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As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub puts one affluent Austin suburb on the "nice list," where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to WalletHub, Cedar Park boasts a jolly big holiday budget of $2,855 per person this year, the 14th highest in the U.S.

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Only one Texas city outranks Cedar Park in holiday spending: the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound, with a budget of $3,531 — the third highest in the U.S.

While Flower Mound was the only Texas city in the top 10, there's plenty of Lone Star holiday cheer to be found in the report. In total, 15 Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531
  • Cedar Park, No. 14, $2,855
  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Allen, No. 17, $2,670
  • League City, No. 20, $2,541
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Austin, No. 78, $1,705
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630

Austin boasts the biggest holiday budget among Texas' major metros by far. Fort Worth ranked No. 318 with a budget of $986; Houston landed at No. 366 with a budget of $890; Dallas ranked No. 401 with an average holiday budget of $845; and San Antonio came in at No. 431 with an average budget of $803.

Finally, at No. 553 with a budget of $487, sits the Rio Grande Valley city of Pharr. It's the lowest-ranked Texas city and comes in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, Connecticut, with a budget of only $211.

Photo courtesy of The Little Gay Shop

The Little Gay Shop & Eastside Pop Up present Holigay Market

At the Holigay Market, presented by The Little Gay Shop and Eastisde Pop Up, visitors can eat, drink, be merry, and shop elf-made goods from a village of over 50 local vendors and makers. It'll be lit. There will be free coffee from Luna Espresso & Oatly (while supplies last) and a photo booth with Drag Santa featuring Gothless Jasmine.

Zilker Botanical Garden presents Yule in the Garden

Yule in the Garden will feature family-friendly seasonal crafts located throughout the Zilker Botanical Garden. Guests can make their own native plant-based ornaments, build a winter bird feeder, and craft edible herb bouquets. All crafts are included with admission.

There will also be musical performances by a string quartet from Austin Camerata in the Mabel Davis Rose Garden. Good Juju Flowers will be on site with seasonal bouquets and wreaths for sale. Pretty Cute Coffee with have refreshments available for purchase.

Holiday Hill Country Hoedown

American Field has gathered a variety of outdoor brands for the Holiday Hill Country Hoedown. This event will feature shopping opportunities to find gifts for outdoor lovers, holiday cocktails, bites, and sounds of Texas country.

Sustainable Food Center presents Holiday Farmers Market

The Sustainable Food Center will present its first Holiday Farmers Market. Visitors can stroll the aisles of more than 40 vendor stalls with sustainably grown produce, pasture-raised meat, handmade goods, and more. There will also be a musical performance by Carpe Sono at 5:30 pm.

Photo courtesy of Fogo de Chão

6 things to know in Austin food right now: Brazilian steakhouse sizzles into new downtown space

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

More meat is the guiding principle at Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão, and despite an upcoming closure in Austin, it’s not letting up anytime soon. The restaurant is just relocating from 309 E. Third St. to a slightly more central spot blocks away at 200 Congress Ave., on the bottom floor of The Austonian, a residential tower that’s currently the second-tallest building in the city. It will include churrasco grilling in the main dining room, an outdoor patio, a full bar, and meat lockers for dry aging in-house. A portion of opening week sales will be donated to Keep Austin Fed. For now, the 3rd Street location is still accepting orders.

Other news and notes

The bake sale to put all others to shame, The Festive Mercantile & Chef Susan's Bake Sale, is leveraging award-winning treats by Luties’ pastry chef Susana Querejazu on November 27. The Commodore Perry Estate almost turns the sale into a festival, with lots of opportunities to hang out after snagging the most desirable pastries, including shopping at the Larder Mercantile, wreaths, coffee, whiskey, and more. The sale opens at 10 am and closes when goods sell out.

GivingTuesday, a different kind of winter holiday, happens on November 29 and encourages people to donate funds or time, partially through giving businesses a day to organize special campaigns. In Austin, nonprofit I Live Here I Give Here (ILHIGH) leads the Central Texas area, in a longer event from November 26 to December 2. In partnership with Good Work Austin (fighting food insecurity), 26 neighborhood restaurants will be donating a portion of sales, including Bento Picnic, Chez Zee, Epoch Coffee, Olamaie, The Cavalier, and many more. Full list at ilivehereigivehere.org, under “Dine out for a good cause.”

As many visit family for the holidays, it can be nice to celebrate home in Texas. On November 30, Austin institution The Driskill is putting together a four-course prix fixe of off-menu items by the hotel’s executive chef, Mark Dayanandan, with drink pairings by sotol-maker Desert Door. The four courses contain a lot more than four items, including stuffed quail, smoked gulf redfish pâté, and tomatillo berry compote. Tickets ($95) available on Tock.

Side Eye Pie, the wood-fired pizza truck at Meanwhile Brewing is offering a football special until January 2; every Monday night after 4 pm, two cheese or pepperoni pizzas will be $30. Although these pies are simple, Side Eye is known for serving up complex pies with lots of fresh and organic toppings, on dough made with local flour and yeast. The bar will be open for lots of beer selections, and other neighboring trucks serve barbecue, ice cream, and more.

As passers-by may have noticed, Japanese South Congress eatery Lucky Robot is bringing Christmas cheer to one of Austin’s busiest streets with the return of its holiday pop-up. Like the installment in 2021, this one brings a “canopy of garland,” with classic holiday decorations like giant gift boxes, Christmas trees, wreaths, and lights. In 2022, the decoration gets even bigger, with more than 1,000 hanging ornaments. It’s Christmas in Tokyo, in Austin.

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Mobile vet company brings its no-rush, stress-free services to Austin homes

Home Is Where the Vet Is

Austin, one of the largest no-kill shelter cities in the United States, already knows a lot about adopting instead of shopping. A puppy is a wonderful addition to the family, but senior dogs need love (and are loved), too. As many have learned firsthand, taking care of a senior pet can be challenging — with higher medical bills, potentially heavy lifting as joints stiffen, and tough decisions to make about what kind of care is necessary — but also incredibly rewarding.

November is National Senior Pet Health Month, calling for awareness about an older pet’s needs, and providing opportunities to celebrate wins all over local news. In Austin, one of those wins came in scrubs. The Vets, a mobile veterinary service that makes house calls, expanded into Austin in 2022 (after launching the year prior), eventually bringing the national count to 16 locations including Houston and Dallas. Texas and California are tied for the most locations, at three each.

“Among the top reasons that pet owners avoid or postpone their visit to the vet clinic include the stress of transporting their pet, restrictive pet carriers, and crowded waiting rooms,” explained a statement from the company. “Our no-rush visits give your pet the time to bond with our vet and you the opportunity to ask questions. And you always have the option to rebook the same vet to help grow that special relationship over time.”

This team provides care for every stage in a pet’s life, and most of their needs, too; that’s everything from routine wellness exams, microchipping, nutrition consulting, and even emergency services including those with specialized equipment like ultrasound machines. When the time comes to ease a pet’s end-of-life transition, the team also offers at-home euthanasia, dramatically reducing stress for both pets and people who don’t want a sterile environment or a tearful drive home.

The American Veterinary Medical Association lists many needs for senior pets, including increased medical care, vaccinations, and pet parents that are observant about environmental concerns like house structure and stimulation. With a home vet, pet owners might consider asking for opinions on how to streamline some of these interactions, without having to worry about having to write notes, try to remember potential issues in the space, or miss any important details a professional would see right away.

A good vet can make animals comfortable no matter what, but The Vets emphasizes the stronger relationships that its team can build in a comfortable, stress-free environment. In addition to a more convenient and comfortable experience, this can also mean better care for a pet that doesn’t have an entire puppyhood to adjust.

More information about The Vets, including scheduling, is available at thevets.com.

Austin-area pig rescue wins Airbnb contest to build one-of-a-kind pig-themed guest house

This Place is a Pigsty

KVUE — From tens of thousands of entries from around the world, 100 aspiring designers, architects, DIYers, and makers from more than 20 countries and regions have been chosen to bring their unique space ideas to life as part of the $10,000,000 Airbnb OMG! Fund.

One of those winners is Tracey Stabile, director of the Central Texas Pig Rescue (CTPR) in Austin. Tracey and Dan Illescas, founders of Central Texas Pig Rescue, will receive up to $100,000 to create a one-of-a-kind pig-shaped guest space. Over the course of the next 10 months, they will design, construct, and outfit the space to be guest-ready by summer 2023.

"Basically the OMG! Fund contest was a way for people to be really playful and kind of invent a really cool dwelling that would be something that's totally notable to people and be a destination," said Stabile.

Stabile said Airbnb left all of the freedom of creativity up to them. They went through several rounds of design and planning and review.

"Each step of the way, we were like, 'We're one step closer.' It was very exciting. Just getting those emails at each milestone and seeing that we were actually contenders in this contest. Then the fact that we, of course, won and now we're going to be able to build this amazing thing that we absolutely never would have been able to build under other circumstances. It's just an amazing opportunity," stated Stabile.

Stabile said she wanted to build something that was a little bit unpredictable and wanted to avoid some of the shapes that people might expect. The current pig sanctuary in Smithville, about 45 minutes outside of Austin, is home to over 200 pigs that were saved from abandonment. The sanctuary houses a mix of all different types of pigs, mostly potbellied pigs, and is 100 percent volunteer run and 100 percent donation based.

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Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Texas state parks beckon this holiday season with festive events and peaceful escapes

Silent nights

If roasting s'mores and hiking in the great outdoors sounds fun, pack up your family and visit one of Texas’ state parks this holiday season.

Texas state parks and historic sites are ringing in the holidays with a number of festive events. There are drive-thru light tours, special holiday hikes, arts and crafts for the kiddos, and more.

Reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to visit an individual park's website before you head out. And check the Holidays in the Parks page for many more fun options, pricing information, and more information.

Austin/San Antonio-area parks

Bastrop State Park
Follow ornaments with clues through the park every day in December during the annual Fa La La Through The Forest Scavenger Hunt. Enjoy the Lost Pines Christmas Parade, a collaborative event with Bastrop and Buescher Parks, at 6 pm December 10. Tour the inside of the historic Refectory and see how the Civilian Conservation Corps celebrated Christmas away from home during A Lost Pines CCC Christmas 9 am-12 pm December 17.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site
Visit the popular attraction during December to learn how the farm staff get ready for das Weihnachten (Christmas). Return to the park at 5:30 pm December 18 for the 53rd Annual Tree Lighting, a holiday tradition started by President and Mrs. Johnson.

Garner State Park
Join the Buffalo Soldiers program and friends as they stop into Garner State Park before leaving for Christmas break during the Marching Towards Christmas event 10 am-2 pm December 10. Christmas activities will include hand-dipped candles, frontier Christmas painting, Christmas-themed hard tack in Dutch ovens, and stories of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buescher State Park
On the Fa La La in the Forest Scavenger Hunt, you can follow ornaments with clues through the park to secure a prize at the end, December 1 to January 1. Enjoy the Smithville Festival of Lights and Lighted Parade, a collaborative effort between Buescher and Bastrop parks, on December 3.

Hill Country State Natural Area
See how art, history and state parks are connected; learn some basic watercolor techniques and paint a card or two to take home during the Watercolor Christmas Cards event 2:30-4 pm December 3. Come back for Horses in History & Ornament Craft from 2:30-4 pm December 22 and learn how horses played important roles in the lives of vaqueros, native people, ranchers and more. Then, play a round of horseshoes and paint a horse ornament to take with you.

South Llano River State Park
At Christmas at the Ranch, 2-5 pm December 3, guests can warm up with hot chocolate and cider, listen to live entertainment, enjoy crafts and cookie decorating, and anticipate Santa's visit while taking in the twinkling lights and Christmas decorations at the historic Ranch House that now serves as Park Headquarters.

Dallas-Fort Worth-area parks

Tyler State Park
Enjoy Reading Ranger Campfire Stories around a cozy campfire at 3 pm December 3. Head back December 9-10 for A Pineywoods Christmas, when you can stroll or drive through the Lakeview and Big Pine campgrounds to take in campers' elaborately decorated sites and take a Winter Wonderland Hike.

Lake Tawakoni State Park
Drive through or stay at the park and decorate your campsite with your favorite Christmas decorations to receive your second night of camping free during your stay. There will be a decorating contest, complete with awards, as well as a reading of The Night before Christmas — all part of Twinkle Tour 2022, 5-8 pm December 3.

Daingerfield State Park
Drive through the park lit up like Santa Land during the 10th annual Christmas in the Park drive thru lights tour December 14-17 (times vary). Marvel at the decorated campsites and lights, and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while waiting for a chance to visit with Santa.

Eisenhower State Park
Help those in need and spread holiday cheer — and as a bonus, get free entry to the park — by bringing one unwrapped donation item to the park’s Holiday Donation Drive through December 19. Visit December 9-10 to visit the Light Up the Park drive-thru lights event, featuring milk and cookies with Santa. This year, the park is taking unwrapped toys to donate instead of collecting entrance fees for the event.

Cleburne State Park
Enjoy Pancakes With Santa and make pinecone bird feeders 9-11 am December 10.

Cedar Hill State Park
Search for birds taking their winter break at the park during their Winter Birding Walk, which takes place 7:30-8:30 am December 13. Explore Christmas on Penn Farm on December 17: Learn about the history and pioneers of the Penn Family and the farm they built 150 years ago.

Lake Mineral Wells State Park
Experience Christmas, cowboy style, at Cross Timbers Cowboy Christmas, December 3. Park ranger and cowboy poet David Owens will gather guests around a campfire at the Lone Star Amphitheater for an evening of cowboy culture through songs, stories and poems.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
In partnership with Toys for Tots, the park is hosting Christmas in the Valley, a full day of ranger-led events, programs, family friendly activities, arts and crafts, food and more. Bring a new and unwrapped toy for free admission for the whole family. The event takes place 1-4 pm December 17.

Houston and Gulf Coast-area parks

Brazos Bend State Park
Holiday in the Park is an all-day affair on December 10. Events include a self-guided "Elf Hike," Christmas crafts, "Pup Parade," s'mores, and more.

Goose Island State Park
See the park in lights, enjoy holiday activities, and camp for free when you decorate your campsite during Christmas in the Park on December 17. Guests are invited to "Santa's Village" at the CCC Recreation Hall for holiday crafts, games, hot chocolate around the campfire, and to drop off letters to Santa in the North Pole Mailbox.

Lake Corpus Christi State Park
Get in the holiday spirit with the second annual Holiday Light Drive Thru, 6-9 pm December 10. Visitors can enter the park for a drive through the lighted areas of Javelina and Opossum Bend camping loops, plus the Old Pavilion.

West Texas and the Panhandle-area parks

Franklin Mountains State Park
On December 3, make ornaments and holiday cards with recycled materials as part of the Art in the Parks series. During Cookies and Cocoa, you can decorate and take home your own Christmas treat while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate 2-4 pm December 23. Come back on Christmas Eve for a guided, two-mile Santa Hike at 11 am.

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Bring your family out for Home for the Holidays guided family hike on December 10 and moderate hike on December 17.

San Angelo State Park
Enjoy a drive-thru tour of lights and optional pictures with Santa and Smokey Bear during Holly-Days in the Park, 6-8 pm December 10.