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Photo courtesy of Creos

Remember the playful, larger-than-life spinning tops that took over Discovery Green in 2015? The team behind that public art installation is back with another unique, interactive exhibit.

Called Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0, it features 16 glowing, house-like play structures on the Sarofim Lawn that create a space for Houstonians to sit, swing, relax, and come together as a community.

The installation from Mexican designers Esrawe + Cadena is inspired by the mercados of Latin America — lively street markets where human connections are made every day.

The goal is for visitors to make new friends, try new activities, dance to music, and enjoy the city’s diverse cultural and art experiences for the duration of the exhibit, which runs October 8-November 14, 2022.

But that's not all. To help bring Houstonians together, there will be public art programming inspired by the installation and sponsored by Houston Association of Realtors, starting with a big opening night celebration.

On October 8 from 6-10 pm, get ready for:

  • Two evening performances of Lifted by Mimbre, an all-woman acrobatic dance group from the United Kingdom on their first U.S. tour.
  • Houston artist Ange Hillz live-painting the newest President's Mural: Discovery Green from A to Z. Hillz will paint accompanied by DJ Monstaa and pianist DJ Pee Wee from The Too Laid Back Band. The painting will be on view through January 29, 2023.

"During the past two years, many Houstonians have felt isolated in their homes and have missed the opportunity to be part of a community," says Jennifer Wauhob, chair of the Houston Association of Realtors, which is sponsoring the public art programming. "Our 49,000 Realtors know how important community connection is and Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 creates a space where strangers can become friends in the comfort of an exhibit that feels like home."

Here's what else you can enjoy throughout the installation's six-week run:

  • Listen to a “Houston Strong” playlist courtesy of ROCO while enjoying the Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 art installation.
  • Catch two more performances of Lifted on October 9 at noon and 2:30 pm.
  • Watch the Houston Pride Band’s SaxWorx and Brass Tax quartet perform on October 14 from 7-9 pm.
  • Enjoy traditional Indonesian music from Gamelan of the New Moon performed live on October 21 from 7-9 pm.

And especially for children:

  • On Saturday, October 8, from 1:30-3 pm, kids can create a mini casa using toothpicks and gumdrops with the help of Girlstart STEM.
  • On Saturday, October 15, from 1:30-3 pm, kids can sing and dance along with Encanto characters Isabela, Mirabel, and Dolores.
  • On Saturday, October 29 from 1:30-3 pm, they can enjoy cultural crafts created by exhibitors visiting from different parts of Mexico.

Discovery Green is a 12-acre park that features sprawling lawns, a one-acre lake, an interactive fountain, a playground, public art installations, gardens, and an allée of century-old live oaks. Since opening in April 2008, the park has welcomed more than 20 million visitors.

As Discovery Green prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday party, Houstonians are invited to “discover themselves” at the park with free concerts, entertainment, relaxation, and more. More info at www.discoverygreen.com.

Photo courtesy of Creos

Esrawe + Cadena's Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 is on display October 8-November 14, 2022.

Photo courtesy of Visit Marble Falls

6 perfect weekend trips from Houston for a true Texas getaway

Post-Summer Plans

With the end of this brutal summer finally (hopefully?!) in sight, it is time to start planning for fall. Call it second summer, as in still plenty warm for enjoying the outdoors but no longer hot enough to melt pavement.

Here are six places perfect for a much-needed autumn getaway. Take one (or more) as a just reward for surviving another scorching Texas summer.

Port Aransas
Miles of beach, without summer crowds: What else do you need? Well, perhaps a place to stay, and you’ll find every option from fancy condos to kitschy cottages in this seaside town. Plenty of dining and entertainment options, too. Try the local seafood at places like La Playa Mexican Grill, Fins Grill & Icehouse, and Seafood and Spaghetti Works. Have a cold one at Bernie’s Beach House, the Port A Beer Hut, or Moby Dick’s. Rent bicycles, golf carts, surfboards, and kayaks at Island Surf Rentals (check out the Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trail). Or just sit on the beach.

Lake Bastrop North Shore Park
This LCRA park in Bastrop hugs the shore of a constant temperature lake for swimming, paddling (canoe, kayak, SUP, and Corcl rentals available), or fishing (with a boat ramp and pier). The park features almost 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, including one connecting to Lake Bastrop South Shore Park, and a sand volleyball court, too. Stay in one of 5 Airstream campers, 2 cabins, or 6 safari style tents. All have grills for cooking and decks for enjoying views of the lake and the stars while sipping a cold one. Other dining and entertainment options in nearby Bastrop, including a distillery and several breweries and taprooms. Neighbor's Kitchen & Yard and Iron Bridge Icehouse, both on the banks of the Colorado River, serve food, craft beer and cocktails, and live music.

Lake Georgetown
At this Corps of Engineers reservoir, choose from four campgrounds with RV and tent camping options. Enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking (rentals available at Russell Park), and hiking. The crown jewel is the Good Water Trail, a 26-mile loop around the entire lake through a variety of terrain, with multiple trailheads offering the opportunity for shorter hikes. Dining options, wine bars, breweries, and other lodging options are nearby in Georgetown. Check out Barking Armadillo Brewing and, on the courthouse square, three wine tasting rooms and multiple dining options.

Matagorda Bay Nature Park
Located where the Colorado River meets the Gulf of Mexico, Matagorda Bay offers miles of uncrowded beaches for combing and wetlands for paddling. Rent beach chairs, wagons, and kayaks (guided tours available), play miniature golf, fish on the beach or pier, or birdwatch. In addition to Airstream rentals and camping and RV sites, visitors now can rent one of 10 new bungalows that sleep from six to eight people, with fully equipped kitchens, outdoor decks, gas grills, and fantastic views.

Painted Sky Inn
Located on a tranquil inlet of Lake Buchanan, this waterfront property offers rooms for two to ten people with kitchens and lake views, as well as a tiny home and a vintage Airstream. Amenities include fire pits, BBQ grills, a fishing pier, and canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. Find miles of hiking trails at Canyon of the Eagles and Inks Lake State Park (day pass reservations recommended), or tour several nearby wineries (Torr Na Lochs and Fall Creek, to name two) and breweries (Save the World Brewing and Double Horn Brewing), plus dining options in Burnet and Marble Falls.

Frio River
The aptly named Frio River is famous for swimming and tubing in the summer. The most popular way to enjoy the river is Garner State Park, but getting weekend reservations can be tough. Another option is Neal’s Lodges, a sprawling family-owned complex that includes 81 cabins, 10 lodges, 17 condos, 45 RV hook-ups, and 16 tent sites, plus a country store and dining room. See a bat emergence at nearby Frio Cave or a bit farther away in Kickapoo Cavern State Park. Saturdays are for fine dining at The Laurel Tree and diner fare at Lost Maples Café, both in Utopia, and Concan has several eateries as well (some close after the summer season, so check websites).

Find miles of hiking trails at Canyon of the Eagles and Inks Lake State Park near Marble Falls.

Photo courtesy of Visit Marble Falls
Find miles of hiking trails at Canyon of the Eagles and Inks Lake State Park near Marble Falls.
Courtesy of Love Management Inc

Texas celebrity chef Tim Love pulls the plug on his 3 Houston restaurants

Smoked out

UPDATE: This article has been updated with a statement from Tim Love.

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Tim Love has bid the Bayou City farewell. The Fort Worth-based celebrity chef has closed his three restaurants in Upper Kirby's Levy Park. They were:

  • Woodshed Smokehouse: "an homage to all things wood grilled, roasted, steamed, braised and slow-cooked"
  • Love Shack: the chef's take on a classic burger joint
  • Side Dough: a double-decker bus serving coffee and pastries

The sudden shutterings end Love's presence in Houston. A notice announcing the closures is posted on both the doors at Woodshed and on the websites of all three restaurants. In response to CultureMap's request for comment about the situation, a representative provided the following statement from Tim Love.

The term of our License Agreement has expired. It’s been an honor to serve the people of the great city of Houston and we greatly appreciate your generous support of Woodshed, Love Shack, and Back Dough.

We are very grateful to the community and our team, and we look forward to the opportunity to opening another restaurant in Houston in the future.

First announced in 2017, Love's restaurants debuted with considerable fanfare, but their timing couldn't have been worse. Woodshed and its siblings opened to the public on March 12, 2020. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott closed restaurants for in-person dining on March 21. Although Woodshed boasted an expansive patio and flexible indoor-outdoor environment that suited the requirements of pandemic-era dining, it never quite seemed to achieve notoriety commensurate with Love's celebrity status.

Although Love may have exited Houston for now, he remains a dynamic presence in his hometown of Fort Worth. He recently opened Caterina's, an ode to Italian-American food that features an upscale environment and a policy forbidding the use of smartphones while dining. This fall he'll open Tannahill's Tavern & Music Hall, a bar, restaurant, and concert hall, in partnership with Live Nation.

Best known for his flagship restaurant Lonesome Dove, the acclaimed chef operates establishments in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Knoxville, TN. He's also a reality TV star known for his appearances on Iron Chef America, Top Chef Masters, and Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show he hosted with Masterchef judge Joe Bastianich.

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Teresa Gubbins contributed to this article.

Ancient dinosaur tracks surface in North Texas park after drought

welcome to jurassic park

Ancient dinosaur tracks were uncovered in a famous Texas park: The tracks, dating back approximately 113 million years, were discovered in a dried-out riverbed at Dallas-Fort Worth-area Dinosaur Valley State Parkabout a four-hour drive from Houston — on August 18.

The tracks were revealed due to the drought. Under normal weather conditions, they would have remained hidden underwater, as they have for these many decades. But thanks to climate change, patches of the Paluxy River, which runs through the park, dried out completely. According to park officials, it brought the tracks to light.

Sadly for dino fans, it's fleeting: With the rains crossing Texas this week, the tracks are anticipated to soon (maybe already) be buried again.

"While these newer dinosaur tracks were visible for a brief amount of time, it brought about the wonder and excitement about finding new dinosaur tracks at the park," said a park spokesperson in a statement. "Dinosaur Valley State Park will continue to protect these 113-million year-old tracks not only for present, but future generations."

The tracks are believed to belong to the Acrocanthosaurus, a dinosaur that would stand about 15 feet tall and weigh nearly seven tons. The other species found at the park is the Sauroposeidon, a much larger dinosaur at 60 feet tall and weighing about 44 tons.

Park rangers at Dinosaur Valley State Park caution that the visibility of any dinosaur tracks depends on how much rain the area receives. If you go there, you may not see these tracks. You probably won't see these tracks.

The tracks have made international news, after a group called the Friends of Dinosaur Valley State Park posted photos showing a clean-up of the space. The discovery has been covered by CNN, the BBC, and major networks. Everyone loves dinosaurs.

Photo courtesy of San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site

Beloved Houston historic battle site parks itself among worst spots for hay fever

Tissue time

This is certainly something to sneeze at: the cherished San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in LaPorte ranks among the worst parks in the country for hay fever sufferers.

YorkTest, a provider of at-home health tests, looked at the five-day average for grass pollen counts at the country’s 150 largest parks to come up with its list of the worst parks for hay fever. The historic San Jacinto Battleground site, home to Sam Houston's victory over Mexican general Lopez de Santa Anna, landed in 13th place, with an average grass pollen count of 66 grains of cubic meter.

Two parks in Nashville topped the list of the worst parks for hay fever, followed by a park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The only other Texas park among the 15 worst for hay fever was the fourth-ranked Barton Creek Greenbelt (average grass pollen count of 106.8 grains per cubic meter).

At the other end of the spectrum, San Antonio’s Rancho Diana Nature Park was one of the 10 of the largest U.S. parks where no grass pollen was detected.

“Though symptoms often resemble those of a cold, hay fever isn’t caused by a virus but a reaction to pollen, typically from grass in the summer. Highlighting the parks across the U.S. that have the highest pollen counts will help those who want to either try and avoid these areas or take necessary precautions to ease the symptoms,” YorkTest’s Kerri Ferriaioli says.

The Mayo Clinic explains that hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure. Indoor and outdoor allergens are the culprits.

Zyrtec, a maker of allergy medication, says hay fever symptoms typically appear in the spring, summer or early fall during peak times for tree, weed, and grass pollen, as well as mold spores.

More than 19 million American adults experience hay fever, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Photo courtesy of Lagoonfest Texas

Houston's coolest crystal lagoon makes a splash with most floating cabanas in the U.S.

float and chill

Last summer, Lagoonfest Texas nearly broke the internet when the beachy destination introduced its unique, floating cabanas — cleverly dubbed “aquabanas” — to its crystal blue waters.

Now, the 12-acre lagoon at Lago Mar in Texas City now boasts the largest collection of floating cabanas in North America — just in time for the triple-digit onslaught of a scorching Houston summer. Lagoonfest has added 18 new aquabanas to its fleet for a total of 22 on the water.

For the uninitiated, floating cabanas combine the thrill of water activities with the chill of sipping cocktails in a cabana. Lagoonfest’s collection includes picnic cabanas with a center table with drink holders, shaded seating, and a king lounger for tanning, per a release.

Three floating cabanas — called party cabanas (naturally) — are connected to a center inflatable island. They are more than 370 feet long and can accommodate more than 180 people at once.

These party and regular cabanas are perfect for private parties, group getaways, or big birthday bashes — all popular draws at the lagoon, notes Uri Man, CEO of the Lagoon Development Company. Prices for the day-long floating cabana rentals start at $450.

When not sipping, lounging, and dipping in to cool off, visitors can also rent kayaks, sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, and bumper boats. Active fun comes via the floating obstacle course and the 42-foot Titan slide. Full menus of food and bar options are also available.

By the numbers, the 12-acre Lago Mar lagoon is the largest in Texas and offers visitors more shoreline than any other man-made lagoon in the U.S. Containing more than 24 million gallons of water, the lagoon’s liner system is large enough to cover the entire Galleria mall — or 14 NFL football fields. Another fun fact: The lagoon surface is equivalent to some 1,350 home swimming pools.

Last year, the lagoon saw more than 80,000 visitors from around the state to its white, sandy shores.

Those interested can find tickets, availability, and more information at the official Lagoonfest site.

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Lagoonfest Texas; 12600 Crystal View Blvd. Hours are 10 am-8 pm Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 11 am-8 pm Sundays. Individual ticket prices start at $22; season passes start at $69.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest 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 Sugar Land 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 Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

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

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

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.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • 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, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

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.

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, CT with a budget of only $211.