Looking for Mardi Gras festivities that are socially distant? Galveston Island has your answer.
Galveston Island has been celebrating Mardi Gras with citywide celebrations since 1871, and with private parties before that.
The town may be covered in sparkling lights for the Christmas season, but it bursts out in gold, green and purple for Mardi Gras. If you pass the houses at night and think you spot a Christmas tree inside a window, it’s most likely a Mardi Gras tree instead.
The annual parades have been cancelled this Carnival season for safety’s sake, but that won’t stop Galvestonians and their visitors from having fun. Taking a cue from New Orleans, instead of floats this year you’ll find “house floats” around the island.
Members of the Krewe of Saints who decorated their own homes complied a list of addresses so others can enjoy the fun. You can find an interactive map here.
On Saturday, February 13th between 5 and 7 p.m., some of the participating houses will have beads and surprises for strolling revelers in their neighborhoods.
If you’re driving through the neighborhoods rather than walking, be aware that some of the streets are one way. There are often quite a few cars parked in front of the houses, making the streets narrower to navigate.
Of course, there are more homes decorated than the ones owned by this one Krewe, and the best way to see them all is to drive or walk the streets looking for the festive trimmings. If you only have a limited time, I would suggest exploring Sealy an Ball Avenues.
If you’re looking for some edible treats to keep up your Mardi Gras energy, you can find Mardi Gras bagels and cookies at Patty Cakes Bakery, king cakes at Maceo Spice Company and delicious seafood gumbo at the Black Pearl.
Well, actually it’s pretty easy to catch up with THIS gingerbread man.
In 2006, the organizer of Smithville Texas’ annual Festival of Lights event baked up a delicious plan to take their celebration to the next level – by baking the world’s largest gingerbread cookie!
Mixing together 750 pounds of flour, 49 gallons of molasses and 72 dozen (separated!) eggs, they created a Texas-sized gingerbread man. They n immense cookie sheet baked the 1,307 pound fellow on an immense cookie sheet over a dump truck load of charcoal (take THAT Food Network!) and then raised him with a crane to the 65 degree angle required by the folks at Guinness World Records for consideration.
The staff at Guinness officially recognized the spied feat in the 2009 edition of their record book.
Now . . . how to memorialize the achievement? The Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Smithville had the cookie sheet used to bake the gigantic gingerbread man converted into an enormous, 20-foot tall metal replica of the cookie, and the townspeople affectionately dubbed him “Smitty.”
He stands in the town park making sure visitors can celebrate the spirit of Christmas all year long. Heads up, though, even though he towers over the park, he’s a bit hidden from the street by the trees in the park so you’ll have to get out of you car to see him in all his gingerbread-y glory.
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 POSTMASTER 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!
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.
This year the Hotel Galvez has outdone themselves with an entire gingerbread village that retells the story in the poem “The Night Before Christmas.”
Gingerbread plates beside each of the nine houses in the village have a portion of the poem neatly painted in coffee extract.
Trees made from icing covered ice cream cones, whimsical characters of fondant and even a little quilt covered bed made from a Rice Krispies treat bring the story to life. The bases for each vignette are made of gingerbread as well, and covered with “snow” created from powdered sugar and coconut.
If you’re only able to see one Christmas light show in the Houston area during the holiday season, push this one to the top of your list.
Filling 20 acres of space just outside Gulf Greyhound Park in LaMarque, where its been brightening holiday seasons since 2016, the remarkable spectacle is made up of intricate display pieces created using Chinese lantern-making techniques incorporating over six million lights. Some towering 60 feet high. It’s the largest festival of its kind in the United States.
The festival, the largest of its kind in the United States, runs for two months and requires ten months to plan the next one. Designs are sent to lantern technicians and artisans in Zigong, China, and the completed components are assembled on-site.
To truly appreciate the work and artistry that goes into a piece, take a look at it both from afar and up close!
There are nine themed areas in the exhibit, not counting the carnival: the Kingdom; the Village; the East; Houston; Space; Ice; the Dinosaur; the Square and the Sea.
My friend and I headed to The Village first, because . . . Santa! We wanted to get in a quick visit with Mr. and Mrs. Claus before the crowds came. Sitting inside a large lighted ornament with room enough for your entire family to pose together, the couple encourages friends of all ages to stop by with their wish lists and cameras.
The Village is fairly centrally located, with a variety of traditional displays like nutcrackers, reindeer and presents surrounding a towering Christmas tree.
Before you leave the area, look for a big lighted barrel and get a warm (or cold) drink to enjoy on your walk. On brisk nights like last night, it sure makes a yummy difference.
Travel to The East, and enter visions of the homeland of the talented artists who created these lantern lights.
A grove of cherry blossoms invites visitors to leave heart shaped notes among its branches, and a fascinating water garden seems to ripple thanks to clever lighting patterns.
After you find your birth animal on a wall of the Chinese Zodiac, turn to your right for a real “wow” factor: a wall of immense blooms in brilliant colors magically open and close almost seeming to breathe. This is one of the displays that really made us stop and think about all of the talented people behind Magical Lights.
There’s no mistaking The Houston section with it’s large lettered sign. A stage that lights up as participants step and dance on its surface, a cowboy riding a bronco surrounded by longhorn, and a wall of sights from countries around the world fill out this area of the park.
The special Space area this year pays tribute to the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 with lighted tunnels populated with aliens, and a giant, walk-through maze whose center is circled by an enormous revolving space shuttle.
It’s hard not to start humming “Under the Sea” to yourself as you approach the Sea display, which definitely ranked as one of my favorites of the entire experience – mainly because of the stunning walk-in area designed to make you feel that you were below the waves with the friendly sea creatures.
Of course, the lovely mermaid was a plus, too!
For a couple of hours every night, the “Ice Sisters” (yes, we all really know who they mean) reside in Ice, ready to greet visitors. And if you take a photo with them, please be sure to drop a tip into Olaf’s Summer Vacation Fund!
After a chat with the frosty friends, enjoy a stroll through the rest of this glittering display.
Snowy ice flows are populated with polar bears, penguins and animated flying fish, near the Russianesque blue domes of a large structure. You can even sit inside a Cinderella style coach pulled Pegasus!
Rides and games in the Carnival area require additional tickets, but are especially popular with the younger set. The smell of the food alone is enough to draw you to this side of the park.
The “Dinosaur” section of the park just beyond the carnival did, indeed have dinosaurs, but much more.
Entering into the area, visitors will walk through a lighted archway past storybook and fantasy characters including Alice in Wonderland and her friends, Humpty Dumpty, rainbow-striped zebras and a couple of friendly looking elephants.
Paths then wind through a display of animatronic dinosaurs with loud, roaring sound-effect. (Be warned that these moving, monstrous creatures may either thrill or startle small children, depending on their personality.) To the side was a tent filled with dinosaur-themed interactive activities for children, including digging for ‘fossils’ in a sand pit, riding small mechanical dinosaurs, watching baby dinos hatch from eggs, and photo opportunities of being in a dino’s mouth, hatching from oversized eggs, or in a jeep threatened by a T-rex (think Jurassic Park).
The Square is home to the performance stage at Magical Lights. When you enter the park, be sure to check the performance times for the Chinese Acrobats . . . you won’t want to miss them. There are two 40-minute shows each night. We went to the last show of the night, just before leaving.
This lovely bit of Chinese culture and some jaw-dropping acrobatic feats made for an exciting topper for the experience and a great topic of conversation for the drive home. (Be prepared for your kids to want to try juggling an end table with their feet when they get home.)
Magical Winter Lights is open through January 5, 2020, every day including all holidays! So when you have that house full of relatives that need to get out and stretch their legs . . . now you have a plan! Ask about group rates and party plans.
I must add though, that this activity is unique in that I would enjoy it just as much as a solo outing, family activity or reason for friends to get together.
Tickets are less expensive if you purchase them online ahead of time, or look for special deals from Groupon or Costco. At the time I am writing this, Costco is running a deal for 2 adult tickets for 27.99, and Groupon has a deal for adult tickets for $20 and seniors and children for $12.
Adult (Ages 13-64): $22.00
Senior (65+)/Child (4-12): $13.00
Family 4-Pack: $76.00
Children UNDER 4 years old: FREE
Adult (Ages 13-64): $25.00
Senior (65+)/Child (4-12): $15.00
Family 4-Pack: $80.00
Children UNDER 4 years old: FREE
The festival is at Gulf Greyhound Park, 1000 FM 2004, in La Marque. The entrance to the park is located just before the Pizza Hut / Taco Bell on FM 1764. For more information go to: www.magicalwinterlights.com
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.