Christmas time

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It is now the crazy “what time is it, what day is it, and what should I be doing” part of the year in between Christmas and New Years.

I did not have any expectations because Christmas has been a rough time for me the past few years, but now that I can look back on the whole month, we really did have a nice holiday season.

We fully decorated the apartment for the first time in two years, tree and all. We did decorate the first year we lived in Texas, but without a Christmas tree, it did not feel complete. This lead me to not want to decorate at all the second year. This year, with a bigger apartment, with a fireplace mantel and room for a tree, we went all out.

We have always had a mismatched assortment of decorations, but I am slowly gathering up things that have a similar theme. We both like the country old fashioned Christmas theme, which was most apparent if you looked at our fireplace the last six weeks.

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And for good measure, here is another picture of our one cat enjoying the fire. We have had plenty of fires this season so far. This winter has been chilly for Houston’s standards. There have been lots of cloudy and rainy days that have been made brighter and happier with a fire.

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Here is a picture of our tree. We were used to buying grand nine or ten foot tall trees that would take up a lot of space in our empty dining room. I was concerned that buying a five footer would look puny, but it really was a nice tree!

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Here are pictures of some of our other decor.

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There was also a lot of nice times with my coworkers. December 4th is National Cookie Day, and someone generously baked a batch of sugar cookies and brought in lots of icing and sprinkles. Anyone who wanted to could decorate their own cookies.

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I also baked my own sugar cookies and brought them in to work to share. It seemed like for two weeks straight, someone was bringing in some sort of sweets to share. Candy, cookies, etc. I am now trying to eat more vegetables!

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The Chronicle’s holiday party was also fun too. It was casino themed, which I was originally not thrilled about, but we did have fun. Derek got lucky playing roulette. Too bad it wasn’t real money! Here is a photo of us at the photo booth.

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All of the workers on the third floor also coordinated a holiday lunch. Everyone brought something. It was delicious. There were so many leftovers that we were able to eat it all a second time too.

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Merry Christmas! Happy holidays!

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Day at Galveston and Moody Gardens activities

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Even though we had just been at Galveston last weekend for Dickens, we went back again for more Christmas activities.

We arrived at lunch time and tried a new restaurant called Shrimp and Stuff. Their website says that the restaurant is named the best seafood place in all of Galveston County, so it couldn’t be bad! The food was delicious. I got a shrimp po boy and a cup of gumbo and Derek got a bowl of gumbo.

The gumbo was not spicy (not a bad thing) but Derek and I have gotten accustomed to spicy Cajun food so we found a bottle of Cajun hot sauce and added that to our dishes! If you told me 3 years ago that I would love spicy gumbo and jambalaya, I would have said you were crazy. I am very picky and tend to eat bland foods.

The parking lot had some cool murals, so I snapped a few photos before we headed to the seawall. Once there, we headed to Hotel Galvez, to check out their Christmas decorations. They had some nice Christmas trees, and a gingerbread house.

After a short walk on the beach, we headed to the Strand. It was so quiet compared to Saturday’s Dickens event, but it was nice. We enjoyed coffee and chai tea at another new favorite place, MOD Coffeehouse. We browsed in a few stores and got more candy at La King’s Confectionery.

We headed to Moody Gardens around 4 p.m. to buy our holiday combo tickets. Moody Gardens is a large resort type area with lots of activities. They have a bunch of special holiday activities. We picked the holiday combo ticket, which got us access to Ice Land: Pole to Pole, Festival of Lights, and one other attraction of our choosing, all after 4 p.m. We went on a Thursday, which is considered a value day, and saved $5 each on our tickets.

The attraction we chose was the Rainforest Pyramid. The main attractions of Moody Gardens are the three pyramids, each with a theme: Rainforest, Aquarium and Discovery. (I had been to the Aquarium Pyramid with mom, dad and Aunt Susie earlier this year.)

The Rainforest Pyramid was neat. You walk through the different levels of the rainforest, the top, the middle and then the understory. And as you walk through the paths, there are animals to look at, such as birds and reptiles.

The second thing we did was Ice Land: Pole to Pole, which is a big enclosed tent kept at 9 degrees, and filled with ice sculptures and scenes. This year’s theme is North Pole and the South Pole.

They were handing out parkas to everyone, but Derek and I had dressed up as we would normally do if we were still in Pennsylvania, so we skipped this line and headed in. When we first opened the door, we looked at each other and said, “This isn’t bad! It feels like Wellsboro.” The group of older ladies that entered behind us were exclaiming, “It feels like the North Pole in here!” Perspective.

We were both impressed with the ice sculptures. They had one for just about every animal. There was also an ice slide (apparently you need the parkas for this because I got stuck half way down!) and an Ice Bar, which Derek bought drink tickets for.

After leaving the ice tent, the 66 degree temperature outside felt quite comfortable. Then it was off to the Festival of Lights, which is a one-mile walking trail with light displays. They did a great job, with lots of different things and scenes to look at.

If you’re in the Galveston area, I recommend the holiday combo ticket. We paid about $25 each (remember, for a value night) but even with the regular $30 price, you’re still getting three attractions for the price of one. A regular ticket to just the Rainforest Pyramid is $25!

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Dickens on the Strand

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Derek and I went to the Dickens on the Strand event in Galveston last weekend. This is the one event that I have been looking forward to the most, for the last two and a half years. My previous work schedule, having mid-week days off, prevented me from being able to go. Things timed up nicely this year though, because Derek’s last day of school and his semester review was the day before, so we were both “home free.”

This event was important to us because it would be like getting a piece of “home.”  Each December, our hometown of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, puts on its own Dickens of a Christmas event. Both Dickens events happened the same day too, which made it seem more special.

I am not quite sure how to convey this, but the event simultaneously exceeded my expectations and disappointed me. I think we set ourselves up for failure because we tried to compare and contrast every aspect, which may have taken some of the joy out of the event.

For starters, Wellsboro’s Dickens is free to attend. If you want to park up close, you may be paying $10, but if you want to forgo that, there is a shuttle that can take you to Main Street. So let’s just say it costs nothing if you want to be cost conscious. Tickets to Dickens on the Strand were $30 total for the two of us, and then $20 parking on top of that. We were already $50 in the hole before we even stepped through the gates, which was frustrating.

Dickens on the Strand is bigger overall, spanning quite a few blocks, but because of that it also seemed a bit thinned out. The Galveston event comes out on top with entertainment though. There were six entertainment stages with rotating events every half hour. We kept walking and doing loops of the festival area, and saw something different each time. We saw a magic show, a Cirque show, a high school bagpipe band, carolers and musicians.

The best part of the day was the Queen’s parade. The parade featured a woman who portrays Queen Victoria with her guards, and different groups in Galveston, such as the Elissa ship.

There were so many people dressed up Victorian style, more than in Wellsboro. It was fun to people watch. There were also a lot of people dressed like pirates, and like steampunk.

The thing that we were both the most disappointed about was the type of vendors. In Wellsboro, it is all handmade crafts. For instance, Wellsboro has the infamous Bucky Green, who carves pine trees. On the morning of Dickens, people line up by his booth starting at sunrise to get a tree. There is another man who I have seen at the event most years who carves wooden ducks to sell. These types of crafts and woodwork have become almost synonymous with the Dickens event itself.

None of that was to be found at Dickens on the Strand. We think maybe the vendor fee for such a big event in Galveston is probably too steep for small self-business crafters?

Another big difference was the weather, but a good difference. There was a heat wave, and it was 75 degrees! I prefer that to freezing each year. I attended my first Dickens quite a few years back with a friend and her boyfriend, and my hands got so cold that I was crying. They bought me one of those disposable hand warmers. Nothing to worry about in Galveston though!

I am glad that we went. I always enjoy a day in Galveston. Even after all the build up though, I don’t think I would need to go again. I have realized the importance of keeping Wellsboro’s memories where they belong, and not try to mash them together with something that wouldn’t exactly fit.

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Nutcracker Market

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The Nutcracker Market is one of Houston’s biggest shopping events, and it signals the start of the Christmas season. It is held at NRG Center, which is a part of the stadium grounds. I have wanted to go for the past three years, but admittedly it is too steep of an admission price for me. It is $20 to get in, with proceeds going towards the Houston Ballet.

This year, I planned it out to use the last bit of my birthday money to be able to go. My co-worker and friend Tricia came with me.

Tricia went to buy our tickets when a woman was handing out left over 4-day early bird passes for free! These are a $50 value, and are good for repeat admission for all four days of the market, and allow us to get in earlier than 10 a.m. general admission. We got there just after 9:30 a.m. We lucked out!

A good word to describe the Nutcracker Market is “overwhelming,” both in a good and bad way. Bad because there are so many people, and there are just times when the aisles back up with people not being able to move. (We were expecting this to be the case though.) It is overwhelming in a good way because there are hundreds of vendors. It is a great way to get your Christmas shopping done all in one place.

It’s also a good way to get into the Christmas spirit, if only for all of the Christmas displays alone. There were tons and tons of Christmas trees, all with people lining up by them to get their selfies.

There were mostly women at the event, and they all seemed to come in packs. A lot of them were wearing matching Christmas themed shirts, and wearing silly Christmas hats. I think this is a good strategy though, in case if you get lost from one another.

Because of the gifted tickets, after two and a half hours with Tricia, I was able to rest up for a few hours, and then go back for round two with Derek. It is worth it to go back a second time. I was able to see a lot that I missed the first time around.  Tricia then picked up the tickets from me and she was able to go back, too.

Some of the things that Derek and I bought include: a Christmas ornament that says “Merry Texmas Y’all,” a silver Texas charm that I can put on a chain, a bag of chocolate toffee (which is already gone) a new wallet for Derek, gumbo soup mix and a canvas Christmas scene painting with LED lights in it.

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Christmas eve in Galveston

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I was off on Christmas eve, and the weather called for a beautiful day – sunny and 68 degrees. Hmm. What could we do? Last year we went out to the park, so I didn’t want to do the same thing. Then I thought, what about Galveston? A winter’s day is the best time to convince (drag) Derek to the beach with me, since he has less of a chance to get burnt. Derek and the strong sun on a beach do not mix.

We did everything on a whim, and we ended up getting lucky a few times. For instance, we arrived about a half hour before the shops on the Strand opened, so I suggested walking to the pier. There, we saw a pod of dolphins!

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After that, we moseyed on back to the Strand, and made our way through the shops. At about 10:25, I suggested to go to LaKing’s Confectionery for coffees. When we got there, we saw a sign that said the next taffy pull demonstration would be at 10:30!

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We enjoyed the Christmas decorations, and took some Christmas type photos of our own with props that we brought with us.

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The last lucky thing of the day was happening upon a sandman!

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We both had a great day. Perhaps we can make this a new Christmas tradition?

Christmas lights in River Oaks

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A few days ago I saw a short 20 second video on Facebook of a drive through of Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood covered in Christmas lights. I immediately sent the video to Derek and said, “let’s go.”

River Oaks is one of the more affluent neighborhoods in the city, and it backs up against the Memorial Park golf course. I don’t think that really has much to do with the fact that their Christmas light displays are spectacular, but it helps that all of the houses are grandiose.

I did some research online, and it was all the same: Start at River Oaks Blvd, and from there turn on all of the side streets. Easy enough, but Derek and I were still skeptical because we’ve never done this before. However, it was clear that we were in the right place when we turned onto the Blvd. Wow.

Lots of people were driving around slowly with their flashers on like us, and I can only imagine it would be crowded on the weekends and as it gets closer to Christmas. It was a great night out  – for free – that helped get us in the Christmas spirit.

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Gingerbread House

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I unexpectedly had Christmas Eve off, and I am so used to working that day at all my other jobs. With a free day ahead of me, I looked into Christmas type activities to do.

I found a large one-and-a-half story gingerbread house set up in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.

Some facts about the house:

It took 75o hours to build. The builders used 500 pounds of gingerbread, 350 pounds of dark chocolate, 725 pounds of milk and white chocolate and 325 pounds of sugar!

The team really did a nice job with the details. We especially thought that being able to see inside the house was a nice touch.

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