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Xmas in Small-Town Texas

Dinner is 20 minutes up Highway 281, in Marble Falls. From the terrace of the River City Grille, which cantilevers out above Lake Marble Falls, you'll see 2 million lights flickering—a million in the town's Walkway of Lights on the banks of the lake, the other million reflected in the water. The most popular attraction is a wire tunnel strung with light strands, on a steep slope kids love to roll down.

It's a half-hour drive (Highway 281 to Route 29) to Canyon of the Eagles Lodge, which sits in a 940-acre park on the edge of Lake Buchanan. Don't expect any fancy volt-work here, though. The park is a low-light zone, for optimal star-viewing—there's an observatory with telescopes, and the Austin Astronomical Society sponsors star parties near the lodge.

Day Four

Spend the morning canoeing or kayaking on Lake Buchanan; then take Route 29 to Llano for lunch at Cooper's Bar-B-Que. Huge smokers on the porch sizzle with slabs of beef—served on butcher paper instead of plates. Inside, it's wall-to-wall deer heads.

If your political-correctness meter can withstand a wider array of taxidermy, visit the Hill Country Wildlife Museum, on the Llano town square. Creatures I've seen only on the Animal Planet—such as binturongs (a type of civet cat) and Himalayan monal pheasants—can be inspected up close.

Enchanted Rock State Park, with the second-largest granite dome in the country, is 25 minutes away on Route 16. Hike to the top of the dome, and you'll know how an ant on a pound cake feels. (Note that the rock is riddled with small caves in which impish children like to hide.)

Be back in Llano at dusk. Ribbons of lights stretch from the courthouse in the square to surrounding buildings. It's like being under a magical big top.

After dinner back at Canyon of the Eagles Lodge, chill out while cowboy poets recite odes to prairie life or a band cranks out country Christmas music. Sitting in the dark with entertainment you simply listen to may be just what everyone's overstimulated orbs need.

JEANNIE RALSTON is a contributing editor for Parenting and Ladies' Home Journal. She and her husband run Hill Country Lavender, a lavender farm in Blanco, Texas.

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