Cool Place, Hot Location

Hotels are not the only place to stay! 

Quiet Moment

A Quiet Moment in the Midst of Christmas Week

We arrived in Houston on December 22 for our stay at the Domain at City Center  for eight days. The mammoth complex sits in the middle of Town and Country Village, as they call it. The price is about the same as a hotel room. We would be near our two sons and six grand-children. A son checked the model apartment beforehand to assure the reality of the online advertisement. “You’ll be claustrophobic in 750 square feet (not true), and the traffic, awful (true),” he reported. We signed the contract without knowing other aspects. The property is owned by an individual, not the leasing company.

Last year we stayed in Houston a month in a VRBO rental with three bedrooms and two baths. We thought the grand-children might visit us and stay overnight a few times. Didn’t happen.

Our dog presents an issue wherever we travel. Fargo is the perfect guest unless left alone. He’s quite good in a hotel room as long as we are with him. He barks incessantly with fear of abandonment if no one is with him. Over the six years we have owned him, we tried unsuccessful remedies to quiet his fierce barking. When he travels with us, we tend to eat in our hotel or motel room. If it’s cold enough, he stays in the car while we rush through dinners. In Houston we could deposit his blanket, dishes, leash, and bad habit with either family. The barking, little thirteen-pound beast, loves the grand-kids and grand-dogs.  On this trip we ate with family much of the time.

Watching cars

I wanna watch cars, Dad!

The Condo

The condo contained everything we needed, even a little balcony above a garden. The owner left coffee, salt, pepper, bottled water, garbage bags, soap for the dishwasher…even kitchen shears for us.  The furniture and decorations probably came from Ikea. Everything was comfortable, even the bed, which is not always the case with furnished rental properties.

Other positives included a parking place (quite small) on the same floor as our rental and a dog park! I didn’t think Fargo would like the phony grass but he loved it. He and I walked around the condo grounds and hiked the neighborhood of office and condo buildings. I never let him off-lease except in the dog park. One day he and I made 10,000+ steps according to my FIT. Other amenities in the building: a meeting area with coffee, an outdoor pool, an exercise room, and outdoor grills.

Shops and Restaurant

the plaza

The Plaza-food, music, strollers, shops

Gourmet restaurants line the streets, along with retail shops and other businesses. One night I purchased carry-out from a high-end Mexican restaurant a few steps outside our building. Another night we had designer pizza and salad from a restaurant by the plaza across from us. At night musicians performed there. Recognizable brands abound. How about Sur la Table, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ulta, and Barnes and Noble? A grocery and a pharmacy are “walkable,” although maybe not when it’s over 100 degrees. Christmas Day the temperature hit 82 degrees.

Other Properties

This is our fourth “VBRO” or Vacation Rental by Owner.* VRBOs are great for a long or short stay. They are not quite like home but certainly more exciting than a boring and expensive hotel. Our short stay this year will lead to more travel. It’s so much fun to try someone else’s home or condo, especially in such a hot place in a cool location.

*VRBO or Vacation Rental By Owner is part of the Homeaway conglomerate owned by Expedia.

Five Tips for Family Festivities

xmas dogs

Finding fun in the neighborhood.

Many of our family members live in Houston. We are headed that direction for Christmas family festivities. My husband and I planned to be alone for Thanksgiving; however, we accepted an invitation from friends in Dallas who annually invite their huge family and friends. Everyone brought a dish to share with joy of food, friendship and thankfulness.

The kitchen counters were covered with 20 plus pans of appetizers, turkey, bar-b-que, vegetables, salad, and yummy rolls. Not only did we share dishes I had never tasted (collard greens and strange dressing) but we met their relatives and visited with their neighbors during the event. The teenagers rushed to go first so they would be eligible for second helpings before other guests. Obviously they had attended the feast in prior years.

Now we face Christmas with our family in Houston, looking for the joy and fulfillment of Thanksgiving. In thinking about the diversity of our own family, I’m writing some guidelines for myself. Maybe you need these as much as I do.

Don’t Talk Much

Our adult children run the gamut of strong opinions. My views are rarely appreciated. Their children have electronic devices attached in their faces, except for the three month old. I hereby promise not to announce, “Put the darned devices away for an hour, will you?” I will ignore the whining and complaints as I will be the mousy listener in the room.

Walk Away

If arguments start, I promise to remove myself from the situation rather than enhancing the opportunity for raised voices with a rebuttal. Maybe I can insert, “Let’s leave that for another time.” Humor is not always appropriate, but might be an option.


I’ll try to talk individually with each person briefly, except for the baby. The effort may elicit fascinating facts about hair products, piano lessons, soccer, basketball and job challenges.  I’m not sure the grandchildren will want me to interfere with their devotion to devices, but I will try. I hope to listen enthusiastically as they explain what they are watching. Last time I asked one of kids why the river on the video game was red, I was told it was blood.

One Question Only

Let your family members pose the questions and listen carefully for friendly conversations to join. Do not render suggestions unless asked. Your adult children do not want your advice any more than you wanted your parents repeated harassment. I hated hearing my mother’s rants about how thin my sons looked in elementary school.

Since kitchen processes often differ from family to family, I will watch the body language to discern the necessary method for loading dishes or washing pans. The only acceptable question is, “How can I be helpful?” I will ask that, and only that, as the adults know who and what needs to be done.

Call a Friend

One idea I recently read suggests setting a date to call a friend within 48 hours after the family meal to “download” idiosyncrasies from your festivities. Your frustration may dissolve as quickly as the dishwater in the drain as you vent.

Your adult children want your presence, participation and patience with their lifestyles. I want my Christmas festivities as joyful as Thanksgiving.

If you know me, you must be laughing like a circus clown, thinking I can accomplish this. I’m going to try!