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Photo courtesy of FW Opera

In a surprise announcement that comes one week before Afton Battle's last day as Fort Worth Opera general and artistic director, the company has named Angela Turner Wilson its new leader.

Wilson is a Fort Worth-based opera singer and TCU professor. Her tenure with FWO will begin December 12, according to a November 17 press release.

“After reviewing candidates from around the US and other countries, we are thrilled to announce Angela Turner Wilson will lead the Fort Worth Opera,” board vice chairman Hayne Shumate says in the release. “We wanted to find someone who has vast experience as a national operatic performer and someone who understands how to lead an organization and educate future opera singers. We were fortunate to find those qualities in Angela Turner Wilson. We can’t wait to see her take our organization to new heights.”

An accomplished opera performer, Wilson has appeared with the New York City Opera, Washington National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Boston Lyric Opera, Atlanta Opera, Portland Opera, and the Dallas Opera, among others. As a DFW resident, Wilson has performed with the Fort Worth Opera in L’Italiana di Algieri and Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini, the release notes.

She also has served on the faculty of the Vocal Arts Division at Texas Christian University since 2008. In 2017, she became Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Voice, and was named chair of the Vocal Arts Division at TCU in 2019. She was also the Founding Director of the TCU’s “Festival of American Song."

Wilson also has performed at several historic events, the release notes, including performing at the Clinton White House for a State Dinner honoring Italian Prime Minister Roman Prodi in 1998. She also performed at the opening of the Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in 2013. (Fun cross-town rivalry trivia: Her father, R. Gerald Turner, has been president of SMU since 1995.)

Turner Wilson made national headlines as one of numerous women who accused renowned opera singer Placido Domingo of sexual harassment or inappropriate, sexually charged behavior, according to the Associated Press.

Her appointment by FWO comes at a pivotal time, after several years of internal unrest and amid continued pandemic-time challenges.

Wilson succeeds Battle, who announced on October 24 that she would be stepping down as FWO head after two years; her last day with the company is November 23.

Battle had succeeded Tuomas Hiltunen, who also resigned after two seasons, in January 2020. Hiltunen was appointed in July 2017, five months after longtime FWO general director Darren Woods was fired.

"I am honored that the Fort Worth Opera asked me to lead this important organization,” Wilson says in the release. “Fort Worth Opera is a pillar of the fine arts in Fort Worth. I look forward to continuing the FWO’s high standard of artistic excellence and community outreach while expanding the national reach of the company into an exciting future.”

Wilson is a long-time resident of the Fort Worth-area. She and her husband, Michael, have two children: Luke, a freshman at TCU; and Wyatt, a sophomore at Keller High School.

Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Opera

Fort Worth Opera presents Stand Up!

Fort Worth Opera presents Stand Up!

Fort Worth Opera will present the world premiere of Stand Up!, composed by Music Director Emeritus Joe Illick, and with libretto by Director of COT Production and Civic Impact, Sheran Goodspeed-Keyton,

Stand Up! is a socially conscious chamber opera presented by FWO’s Lesley Resident and Studio Artists that gives the audience a snapshot of the life of South African activist Stephen Biko during 1960s Apartheid, and segues into a modern-day story of a similarly racially divided college campus in Texas.

The 45-minute performance seamlessly takes the audience from the formation of the Black Consciousness Movement in the late 1960s right into a Cultural Studies class in 2022, where a young black student struggles with his own will to speak out. Contemporary, high-spirited music and movement are at the forefront of this compelling story.

Photo by Joan Marcus

These are the 12 best things to do in Fort Worth this weekend

Weekend Event Planner

This is a big weekend around Fort Worth, with an annual film festival, the return of a beloved pianist, a national tour of a Broadway musical, two opera productions, larger-than-life Hot Wheels cars, the city's annual marathon, awards honoring the best in Texas country music, and more.

Below are the best ways to spend your precious free time this weekend. Want more options? Lucky for you, we have a much longer list of the city's best events.

Thursday, November 10

Lone Star Film Festival
The 2022 Lone Star Film Festival will feature eight narrative feature films, nine documentary feature films, and over 50 short films across four days. Highlights include opening night film Butcher's Crossing starring Nicolas Cage; a showcase screening of Living starring Bill Nighy; and a retrospective screening of Pedro Almodovar's 2006 film Volver. Most screenings will take place at Downtown Cowtown at the Isis. The festival will also include a gala on Friday honoring Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan with the Larry McMurtry Award.

Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth presents Beethoven Quartet Cycle
The Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth presents Beethoven Quartet Cycle, featuring the Miro Quartet. The concerts, going on through Sunday at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, highlight all 16 of Beethoven's string quartets. Bill McGlaughlin, host of Exploring Music will be a special guest at this event presenting the pre-concert talks about the works being performed.

Theatre Wesleyan presents Wonder of the World
Theatre Wesleyan will present Wonder of the World by David Lindsay-Abaire, a laugh-out-loud comic confection intended for mature audiences. The play follows the exploits of Cass as she flees from her troubled marriage in a frantic search for the life she thinks she missed out on. Cass heads to the natural wonder of the world - Niagara Falls - crossing paths with a shipload of nutty characters. Does all of the comedic chaos push Cass over the water's edge ... literally? The production runs through November 19 in Thad Smotherman Theatre on the Texas Wesleyan University campus.

The Cliburn presents Vadym Kholodenko
Vadym Kholodenko's dynamic and technically phenomenal performances earned him the gold medal at the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2013. He went on to be named the first artist-in-partnership of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, among other honors. The native of Ukraine and honorary Fort Worthian returns to Fort Worth for his first Cliburn Concerts appearance in nine years, performing a traditional recital at the Kimbell Art Museum on Thursday, and a more casual concert at The Post at River East on Friday.

Friday, November 11

New Fort Worth Opera productions
Fort Worth Opera will present two single-performance productions this weekend. On Friday at Fort Worth Community Arts Center will be the world premiere of Stand Up!, a socially conscious chamber opera that gives the audience a snapshot of the life of South African activist Stephen Biko during 1960s Apartheid, and segues into a modern-day story of a similarly racially divided college campus in Texas. On Sunday at Van Cliburn Recital Hall at TCU will be Of Thee I Sing! Songs of Love & Justice, a recital curated by Karen Slack that features a program with songs around the themes of love and justice as a reminder to the audience that no matter your race, ethnicity, politics, etc., we are all human.

Performing Arts Fort Worth presents Elf the Musical
It may be a bit early to get into the full Christmas spirit, but the story of Buddy the Elf in Elf the Musical is hard to resist. Unaware that he is actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas. The production runs through Sunday at Bass Performance Hall.

Cody Canada & The Departed in concert
The music of Cody Canada & The Departed blurs the lines between hard-edged country, rock & roll, and all the gritty sounds in between. The band has released four albums in their career, most recently 2018's 3. They'll play at Tannahill's Tavern & Music Hall.

Saturday, November 12

Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live
At Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live, fans will enjoy a new and expanded lineup of monster trucks as they experience the thrill of watching the iconic Hot Wheels monster truck toys come to life in a full-size, kid-focused, immersive Hot Wheels experience. This is the only opportunity to see real-life versions of the famous Hot Wheels monster truck toys, including fan favorites Bone Shaker, Tiger Shark, V8 Bomber, and Demo Derby. There will be three performances through Sunday at Dickies Arena.

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra presents Final Fantasy 35th Anniversary Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy Coral
Specially curated by Japanese composer and keyboardist Nobuo Uematsu, the program for Final Fantasy 35th Anniversary Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy Coral is a monumental, retrospective celebration of the Final Fantasy music catalogue. Conductor Arnie Roth leads an orchestra and chorus of 100 musicians on stage at Will Rogers Memorial Center, with exclusive HD video direct from creators at Square Enix.

Sunday, November 13

Fort Worth Marathon
The Fort Worth Marathon course is certified by the USA Track and Field Association and can be used to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It is a flat out-and-back course along the Trinity River. The event will also include a 20 Mile Race, Half Marathon, and 5K. Beginning and ending at Panther Island Pavilion, there will also be food trucks, hot showers, music, and free money giveaways.

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra presents "Robert Spano Performs Chamber Music"
Robert Spano, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's new music director and an accomplished pianist, will launch the Kimbell Chamber Series with a song cycle of his own composition, the Sonnets to Orpheus, featuring mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor. The intimate concert experience at Kimbell Art Museum's Piano Pavilion will also include Brahms' Piano Quintet in F Minor and Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp.

Texas Country Music Awards
The 2022 Texas Country Music Awards will feature performances by headliner Roger Creager, as well as Terry McBride & The Ride, co-host Brandon Rhyder, Bailey Rae, and more. Artists up for the top award, Entertainer of the Year, include Aaron Watson, Creed Fisher, Jon Stork, Kin Faux, and Randall King. The awards will take place at Billy Bob's Texas.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Elf the Musical will play at Bass Performance Hall, November 11-13.

Photo courtesy of H-E-B

Fort Worth's first H-E-B store tops this week's 5 hottest 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.

1. H-E-B is in fact opening a supermarket at Fort Worth's Alliance. Despite some coy protests to the contrary, it turns out that Fort Worth's Alliance is getting an H-E-B store after all. The mega supermarket chain is continuing its expansion in the DFW Metroplex with plans to open H-E-B Alliance at the northwest corner of Heritage Trace Parkway and N. Riverside Drive.

2. Where to eat in Fort Worth right now: 5 sizzling new restaurants for October. Fall's almost always a good time for restaurant openings in Fort Worth and 2022 is no exception. There are burgers, sandwiches, street food, sushi, bread, dumplings, and a fried bologna sandwich. Here's where to eat for October.

3. Afton Battle steps down as Fort Worth Opera general director after 2 years. Fort Worth Opera general and artistic director Afton Battle has resigned after leading the company through two challenging, post-pandemic years; her last day with the company will be November 23.

4. North Texas bluebonnet capital flourishes as No. 4 best suburb in state. The North Texas city known as a bluebonnet capital of Texas each spring is also one of the state's best overall suburbs. Ennis lands at No. 4 in a recent SmartAsset ranking of the best suburbs near a large city in Texas. Nationally, it's ranked 102nd.

5. Glittering Auberge Resorts luxury hotel checks into Fort Worth Cultural District. A new hotel in Fort Worth's Cultural District will come with one of the hottest names in luxe lodging: Auberge Resorts Collection will manage Bowie House, a new "urban luxury retreat" being built off the bricks of Camp Bowie. Now officially called Bowie House, Auberge Resorts Collection, the hotel is expected to open in late 2023.

Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Opera

Afton Battle steps down as Fort Worth Opera general director after 2 years

Opera news

Fort Worth Opera general and artistic director Afton Battle has resigned after leading the company through two challenging, post-pandemic years; her last day with the company will be November 23.

"It is with profound sadness I am sharing publicly that after two impactful — and in many ways life-changing — years with Fort Worth Opera, I announce my formal resignation as general and artistic director," she wrote in an email to colleagues on Monday, October 24.

Fort Worth Opera followed with a public announcement on October 25. In a statement, Hayne Shumate, acting FWO board chair, said, "I am deeply grateful to Afton for her leadership and vision during her time with Fort Worth Opera. The Opera remains committed to providing the Fort Worth community with exceptional performing and operatic art experiences that are accessible, inclusive and equitable across all audiences."

FWO leaders did not respond to questions regarding a search for Battle's replacement or who will serve as acting general director when she leaves.

Professional and personal decision
Battle says she made her intention to resign known to the FWO board of directors in July 2022 and remained on to ensure FWO's 76th season would have a successful opening this month.

In an interview with CultureMap on October 24, Battle says her decision to step down was both professional and personal.

"I feel like I’ve done my best and all that I can do at Fort Worth Opera. I feel I've given the company and community two really great years in the midst of really challenging times," she says. "I started this job in middle of Covid when we had no idea what we were doing next. We were able to persevere and have a beautiful season for 75th, and we're looking forward to 76th. I feel it is time for the company to build on that momentum with someone else who has, really, the understanding and acumen for the community as a whole.

"And also," she continues, "I have big hopes and big dreams, and I’m just getting started. Fort Worth Opera has been a place where I’ve ben able to build my own skillset and create my own portfolio of pieces and work I've been able to do. And I think it is time for me professionally to spread my wings and go a little bit higher."

Battle was quick to praise the "diligent and tireless efforts" of the Fort Worth Opera staff over the past two years.

"We are a staff of 13 pulling off the world of a staff of 300," she says. "Every single person on that staff is talented, kind, believes in the mission, the core values of the institution, they believe in the direction of the Fort Worth Opera is going, and I would not have been able to do half of what we’ve been able to accomplish without them."

"The People's Company"
A historic hire for FWO in September 2020, Battle was the first woman and Black individual to lead FWO in its then-75-year history. At the time, she pledged to make FWO "The People's Company," prioritizing efforts to reach new and traditionally underserved audiences throughout Fort Worth. She says she's particularly proud of creating an annual production of “A Night of Black Excellence."

Battle counts as other successes: the return of Noches de Ópera, FWO’s Hispanic Heritage engagement initiative, the development of FWOGO! to provide performance opportunities outside of Fort Worth, the expansion of Children’s Opera Theatre to serve more than 30,000 students across North Texas, the development of an online school curriculum, and the evolution of the Hattie Mae Lesley Resident Artist program to include a new relationship with TCU’s School of Music beginning fall 2022.

She says she is proud to have built a company that is "truly reflective" of the Fort Worth community.

"I do believe that with the staff I have here, we have been able to create something beautiful and impactful, special and important at the opera, "she says. "We have been able to change the way people engage in opera, view what opera is, and change the mindset of the community - the mindset that people had in past, which is that opera was elitist."

Navigating post-pandemic challenges
One of FWO's most significant changes during Battle's tenure was a shift away from a festival format and into a year-round season. The festival format had put FWO at a disadvantage in spring of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to cancel its 2020 festival — essentially its entire season — and pivot quickly and creatively to virtual offerings.

It was a crushing blow that followed a series of financial and leadership challenges in preceding years. General director Tuomas Hiltunen had just resigned after two seasons, in January 2020. Hiltunen had been appointed in July 2017, five months after longtime FWO general director Darren Woods — a beloved figure in the Fort Worth arts community — was suddenly fired.

The company was also reportedly carrying over years of debt. Through cost-cutting measures like scrapping a huge Wagner production and fundraising efforts at glamorous galas for loyal supporters, FWO worked to secure financial footing.

Artistically, under Battle, FWO has mostly moved away from expensive, full-scale productions to smaller chamber-style works and opera concerts. Significantly, no full-scale opera productions at Bass Hall are scheduled on the FWO's 2022-2023 season. (FWO is still listed as a resident company of Bass Hall.)

New realities
Longtime FWO artistic director Joe Illick left in June 2022, and Battle became both general and artistic director.

Battle is up front about the artistic challenges that have gone hand-in-hand with financial challenges in recent years — and continue now.

"The ramifications and the effects of Covid are ... much longer and further-reaching than any of of could have anticipated in march 2020," Battle says. "And then looking at a looming recession and inflation, it’s costing us three times as more to live our lives, and we are feeling it in all aspects of life.

"People have to make decisions that are best for their family and for them financially. Sometimes things that are luxurious start to become less and less a part of their lives. Unfortunately, sometimes those choices are coming down to season tickets to the opera or stockpiling for when a rainy day is going to come. Those are really real things that every performing arts institute is dealing with."

She stands by FWO's decision to scale back from traditional mainstage productions to be fiscally responsible during her tenure — even if it disappointed some longtime opera patrons.

"We have productions every month starting in October and two in November. Are they small-scale? Absolutely. Are they world-class art? Absolutely," Battle says. "There is a give-and-take that has to happen, especially when you are dealing with the looming long-term and far-reaching effects of Covid and the financial situation we find ourselves in as institutions. We have productions every month. They are aren't in Bass Hall — not because we don’t want to — but this year we're more mindful of ways to spend money.

"To produce great art, you have to be able to finance great art."

In a statement, acting FWO board chair Shumate praises Battle's leadership through the last challenging two years.

"The pandemic created enormous challenges for companies producing live art," Shumate says. "Afton’s dedication, along with the dedication of the talented FWO staff, saw us through these difficult seasons and on behalf of the board, staff and community. We were saddened when Afton shared her intent to leave FWO, but on behalf of the board, staff and community, we wish her the best.”

As for Battle's future steps, she says, "The sky’s the limit."

"I have dedicated more than half of my life to this art form — as a singer myself, a student, and administrator. The opera world has not seen the last of me. It is a big beautiful space that is inhabited by many companies and performing opportunities, so just stay tuned."

Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Opera

Fort Worth Opera presents Noche de Zarzuela

Fort Worth Opera presents Noche de Zarzuela

Noche de Zarzuela will take the audience across the Atlantic for an evening of excerpts from Spain’s most beloved zarzuelas from composers Jacinto Guerrero, Frederico Moreno and Soutullo-Vert. Zarzuela is the traditional Spanish operatic art form, combing musical passages with spoken sections, similar to operetta. Catalina Cuervo, Eduardo Rojas, and the Lesley Resident Artists will move the audience through beautiful passages from Los Gavilanes, La Leyenda del Beso, and audience favorite Luisa Fernanda.

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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.