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Photo courtesy of Nadja Endler | Photography, Houzz

Succulents are making a splash as indoor container plants. An increasing number of what were once considered dry-climate outdoor succulents can now be found taking center stage inside the home, thanks to their love of dry, warm climates and tolerance for a little neglect.

If you’d like to start your own indoor succulent garden — and have an area that receives hours of bright, direct sunlight — here are five choices that are likely to thrive.

1. Medicinal Aloe (Aloe vera)
Also known as Barbados aloe, medicinal aloe can do double duty as both an easy-care houseplant and a go-to source for soothing bites, inflammation, and burns, especially sunburns.

It has stiff, upright leaves that grow in a clump-like, rosette form. Look for hybrids that will stay small for indoor display.

Care: Plant in well-draining soil and place in a spot that gets bright, indirect light. A south-facing window is ideal, but they’ll also do well in an east- or west-facing location. They do best in indoor temperatures of 55 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water every three weeks or so, or when the soil is dry from one to two inches deep, and let drain thoroughly; the plant should never sit in water. Water less in the winter. Feed with a balanced fertilizer at half-strength every month to six weeks in spring and summer to encourage growth.

Caution: While aloe is great as an external lotion, it shouldn’t be ingested by humans or pets — the symptoms can be unpleasant to toxic.

2. Donkey Tail (Sedum morganianum)
Donkey tail, also called burro’s tail, was made for hanging containers. The stems are lined with tightly packed, fat, gray-green leaves that can reach four feet in length, giving the plant its common name. Use it as a single plant or let it drape over the edges of a mixed container. S. burrito, sometimes sold as S. Burro, is slightly fatter, while the giant donkey tail, which may be sold as S. orpetti, has slightly shorter stems with thicker leaves.

Because donkey tail stores water in its leaves, choose a sturdy container and hang it securely so its weight won’t be a problem.

Care: Choose a well-draining, neutral-to-slightly acidic soil, and place the container in a spot where it will get at least four to six hours of bright light, such as a sunny south- or west-facing window. It does best in temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and temperatures down to 55 degrees in winter. You can also provide a little less light during the winter months.

Let the soil dry out between waterings, then water thoroughly and let the soil drain completely. Cut back slightly on watering in winter. Feed monthly with a half-strength balanced fertilizer in spring and summer.

Tip: The stems of donkey tail break off easily, so keep your plant where it will be safe from being accidentally brushed against.

3. Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum spp.)
It’s not surprising that hens-and-chicks, or houseleeks, have made the transition from cold-hardy outdoor succulents to indoor succulent garden star. They do well in the temperatures and lower humidity levels of most homes, and you can easily mix them in a container garden with other succulents or show them off on their own.

Thanks to the growing number of hybrids, in addition to the familiar species, you can now find hens-and-chicks in a wide range of colors, from red and maroon to chartreuse, blue, and purple.

Care: Give these mountain-area natives fast-draining soil and at least six hours of bright, direct sunlight. Their color may fade with less light. They do best in temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day but can handle very cold temperatures at night.

Water sparingly, allow the container to drain completely, and let the soil dry out between waterings (water again if the plant shows signs of shriveling). Feed with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer at one-quarter strength four times during spring and summer.

The mother plant will die off in four to six years, but you can easily repot the “chicks” once they appear to start new plants.

Tip: Echeveria elegans and echeveria hybrids are also sold as hens-and-chicks. They’re very similar in looks and can be given the same care.

4. Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
You might bring a jade plant into your home as a small houseplant, but give it the right conditions and you’ll end up with a striking, 4-foot-tall, treelike houseplant with glossy, plump green leaves and a thick, sturdy trunk and stems. These qualities, along with its easy-to-care-for nature, are the reason jade plants remain a popular houseplant choice.

Care: Choose a wide and sturdy pot, as their tree-like canopy makes them top-heavy. Use a well-draining potting mix and place in a spot that gets at least four hours of sunlight; a south-facing window is ideal. Jade plants with variegated leaves will need less light. Keep out of drafts and away from cold windows in winter. They grow best in temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with temperatures as low as 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit in winter.

Water thoroughly about once or twice a month, when the top soil is dry to the touch, making sure the water drains well and the plant isn’t sitting in water. Cut back somewhat in winter. Wrinkled leaves indicate under-watering.

Feed every other month with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer at half-strength, adding it when the soil is wet to encourage growth, though you can get by with less. Wipe leaves with water and a soft cloth to keep them dust-free.

Tip: Look for slightly smaller growers, such as C. ovata "Minima" or C. ovata "Crosby’s Dwarf."

5. Zebra Plant (Haworthiopsis fasciata, Haworthia fasciata)
The zebra plant may not be big, usually only reaching about 6 inches tall, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style. Its rigid, triangular, 3-inch-long leaves, which grow upright out of the plant’s center, are smooth and green on the inside and marked by raised white edges on the outer side, giving this succulent its common name. The zebra plant’s small size and tolerance for the lower humidity levels found indoors have led to its popularity as a houseplant. Show it off by itself or mix it in with other succulents.

Care: Plant in well-draining soil and place in a spot that gets bright sunlight for most of the day, such as a south- or east-facing location. A little more sunlight will add a pleasing orangish-red tint to the leaves. If the plant gets too much sun, the leaves will turn white or yellow. It handles normal indoor temperatures from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water when the soil dries out from spring to fall, taking care that the leaves don’t get wet. In winter, cut back and water when the leaves start to appear wilted. Feed with a diluted balanced liquid fertilizer once a month from spring to fall.

Tip: H. attenuata, also sold as zebra plant, has white bumps on the inner leaf surface as well as the outer bands of white. It also will grow a little taller. Grow it indoors as you would zebra plant.

The zebra plant may not be big, usually only reaching about 6 inches tall, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style.

Photo courtesy of Nadja Endler | Photography, Houzz
The zebra plant may not be big, usually only reaching about 6 inches tall, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style.
Photo courtesy of Covenant LLC, Houzz

6 ways to warm up your kitchen or bath with wood accents

Warmin' Up

Want to warm up your home? See how these different applications of wood can add warmth to your kitchen or bath.

Kitchen

Generous wood detailing. You won’t believe this kitchen transformation when you see it. The island and refrigerator surround have been wrapped in rich, amber-colored wood to bring some warmth to the blue cabinets and slate-colored floor tile.

Wood wall niche. Sometimes while cooking you need a comfortable spot close by to get off your feet for a moment. The wall niche smack dab in this Minnesota kitchen seems like the perfect solution. Wrapping the area in wood brought some additional coziness to the niche and the mostly white kitchen.

Wood floor and furnishings. Weaving in wood accents is a relatively quick and easy way to add warmth to an already established kitchen, such as a rental unit in which you’re not allowed to extensively remodel. That was the case in this Oakland, California, studio loft. To warm up the stainless steel appliances, black cabinetry, and concrete ceiling, the homeowner introduced a rich wood dining table, wood stools, and a wood shelf unit to join the honey-colored wood flooring.

Wood countertop. For an even subtler but still effective approach, take a cue from this light and airy Kansas City, Missouri, kitchen. Blonde birch butcher block countertops soften the crisp white cabinets and subway tile.

Bathroom

Wood storage components. Wood can bring warmth to bathrooms as well. Here, wood was used just on the storage components. Hard surfaces and materials cover almost every inch of the rest of the space, yet the large blocks of flat-paneled maple cabinetry calm the eye.

Subtle wood accent. Entering this New York bathroom, you will see nothing but white Corian countertops and waterfall edge and swaths of blue square tile. Yet if you use the shower or toilet, you’ll get a glimpse of a section of walnut on the vanity, creating a brief moment of visual warmth.

A wood wrapped island warms this space.

Photo courtesy of Covenant LLC, Houzz
A wood wrapped island warms this space.
Photo courtesy of Houzz

4 festive Christmas tree alternatives that will spruce up your home

'Tis the Season

One of the unsung truths of the holiday season is that getting a big, expensive Christmas tree isn’t for everyone. There’s something so cheering and festive about a beautifully decorated tree, but for many reasons — perhaps you travel over the holidays, have a small living space, or simply consider yourself a minimalist — getting a large tree might not be appealing or even possible for you.

Nevertheless, you can still infuse your home with plenty of Christmas spirit. Here are four fun alternatives to a large, decorated cut tree.

1. Put a tree on your wall with ...
Chalk. To celebrate in style, you don’t have to get a real Christmas tree — or even an artificial one. A chalkboard wall can form a backdrop for a simple Christmas tree drawn in white chalk. If you are feeling ambitious, you could add more color with red and green chalk. If you don’t yet have a chalkboard wall, a can of chalkboard paint typically costs less than a large Christmas tree. Plus you’ll have a wall for drawing other festive holiday scenes year-round.

How to Make Your Own Chalkboard Paint

Washi tape. Use this simple tape to make a minimalist tree on your home or apartment wall. Tuck your wrapped presents beneath it for added cheer.

Cut branches. Houzz reader valesga crafted a creative wall tree of cut branches strung together with Christmas lights. You could create a similar arrangement with fallen branches from your backyard or a nearby park.

2. Create a treelike sculpture
“We are gone a lot of weekends in December and find it difficult to keep a fresh tree watered,” says Houzz reader Lynn Martin Dotterer. So instead of getting a live tree, they decorate a ladder. “This ‘tree’ makes for easy storage and is definitely a conversation piece,” Dotterer says.

3. Make it petite and sweet
A small tree can be a festive alternative to the classic large ones — plus you can typically find these trees potted with their roots in place, as opposed to cut. Depending on the type of tree you choose and the climate in your area, you may be able to plant the tree in your yard or even tend to it on your balcony. Perhaps your little tree can grow with you over the years.

That’s exactly what Houzz reader Garineh Dovletian did. “My husband brought this ‘tree’ home 17 years ago for my son’s first Christmas,” Dovletian said. “It was a tiny ‘Charlie Brown’ tree able to hold only one red ornament. The tree has grown with our son over the years and is very special to us.”

Another option is to choose a Norfolk pine, which looks similar to a Christmas tree but is actually a tropical houseplant.

Stylish Plant Stands to Hold Festive Foliage

4. Get a regular tree but keep decorations to a minimum
For those who would like a big, real tree but don’t want to fuss with (or purchase) all that tree decor, Houzz reader rachieleigh sets a great example. “Our tree is in the living room, very minimally decorated. I didn’t have a tree skirt and money is tight this year so I used an old Mexican blanket. I like it so much I plan to always use it in place of a tree skirt!”

Houzz reader Sarah BK faced a similar budgeting dilemma. “First year in our first house, so the budget is low,” she wrote last year. Dried orange slices and cranberries make for a festive, natural look for their tree. “Had to skip a popcorn strand because our pups would think it’s a snack tree.”

Tips for a Fuss-Free Holiday Decorating Season

This washi tape tree is perfect for limited space.

Photo courtesy of Houzz
This washi tape tree is perfect for limited space.
Photo courtesy of Acanthus Architecture PA, Houzz

5 festive ways to dress up your mantel for Thanksgiving

Holiday Cheer

Give your fireplace — or sideboard or dining room table — a little extra love this year with decorations that celebrate the harvest, Thanksgiving, and more. To get your creativity flowing, take a look at these styling ideas, from an arrangement of pumpkins and fall leaves to a collection of branches and feathers.

Fresh and contemporary
Keeping mantel decor simple and inspired by nature gives a fresh feeling to an airy living room. Try a wreath made of leucadendron foliage, lichen-covered twigs, persimmons, and tiny pumpkins. Add creamy yellow and green-striped pumpkins in a row on the mantel. Introducing deeper colors, like leucadendron's burgundy leaves, and bright accents from pumpkins and persimmons can make an otherwise neutral room feel festive for the season.

How to Lay Out a Contemporary Living Room

Minimalist
A spray of green and gold fall leaves and a couple of candles is all that’s needed to make a cozy fireplace feel dressed for the season. To set up your mantel so it’s easy to update for a year-round display, keep it simple and uncluttered, and invest in one standout vase. Over the year, you can fill the vessel with fresh seasonal elements, like cut branches in fall, evergreen conifer boughs in winter, delicate spring blooms, and colorful summer flowers.

Rich and earthy
Create a textured, earthy look by combining a variety of ingredients, concentrating on putting soft, fuzzy, or woven elements (like feathers, fabric, or baskets) in proximity to accessories with smooth, hard, or glossy surfaces (like glass bottles, metal candlesticks, or shiny picture frames).

Rustic cottage
An arrangement of vases and jugs is another example of a mantel display that works year-round. Add a few orange vases to an all-white collection for a welcome jolt of seasonal color.

Get a Statement-Making Vase to Center the Room

Farmhouse style
Use a flat woven basket set on edge to anchor a rustic fall-themed arrangement of pheasant feathers, miniature pumpkins and gourds, brass candlesticks, and sprays of berries. Bonus: Coordinate the table decorations with those on the mantel to tie the whole room together for a fall-themed dinner.

Trendy Table Runners for Your Next Dinner Party

A minimalist mantel with green and gold fall leaves.

Photo courtesy of Acanthus Architecture PA, Houzz
A minimalist mantel with green and gold fall leaves.

13 essentials for a charming farmhouse-style kitchen

Farmhouse Style

Looking to give your kitchen a dose of down-home charm? Few things capture that aesthetic better than a farmhouse-style approach. To get the look right, here are some of the top signature elements of a farmhouse-style kitchen, reinvented for today.

The basics
Farmhouse style in today’s kitchen is all about creating the look and the atmosphere of a traditional kitchen found on a family farm, with casually mixed ingredients that add up to a special style recipe with lots of humility and a welcoming attitude. Despite being somewhat modest, these kitchens are also incredibly beautiful, carrying a style that exists entirely outside the trends. Plus, they’re quite functional.

Essential: Freestanding furniture
Maybe the No. 1 defining feature of farmhouse style is the use of freestanding furniture, rather than the typical built-in type of cabinets, islands, and appliances you expect to see in more modern kitchen styles.

A furniture-style island, in particular, gives a farmhouse kitchen some of its essential casual appeal. It offers the sense that the room was built over time and has its own personality, rather than having been constructed all at once from a cabinetry catalog. A leggy furniture piece that you can see through also helps the space feel more open, so even the most humbly sized kitchen can feel big enough to do some real home cooking.

The palette
Farmhouse kitchens can come in a range of palettes. After all, the style is meant to show lots of warmth and personality. However, a typical farmhouse kitchen draws from colors and materials you would expect to see in an actual country or farm setting, like brick, stone, wood, and soft welcoming hues.

When dabbling in bursts of color, look to heritage hues that suit the timeless air of this style, rather than ultra-saturated, trendy hues that can feel too modern. Of course, if you prefer a contemporary take on farmhouse style, then feel free to go wild.

Essential: Milk paint
In Colonial America, paint mixed with milk was a popular choice for dressing walls and furnishings, and it gave a special, soft matte finish. These days, actual milk paint is often prized for being environmentally friendly, but even when the real thing isn’t being used, the matte finish and muted colors make great inspiration for farmhouse style.

Matte finishes give a softer sheen that is friendly to imperfections, but they aren’t always easy to wipe clean, so make sure to choose a “washable matte” or something similar. For a surprisingly happy blue-green hue, try Sherwin-Williams’ Waterscape.

Material: Beadboard and paneling
Farmhouse homes are rich with inviting texture, and nothing brings rugged tactility to your walls, floors, and cabinets like beadboard and wood paneling. Whether painted or stained — or clear-coated to show off as much natural grain as possible — the appeal of this simple stripe pattern shines through. Use a looser paneling for a woodsy, cottage-like appeal, or a tighter beadboard for a subtler and more polished take.

How to Use Beadboard Around the Home

Detail: Humble hardware
Many kinds of cabinet hardware can work with farmhouse style, but a top choice is the cup pull, shaped to be perfectly functional and not flashy. You’ll also notice latching pulls on the upper and lower cabinets, which give a historic air and satisfying click when opened and shut.

To avoid having fingerprints show on the hardware, use a brushed or antiqued finish. For pleasing sparkle to balance out other matte surfaces, use a polished steel or brass, as long as you’re ready for just a little more upkeep.

Kitchen Gadgets That for Function and Style

Fixture: Apron-front sink
Another small signature of farmhouse style is the apron-front sink. These sinks come in porcelain, steel, stone, and other materials, and they bring this material to the forefront rather than just inside the cabinet.

This turns the humble and functional sink into a decorative feature, celebrating the hardworking spirit of true farm homes. An apron-front sink needs a special type of cabinet to house it, so if you want to include one, make sure to plan for it early in your renovation process.

Essential: Warm wood
Whether on the floor, the cabinetry, or in little touches like dining stools or a freestanding hutch, warm and inviting wood is practically a must-have in a farmhouse kitchen. Knotty, local woods add lots of rustic character to ensure that your kitchen is unique yet classic. Look to subtle, slightly red or orange stains to bring out the inviting warmth of the wood and reveal the knots and grain.

Material: Weathered metal
There are few better foils to warm wood than crisp metal — and, of course, true farmhouses contain many a metal pail or tool — so it makes sense to find touches of metal in a farmhouse kitchen.

Using too much sleek, polished metal in your space may push the look toward a more modern or transitional sensibility, but don’t be afraid to work with weathered or antiqued metals like galvanized steel, antique brass, or blackened bronze. Add these through light fixtures, storage bins, accessories and brushed-finish appliances.

Splurge: Timeless appliances
If you’re going to splurge in your farmhouse kitchen, one of the best places to do so is on the oven and other large appliances. If you choose too many typical contemporary models, they may seriously interrupt the timeless look. A generously sized and traditional-looking stove suits such a space beautifully.

Detail: Open shelves
Although they may feel like a modern trend, open shelves are actually a classic staple that is both beautiful and functional. Simple floating shelves, or a hutch or island with an open cabinet, give you a spot to display beautiful everyday essentials like pitchers, glassware, or storage jars, along with collectibles or the “guest china,” so you can still enjoy these items every day even when they aren’t in direct use.

Essential: Vintage elements
Speaking of displaying treasured heirlooms, a farmhouse look benefits from the inclusion of some vintage furniture pieces as well. Colorful chairs with worn paint, an antique light fixture, or a well-weathered table bring a sense of history that gives your kitchen a lived-in feel.

Detail: Eat-in kitchen
Not every kitchen has room for a full eat-in space, but if you can work in a small table or even a place to dine on your island, it will bring that perfect sense of welcome to complete your farmhouse look. For extra style, mix and match your seating, and let your guests pull up the chair of their choice.

Like These Ideas? You'll Love This Farmhouse Decor

This kitchen features a rustic table for an island, a tall pantry cabinet, and even a charming Smeg fridge.

Photo courtesy of jPhoto.se, Houzz
This kitchen features a rustic table for an island, a tall pantry cabinet, and even a charming Smeg fridge.
Photo by Casey Dunn, Houzz

Classic Tuscan-style home in Austin gets a sleek, modern makeover

Houzz Tour

A young professional couple bought this Austin house for the location, which they love. But after years living in a Tuscan-style builder home, replete with elaborate faux finishes and ornamentation, the couple sought a simpler, more modern aesthetic that would better fit their lifestyle.

“The house was filled with turrets, twists, and turns,” designer Patrick Ousey says. “They wanted a home instead that reflected their youthful, sophisticated personality and love of nature, with honest, simple materials.”

The project began by turning the entrance into a modern front porch with limestone floors, metal roof, glass canopy, and steel columns. A limestone and gravel path leads from the street to the front porch.

Get a Statement-Making Canopy for the Entryway

The Corbusier-style living room is a composition of forms that are tranquil yet sleekly muscular. Tucked behind the fireplace and in front of the curved wall is a staircase that leads to the basement. The dark plaster helps the curved wall recede from the brighter living space and echoes the furnishings’ ebony finishes. A square window brings in valuable light. The fireplace surround was kept low so that sunlight could reach the stairway to the basement.

A white oak cabinet divides the kitchen from the living room, allowing the areas to feel separate while maintaining a nice flow between the spaces. The kitchen features Calacatta Gold marble mosaic tiles — similar to those on the living room fireplace — which run from countertop to ceiling. A skylight next to the custom range hood brings in light that makes the tiles sparkle. The perimeter white countertops are Calacatta marble, and the central island is topped with a local limestone. The floors throughout the house are white oak.

How to Clean Marble Kitchen Countertops

The kitchen also includes a breakfast nook. The designers didn’t alter the architecture, but they added a new upholstered sofa and chairs, a shell chandelier, and a Saarinen table to modernize the space.

In the dining room, the design team squared off an arched alcove. Rift-sawn oak boards are juxtaposed with an ornate Italian mirror, a 1940s-era console, and gold Murano sconces. Modern, leather-upholstered dining chairs with black backs and legs continue the bold color theme, which includes ebony, white, and gold, throughout the house.

In the master bedroom, a cream-toned midcentury leather chair and ottoman encapsulate the sense of comfort and lightness generated by light coming through the floor-to-ceiling windows and the muted color palette.

In the master bath, floor-to-ceiling windows replaced glass-block windows behind the new freestanding tub. The contoured tub sits on a diamond-pattern mosaic floor of Calacatta Gold marble tiles.

The Case for a Freestanding Tub in the Bath

The house is now open from front to back, with the front porch visually leading to the rear porch. Located off the kitchen, the back porch includes a grill to one side. Steel columns support a ceiling of Spanish cedar. Modern glass railings provide unobstructed views. Limestone tile covers the floor. The glass doors lift and slide.

“Our goal was to bring a sense of authenticity to the project by erasing the cliche elements of the original house and replacing them with a materials palette that strives to surpass the trends of the day,” Ousey says.

The fireplace surround was kept low so sunlight could light the stairway to the basement.

Photo by Casey Dunn, Houzz
The fireplace surround was kept low so sunlight could light the stairway to the basement.
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26 Austin restaurants and bars that are giving back on GivingTuesday

Tastes Good

Even Austinites who love to give time and funds on a regular basis — weekly volunteering, donating in friends' names for birthdays, participating in crowdfunding when it comes up — it’s a lot to keep track of. Especially during the holiday season, shopping for friends, family, and busy-time-of-the-year incidentals, a lot of our good intentions fade to the background.

There is a worldwide holiday to keep people on track: GivingTuesday, a recent addition to the Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday pipeline, asks people to take a step back from the consumerist shuffle and think about what they can give outside of their usual habits.

This year, it falls on November 29, and local nonprofit I Live Here, I Give Here (ILHIGH) has a long cheat sheet for Austinites looking to make a difference, including a roster of 26 food and drink businesses donating a portion of proceeds from November 26 to December 2.

GivingTuesday is split into regions, by country and then further by city. ILHIGH, the organization that founded Amplify Austin Day in 2013, is going into its sixth GivingTuesday as the official leader of the Central Texas region, offering a searchable, categorized list of Austin nonprofits that would love some help. The restaurant portion is a little different; organized in partnership with Good Work Austin, a restaurant industry support system that also works against food insecurity, the initiative gets Austinites familiar with local restaurants while knowing their tab is going to a good cause.

The 26 restaurants participating in ILHIGH’s GivingTuesday initiative are:

  • North Austin: Barrett's Coffee, Black Star Co-op, Brentwood Social House, Casey's New Orleans Snowballs, Eldorado Cafe, Epoch Coffee, Little Ola's Biscuits, West Pecan Coffee + Beer (Pflugerville)
  • Northeast Austin: L'Oca d'Oro, Southern Soul Bowl, Taterque, Tso Chinese
  • East Austin: Bento Picnic, Dai Due, Flitch Coffee, Greater Goods Coffee, Hillside Farmacy, The Cavalier
  • Downtown: Little Wu, Olamaie, Swift's Attic, Wu Chow
  • South Austin: Maie Day, Patika, Tso Chinese, House Wine
  • West Austin: Chez Zee, Epoch Coffee

Interested donors who can’t make it for a meal can use amplifyatx.org to donate to ILHIGH directly, or to donate to another organization, to which they may add an additional contribution to the ILHIGH fund before checkout.

More information about the GivingTuesday campaign is available at ilivehereigivehere.org, and on the organization’s social media.

H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans