Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Contrary to the popular cliche, agriculture is the oldest profession of humankind. It’s as old as Genesis and continues to flourish in the 21st century. That’s a blessing because most of us are addicted to eating.

We grew up in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where corn, wheat, oats, soybeans, cattle and pigs were the primary products of the farms. Then we became Winter Texans. In the Rio Grande Valley for six months, we found ourselves in the midst of an agricultural mystery.

What was causing these frequent plumes of smoke and air-borne ash? Where were all these identical trucks – yellow cabs and fence-like trailers – coming from or going to? And the many acres of bright green plants with fronds instead of leaves? What was hiding behind the clouds of steam and smoke belching from a small factory along a busy highway a few miles east of our park?

We discovered that we were living in sugar cane country! Most of the sugar cane grown in the U.S. comes from Louisiana and Alabama. But there are three counties in deep southeast Texas where the soil and weather are suitable for growing cane. Sugar cane is not one of the major sources of income for farmers in this area. However, for half of the year,  harvesting, processing, and shipping out the raw product is a major operation in our area. That’s because the only sugar mill in Texas is just about 15 miles east of our RV park.

We find the “sugar cane cycle” to be fascinating; very different from what we knew of farming in the mid-West. We thought it might be of interest to you corn farmers of Ohio and Indiana, too.

Sugar cane plants can regenerate themselves from the same root for several years.  The same planting can be harvested for as many as five or more years.

The plants, however, are hard on the soil.  So most growers plow them under after about five years.  The field is then planted in some type of ground cover which will replenish the nutrients of the soil.
The following year new sugar cane starts are planted in the field and the cycle begins again.

The crop matures in about a year.  Three varieties of cane plants -- early, mid and late season types -- extend the harvest season over six months, from September through March.  In Hidalgo County where we live the harvest season is spectacular.

The season is ushered in by the appearance of tell-tale plumes of smoke on near-by horizons.

Then, as we travel the roads of the county, we see more and more warning signs like this.  The signs remind us why cane fields are always planted with broad, "firebreaks" on all four sides of the crop.

Several days after the warning signs have been posted the harvest begins in that field.  The first step of the harvest is an eye-popping, ear-splitting extravaganza!  This large tractor arrives at the field.  It has a loudspeaker mounted on top and tows a flame-thrower behind.  It circles the field several times loudly announcing -- in both Spanish and English -- that the field will soon be burned and that anyone who might be in the field should leave it immediately.

A tractor with a tank full of water in tow is stationed along the nearby roadside in case the fire gets out of control.  Traffic control personnel and vehicles are put in place.  Then the burning begins.
(This step of burning off the excess foliage takes place only in rural areas far from cities or heavily populated areas.  It is also strictly controlled by regulations regarding technique, location, weather, wind speeds, safety procedures, etc.)

The flames, ignited by the flame-thrower drawn by the tractor, move quickly into the field.  Each plant burns for about twenty seconds, just long enough to burn off the excess and unnecessary foliage.

The tractor and flame-thrower move steadily along the open firebreaks on all four sides of the field, igniting it from all directions.

Clouds of smoke rise from the field and ash (known locally as "black snow") fills the air for miles downwind of the burn.  The ash clings to everything it touches, dirties up sidewalks and patio floors and transforms swimming pools into filthy ponds!

The fire is intense, but brief.  It takes only 20 minutes to burn a 40 acre field.  The tractor and flame-thrower circle the field only once, igniting the crop.  The flames do their work quickly and then die out.  Only the charred stems of the cane plants and curls of smoke linger as a reminder of the day's dramatic preparation for the harvest.

Within a day or two, the harvesting machine arrives in the field.  In many ways, the cane harvester resembles a corn picker.  The ground-level "knives" at the front cut the cane stalks at the ground.  The two auger-like tubes gather up the stalks, shred them, and raise them up into the storage bin.
 Timing is important for if a hard freeze occurs (a rare event in deep south Texas) the cane crop will be ruined in three days.  So the harvester wastes no time in carrying out the next step of the cane harvest.

The harvester periodically unloads its burden of harvested stalks into field wagons.

The field wagons are towed out to the highway where their contents are emptied into semi- trailer trucks for transport to the sugar refinery.  A line of other transport semis waits on the highway for their turn to fill.

The wonders of hydraulic power make the job quick and efficient but, no doubt, requires highly skilled operators.

Loaded to capacity, the sugar cane transport truck heads off toward the refinery.

So, for the six months of harvest season, this is a common sight -- and traffic reality -- on the highways around our winter home.

The destination of all the trucks transporting harvested cane is the W.R. Cowley Sugar House operated by the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc. a cooperative of the 119  local cane farmers.  The refinery is located near the small town of Santa Rosa.

A November 15, 2011 news release reported, "SANTA ROSA, Texas -- The old mill is cranking and squeezing out sweetness for the 32nd sugar cane season in the Rio Grande Valley...

"More than 270,000 tons of sugar cane has been produced so far at the W.R. Cowley Sugar House off Highway 107 in Santa Rosa since the Oct. 1 opening...

"In 2003, the counties of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy -- the only sugar producing area in Texas -- have harvested almost 44,000 acres that produced more than 1 million tons of sugar...."

The sugar, in raw form, is transported to the Port of Brownsville and shipped from there to a processing plant in Louisiana where it is further refined for table use.  Molasses is a by-product of the Cowley Sugar House refining of the sugar cane and it is sold to the animal feed industry.

In 2010, the Cowley Sugar House received national recognition for its energy-saving measures.  All the electricity needed to run the mill operations is produced by burning the waste products from the harvested cane.

And that's the sweet ending of the sugary tale of the local cane industry!

Friday, December 23, 2011


It’s only taken about seventy years but these last two Christmases have finally taught me something important! I’ve often wondered why Santa Claus makes that difficult and dangerous journey around the world on Christmas Eve night. He’s long past retirement age and Mrs. Claus has probably been nagging him for years to give up his Christmas travels so they could go south for the holidays.

The airways are getting more congested every year. Reindeer power is no match for supersonic jets and space ships. The elves are gradually dying off. Those that remain can’t work as fast as they used to. Toy prices have increased dramatically. The world’s population is growing at an alarming rate.

Nevertheless, Santa continues to make his whirlwind "giving trip" year after year without fail. Now I know why! It’s because "it IS more blessed to give than to receive"! It wasn’t Santa who said that but he obviously knows it’s true. Now I – and several other people – also know it, too!

Last Christmas (2010) our RV park of Winter Texans adopted a needy family in our neighborhood to assist with food and holiday gifts. Several individuals also made Christmas merrier for two other families. The outpouring donation of gifts and donated food was beyond all expectations. So, this year (2011) our seasonal community offered holiday happiness for five needy families in the surrounding community.

We contacted the public school just a few miles from our park. The staff there indicated that 96% of their students are "economically disadvantaged." The school receives governmental assistance to provide breakfast, lunch and "a brown bag snack" each school day for those students. When school is dismissed for holidays or vacations, many of those families do not have the means to feed their own children three meals a day.

The school social worker lives in the community and knows the households of her students well. She gave us the names of five families of their students who were in need of life’s basic necessities. There were 49 persons living in those five households! "How in the world would we ever be able to provide gifts and food for so many?" we wondered. Then we watched a miracle take place.

Gifts and food began to pour in from the 100 or so residents of our park. Cash donations had not been asked for but $535 of donated cash provided gifts for every one of those 49 persons!

A $500 donation designated for food filled three grocery carts to overflowing at the local market. The store manager, impressed by our "spirit of Christmas giving" donated a gift card for each of the families!

A large "gift wrapping party" of volunteers prepared boxes and bags for delivery. Other volunteers carefully divided up the donated food, assigning an appropriate amount to each household.

Like the biblical "five loaves and two fishes," our Christmas gifts had multiplied!

Delivery day arrived and a large cargo trailer was loaned to transport all the gifts.

It was filled from side to side and front to back with boxes, bags and bins carefully labeled with each recipient family’s name. Then, like Santa’s subordinates on a trial run, we headed out, led by the school social worker.

Off the main highways, we traveled county roads and gravel byways from one humble home to another. Barking dogs, twinkling holiday decorations and smiling family members welcomed us at each stop. The poverty of the homes was obvious in the tiny, crowded rooms, leaky roofs, drafty walls, broken or makeshift steps, barefoot and lightly clad children. But, just as obvious, was the love and hospitality that dwelt in each home. Well mannered children were eager to help us carry the packages. There were hearty handshakes from the men of each home and an occasional hug from the women and girls.

For one of the families, our visit was a repeat of last year’s Christmas helping. But they were eager to show us their own surprise: the little house they are building for themselves! It is tiny and not yet finished but they now have sleeping space under a roof that doesn’t leak. When the house is completed, it will provide for them a kitchen and indoor plumbing!

"Gracias; muchas gracias," we heard over and over again from the adults in each home. The school age children expressed their delight and thanks in English.

Yes, those of us who delivered those gifts now know why Santa continues his gift-giving travels each Christmas season. It’s because "It [REALLY] is more blessed to give than to receive." That’s partly because, in giving, one also receives: "Gracias! Gracias! Muchas gracias!"

23 Dec 2011 - mshr

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Sshhh! Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve discovered a new secret society. At least I had never heard of it before! It’s mostly active just at this season of the year. Because of that, it’s vitally important that its activities remain secret. Much hue and cry of complaint would be raised by the public – and by holiday merchants - if that secret society's subversive activities became known.

I’ll tell you a little about this group but keep it to yourself. We don’t want to let their deepest, darkest secrets see the light of day or the awareness of the shopping hordes. You see, the clandestine little club is called the "Secret Scrooge Society" and they are (Whisper!) anti-Christmas, or at least anti-Christmas buying! 

They are well organized.   The motto of the group is:

"Bah and Humbug to Christmas stuff.
Of merchandising, we’ve had enough!"

They have a secret handshake sign, to be used only by members. It is a tightly clenched fist shaken in front of the face.

Their public activities are clandestine. Are they behind the blizzards and ice storms that disrupt holiday shopping? Are they the cause of traffic jams near shopping malls? Are they the reason that the last item in the size you wanted has already been sold? Is it the Secret Scrooge Society that is responsible for record-setting fuel prices? Are they the reason why the TV set you bought for Uncle Ebenezer didn’t work when you got it home? I don’t know, and certainly no member of the society would own up to their mischief.

Their meeting times and places are secret, too, of course, and I am not privy to that information. I have been told, however, that all their gatherings begin with the singing of their theme song. Set to a familiar Christmas tune, it gives them a chance to vent some of their anti-materialistic feelings about the holidays, as you can see:


(TUNE: The Twelve Days of Christmas)

On the first day of Christmas, my sweetheart gave to me,
A gift card from the WalMart in the mall.

On the second day of Christmas, my parents gave to me,
Two candlesticks, .....

On the third day of Christmas, the salesman promised me,
Three flat screen TVs,....

On the fourth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me,
Four Christmas trees, .....

On the fifth day of Christmas, my children gave to me,
Five pairs of earrings, ....

On the sixth day of Christmas, our neighbors gave to us,
Six plates of cookies, ....

On the seventh day of Christmas, my best friend gave to me,
Seven heavy sweaters, ....

On the eighth day of Christmas, my grandkids gave to me,
Eight fuzzy muppets, ....

On the ninth day of Christmas, some jokester sent to me,
Nine brief bikinis, ....

On the tenth day of Christmas, Secret Santa gave to me,

Ten lottery tickets, ....

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the scales gave to me,
Eleven extra fat pounds, ....

On the twelfth day of Christmas, I ordered for myself,
A twelve cubic foot dumpster, ...."
I’d like to know: how much are the membership dues? Perhaps by cutting back on holiday buying, I could afford to join!

6 Dec 2011- mshr

Friday, November 25, 2011


Evolution. That’s a word we usually associate with biology. For example, some scientists believe that human beings evolved from apes. (That stretches the imagination until you consider some of the similarities in behavior!)

Wikipedia, however, says that the word "evolution" can refer to any gradual change that occurs over generations. With that definition, I think it is clear that there has been an evolution of Christmas. I mean, after all, originally it was just a day when a boy child – later named Jesus – was born in Bethlehem.

Many came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Savior) prophesied by the Hebrew scriptures. Persecuted by the Romans, they began celebrating his birth on December 25, the time of a Roman holiday celebrating the returning of the sun. Thus, their festivities escaped governmental attention. By 354 A.D. that date was fixed in the calender of the early church and soon became a day for feasting and celebration.

It was not until 1038 A.D. –700 years later – that the day was called Christmas. The word comes from the old English, Christes maesse, or Christ’s Mass. At that time, the seasonal holiday continued for twelve days, from December 25 till January 6,Three Kings’ Day (or Epiphany).

Decorations for Christmas have also evolved. It was traditional to decorate with evergreen branches for ancient Roman and Jewish winter holidays. In the 1400's England added holly and ivy to the holiday decor.

Artful miniatures of the nativity of Jesus had begun to be created in Italy as early as 900 A.D. St. Francis of Assisi was especially fond of these "nativity scenes" and popularized them in the 1200s. The tradition spread rapidly across Europe.

Christmas trees date back to Germany, perhaps to Martin Luther, in the 16th century. English royalty imported this symbol of the season by the 1700s and it spread to America with immigrants from Europe by 1870.

Music, especially composed for the Christmas season, was sung in Rome as early as the 4th century. France, Germany and other European countries developed their own Christmas carols beginning in the 1100s. In England, too, special seasonal music was composed and the custom of "wassailing" became a common part of the holiday celebration. Small groups of people singing carols walked from house to house. The gracious recipients of their music would invite them into the house for wassail, a hot, spiced fruit juice-based drink.

Not everyone has rejoiced in the celebration of Christmas, however. In England, during the brief rule of the Puritans from 1647 to 1660, Christmas celebrations were outlawed. Puritans who immigrated from England to America also opposed all festivities at Christmas-time, believing it was an invention of the Roman Catholic church against which they had rebelled. Their neighbors who had immigrated from Germany, however, celebrated the holiday lavishly with special foods, decorations, music and pageantry.

Perhaps the greatest evolution related to Christmas customs is the changing nature of the season’s major gift-giver. In various countries, gifts were brought by Father Christmas, the Christ Child, the Three Kings, St. Nicholas, Pere Noel, or Basil of Caesarea. But Santa Claus had begun to emerge in New York City by the early 1800s. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem that described his view of Santa Claus. It was called "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and described the seasonal gift-giver as "round" and "jolly," dressed "all in red" with a white beard. He drove a sleigh pulled by reindeer, carried a sack full of toys, and came down the chimney to deliver gifts for children on the night before Christmas. This became the classic picture of Santa Claus which has now spread around the world.

Even within the half century plus of my lifetime, there has been much evolution of Christmas. In my childhood, celebrations of the season revolved around our church and our home. The religious nature of the holiday was emphasized by the singing of carols and the reading of the nativity stories from the Bible. Gifts were simple and often homemade.

But Christmas has now evolved into "the largest annual economic stimulus for many nations," Wikipedia reports. Christmas shopping season begins about the middle of October as the stores begin "decking their halls" with Yuletide trimmings and advertising "holiday sales" in newspapers and on TV.

Perhaps we could hasten the evolution of Christmas from faithful to financial by establishing October 15 as the beginning of the season. We could revive again the old English custom of "wassailing" so singing parents could accompany their "trick-or-treating" children!

As for thanksgiving, new carols could be created for the Yuletide repertoire in order to "christmas-ize" that holiday. For example:

(TUNE: Over the River and Through the Woods)
"Over the highways and to the mall for Black Friday sales we go.
We know the way well, and we’ll be there a spell,
For we don’t want to be left out. Oh, no.
Over the highways and to the mall to fill up our shopping bag.
We won’t think twice about the price
Though our spouse will probably nag.

Over the highways and to the mall, to each store that advertises.
We’ll get there at 3 in the morning, you’ll see,
In our Santa Claus disguises.
Over the highways and to the mall. Oh, shopping’s such a lark.
We’ll shop ‘till we drop and still not stop,
If we can find a place to park!"

Other new Christmas carols could focus upon the economic emphasis that has developed around that gift-giving holiday. For example, a Christmas Theme song for merchants:

(TUNE: White Christmas)
"I’m dreaming of a green Christmas, with every purchase that is made.
As the cash drawers jingle and credit cards mingle
with overdraft letters from the bank.
I’m dreaming of a green Christmas, to turn my bottom line to black.
With each ad in print or TV, I count all my profits, don’t you see!"

Of course, the shoppers, too, need a theme song:

(TUNE: God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen)
"God rest ye, merry shoppers. May you find your heart’s desire.
Go, grab it quick and pay for it before the price goes higher!
The special sales are really grand; I’ve bought more than I planned!
Oh, tidings of lots of gifts for me; stuff I don’t need.
Whoops! And tidings of money woes indeed!"

Christmas customs and celebrations have changed over the years. From a babe in a manger to a diamond necklace in a velvet box, our holiday outlook has changed. Christmas has evolved. But, like the evolution from apes to humans, it’s too early to tell whether the change is for the better or not!

24 Nov 2011 - mshr

Thursday, November 24, 2011

American White Pelican

While we were riding bicycles in the Edinburg Municipal Park today we saw many American White Pelicans. There were 60-70 in one lagoon and perhaps 23-35 in another lagoon.
As if to protect their territory from the migrating pelicans, two Neotropic Cormorants sit atop a pole watching over the scene.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I’m at an awkward age again! Half a century ago, I survived the painful transition from teenager to young adult, an awkward age I had been warned about. But I never realized that there would be more times when my body felt like it didn’t belong to me!

This current awkward age I am experiencing is difficult to explain, let alone live through. The calender, my hair color, and my knees and my thumbs all tell me I am old. The calendar doesn’t lie, of course. I could change the color of my hair, but that would only hide the truth. My knees are unpredictable: sometimes they will hold me up, sometimes they won’t and my thumbs have trouble grasping anything. And, all too frequently, all four joints hurt. I’m adding wrinkles on my face (and in other body areas!) and age spots are "bustin’ out all over." My balance is no longer steady, and occasionally I’m surprised to find myself on the ground. I’ve fallen because my coordination has been replaced by the lack of it!

When I look in the mirror, I barely recognize myself! Who is that aged creature staring back at me? I struggle to accept the image in that mirror as being me. That’s because, inside that aching and wrinkled old body, there lives a joyful and carefree little girl. That child still likes to run, jump, turn cartwheels and somersaults. But the body in which she is imprisoned can’t do those things anymore. "It must belong to somebody else," she concludes sadly.

What is the answer to my chronological dilemma? How can I cope with this awkward age of being a young self in an old body? Perhaps the solution is to learn how to act old, out of respect for my body. Maybe I should practice walking slowly; trade in my bicycle for a rocking chair; begin using large print reading material; learn how to use a cane; learn the fine art of grouchiness; and refuse to try anything new, greeting all changes with a skeptical "Bah! Humbug!"

That might satisfy the needs of my body, make me more comfortable and keep me up off the ground. But what would it do to that happy little inner child? Surely she would quit laughing, joking, trying to learn new skills and experience new challenges. It wouldn’t be long until she would shrivel up and die!

‘Learning to act old’ might ease the tension of my current awkward age. It could increase the harmony between my body and my self, but it would also remove most of the fun and excitement from my life. I would become old all the way through, both inside and out!

No, thank you, I’m not ready for that yet! I’ll take the painful joints, the graying hair, and the facial wrinkles in order to keep my inner child happy and active! I’ll just stay at this awkward age for as long as possible.

As for my occasional falls, the day will come when I must leave this worn-out body behind and travel on in the hope of getting a new, heavenly one. When I go, the scars on my body from all my falls will make it so much easier for my loved ones to identify my remains! So, even in the midst of an awkward age, there are blessings!

9 Nov 2011 - mshr

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Yesterday, Bruce gave me a dump lesson. Actually, I’ve been dumping for years, but not that smelly kind of stuff that accumulates in the "black water tank" of an RV. 
From an early age I tried dumping guilt upon my parents, but my Mother, wise woman that she was, put a quick end to that. "Sorry, my dear," she responded to my guilt-dumping attempt, "I have enough sins of my own to answer for. I’ll not accept the responsibility for yours!"

I was no more successful in trying to dump guilt upon my husband-to-be. On a cold November day, he silently opened the car window, letting in a blast of wintry wind. "What are you doing?" I shrieked.
"Just making room," he replied calmly, "so that what goes in here (pointing in his right ear) and comes out here (pointing out of his left ear) can keep on going!"
 But the kind of dumping Bruce was teaching me yesterday involved stuff more tangible than guilt. He’s been trying to teach me for years and I’ve always watched carefully as he did it. But then, I’ve always found some way to be "busy" the next time it needed to be done.
This time he’s preparing for cataract surgery which will put restrictions on his bending over. So, I really did need to learn how to dump the "black water" (that’s an RVers genteel way of referring to feces or poop!).

We walked outside, around to the back side of the fifth wheel. There he stopped, folded his arms, and waited expectantly. Suddenly I realized that, unlike previous lessons, he wasn’t going to demonstrate for me how to do it. He was going to make me do it myself!

I looked down at the maze of handles – four of them – that need to be pulled and pushed at the proper time, and I froze! All I could think about was that scene from the movie RV when Robin Williams tries to dump the accumulation in the black water tank of the RV he has rented to take his family on vacation.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. He, too, did not understand the system of hoses and valves required for the task. He ends up getting sprayed by a geyser of the smelly crud when his sewer hose proves to be too short to reach the dump drain!

I knew I wouldn’t have that problem. Our sewer hose is securely mounted on one of those caterpillar-like sets of plastic legs that carries it downhill and directly to the drain. I don’t know what the proper name is for that little device, but I think it ought to be called a "craperpillar."

With a mighty effort, I pushed the images of geysers of liquid brown sludge out of my mind. I bent over and pulled a handle. It was the right one! Then I pulled a second handle, and I could see that the desired action was taking place. Just for good measure I pulled the other two handles – one at a time – and another gush of water, thinner and lighter in color than the first, poured forth down the sewer hose. I had dumped the "gray water" (dishwater, shower water, and stuff that’s not so contaminated), too.

Then it was time to push the handles in and close off the valves, in the proper order, of course. That part wasn’t nearly so scary, but another image flashed through my mind.

Several years ago, at a state park in Louisana, Bruce waited in line for his turn at the public dump station. As he waited, he couldn’t help but hear the booming voice of a man behind him in line. The loudmouth was bragging about how most people don’t know how to dump properly, but he did.

 Bruce completed his task, pulled forward out of the dump station and turned around just in time to see a disaster. The braggart had pulled up to the dump, connected his sewer hoses, placed the end down the drain, and pulled the release handle on his black water tank. Unfortunately, the hose connections were not tight enough and gave way under the pressure of the exiting fecal fluid! There was no geyser this time, but there was a wide-spread stinking mess and lots of quiet chuckling in the crowd around him.

So, I mentally patted myself on the back at completing the task in a clean and efficient way. Now, if I can just remember how I did it when I need to do it all by myself!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


        You are all familiar with the months of January, February, March, December, etc. I’m sure you’ve used terms such as "the summer months" or "the winter months." Perhaps you’ve even heard the saying "a month of Sundays" (I don’t know what it means, either!). Well, currently, we are discovering another kind of thirty-day span: "the month of the doctor." Our October schedule this year has been entirely controlled by medical appointments!

         It may just be an unavoidable part of the aging process; one of life’s necessary nuisances. On the other hand, it could be the result of our annual summertime travels. From May through September, we visit medical professionals only if an emergency arises. Unless bronchitis, heart palpitations, or something equally fear-inspiring occurs, we steer clear of doctors in the summer.

         The result of our summertime avoidance of health practitioners is that they all want to see us for a semi-annual check-up at the same time in the fall. Returning to our half-year home in south Texas in late September, we are ushered into our "medical month" in early October.

         This year, doctor and dentist appointments consumed nine of the 31 days of that month. There were appointments for each of us with the eye doctor (not just any eye doctor, mind you, but a retinal specialist!), the dentist, the lab for blood work, our family doctor. Bruce then visited a different eye doctor (this one a cataract surgeon!) This week he will go back to the eye clinic for pre-op preparations, to the heart doctor for routine testing, and we will both see the dermatologist. Of course, Bruce will have to go back to the cardiologist for the results of his heart tests.

         Health care will have consumed nearly one-third of our entire month, and we’re still healthy! If we were sick, no doubt we’d owe the health care system every day of our schedules as well as our lives and our bank accounts!

         This year it looks as if "medical month" will be extended beyond October. We already have five more appointments scheduled in November. However, each time we read the list of obituaries in the daily paper, it is sobering to find so many listed there who are younger than we are. We breathe a prayer of thanks that our names are not yet included. We give thanks, too, for the skill and expertise of all those medical professionals who gobble up our schedules, for they are a major reason that we are still standing upright and above the sod.

         Doctors are sometimes criticized for "thinking they are God." But that misconception is not really surprising. They spend every hour of their professional lives trying to fix or improve upon the imperfections and wear-and-tear in God’s finest creation: the human body and mind. Their knowledge of the human body and mind (or at least of a small part of it!) is continually digging deeper into the mysteries the Creator has so far kept hidden.

       The story is told of a doctor who died and went to heaven. He checked in with St. Peter at the pearly gates and was told, "You’ll need to wait a little while before God can see you. You can make yourself comfortable in the waiting room around the corner. Your name will be called when God is ready to see you." The doctor was not used to waiting for others but he tried to make the best of it, thumbing through a magazine. 

        After about an hour, he could no longer contain his impatience. He slammed down the magazine and went back out to the pearly gates and let St. Peter know of his frustration.

         "Look, Pete," he said loudly, "You said it would only be a little while until God would see me. It’s already been over an hour and I still haven’t been called in. Am I going to have to wait for all eternity before I get my chance to stand before my Creator?"

          "Well, sir, I hope not," responded St. Peter. "I’m sorry for the delay in your appointment. But, you see, today God thinks He’s a doctor!"

          So, in the coming weeks, as we wait our turns in various medical offices, we’ll try to remember the Heavenly Healer and be patient. But we will also be thankful that our "medical month" only lasts about 60 days this year!

24 Oct 2011 - mshr

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sandcastle Days at South Padre Island

Today we visited the 24th Annual Sandcastle Days at South Padre Island, Texas. 
What a delightful event!

We were welcomed to the competition area of the beach by this sand-sculptured sign.
The event features competitions at various levels of artistic skill: professionals (called Masters of Sand), and amateurs (Family and Friends Division, Kids & Castles Division, and Teen Division).
Cat o' Nine Tales
This artistic sculpture won the Texas State Sandcastle Championship for 2011. 
Note the play on words "tails" and "tales."
A few of the sand sculptures really looked like castles!  This one, in one of the amateur divisions, was really ornate and detailed, both front and back.  Individual steps were shaped on stairways and fancy archways were hollowed out like real-life doorways.

This castle, in the amateur division of "Family and Friends" was tall, with winding staircases and roofed turrets high above the main structure.  While we admired the workmanship, we also wondered how long it took to design, shape and build such a masterpiece.
In this sandy spectacular one can see a man, sitting in front of a tall column, playing his guitar.  This, too, was entered from one of the amateur divisions.
"Calavera del Toro" by Carl Jara of Ohio
This ghastly work by another Master of Sand -- whose title translates as "Skeleton of the Bull" --  was probably inspired by the approach of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  It is a combination of Hallowe'en and Memorial Day that is celebrated throughout the Hispanic world.
"Sea Saw" by Kirk Rademaker of California.
"Padre Palace" by Amazin' Walter McDonald of South Padre Island.
This masterpiece, too, was created by a Master of Sand. 
It was voted the People's Choice Winner of the competition.
Overview of "Masters of Sand" division of Sandcastle Days
Organizers of the four day event anticipated as many as 30,000 visitors.
The week-end attraction also includes free sand castle building lessons,
live music by a local band, and
a "Castles by Candlelight" shrimp boil.
Mother Nature blessed the celebration with nearly perfect weather,
so the respiratory irritation of a little red tide didn't keep the spectators away.
Colorful kites fllying above Sandcastle Days.
Although the focus of the event was on sand sculptures,
kite enthusiasts decorated the sky above the competition area 
with their brightly colored and variously shaped air-borne creatures.
The sand, the sky, and the sea all seemed to celebrate together with us
the creativity and skill of those who sculpt in sand.