Sunday, December 29, 2019

Southeast Texas Holiday Happenings (Galveston, Lufkin, Livingston, Houston Metro Area)

Hi, everybody!  Long time no speak to!  I’ve been a very busy stuffed rat, participating in lots of activities with Mom and Dad while settling into the new Suite Retreat on our leased lot in Escapees Rainbow Oaks.  Many full-time traveling RVers domicile in an area in name only; they rarely spend any time there.  We have always been different.  Whether when we were domiciled in South Dakota for 2+ years or domiciled now in Texas for 5 years, we always return regularly to our home town, support local charities, and take an active role in the community.  And what better time for goodwill toward men than at Christmastime!

So, once finished with his solar project, Dad and I attended several HAM Radio meetings (Me thinks this is the next toy on Dad’s wish list).  Meanwhile, Mom attended line dancing lessons here at the Park’s Clubhouse.  She is no novice, having done line dancing lessons with Dad in Quartzsite for the past 5 winters.  However, my parents rarely utilize the dance steps they learn. Hence, the adage “use it or lose it” proves accurate, and they regress to beginner level yet again.   But Mom had loads of fun and laughs with the Park group, and she even participated in their holiday dance recitals at area hospitals and assisted living/nursing homes.

Mom volunteered at Octoberfest, consisting of a craft market, music, beer garden, and even a cake auction to benefit the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department (LVFD).   Organized by Escapees C.A.R.E. which runs an assisted living RV park here in Livingston, the event was well received and raised nearly $9,400 for LVFD!  In fact, over the years, Escapees has raised nearly a quarter million dollars for its local fire department!  What an accomplishment for such a terrific cause from such a benevolent group of folks.   (Mom donated a vegan cake she baked.  Dad, one of only 2 bidders, got it back for $40.  He got away cheaply since most folks don't like good-for-you desserts.  A rich, decadent specialty cake brought in the biggest payload--$300!)

We also served meals to 125 attendees over two weekends at Boot Camp, a 3-day comprehensive course on RVing sponsored by Escapees.  Although she wasn’t eligible yet to donate blood at the Escapees C.A.R.E. Blood Drive (she had given a few weeks prior), Mom supported the Drive by working the donor registration desk.

One of our favorite things about motorcycling is that we can combine the enjoyment of riding with doing a good deed—even when it means freezing our buns off!  (We have had some crazy weather.  Many days started with the need for the heater and ended with running the air conditioner or vice versa.  Welcome to Texas!)  We joined fellow members of the East Texas Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) in placing wreaths at the graves of veterans at the Lufkin Memorial Gardens on December 14, part of a solemn national event known as Wreaths Across America.   We also joined the Southeast Texas PGR on a Memorial Mission for fallen heroes, including local Livingston hero Private 1st Class Stuart Westley Moore, who was killed in action on December 22, 2003.  What a hardship and sacrifice for his parents, especially since he was their only child.    After such a sad mission, we were thrilled to participate with the Southeast Texas PGR in an event with a happy ending known as Snowball Express, held locally at George Bush International Airport in Houston.  Sponsored by the Gary Sinese Foundation and facilitated through American Airlines, more than 1,700 children of fallen military heroes and their families across the country are treated to a fun-filled 5-day emotionally therapeutic trip to Disney World! PGR members, along with the USO, Gold Star Mothers, other military support groups, Beau the Devoted Service Dog, and Santa and Mrs. Claus gave the Texas participants a joyful and memorable send-off!

Wreaths Across America ceremony at Memorial Gardens, Lufkin, TX.

Memorial Mission for local fallen heroes.

Southeast Texas PGR at Snowball Express  (Photo courtesy of John M. Kayes, Motorcycles and Patriots)

We helped the Salvation Army as bell ringers outside our local Walmart on two occasions.  People have been extremely generous this year!  All the monies raised stay right in our County, so it is rewarding to know that people within our own community will be helped by our joint efforts.

My parents had date night at Houston’s Etro Night Club, a retro dance club with no cover charge that features the music of  David Bowie, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and other New Wave 80s music.  I made sure they took a nap in the afternoon so they had enough stamina to stay out past midnight.  They must have had a REALLY great time—they didn’t arrive home until nearly 4 a.m.!

We had an opportunity to dine at local Mexican restaurants with Escapee friends The Armstrongs (we missed getting a photo!) and The Kocas.  Getting together for the first time in 3 years with The Binns, a terrific couple from our Amazon Camperforce days, was extra special!   And we also had our first dinner guests in the new rig, the Jordans.  It was awesome to have an opportunity to catch up with everyone!  Friendship is a gift, and we have been blessed to have met and developed relationships with so many amazing people in this lifestyle.

Speaking of gifts, how was your Christmas?  Mine was stupendous!  I must have been a very good stuffed rat this year 'cause my parents splurged and bought me an Xbox One S!  Funny, though, I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet—they seem to be monopolizing the controls playing Ms. Pac-Man.  Guess they are reminiscing about their younger days since they first met on a Ms. Pac-Man machine.  We had an Italian Feast of the 7 Fishes as our dinner on Christmas Eve.  Our goldfish were a bit upset watching us clean shrimp, steam mussels, and massacre assorted other seafood, but boy, the dinner was delicious!   Dad cashed in one of his seldom used chips and partook of this Italian family tradition. But Mom ensured he returned to the plant-based wagon for our Christmas Day meal.  Mom mastered the convention oven in the new rig, so Christmas cookie production went full-steam ahead.   The Keebler Elves have nothing on us (except better tasting cookies since Mom had to adapt all of hers to meet Dad’s dietary needs).

Back on the plant-based dietary wagon.

Your truly supervising Mom as she makes up cookie trays to share with friends and our Escapees leased lot neighbors.

Our Suite Retreat looks good with lighted garland adorned with cherished ornaments from years gone by. And the rig has a perfect place for the manger that belonged to my beloved Grandma.  It’s been a part of my Mom’s Christmases since she was just a tyke!  The outside decorations in our sticks-and-bricks home were quite formal and traditional.  Not the case since we became full-time RVers! As you can see from these photos, we have crossed over to the other side!

Mom decorates everything...

...and everybody!

Our outdoor inflatables may be tacky, but they surely are representative of our lifestyle and hobby.

We have enjoyed many holiday events right in our hometown.  Like the prior two years, we visited Livingston’s Pedigo Park to see the Festival of Lights and First Baptist Church’s re-enactment of Bethlehem, a very elaborate endeavor that transports you back to biblical times.

The babe in the manger: the reason for the season!

Good Golly Miss Molly’s Antique Shoppe again hosted a marvelous Christmas Village train exhibit.  I never tire of watching the locomotives or admiring all the intricate figurines.  We got there early in the season and early in the evening, so we had the exhibit to ourselves for a little while to complete the Treasure Hunt for hidden characters.  I should subscribe to Highlights Magazine to sharpen my eyes and hone my skills!

We enjoyed seasonal temperatures and a cloudless sky when we attended Livingston’s annual Hometown Christmas fair that features vendors, food, crafts, and children’s activities.  And rather than just watch the lighted Christmas Parade, this year we decided to participate in it personally.  Yup, we decorated Big Boomer, our medium duty truck.  Our theme was A Rambling RV Rat Christmas, and it featured yours truly, sitting on top of the truck, all decked out in my holiday duds!  What a hoot!   Dad drove and hit the air horn much to the kids’ delight, while Mom ran alongside handing out candy to all the kiddies.  And unlike prior years, we actually were able to get decent pics of parade participants.  What a fun time we all had!

We had the opportunity to attend not one, but two holiday concerts performed by the Livingston Area Community Band at local churches.  With ages ranging from 16-80, the band members perform a variety of genres, from swing to classical.

We didn’t limit our participation to Christmas activities held just in Livingston, though.  We attended the Annual Nativity Exhibit and Music Festival at the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Kingwood.  On display were hundreds of nativity sets depicting customs from around the world.  The nativities were made of a variety of materials, from wood to origami, from porcelain to clay, even paper mache!   While admiring these intricate works of art, various musical artists serenaded us and filled us with holiday cheer.

We visited the Museum of East Texas in Lufkin for the 25th Anniversary of their Festival of Trees.  Offered free of charge but donations are welcomed and appreciated, the exhibit features decorated Christmas trees from 3 feet to 9 feet sponsored by various businesses, churches, and individuals.  I am always amazed at the originality and ingenuity of the tree decorations!  My favorites this year were the Smokey Bear tree commemorating his 75th birthday and a tree decorated with skeletons and bones sponsored by a radiology group.   I think I’m going to save up my cheese money to sponsor a 3-foot tree next year.  Can you guess what the ornaments will be?  The Museum also has several gallery rooms displaying art of various mediums.

This radiology group was quite clever with its decorations.

The Smokey Bear tree is in this photo's background.

The highlight of all our activities, though, was visiting Galveston Island.  Big Boomer was due for its 120,000-mile service, so we dropped it off at the International dealer in Houston, rented a car and enjoyed a 3-night stay at the iconic Hotel Galvez.  Celebrating more than 100 years of service, the hotel, with its Mission/Spanish Revival architecture, opened in 1911 along Seawall Boulevard in Galveston.  The hotel hosted Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Ford during their Presidencies.

Galveston was known as the Wall Street of the Southwest due to its wealthy inhabitants and their mansions adorning Broadway (A.K.A. Millionaires Row).  Today several mansions remain, but only 2 are open to the public for tours (Bishop and Moody).   We visited Moody Mansion, well worth the $12 admission for an audio-assisted tour (going to $15 in 2020).  They also offer guided tours, but only Friday through Sunday (we were visiting on a Tuesday).  The volunteer docents on duty the day we visited, though, were very informative, answered all our questions, and offered interesting tidbits.   

W. L. Moody started as a small-scale lawyer with an office in the back of the town’s mercantile.  He grew into an influential businessman trading in cotton.  But it was his son and namesake born in 1865 that diversified into banking and insurance, becoming one of the wealthiest men in all the country at only 32 years of age.  The Mansion, built in 1895 by the Willis family, was purchased by W. L. Moody, Jr., for a mere $20,000.  Fortunately, the Mansion did not sustain any major damage from the devastating hurricane of 1900 that killed 6,000 people.  (They say debris from the hurricane in Galveston was piled 2 stories high and 3 miles long!)  Anyway, members of the Moody family lived in the Mansion from 1905 to 1986, when it became a museum. 

We enjoyed walking through the historic and Strand districts and learning more about Galveston Island.  

Ashton Villa

Bishop's Mansion

Tremont House, Strand District

Interior of Tremont House.

Edible replica of The Polar Express on display at Tremont House.

Galveston was considered the Atlantic City of the South due to its amusement piers, the first of which was built in the 1880s.  

I tried to add some character to this photo of the current Pleasure Pier (really I was trying to hide the sun over-exposure.  It's hard for a stuffed rat to take pics with no fingers, and my parents are quite incompetent as assistants when it comes to photo quality).

Gaming debuted in Galveston in 1923 and was a lucrative business, too.  In fact, just like the Mafia of the Boardwalk Empire of Atlantic City, organized crime in the form of the Maceo Brothers had a huge presence in Galveston’s gaming, not to mention bootlegging, industry.   But the Texas Attorney General put the kibosh on things when it confiscated all gaming devices in 1956.  Galveston, like Atlantic City, also hosted a beauty pageant.  Called the International Pageant of Pulchritude, it was the forerunner of the Miss Universe Pageant, and was held in Galveston from 1926 to 1935.

All this talk about the Mafia made me hungry for Italian food!  Italian food in Galveston?  Actually, we were quite surprised to find Mario’s on Seawall Boulevard, just a quick 1.5 mile walk from our hotel, had some very decent fare, including several options for Dad.  Sautéed cauliflower heads and grilled artichokes were delicious appetizers.  Mom wasn’t coming to the Gulf without eating seafood, so she and I shared a shrimp dish.   The shrimp were nicely-sized, fresh, and tender.  Dad had a pasta dish with spinach, peppers, garlic, and diced tomatoes that he found tasty and filling.  Brandi our server was exceptional.  She was friendly, efficient, and helpful to us in navigating the menu selections.  My only complaint with Mario's was that no bread was served with the meal.  In the New York/New Jersey area, it is almost sacrilegious to dine at an Italian restaurant without being provided a complimentary basket of hot, freshly-baked bread!  Perhaps this is just an East Coast tradition, but it is one to which this 36-year-old stuffed rat is accustomed, and I ain’t about to change now!

The absolute best thing about Galveston this time of year is Moody Gardens.  Albeit, it is a bit pricey and it gets crowded on weekends, but it is a magical place during the holidays!  We went early in the season and during weekdays, so we avoided the crowds.  Since we had never visited Moody Gardens previously, we opted for the 2-day all-inclusive value pass for $89.95/adult (They also offer a discounted value pass for those aged 65 and older).  Our pass entitled us to daily visits to most of the holiday events (ice skating and outdoor alpine slide came with additional costs) PLUS one visit each day to each of the regular attractions like the Rainforest, 3- and 4-D films, Aquarium, etc.

So after spending 50 buckaroos on an ala carte breakfast at the Hotel Galvez (regrettably, their buffet, which had more options for Dad than the ala carte menu, is only offered on weekends.  Thankfully, the food was tasty, nicely-portioned, and creatively displayed or Dad’s day would have been ruined.  The man takes his breakfast seriously), we arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to begin our 2-day Moody Gardens adventures.  It took some planning to ensure we would be able to fit in all the events (particularly since some activities were not open until later in the day), but we finally got it worked out.

We started at the Rainforest.  I must admit I was a bit leery of entering since many of the creatures who reside here view me as an hors-d’oeuvre.  But I braved it when I learned that 80% of rainforest life is active at night.  My interest was piqued further when I learned that more plants and animals reside in a rainforest than in any other habitat.  The Komodo Dragon is the largest lizard in the world.  He looks lethargic at 10 feet long and a weight of 150 lbs., but this sucker can move as fast as 13 mph in short bursts!      The monkeys, exotic birds, and gorgeous flowers mystified me.  I did not attend the special program offered about ants, though.  I know firsthand how industrious ants are!    Take a look at this video of a team of ants moving a morsel of our tabby cat’s food that fell out of the garbage bag onto our concrete pad!  

Can you spot all the exotic birds in this photo?

The Komodo Dragon--don't let his lethargy fool you!

Red Ibis

The Aquarium was terrific, but a bit anti-climatic for this stuffed rat.  You see, we always had salt water fish tanks in our homes, so many of these species are old news to me like angels, clowns, seahorses, octopi, tangs, damsels, and bat fish, to name a few.  Nevertheless, it was quite cool to see the marine biologists swimming among the fishies.  And watching the penguins was fascinating.  They lined up outside of their enclosure’s entry doors just waiting for their lunch to arrive.  It is amazing how all life forms are conditioned with food.

Yellow tangs swimming among coral.

A shortened, remade version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the featured 4-D film.  I enjoyed the movie despite having a hard time finding a pair of glasses that would fit my over-sized head!  There are several 3-D films from which to choose.  We opted for “Australia’s Wild North” which focused on crocodiles.  I had no idea that they can live to be 100+ years old!  You don’t want to get too close to these guys—their jaws have 3,000 lbs. of pressure to make chewing you up child’s play.  Mama crocs lay about 50 eggs, but the gender is determined by the temperature of the eggs.  Cooler temps produce females while males form with warmer temperatures.  The other 3-D movie we viewed was “Jerusalem”.  It is interesting that this 1-square mile of real estate is the bedrock of Christianity, Judaism, AND Islam.  And what a testament to tolerance, that all three religious factions can exist separately but peaceably, with people respecting each other’s sacred heritages. 

The Discovery Pyramid featured an exhibit called Skeltown.  It focused on the bone structure of humans and animals.   Humans are born with 270 bones, but as you age and bones fuse together, the number decreases to an average of 206. My species, rodentia, has 223 bones.   Osteoblasts and osteoclasts breakdown old bone and build new.  You better have some strong bones if you want to be an astronaut 'cause you lose 1% of bone mass per month in space.  And did you know that Ancient China used bones to predict the future?  Guess that was way before Magic 8 Balls were invented.  The exhibit was geared toward kids rather than adults.  So, this stuffed rat with a brain the size of a penny (hey, we rats are much smarter than Mickey Mouse and his species--their brains are the size of the eye of a needle!) gleaned several interesting tidbits.

The 20,000 Leagues Interactive Adventure was a bit boring even for this child-like stuffed rat.  But hey, it was included in our ticket price, so what the heck.

We worked up an appetite, so partook of the Holiday in the Gardens Buffet at the Garden Restaurant right within the complex.  Surprisingly, it had lots of plant-based options for Dad in addition to carnivore selections for Mom, and it was reasonably priced at $18.95/adult.  It offered a nice view of the Bay, too.

After dinner, it was time to traverse among the Festival of Lights.  We opted to walk the 1-mile path, but courtesy shuttle service is provided if you prefer to sit back and enjoy a ride to view the hundreds of displays comprised of more than 1 million illuminating bulbs reflecting every color on the spectrum!  A narration of The Nativity Story is depicted in lights as was the 12 Days of Christmas.

My old-fart parents donned their simulator goggles to participate in their first virtual reality experience called Reef Rescue.  I wish they could see how ridiculous they looked, swatting things out of their way, bending and maneuvering in their chairs as if that would make a difference.   The “mission” of this interactive experience is to help clean and preserve the coral reef.  If how well they performed in the game is indicative of how effective their conservation efforts would be, the real coral reefs are darn lucky they wouldn't have to depend solely on my parents!

A harbor cruise was included in our ticket price, too.  Unfortunately, the boat experienced technical difficulties requiring a part replacement.  The part did not arrive/get installed during our 2-day visit.  Rats!

Well my disappointment about the harbor cruise quickly dissipated once I entered Ice Land!  Featuring replicas of heritage sites (like Mount Rushmore, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, just to name a few), these magnificent works of art are carved from ice! Mom and I were thrilled with the Ice Park in Fairbanks during our Trek North to Alaska in 2016 (Dad went fishing instead), but Ice Land at Moody Gardens is on a far more grandiose scale!  The vibrant colors of the ice, the intricate detailing of the carvings—I felt like I was on a world tour!    It is such an extraordinary experience, you don’t even realize it is a frigid 9F degrees inside the insulated tent!  They give everyone a warm parka to wear (unless you are a polar bear like Mom who insisted she didn’t need it and wore just her light jacket).   The enjoyment continues as you enter the exhibit “Christmas Around the World” which features a gigantic ice slide!  Wheee!!!!   It was soooo exciting, even Mom took a turn coming down (we were all relieved she didn’t get stuck midway like the lady who came down after her)!  You can enjoy a beverage inside the exhibit at Ice Shivers Bar or partake of hot cocoa to warm you up as you depart into the gift shop.


A rare photo of my parents.

Thank you, Moody Gardens, for adding to my enjoyment of the holidays!

Well, I’ve chewed your ear off enough!   Thanks for listening to my Christmas adventures.  Next time I speak to you, we will be in Arizona!  Our travel itinerary for 2020 will also include extended visits to New Mexico, Indiana, and Idaho.  Wishing you a new year filled with peace, love, joy, good health, prosperity and safe travels.  God Bless Us, Everyone!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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  1. Excellent list of stuff to do while in the Livingston area. Thanks for that. We went to the Rock Shop a couple times and really enjoyed that.

    Nice that you are involved in the community. I agree it is something to consider if you call a place home.

  2. Wow, you three have been busy! Looks like you are having a blast. Nice that you were able to meet up with the Jordan's. Love the truck decorated up for the parade.

  3. You guys sure know how to keep much to see and do there. Big Boomer looked great in the parade.
    Best of the season to you 3!

  4. Busy, busy, busy! I admire your dedication to Livingston. Safe travels...