Monday, August 18, 2014

12 Things To Do During Texas' Winter Months

Let's admit it Texans, our lovely state never truly has a 'real' winter. We don't have snow-capped mountains or frozen winter wonderland forests, our retail stores aren't equipped with the latest winter coats or skiing gear...we just don't have winters. If you're a Texan, you know this is at times heartbreaking. Every once in a while it'd be nice to have some 'real' winter weather for a change, feel all cozy by the fire watching snow fall outside the window, build a snowman, go sledding, cut down a Christmas tree, you know, normal wintery things!

I have family coming from Maryland in December to stay with us throughout the month till New Years and they've requested for us to show them the gorgeous side of Texas that isn't flat land and boring. First off, they live in the North, they know what a real winter is and they laugh at us when ice storms hit and cities shutdown, and they've traveled the world - talk about hard to please in that case! If your family has ever explored what Texas has to offer beyond the city highways, you know there are tons of amazing things to do and see in our diverse state. Unfortunately, almost all of them are more appealing during Spring and Summer.

So what are we to do but start searching for as many things as we can find across Texas that will bring out our state's inner winter wonderland! I thought I'd share my top holiday activity finds for older teens and adults so that if you're ever in the same predicament as we are, and you need to start making road trip plans ASAP, you have a handful of unique attractions and places in Texas to travel to that you probably would've never thought of. Here are 12 things to do during Texas' winter months.

1. See the famous Bald Eagle nests of Texas
Did you know Texas' hill country is a winter nesting home to some of our nation's Bald Eagles? Grab your binoculars and cameras and head to these popular eagle sights:

2. Smell real Christmas trees growing in Texas
Gah, I love the fresh pine smell of evergreen Christmas trees! There are over 120 Christmas tree farmers in Texas growing 500 to 10,000 trees per farm and harvesting one of the most iconic symbols of the holiday season. Take family photos for your annual holiday cards behind a backdrop of trees, cut down your own tree, or take part in the holiday crafts and events at the farms. Head on out to a farm near you and support your local tree farmers.

3. Experience the changing of tree colors by waterfalls
If you're the kind of person who dreams of the Carolina waterfalls and mid-fall hiking to see the trees changing colors and waterfalls freezing over, you've got to visit Texas' Guadalupe Mountains National Park at Smith Spring or Colorado Bend State Park at Gorman Falls anytime from fall into winter.

4. Eiffel Tower holiday lights
If you can't be under the Eiffel Tower in France, be under one of its replicas topped with a fitting cowboy hat in Paris, Texas! 27 LED lights adorn the tower that reflect the holiday colors at night during December. The town hosts ongoing holiday events like the local Christmas parade, Movie in the Park Holiday nights, and home Christmas light tours as well.

5. Bundle up for ICE! at the Gaylord Texan Resort
Whether you have kids, or you don't, this holiday activity is awesome for anyone. I've been twice, the last time being in 2011 when the theme was Shrek. The Gaylord hosts an ice sculpture walk-through with a different theme every year; this year will be Frosty The Snowman. The tour features 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice and two ice slides. This year they'll be adding a section called The Frostbite Factory where you'll get to see the ice carvers up close as they work! Aside from the sculpture tour and getting to wear a huge blue parka, the entire resort is decked out in Christmas decorations, lights, and even a full size gingerbread house to explore. I plan to go this year!! :)

6. Watch the Ford Holiday River Parade & Lighting Ceremony 
The hour long parade on the banks of the River Walk in San Antonio is full of illuminated boats, holiday decorations, bands, and great food!

7. Go back in time with Fredericksburg's Annual Lighting of the German Pyramid 
This little German town will be decked out in traditional German holiday festivities, lighting of a Christmas tree and traditional wood-carved pyramid, plus lots of great foods! If you prefer to add a little global culture to your holiday festivities, this is the place for you!

8. Check out the dozens of holiday activities in Grapevine
From the North Pole Express and the Twinkle Light Boat Parade, to an international Christmas Market and Christmas Wine Trains, the city of Grapevine has an activity for any family to enjoy. It has even been named the Christmas Capital of Texas!

9. Visit San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio for a holiday mass
The cathedral is beautiful when its holiday lights and Christmas tree adorn the grounds. With masses in both English and Spanish, it is the oldest functioning religious community in the state of Texas having been founded in 1731. On the grounds there is a gift shop, water fountains, and scenic surroundings for photography.

10. Walk the Austin Trail of Lights during its 50th Anniversary
Grab a cup of hot chocolate or your favorite warm cinnamon tea and head for Austin's Zilker Park! This is a must-see event in the city where 1.25 miles of lights, food, and entertainment take over December 7-21. Watch last year's recap video to see what happened!

11. Skate on ice in downtown Houston's Discovery Park ICE Skating Rink
The ICE skating rink uses recycled water from Kinder Lake every year to form a 7,716 square-foot rink kept at 22 degrees. This is the largest outdoor ice skating rink in the Southwest! But it's not just about the skating, there are outdoor movies, live music, ice carvings, food, and more. It will be packed, so make sure to go when it might not be that busy.

12. Go to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert 
If you love the classic songs of the holidays, but need a little modern twist to get the boys more interested, this concert is for you. We've been twice, and it's awesome; a little bit of the classics, rock, and a super light show. They'll be touching down in Houston December 19 and Dallas December 21. For all other tour dates and locations, visit the link below!

So there you have it, a pretty good handful of holiday events, activities, and places around Texas to explore this winter. Who thinks we'll actually get some snow this year?? :) I know those ice storms are just around the corner.haha

What are some of your family's must-do holiday activities? Share in the comments below! You never know, you might discover an event or activity that you've never experienced before in a city or town near you. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Simple & Easy Cooking: Greek Pesto Gyros

I had a few people ask for the recipe to the pesto I made a few weeks ago, so I thought I'd share the recipe with everyone, PLUS the full recipe on how to make a mouthwatering brother-approved Greek inspired gyro!

The first time I ever had a gyro was when Mr. ArtSea Chic took me to one of his favorite Greek restaurants in Houston for lunch one day. I didn't really know what to expect since it was my first time ever having Greek food ...but o my goodness it was so good!! Stuffed with all sorts of flavors, spices, meat, cheese, and sauce.. MMMMmmm MMmm. Everything was stuffed into one piece of bread, and you could definitely only eat one even though you feel like you could just eat two or more because they're so darn good!haha

I wanted to be able to make gyros whenever I wanted to, and not have to rely on going to eat at a restaurant. So I looked through dozens of recipes, and found a recipe that called for freshly made pesto as the blend of herbs and spices for the gyro. It just so happened that a neighbor was looking to give away some of his basil plants, so I got a whole bunch for free!! Our backyard garden had Italian oregano and mint already growing, so I went outside to clip a few branches off.

To make the pesto grab a food processor and put in:
  • 1 cup basil
  • 1/2 cup Italian oregano
  • 1/2 cup mint
  • Juice of 1 organic lemon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • Zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup Mediterranean olive oil
Blend it all up till you have the consistency you want and then you're done. It's that easy!

To continue making your gyro ingredients, next up is cooking your chicken. I used a bag of chicken tenders and sauteed them in coconut oil, chopped garlic, salt, pepper, drops of lemon juice, dried rosemary and oregano, then threw in a few sliced tomatoes. Cook the chicken till the outside turns a hint of brown and it's fully cooked.

Once the chicken is done and still warm, grab some bread, preferably vegan (egg and dairy free) naan bread and place a couple pieces along with the cooked tomatoes on top followed by:
  • Chopped cucumber
  • Feta cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • As much pesto as you want!

Now doesn't that just look amazing? Who's hungry? :)
Do you have your own gyro recipe? I'd love to know how you make your yummy gyros, leave a comment below!

Unless otherwise stated, all content and photographs are ©ArtSea Chic. Please do not copy or distribute photographs without first asking for permission. Paid endorsement disclosure: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of compensation for my endorsement, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this blog, which are mentioned in the ArtSea Chic Media Kit. Please know that I only recommend and endorse products and services that I personally approve, appreciate, and feel would be helpful for readers. All ideas and opinions expressed are completely my own. Thank you for supporting ArtSea Chic!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Coastal Corner Makeover

Since Spring I've been meaning to do a little interior decorating to a corner in my room that was screaming to be filled with a couple coastal pieces, pictures, and accents. For the longest time I had wanted a seashell chandelier for my room, but could never find the right style or length I like for a reasonable price that wasn't being sold buy a large company. So I kept on putting off my little room makeover.

One day Loving Coastal Living posted handcrafted seashell chandelier pictures on their Facebook page, and one of them caught my eye so much I ordered their large spiral staircase chandelier. I loved that I was supporting a small business AND getting an awesome seashell chandelier! When it arrived, baby Lily and I just had to unwrap it and see what it looked like in person. Baby Lily is a very curious Morkie :) 

The chandelier was a beautiful design and pattern of shells! The off-white, brown, and cream colors matched perfectly with the rest of my room and it was long enough, about 52'' long, to fill vertical empty corner space.

After I got the chandelier hung up, I started doing some crating to display some of the many shells we brought back from Sanibel Island, Florida in June. So I made a little wooden display case, painted it white, and then hot glued rope on the outer sides to give it a more coastal look. It fit all my favorite shells perfectly! I do need to find some more sea glass though, I don't have very many pieces :|

After I finished that project, I moved on to upcycling a plank of old wood that was sitting in the garage. I drew out the shape of Texas and took it to one of my neighbor's to have him cut it out for me since I couldn't find any Texas wood pieces at Hobby Lobby. After it was all cutout, I decided to paint it a mixture of teal, aqua, and light blue to match my plush Pier 1 Import throw pillows on my couch. I topped the background with a gold painted "Deep in the heart of Texas' quote and hot glued a starfish to where my heart will always be!

I put up my Living Simplistically driftwood letter 'T' on a new wall next to the shell chandelier, and then made two shell picture frames from wooden shadow boxes I found at Hobby Lobby. Thanks to everyone on Facebook and Instagram who gave feedback in the design process!

Still a wall in progress. I want to eventually fill up the back corner wall enough over the couch to make it feel like the ultimate coastal collage recap from our beach trips and different treasures we've found over the years. I'm sure there will be plenty more things to add ;)

Unless otherwise stated, all content and photographs are ©ArtSea Chic. Please do not copy or distribute photographs without first asking for permission. Paid endorsement disclosure: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of compensation for my endorsement, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this blog, which are mentioned in the ArtSea Chic Media Kit. Please know that I only recommend and endorse products and services that I personally approve, appreciate, and feel would be helpful for readers. All ideas and opinions expressed are completely my own. Thank you for supporting ArtSea Chic!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Easy-Sew Beach Towel Bag

I'm finally able to share with you a special sewing project I've been working on this past month on and off due to being so busy! From all the dozens of beach trips I've taken, there was never a truly comfortable solution to laying on the beach without sitting in a burning chair, having a beach towel fly away in the wind, and having to use whatever I had on hand as a pillow. I decided to do something about all that and make my own custom beach towel bag!

After browsing Pinterest, I found a few projects others had done with hand and bath towels that were sewn together to make a fitted pillow section, but no features for storage, handles, or the capability to take a pillow in and out to wash the whole bag when it got dirty. So, I sketched out a doodle of everything I wanted on my efficient beach towel bag and bought all the materials needed at Hobby Lobby and Walmart except for the pillow. We had a couple old flat pillows at home already, so this was a perfect opportunity to up-cycle them!

You will need a sewing machine for this project, unfortunately it would just take way too long if you tried to do this by hand. Creating my own patterns and sewing this bag took me two full days to complete. Not joking, eight hours a day. One, because I was figuring out everything as I went since I'm a very very basic sewer, and two, because there were many add-ons to the towel that had to be accounted for. Gather these materials:
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • XL beach towel 
  • Old pillow
  • 2 yards of fabric that matches your beach towel
You'll want to keep in mind that the beach towel should be a few more inches than your height in order to get the maximum beach towel length needed. I actually found these super awesome XL seashell beach towels at Walmart near the end of June before our trip to Sanibel, Florida, not sure if they would still have them, but you might be able to find them online on the Walmart website, or Better Homes and Gardens' site.

I'm only going to cover the major steps I took because seriously, two days worth of sewing and step by step explanations would just be too much. If you have a specific question you'd like answered, leave a comment and I'll answer it the best I can. So let's get sewing!

Sew your standard-sized pillow case first, it will be the cornerstone piece in making sure everything else comes together the right way. After you cut out your pattern and pin it all together (pattern sides touching each other and back sides seen), make sure you've made the pattern big enough for the old pillow you'll be upcycling. Then choose whichever sturdy stitch you'd like, and sew.
I chose to make a pillowcase that would be protected from blowing sand, and be able to let me remove the pillow whenever need be without having to damage or wash the rest of the beach towel bag. You can see the layering in the pinned pattern below. After sewing, grab your old pillow and tuck in the case to make sure it fits correctly.

Aka my hiding pocket. I dread leaving my keys, sunglasses, or anything laying underneath just a towel or a bag while I'm laying down or beachcombing. Anyone could just walk by and see everything I have. Not with this protective storage pocket! It's right next to my head :) It's purpose is to get your items out of plain view. You could go as far as even adding a zipper, but I didn't know how to make that sewn in, so there's definitely room for improvement here. Also, because I'm a novice at this custom sewing pattern thing, I had no choice but to add-on the pocket to the pillowcase since I didn't know how to sew it all together in a single pattern. So all you professional sewers can probably figure that out.
Once you have your pattern cut and pinned, sew it together, then attach to the completed pillowcase where it needs to be sewn as one piece. You'll be able to see the pillowcase's protective fabric side better in the photo below. After sewing both pieces together, grab your old pillow and tuck it inside the pillowcase again to make sure everything still fits the right way.

This part was actually the hardest part for me. I wanted to merge the pillowcase and protective storage pocket into the beach towel as easily as possible - but didn't want it to look cheap. So I decided to fold a line of fabric and attach it to both the towel and the pillowcase at the same time. I had to keep in mind that I wasn't going to be working with a strong needle, so the thickness couldn't be too much or else I'd risk breaking my needle as I sewed along. I made a point to stay at least 1'' away from the end of the beach towel where the hardest and thickest part of the fabric started... well I ended up bending my needle anyways as I was sewing along :( Luckily I had a replacement for backup!! Had a little hiccup in the sewing process, but it turned out fine. After sewing, I again checked that the old pillow would fit inside the pillowcase ok.  

Super important that you take the time to place your bag handles correctly or else everything will be off balance and out of place. You need two handles sewed at the same thickness and size. One will be on the backside of the beach towel in the middle, and the other will be on the backside at the very bottom.
Fold the top pillow section down about four times (depends on your towel size) and you should be around the area you need to pin your first handle to. Once you figure that placement out, you can align the handle at the bottom of the beach towel to fit the same length. Pin the handles to the towel and sew them sturdy enough to hold at least 2-3 pounds worth of fabric and towel. These handles need to be able to stay put.

Now you're at the fun part. Never crush your sunglasses or fill your flip flops with sand again!! Inside the protective storage pocket I decided to add-on a holder for sunglasses or keys so that they would stay put in one place. I also sewed at the bottom of each beach towel corner pockets to keep flip flops in to hold down the towel when it's put on the sand. You could also keep suntan lotion bottles, goggles, or shells that you find combing the shoreline.

Guess what? YOU'RE DONE!! I applaud you if you can manage to get this project done in less than 16 hours of sewing patterns together. By far my most intensive DIY project yet, but definitely well worth doing. The pillow is so much better than a folded tshirt :) Use it on the beach, in your backyard, at the park for a picnic, camping, and so many other activities. Here's a grand tour...

                                          TOP                                                                           BACK

To fold the beach towel bag properly so the weight is evenly distributed and held together by the straps, follow the steps below.

Fold protective storage pocket side over to the right.

Fold pillow section down.

Fold down a second time.

Fold down a third time.

Fold down a fourth time.

Fold edges of towel inside the bag.

Ta-da! Now head somewhere to relax.

Hope y'all enjoyed this DIY as much as I did! Remember, if you have any questions about the steps I took to make the beach towel bag, leave a comment below and I'll answer your question the best I can. If you make a bag, please show all of us by visiting the ArtSea Chic Facebook page and leaving a picture on the wall so I can share with everyone!

Unless otherwise stated, all content and photographs are ©ArtSea Chic. Please do not copy or distribute photographs without first asking for permission. Paid endorsement disclosure: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of compensation for my endorsement, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this blog, which are mentioned in the ArtSea Chic Media Kit. Please know that I only recommend and endorse products and services that I personally approve, appreciate, and feel would be helpful for readers. All ideas and opinions expressed are completely my own. Thank you for supporting ArtSea Chic!
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