Countdown to Giving: Day 9

A CHRISTMAS HEARTH STORY- Holiday Celebrations Around the World

As I lay on the rug in front of the crackling fireplace, squishing up with Dante, my Saint Bernard, I stare at the ceiling, breathe in the sweet scent of our newly decorated Christmas tree, and wonder what my friend, Jose, is doing to celebrate Christmas this year in Mexico. He once told me the story of the Posada (inn), which honors the bible’s story of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter to give birth to baby Jesus. Lasting nine nights, each night focuses on a character trait such as humility, trust, joy, and generosity. He said the fun part is being in a procession with family and friends, and visiting someone’s house which represents the Posada, and is adorned with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns. I can almost feel the energy and see the vibrant colors of their celebration; and I imagine my friend, running and yelling “Feliz Navidad”, singing traditional songs, striking pinatas, eating tamales, and wrapping up the festivities with prayer. It would be so cool to be there with him.

For many of my friends, including Carlo in Italy, Christmas is a religious celebration. Italians celebrate ‘Epiphany’ (Jesus’s baptism), and children receive gifts from the Three Wise Men; although in some households it is Befana, an old lady, who fills children’s stockings, and Babbo Natale who brings gifts. Katharina told me that in Germany they celebrate ‘Advent’, the coming of Christ, on Christmas Eve, and children are visited by Nikolaus, who places chocolates and small gifts in children’s shoes on December 6th. Krampus (half goat, half demon) may also visit, punishing or takes naughty children away. I shudder when I think of Krampus. I reflect for a moment, and feel pretty good that Krampus wouldn’t visit me, thankfully.

I’ve always been curious about my friends Levy, Jafari, Sergy and Akihiro’s celebrations. They live in Israel, Africa, Russia and Japan. Levy celebrates Hanukkah, or Festival of Lights, which lasts for eight days and celebrates the historical uprising against their Greek-Syrian oppressors, and rededication to the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Each night Levy lights a candle, recites blessings, and sings hymns with his family. Jafari also lights candles, seven of them, representing principles such as self-determination, purpose, unity, and creativity. Jafari’s celebration, Kwanzaa, celebrates and gives thanks to his black culture and community. In Russia, where Christmas was once banned, Sergy said people celebrate on New Year’s, when Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and his granddaughter, Sneguorchka, bring children gifts. Akihiro says that they give gifts to each other to spread cheer and happiness; and their special day is Christmas Eve when they celebrate romance, like our Valentine’s day. My friend, Arjun, says in India they decorate banana or mango trees; in Singapore, trees are decorated with candy and teddy bears; and in the Ukraine, they add spiders – eek!

As I reach for one of Santa’s cookies, only because I put too many out, Dante rolls over, pinning me down, and stares at me with that “Are you going to share?” look. Of course, I share, and lay back and imagine the foods my friends all around the world eat during their celebrations. The gingerbread tingles in my mouth, and I think about panettone in Italy, Israel’s latke’s, France’s bûche de Noël, Russia’s sochivo, England’s Christmas pudding, and even Finland’s salt-fish, which I am not sure I would like more than turkey! Oh, and did you know, in Japan they eat fried chicken for Christmas! When I think of my friends and their families gathered around their dinner table in celebration, what I realize is that food is often at the heart (or belly!) of all the celebrations, bringing people together.

Dante drools on my leg, but his head is too heavy to move and I don’t want to wake him as he could bark and scare Santa, who I’m quietly waiting to greet. I stay put, anticipating the sound of reindeer hooves.  My Finnish friend, Kaapo, told me about all the reindeers, more than 20,000, that the people look after for Santa. I hope I get a glimpse of one tonight. As I lay here in anticipation, I know there is so much more to the rich history of my friends’ unique celebrations, but the common thread we all share is the celebration of life, family, and community!

Hyvää joulua, Śubh krisamas, Chag Molad Sameach, Buon Natale, and Meri Kurisumasu! Cunae International School wishes everyone a safe Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Cunae International School is a small, independent private school, that has, for 15 years, engaged in developing smart minds and warm hearts, through a relevant and challenging curriculum, and a compassionate and supportive culture of community. To learn more, visit, or call 281.516.3770. Location: Creekside Park, The Woodlands.

Countdown to Giving: Day 10

Holidays are Happier on the Ice in The Woodlands!

 The Ice Rink at The Woodlands Town Center has become a staple during the holiday season for residents and guests in The Woodlands. We may be in Texas, but a visit to the The Ice Rink followed by a cup of hot cocoa after your spin on the ice, will definitely get you in the holiday mood! The Ice Rink will be open daily through Monday, January 18, 2021.

Tips for First Time Skaters

If you are new to The Ice Rink at The Woodlands Town Center or just haven’t spent much time on the ice, check out the below tips to ensure your visit is as enjoyable as possible:

Make sure your skates are the right size.

Generally, skates are two sizes smaller than shoe sizes for shoe size six and larger. The skate should fit nice and snug, almost uncomfortable but not so tight it hurts. Next, the skate should be laced up, crisscross style, all the way to the top and tied tight for stability.

Pick the right type of skate.

There are two types of skates – Figure skate and hockey skates. Figure skates are sized for ladies and hockey skates are sized for men, but you can select which type you prefer.

Start slow and be cautious.

Skating is not like walking. You will need to push from side to side and glide across the ice. The Ice Rink features a small separate rink designed for children that provides a less intimidating area to be introduced to ice skating. Be mindful of others skating around you. Helmet and walkers are available for rental.

Bundle up!

The Ice Rink is kept at 55 degrees and below. Dress based on your comfort level as it is colder in the building once on the ice.

Book your skate session

Due to COVID-19, a touchless payment option has been implemented for guests. Booking your skate session online is highly encouraged to ensure capacity is not met for your desired time. Ice Rink face masks are available for purchase onsite, and also make great stocking stuffers!

Consider group or private ice skating lessons.

Still need more help getting acclimated to the ice? The Ice Rink offers private and group ice skating lessons! “Introduction to Skating” group lessons are available for all ages and will take place Sundays from 8 to 9 a.m. A maximum of 15 people will be accepted per instructor. Group lessons are $20 per person and do not include admission and skate rental fees. Private skating lessons are also offered in 30 or 45-minute sessions. The cost for a 30-minute lesson is $30 and $45 for a 45-minute lesson (admission and skate rental fees not included).

Admission for ice skating ranges from $12.50 to $17.50 and varies by day. Children 5 and under are $6. Helmet and walker rentals are also available for an additional cost. Observer only fees range from free to $2.

The Ice Rink will be open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with special hours for school holidays (based on the CISD school calendar).

The Woodlands Township invites residents and visitors alike to enjoy The Ice Rink at The Woodlands Town Center this holiday season.

Book your wintry adventure online today!

Produced by The Woodlands Township and sponsored by Market Street, The Howard Hughes Corporation®, The Strong Firm and Wright’s Printing.


Located at the northwest side of The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion at the corner of Lake Robbins and Six Pines Drive, The Ice Rink at The Woodlands Town Center is now open daily for the holiday season! Free parking is available in the Town Center Parking Garage (2005 Lake Robbins Drive). The 21,000 square-foot multipurpose facility features ice skating, private and group ice skating lessons, tables for parties and concessions. The Ice Rink is also available for private rental for corporate or private events.

Please note – Ice Rink operations have been modified to accommodate more stringent cleaning procedures, provide social distancing for guests in accordance with CDC guidelines and comply with local orders regarding building capacity. All visitors will be screened prior to entry and temperature checked. Please wear a face covering when inside the building.

Ice Rink guests should practice social distancing, refrain from gathering in large groups and continue following all guidelines established by the CDC when in public spaces and around others outside of your household. Please note all Township events and programs are subject to cancellation pending local, state and federal Orders or Declarations.  

Dr. Adrienne Blessing

A “blessing” to the community, Dr. Adrienne Blessing moved to The Woodlands in the early ‘90s, and nearly 30 years later she feels blessed to call The Woodlands home again. Educational pursuits took Blessing across the country, first to the University of Miami for her undergraduate degree and later to Drexel University in Philadelphia for a graduate degree in business, but she couldn’t escape the pull of Texas, of home. Her answer? Return to the area for medical school at The University of Texas, Houston.

Fast forward a few years which included a fortuitous blind date, Blessing found herself finishing up her residency at Memorial Hermann in Houston with an amazing husband, Jordan, and expecting her first child. It was at that moment that she became determined to return to The Woodlands for the amenities and treasured environment she hoped to now share with her new family. The perfect opportunity soon presented itself in the form of a job offer with Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital. Adrienne and Jordan now reside in Creekside Park Village and have two beautiful daughters. She has established a successful medical practice at Houston Methodist and has been able to rekindle friendships from her childhood as well as establish new ones.

She attributes the prevalence of values such as compassion and caring for others, as well as the abundant sense of community she experienced growing up in The Woodlands, as key factors in her decision to return. Blessing had an idyllic childhood that included attending Sally K. Ride Elementary followed by Collins, Knox and culminated with her role as a Highlander cheerleader at The Woodlands High School.

A self-described animal lover, Blessing will not hesitate to stop traffic to help a turtle or assist a lost dog to find its owner. Her hope is that her daughters will learn by her example that all living things should be treated with kindness and compassion; these lessons that were instilled by her parents but were reinforced by the individuals and the environment in The Woodlands. “People have such a compassion for others here, outside of their family. I have seen it in many areas but most notably through my involvement in Junior League of The Woodlands, as well as serving on the Giving Goes Glam and HOPE – The Will Herndon Fund Committee,” she shared.

Blessing feels that they are in the perfect place to raise their daughters. Citing author Esther Wojcicki’s book, How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, she shares Wojcicki’s belief, “It’s important to show our kids that the most exciting and rewarding thing you can do is to make someone else’s life better.” That is the spirit of The Woodlands and we are fortunate the Blessing Family is home in The Woodlands.

Article by: Janelle Romano  |  Photography: Derrick Bryant

The Woodlands Arts Council

When conceiving The Woodlands as a master-planned community, its founders envisioned a place where art was highly valued. They succeeded in creating a vital and robust presence of artistic expression in the area. The vehicle that provides support for the arts and sustains the founders’ goal is The Woodlands Art Council, Inc. (TWAC), a not-for-profit corporation, whose primary objective is to provide cultural enrichment through several community events that promote the performing, visual and literary arts, primarily through The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival and in the schools with numerous projects and scholarships for those students interested in pursuing art studies.

TWAC strives to create a better community through the arts. Dr. Maria Holmes, recently appointed as President of TWAC Board of Directors, believes that by experiencing the creative arts in the community, the quality of life is enhanced for all residents. “It creates another way for people to build community, it’s another way for citizens to have purpose and meaning in their hometown, no matter the age, heritage, or where their original home is; it brings us all together,” Holmes stated.

The Council establishes and supports meaningful art and cultural programs throughout The Woodlands, including youth mentoring and support programs, student art scholarships, art programs in kids’ schools, interactive workshops for seniors and retirees, special needs programs and sponsorship of public arts. TWAC continues to grow and gain recognition by coordinating The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival and the Art Bench Project.

The Art Bench Project

The Council is responsible for twenty Art Benches that have been commissioned and installed throughout our community, in partnership with The Woodlands Township as well as with the funding and vision of art patrons who sponsor each bench. Designed by local, national, and international artists, the Art Benches are permanent outdoor collections around The Woodlands Mall, Town Green Park and Hughes Landing. Currently, Phase IV of this project will feature three new Art Benches that will be located along The Woodlands Waterway.

The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival

The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival is an annual and premier attraction. It is one of the top-ranked fine arts festivals in the country. The festival is made for the community by the community, and all the proceeds go back into the local arts, impacting the community while benefitting upcoming local artists.

“The festival is very competitive,” said Kelly Batterson, Event Director of the 2019 Festival. There are 800 to 1,000 artists that submit applications each year providing the community with the most beautifully creative art to select from. The review and final picks are made by a blind jury. The art pieces are judged solely on merit. Art teachers, art professionals, community members and volunteers constitute the jury and collectively choose over 200 artists for each festival. “It is a well-thought-out process, a fine-working machine,” added Batterson.

The members of The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival Committee worked hard to deliver a wide variety of artistic mediums including paintings, pottery, glass pieces, photography, jewelry, digital, furniture, clothing and much more. The attendees at the two-day outdoor festival were able to meet the artist, discuss and learn about their work, hear their stories and their artistic perspectives. That was possible because, as part of the festival’s requirements, the artists have to be present in their booth for their exhibition, making the experience for the visitors more dynamic and personal.

In 2019, TWAC added a new feature to the festival called, Spotlight on Mexico. This gave an element of freshness to this year’s 14th event. Holmes mentioned, “We want to have a more global presence in our arts festival. Each year, we are going to select a country and bring attention to their arts, their food, and music providing education of other cultures to our citizens.” An interactive living museum was set up inside the main gate of Town Green Park, capturing the richness and beauty of Mexico in every art form. Asociación Amiga was in charge of curating the exhibit; they are a nonprofit formed by female Latin American entrepreneurs with a broad sense of commitment for the community. Diana Ontañon, President of the organization said, “Art has no language, barriers or frontiers, the Spotlight on Mexico was a way of sharing our authentic Mexican culture and artifacts, and representing our country the best way possible.”

The festival is a family event; everyone enjoyed the artists’ displays, live music performances and exquisite food offerings. Younger attendees participated creatively in The Woodlands Children’s Museum special exhibits. “We have a little something for everybody, making or having art is the main focus. We are proud of it; we love our mission and want to cultivate it,” concluded Batterson. The next Arts Festival is scheduled for October 17th–18th, 2020.

Article by: Ana Beatriz Priego  |  Photography: Derrick Bryant

Staying Safe in the Texas Sun

Staying Safe in the Texas Sun


Sunscreen Tips to Stay “Sun Safe”

Sunlight is a part of our everyday summer, spring & fall life here in Texas, and I always recommend protective clothing and sunscreen on a daily basis. Here are some tips for this important skincare step that can help prevent brown spots, sun damage, deeper wrinkles and skin cancer.


What level of SPF should I use?

Make sure that your sunscreen is broad spectrum with transparent zinc oxide. This ensures that you protect against ultraviolet radiation from the sun (which includes ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B.) The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a minimum of SPF 30 for daily use. SPF 30 blocks 97% of ultraviolet rays (UVB) and SPF 50% blocks 98%, so SPF 30 is sufficient.

SPF stands for sun protection factor. It tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. So ideally, with SPF 30 it would take you 30 minutes longer to burn than if you were not wearing sunscreen.


How much sunscreen should I use and how often to reapply? 

To get the full broad spectrum of protection of your sunscreen, it is recommended that you apply one ounce of sunscreen (about a shot glass full) all over your body. Reapplication every 2 hours is recommended, especially if you are outside all day.


Who needs to use sunscreen?

Everyone! Men, women and children over 6 months of age should use sunscreen every day. This includes people who tan easily and those who do not; your skin is damaged by sun exposure over your lifetime, whether you burn or not.


What is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens?

Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. They contain one or more of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, oxtisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.  Physical sunscreens work like a shield, sitting on the surface of your skin and deflecting the sun’s rays. They contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.  I generally recommend the physical sunscreens as they are safer for the environment, better for sensitive skin and provide a great barrier to the harmful UV rays.

When should I apply sunscreen?

Every day! The best practice is to apply 30 minutes before going outside to allow the sunscreen to adhere to your skin. Reapply after every 2 hours of sun exposure and immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.  Even when it is cloudy, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV radiation reaches earth. Thus, going unprotected on an overcast day can lead to skin damage.


How can I protect my baby from the sun? 

Ideally, parents should avoid exposing babies younger than 6 months to UV rays. The best way to protect infants is to keep them in the shade as much as possible, and by wearing sun protective clothing. However, if sunscreen needs to be used, physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide formulated for infants will cause less irritation.


What type of sunscreen should I use?

The one that you will use! But, to further answer that question, make sure it offers broad spectrum protection and is at least SPF 30. If you are swimming, opt for one that is water-resistant (but you still need to reapply after 2 hours).

Available sunscreen options include lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks, and sprays.  If you use a spray, make sure that the product is widely used and recommended to ensure they are safe and effective. Current FDA regulations on testing do not apply to spray sunscreens.


What is UPF?

Ultraviolet protection factor is UPF, a label for clothing, hats, and fabrics that offer protection against UV rays. A shirt labeled UPF 50 allows 1/50th of the UV radiation to reach your skin.  There are many new fabrics that offer high tech protection and breathability, too.  Also, wearing UV blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them help as well.

Vitamin D and Sun Protection

While a small amount of Vitamin D can be obtained from exposure to the sun’s UV radiation, the health risks of UV exposure, including skin cancer are great. The Skin Cancer Foundation advises for one to get their Vitamin D from items such as fish, fortified dairy products and cereals, and supplements.


Do not forget to live a “Sun Safe” life and use sunscreen, sun protective clothing and seek shade, but still enjoy this Texas summer!


Content provided by Dr. Anita Gill, The Gill Center for Plastic Surgery and Dermatology. Dr. Anita Gill is certified by the American Board of Dermatology and earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, LA, which is linked to the world-famous Charity Hospital. She earned a prestigious dermatology residency at the Texas Medical Center at the University of Texas at Houston and the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center. She served as a chief resident in her final year of training. Before her residency, Dr. Anita Gill authored numerous publications during her research year in Dermatology. Together, with her husband, Dr. Paul Gill, a board certified plastic surgeon, they own The Gill Center for Plastic Surgery and Dermatology where they focus on quality and comprehensive cosmetic plastic surgery and dermatology.

Day Trips

Following years of careful civic planning in accordance with George Mitchell’s original vision, The Woodlands has everything residents need. Unless a job or special event draws us outside peripheries, we’re just fine right where we are to live, work and play. On occasion, however, a change of scenery is good for the soul. For those with a yen to explore our stretch of the greater Houston area, there are nearby locales that clear the mind, entertain the kids and satisfy the palate.

Less than an hour’s drive from The Woodlands, nestled in one hundred acres of rolling Willis, Texas countryside is a farmhouse J.C. Hill built for his family in 1885. Time and the elements had taken a toll on the place when the Bradbury Family purchased the house and land in 2017 with a vision for restoration, expansion and repurposing. The result is Historic Hill House and Farm, an enchanting Bed and Breakfast featuring first-rate service, accommodation and recreation.

The main house, the barn house and two cottages offer seven well-appointed rooms and suites for overnight booking. Upscale farmhouse in design and comfort, these rooms offer true repose. Dining here is an equal treat. The talented and passionate culinary team at Hill House serves fine country fare three times daily to guests in the same dining room, incidentally that same room has been hosting friends and family for over one hundred and thirty years.

Active families enjoy time by the swimming pool at Hill House, fishing from a massive pond, hiking, jogging, biking and wildlife watching among its ample acreage. Inside the pool barn, an activity room equipped with board games, lawn games, crafts and puzzles are yours for the taking. And for those seeking a more tranquil escape, there is massage, painting and photography lessons and enough distance from the real world for midnight stargazing.

Hill House is a perfect location for family reunions, book clubs, yoga, writing or corporate retreats. A recent restoration of the Hill’s historic barn has added a dreamy venue to the property; 7500 square feet of climate-controlled country-chic ambiance. Not surprisingly, Hill House has additionally become a sought-after wedding location.

Roughly the same distance from The Woodlands, halfway between Conroe and Plantersville on Highway 105 is a similar escape. Named Melrose House when it was constructed in 1854 by Richard Willis, this humble yellow farm-style home and its grounds quickly became a central location for social gatherings in Montgomery County. During the Civil War, resident and local surgeon Dr. John Irion treated patients here, and Sam Houston is rumored to have been a frequent guest.

Several subsequent owners renamed the place for their use as a private residence. When the Weems family purchased the property in 2012, the goal was to restore the original social aspect of the historic property. Following renovation, the estate was reopened to the public as the Hodge Podge Lodge, a delightfully rustic Bed and Breakfast and event venue.

Current owners Jeff and Mistie Angelo recently acquired the dream and took it up a notch, adding a pergola, an open-air pavilion and other wedding and event accoutrement to the grounds. The greatest challenge, and pride for Jeff, a ‘retired-refired’ entrepreneur, was the addition of a commercial kitchen and restaurant inside the historic house without compromising its delicate original features. The Eatery at Hodge Podge Lodge has become a celebrated addition to the gourmet dining scene in Montgomery. Head Chef Rick Adams along with Jeff Angelo (also a chef) created The Eatery’s nicely balanced menu of hearty entrees, light salads and sides. Locally sourced produce and meat, and dishes made daily from scratch are hallmarks of the operation’s excellence.

Whether in need of a location for a girl’s weekend getaway, a nearby escape for the family, or a beautiful environ for time alone to read or write, the Hodge Podge Lodge fits the bill.

Article by: Karen Carroll