Radio-controlled cars speed along the dirt path of twin, 20,000-square-foot off-road racetracks at RC Hobby Shop, spurred on by shouts of encouragement and furiously twisting thumbs. Too colossal to fit inside the building, the tracks embody RC Hobby Shop’s serious approach to having fun. Inside the 9,400-square-foot retail space, stacks of toys line the aisles and beckon kids and hobbyists with battery-operated modern gadgets and timeless classics such as yo-yos and board games. Model makers of every age can stoke their creative sparks with detailed modeling kits that reconstruct classic cars, elaborate train sets, and Lilliputian crime scenes.
With its circle of cushy chairs and iron-wrought footstools, the sewing area at Sugar Land Yarn Company bears a striking resemblance to a pastoral living room, where yarns of all colors fill a bowl resting on the coffee table and cubbyholes lined along the walls. Shawls and scarves hang in display to inspire future knitting projects, and a library of patterns and manuals demonstrates various techniques, such as stringing together a baby sweater without bursting into tears of joy. The shop’s wool-wizards lead classes in a wide variety of topics, allowing beginners and experienced knitters to socialize as they create wearable and decorative soft goods.
For Meredith McCord, looking at a piece of pottery brings back decades worth of memories. McCord started The Mad Potter in 1998, and since those early days, she's used her kiln to immortalize countless special moments. She traveled to hospitals to capture the footprints of newborns, helped a young man create a dessert plate with the words "Will you marry me?" emblazoned across it, and auctioned off items for charity. Yet some of her fondest memories center on the day-to-day interactions with customers, specifically when they return to pick up their fired pieces and utter three words of amazement: "I did that?"
The Mad Potter has since expanded into three Houston-area locations, where children and adults come to paint their own works of art or create replicas of their ancient ancestors' garden gnomes. More than 500 bisqueware items line the shelves of each studio, including coffee mugs, plates, and figurines. Staffers then help visitors select from more than 54 available colors of paint and supply them with everything else they might need, including brushes and stencils. The staff can even take things over and create more intricate designs—while still consulting closely with the customer. Whatever route a person chooses, there's always time for a sip of wine or beer; the River Oaks location sells wine and beer while Bellaire and Woodway maintain a BYOB policy.
Owner Connie Broome envisions Vino Artino as a place "all about art, friends, and fun," a concept she solidifies through relaxing, hands-on classes. Sessions are led by artists with degrees from art and design schools across the South. As they swill any libations they wish to bring, pupils sit at tabletop easels and follow step-by-step instructions to re-create scenes appropriate for a girls' night out, a Mother's Day outing, or a hide-the-hole-in-the-living-room-wall party. Though each class is grounded in a particular painting, the studio urges artists to put their own stamp on the finished product by using different colors, adding fun flourishes, and choosing their own canvas size.
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At the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, you might spy a group of yogis meditating in a forest clearing or budding photographers snapping shots of herons in the wetlands. Daily programs such as these are part of the Center’s mission to connect Houstonians with the natural world. Situated on the western edge of Memorial Park, the 155-acre nature preserve acts as a sanctuary from the busy city that surrounds it. Visitors can walk along 5 miles of trails, which wind past forest, meadows, wetlands, and ponds.
The nature advocates at Houston Arboretum & Nature Center hope the Center serves not only as refuge from the urban bustle, but also as a constantly changing outdoor classroom. In the Discovery Room, for instance, interactive exhibits help young explorers learn about the Center’s diverse ecosystems. Classes and workshops range from home composting to breaking into the birdhouse-real-estate market. The Center also offers nature camps for kids, as well as other special events year-round.