Author / Al Stevens


Educational Outings in the Lone Star State

Whether you have a curious little one or you are just looking to explore more about the world around you, both Dallas and Houston have incredible museums, zoos and science centers that help to educate, inform and entertain visitors.


The Dallas Zoo is an incredible resource for people seeking to learn more about wildlife and the world. Early childhood programs, night programs, family programs and more help the zoo connect with schools and individuals for educational purposes. Starting young, the Stroller Buddies program connects parents and guardians with children, ranging in age from 10 months to two years, to programs and classes with natural materials.

Other unique opportunities to learn at the Dallas Zoo include:

  • Youth Opportunities, including junior zookeeper positions, park ambassador roles and more
  • Night Programs, featuring walks and campouts at the zoo
  • Wild Adventures camps, built for pre-K through fifth grade students to get a hands-on animal education
  • Scout Badge programs to help eager youths bolster their scouting resumes
  • Family Zoo Adventures, which provides groups with an opportunity to learn about nature together through learning tree identification, building enrichment materials for animals and more

Dallas is also home to a wide variety of museums, including everything from art to science and history, which provide unique opportunities for educational outings.

Some of these incredible venues include:


Space Center Houston, showcasing information and materials from NASA’s trips into outer space, is the ideal Texas destination if you are interested in exploring the universe. Overnight experiences, camps, and special events are plentiful at this incredible destination, and the Center’s educational opportunities are not limited by age or experience.

Opportunities at Space Center Houston include:

  • Space Center U, a camp for people with curious minds, including an educator program and a program for people with visual impairments
  • Explorer camps, including accessibility camps, for robotics and engineering
  • Stars & STEM, a program for students in kindergarten through high school seeking more science, technology, engineering and math opportunities
  • Outreach programs, bringing space experiences to classrooms
  • Special events, where you can meet an astronaut, view the moon through high-powered telescopes, and more

Houston is filled with venues that contribute to enriching education for children and adults, specializing in everything from wildlife to fire department history.

Don’t miss these Houston museums:

No matter what your favorite hobby or interest is, Dallas and Houston have unique museums, galleries and more to help you explore and learn. What’s your favorite educational outing in Texas? Let us know!


Unique Features Available in Darling Homes

Darling Homes is known for leaving a lasting impression in Dallas and Houston communities with highly rated locations, sophisticated plan designs and a commitment to providing the best in customer service. Whether you tour a model, purchase a home or are involved in the real estate business, Darling homes are simply unforgettable.

The high level of architectural authenticity and thoughtfully-designed transitions throughout make these distinctive designs easy to personalize and a pleasure to call home.

The Art of Living

Before construction begins, an entire team of homebuilding experts goes to work to ensure the home is built with the architectural touches that make Darling Homes unique. Design elements that demonstrate the art of living inside Darling homes include:

  • Terminating views, where carefully designed rooms ensure privacy outside of the main living areas
  • Thoughtful transition spaces, leaving room to breathe and move between rooms comfortably
  • Understanding the homebuyer. Darling homes are built in a wide variety of designs to meet the needs and desires of customers, no matter what their stage of life
  • Intimate volume, where varying ceiling heights create a peaceful, quiet atmosphere

Innovative Product

Darling Homes is consistently adding new communities, floor plan designs and flexible options to meet the needs of homebuyers in Texas. In every home that Darling builds, the design is executed with intentional care to help build the next chapter of the owner’s life.

Innovative Darling Homes’ designs include features such as:

  • The Darling Loop: This signature piece connects the master closet to the utility room in select homes, giving you unparalleled access to laundry for ease of housekeeping.
  • Views of the backyard, open living spaces in the heart of the home and lofty living areas in many two-story designs create connected and vibrant atmosphere.
  • Flexibility and functionality. Darling Design Galleries allow homebuyers to choose their ideal finishes.
  • Kitchens that make use of the work triangle in the kitchen between the sink, pantry and fridge boost maximum productivity.
  • Mud lockers available in select homes for extra organization.

Each Darling home design offers unique options from outdoor fireplaces and three-car garages to bay windows and downstairs media rooms. Ask us how you can personalize your dream home!

Uniquely Yours

Darling Homes puts an emphasis on personalization to create a home that is uniquely yours. Every step of the way, from your first model home tour to receiving the keys to your dream home, there are homebuilding experts available to help create the home you’ve always wanted. Each home helps resident connect to each other and to the community, molding an atmosphere that feels comfortable from the moment you walk through the door.

Want more information on how to create your personalized dream home with Darling Homes? Please visit to learn more about the Darling Difference.


Find the Best Local Bakeries in Texas

Satisfy your cravings for dessert by sampling the best sweet treats available at local bakeries in Houston and Dallas, where distinctive culinary creations and original flavors are abundant.


Sugar Land Sweets

According to Buzzfeed News, Sugar Land residents are some of the luckiest in Texas – because they live right next to the best bakery in the state! The Anonymous Cafe is currently relocating to a larger space to keep up with the demand for its artisan bites.

Serving up traditional Greek desserts made from scratch, this mom-and-pop shop’s pastry menu includes:

  • A variety of fresh fruit tarts
  • Greek cookies
  • Baklava
  • Tiramisu
  • Gourmet chocolate bars
  • And more fresh treats changing every day!

For other delectable options in Sugar Land, head to Maureen’s Gourmet Bakery. This shop serves customers fresh cakes and pastries, with options to design and personalize cakes for special occasions.

Conroe Confections

Near Darling Homes’ communities in Conroe, you can find even more dessert shops to satisfy your cravings. At Aranda’s Bakery, you can indulge in amazing desserts with a Mexican flare. Offering cakes, empanadas, puff pastries, croissants and more, this bakery provides the chance to eat treats celebrating flavors from different cultures.

Don’t forget to try:

  • Churros
  • Empanadas in flavors including pumpkin, guava and pineapple
  • Tricolor shortbread cookies
  • Watermelon shaped cookies
  • Cinnamon croissants
  • Snail shells with cream cheese and other mouth-watering options.

Sweets to Dream On is the premier destination for cakes in Conroe, with decadent designs and customizable features creating a truly unique dessert for each customer. Featured on TLC’s Ultimate Cake Off, this is the premier local destination for birthday cakes, wedding cakes and more!


McKinney Desserts

A staple of Thanksgiving for many Texans is ending the feast with a delicious variety of pies. Luckily for McKinney residents, Emporium Pies is serving up seasonal flavors. Thanksgiving pre-ordering is available, and the shop’s current menu of original pie flavors includes:

  • The Smooth Operator, a French silk pie with pretzel crust
  • Lord of the Pies, a deep-dish apple with cinnamon streusel
  • Drop Dead Gourdgeous, a pumpkin custard with gingerbread crust
  • The Nutty Honey, a peanut butter cream and honey pie
  • And more unique, delicious flavors!

For desserts other than pie, check out McKinney’s Sweet Spot. Homemade cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, cakes, pecan bars, cookies and scones help make this shop a top destination for dessert fans.

Allen Treats

If you’ve ever wanted to eat a bowl of cookie dough, Grif’s Sammie Shop in Allen is the place for you! From raw, edible cookie dough to create-your-own ice cream sandwiches, this shop is a dream come true for dessert fans, featuring Blue Bell ice cream and homemade cookies.

While you’re at the shop, savor creative flavor combinations when trying:

  • Homemade cookies, with flavors including snickerdoodle, chocolate chip, oatmeal toffee, black and white and more
  • Twelve flavors of ice cream, including cotton candy, vanilla, coffee and sea salt caramel
  • Edible cookie dough, available in chocolate chip and sugar
  • Brownie bowls, shaped to hold your favorite flavor of ice cream

For cake, cupcakes, cake pops, available in almost any flavor you can imagine, check out Bliss Cupcakes. This shop is known for its scrumptious and well-decorated creations great for special occasions or those weekend sweet-tooth cravings.

Luckily for Texans, there are plenty of local bakeries available for sweet treats. Let us know your favorite place to pick up dessert!


Prepping your Texas Home for the Holidays

Darling Homes are created with distinctive dining areas, perfect for hosting elegant dinner parties or gathering loved ones for special occasions. Now that the holiday season is just around the corner, it’s time to get your Darling home in Dallas or Houston ready to host the holidays!


No matter which holidays you celebrate – or if you just enjoy reuniting with loved ones as the year winds down – decorations can bring in hints of the season and make your home feel cozy and warm. From door wreaths to wall hangings and tablescapes to throw pillows, it’s simple to change out décor to reflect the holidays from Halloween to the New Year.

Need ideas for inspiration? Check out the Darling Homes’ Pinterest board for all things holiday-related, including ideas for:

  • Themed wreaths
  • Mantle decorations
  • Centerpieces
  • Front porch decorations
  • Candle holders and more!

Guest Rooms

If you’re hosting your loved ones this holiday season, don’t worry – Darling Homes’ designs incorporate ample room in the common spaces for entertainment, while simultaneously providing homeowners with intentional privacy in master suites, guest suites and other bedrooms.

To make sure your guests are comfortable, take advice from Lee Crowder, Darling Homes’ Design Gallery and Model Home Branding Manager, on what creates the ideal guest space. Consider building a coffee or tea bar, giving visitors easy access and instructions to the WiFi and TV, and adding a basket filled with toiletries and other small necessities to ensure guests feel well-taken care of during their stay.

Set the Menu

When you’re preparing to host a holiday meal, consider asking guests for their dietary needs. Incorporating vegetarian or gluten-free options for guests with restricted diets can help everyone enjoy their holiday. Each holiday occasion is defined by different specialties, such as turkey or pie on Thanksgiving, but creating the ideal menu has never been easier. Darling Homes has compiled Pinterest boards for Delicious Dining and Thanksgiving Recipes to help you prepare to whip up a feast!

Some favorite recipe ideas include:

  • Maple Dijon roasted carrots
  • Savory pumpkin soup with chopped pecans
  • Roasted fall vegetables
  • Garlic green beans
  • Bacon wrapped asparagus… and many more!

Seasonal décor, thoughtful menu selections and everything in between can help create a cozy and welcoming atmosphere while you host the holidays and build treasured memories with loved ones year after year.


Fall Festivals in Dallas and Houston

As the weather cools down, people in Dallas and Houston are celebrating by heading outdoors for seasonal fun. Fall festivals in both cities are bringing in crowds to celebrate with autumn activities, seasonal food and more.


Autumn at the Arboretum has been crowned one of the top pumpkin festivals in the U.S. by Fodor’s Travel. This annual event in Dallas brings the city a taste of autumn with festivities running from late September through Nov. 21.  The 31st annual event transports its visitors to a magical world with its Adventures in Neverland theme. The breathtaking gardens are transformed to fit the world of Peter Pan, with sights including the Lost Boys hideout and a pirate ship ready to explore.

Attractions at the arboretum during this festival include:

  • Live music on weekends
  • Harvest Tea
  • Family fun weekend with trick-or-treating Oct. 27-28
  • Pumpkin Village with over 90,000 pumpkins, squashes and gourds
  • Children’s Adventure Garden
  • Over 4,000 chrysanthemums
  • 150,000 autumn-blooming plants and more!

In Lewisville, the Castle Hills Fall Festival is happening on Oct. 20, bringing visitors to the town for free, friendly fun from 5 to 8 p.m. All activities will have an autumn theme, and a DJ will keep the crowd energized throughout the festival. Food is available for purchase from popular local food trucks.

This festival features:

  • Bounce houses
  • Fall arts and crafts by Design Time art studio
  • Pumpkin decorating
  • Petting zoo and more!

In the Bishop Arts District, the Oak Cliff Pumpkinfest is having its fourth annual event on Oct. 28 from 4 to 8 p.m. Local musicians will be performing, and games will be available for the public to play along Bishop Ave. Be sure to get there by 5 p.m. to participate in the costume contest!

Other can’t-miss activities include:

  • Magic show
  • Face painting
  • Games
  • Punkin Chunkin’
  • Pie walk at Emporium Pies and more!


The Houston Family Fun Festival is hosting a free event on Oct. 28. From noon to 4 p.m. at LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch in Katy, Houston Family Magazine will host this highly-anticipated event for everyone in the community to enjoy. Vendors vary at events throughout the year, making each fest a unique experience with different food, activities, locations and seasonal favorites.

Kids will adore the opportunity to indulge in face painting, arts and crafts, and more activities, including:

  • Food trucks
  • Rock climbing wall
  • Door prizes
  • Inflatables
  • Houston Family Magazine goodie bags
  • Music and more!

If a countryside fall experience sounds appealing, check out Froberg’s Farm in Allen and its fall festival, running through Nov. 4, with a rustic setting providing the perfect scene for everything from duck races to corn mazes.

Don’t miss these activities on the farm:

  • Berry Fun Land playground
  • Gold panning
  • Lighted hay rides, fire pits and more!

The Festival of Abilities, taking place in Houston from 3 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 28, offers a truly unique and all-inclusive experience. Proceeds from this event benefit the future Playground for All Abilities, which will be the first accessible adaptive playground in the region.

At this festival, try:

  • Riding on SIRE therapeutic horses
  • Costume contest
  • Adaptive sports games
  • Food court
  • Art tile painting and more!

With so many festivals throughout Dallas and Houston, there are endless opportunities to enjoy the cooler weather this season!


Celebrate Halloween with the Best Costumes and Events in Texas

Young or old, Houston and Dallas residents will have no shortage of events to celebrate Halloween and escape from reality for a few hours with a creative costume and sugary sweets.

Halloween Events in Houston

Enjoy Halloween while helping dogs in need find a new home at Bridgeland’s 10th annual Howl-O-Ween Fest, taking place on Oct. 27 at Josey Lake, providing free fun and games for all ages. This festival will have food trucks, pumpkin decorating, a magic show and trick-or-treating for both children and dogs!

The 7 – Acre Wood in Conroe will be the site of the 18th annual Thrill at the Mill, on Oct. 27. Here, visitors can indulge in delicious food and activities including a petting zoo, mini golf, hayrides, pony rides and more!

Sugar Land will host its own Halloween party on Oct. 28 with the city’s Halloween Town. This event will feature a costume contest, activity stations, a pumpkin patch and more entertainment for kids and adults to enjoy.

Halloween Events in Dallas

Scare on the Square in McKinney, is a free event on Oct. 31 from 4-7 p.m. that gives groups of all ages a safe and friendly venue to enjoy Halloween. A costume contest, pumpkin races, candy and more help to make this event a spooky success.

Halloweekend at the Dallas Zoo brings together the best parts of the holiday, with trick-or-treating for kids, a craft beer garden for adults, a pumpkin patch, hay maze, bounce house, animal encounters and more on Oct. 28 and 29. A special Halloween day at the zoo (and costumes are encouraged). What could be more fun?

At Friscovania in Frisco, experience a kid’s carnival concourse, live music, fortune tellers, trick-or-treating, a runway show, costume contest and more. It’s all happening on Oct. 27 from 3 – 8 p.m.!

Best Group Costumes

Gather your friends, children, loved ones or neighbors! It’s time to pick an award-worthy group costume for 2018.

Looking for a costume that offers a bit of mystery or magic?

Solving mysteries with fashionable flair was the highlight of this cast of characters. Bring a mystery to life as the gang of Scooby Doo while seeking the home offering the biggest candy bars on Halloween night. You could also honor that cast from the wizarding world of Harry Potter for this holiday. Grab robes and wands before heading out for an enchanting evening.

Prefer superpowers to magic? Flex those muscles as one of these bands of superheroes like The Incredibles, The Avengers or The Guardians of the Galaxy.

Other group costume ideas include:

  • Mario, Luigi and friends
  • The characters from Toy Story
  • Disney princesses and princes
  • Characters and dinosaurs from Jurassic Park and Jurassic World
  • Dominos
  • Crayon Colors
  • Group of minions
  • The three little pigs
  • Sesame Street characters… and more!

What’s your favorite group costume idea or Halloween celebration?

Food Lifestyle

Enjoy a Texas Date Night Out

Whether it’s a first date, an anniversary or a spontaneous night out, both Houston and Dallas offer fantastic dating opportunities near Darling Homes communities.


Couples of all ages have plentiful options for both understated dinners and energetic activities.

Upscale Outing

Delight in upscale dining at Robard’s Steakhouse in The Woodlands. This restaurant provides a gorgeous atmosphere with award-winning food making it ideal for a special night out. With items ranging from roasted corn & king crab chowder to filet mignon and truffle risotto, this menu has items to please every palette.

Romantic Dinner for Two

Romance is in the air at 13 Celsius, a European wine bar and cafe. With a wine list featuring selections from all over the world, this location’s expansive menu includes savory selections such as cheese plates and delightful desserts like s’mores and affogato.

Fireside Seats and Groovy Beats

At Cottonwood, spend a warm night on the patio or grab a fireside seat and enjoy live music while sipping one of the 42 craft beers on tap. Check the Cottonwood Facebook page for a list of upcoming musical guests.


Elevate the average date night with a stop at one of these Dallas restaurants.

Decadent Dinner with a View

Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck, on the 50th floor of the iconic and recently renovated Reunion Tower, offers 360-degree views of the city from its revolving dining room, where you can indulge in decadent Asian cuisine, pan seared Texas red fish, crispy Texas quail or a variety of dumplings. Before calling it a night, take a few minutes to explore as this location also features two casual bars just outside of the dining room.

Tastings and Tapas

There is no need to debate where to wine and dine, rather be a tourist in your own city and select a progressive date. Dallas Wine Tours offers expeditions that stop at three different locations for wine tasting and appetizers. The locations rotate The company provides transportation and a guide for the duration of the tour, creating a fun and relaxing day out.

Appetite for Adventure

At the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Las Colinas, couples can take time out at the spa or choose from four different delectable restaurants. With the Mandalay Canal on Lake Carolyn, visitors can also enjoy a romantic gondola ride around the area or stand up paddle boarding.

Whether you’re looking to relax or have a unique adventure, opportunities for a fantastic date night out are just around the corner for Darling Homes residents.


Hit Plays and Musicals Coming to Texas

From the musical sensation Hamilton to Charles Dickens’ timeless classic A Christmas Carol, both Dallas and Houston will have a wide range of musicals and plays over the next few months for theater fans to enjoy.


The upcoming Broadway season in Dallas will be kicking off on Nov. 27 with the holiday favorite Elf the Musical bringing a whimsical set and story to the stage through Dec. 2. Though the season debuts with a lighthearted play, the rest of the works coming to the stage in Dallas in the next few months cover a broad range of stories, featuring everything from history to heartbreak.

Upcoming Broadway shows at Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas include:

  • Elf the Musical; Nov. 27 – Dec. 2, 2018
  • The Phantom of the Opera; Dec. 19, 2018 – Jan. 6, 2019
  • The Book of Mormon; 29 – Feb. 3, 2019
  • Anastasia; Feb. 19 – March 3, 2019
  • Hamilton; April 2 – May 5, 2019

The Dallas Opera is staging the beloved four-act opera Carmen by Georges Bizet this fall. Carmen’s iconic storyline, following the lives of a gypsy and the men who love her, is running Oct. 19, 21, 24, 27 and Nov. 2 and 4. The Winspear Opera House, where Carmen will be performed, will also host the holiday play A Christmas Story on Dec. 12 – 16 and feature the Tony Award-winning show Chicago Dec. 18 – 23.


Houston’s upcoming selection of Broadway plays is incredible, with fan favorites such as The Phantom of the Opera, Waitress and The Book of Mormon all coming to stage within the next few months. All of the awe-inspiring works will be performed at Sarofim Hall at The Hobby Center.

Upcoming Broadway shows in Houston include:

  • The Phantom of the Opera; 7 – 18, 2018
  • The Book of Mormon; 15 – 20, 2019
  • Waitress; 29 – Feb. 3, 2019
  • Anastasia; March 5 – 10, 2019
  • The Play that Goes Wrong; March 26 – 31, 2019

At the Alley Theater, the wintertime favorite A Christmas Carol will be on stage Nov. 16 – Dec. 30 for viewers to be enchanted by the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and holiday spirit. The Houston Grand Opera has two major productions this fall with The Flying Dutchman, a haunting love story, showing between Oct. 19 and Nov. 2 and La Bohème, an enchanting love story, premiering Oct. 26 and running through Nov. 11.

With epic tales of love, loss, war and adventure crossing the stages of Dallas and Houston in the coming months, theater fans will have plenty of options to spend a night out enjoying the best of the Lone Star State’s performing arts.

Community Travel

Best Places to View Fall Foliage in Texas

Leaves are beginning to change in Darling Homes communities in Dallas and Houston, and there are a few hidden gems throughout the Lone Star State where visitors can go to experience autumn’s beauty.

Below are three Texas state parks and natural areas that offer visitors an unparalleled look at fall colors, and this leaf color map from Thrillist is an excellent tool to keep track of when leaves are at their most brilliant.

Lost Maples State Natural Area

Lost Maples State Natural Area, located northwest of San Antonio, is known for its radiant beauty during autumn. Filled with striking maple trees that turn brilliant hues of orange, yellow and red, Lost Maples is renowned for its rugged beauty.

At this park, visitors can indulge in a variety of outdoor activities, including:

  • Over 10 miles of trails meandering along the edge of a 2,200-foot cliff
  • Camping at a selection of over 30 campsites
  • Fishing in the Sanibal River or Can Creek
  • Geocaching
  • Wildlife watching
  • An off the grid weekend – no cell service here!

Tyler State Park

At Tyler State Park, a peaceful retreat nestled in northeast Texas, visitors will delight in seeing the changing leaves from the comfort of the car with a scenic drive or getting an up close view at the vibrant hues from one of many hiking and walking trails.

This beautiful park offers its visitors a plethora of activities, including:

McKinney Falls State Park

Near Austin, at McKinney Falls State Park, visitors will find themselves enchanted by the capital region’s hill country, where Onion Creek flows over limestone ledges to create a breathtaking waterfall. During autumn, this scenic park is brimming with incredible colors.

While visiting McKinney Falls State Park, explore the outdoors by:

  • Camping at one of 81 sites
  • Mountain or road biking
  • Fishing in Onion Creek
  • Bouldering
  • Joining a Ranger Program on birding, geocaching and more

Texas is filled with incredible opportunities to see fall foliage while exploring the outdoors!

At Home Home Decor

Decorating Home for Autumn

The air is turning crisp and the leaves are taking on a golden hue which can only mean it’s time to find inspiration for autumn décor for your Houston or Dallas home.

Warm and inviting spaces are a hallmark of Darling Homes’ designs. To add a sophisticated autumn touch, accent your home’s natural beauty by placing a wreath on the front door, adorning the mantel with pumpkins or lighting candles with seasonal favorites on the coffee table.

Need more inspiration? The 2018 Good Housekeeping list of autumn décor helps homeowners discover some of the simplest yet most endearing home decorating tricks in the book.

Fall décor suggestions include:

  • Dried wheat wreaths to adorn the front door
  • Fall-themed throw pillows
  • Rustic-colored blankets in shades of orange, brown, red and yellow
  • Dried leaf garlands
  • Acorn accents for side tables and centerpieces
  • Pumpkins and squashes positioned throughout the home for a hint of autumn
  • Doormats with festive fall phrases such as ‘give thanks’

Autumn brings with it opportunities for indoor entertainment, whether you spend your nights and weekends in the living room with the fireplace burning or cozying up in the media room, take time to find your inspiration for fall décor on the Dallas and Houston Pinterest boards from Darling Homes. With a mix of pre-made and DIY décor ideas, these boards are the top choice for those looking to spice up their seasonal décor.

DIY projects for autumn can include:

  • Charming candy jars filled with candy corn or painted acorns
  • A garland made of glittering leaves
  • Pumpkins crafted out of yarn
  • Burlap wine bottle covers
  • Rustic mason jar candle holders
  • Chalkboard pumpkins embellished with a fall message

Whether seeking a craft for the holiday season or a new twist on autumn-themed home décor, these tips and tricks are certain to help bring a taste of fall into any Darling home.