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december 4
Holiday in the Park Oh! The comforts of tradition: The sweet, angelic voices of bored schoolchildren singing inanely silly songs in unison; the flashing lights on fat, plastic trees; and dear old Santa, the most beloved creepy guy in really weird clothes on the planet. If you aren't filled with ennui at the very thought of all this holiday folderol, then Bellaire Park is putting on a party just for you. A lighted kids' train, Santa on a fire engine, a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony and food, glorious food, will all be at your fingertips this evening, right in the middle of middle-class paradise. 6-8:30 p.m., Bellaire Park, 7008 South Rice Ave., 662-8280. Free.

november 5
Slaid Cleaves Folk music gets a bum rap these days: Slow and steady and full of stories, it offers those tales of woe and everyday Joes that can wheedle their way right through the smooth jade of your 1990s chest into the heart you packed away long ago, before everything got so bad that having a heart was the last thing anyone needed. Slaid Cleaves unpacks your heart with songs said to be some of the "most accomplished ... recorded by anyone in years." He lives in Austin, so don't miss your chance to see him while he's here. 9 p.m., Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant, 528-8576.

19th Street Holiday Open House Right about now, life narrows to only one activity: shopping. Oh my God! Just making a list takes days. And when you hit the malls, there's nothing but the same old dreck. Nineteenth Street, in the sweet Historic Downtown Heights, offers several blocks of one-of-a-kind shopping choices. From antiques to hand-me-downs to homemade crafts, you're bound to find something for that finicky friend who always hates everything. And tonight, food and refreshments and holiday lights will make your shopping a little more bearable. 6-9 p.m., 200 and 300 blocks of 19th Street in the Heights.

Flowers of Evil: Baudelaire, Chopin, Wagner and Debussy The New York Times said of this show: "Sarah Rothenberg, the artistic director of this acclaimed series, seems to have hit on another natural mix of sensibilities." The first half of the evening, which promises to be terribly dramatic, will bring music and poetry together with a film created by Da Camera for this production. Recordings of Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal" will be accompanied by selected works of Chopin. In the second half of the evening, hear rare French songs by Richard Wagner, along with works by Debussy. 8 p.m., Wortham Theater Center, Cullen Theater at 500 Texas, 524-5050. $15-$30.

The Christian Brother You're the Scrooge, the Grinch, the I-hate-Christmas fellow in the office, and there's simply nothing for you to do right now except sit on your thumbs and wait. Right? Christmas has taken over the ballet and the symphony. And forget TV: TV's crawling with Christmas. Even most theaters are showing only "family fun" and "holiday fare." It's enough to make your teeth ache from the sweetness of it all. But hold on a minute: Here's one little show that just might be suitable for all you Christmas-phobics. In fact, Theatre Songe and Lovelenz are billing their newest fare as a "Christmas antidote." The Christian Brother, by Australian playwright Ron Blair, satirizes all the ins and outs of a "good" 1950s Catholic education. Satire, especially during the holiday season, is good for the soul. 8 p.m., Little Room Downstairs, 2326 Bissonnet, 880-3450. $10.

november 6
Outdoor Ice-Skating Lessons Though we boasted on this very page just a couple of weeks ago that we Texans certainly do know how to ice-skate, thank you very much, we have to admit now that the statement may have been a wee bit of a stretcher. Maybe even a big ol' fat whopper. Fact is, last time we had ice on the road, we Houstonians had to turn on the TV just to figure out what that shiny stuff on the blacktop was. But even though we might not already know how to skate, we can learn, damn it, we can learn. Every Saturday, on that puddle of frozen water downtown, get a lesson on how to stand, how to fall (we're gonna need that one) and how to actually shake a leg. 10-10:30 a.m. Miracle on Main Street, 1000 block of Main, 650-3022. $10, includes skate rental and all the skating time you want, after the lesson.

Oliver! Sometimes it seems that Dickens practically invented Christmas. Victorian images litter every TV screen and every other shop window. They're charming, but most of us would rather stew our eyeballs in oil than have to sit through one more performance of A Christmas Carol. Okay, so that's a bit of an overstatement. But this year, there's a C.C. alternative. Oliver!, also based on the work of the old master of magazine serial writing, doesn't have one ghost, not one motley, pathetic family named Cratchit and no gawky Scrooge. Instead, meet a bunch of plucky little Victorian gang-bangers who'll do just about anything for a dime. Everyone gets their comeuppance in the end, so the audience will get its Christmas quota of Dickensian Protestant scolding. But at least there's fun music and terrific dancing. 8 p.m. The Music Hall, (800) 678-5440. $15-$48.  

Dickens on the Strand Of course, another way to get your Christmas Dickens fill is by wandering the streets of Galveston this weekend, in one of the admittedly oddest, but perhaps happiest festivals in Texas. Besides enjoying all the costumed revelers, street performers, festival food, Christmas shopping, caroling, parading and completely out-of-left-field Ho'ola Ame Ho'ouli Kamano' Hawaiian dancing, you can actually meet, in the flesh, the Dickens family. Mark Charles Dickens, Charles Dickens's great-great grandson, will be on hand to sign copies of his illustrious ancestor's work at the Strand Visitors Center during both afternoons of Dickens on the Strand. Put on your top hat and tails, your bustle and gown -- that is, dress like you stepped out of the pages of David Copperfield -- and you'll get into the festival free. 10 am.-9 p.m., festival site: The Strand and Mechanic Street, between 20th and 25th streets, Galveston, (409) 765-7834, e-mail ghf@phoenix.net. $8; free, children under 12; free to all those sporting a Victorian costume.

november 7
Shake Russell and Dana Cooper These fellas have been around a long, long while, and for good reason, too. They write some terrific, heart-hurting, fist-clenching, toe-tapping songs. Their music is old-fashioned rhythm and blues folk-rock, and when Shake Russell sings, you can't help but feel kind of shivery all deep down inside. They don't play here often, but when they do, it's a good night to turn off the TV and get out of the house. Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Ave., 869-8427. $8.

That's Life What could be better than a film starring Jack Lemmon as a sputtering, whining hypochondriac who goes to pieces on the threshold of his 60th birthday? What about finding that a director such as the blatantly irreverent and wildly hilarious Blake Edwards made Jack Lemmon even better than he is all on his lonesome? Lucky us: That's Life, from 1986, combines the gifts of these two enormous talents, throws in Julie Andrews as Lemmon's co-star, and comes up with a movie that Leonard Maltin says is "believable and deeply moving." Alas, Edwards won't be in attendance, as was once scheduled. 7:30 p.m., Rice University Media Center, entrance no. 8 off University, 527-4853. $5.

december 8
R-E-L-E-A-S-E Ever had that sick feeling in your throat when you pull up a knotted piece of paper from the innards of a jacket you wore last March and realize it's a speeding ticket you forgot to pay? By now there's a warrant out for your arrest seven times over, and only the sweet kiss of providence has kept you from the confines of a Houston city jail. And you know, that fine has doubled or even tripled by now, not to mention that the authorities just might throw your criminal heinie in the slammer. Not to worry. Even the city is getting into the giving spirit. And today, or any day until Dec. 15, you can pay your delinquent ticket, in its original amount, without being arrested or having your car registration or driver's license application denied. Thank Judge Sylvia Garcia and the city for your small window of opportunity to set things right. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon.Fri. 1301 Municipal Courts Parking Division; 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Mon.Fri., 8300 Mykawa Road; 24 hours daily, Municipal Courts, 1400 Lubbock.

december 9
Messiah Sing-Along George Frederick Handel might be spinning in his grave, but we think it's sort of sweet: A whole bunch of music-loving, Camry-driving Houstonians all groovin' together to the beat of Handel's profound and spirit-moving music. The croaky, pocket-protector-wearing chemical engineer standing next to the sweet-voiced, velvet-ribboned systems analyst, both singing full out some of the most stirring Christmas music ever written -- it sounds so much better than neighborhood caroling. Join the Shepherd Society and the Shepherd School of Music, along with the Rice Chorale and the Shepherd Singers, bring your neighbors and belt out a few in excelsis deo's. 7:30 p.m. Rice University, Stude Concert Hall, entrance no. 8 off University Blvd., 527-4854. Free.

december 10
Candlelight Tour Sometimes, after a really bad day at the Christmas-infested mall, you might come home, park your packages in the middle of the room, park your fanny on the couch and just sit there, dazed and flabbergasted at what Christmas has become. How did it ever happen, you might ask your Grinch-feeling self, Christmas, without megamalls and supermarkets and parking-lot seas of navy blue Explorers? Tonight, instead of shopping, take yourself and your family over to Sam Houston Park and find out what Christmas used to be, back in the good old days when most gifts were homemade and the turkey on the table had a pet name. The eight historic buildings in the park, dating from 1823 to 1905, are decked out for the holidays, and you can see exactly how Christmas in America was before consumerism so thoroughly infected our souls. 6:30-9 p.m., Sam Houston Park, 1100 Bagby, 655-1912. $5; $3, seniors; $2, kids 6-12.  

Victor Wooten Though Victor Wooten's been playing music since he was five, it took a lot of years for his solo albums to be made. Perhaps that's because he's been so busy playing bass for such folks as the Grammy award-winning Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. His solo recordings of country-jazz-funk have been called "awe-inspiring," "masterpieces" and "amazing." Obviously, this is not a show for jazz-funk fans to miss. Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Ave., 869-2665.

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