Holiday events, lights, where to see Santa in the Houston area

The Houston Moms Blog has put together a guide with everything you need to know to celebrate the Christmas season safely in Houston and nearby suburbs.

HOUSTON — A lot of Houstonians — hungry for a little happiness — put up their Christmas lights and trees early this year and now they’re ready to soak up the season.

The Houston Moms Blog has put together an Ultimate Holiday Guide with everything you need to know to celebrate the season safely in Houston and nearby suburbs. You’ll find fun family events, places to see COVID-friendly Santas, Christmas tree farms and gift ideas for all ages

Houston-area holiday events

Even with the pandemic, there are plenty of holiday events in the Houston area and the Moms Blog has put together a list. You’ll need to mask up and social distance, as well as check ahead for other COVID-19 safety policies. You’ll also want to check their websites before you go. Some events — including Dickens on the Strand – were canceled after this list was published. 

RELATED: Best places to see holiday lights in the Houston area

Safe Santa sightings

You don’t have to give up this annual tradition, but it will be a little different this year. The Houston Moms have found a few places to see Santa around town with social distancing in mind.

The list includes their own Cookies with Santa event on Dec. 5. It’s a drive-thru event but you can still get pictures with Santa, who’ll be in a snow globe.

Christmas tree farms

After being cooped up for months because of COVID-19, this might be the year to leave that artificial tree in the attic and head outdoors to find the real deal. Pack up the kids for a short road trip to one of several Christmas tree farms in our area.

Ultimate Gift Guide

The Mom’s Blog has an extensive list of gift ideas for all ages. See something you like? Just click on the link to buy it.




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Christmas Tree Shopping In The Half Hollow Hills Area? Here’s A Local Guide

Half Hollow Hills, NY — As the coronavirus pandemic threatens a long list of 2020’s beloved holiday traditions, it could still be possible to hunt for the right Christmas tree this year — and even more importantly, do it safely.

At least 25 million real Christmas trees are sold each year across America, and currently, 350 million are growing in all 50 U.S. states. And despite these unprecedented times, the tradition will continue in 2020. Christmas tree lots and choose-and-cut farms nationwide are taking precautions as COVID-19 cases rise to ensure buyers can select a tree with minimal risk to their health and safety.

In fact, the National Christmas Tree Association has circulated a 2020 guide including recommendations and best practices for Christmas tree sellers to follow, including frequently sanitizing items such as hand saws and tree cart handles, as well as countertops, restrooms and other areas.

“It is likely that Christmas will have a greater significance for many in 2020 as we seek to offset the disruption of normalcy from COVID-19 with a family-oriented holiday experience,” the association said in its guide. “However, shopping for a Christmas tree, the iconic centerpiece of the holiday, will be a different experience this year as the risks from COVID-19 must be taken seriously.”

If a real Christmas tree is on your wish list in 2020, here is a selection of some of our favorite Christmas tree farms in the Half Hollow Hills area.

Getting the most out of your real Christmas tree can take some patience, practice and good advice. Here are a few things to know, from the National Christmas Tree Association:

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What Bay Area retail workers want you to know about holiday shopping this year

The names in this story have been changed on request of anonymity due to fear of retaliation from employers. All of the interview subjects were granted anonymity in accordance with Hearst Bay Area’s anonymous source policy.

While social distancing guidelines mean stampedes of crazed doorbusters are less likely this year, Black Friday — and the busy holiday shopping season in general — has some retail workers worried.

“All my co-workers are hoping business does not pick up. We are very stressed about Black Friday,” says Lola, an employee at a large department store in San Francisco. “What we don’t understand is why the mall is not closing again, because when we closed in July, the situation wasn’t even as bad as it is now.”

With coronavirus cases skyrocketing in the United States, most large corporate retailers like Walmart and Best Buy are emphasizing online rather than in-person doorbuster sales this year, stretching out their Black Friday sales over days or weeks, and offering curbside pickup. And in California, most counties are in the purple tier, meaning retail stores and malls can only be open at 25% capacity. Still, it’s no secret that shoppers aren’t always great at wearing masks, so any increase in business can be terrifying for retail employees.

“Most of our customers are wearing their masks, but sometimes they pull them down or wear them under their nose,” says Lola. “… In dressing rooms they ask for us to come give our opinion, and take off their mask and won’t think about putting it back on when we’re nearby.”

She also says that customers rarely keep 6 feet away from her at work, and that while they have plexiglass screens in front of registers, customers will often try to duck their heads around them.


On Black Friday, the store where Lola works is not holding any in-person-only sales, although it is open for extended hours. Capacity is capped at 25%, but in a huge department store like hers, that’s still hundreds of people allowed inside at a time, who often congregate around registers or escalators.

“Even if our store doesn’t have huge doorbusters, historically people come to the mall just to see what’s happening,” she says. “We have not heard anything about additional precautions for Black Friday.”

Sarah, an employee at a small game store in the East Bay, says she feels relatively safe at her place of work because of its small size, but has also encountered customers who give her trouble about following safety guidelines.

“I don’t feel unsafe working there, because the whole staff is on the same page,” says Sarah. “But there are a concerning amount of people who don’t wear their mask properly or obviously don’t care. … We have people who after several reminders have been asked to leave, and usually get pretty upset about that.”

Rebecca, who works at a lifestyle store in Marin, says the majority of customers are respectful of guidelines. However, it’s not always smooth sailing, from the

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7 Bay Area hikes to find beauty, renew the soul

One thing that has sustained Bay Area residents through a difficult year of pandemic and political upheaval has been our access to some of the most gorgeous nature in the world. Nothing can calm the mind or nurture the body like a stroll through lush redwoods or a hike atop a ridge offering panoramic views of valleys, forests, bay and ocean.

Our appreciation for the beauty of our parks, beaches and open spaces only grew when we were told to temporarily stay away due to COVID-19 restrictions or when wildfires broke out in August, blanketing the region in smoke, burning trees and destroying historic buildings in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

But nature comes through, with Big Basin’s scorched redwoods offering a testament to resilience. Scientists say the centuries-old trees have already begun their recovery and will sprout new leaves as early as this winter. Bay Area residents can continue to find a sense of healing and renewal, as wildfire season recedes, and a growing number of local, state and national parks reopen and make themselves available for hikes and other ways to enjoy time outdoors.

In this challenging year, it’s best to call or check websites before you go to make sure parks are open and learn about any safety restrictions or parking lot closures due to COVID-19 or wildfire damage. Visits to some sites may require advance reservations. Above all, be a good citizen and wear a mask or have one handy to pull up when you pass other nature lovers on the trails.

Here are seven stellar trail options, plus suggestions for where to refuel apres-hike.

  • LA HONDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 20: People hike along the Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

  • LA HONDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 20: The Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

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  • LA HONDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 20: Redwood trees on the Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

  • LA HONDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 20: Signage along the Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

  • LA HONDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 20: The Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

  • LA HONDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 20: Redwood trees on the Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

  • LA HONDA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 20: Redwood trees on the Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

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Newfoundland Dog Company aims to showcase Gander and area through clothing | Canada | News

Janet Langdon and Roxanne Walsh-Seabright have always had warm feelings for their hometown of Gander.

As first-generation Ganderites, the pair know the town has a unique place in provincial history and culture.

“We love our town,” said Walsh-Seabright.

When Langdon returned to the area in 2015 upon her retirement after living at various stops on the mainland, she and Walsh-Seabright started talking about ways they could showcase their beloved hometown.

The Newfoundland Dog Company has a love for showcasing the animals of Newfoundland and Labrador on its clothing. Contributed photo  - Contributed
The Newfoundland Dog Company has a love for showcasing the animals of Newfoundland and Labrador on its clothing. Contributed photo – Contributed

 

As many a Newfoundlander will tell you, you can live wherever you want, but nothing will ever replace the place you grew up.

“It’s in your blood,” said Langdon. “It is a special place. It holds onto your identity.”

Then, they got the idea to showcase Gander and its uniqueness through clothes. Langdon had studied textile design and has always had a love for fashion design, while Walsh-Seabright studied interior design.

They both shared a love for design and being creative so it was only natural they settle on an outlet that would allow them to explore that side of themselves a bit more.

They found that outlet with their Newfoundland Dog Company clothing line.

“We’re both creative at heart,” said Walsh-Seabright.

This is just one of the many designs the Newfoundland Dog Company clothing line. Contributed photo  - Contributed
This is just one of the many designs the Newfoundland Dog Company clothing line. Contributed photo – Contributed

 

They also get some help from family members. Langdon’s partner has offered up designs for products while others model them.

The Newfoundland Dog Company got its start in the wake of the popularity of the smash Broadway musical “Come From Away.”

With its depiction of what Gander and the area did for the people stranded during the Sept. 9, 2001, terrorist attacks, the show captured the attention and imagination of the world.

Its popularity undoubtedly meant that the region was going to see an influx of tourism as people sought to see the place and the people that helped so many during a trying time.

That fact was not lost on either Langdon or Walsh-Seabright. They sought to offer unique tourism products that highlighted some of the unique parts of their hometown.

After some back-and-forth, they decided on a clothing line that would showcase the history of Gander and eventually, the surrounding area.

It was launched on June 4, 2017.

“It is very exciting because Gander has such a unique history,” said Langdon.

Even the company’s name is connected to part of the town’s history. During the Second World War, a Newfoundland dog named Gander was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent to a Victoria Cross, for his heroics during the war.

The other half of the Newfoundland Dog Company’s name refers Humber, the Newfoundland dog that was a big part of Langdon’s family growing up.

A mixture of short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirts, they have a number of different designs, from the propeller of a plane to the ‘Welcome to Gander’ sign at the Gander

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Limited capacity, push for online and local shopping among Black Friday changes in Ann Arbor area

ANN ARBOR, MI – An annual event of savings on electronics, clothing and household items commonly known as Black Friday will continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But like most everything this year, it will be a little different.

Masses traditionally race to line up at major retailers like Best Buy, Walmart and shopping malls for great deals and cost savings on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. However, the pandemic and spiking cases across Michigan have led to state-ordered restrictions on gatherings and guidelines for shoppers.

But, no matter if you like shopping at big-box stores, shopping malls or in downtowns — or even if you’re preferring online options this year due to coronavirus — the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas have something for you.

Local businesses are especially urging shoppers to support them this season.

Ypsilanti is offering free downtown parking through Thanksgiving weekend, along with 15-minute designated spaces for pickup orders at restaurants and stores, said Bonnie Wessler, public services project manager. Ypsilanti’s Downtown Development Authority also has an incentive program.

Customers shopping at select local businesses can scan a QR code and be entered in a drawing to win a $50 gift card to any DDA business, said Christopher Jacobs, DDA director.

“We will be giving out 25 of these $50 gift cards over the next several weeks through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday shopping seasons,” Jacobs said.

Mark Teachout, who opened Wax Bar in August in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town, is having a “Black Friday Record Store Day.

“I will also be having some specials on the records and to-go cocktails for that day,” Teachout said. “I’ll be selling turntables for people, with the resurgence of the younger generation listening to records now. We’ll be running specials. It’s definitely a good place to come and get gifts.”

Teachout’s business started off strong, he said, until COVID-19 case spikes led to more business restrictions and less activity, which is why he urges the people to think of their local shops before major retailers this holiday season.

“People that live in the community can generally, within a minute or so, can get to all your businesses,” Teachout said. “Ypsilanti is unique that it’s all local businesses. You’re putting money directly in the hands of people who are struggling to pay their mortgages and keep their businesses open to feed their kids.”

Ann Arbor organizations have compiled the Show Your Love guide, which encourages shoppers to support small businesses in Ann Arbor by offering a list of places open for the season. Downtown shopping will continue for Midnight Madness in December, when stores will stay open late and offer discounts during the first three Fridays.

“Everyone has a favorite Downtown Ann Arbor memory, whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day at Conor O’Neill’s or Ashley’s, or walking around Kerrytown Shops and stopping at Zingerman’s for lunch,” Frances Todoro director of the State Street District, said in a statement. “We want to keep the nostalgic charm of Ann Arbor thriving.”

Briarwood Mall also

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Add Gurnee Mills to the growing list of financially troubled shopping malls in the greater Milwaukee area

Add Gurnee Mills to the growing list of financially troubled shopping malls in the greater Milwaukee area.



a large building: Gurnee Mills, a regional shopping mall just south of Kenosha County, is in financial trouble.


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Gurnee Mills, a regional shopping mall just south of Kenosha County, is in financial trouble.

Located in Gurnee, Illinois, about 10 miles south of Kenosha County, the 1.7 million-square-foot regional shopping destination is collateral for a loan that is delinquent, according to a new report from credit rating agency DRBS Morningstar. 

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Mall operator Simon Property Group Inc. in June asked that the $255.9 million loan be transferred to “special servicing” — a commercial real estate industry status that often precedes foreclosure.

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That occurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption to shopping, according to the DRBS Morningstar report.

“Net cash flow, which had already fallen nearly 20% before the pandemic, has likely been hammered further as stores closed under the stress of shelter in place orders,” the report said.

“Although the mall is open for business, it is likely that consumers still view visiting an indoor shopping mall to be riskier than visiting a traditional brick-and-mortar retail property or strip mall.

“As a result, any recovery will likely be delayed until consumer confidence increases,” it said.

The mall had a 79% occupancy at the end of 2019.

Malls facing challenges

Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group also operates Southridge Mall in Greendale.

Simon recently disclosed plans to transfer ownership of Southridge to its lender in lieu of foreclosure, according to a report from Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

Southridge’s financial performance has deteriorated significantly since Simon used it as collateral, the report said.

It also said Southridge has a 73% occupancy rate. That doesn’t count the mall’s separately owned department store anchors — two of which are vacant.

The decades-long decline in department stores has hurt the nation’s traditional malls.

That trend started with competition from TJ Maxx, Best Buy and other lower-cost chains, and also was affected by the growing market share of Amazon and other online retailers.

In the Milwaukee area, challenged malls include Brookfield Square — which has several vacancies.

That mall’s operator, CBL & Associates Properties Inc., is reorganizing its finances under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The malaise affecting traditional regional malls, accentuated by the pandemic, has spread to properties such as Gurnee Mills, which has a mix of outlet and typical mall retailers, according to credit rating reports.

Tom Daykin can be emailed at [email protected] and followed on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. 

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Add Gurnee Mills to the growing list of financially troubled shopping malls in the greater Milwaukee area

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‘Proud, ecstatic, happy’: For Black women in Bay Area, Kamala Harris’ election carries special meaning

Black women are the “backbone of our democracy,” Kamala Harris said Saturday night in Delaware, in her historic first speech as the vice president-elect. They have been forgotten or ignored too often, she said, their hard work and sacrifice taken for granted.

On Sunday, Black women across the Bay Area said they finally felt seen — and envisioned new possibilities for themselves, their daughters and their grandchildren.

“I’m proud, ecstatic, happy. I’m going from jumping for joy to tears,” said Oakland resident Dezie Woods-Jones, 78, a long-time civil rights leader and state president of Black Woman Organized for Political Action, who has known Harris for decades.

“Actually, I’m more than proud. Proud is when you look at somebody and they did a great job,” Woods-Jones said. “What I feel is a heartfelt understanding of the impact she is having and will have. This is such a profound moment.”

The election of Oakland-born Harris is a transformative moment in American history: She’s the first woman and the first Black or Asian American person to be vice president, or on any winning presidential ticket. Harris, 56, has embraced her trailblazing role through her career and the presidential campaign.

In her Saturday night speech she recognized the decades of battles by Black women who carried her to this point, and who made this election possible. Black women historically have been a powerful voting bloc, turning out in higher rates than most other demographic groups. They overwhelmingly supported the Biden-Harris ticket, according to exit polls.

In turn, Black women said Sunday that her election was thrilling and inspiring.

“I cried about five or six times yesterday,” said Oakland resident Susan Whitehead, 45. “To see her, the first Black, biracial, the first woman to enter the White House, it was a big thing.”



Whitehead said she wanted to be a veterinarian when she was a child, but she never saw Black people in that field and she eventually abandoned the dream. “I didn’t think anybody would bring their animals to me,” she said, tearing up outside a coffee shop near Lake Merritt. “The sky wasn’t the limit.”

Harris’ election broke a glass ceiling, she said. “When you’re growing up you think about all the things you want to be but you narrow it because you don’t see anyone doing it that looks like you,” she said. “Now it’s different.”

Harris explicitly referred to the importance of visibility in her Saturday speech, praising pioneers in the fight for women’s equality who could “see what can be unburdened by what has been.”

Sacramento resident Tameka Crawford, 36, said she wasn’t a huge supporter of President-elect Joe Biden, “but I was definitely rooting for Kamala.”

“It’s just cool to see a woman, a lady in the White House. We’ve come a long way,” Crawford said Sunday, sitting at a table facing Lake Merritt where she was selling T-shirts and other items from her store, Nappi Manifestationz.

On Saturday, Crawford had watched as crowds of people gathered

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15 St. Louis Area Wedding Vendors Give Away Wedding to Lucky Local Couple | Wedding

The couple’s big day, set for Nov. 5, 2021, will feature a “modern, fall, boho vibe” and international cuisine to satisfy the “food connoisseurs” in 612North’s two event rooms – VUE, a fifth-floor space with a 360-degree view of downtown St. Louis’ striking skyline, and the underground ARC, featuring stunning, historic, original stone archways. “With such limited reasons to celebrate this year due to COVID-19, we are honored to host and provide a backdrop for Laura and Steffen’s special day,” says Christina Walsh, events and catering director for 612North. “Even though this year has been extremely difficult for the events industry, [Coldon] brought together these top-rated and popular St. Louis wedding vendors to collaborate and create an unforgettable celebration for the lovely couple.”

At the top of the pair’s dream wedding wish list, the vibe, Coldon notes: “They just want it to feel like one big party, and we plan on making that happen!”

Wedding vendors also include Jackelynn Noel Photography, B. Cannon Photo & Film, Fête Booth, Ashley Boren Makeup & Hair, Kelsea’s Kreations, Art by Jilleun, Spoil Me Sweetly, Nadine & Mina, Handwritten by Katherine, Mia Grace Bridal, Serendipity Floral Design, STL Wedding Celebrant and Allegro Entertainment.

Coda’s Events, 618-741-0742, codas-events.squarespace.com/contact-us

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A Bay Area wedding planner talks explains pandemic effects

Wedding planning, by nature, is almost never an easy task. But throw in a global pandemic, accompanied by public health orders and social distancing mandates put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 — and it has turned the wedding industry on its head.

Natalie Alvanez, director of sales and marketing at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, has seen the fallout first-hand.

Over the past six months, Alvanez has had to make countless difficult calls to anxious couples, canceling, postponing or downsizing dozens of weddings. And her sales and event team has been gutted, leaving nearly all the duties of putting on a wedding ceremony on her shoulders. No sooner does she take one step forward than she’s forced to take one step back in the face of ever-changing restrictions.

In April, for instance, Alvanez built out new “micro-wedding” and elopement packages so couples could still enjoy the outdoor grounds of the Winchester Mystery House. After finally getting the all-clear to move ahead with the events, she was only able to host a couple of weddings before the county put out a new directive that outdoor wedding ceremonies were permitted but receptions of any kind were not — meaning her “micro-wedding” package was now off-limits as well.

To understand how the pandemic is affecting the wedding industry and how wedding planners like Alvanez are adjusting, this news organization recently connected with Alvanez for an interview that has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How have you tried to adapt to the new restrictions brought on by the pandemic?

A: Back in March or April when all of this started, I told my team to refocus from the corporate side of events to the social side. Unlike corporate business events that could potentially be delayed from happening for another year or more, social yearning will always be there and no matter what, people are still going to want to get married. Elopements and smaller wedding celebrations had already become a trend over the last few years as you started to see more people — especially Millennials — go for more of these exotic elopements on top of a mountain or whatnot. The younger generation it seemed was starting to pivot away from wanting to spend $30,000-$40,000 on a wedding for one day and focus more on the experience. So I, and I’m sure many others, figured we could also offer something during the pandemic when most other options are no longer available.

Q: Can you explain what a micro-wedding and an elopement package consist of?

A: At Winchester Mystery House, an elopement package is the ceremony only. Couples can bring up to 20 guests and they can have their ceremony in the front garden. And then with the micro-wedding, the idea was to have the ceremony in the front garden and then it included a mini-reception in our central garden with nice string lights and all of that. It included the space, tables and chairs and then

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