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december 25
Christmas Day brunch Bits of shredded wrapping paper glitter across the floor. Ribbons and bows hang on the furniture. Some daytime talk-show ninny drones relentless Christmas glee on the TV. And those sweet little angels whose eyes were all aglow, just last night, are hungry and cranky. Rather than cooking, give yourself a great little gift: Christmas brunch cooked by someone else, for a change. The Houstonian Hotel's executive chef, Jim Mills, is whipping up an old-fashioned Christmas feast. Try goose, leg of lamb or prime rib, just for starters. 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, 111 North Post Oak Lane, 680-2626. $33.95; $14.95, kids.

december 26
Hands! On! Sculpture! Admit it: The kids' endless Christmas holiday has left you exhausted. So why not let somebody else provide them an afternoon's worth of entertainment? Starting today, the Museum of Fine Arts offers three days of hands-on activities. A trio of artists will teach families how to sculpt using wire and clay, plaster brick and recycled materials. Today the lesson comes from Marsha Dorsey-Outlaw, whose class will celebrate the imagination of artist Alberto Giacometti. You and the kids can see his work in the Cullen Sculpture Garden and then try to make your own knockoffs -- or better yet, come up with your own one-of-a kind original. Classes 1-4 p.m., Dec. 26-28, The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. Classes are free with $3 museum entrance fee; $1.50, seniors and kids six-18.

Joe Ely For centuries, Americans have romanced the road. But singer/songwriter Joe Ely has had more than a casual fling. He's ridden the rails, thumbed his way across the country Jack Kerouacstyle and hopped boats to faraway places. And like a real American songsmith, he brings the road to his songs. His latest CD, Laredo, bristles with flamenco guitar and heartfelt tunes set in south-of-the-border towns. But Ely can play good old roots rock too. His act, with songs such as "Settle for Love," has been known to bring down the house. 9 p.m., tonight and Saturday, Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, 869-5483. $19.50 and $29.50.

december 27
The Best Foreplay of 1997 Comedy group Just for Play bills itself as "Houston's premier risque comedy troupe." With such silly sketches as "Private Dick," "Beethoven's Sixty-Ninth Symphony" and "Kinky Copies," the Play-ers certainly qualify as some of Houston's goofiest punsters. Tonight, they present a year-end review of their best stuff from 1997. The show benefits the Alzheimer's Association, and they hope (in their own carefully scripted words) to "make this Alzheimer's benefit a night to remember." 9 p.m., Main Street Theater, Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose,, 776-0248. $10 minimum donation suggested.

december 28
Guitar, Saxes and More Craig Chaquico, former Jefferson Starship lead guitarist, won Guitar Player magazine's most recent readers' poll award for Best Pop Instrumental Guitarist of the Year for his lush, mature rock. Jazziz magazine raves about trumpeter/flugelhornist Rick Braun, summing him up with the phrase "blowing cool ... sounding smooth ... sitting pretty." And Richard Elliot, the tenor saxophonist, has pushed the envelope of his R&B grooves to include traditional jazz and Celtic sounds. Tonight, hear all these guys plus English-born acoustic guitarist Peter White. 8 p.m., Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, 230-1666. $24.50-$39.50

december 29
Space Center day camp Rather than letting the kids spend winter break hanging around the house, watching daytime TV's unseemly people behaving badly, send them to NASA, the national repository of science and dreams. For the next four days, one-day day camps are slated to cover such subjects as the laws of physics, UFOs and model spacecraft. Today's camp centers on Sir Isaac Newton and his three laws of physics. Kids investigate the aerodynamics of launch vehicles while building a rocket to launch in NASA's Rocket Park. And yes, the kids get to take their rockets home. NASA/Johnson Space Center, 1601 NASA Road 1. Call (281) 244-2100 for information. $45-$65.

Jerry Jeff Walker Jerry Jeff Walker's 27th album, Scamp, is his first album of all-original material since the Texan singer/songwriter's 1969 Driftin' Way of Life. Since '69, Walker's way of life has changed a lot. He wrote Scamp while lounging on some gorgeous beach in Belize, where his second home is. Tonight and tomorrow night, though, he's back in Texas, and he's ready to share his new stuff. Fans old and new can hear him and his band, the Gonzo Compadres, play both the new stuff and the old -- everything from "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother" to "Mr. Bojangles." 7:30 and 10 p.m., Dec. 29 and 30. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, 869-8427. $18-$39.50.

december 30
Recycle your Christmas tree Thousands of Houstonians have recycled their trees with the city of Houston's earth-friendly conservation program. This year, tree recycling starts today and runs through January 11. First, take off all the decorations, tinsel and wooden stands. Then just hand over your tree at any of the many locations. In return, you'll get a bag of mulch and a tree seedling (you can choose a sawtooth oak, a bald cypress, a pecan or a Shurmard oak). There's only one caveat: If you flocked your Christmas tree this year, forget about it. Nobody can do anything good with a flocked tree. Next year, resolve to do better. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon.-Sat.; 1-5 p.m., Sun., Dec. 30-Jan. 11, except Jan. 1. For the recycling location nearest you, call the recycling hotline, 865-4201.

december 31
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Lately he's known as simply "the Artist." Certainly he's enough of an individualist to have earned that appellation. Bypassing the record industry, the renegade Artist has been selling his music over the Net, calling traditional labels "capitalist dinosaurs." Without a label telling him what to do, he's free to make the kind of music he wants to -- and many critics agree that his art has only improved because of this newfound freedom. The New York Times says that the Artist "is finally performing near the peak of his powers" and that his concerts "[make] it clear what low standards we've set for rock and pop concerts in the '90s." To thwart ticket scalpers, he announces his concerts a mere week before they happen -- so get your tickets now, at a price you can actually afford. 9 p.m., Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, 961-9003. $19.99-$76.25.

Jesse Dayton It's sad but true: Rockefeller's -- host to some of the best live music in the city -- is closing its doors forever tonight. The only happy news: Jesse Dayton will be on stage, pushing the boundaries of traditional country roots with his gritty guitar playing and singing his songs that can grab you by the collar and pull you, weeping and laughing, into their stories. Dayton has spent a lot of time on the road lately, opening for such big names as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. Tonight, maybe Dayton will come up with some lonesome dirge about life after Rockefeller's. 9 p.m., Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, 869-5483. $22.50 and $29.50.

Goodnight, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet) This play, about a lowly graduate student's search for source material for her studies on Shakespeare, promises to be both instructional and funny. Constance Ledbelly finds herself hurtling through time and space into a world populated by Shakespeare's characters -- or at least characters something like Shakespeare's. She finds that Othello is no Moor, Desdemona is a would-be Amazon, Juliet likes to get around and Romeo seems very sexually confused. Tonight's opening is also a fundraiser that lasts until 1 a.m. Dinner, champagne and music for dancing all follow the show, so stick around and enjoy the festivities to bring in the new year. 8 p.m. (See Thrills for other dates and times.) Heights Theatre, 339 West 19th Street, 869-8927. $40; $75, couples; add $5 if you want your tarot cards read.

Catch a rising star New Year's Eve is a time when the old collides with the new, and the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place is celebrating this cataclysm by bringing together wildly diverse groups on several stages. Your choices range from the time-warped Otis Day and the Knights to the top-of-the-charts Wallflowers -- with Matchbox 20, the Village People and Flock of Seagulls somewhere in between. Three outdoor stages, restaurants, theaters and clubs in Bayou Place and the adjacent streets provide the setting for this enormous celebration. And at midnight, 20 minutes of fireworks will mark the new year. Starts 7:30 p.m., 520 Texas and neighboring streets. For information, call 230-1666. $50; $125 VIP tickets include food and beverage, valet parking and access to a private area in the mezzanine lobby of the Wortham Theater.

Kathleen Madigan Maybe you want to laugh your way into the new year. If so, consider spending the evening with Kathleen Madigan, who was voted the Best Female Standup Comedian at the American Comedy Awards, who has appeared on The Late Show, The Tonight Show and tons of cable funny shows and who's got a girl-next-door kind of appeal. The Los Angeles Times profiled her three times in less than a year, calling her "clever" and "engaging." The Las Vegas Review Journal told its readers to "catch her now, and you'll be able to tell your friends you saw her on the way up." She'll be here in Houston tonight, and you, too, can have "seen her when." Laff Stop, 1952 West Gray, 524-2333. $22.50 for the show at 7:45 p.m.; $39.50 at 10:15.

Mantra-chanting workshop If 1997 was bad, and you're looking to get the new year off to a better start, consider a celebration that doesn't involve carousing the bars, wearing a lampshade at your neighbor's party or generally getting thoroughly blotto. For a spiritual entry into 1998, the First Unitarian Church is holding a chanting workshop tonight. Henry Marshall and Rickie Moore, who've traveled the U.S. and Europe giving these classes, will conduct tonight's event. Moore is an author and psychologist; Marshall is "Europe's number one mantra recording artist" (bet you didn't know such a thing existed). See him in person, and chant right along. 7:30 p.m., First Unitarian Church, 5200 Fannin, 526-5200. All ages. $5.

Lady, Be Good This 1924 romantic comedy by George and Ira Gershwin is the third in a series of concert musicals being staged at Main Street Theater. Besides the terrific old tunes (including "Fascinating Rhythm"), enjoy dessert, champagne and dancing. Champagne reception, 8:30 p.m.; show starts 9 p.m. (See Thrills for other dates, times and prices.) Main Street Theater, Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose, 524-6706. $50.


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