Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.


The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Photo courtesy of Hallmark Channel

Hallmark Channel comes to Crowley for Countdown to Christmas event that includes free trees

Christmas countdown pop-up

The Hallmark Channel will kick off Christmas movie binge-watching season with a cross-country tour to Christmas tree farms – and a stop in North Texas is on the schedule.

Haynie's Green Acres Farm in Crowley – one of eight family-owned farms on the tour – will host a Hallmark Channel holiday pop-up event on two consecutive weekends, November 25-27 and December 3-4. The feel-good cable television network will install cheery photo ops, provide festive giveaways, and most notably, comp Christmas tree purchases for randomly selected customers.

The pop-up coincides with Hallmark Channel's signature holiday programming event, "Countdown to Christmas," which will debut new original holiday movies every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through the holiday season.

Hallmark Christmas pop-up It'll be like stepping into a Hallmark Christmas movie.Photo courtesy of Hallmark Channel

This is the second year for Hallmark’s holiday activations at Christmas tree farms, and their second time to appear at Haynie's. Farm owner Bettye Haynie says she was initially contacted by Hallmark to participate in the pop-up because her farm represented the channel's family-friendly values.

"We are excited to have Hallmark return to our farm this year," Haynie says. "They have been a wonderful fit and it has been our pleasure to have them visit."

Representatives from Hallmark Channel say farms were chosen based on their presence as a long-standing family destination where holiday traditions are manifested.

One other Texas tree farm was chosen, Spring Creek Growers, in Magnolia, northwest of Houston. The tour is also stopping in Somis, California; Powder Springs, Georgia; Chesterland, Ohio; Yardley, Pennsylvania; Raleigh/Cary, North Carolina; and Manalapan, New Jersey.

The Haynie family has owned their Crowley farm since 1978 and began growing Christmas trees in 1998. Trees range from Virginia pines to Carolina Sapphires and even brightly colored flocked Fraser firs. Prices range from $39.99 for a tabletop tree to up to $999 for a 12-foot flocked fir.

Although Haynie's typically lets customers chop down their own trees, this year all trees are pre-cut, as fields are closed due to the summer drought.

Hallmark Channel pop-up All trees at Haynie's will be pre-cut this year.Photo courtesy of Hallmark Channel

Haynie's offers complimentary family-friendly activities, including weekend hayrides, coffee and cider, picnic areas and tree swings, and plenty of areas for photography (rates apply for professional photograph sessions). Admission to Haynie's is free.

The Hallmark Channel tree giveaways will take nothing but a bit of luck on customers' part. During the pop-up events, customers will be selected randomly at checkout to receive a voucher good toward their tree purchase.

The Hallmark Channel pop-ups will run November 25-27 and December 3-4; hours are 2-5:30 pm Friday, 10 am-5:30 pm Saturday, and 12-5:30 pm Sunday.

Free photos with Santa will be available from 2-4 pm November 26-27 and December 3-4.

Haynie's Green Acres Farm is at 10405 Shannon Valley Dr., Crowley. For more information, visit their website.

Photo by Brooks Burris

Yellowstone and 1883 stars cowboy up at Fort Worth gala honoring Taylor Sheridan

Tinseltown in Cowtown

Fort Worth has always been "where the West begins," and now it's where TV's hottest Western drama begins, too. The 2022 Lone Star Film Festival Gala leaned hard into the city's connections to Yellowstone and its prequel, 1883, with signs and programs that boasted "The Road to Yellowstone Began in Fort Worth."

It was more than a clever tagline. The glittering annual gala was held November 11 at Hotel Drover in the Stockyards, mere steps from where the first few episodes of 1883 were filmed last year. Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan — who went to Paschal High School and lives in the Fort Worth area with wife Nicole — as well as with two of the shows' biggest stars, Ryan Bingham and LaMonica Garrett, were honored with the Lone Star Film Festival's most coveted awards.

It was a star-studded evening in which cast and crew of the Yellowstone franchise mingled with Fort Worth movers and shakers and fans of the show. Among the A-list crowd: Eric and Sainty Nelsen, Hassie Harrison (Yellowstone's Laramie), Kelsey Asbille (Monica Dutton in Yellowstone), Wendy Moniz (Sen. Lynelle Perry in Yellowstone), Dawn Olivieri (Sarah Atwood in Yellowstone), Mina Garrett, Parnell and Charlotte McNamara, Stacie McDavid, Marisa Wayne, Ethan Wayne, David Glasser, and Craig Cavileer.

As guests mingled with drinks in hand, some sipped craft beer from 6666 Grit & Glory, created with the essence of the legendary Four Sixes Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. The 6666 Ranch figured prominently into the last season of Yellowstone, is reportedly the name of a forthcoming spinoff, and has a strong Fort Worth connection — it belonged to the late oil heiress Anne Marion. Sheridan purchased it after Marion passed away in 2020.

Inside The Barn event space, guests were given a warm welcome by Bob Jameson, president & CEO of Visit Fort Worth; along with Chad Mathews, director of the Lone Star Film Society, and Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker.

Big awards for big stars
Eric Nelsen, a Fort Worth actor who played fan-favorite "Ennis" on 1883, gave a rousing tribute to Taylor Sheridan, before Lone Star Film Society board member Red Sanders presented Sheridan with the 2022 Larry McMurtry Award. The award honors native Texans who have made great contributions to the film, television, and creative industries. It is, of course, named after the iconic Texas novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, who died last year.

Fort Worth Film Commissioner Jessica Christopherson then presented LaMonica Garrett with the 2022 Spotlight Award. Garrett portrayed "Thomas" on 1883 to great acclaim. The Spotlight Award recognized his work on implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry.

The final award of the evening, the Stephen Bruton Award, was presented to Grammy award-winning musician and actor Ryan Bingham (Yellowstone's "Walker") by Tom Martens, director of the Fort Worth Music Office. A highlight of the evening was a performance by Bingham (who is coming back for a sold-out show at Billy Bob's Texas on December 9).

After closing remarks by Visit Fort Worth chief operating officer Mitch Whitten, the after-party kicked into high gear thanks to Disko Cowboy's Vinyl Ranch DJ Set.

'Yellowstone Week'
The gala was presented amid the 16th annual Lone Star Film Festival, during what could have been branded "Yellowstone Week" in Fort Worth.

Festivities kicked off with a special conversation at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, co-hosted by Nicole Sheridan and Kit Moncrief, at which Yellowstone director/cinematographer/producer Christina Voros (and 2021 Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree) gave an insightful keynote exploring the depth of the strong female characters Taylor Sheridan has created.

Two days after the Lone Star Film Festival Gala, on November 13, Yellowstone stars gathered in the Stockyards again for the premiere of season 5 at the Downtown Cowtown at the Isis theater and after-party back at Hotel Drover. (With 12.1 million viewers worldwide, the premiere reportedly was the most popular scripted series episode so far in the new TV season.)

Two days after the premiere, on November 15, the Yellowstone cast and crew (including its biggest star, Kevin Costner) headed to the Johnson County town of Venus for filming. Meanwhile, the two biggest stars of 1883, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, came to Fort Worth, where Hill received the Patsy Montana Award at the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon and Ceremony at Dickies Arena.

Sheridan and the Yellowstone franchise aren't done with Fort Worth yet. Another spinoff, 1883: Bass Reeves, is also being filmed in the area. The new six-part series is a sequel to 1883, about a former slave (played by David Oyelowo) who became one of the first Black U.S. deputy marshals west of the Mississippi River in 1875.

Filming for Bass Reeves is expected to bring millions of dollars to the local economy, Mayor Mattie Parker said during her State of the City address in late September. The show will continue to put Fort Worth on the map, she said.

Powered by the success of 1883 and Yellowstone, Fort Worth in 2022 shot onto a prestigious list of top filmmaking cities for first time.

In 2023, Sheridan will receive the state's highest honor for achievement in the arts, a Texas Medal of Arts Award.

Photo by Brooks Burris

Eric Nelsen, Ryan Bingham, Hassie Harrison, Kelsey Asbille

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images for Paramount

Yellowstone's starry season premiere tops this week's 5 hottest Fort Worth headlines

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: A lot happened this week, so here's your chance to get caught up. Read on for the week's most popular headlines. Looking for the best things to do this weekend? Find that list here. Need Thanksgiving dining options? Find those here.

1. 'Yellowstone' stars hit the red carpet for season 5 premiere in Fort Worth Stockyards. On a chilly fall Sunday evening, the cast and crew of Yellowstone descended on Fort Worth for the hit Paramount TV show's long-awaited season 5 premiere. Stars and supporters of both Yellowstone and its Fort Worth-shot prequel 1883 hit the red carpet (okay, technically it was black) at Hotel Drover before sitting down to a screening at the Downtown Cowtown at the Isis theater.

2. 13 things to know before you go to Parade of Lights 2022 in downtown Fort Worth. Downtown Fort Worth will light up with holiday spirit a few days before Thanksgiving, as the 2022 GM Financial Parade of Lights ushers in the festive season on Sunday, November 20. Here's what to know about road closures, parking, and more before you head downtown.

3. Where to drink in Fort Worth right now: 5 best bars for cozy fall cocktails. With consistently cool weather finally here and a couple weeks left in November to enjoy it, the time is right to sip something spirited and fall-spiced. Throw on a sweater and check off these five Fort Worth bars for the best of fall cocktails.

4. Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo goes worldwide for 2023 concert series. The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo has unveiled the initial lineup for its 2023 Auditorium Concert Series, taking place on various dates during the 23-day event, January 13 through February 4. Acts include John Michael Montgomery with Deana Carter, Tesla, ONEUS, and Larry the Cable Guy.

5. Main Event adds in-house restaurant to fun & games at all Dallas-Fort Worth locations. Main Event, the Dallas-based entertainment chain known for its arcade games, sports, and prizes, has added something edible to its roster: a full restaurant called Family Kitchen that puts a creative spin on arcade favorites such as burgers, sandwiches, and pizza.

Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA confirms stunning discovery of Space Shuttle Challenger artifact

historic discovery

A TV documentary crew has just made a startling discovery linked to one of the American space program's greatest tragedies, one that deeply resonated in Texas. Divers off the east coast of Florida have found an artifact underwater that NASA confirms is debris from the space shuttle Challenger.

While searching for wreckage of a World War II-era aircraft, documentary divers noticed a large object covered partially by sand on the seafloor, one that was clearly crafted by humans. The team contacted NASA after analyzing the proximity to the Florida Space Coast, the item’s modern construction, and presence of 8-inch square tiles, according to the space agency.

Upon viewing the TV crew's footage, NASA leaders confirmed the object is indeed part of the Challenger, which exploded during launch on January 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members on board — all of whom trained in Houston.

A History Channel documentary depicting the discovery of the Challenger artifact is scheduled to air Tuesday, November 22. While the episode will screen as part of a series about the Bermuda Triangle, the artifact was found well northwest of the area popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle, researchers note.

NASA, meanwhile, is currently considering what additional actions it may take regarding the artifact that will properly honor the legacy of Challenger’s fallen astronauts and their families, the agency notes.

The Challenger disaster is now counted as one of American history's "where were you?" moments. The mission, dubbed STS-51L, was commanded by Francis R. “Dick” Scobee and piloted by Michael J. Smith. The other crew members on board were mission specialists Ronald E. McNair; Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik; payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis; and teacher S. Christa McAuliffe.

Space Shuttle Challenger crew 1986 The Challenger crew poses ahead of the mission in January, 1986.Photo courtesy of NASA

McAuliffe, a charismatic civilian with a bright smile, became an international celebrity, bringing everyman accessibility to the space program. She was beloved by fans young and old, and quickly became the face of the doomed mission.

Celebrating NASA's 25th shuttle mission, the spacecraft waited overnight on Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A sudden coastal cold front brought freezing temperatures, causing ice to form on the shuttle. Launch managers cleared the mission for launch at 11:38 am on January 28, despite concerns raised by some shuttle program employees.

A mere 73 seconds after liftoff, major malfunction caused the explosion that killed the seven crew members, a moment captured on live TV and watched by millions.

Later, a NASA investigation revealed that the unexpectedly cold temperatures affected the integrity of O-ring seals in the solid rocket booster segment joints, sparking the explosion.

Challenger's loss, and later Columbia with its seven astronauts – which broke up on reentry in February 2003 over the western United States – greatly influenced NASA’s culture regarding safety. The agency went on to create an Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, developed new risk assessment procedures, and established an environment in which everyone can raise safety concerns.

NASA also created the Apollo Challenger Columbia Lessons Learned Program to share these lessons within the agency and with other government, public, commercial, and international audiences.

“While it has been nearly 37 years since seven daring and brave explorers lost their lives aboard Challenger, this tragedy will forever be seared in the collective memory of our country,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “For millions around the globe, myself included, January 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday. This discovery gives us an opportunity to pause once again, to uplift the legacies of the seven pioneers we lost, and to reflect on how this tragedy changed us. At NASA, the core value of safety is – and must forever remain – our top priority, especially as our missions explore more of the cosmos than ever before.”

By law, all space shuttle artifacts are the property of the U.S. government. Members of the public who believe they have encountered any space shuttle artifacts should contact NASA at ksc-public-inquiries@mail.nasa.gov to arrange for return of the items.

Photo courtesy of The Roku Channel

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is as wacky and over-the-top as expected

Movie Review

For over 40 years, “Weird Al” Yankovic has reigned as the world’s most popular comedy musician. Given the unserious nature of Yankovic’s songs, a movie about his life was never going to be straightforward. Taking inspiration from a 2013 Funny or Die video of the same name, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story plays out as – what else? – a parody of music biopics, which tend to have many of the same beats, such as a rough childhood, music providing a salvation, issues with drugs and/or alcohol, and, ultimately, redemption.

And so, hilariously, the young Al yearns to play the accordion and make up fake lyrics to real songs, only to be stymied by his well-meaning mom, Mary (Julianne Nicholson), and angry and violent dad, Nick (Toby Huss). After hearing things like “We agree that you should stop being yourself and doing the things you love,” he rebels by going to … a teenage polka party. (Unintentionally funny is that Nicholson recently played Marilyn Monroe’s mom in Blonde, a 1-2 punch that’s hard to beat.)

When Al (now played by Daniel Radcliffe) finally gets out of the house, he’s able to spread his wings and make the weird music he wants, overcoming the skepticism of record executives like Tony Scotti (played by Yankovic) with the help of mentor Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson). When Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes his girlfriend to, in part, get the sweet bump that one of his parody songs can provide, it starts in motion a series of events too ridiculous to be true.

Directed by Eric Appel (who also made the short film) and written by Appel and Yankovic, the film can essentially be split in two. The first half is the more successful part, as the pure comedy of his parents' overreactions to his music tastes, the random ways in which he draws inspiration for songs like “My Bologna,” and other out-of-nowhere things never fail to draw a laugh.

Not content to play out the whole movie that way, the filmmakers make the second half into something … weird. Without spoiling anything, it radically shifts the perspective of Weird Al as both a musician and a person, a change that, while still objectively funny, takes on a much different tone. It also features less of his music, a decision that takes some of the early fun out of the film.

The film features a bevy of celebrity cameos, like Lin-Manuel Miranda as a surgeon, Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol, and Quinta Brunson as Oprah Winfrey, as well as a pool party scene featuring a slew of ‘80s icons like Devo, John Denver, Pee Wee Herman, Tiny Tim, Gallagher, Divine, and Elvira. You never know who’s going to pop up next, giving the film an extra dose of enjoyment in addition to the story.

Radcliffe, though much shorter than the actual Weird Al (likely a joke in and of itself), is a great fit for the role, bringing the type of energy it deserves. Even when lip-synching (the voice when singing is definitely the real Weird Al), he’s all-in on the performance. Wood is also great, delivering a depiction of Madonna that’s even more out-there than the real-life version.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story ultimately hits more highs than lows thanks to the funny “origin” stories around songs like “Eat It,” “Another One Rides the Bus,” and “Like a Surgeon.” You can give the filmmakers credit for trying something different, but like any popular musician, things are better when they play the hits.


Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is now streaming on The Roku Channel.

Photo courtesy of The Roku Channel

Evan Rachel Wood and Daniel Radcliffe in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

'Lightscape' shines bright in this week's 5 most popular Fort Worth stories

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: A lot happened this week, so here's your chance to get caught up. Read on for the week's most popular headlines. Looking for the best things to do this weekend? Find that list here.

1. What to expect at 'Lightscape,' Fort Worth's new walk-thru winter wonderland. Fort Worth’s most Instagrammable new holiday lights display is best enjoyed without clinging to a phone. “Lightscape,” which made its North Texas debut at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden on Friday, November 18, walks visitors through a winter wonderland experience unlike any other in DFW.

2. Hoffbrau Steak fires up the grill for new location in Grapevine. A longtime steakhouse is coming to Grapevine: Hoffbrau Steak & Grill House, a small family-owned and -operated chain that's been in Dallas-Fort Worth for more than 40 years, will open a location November 28 at 700 W. State Hwy 114, previously home to a Brick House Tavern & Tap, which closed during the pandemic.

3. Yellowstone and 1883 stars cowboy up at Fort Worth gala honoring Taylor Sheridan. Fort Worth has always been "where the West begins," and now it's where TV's hottest Western drama begins, too. The 2022 Lone Star Film Festival Gala - held November 11 at Hotel Drover in the Stockyards - leaned hard into the city's connections to Yellowstone and its prequel, 1883, with signs and programs that boasted "The Road to Yellowstone Began in Fort Worth."

4. Divine doughnuts and tempting tamales top this Fort Worth restaurant news. This roundup of restaurant news around Fort Worth has tidbits about doughnuts, Cajun food, vegan tamales, and gourmet ice cream, culled from press releases, social media, and the occasional hot tip. Here's what's happening in Fort Worth restaurant news.

5. Here comes Santa House, back to Grapevine for a very charitable 2022 Christmas season. After taking a much-needed break last year, Louie Murillo and his family are once again decking their halls, yard, and rooftop to bring back the Grapevine Santa House — a smash hit during the 2020 holiday season. The half-acre property is a "Where's Waldo?" maze of more than 1,000 Santa statues, which visitors can walk among, snap photos with, and then, they hope, make a donation to Grace Grapevine's Christmas Cottage program.

Texas parks beckon throughout 2022 holidays with festive events and peaceful escapes

If roasting ‘smores and hiking in the great outdoors sounds fun, pack up your family and visit one of Texas’ state parks this holiday season.

Texas state parks and historic sites are ringing in the holidays with a number of festive events. There are drive-thru light tours, special holiday hikes, arts and crafts for the kiddos, and more.

Reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to visit an individual park's website before you head out. And check the Holidays in the Parks page for many more fun options, pricing information, and more information.

Dallas-Fort Worth-area parks

Tyler State Park
Avoid the Black Friday madness with the 15th annual “Walk-off the Bird” Bird Walk, a 2.1-mile walk by the lakeshore at 9 am November 25. Bring your binoculars to relax and enjoy the bird life of the East Texas Pineywoods. At 2 pm the same day, enjoy a Fall in the Savannah fall foliage hike. Enjoy Reading Ranger Campfire Stories around a cozy campfire at 3 pm December 3. Head back December 9-10 for A Pineywoods Christmas, when you can stroll or drive through the Lakeview and Big Pine campgrounds to take in campers' elaborately decorated sites and take a Winter Wonderland Hike.

Lake Tawakoni State Park
Drive through or stay at the park and decorate your campsite with your favorite Christmas decorations to receive your second night of camping free during your stay. There will be a decorating contest, complete with awards, as well as a reading of The Night before Christmas — all part of Twinkle Tour 2022, 5-8 pm December 3.

Daingerfield State Park
Drive through the park lit up like Santa Land during the 10th annual Christmas in the Park drive thru lights tour December 14-17 (times vary). Marvel at the decorated campsites and lights, and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while waiting for a chance to visit with Santa.

Eisenhower State Park
Help those in need and spread holiday cheer — and as a bonus, get free entry to the park — by bringing one unwrapped donation item to the park’s Holiday Donation Drive from November 25 to December 19. Come back December 9-10 to visit the Light Up the Park drive-thru lights event, featuring milk and cookies with Santa. This year, the park is taking unwrapped toys to donate instead of collecting entrance fees for the event.

Cleburne State Park
Enjoy Pancakes With Santa and make pinecone bird feeders 9-11 a.m. December 10.

Cedar Hill State Park
Walk off your Thanksgiving Day meal and explore nature in the cool fall air during the three-mile Thanksgiving Nature Walk 7:30-9 a.m. November 26. Search for birds taking their winter break at the park during their Winter Birding Walk, which takes place 7:30-8:30 am December 13. Explore Christmas on Penn Farm on December 17: Learn about the history and pioneers of the Penn Family and the farm they built 150 years ago.

Lake Mineral Wells State Park
Experience Christmas, cowboy style, at Cross Timbers Cowboy Christmas, December 3. Park ranger and cowboy poet David Owens will gather guests around a campfire at the Lone Star Amphitheater for an evening of cowboy culture through songs, stories and poems.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
In partnership with Toys for Tots, the park is hosting Christmas in the Valley, a full day of ranger-led events, programs, family friendly activities, arts and crafts, food and more. Bring a new and unwrapped toy for free admission for the whole family. The event takes place 1-4 pm. December 17.

Austin/San Antonio-area parks

Bastrop State Park
The park’s annual Gobble Till You Wobble hike November 25 has been canceled due to predicted rains. However, you can still follow ornaments with clues through the park every day in December during the annual Fa La La Through The Forest Scavenger Hunt. Enjoy the Lost Pines Christmas Parade, a collaborative event with Bastrop and Buescher Parks, at 6 pm December 10. Tour the inside of the historic Refectory and see how the Civilian Conservation Corps celebrated Christmas away from home during A Lost Pines CCC Christmas 9 a.m. to noon December 17.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site
Attend Deck the Halls, 10 am. to 3 pm November 26 to explore how early Texans at the Sauer-Beckmann Farm got ready for the holidays by stringing popcorn and decorating cookies to hang on their Christmas tree; learn how to make wreaths out of local cedar and dip candles as the farm staff get ready for das Weihnachten (Christmas). Return to the park at 5:30 pm December 18 for the 53rd Annual Tree Lighting, a holiday tradition started by President and Mrs. Johnson.

Garner State Park
Join the Buffalo Soldiers program and friends as they stop into Garner State Park before leaving for Christmas break during the Marching Towards Christmas event 10 am to 2 pm December 10. Christmas activities will include hand-dipped candles, frontier Christmas painting, Christmas-themed hard tack in Dutch ovens, and stories of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buescher State Park
Take a Giving Thanks Guided Hike and learn how the Civilian Conservation Corps built the park from 3-4 pm November 26. On the Fa La La in the Forest Scavenger Hunt, you can follow ornaments with clues through the park to secure a prize at the end, December 1 to January 1. Enjoy the Smithville Festival of Lights and Lighted Parade, a collaborative effort between Buescher and Bastrop parks, on December 3.

Hill Country State Natural Area
See how art, history and state parks are connected; learn some basic watercolor techniques and paint a card or two to take home during the Watercolor Christmas Cards event 2:30-4 p.m. December 3. Come back for Horses in History & Ornament Craft from 2:30-4 pm. December 22 and learn how horses played important roles in the lives of vaqueros, native people, ranchers and more. Then, play a round of horseshoes and paint a horse ornament to take with you.

South Llano River State Park
At Christmas at the Ranch, 2 to 5 pm December 3, guests can warm up with hot chocolate and cider, listen to live entertainment, enjoy crafts and cookie decorating, and anticipate Santa's visit while taking in the twinkling lights and Christmas decorations at the historic Ranch House that now serves as Park Headquarters.

Houston and Gulf Coast-area parks

Brazos Bend State Park
Holiday in the Park is an all-day affair on December 10. Events include a self-guided "Elf Hike," Christmas crafts, "Pup Parade," s'mores, and more.

Goose Island State Park
See the park in lights, enjoy holiday activities, and camp for free when you decorate your campsite during Christmas in the Park on December 17. Guests are invited to "Santa's Village" at the CCC Recreation Hall for holiday crafts, games, hot chocolate around the campfire, and to drop off letters to Santa in the North Pole Mailbox.

Lake Livingston State Park
Learn about your favorite Thanksgiving food (the turkey) during Campfire Turkey Talk on November 26. Rangers will cover the history of Thanksgiving, the habits and behaviors of wild turkeys, and share interesting facts about turkeys, including how it nearly became our national bird.

Lake Corpus Christi State Park
Get in the holiday spirit with the second annual Holiday Light Drive Thru 6-9 pm December 10. Visitors can enter the park for a drive through the lighted areas of Javelina and Opossum Bend camping loops, plus the Old Pavilion.

West Texas and the Panhandle-area parks

Franklin Mountains State Park
Pack your Thanksgiving leftovers and hike 1.5 miles up to Aztec Caves during the park’s Turkey Trot at 11 am November 25. On December 3, make ornaments and holiday cards with recycled materials as part of the Art in the Parks series. During Cookies and Cocoa, you can decorate and take home your own Christmas treat while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate 2-4 pm December 23. Come back on Christmas Eve for a guided, two-mile Santa Hike at 11 am.

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Bring your family out for Home for the Holidays guided family hike on December 10 and moderate hike on 17.

San Angelo State Park
Enjoy a drive-thru tour of lights and optional pictures with Santa and Smokey Bear during Holly-Days in the Park 6-8 pm December 10.

Affluent Fort Worth neighbor leads list of lavish holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Flower Mound as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Flower Mound is $3,531 per person, the third highest in the nation.

The town's 2021 population of 77,243 (per the U.S. Census) boasts a median income $139,703 and earlier this year was named by Ventured.com as the richest city in Texas.

In spite of an increase over last year's gift list totals, Flower Mound dropped to the third spot after being ranked No. 1 last year with a budget of $3,427. Newton, Massachusetts (budget $4,233) and Palo Alto, California (budget $3,920) edged out the Texas city this year.

Flower Mound was the only Texas city in the top 10, but there's plenty of holiday cheer to be found in the report, and not just for Flower Mound Santa fans.

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

This could be good news if your Christmas wishes are on local shopping lists. Eight other North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630

Fort Worth landed at No. 366 with a budget of $890, while Dallas landed at No. 401 out of 558 cities with an average holiday budget of $845.

Elsewhere in Texas, spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Santa's bag could be a mixed bag in the Houston area with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, Connecticut, with a budget of only $211.