Austin boy trying to raise $1 million for Batten disease treatment for sister

When his parents set out to raise $6 million in two years to fund a Food and Drug Administration clinical trial for a possible treatment for Batten disease, Garland Benson, 13, decided last March he was going to raise $1 million of that to help find a treatment for his sister, Christiane. He would do it, he decided, by asking 100,000 people to give $10.

Garland Benson is trying to raise $1 million for a treatment for Batten disease, which his sister Christiane has.

“One day I was like, this takes $6 million. That’s a lot. It’s too much for me to ask for. Let’s start at a million,” he says. “If I can raise $1 million, everyone else can come up with $5 million.”

Everyone else has raised $3.3 million since Sept. 2016 for Beyond Batten Disease Foundation’s Be Project. “They’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Garland says. He’s raised $169,000 for his Be a Hero project. People donate through his website page on or by texting “Hero” to 501501.

He’s had donations from as far away as France. Friends and family have shared it with their friends and family. He and his friends at Hyde Park Middle School have formed a group called Brothers for Batten, which raises money by doing different things including an upcoming garage sale.

“We found a treatment,” he says. “We just need to fund it. It will help a lot. Maybe after that, we could try to find a cure. We haven’t gotten that far yet.”

His sister, Garland says, really loves skiing and playing golf. She loves cooking and painting and Harry Potter, both the books and the movies. She loves to walk her dogs.

“Her personality is so determined,” mother Charlotte Benson says. “She’s so strong-willed. She does not quit trying.”

Christiane was 5 when she was diagnosed 10 years ago. Batten disease is a rare genetic disease in which both parents are carriers of a genetic mutation. It’s a disease in which the lipopigments, which are made of fat and protein, build up in the brain and the person doesn’t have the ability to clear the cells of them. It causes kids to become clumsy, and then become blind, have seizures and become developmental delayed. In Christiane’s type, the life expectancy is sometime in late teens, early 20s.

She is now almost blind and has seizures.

Her parents were told there was nothing they could do when she was diagnosed. There were no treatments. They were told to go home and make their child comfortable.
“This is one of those rare orphan diseases that falls into the abyss,” father Craig Benson says. There wasn’t the funding or attention for research to be done.

The Bensons weren’t going to accept that. “We’ve got to do something to change this,” Charlotte Benson said.

At the time of her diagnosis, Craig Benson was the CEO of Rules Based Medicine, a life science diagnostic company. He had connections to the pharmaceutical industry and to researchers.

They founded the nonprofit Beyond Batten Disease Foundation and hired a chief science officer. They began raising money to start doing research into Batten disease and partnered with other foundations in similar diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s that had more funding and more publicity. Because, Batten disease didn’t have a lot of dollars or energy going toward it, they had to start from the beginning.

“We found ourselves as the global quarterbacks,” Craig Benson says. “We had to fund the tools to be able to allow research.”

They found neurologist Dr. Huda Zoghbi at Texas Children’s Hospital, who knew some Italian researchers, who had  promising treatment possibilities. Beyond Batten funded bringing those researchers to Houston to work with Zoghbi.

The proposed treatment is two components: one an oral medicine and the other a food additive that is given in an IV injection. It’s not a cure, but they believe it could delay the progression.

The Garlands have accepted that their daughter may not live beyond her 20s. They believe, though, that they “were the right people at the right time” to create a change in the treatment for Batten. Charlotte Benson remembers a fellow Batten parent coming up to Craig Benson at a conference after they first formed the foundation. “She said, ‘We’ve been praying for you. We’ve been praying that someone would come along that could do something to help this disease,'” Charlotte Benson says.

One of those right people, is son Garland. “I’m so glad for him that he like us can feel like he’s doing something,” Charlotte Benson says. “He’s just naturally a sweet kid.”

For Garland, he wants to raise $1 million and believes he can. After that, he plans on joining the NBA, or opening up the next Cabela’s, or investing in the oil and gas industry, or possibly become an architect. He’s got time. He just turned 13.

What should you give a teacher for the holidays?

There are certain times of the year when teacher gifts are kind of the thing to do. Think: Teacher appreciation week in May, end of the school year and the Christmas/Hanukkah/winter holidays.

You don’t have to, but it’s good etiquette to do so. Even if you don’t love your child’s teacher or teachers, it’s nice to thank them for putting up with your kid.

Sixth grade teacher Sarita Lakey, left, greets student Brayan Lopez, as he arrives at Austin Achieve public school for the start of a new school year in 2015. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

We hear from our teacher friends about what they are given and what they’d really like to receive. Here are some ideas;

  1. Not food. Why? You might not know if your kid’s teacher has an allergy or is trying to lose weight or be healthier, or just doesn’t like the food item you have provided. (Confession: We break this rule every year when my kids show up with Girl Scout chocolate covered pretzels in December. So, let me apologize right now. The pretzels are doing a good thing, though: This year, the money raised by us buying the pretzels has helped my daughter build a butterfly garden at her school as her Girl Scout Silver Project, which is akin to the Boy Scout Eagle Project.)
  2. Gift cards to something that is not school-related. Think about opportunities for them to pamper themselves. Find out what their favorite restaurant is or favorite store. Try not to make it something utilitarian. The teachers in our life have a tendency to do things like buy supplies for their class rather than pamper themselves.
  3. A pamper-yourself basket: Try to avoid hand lotion and candles because like the food items, teachers get a ton of that and they can be really smelly. Think about some fuzzy socks, a fun magazine, some playing cards or a game — anything your teacher likes to do.
  4. A germ-protection basket: This is the time of the year when your kids are the most germy and think about that times 25 in a class. Fill it with some antibacterial wipes or gel, a funny mug with some tea and honey, cough drops, Airborne gummies, some oranges, tissues, a gift card to CVS or Walgreens. Include a funny apology note in advance if your kid makes them sick.
  5. A thank-you note from you and from your child: That means even more than any material item. Make sure it’s sincere, though. Highlight all the ways they have helped your child and all the things your child has learned. They will keep these notes forever. My mom still has many of the ones she received. The dearest ones to her: The ones that came from the especially difficult child or parent — especially the ones that came years later. These notes are a reminder of how much of a difference she made to that child.

RELATED: Think ahead to teacher appreciation week with these ideas

What will you do with no school Friday? We have 10 ideas

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OK, parents, what’s your plan? With Austin, Bastrop, Eanes, Hayes, Manor, Del Valle, Elgin and more districts canceling school on Friday because of the threat of ice, what will you do with the kids?

First, there’s the EEK my kids have no school! We get to sleep in!

Then there’s the EEK my kids have no school and now a three-day weekend. When will the choruses of “I’m bored” hit? (Catch my weekend calendar, here.)

Here are a couple if ideas of what you can do Friday, if you can’t or don’t want to leave the house:

If there’s still snow on the ground, build a snow man. OK, it will be tiny, but why not? One year, we used Mr. Potato Head parts to decorate the one we made.

In 2007, it snowed enough to make a snowman. Ava and Ben Villalpando built a small one in the driveway. Nicole Villalpando/American-Statesman

Plan and make a meal together. Haven’t gone grocery shopping and don’t want to brave the store in the rain? No worries. We bet you can scrounge up some ingredients that you have on hand. Get the kids involved to see how creative you can get. This is also the perfect time to teach kids how to bake a cake from scratch.

Make recycled crafts. Dig through your recycling bin and the junk drawer for some found objects. Bring out the glue, the tape, the markers, the glitter, the stickers, the paint. Bragging rights or prizes could be awarded. There could even be judges.

The Little Yoga House

Get some exercise. Search YouTube for yoga for kids and do a session together. Blow up a balloon, move out the furniture in your living room and play volleyball. Play hide and seek. Have a snowball fight if there’s still snow on the ground.

 Make homemade Play-Doh. DIY Natural has this recipe: 

1 cup of flour (whatever kind you have on hand)

¼ cup of salt

½ cup of water

3 to 5 drops of food coloring

Mix together the flour and the salt.

Mix together ½ cup of warm water with a few drops of food coloring.

Slowly pour the water into the flour mixture, stirring as you pour. Stir until combined, then knead with your hands until the flour is completely absorbed. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour until it doesn’t stick at all.

Or make Goop, which is one part water to two parts corn starch. Mix it in a zippered bag. Throw in some food coloring and get to playing.


Watch “Moana” again and sing along. Disney

Hold a moviethon in your house. Check out the Netflix, the Hulu, the Amazon Prime for the movies your kids haven’t yet seen, or show them some classics from your childhood. Pop the popcorn and enjoy.

“The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats.

Bring on the books. Story time is great togetherness time. Build a fort out of sheets in the living room and use your flashlights to have a story adventure.

Bring out the board games and cards. Start with Go Fish and work your way up to poker (no betting… OK, maybe just pennies). Our new favorite board game is “The Oregon Trail” based on that computer game I played as a kid in school when they were teaching us how to program on an Apple IIc. We also love some “Apples to Apples” and that game that is about a bull and his excrement.

Make puppets. That sock that is missing its match, that lunch bag or gift bag make a perfect medium. Or eat Popsicles and use the sticks to attach paper characters to. (See we just wanted the Popsicle.) You can even create a play to go with your new puppet friends. If the light goes out, create shadow puppets using a flashlight.

Have a dance party. Oh, yes! Crank up the jams and get grooving. You can even introduce them to something from the 1980s. What?


Buying toys for Christmas? Follow these safety tips

In the 1983 Christmas movie “A Christmas Story,” everyone warns Ralphie: “You’ll shoot your eye out,” when he asks for a Red Ryder B.B. gun. And so, when he wakes up on Christmas morning and he is given a Red Ryder B.B. gun from Santa, what happens? He shoots his eye out … well, not really, but he does injure himself and break his glasses.

Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) visits a department store Santa (Jeff Gillen) as part of his campaign to find a BB gun under his tree in the classic holiday film ‘A Christmas Story.’ MGM

Want to avoid that this Christmas morning or Hanukkah night? The American Academy of Pediatrics offer these tips:

Make sure the toy is age-appropriate and fits the child’s abilities. Can they play with the toy by themselves?

Choose toys that work on building skills such as fine motor skills and cognitive abilities.

Read warning labels on the toy and the age level that is on the box.

Make sure all toys say “nontoxic.”

Make sure all electronic toys say “UL Certified.” The UL is a company that evaluates products for safety, including for choking hazards and toxicity.

Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission for recalls.  

Show your child how to use the toy the right way. 

Take off tags and strings before giving a toy to a child.

Avoid toys that are too loud and could affect their hearing. If they really want that toy, disable the sound mechanism if you can or remove the batteries.

Prevent choking by making sure all the toys and parts are larger than your child’s mouth. Children younger than age 3 cannot have parts less than 1 1/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/4 inches long.

Avoid toys that shoot objects in the air. Remember “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Be cautious about toys containing button batteries or magnets. Kids eat them, and they can cause stomach and intestinal problems, even death.

Children younger than age 10 should not be given toys that need to be plugged in. Instead choose toys with batteries that have a battery case that they cannot get into.

Make sure stuffed toys are well-made. The seams and edges are secure, there are no loose ribbons or seams, the stuffing is not the small bean-like pellets. It should also be machine washable.

Make sure toys with pull-strings do not have strings that are longer than 12-inches. 

Do not give children younger than age 8 broken or uninflated balloons. They are a choking hazard.


Make sure plastic toys are sturdy and not made of thin plastic that will break easily.

Skip the hobby kits and chemistry sets for children younger than 12 years old. Do you want your 5-year-old around chemicals and things that can set the house on fire?

Skip the crib toys. All crib toys need to be removed from the crib as soon as your baby can push up on his hands and knees or is 5 months old.

If you’re thinking about giving kids screens, follow these new guidelines:



  • Children younger than 18 months of age: Avoid the use of any screen media except video chatting (with grandparents, for example).
  • Children ages 18 months to 24 months: Introduce high-quality programs or apps, but do it with your children to create a dialog about what they are seeing and how it relates to the world around them.
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programs that you view with your children.
  • Children ages six and older, place consistent limits on time spent using media, the types of media and make sure that the use of media does not take the place of sleeping, exercise and other healthy behaviors.
  • Designate media-free times together such as during dinner or while driving as well as media-free locations at home such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing conversations about what it means to be a good citizen and be safe online and offline.




Store toys in a designated location and by age. Make sure the younger kids cannot get into the older kids’ toys.

Avoid toy boxes with lids that locks or a lid that is heavy. Use an open bin or open shelves in a bookcase that is anchored to the wall. If you do use a box, make sure the box has ventilation holes.

Find more tips at





New research done in Austin helping more women get and stay pregnant

Couples trying to get pregnant, there’s even more hope on the horizon. At the recent American Society for Reproductive Medicine Scientific Congress & Expo in San Antonio, doctors and scientists presented their research. Seven of those studies were being done here at Texas Fertility Center.

“We’re excited about what we’re doing,” says Dr. Kaylen Silverberg. He likens get accepted to present so many of their findings as like getting all of your college acceptance letters back with a “Yes.”

New research done in Austin is helping more women achieve pregnancy.

He walked us through some of what they’ve found. Sometimes, he says, “it reinforce that what we’re doing is right,” he says. Other times, with the advancement of science, they found a better way of doing things.

In an international study, they looked at what is the value of doing genetic testing on embryos. Could they see before implanting an embryo if it would be chromosomally normal? Yes, by doing a preimplantation genetic screening, they determined they could see all 23 pairs of chromosomes and rule out abnormalities.

Does that mean those embryos will grow up to be normal, healthy babies? Not necessarily, he says. There are many things we still don’t have a genetic test for, but for parents who have lost babies or a family member to a chromosomal abnormality, they now have a chance to screen for that abnormality and only have embryos implanted that don’t have that abnormality.

Dr. Kaylen Silverberg of the Texas Fertility Center

Another study also looked at the embryos to determine which ones were viable. Sometimes after the embryo has been sitting in a incubation solution for 18 hours, lab technicians won’t like what they see. They’ll be looking for two pronuclei in that embryo to signify that it’s a healthy embryo. “Sometimes is not so clear cut,” Silverberg says. “It doesn’t have two pronuclei. It has one or zero.”

Up until this point, they would throw those embryos away. In a study, researchers kept cultivating those embryos to see if anything would happen.

What they found was that 40 percent of those embryos that would have been thrown away, actually grew into normal embryos, he says. They just needed more time.

Another study helped doctors determine when the right time to implant an embryo into the uterus during in vitro fertilization will be. For years, doctors were arbitrarily choosing the sixth day after beginning progesterone as the day to implant the egg. “Why does that make sense?” Silverberg says they began asking.

Looking at embryos before implanting them is giving women better odds for healthy babies. Texas Fertility Center

Now they can better determine when the embryo and the endometrium will be better in sync by doing a biopsy of the endometrium in advance.

Doctors have a woman go through the hormonal cycle for in vitro one month before actual implementation. They will then take a biopsy during that cycle on day six and send it to a lab in Barcelona to analyze her endometrium to see if it was ready to accept the egg. If it was, the next month, they would implant an egg on day six. If it wasn’t, based on the endometrium’s levels, they might try to implant on day 5 or give her more progesterone and implant on day 7 or 8.

Through this study, they determined that only 40 percent of the endometrium were ready on day 6.

Doing the extra cycle and biopsies, might cost an additional $700 than not doing them, but that’s well worth it, Silverberg says, if it ends in a pregnancy and not a wasted embryo because the woman’s body wasn’t ready to receive it.


In another study, they looked at the luteal-placental shift, that’s when the placenta takes over progesterone production to sustain the pregnancy. Before that the corpus luteal, the part of the egg’s follicle that remains after ovulation, is the main supplier of progesterone.

Women who have been implanted with an embryo rather than becoming pregnant on their own receive progesterone and estrogen during the first trimester to make her body able to carry the embryo. Doctors were wondering when it is that the body will take over.

By monitoring hormonal levels in 262 women who had a frozen embryo transfer, they were able to determine when the luteal-placental shift happened and make recommendations of how long to give each hormone. They found that women should receive estradiol replacement until at least seven weeks gestational age and progesterone replacement until at least eight to nine weeks gestational age.

This knowledge can help reduce miscarriages in women whose babies were perfectly normal, but the moms had a low progesterone level, Silverberg says.


All of this research is helping more women become pregnant, Silverberg says. It’s also cut down on the multiple pregnancy rates because now they feel more confident about the quality of the embryo and the readiness of the woman’s body to receive it and nurture it for nine months.

“Our patients are anxious to enroll in any study,” he says. They see it as a way for them to give back to the progress that is being made.

“It’s a great time to be doing infertility medicine,” Silverberg says. “There’s so many advances.”




Looking ahead: Plan your December full of family events

December is filled with family fun, especially holiday themed. Plug these events in your calendar. Pay special attention to those weeks when kids are out of school and day cares might be closed. There’s a lot to do. Go out and do it.

Holiday events

Elgin Christmas Tree Farm. Ride a hay ride to the Christmas tree grounds and select your tree. 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Elgin Christmas Tree Farm, 120 Nature’s Way, Elgin.

Evergreen Christmas Tree Farm. Buy Christmas trees through Christmas Eve. Noon to dark daily, except Saturdays, when it opens at 10 a.m. Weekends there’s s’mores making and pinecone painting, too. 242 Monkey Road.

Trail of Lights. 6:30 p.m. 6-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 6-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through Dec. 28. Free. EmilyAnn Theatre 1101 Ranch Road 2325, Wimberley.

Mozart’s Christmas Light Show. 6-11 p.m. nightly through Jan. 1. Mozart’s Coffee Roasters at Oyster Landing, 3825 Lake Austin Blvd.

Brett Buchanan teaches his daughter Violet, 4, to skate at the Whole Foods Market on Lamar Boulevard earlier this year. The skating rink has returned. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Whole Foods Skating on the Plaza. Go ice skating 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. now through Jan. 15. Closed Christmas Day. $10 per person. Whole Foods Market, 525 N. Lamar Blvd.

“The Elves and the Shoemaker.” For ages 5 and up. 3 p.m. Dec. 2, Central Library; 3:30 p.m. Dec. 4, Spicewood Springs Branch; 10:30 a.m. Dec. 5, Terrazas Branch; 10:15 a.m. Dec. 7, Windsor Park Branch; 3:30 p.m. Dec. 8, Howson Branch; 2 p.m. Dec. 9, Hampton Branch; 3:30 p.m. Dec. 12, Twin Oaks Branch; 10:30 a.m. Dec. 13, Willie Mae Kirk; 3:30 p.m. Dec. 13, St. John Branch, Dec. 14; 3:30 p.m. Dec. 15, Old Quarry Branch.

Teddy Bear Tea. Tea, carolling and a reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” with Santa. Bring an unwrapped new teddy bear to donate to Dell Children’s Medical Center. While you’re there, don’t miss the gingerbread village. $30-$45. Dec. 2-3, 9-10, 16-17. Four Seasons Hotel Austin, 98 San Jacinto Blvd. Make reservations by calling 512-685-8300.

Winter Wonderland at the Circuit of the Americas. See lights, go skating, enter the petting zoo and Santa’s workshop and more. 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Dec. 1-2 and 8-30, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. $16, plus additional fees for some activities.

“A Christmas Carol.” 10 a.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Through Dec. 17. $8-$10. EmilyAnn Theatre 1101 Ranch Road 2325, Wimberley.

Alamo Drafthouse events: Kids Camp: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” 10 a.m. Dec. 2-3, 12:30 p.m. Dec. 9-10, Lakeline. 10 a.m. Dec. 2-3, Slaughter Lane. PBS Kids Holiday Mix. 10 a.m. Dec. 9-10, Lakeline.

“Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.” Junie B. is ready to take on her nemesis May in this holiday story. 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Dec. 2-3, Dec. 9-10 and Dec. 16. $10-$15. Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St.

“The Muppet Christmas Carol.” See it in IMAX. 1 p.m. Dec. 2. Bullock Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave.

Elf Academy. Train to be Santa’s best elf. 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Domain. Reserve your spot at

Skate with Santa. Yes, Santa ice skates and you can skate with him. Noon-2:30 p.m. Dec. 2. Skating and admission is $14 per person. $2 pictures with Santa or bring two non-perishable food items for the Capital Area Food Bank. Chaparral Ice, 2525 W. Anderson Lane.

Breakfast with Santa. A light breakfast, crafts, a singalong and Santa. 9-11 a.m. Dec. 2. Dittmar Recreation Center, 1009 W. Dittmar Road. 10 a.m. Dec. 9. Gus Garcia Recreation Center, 1201 E. Rundberg Lane.

Santa in the Garden. Find your favorite jolly old elf among the plants. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec.2. Zilker Botanical Garden. 2220 Barton Springs Road. $1-$3.

Holiday Ornament Workshop. Make ornaments with things found in nature. Noon-2 p.m. Dec. 2. $15-10. Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave.

Tea and Story Time with Mrs. Claus. 10:30 a.m.-noon Dec. 6. $10 a child. Peeps Christmas Story Time. 10:30 a.m. Dec. 7. Free. Pictures with Santa. 10:30 a.m. Dec. 8. Elf Visit. 10:30 a.m. Dec. 13. $10. Holiday Sing-along with Miss Ariel. 10:30 a.m. Dec. 15. $10. Toybrary Austin, 2001 Justin Lane.

Get your children’s picture taken with Santa. You can reserve your spot.

Caring Santa. Meet Santa in an autism-friendly way. 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Dec. 3, Barton Creek Square; 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Dec. 3, Lakeline Mall. Reserve your spot at

Neill-Cochran House Museum. History Lab: A Historic Holiday. Make Pomanders, putz houses and historic board games. 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 3. Free. 2310 San Gabriel St.

Hideout Theatre Presents: “Monster Holidays.” 2 p.m. Dec. 3, 10, 17, 23 and 30. $5. Hideout Theatre, 617 Congress Ave.

Luminations. It’s back. See the Wildflower Center outlined in luminarias. 6-9 p.m. Dec. 7-10. $15. Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave.

Friday Movie Matinee “Home Alone.” 3 p.m. Dec. 8, Old Quarry Branch.

Austin Trail of Lights. 6-10 p.m. Dec. 9-23. Free admission Dec. 9-14, Dec. 18-19. $3 other nights. Zilker Park.

Zilker Tree. The tree will be lighted every night from Nov. 26-Dec. 31. Zilker Park.

Domain Northside Kids. Come to the lawn at the Domain Northside for activities for kids 18 months to 6 years old. This month’s theme: Frosted. Free. 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 6. Reservations required.

Story time with Mrs. Claus. 11 a.m. Dec. 9. Hill country Galleria Central Plaza Pavillian.

Winter Fest. 10 a.m. Dec. 9, Yarborough Branch.

Holiday Open House. 11 a.m. Dec. 9, Willie Mae Kirk Branch; Noon Dec. 9, Pleasant Hill Branch; 1 p.m. Dec. 9, Howson Branch; 2 p.m. Dec 9, Manchaca Road Branch.

Thinkery Gingerbread House Workshops. Traditional or Tot (ages 5 and younger) 9:30 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 11 a.m., 2:45 p.m., 4 p.m., Dec. 9-10, 16-17, 23; 9:30 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 18-22; and 9:30 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m. Dec. 24. $12 per person plus $20 house kit. Gingerbread Art and Architecture for ages 7 and older. 10:45 a.m.–1:15 p.m. Dec. 9-10, 16-23; 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 24. $12 per person plus $30 house kit. Candy Chemistry for ages 7 and up. Make candy to go on your house. 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 9-10, Dec. 16-24. $12 per person plus $30 house kit. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave.

Bradley Tredway, 7, made a colorful gingerbread house at the Bastrop Public Library open house event in 2013. There are many spots to make a gingerbread house in December.

Gingerbread House Workshop at The Candy Jar. 3:30 p.m. Dec. 9-10, Dec. 16-17. $50 per house, children younger than 6 must have an adult with them. The Candy Jar, 12700 Hill Country Blvd. Suite 110. Register at

Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker.” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8-9, 15-16, 19-22 and 2 p.m. Dec. 9-10, 16-17, 22-23. $15-$98. The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive.

“Holiday Heroes.” Zach Theatre’s annual Christmas family tradition. 11 a.m. Dec. 2, Dec. 9. $18-24. Topfer Theater, 202 S. Lamar Blvd.

Contemporary Austin. Families Create: Gingerbread Villas. Make your own candy home. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 9. Free. Laguna Gloria, 3809 W. 35th St.

An Afternoon with Santa. Take photos, make crafts and eat cookies. 3 p.m. Dec. 10. Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St.

Holiday Cookie Decorating Class. 6 p.m. Dec. 10, Windsor Park Branch.

Pictures with Santa + Crafts. 5:30 p.m. Dec. 13, Cepeda Branch of the Austin Public Library.

Holiday Movie: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Carver Branch.

Family Movie Night: “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” 10:30 a.m. Dec. 20, Twin Oaks Branch.

The Carver’s Christmas Special. Celebrate Christmas with Santa at the Carver Museum. Noon-3 p.m. Dec. 16. Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina St.

Night Before Christmas Break. Enjoy reindeer game and treats. 5:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 21. Free. Metz Recreation Center, 2407 Canterbury St.

Elizabeth Kahura, of Austin, originally from Kenya, holds up a figurine as an example of teamwork during a Kwanza workshop held at the George Carver Public Library. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Kwanzaa Celebration of Ujamaa with Elizabeth Kahura. 6:30 p.m. Dec. 29. Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina St.

Austin’s New Year. A family-friendly New Year’s Eve party with events throughout the day.


“Disney Live! Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic.” Noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dec. 23. $20-$55. Frank Erwin Center, 1701 Red River St.

Zach Theatre presents “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” Head to Narnia in the C.S. Lewis tale. 11 a.m. Dec. 2, 9 and 16. More shows through Feb. 10. $18-$24. Whisenhunt Stage, 1510 Toomey Road.

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” See the book come to life. 2 p.m. Dec. 3. $18 and up. Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.


Zilker Botanical Garden. Story time in the Garden: Naked Trees and the Other Four Seasons. A bilingual story time. 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14. $1-$3. Zilker Botanical Garden. 2220 Barton Springs Road.

DeSTEMber Fest. Celebrate science and holidays with activities for the whole family. 9:30 a.m. to noon Dec. 2. Free. Girlstart. 1400 W. Anderson Lane.

Austin Nature and Science Center. Family Climbing Day. Go rock climbing as a family. 9 a.m. to noon, Dec. 20. $5 per person, ages 5 and up. Family Archery Day. Explore archery. 9 a.m. to noon, Dec. 21. $5 per person, ages 7 and up. Family Planetarium Day. 9 a.m. to noon, Dec. 22. Free, ages 3 and up. Austin Nature and Science Center, 2389 Stratford Drive.

Bullock Museum.H-E-B Free First Sunday. Free family fun around the museum with the theme “Bundle Up.” Noon-5 p.m. Dec. 3. Living History Days. Re-enactors stroll through the museum. 10 a.m. Dec. 7. Little Texans: Take Flight. 10 a.m. Dec. 14. Science Thursdays. 10 a.m. Dec. 14. Maker Faire. Create things at the museum. Dec. 28-30. Story time at the Museum: Brrr! 10 a.m. Dec. 28. Bullock Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave.

Blanton Museum of Art. Holiday Family Day. Road-trip inspired activities. Free with admission. Noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 9. Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Starry Nights. See a star show in the mini-planetarium and learn how the Ancient Greeks saw the universe. 5-7 p.m. Dec.7. Free. Girlstart. 1400 W. Anderson Lane.

Thinkery. Parents’ Night Out. Kids ages 4 and up play at the Thinkery while you see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller. 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.Dec. 1. $40 for first child, $20 each additional child. Little Thinkers Club. Nature as Our Canvas! Make art inspired by nature. 9:45 a.m. for 1-year-olds, 10:45 a.m. for 2-year-olds. Wednesdays through Dec. 13. $20 per class, $140 for the series. Little Thinkers Club. Amazing Animals. Do art and yoga inspired by animals. 9:45 a.m. for 2-year-olds, 10:45 a.m. for 3-year-olds, Fridays through Dec. 15. $20 per class, $140 for the series. Baby Bloomers. Learn all about winter. For infant to 3. 9 a.m. Mondays and Saturdays, except Christmas Day. Special guests throughout the month. $5. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave.

Hill Country Science Mill. Homeschool Day: Game Development. All day, Dec. 13. Hill Country Science Mill, 101 Lady Bird Lane, Johnson City.

Wildflower Center. Winter, Wonder, Land. Find out what happens to a garden in winter. $15 adults, $10 children. Noon-2 p.m. p.m. Dec. 16. $15. Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave.

Toybrary Austin. Gardening Class. 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays. Free. Date night babysitting. For ages 1-5. $25 first child, $10 siblings. 5-8 p.m. Saturdays. Toybrary Austin, 2001 Justin Lane.


Harry Potter Fest. See all the movies. Through Dec. 9. Various prices. Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In. 12419 Lowden Lane, Manchaca.

“The Polar Express.”


BookPeople story times. 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesday. 11:30 a.m. Saturdays.BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.

Barnes & Noble Events: “Polar Express” Story time. 7 p.m. Dec. 1, all locations. 11 a.m. Saturdays story times at all locations: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Dec. 2; “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure Big Golden Book,” Dec. 9; “River Rose and the Magical Christmas,” Dec. 16; “Santa’s Magic Key,” Dec. 23; “The Story of Ferdinand,” Dec. 30.

At the library

Bow Wow Reading with Bonnie. 11:30 a.m. Dec. 1, 9, 16, 23, 30, Yarborough Branch; Mornings with Moxie. 10 a.m. Dec. 9, Manchaca Road Branch; Bow Wow Reading with George. 3:45 p.m. Dec. 13, Pleasant Hill Branch.

Saturday Movie Matinee: “Rogue One.” 2 p.m. Dec. 2, Windsor Park Branch.

Storybook Dance Making. 2 p.m. Dec. 3, Recycled Reads Bookstore.

The Contemporary Austin Presents: Glowing Aliens. For ages 3-5. 10:15 p.m. Dec. 5, Pleasant Hill Branch; 11 a.m. Dec. 12, Hampton Branch; 11 a.m Dec. 13, Old QuarryBranch; 4:30 p.m. Dec. 13, Twin Oaks Branch.

Sew Happy. 5 p.m. Dec. 5, Manchaca Road Branch.

Music & Movement. 11 a.m. Dec. 11, Pleasant Hill Branch; 11:30 a.m. Dec. 13, Manchaca Road Branch.

Austin Ukestra. 1 p.m. Dec. 10. Recycled Reads Bookstore.

Crafternoon. 3:30 p.m. Dec. 11, Manchaca Road Branch; 3:30 p.m. Dec. 12, Howson Branch.

NBTween Book Club One Half from the East.” 4 p.m. Dec. 13, Howson Branch. “Keeper of the Lost Cities.” 6 p.m. Dec. 20, Spicewood Springs Branch. “The Nameless City.” 6 p.m. Dec. 21, Twin Oaks Branch.

Graphic Novel Book Club. “Identity Crisis,” 7 p.m. Dec. 14, Windsor Park Branch.

Teen Book Club. “The Upside of Unrequired,” 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Spicewood Springs Branch. “My Lady Jane.” 6:30 p.m. Dec. 19, Howson Branch.

Night Builders: Family Lego Lab. 7 p.m. Dec. 14, Hampton Branch.

Family Craft Night. 6:30 p.m. Dec. 20, Howson Branch.

Santa is coming this weekend to local malls

Not only will Santa be making his way down Congress Avenue at the Chuy’s Children’s Giving to Children Parade on Saturday, but by this weekend, he’ll be at all of the malls near you.

Get your children’s picture taken with Santa. You can reserve your spot.

Santa began showing up at Simon Malls, which owns Barton Creek Square, The Domain, Lakeline Mall and Round Rock Premium Outlets, on Nov. 3 at Barton Creek Square and will finally arrive at Lakeline Mall on Saturday.

Find him through Christmas Eve:

  • By JCPenney Court at Barton Creek Square
  • Across from iPic Theaters at The Domain
  • On the lower level Dillard’s Court at Lakeline Mall
  • In the Food Court at Round Rock Premium Outlets

And if you want to avoid the rush to get your photo taken with Santa, reserve your time slot at

Pay particular attention to these events, which have to be registered for in advance:

Caring Santa, which provides an autism-friendly experience:

8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Dec. 3, Barton Creek Square

9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Dec. 3, Lakeline Mall

Pet Photo Nights — yes, you bring Fido or Fluffy for Santa to be photographed with,

7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 12, Barton Creek Square

6:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 12, Lakeline Mall

Train to be Santa’s best elf at the Elf Academy:

3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Domain

What? Chuy’s Christmas parade is before Thanksgiving?

Yes, it’s true. The annual Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade is a weekend earlier. Instead of being the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it’s Nov. 18, the Saturday before.

Jasper Czysz, 4, holds onto his Hot Wheels toy he is ready to donate, but first watches the annual Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade.

We know you won’t want to miss the holiday tradition, so set your calendar now.

You know what this means. This means you’ll have to hit the stores before Black Friday to pick up a new toy to give to Operation Blue Santa during the parade. Remember to keep the present unwrapped to make it easier for volunteers to sort the present by age and gender.

The parade heads straight down Congress Avenue from 11th Street to Cesar Chavez Street beginning at 11 a.m. It lasts about an hour.

This year, you can reserve a parking spot through the parade website’s link to SpotHero, and some of the fees will go back to the parade.

15 things to do with that leftover Halloween candy

Oh, the candy is everywhere in my house. The rain on Halloween meant that we didn’t have as many trick-or-treaters come to the door. And yet, my teenagers managed to find the one pocket of Austin where the rain was just a drizzle. They came home with candy by the pillowcase full.

What to do with all that loot?

If your pumpkin is overflowing, we have ideas of what to do with that candy. Thinkstock

Here are 15 ideas:

  1. The Candy Witch needs to come. What’s the Candy Witch? She’s like the Tooth Fairy or Santa Clause only slightly meaner. Ask your kids to pick out  their favorite 10 pieces of candy. Then the  Candy Witch comes to your house at the allotted time. It could be overnight, it could be a couple days from Halloween. Sometimes she leaves money or a toy. Other times she just takes the candy and runs. The Candy Witch (aka you) then disposes of the candy in any way she might choose.
  2. Dole it out a little at a time. One piece a night per kid can last you a long time. Plus it can be the reward for good behavior at school or chores done. The trick is to not eat all the candy yourself.
  3. Find the dentist or orthodontist who will pay your kids for their candy. Visit to find the participant near you.
  4. Send your candy to a soldier. Visit for the drop off locations.
  5. Bring it to the office. Some of your officemates might not thank you because they will be bringing their candy, too. But for those who are single, living in an apartment, with no kids around, they might be very happy you did.
  6. Donate it to your school. If they have a carnival coming up, they might be able to use it. Sometimes teachers can use things like M&Ms and Skittles for math activities or for the winter holiday party.
  7. Donate it to your house of worship. They might be able to use it for religious school classes or an event.
  8. Make art with it. Make a collage using candy. Why not? You also can make holiday ornaments using it as well.
  9. Save it for holiday cookie decorations. Who doesn’t love a peanut butter cookie with Reeses’ Pieces in them, or a sugar cookie with frosting and bits of candy bars on top?
  10. Decorate a gingerbread house with it. You need candy decorations anyway. Now you have some.
  11. Gamble with it. The stakes of the next game of  Go Fish got higher with candy. Use it for the dreidel game at Hanukkah.
  12. Save it for the next kid’s birthday party. Fill the piñata with it. Use it in treat bags.
  13. Fill the stockings with it. It make excellent filler in between the trinkets.
  14. Hand it out in treat bags to the homeless. That guy with the sign you see every day on your way to work, doesn’t he need candy? Do something even better and add a bottle of water, dry socks, a snack with protein, some toiletries to that treat bag.
  15. Throw it out. Yes, we live in a land of excess. Yes, there are hungry people everywhere. But, candy doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value. If your family doesn’t need it in their diet and if you know you can’t dole it out over time without wanting to eat it all at once, give yourself permission to not have to have it in your house. If you really aren’t sure you can handle even knowing it’s in the trash can outside, put the kitty litter or some other gross garbage on top of it or spray it with cleaning fluid so you won’t be tempted to dig it out of the trash.

Need something to do with all that Halloween candy? Send it to a soldier

The Halloween candy is coming. Soon your house will be filled with it. Do your kids really need it all?

Many dentists and orthodontists offices “buy” back their patient’s candy, but you also can donate candy to be sent to people serving in our armed forces.

Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit organization based in San Antonio, has a program for businesses to collect leftover Halloween candy and send it to troops.

When this orange plastic pumpkin is more like five or six pumpkins, send your candy to a soldier.

You can find out which businesses are participating close to you at as well as sign up your business to collect candy and send it. This year, Soldiers’ Angels wants to collect 17,000 pounds of candy.

When we searched the site we found two local businesses to send our candy, but we’re sure there will be more as we get closer to Halloween.

13000 N. Interstate 35
Austin, TX 78753
Phone: 512-815-2524
Days We Accept Candy Donations: Monday-Saturday
Drop Off Times: 10 a.m.- 6:30 p.m.
Drop Off Dates: Through Nov. 3
Williamson County Association of REALTORS
123 Old Settlers Blvd.
Round Rock, TX 78665
Phone: 512-422-8088
Days We Accept Candy Donations: Monday-Friday
Drop Off Times: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Drop Off Dates: Through Nov. 30.