What happens when a team of 25 professional ice carvers from China arrives on Galveston Island? Why, the chilliest fun to be found for the holiday season.
While it may be a bit too early for most of us to start thinking about Christmas, it’s never too soon to plan fun outings.
Today I was invited by Moody Gardens to get a sneak peek at the process of creating the annual, larger-than-life ice carving installation Ice Land. I can honestly say that even though I’ve seen every year of Ice Land, this one is the best yet.
The theme is “Christmas Around the World” and incorporates ice sculptures of the Eiffel Tower, Russian Matryoshka (nesting) dolls, the Great Wall of China, a Dutch windmill and more…all carved from 300-pound blocks of colored ice.
Experience has taught be to come prepared with gloves, and Moody Gardens provides long parkas to brace against the shocking nine degree temperature of the 28,000 square-foot tent where the exhibit is taking shape. Today’s tour also included hard hats since it’s a very active construction zone.
One of the attraction’s most popular annual features, an ice slide, will let guests slip and slide from the base of the Eiffel Tower to the ground floor this year. And the unique “Shivers Bar” (aptly named) will once again be serving beverages inside the venue…if you are brave enough to chill out counters and tables carved from ice!
I’ll be back in two weeks to share their progress with you, and tips for how to save on family visits to Moody Gardens Ice Land and Festival of Lights.
Mark your calendars: Ice Land will be open November 16 through January 12 – plenty of time to get your chill on!
Right now, though, the artists need to get back to work…and I’m breaking out the hot chocolate!
Have you ever thought about volunteering during your holiday (or other) travel? It can be easier than you might think, and is a great way to take the focus off of busy schedules and squeezing in more shopping.
These ideas work if you are staying home for the holidays as well of course, but giving back in a place you are visiting can give you a special feeling of connection with the community.
Here are some ideas to start you off:
Ronald McDonald House
RMH supports children and families undergoing medical treatment, typically long-term treatment, and who have often traveled to a RMH from their homes. They have locations around U.S. and the world and volunteers are needed to prepare meals, greet visitors, interact with guests, and much more.
A group of friends and I put up and decorated the Houston RMH Christmas tree at the beginning of the holidays. It was especially fun when some of the young residents wanted to help!
A couple of weeks before that, another group of friends and I got together to make lunch for 50 residents at the Galveston house. Besides doing something that we knew was truly helping out, it was a fun excuse to get together in the kitchen with friends and enjoy each other’s company. It wasn’t a fancy or expensive meal, so with each of us bringing a few ingredients it came together quickly. I even approached a local restaurant about supplying a couple of side dishes, which they graciously did! And a lovely local nursery gave us a few potted flowers to decorate the buffet.
Organizations like this are always looking for people, families and groups to help out with activities, like crafts, playing bingo with residents, and other simple activities.
Meals on Wheels programs provide meals to homebound seniors. Different communities have different rules about how the public can volunteer. Some need people to deliver the meals, and possibly help setting up, checking in delivery drivers and assisting with clean-up.
If you have little ones, you can call ahead to a local chapter to ask how many meals they deliver daily. Then while your kids are trapped in the car in route, they can make small cards to decorate the recipient trays with crayons, colored pencils, stickers and construction paper. Once you can arrive at your destination you can simply drop off the tray decorations knowing you’re your family has brightened peoples’ day! I sued to do this with my Girl Scouts when they were little and they loved being artsy and helping out.
Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, our mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.
Wreaths Across America
A trip to the dollar star before your trip, and an evening of prep in from of the TV or at the table after dinner can make a big difference to local homeless shelters. Just stuff new, warm socks with water bottles and granola bars to be taken to a shelter in any city. Another big need is gently used books
Food Banks are always in search of help sorting canned items. This can be a one hour volunteer effort, or all day…but every little bit helps!
Local children’s hospitals will usually gladly accept gently used books and DVDs, coloring books and crayons. Another neat idea is to sort the materials for a small craft project (beaded bracelet, Christmas ornament, etc.) into individual baggies that the kids can get from the nurses station to keep their minds off of being stuck in a hospital.
But you get the idea, and it doesn’t have to be during the holidays. Whether you decide to pull together something to donate when you reach your destination or to dedicate a couple of hours once you arrive, there are so many ways to spread the love!
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
Ah, the smell of fresh Christmas trees can sure get us in the mood for the holiday season. This year why not take the experience of choosing a tree to the next level by staying overnight at a Texas Christmas tree farm?
Yes, you actually can!
Holiday Acres Christmas Tree Farm in Manvel offers not one but two “tiny houses” you can book for overnight (or longer) stays through Airbnb.
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of tiny houses, so I was excited about checking one out for myself. Both options at Holiday Acres look equally charming nestled beside the pond and fire pit, but I chose the Bluebonnet for its simple, more traditional design.
Walking into the Bluebonnet I was immediately surprised at how well the limited room was used to create a cozy space.
Though it was admittedly much smaller than most people who stay at hotels might be accustomed to, it included all of the necessities: a bathroom with shower, kitchen with sink and microwave, kitchen utensils, coffee maker, mini fridge, small fold-down table top with two chairs, television, WiFi, heating/air conditioning, and towels.
A futon style sofa folds down to provide extra sleeping space, though it would work better for two small children than adults. A roomier, fluffy mattress with pillows is tucked into a snug loft area, reached by ladder leading from the living area.
The diminutive porch with chairs and table invites guests to enjoy their coffee outdoors while enjoying nature.
While you’re there you’ll definitely want to wander through the tree farm acreage filled with Virginia pines, Leyland cypress, Murray Cypress and Arizona cypress, and take one of the best scents of the season.
A visit to Holiday Farms can be a great getaway for some personal, couple or family time. Take a hayride to look for a tree, enjoy a complimentary cup of hot chocolate or mulled cider by a cozy campfire and a watch the kids wear off some of that holiday energy on the natural playground.
Then stroll back to your tiny house digs and grab some marshmallows to roast over the campfire to make my favorite treat…s’mores!
Where else can you stay and take home your very own hand-chosen Christmas tree? And a stay here is definitely less expensive than a hotel room, and offers a lot more atmosphere for the season.