Starry, starry night . . .
Wherever we are . . . at home or on far flung travels . . . the night sky offers a brilliant show just waiting for us to take notice.
When I was in west Texas recently, far from the “light pollution” of urban areas, I was reminded that the sky actually more resembles a spilled pot of glitter than an occasional point of light. It was one of those times that I wished I knew how to identify the different stars and constellations. That’s something I have always meant to learn more about when I “had the time.”
When relating to a friend how awestruck I was at the beauty of the sky on that trip, he suggested that I download an app called SkyView Lite, a free version of an application that creates a kind of overlay of the sky as you hold it up. It identifies stars, planets, constellations and more. Once I tried it I was hooked! Even back home on nights that had too much cloud cover to see many twinkly heavenly bodies, it shows me where they’re positioned. Touch a point of light on your phone screen and it will identify it by name, show its trajectory and even give interesting trivia about it.
There is a paid version of this app with more features, but honestly for now I’m finding plenty of enjoyment with the free version. It’s fun to use with friends, family or just by yourself as you sit beneath the endless sky enjoying how vast creation can be.
When was the last time you took the opportunity to star gaze?
I love sharing places to visit across the Lone Star State through this blog, but I hope we’re all being responsible at the moment by staying at home and being healthy. When the Corona virus threats retreat, we’ll all be ready to get out and be social again.
In the meantime, it doesn’t mean we can’t explore Texas!
This morning I was remembering how when my daughter wasn’t quite school age yet, and it was pretty much a full time job to keep her busy little mind occupied and entertained. One of the things we did was talk about how Texas had all kinds of “official” symbols. How many do you know?
Official flower: Bluebonnet
Official large mammal: Longhorn
Official sport: Rodeo
Official Dish: Chili con carne
Official Insect: Monarch Butterfly
Reptile: Horned lizard
Plant: prickly pear cactus
Air Force: Commemorative Air Force (formerly know as the confederate Air Force)
Amphibian: Texas toad
Aquarium: Texas State Aquarium
Bison Herd: Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock Canyons State Park
Bluebonnet Festival: Chappell Hill Bluebonnet Festival
Bluebonnet Trail: Ennis
Bread: Pan de campo
Cobbler: Peach cobbler
Cooking implement: Cast iron Dutch oven
Crustacean: Texas Gulf shrimp
Dinosaur: Paluxysaurus Jones (replace the Brachiosuar in 1997)
Dog breed: Blue Lacy
Epic Poem: Legend of Old Stone Ranch
Fiber and Fabric: Cotton
Fish: Guadalupe Bass
Footwear: Cowboy boot
Fruit: Texas Red grapefruit
Botanical Garden: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Gem: Texas blue topaz
Gemstone cut: Lone Star cut
Grass: Sideoats grama
Official Domino Game: 42
Horse: American Quarter horse
Flying Mammal: Mexican Free-Tailed bat
Small Mammal: Armadillo
Maritime Museum: Texas Maritime museum
Musical Instrument: Guitar
Native Pepper: Chiltepin
Native Shrub: Texas Purple Sage
Shrub: Crape myrtle
Snack: Tortilla chips and salsa
Song: “Texas, Our Texas”
Pastries: (there are 2!) Sopapilla and Strudel
Pie: Pecan pie
Pollinator: Western honey bee
Precious Metal: Silver
Railroad: Texas State Railroad
Rodeo Drill Team: Texas Ghost Riders
Saltwater Fish: Red Drum
Sea Turtle: Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
Shell: Lightning whelk
Ship: U.S.S. Texas
Stone: Petrified palmwood
Tall Ship: Elissa
Vegetable: Sweet onion
Vehicle: Chuck wagon
And believe it or not . . . there are SO many more!
For each of the symbols, you and your child can explore information online about what makes these things so very Texan.
Make chili con carne for dinner, and follow it with pecan pie and a domino game of 42. (How to play here.)
Print coloring sheets with some of the symbols.
Plant your own butterfly garden to attract monarchs. My daughter and I still care for our ever larger Monarch garden that we created 15 years ago, and watching the life cycle of these beautiful creatures never gets old. (Everything you’ll need is here.)
Make columns on a poster board and have your child help you separate some of these by category (place, animals, etc.)
Make a list of “official” sites you’d like to visit when travel limitations are lifted. (The tall ship Elissa in Galveston, a ride on the Texas State Railroad, etc.)
But most importantly have fun and share the love of Texas. What is your favorite Lone Star State (the official Texas nickname) symbol?
A Valentine from Valentine? Yep, it’ll set your card apart from the rest.
For over 30 years the little post office in Valentine, Texas has postmarked Valentines coming through their station with a little extra love.
Every year, the post office chooses one design from dozens drawn by local schoolchildren to transform into an actual hand-cancel postmark for the holiday. Each year is unique, so even if you make this a tradition it will always seem new.
Requests for the postmark come in from around the world (yes, really!), and it’s obviously the busiest time of year for the remote location. You can walk your Valentines in to the post office, or mail them in, which…unless you happen to be in that area of Texas…is the only way to go.
I have heard about this tradition for years but never tried it myself. There isn’t much updated information available about it on the internet, so when I decided this was the year…I called the regional rep for the United States Post Office. She politely walked me through the process (and no, she had never tried it herself either) and assured me it would actually work.
I live in Houston, so I prepared my cards first, writing them, sealing them in their envelopes, addressing them and attaching a stamp. But here’s where the process is different.
I put all of my Valentines into one larger envelope (remember they were already stamped), and addressed the outside envelope to:
VALENTINE’S DAY POSTMARK
311 W CALIFORNIA AVE
VALENTINE, TX 79854-9998
Then I took that large envelope to my local post office and purchased the appropriate postage to get it to Valentine. The postmistress there also expressed an interest, having hear of the program but never having tried it. Are you starting to see a pattern?
The regional representative had told me that all cards must be received in Valentine by February 4 to be in time to get the special post mark. There is no charge to customers requesting this for fewer than 50 Valentines (gracious!). Customers who do have 50 or more will be charged five cents each.
I had 10 Valentines in one large outer envelope that would normally cost a couple of dollars to send, but I sprung for the tracking method (just under $5) since I wanted to “watch” the process.
And off they went!
I mailed my envelope on January 23rd and it arrived in Valentine on the 28th. Then the hardest part began…waiting. As time went by I religiously checked my mailbox. I had sent one to my daughter at our address, partially so I would be able to see it for myself. The week of Valentine’s Day came, and I got a bit anxious.
On Valentine’s Day I received a text from a relative in San Antonio thanking me for the card and remarking on the unusual postmark. The good news…it worked. The bad…my daughter’s still hadn’t arrived at our house. But it finally DID arrive, the day after Valentine’s. Soooo, we’re just dragging out the holiday a bit longer.
I’ll definitely try this again next year, but send them out even a bit earlier to see if that makes a difference.
It’s a great way to make your Valentines uniquely Texan!
If you’re looking for a place with heart . . . you’ll want to add Waxahachie to your travel list.
The “Hachie Hearts Trail” project was initiated as a part of the city’s “A Place in Your Heart, Texas” campaign in this charming town. Large hearts (locals call them “puffy hearts”) decorated with different by artists have been installed around town as public art.
Besides just being enjoyable as to find a view, the hearts can present a fun activity for families or groups. Make it a challenge to find all of the hearts. If you’re in a group, it would be fun to take a selfie with each of the hearts, and the first group back to an agreed upon meeting spot wins.
And if you make that meeting spot Farm Luck Soda Fountain on the courthouse square (YUM!), everyone wins!
“Hearticulture,” appropriately covered with hearts, was painted by Michael Poston and Jenny Galbrath
“All-American City” by Julie Law
“Here Comes the Sun” by artist Leah Lawless-Smith
The psychedelic sunrise was sponsored by the staff of the local Sun Newspaper. Look for hidden images on both sides, chosen by members of the staff.
“Hollywood Texas” by artists Leah Lawless-Smith, Candace Faber, Steve Miller and Mike Duncan. This movie themed heart features scenes from films shot in Waxahachie, like Bonnie and Clyde, Tender Mercies, and Places in the Heart.
“Crape Myrtle Capital” by artists Julie Law
“High Cotton” in Hachie by Damion Brooker is a nod to one of the traditional crops of the area…and probably my favorite heart.
“Emotions” by Leah Lawless-Smith
“Oobie’s Town and Waxahachie All-Star Band” by Julie Law this one at the entrance to Getzendaner Park, backside of heart is a sepia-toned rendition of several of the musicians who have grace the stage of the Chatauqua Auditorium.
“Land of the Free” by Gerald Spriggs
Which is your favorite?
After you find all of the Hachie Hearts, stop in at the County Museum on the square and take a look around. They have heart shaped locks for sale that you can write the name of someone you love on, and then attach to either the love lock fence downtown, or the love lock bridge by the old train depot. Leaving a little of your heart behind in Waxahachie . . .
When a friend and I arrived at Space Center Houston a few nights ago to see their new “Galaxy Lights” display, we weree met with an unexpected surprise: the Budweiser Clydesdales! I swear we were so excited, it was verging on giddy. The Clydesdales are such beautiful, powerful creatures and any chance to see them up close is a treat.
We stood in the parking lot taking photos of the horses (and of course, the Dalmation, too!), and talking with the handlers and agreed that seeing them alone would have been worth the visit, but it was time to go inside to a reception being held for our group.
If you haven’t been to Space Center Houston, I highly recommend it…for all ages, in groups, with family or friends, or alone…it’s a fascinating way to spend a few hours. I won’t go into the details of the center in this post, but perhaps I’ll revisit the topic soon.
This winter, a new holiday lights exhibit at Space Center called “Galaxy Lights” has been drawing in extra visitors with its festive use of space-themed interactive technology and light displays. Dazzling spectacles created with more than 750,000 lights covering more than one million square feet are incorporated in both indoor and outdoor areas.
SPECIAL NOTE: If someone in your group is autistic or has special sensitivities to light or sound, Space Center Houston provides a special “sensory guide” giving specifics about each station at the event. You can find a copy here: Galaxy Lights sensory guide
Entering the front doors, guests are greeted with a kinetic light show suspended from the ceiling. Beginning every 15 minutes, dozens of LED orbs suspended from cables move in precise choreographed sequences to holiday music. It can be viewed from anywhere on entrance plaza, but a few clever enthusiasts we saw actually laid down on the floor beneath it to get the “full effect.”
“Holidays in Space,” an original 15-minute film showing in-space footage and new interviews with astronauts talking about celebrating the holidays while manning missions in space is a must-see. The film is shown in Space Center Theater every 30 minutes from 6:15 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.
Every half hour a tram leaves from the rear door of Space Center to take visitors to the display at Rocket Park. After driving through a tunnel of over 250,000 LED lights synchronized to music, the tram drives by the building housing the Saturn V rocket, with the 363-foot long image of the rocket itself outlined and illuminated by 5,000 lights.
Inside the structure is the restored, historic Saturn V rocket positioned on its side. The sight of the rocket by itself is breathtaking, but “Galaxy Lights” pulls visitors’ attention to 3-D projected movies projected right onto the side of the vehicle. Be sure to look around as you walk inside the building for other small projections on the walls and floor, including images of the first steps on the moon!
Outside in Rocket Park, the displays that are the highlight (pun only slightly intended) of “Galaxy Lights.” Brilliant images of a rocket blasting off, sparkling globes representing the planets in our solar system, and International Space Station sculpture and even a 35-foot tall shooting star are a delight to walk among and enjoy.
When you’re through taking it all in catch a tram to return to Independence Plaza where the mock shuttle is mounted on an airplane. Food stations there sell hot cocoa, kettle corn, ingredients to make s’mores over one of the firepits, or options at a food truck (it was a taco truck the night we were there). There is also a full bar available inside and beer outside (for ages 21 and older, of course).
Nearby are a 40-foot, lighted holiday tree and two cute, lighted photo opportunities. One is a crescent moon with a saddle like seat to sit on, and the other is a line of the letters “EAR” and “H.” Guests are encouraged to spread their arms to form the letter “T” to complete the name of our home planet.
I would recommend this light display for families with young children. Little ones especially appreciate the freedom to walk right up to and in between the light displays, though parents should be mindful of electrical cord and guywires supporting the displays (tripping might spoil the fun!).
Allow about two hours to visit all the features of Galaxy Lights. A review of the map of the attractions and start times will help you navigate your evening.
“Galaxy Lights” is open Nov. 16 – Jan. 5
from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.
(Closed Nov. 28, Dec. 12, Dec. 24 & 25)
Public price: $19.95; Member price: $15.95;
Ages 3 & younger get free admission.
There is an additional fee for parking.
What’s inside that huge, white tent at Moody Gardens? It’s visions of Christmas Around the World, carved entirely from ice.
This holiday season, grab your ear muffs and set off on a chilly journey around the world without ever leaving Galveston Island with a visit to Moody Gardens’ ICE LAND exhibit. Returning with a brand new theme for its sixth year, this frosty phenomenon has become a favorite of visitors and locals who have made it part of their annual holiday traditions.
The process begins when 6,000 300-pound blocks of dyed ice arrive from College Station, dyed in an array of colors. Just to put it into perspective, if those ice blocks were lined up they would stretch 4.46 miles.
Even Elsa from “Frozen” would surely be impressed!
A team of 25 professional ice carvers from Harbin, China carved over 100 sculptures in just 45 days completing over 1,080 hours of work in a tent kept at a bone-chilling nine degrees. Brrr…..
After several years of hosting the event Moody Gardens President and CEO John Zendt is still impressed with the undertaking. “The craftsmanship and artistry of these carvers is truly spectacular. The precision is quite remarkable as you consider this work is done free-hand with just chainsaws and ice picks. For example, the Statue of Liberty, just of the massive landmarks being featured in this year’s ICE LAND is itself over 20 feet tall.”
When you arrive at ICE LAND, you’ll be issued a full-length blue parka especially designed for the frigid temps ahead. Special hint here (and I’m speaking for experience) – BRING GLOVES! Even if you pull them off occasionally to take photos, you’ll be soooo glad you did.
Once you’re bundled up, you’ll enter the 17,000 square feet of exhibit space and “travel” along a path between famous sites from around the world, including a giant windmill, the Alamo, Russian nesting dolls, Egyptian pyramids, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and more with some towering 35 feet in the air.
And of course they haven’t overlooked the most famous gent of the season. Santa appears occasionally in the festive variety of fashion and styles he wears while delivering goodies across the globe.
What’s a family attraction without a slide, you say? No worries. In the center of the exhibit, visitors can climb the stairs to reach nutcrackers standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower, then glide down a 30-foot ice slide to land at the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a slippery, slide-y (yes, that’s a word!) photo app waiting to happen.
The bravest of visitors can linger after seeing the sculptures and “chill out” with refreshments in the log cabin style Shiver’s Ice Bar, a watering hole made completely of ice. Yep…including the tales and stools. But don’t take off your mittens! Even the flames in the fireplace are carved from the frozen stuff.
One thing’s for sure: it will be the coolest thing you do all season!
In addition to ICE LAND, Moody Gardens will feature seven other attractions as part of Holiday in the Gardens including the Cirque Joyeux Dinner & Show, Festival of Lights, an outdoor ice rink, train rides, Arctic Slide, Rudolph 4D, and 3D holiday films.
ICE LAND will be on display Nov. 14 – Jan. 12. Admission for adults is $28.95 and $23.95 for children and seniors. Super Value Days start at $8.95 for Festival of Lights and $19.95 for ICE LAND with an additional $5 off for seniors and children at ICE LAND. Super Value Days start at $19.95 for ICE LAND with an additional $5 off for seniors and children at ICE LAND. Super Value Days are Nov. 17-21; Dec. 2, 9 and 16; and Jan. 5-12.
Click here for a calendar of of all of the special pricing opportunities…you can save a bundle before you bundle up!
For a calendar of daily hours, special discount offers and hotel packages call 409-744-4673 or visit their website here.
‘Tis the season to enjoy some outdoor fall fun!
When I’m traveling, I keep an eye out for local farmer’s markets. They’re a great resource to pick up fresh fruit and veggies for car snacks or, if wherever I’m staying has a kitchen, cook for an easy meal.
My favorite local spot to hit for this is Froberg’s Farm in Alvin.
Pie, oh my! Froberg’s has one of my family’s favorite (and most decadent) treats: fried pies! Of course they have full-sized pies too, but the smaller versions? Too tempting and good. Let’s see: peach cream, chocolate pecan, apple raisin, coconut…how’s a girl to choose? Our solution is usually to get a few different ones and cut them into “sampler plates” when we get home. But it’s fun to get one and take it outside under to the trees to enjoy while its still warm, too. Ah, decisions, decisions.
The Froberg family has created a kind of fall wonderland for all ages in back of the market, too! But it’s only open through November 4, so you’ll want to get it on your calendar.
It’s a great place to take families to run off some of that weekend energy, too. They have a cornfield maze, Berry Fun Land (with slides and climbing obstacles), bean bag toss, strawberry planting booth, basket toss, face painting, “Bee Coaster” ride, rubber duck races, a trailer ride farm tour, corn cannon, gemstone mining and more. Check out their website for details and prices: https://frobergsfarm.com
What fall fun have you found?