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Written by Lois Rodriguez

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I’ve always considered myself a pretty brave guy. I’ve gone hang gliding, swum with stingrays, and even eaten face-melting ghost chiles. However, standing in the damp coolness of an underground nuclear missile silo, contemplating scuba diving into the black waters below me, I was overcome by an unexpected feeling: gut-wrenching fear.

Hilltop-Gardens-Aloe MG 4883Luxuriating in the tropically landscaped oasis of Hilltop Gardens, I feel sheltered from the world by palms, hibiscus, and birds of paradise. The Inn at Hilltop, a Mexican Colonial/Mediterranean-style B&B, perches on a rise at the Rio Grande Valley site west of Lyford, surrounded by fields of aloe vera, vegetables, and sugarcane. It’s a magnet for those seeking a warm and tranquil winter haven.

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Clearly I am not the only one who yearns to bring a bit of Spain back to Texas. For the first half of my 30s, I lived in Madrid less than 600 meters from the Museo Prado, the holy ground of Spanish art that holds within its hallowed walls the masterpieces of Velázquez, Goya, and El Greco. These treasures of light, shadow, allegory, and humor became a regular part of my Madrid life.

An Internet search for “folk art” or “outsider art” results in a goldmine of possible sources, including big chains like Pier One and World Market, which sell mass-produced items sourced from around the world. Not bad if you’re looking for a holiday ornament or kitchen textiles, but no dice if you’re searching for a handmade, one-of-a-kind piece of art.

santaTexas' state parks can be quite festive at Christmastime. In fact, many have lights up and are ready to welcome travelers to a holiday-in-the-park experience. Here are a few state parks that you can visit this weekend.

bastrop-planting-tpwd-103Restoration efforts at Bastrop State Park have been ongoing since the Bastrop County Complex Wildfire swept through in 2011. The latest volunteer call is a chance to help make a difference. From mid-December through February, more volunteers are needed to help with reforestation.

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The San Antonio River Walk will be illuminated on Friday, Nov. 28, for the Ford River Parade and Lighting Ceremony, one of the nation's only nighttime river parades. Look for lighted floats, live music, celebrities and more. Texas Highways will join the festivities to help embrace the holidays.

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The centerpiece of Texas Highways' December 2014 cover is San Antonio's San Fernando Cathedral bathed in the brilliant light of a visual and musucal art installation. This cathedral-turned-canvas showcase can be viewed in free presentations through Dec. 31.

Dallas Food Editor Cathy Barber recalls: I asked my mom, Louise Saathoff of San Antonio, to give me the recipe for her cranberry salad, we both realized that the sugar was missing from the ingredient list. The recipe had been circulated around my family, and it turns out my mom had given me her cousin’s copy. I guess her cousin had just estimated the amount of sugar when she used it. So my mom had to go back and dig out her own copy, the original version of the recipe. It needs lots of sugar to offset those tangy cranberries.

Austin American-Statesman Food Editor Kitty Crider recalls: My grandmother Lois Barrett O’Kelly (we called her Nannie) had a pear tree. Every fall she turned its harvest into mincemeat for holiday pies. It’s one of her few time-consuming recipes I still use.

Yellow Velvet—a sensuous blend of corn and squash—won the Austin American-Statesman’s annual Christmas Cookin’ Contest almost 15 years ago. Yes, it’s rich, but we still get requests to reprint the recipe during the holiday season.

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With the holidays comes travel for many. And with travel comes the stress of loading up the car, trying to minimize stops while navigating the traffic that comes with this season of gridlock. But if you have to negotiate just one stop, make it a Texas Travel Information Center.

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