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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


You’ll never see it recorded in world history alongside the Trojan war, the Crimean war, the French revolution or the wars fought by the Crusaders to “liberate” the Holy City Jerusalem from the pagan Muslims. You won’t even find it in American history where the Revolutionary war, the French and Indian wars, the war between the States, the “war to end all wars,” the “war to make the world safe for democracy,” the VietNam war, and the “War on Poverty,” are described. The Republicans vs. Democrats war taking place currently in the U.S. Congress will, no doubt, be discussed in future history books. The “Great Sand Burr War,” will never be recorded by historians, however, so I myself must insure that it is not forgotten!

I like to think of myself as a tolerant and accepting person (whether or not that’s true!). I believe in the “live and let live” philosophy of life. But my tolerance and acceptance has limits. It ends when I encounter a sand burr! In the midst of my flower beds, in the grass of our side yard, or imbedded in a carpet in our living room, I hate sand burrs!

Now, for you Northerners who have never encountered those prickly little south Texas pests, I’ll try to explain. Sand burrs are bead-sized stickers, shaped like a curled up porcupine ready to strike. They grow in clusters on a certain type of vine that masquerades as grass and loves to infest lawns and grassy areas. The vines are nearly indestructible and flourish in drought-like conditions when other (respectable) vegetation is dying of thirst. Sand burr vines are resistant to weed sprays which kill the surrounding plants. Rabbits, and other small animals, give them a wide berth and eat decorative plants instead.

The vines, with their Velcro-like burrs attached, can grow to a length of 6 or 8 feet, or longer if left undisturbed. Then, when a bare foot, a pant leg, a finger, or anything, happens to touch one of those invisible little spiny clusters, the burrs attach themselves painfully to the exposed part. Shoes sometimes carry the spiny little burrs into the house where they embed themselves in rugs and carpets, only to be discovered by a bare foot on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. So, now you know why I hate sand burrs!

I’d show you a picture of the prickly pest if I had one, but I don’t. We’ve never found anything photogenic about sand burrs!

Year after year, when we return to the Valley, I have to spend hours waging war against them. They especially love one of our flower beds. There, the vines hide in the soil and grow silently, poking an occasional green frond up above the flowers. But, beneath the thick leaves of the ground cover, the sand burr vines invade the entire patch. They twine themselves around the stems of the flowers and slowly choke or starve them to death. I cannot sit idly by and let my sworn enemy destroy the flowers I’ve worked so hard to nurture.

So, again this year, I declared war on the sand burrs in my flower bed! I donned my palm protected canvas garden gloves and grabbed my weed bucket. I waded out into the center of the patch, and began pulling. My bucket was filling up fast with yard after yard of green and brown vines. I discovered, however, that the spiky little burrs love canvas and will cling to it stubbornly. They quickly covered my gloves and had to be painfully removed with bare fingers!
The next day I tried leather gloves and found them far more suitable armor for sand burr warfare.

Early that second morning of conflict, I learned just how desperate my vegetative enemy had become. The sand burrs and vines had enlisted mosquitoes or other biting insects in support of their cause! My arms, legs and neck were covered with itchy, red blotches. I was getting desperate but becoming ever more determined.

By day three I had a strategy. The evening before I had enlisted the help of a powerful ally: the water hose. The one thing sand burrs don’t like is water, so my strategy was to drown them out. I pulled what I could see, and then flooded them again.

After three days, the battlefield was quiet. No healthy green fronds of the sand burr vines were visible above the flowers. But it was just a stalemate, not a victory. My sneaky enemy vines were quietly growing new and stronger roots under the ground. They were just waiting for the showers to cease so they could again attack in force.

Sure enough, after a week-long cease fire, I attacked again and discovered an even thicker maze of enemy vines hidden beneath my healthy green plants! I pulled and I yanked; I yanked and I pulled. I filled up another weed bucket with vine casualties, but they were everywhere. They had even curled themselves around the roots of the healthy plants so that when I pulled them up, they brought up innocent bystanders with them. I had to admit defeat when the “body count” in my week bucket included more flowers than sand burrs! I know that, in the end, I’m going to lose this Great Sand Burr War. But I would at least like to win the battle for my flower beds!

10/6/2011 - mshr