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© Michelle Watson/CultureMap

Houston's chilly Christmas morning turned into a snowy delight in one small corner of the city when the 150 mothers and children at the modest Mission of Yahweh homeless shelter were treated to the holiday celebration of a lifetime.

It was a most generous gift — "Christmas on a Mission" — that Monica Hartland Blaisdell and John Blaisdell launched six years ago to bring special joy to the unfortunates who would otherwise be on the streets.

By 8:30 Christmas morning the mission campus had been transformed into a winter wonderland complete with snow (and the requisite snowball fights) and the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus along with a posse of elves. There were games, face painting, a 25-foot slide and a Christmas DJ. Christmas cookies and hot chocolate for everyone!

Mission volunteers presented carry-on bags, filled with much-needed personal items, to each mom while the youngsters received toys requested in their letters to Santa.

Joining the Blaisdells as lead elves were Bethany Hartland, Julie Pitts, Megan Blaisdell, Ginnell Marshall and Paul-David Van Atta.

Sharing this true spirit of Christmas adventure were volunteers, many accompanied by their children, including Joanna and Brad Marks, Samantha and David Kennedy, Hannah and Cal McNair, Janelle and Greg Reid, Warner Roberts, Charlie Hartland, Angie Roberts, Ben Johnston and Erich Ploog, Christine Kirchner, Brian Hartland, Adele Hartland and Monsour Taghdisi and Henry Richardson.

Taking a merry Christmas to Mission of Yahweh Santa's elves with Santa (Brian Hartland), Mrs. Claus (Adele Hartland) and young Michael McNair on Santa's lap.

© Michelle Watson/CultureMap
Taking a merry Christmas to Mission of Yahweh Santa's elves with Santa (Brian Hartland), Mrs. Claus (Adele Hartland) and young Michael McNair on Santa's lap.
Photo by Fulton Davenport/PWL Studio

Celebrity Christmas: George Clooney & Scarlett Johansson make the perfect holiday kiss, but lose the eggnog

Holiday Truths

Before you pour that pricey bourbon into the eggnog or pick up a tin of fruitcake, you might want to take a look at a recent holiday survey which found that only 49 percent of participants like eggnog and a full 80 percent do not like fruitcake. Mon dieu!

The Salonniere, the tres sophisticated if cheeky Austin-based online resource for all things related to high-style entertaining, commissioned the nationwide survey of 1,115 men and women, between the ages of 25 and 45. And that is where the sad news emerged on those two traditional December treats.

Thirty eight percent of those surveyed said they that knew they were on the receiving end of re-gifting because of the original gift card in the box.

Founded and curated by glam hostess and sophisticated bon vivant Carla McDonald, The Salonniere regularly covers the waterfront of party-giving and celebrity moments.

Its holiday party poll also revealed that of all the fab gents on the planet, George Clooney was the one named most often as the man the ladies would like to meet beneath the mistletoe, while puckering up with Scarlett Johansson was the male idea of a perfect Christmas smooch.

To re-gift or not to re-gift? According the survey, 73 percent of respondents (those with incomes $50,000 and above) admitted to the practice. The favored items for re-gifting? Bottles of wine, candles and gift cards.

Giver beware — 38 percent of those surveyed said they that knew they were on the receiving end of re-gifting because of the original gift card in the box. Yikes!

Full results of the survey can be found here.

Uber party hostess and glam bon vivant, Carla McDonald founded The Salonniere to share her love of and expertise on entertaining.

Photo by Fulton Davenport/PWL Studio
Uber party hostess and glam bon vivant, Carla McDonald founded The Salonniere to share her love of and expertise on entertaining.
Photo by Rocio Subira/AIA Houston

Docs take top spot in gingerbread build-off, architects weep: Grand Budapest Hotel and bento box provide inspiration

Building Blocks

More than two dozen teams competed in the Architecture Center Houston/AIA annual gingerbread competition. And you'll never guess who won. It's in the photos.

Photo by Rocio Subira/AIA Houston
The sixth annual Gingerbread Build-Off, co-sponsored by Architecture Center Houston [https://aiahouston.org/v/site-home/Architecture-Center-Houston-ArCH-/3p/] and AIA Houston, drew a cheery crowd of more than 3,000 spectators to City Hall's Hermann Square for the heated competition. Architecture firms, design professionals, students and gingerbread house enthusiasts joined in the build-off which required that each house be made completely of edible materials. Architectural licenses notwithstanding, it was a group of neurologists who took the Grand Prix de Show for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_grand_budapest_hotel/] creation. They called their team The Neurons.
KHOU Channel 11 News [http://www.khou.com/videos/entertainment/events/2014/12/19/20664857/]

Department store Santa Claus experience brings tidings of joy and discomfort in holiday comedy

KHOU & CultureMap

Stark Naked Theatre is bringing the joy and discomfort of the holidays right to you with their current seasonal production of Ho Ho Humbug. This week's KHOU CultureMap Moment highlights the play, loosely based on actor and playwright Scott Berkell's experience as a disillusioned New Yorker who finds himself portraying Santa Claus at an area Macy's store.

"The guy is maybe a bit cynical about the holidays and then his experiences at 'Santa Land' effect him in ways he wasn't expecting," says Berkell, who wrote and also stars in the play.

"There's that part of the holidays that I love that's very heartwarming, and there's that part of the holidays I think that we all go, 'Ugh.' "

"There's that part of the holidays that I love that's very heartwarming, and there's that part of the holidays I think that we all go, 'Ugh.' It's sort of like chocolate with a little bit of salt on it, I think."

The snarky yet hilarious two-hour play takes place at Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, with performances Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., with a final performance on Christmas Eve at 3 p.m.

"You're really close to the actors, so you can see their faces, see their reactions," says Joel Luks, CultureMap's resident arts and culture expert, of the intimate performance space, adding that the actors seem to feed off the audience's laughter and energy.

"The holidays are time to remind ourselves that there's good in humanity, and this play does just that," says Luks.

Watch the KHOU CultureMap Moment:

Photo by Kim Coffman

Hispanic powerhouses celebrate positions of influence at Mayor's annual Latino holiday bash

Party Watch

What: Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Board Holiday Reception.

Where: Café Adobe on the Katy Freeway.

The 411: More than 350 Hispanic leaders and fans turned out for the annual bash hosted by Café Adobe's Bob Borochoff and advisory board chairman Roland Garcia. In her remarks to the heavy-hitter group, Mayor Annise Parker noted that her three major Hispanic appointments form the pillar of the city's transportation scene — Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia, Airport Director Mario Diaz and Port of Houston chair Janiece Longoria.

Key players in the gathering were advisory board co-chair Yolanda Black Navarro and event committee chairs Lauren Soliz and Lenora Sorola-Pohlman.

Who: City Councilmen Jack Christie, Ed Gonzalez and Richard Nguyen; Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan; Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre; Austrian Honorary Consul General Gerald Seidl; Gordon Quan, Nellie Fraga, Lolita Guerrero, Luis Spinola, Joe Hafner, Sonia Soto and Maya and Hank Fasthoff.

Mayor Annise Parker addresses the record crowd at the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Board Holiday Party.

Photo by Kim Coffman
Mayor Annise Parker addresses the record crowd at the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Board Holiday Party.
60 Degrees Mastercrafted/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/60DMC]

Procrastinator's Guide to Dining Out on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day: 10 great choices

Christmas Dining Choices

Give yourself the best gift of all this holiday and let the pros do the cooking this Christmas Day/Christmas Eve. From a new Italian hot spot to Indian and Pakistani fare, here are are 10 restaurants serving up stellar eats.

CHRISTMAS EVE

60 Degrees Mastercrafted

The River Oaks-area ranch-to-table restaurant presents a four-course, prix-fixe holiday feast (5:30-9 p.m.; $75 per person) with starters like house smoked salmon and smoked pepper trout (plus roasted beets, beet chips and couscous with dried fruits). Choose between lobster bisque, chilled borscht or a harvest salad as your second course. Roasted duck roulade plus duck confit (with braised red cabbage and potato dumplings) and grilled sea bass are on the roster of entrees. Satisfy your sweet tooth with the likes of key lime pie or Grand Marnier souffle for dessert.

Radio Milano

Radio Milano, the new Italian restaurant at CityCentre, has got you covered this Christmas Eve. Open for both lunch and dinner, you can partake of regular menu items during the day (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) and enjoy a special four-course menu (4-8 p.m.; $65 per person) of festive eats at night (think: roasted beet salad, chestnut souffle and pheasant with wild seasonal mushrooms and truffles). Bring the kiddos; they have their own menu of treats ($25 per child).

Bistro Provence

Just say "oui" to the French fare at the quaint Memorial bistro. The three-course, prix-fixe dinner with multiple seatings (6, 6:30, 8, 8:30 p.m.; $60 per person) features choices such as foie gras terrine, lobster tail à l’orange, herb-crusted rack of lamb or seared duck breast. For dessert, choose between a lemon meringue tart with red berry sauce or chocolate mousse. Commitment phobics be forewarned: A $30 Paypal deposit is a must. Bon appetit and make sure your e-commerece account is current.

Tony Mandola’s

Load up on Cajun and Italian favorites at the upscale coastal seafood kitchen in Montrose. Dinner comes with a starter, salad and entree (5-9 p.m.; $65 per person). Studying the options here, we recommend the crawfish and shrimp etouffee, brick oven baked Alaskan halibut (with crushed tomatoes, capers and artichokes served on a sweet potato cake) and linguine fruitti de mare (mussels, scallops, shrimp and King crab with linguini pomodoro). Plan ahead: Reservations are required.

Backstreet Cafe

Ain’t no eggnog like free eggnog, which comes with your three-course meal (5-9 p.m.; $52 per person) at the River Oaks staple. Start with mushroom cobbler, sausage-stuffed quail and the likes. Move on to main course options including rosemary and pecan-crusted rack of lamb, seared grouper or seafood pot pie. Save room for sweets like deep dark chocolate cake and pumpkin and maple caramel eclairs.

CHRISTMAS DAY

Smith and Wollensky

Ring in the holidays at the Highland Village steakhouse (11-8 p.m.; regular menu) with bone marrow butter-crusted ribeye, a range of seafood dishes and more. Make it memorable (for lightweights, maybe not) with a bottle of award-winning wine.

Himalaya Restaurant

Hit up the strip-center locale (11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.) for fiery, innovative Indian and Pakistani cuisine, making your dining experience anything but ordinary. Try the chargha tandoori (a whole chicken marinated in ginger, garlic, yogurt, tandoori spices and garam masala). It's finished off in the tandoor (an Indian-style clay oven) for satisfying, juicy chicken that's flavored to the bone. Yes, and please.

Luby's

If only we could eat at our favorite low-key cafeteria on Christmas Day and not even have to change out of our comfy drawstring pants. Turns out, we can. A spokesperson for the chain say select Luby’s locations will be open and offering a special ($13.99), which includes your choice of prime rib or a Porterhouse pork chop, two sides and bread. That's all fine and good, but we can't get enough the square (fried) fish. Luckily, we only have to loosen our sweats in order to put them both away.

The Palm

The regular menu of steaks and seafood will be available during dinner service (5-9 p.m.) at the old-school Briargrove-area steakhouse. Spot caricatures of your favorite notables on the walls, including CultureMap’s own Shelby Hodge.

Genesis Steakhouse and Wine Bar

The just opened Kosher steakhouse in Bellaire is open on Christmas, offering an array of appetizers, salads, entrees (prime-aged beef, veal, lamb, poultry and seafood) and homemade desserts (11 a.m.-10 p.m.). There’s also a list of fine wine and cocktail selections to calm your holiday induced stress.

The River Oaks-area ranch-to-table restaurant 60 Degress Mastercrafted, presents a four-course, prix-fixe holiday feast.

60 Degrees Mastercrafted/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/60DMC]
The River Oaks-area ranch-to-table restaurant 60 Degress Mastercrafted, presents a four-course, prix-fixe holiday feast.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Bad 'a' Hawaiian coffee shop brews up plans for 10 Houston-area locations

curiously strong coffee

A new coffee shop will brings the flavors of Hawaii to the Houston area. Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii has signed a development agreement that will bring as many as 10 locations to West Houston and Galveston in the next five years.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii was founded on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1989 to serve Hawaiian-sourced coffee to locals and tourists. Franchising on the mainland started in 1985, but an acquisition in 2019 paved the way for its current expansion. Currently at about 30 locations nationwide, Bad Ass announced plans to open five locations in Dallas earlier this year.

The cafe serves hot, cold, and frozen coffee drinks as well as tea and smoothes. Food options consist of a tidy menu of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and muffins.

Bad Ass Coffee’s colorful name comes from the donkeys who carried coffee beans along steep mountain passes in Kona, Hawaii. Locals named them the “bad ass ones” for their stubborn but friendly nature, the company states.

Houston franchisees Kyle Price and Heath Rushing bring experience from the health care industry to their new role as entrepreneurs. In a release, they explain that Bad Ass Coffee’s values help fueled their interest in bringing the brand to Houston.

“We love how the brand honors its Hawaiian heritage and creates a culture that differentiates itself by embodying its island roots,” Rushing said. “Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii also isn't just a brand, it's an identity and the vision is to fuel the inner badass in all of us. We hope to unlock inner badasses by fueling customers with energy and kindness every single day.”

Houston Astros' Julia Morales reports on life with the team, work-family balance, her new fashion line, and more

20 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT JULIA


Photo courtesy of Julia Morales

Julia Morales with Alex Bregman at Minute Maid Park.

For serious Houston Astros fans, Julia Morales Clark needs no introduction. As the Astros sideline reporter, her job is to tell the on-and-off-the-field stories and relay the big moments that keep sports fans connected to the team.

Starting in West Palm Beach at Spring Training in February and grinding to the postseason, Morales is a constant fixture next to the Astros dugout. She spends all day, every day during away games traveling with the World Series Champion team, asking the hard questions and enjoying front-row seats to the antics of Alex Bregman, José Altuve, and the rest of the ball club.

This season, Morales reported on the longest game in World Series history and interviewed everyone who had anything to do with the famed no-hitters against the Yankees and Phillies.

She also gave fans a glimpse behind the scenes through Instagram — and became known as the “Queen of Astros TikTok.”

Childhood dreams

Morales grew up outside of Dallas in the small town of Crandall where sports were a constant in her life. With both parents being college athletes, she and her brother were always playing various sports with her dad often as coach, it was what her family did together.

Going into her 11th season with the Houston Astros, Morales is grateful to talk about sports daily and admits she wanted to be a news reporter from a young age. “By the time I was ten, I had already decided it was what I wanted to do. At the time, there were not a lot of females in sports reporting, especially at the national level, so I didn’t know it was a possibility,” she tells CultureMap.

“When I got into college, I started noticing that more women were covering sports, so I decided I wanted to go the sports route instead of the news route.”

Family time

These days Morales spends more time “wheels up” accompanying the Astros on every road game and reporting on 140-150 of the total 162 regular season baseball games. Balancing her career, marriage, and being a mom to 2-year-old Valerie is a constant struggle.

She is buoyed by the offseason when she gets to spend every day with her husband and daughter and bonding over family activities, but admits managing motherhood and the longest season in sports is hard.

“It gets tough with ten-day road trips on the west coast when you are away from the people you love, but I am not alone. Every player has a family, and every coach has a family. We talk about it amongst each other and help each other through it — there is a lot of FaceTime and phone calls. It is part of the job and the sacrifices I have to make, but I also know that she will be proud of me and everything I am doing one day.”

Style and baseball

Although being away from her family is hard, Morales has adapted to life on the road. She has developed a great wardrobe with staples for every climate she visits and says she now owns more Astros orange than ever before. She incorporates her pieces with rented items to keep up with the trends and has a lot of fun with jewelry, naming jewelry juggernaut Kendra Scott as one of her biggest supporters.

Over the past year, Morales has quietly worked on a line of baseball-themed shirts and sweatshirts. She debuted her line right before the Astros clinched the ALCS and has been surprised at the positive reaction to her “Baseball Y’all” brand.

“It did really, really well. It almost overwhelmed me at a point in the season when I was already busy, but it was so worth it. Seeing people wearing my shirts and sweatshirts at the games is amazing. I have so many more ideas and things I want to do — I just need a minute to catch my breath.”

Behind the Scenes

Busy professionals know there are instances when spending more time with work colleagues than family is par for the course, but Morales’ work-family relationships are at a whole other level. Travel plus a three-hour game and a pre and post-game workload – Morales has logged many hours with every Houston Astros team member.

The sideline reporter laughs and says she knows the team exceptionally well, noting that they spend almost too much time together. Working alongside the ball club for over a decade, she has seen most players come and go, except Altuve. She has seen him grow his family with his wife Nina, become a World Series Champion twice, become an MVP, and talked with him on camera through tough losses and intense moments like Hurricane Harvey.

“I wouldn’t call him my best friend or anything, but I have been around him for a decade. It’s almost a cooler relationship than what people would call a friend — it is on its own level, and I am so grateful for those relationships.”

According to Morales, affectionately nicknamed “Mrs. Astros”, the best thing about a baseball season is that no one has any idea what will happen in any given year. This season, in particular, she’s been able to watch the rise of shortstop phenom Jeremy Peña.

“I got to know Jeremy Peña as a rookie ready for his first year in the majors. From having that first interview with him to watching his first home run and then watching him at the end of the season become a World Series MVP and a household name across the country — it has been an incredibly unique experience.”

Diehard Astros fans may know more about their favorite ball team because of the redhead sideline reporter, but now, she's opening the door to let fans get to know her, too. Here are 20 fun facts about Clark.

Go-to outfit: Baseball Y’all cropped hoodie and leggings

Favorite Astros accessory: Golden Thread Star earrings or my World Series Champions Baseball cap.

Favorite ballpark food: Breakfast Burger at PNC Park, Crab Fried in Baltimore and everything at Minute Maid Park

Favorite non-Houston ballpark: T-Mobile Park or Target Field

Type A or B: A

Dream dinner guest (sports related): Earl Campbell

Dream dinner guest (non-sports related): Beyonce

Smartest person in the room or richest person in the room: Smartest person in the room

Drink of choice: Glass of cabernet

Guacamole or queso: Guacamole

TikTok or Instagram: Instagram

Happy Place: Round Top

Top three essential gameday items: Reporters notebook & pen, clear mascara for hair flyaways and a scorebook

Strangest thing about your job: My schedule

Best thing about your job: Storytelling

Cowboy boots or cowboy hat: Boots

Lose sleep or skip a meal: Lose sleep

Show or tell: Tell

Who are you inspired by: My parents

What three traits got you to where you are today: Hard work, my people skills, and my love for sports.

A gift guide for the ultimate Texas sports fans

Make a List

Shopping for someone sports-obsessed? We got you. Here's a list of winning gifts from FOCO.com to help spread some holiday cheer while they cheer on their team.

Houston Astros Ugly Pattern One Piece Pajamas
Are you a matching pajamas family? These men's and women's PJs are comfortable and show off your team spirit in a winter-themed design, complete with a hood. Front kangaroo pockets mean you can carry a little extra team spirit wherever you go.

Houston Texans Reversible Colorblock Hoodeez
Never before has fandom looked so good and felt so relaxing. Lounge like a legend while you cheer on your team by rocking this super-soft unisex hoodie.

Houston Astros Minute Maid Park Mini BRXLZ Stadium
Need to pass the time until game day arrives? How about a constructive exercise that brings game day to you? Enjoy a little home field advantage with this set that contains approximately 1,203 pieces and will be the centerpiece of your collection.

Hook'em Texas Longhorns Mascot Bighead Bobblehead
Horns up, Longhorn Nation! Everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes your school spirit when you add this Bighead Bobblehead to your collection. Note, these hand-painted collectibles are limited to two per person to ensure everyone gets a chance to own one.

Clutch the Rocket Bear Houston Rockets Large Plush Mascot
These plushes and their supreme softness are a major must-have. Nap time and nighttime will both feel like game time when you snuggle up with this cuddly mascot that's filled with polyester fiber and fandom.

Houston Astros High End Stocking
This holiday season, don't forget to hang your No. 1 fan stocking by the chimney — we get the feeling it won't be filled with coal when you wake up.

Houston Texans Team Property Sherpa Plush Throw Blanket
Property of: the best fan in town. Enjoy a relaxing day in the fancave watching your team on TV with this 60-by-50-inch sherpa throw.

Texas A&M Aggies BRXLZ Football
Don't bother checking the playbook — building this football is the ultimate play. At approximately 704 pieces, it assembles to 5-by-3 inches. You might not be able to spike it into the end zone, but it will look great on your desk. Hope you've got that touchdown dance ready.

Orbit Houston Astros Holiday Mascot Bobblehead
There's no place like home field for the holidays, and nothing proves that more than this hand-painted, handcrafted, individually numbered bobblehead that stands a respectable eight inches tall. A rug sporting the Astros colors and team logo is displayed on top of base, in case there were any doubts as to where your allegiances lie.

Find these gifts and so many more on FOCO.com.