trouble controlling my enthusiasm for exploring.
This is a photo of me with my mother (whose red hair I inherited, but not her demure nature) and my beautiful big sister (who I’m sure more than once has wondered if we are really from the same gene pool), on a visit to the Franklin Mountains State Park in west Texas. Dad was usually the one behind the camera, as that was one of his hobbies.
Whether it’s playing tourist in your hometown or discovering new places, travel is full of surprises. The love of these discoveries is why I’m going to be sharing more places around Texas, old and new, to give you a peek at some of the fun to be found out there . . . and hopefully inspire you to take a trip or two to see it for yourself.
I’ll be visiting small towns and big cities, locations close to home and on the far side of the state, historic hotels and unusual B&Bs, classic soda shops and Victorian cemeteries . . . just to start things off.
It’s a wide open state with so much to see, so let’s fill up the tank and hit the road!
What are your favorite Texas destinations, and what do you like to do there?
Imagine finding the original house deed of your Victorian home, or perhaps love letters from over 100 years ago. It’s possible you’ve been walking by them on a daily basis.
Newel posts, or the large post ending a staircase, are structurally meant to keep the rest of a staircase safely anchored, but sometimes they keep secrets as well.
In the last half of the 19th century, machinery had advanced to make the popular “new style” of broad posts on a lathe, often leaving an empty space in the middle. It’s the hollow posts that have lent themselves to the folklore of secret hiding places.
Before the cap of a hollow newel post was attached (or removed later), some owners rolled up their house deeds, original plans or other mementos and placed them in the void before it was closed. The item most often found is a coin, placed inside for good luck.
The lady of the house was, of course, aware of this hidden space as it was most likely one of the few places not easily accessible by her servants, children or spouse on a daily basis. There are many family stories of love letters from previous relationships or loved ones off at war, or documents that might reveal some tawdry detail from the owners past being found years later in a newel post.
Though most of these stories are probably the stuff of family legends, enough have been true to keep the intrigue alive.
Another feature of a newel post cap sharp eyes might spy is a small round “button” carved of ivory, whale bone or mother of pearl sometimes inlaid in the newel cap. These are called mortgage buttons or amity buttons, and signified their was no lien on the property – a point of pride for the homeowners. Not as mysterious perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.
So the next time you tour a grand home with a large newel post anchoring the staircase, ask your guide if anyone has peeked inside. There might be a story there.