Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Festival of Lights, 2013

One of the loveliest of holiday celebrations in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is the "Festival of Lights."  Hidalgo, a small city about thirty miles from our south Texas home, is located on the northern bank of the Rio Grande River.  It has hosted this event for twenty-two years.

The town is old, established in 1749 by José de Escandon, an early Spanish explorer of the area.  It has been known by various names over its many years of existence but now proudly bears the name of Father Miguel Hidalgo, the inspiration for Mexico's independence from Spain.  A statue of its namesake stands at the entrance to the city park.  More than 97% of Hidalgo's 11,198 residents are Hispanic, over 44% living below the U.S. poverty line.  Most of the year, the city is best known as the location of the northern end of the busiest international bridge which connects Hidalgo, Texas, to Reynosa, Mexico.

But, during the month of December, Hidalgo throws a holiday party of epic proportions, a treat for the eyes, ears, taste buds and wallets!  Each evening during the month, the fun begins before dark as holiday celebrants arrive for dinner.  Approaching City Hall on the main plaza of town, clues to the coming festivities can be seen in every direction.

The empty stage in front of City Hall holds the promise of entertainment to come.  Dinner is prepared and served as a fund-raising event for one of the local school or community groups and diners enjoy their feast at tables prepared for them on the porch of the city Hall building.
As the sun sinks below the horizon and daylight fades, more than three million festival lights begin to come alive.
Trains, trolleys and horse-drawn wagons get in line to load up for the holiday light tour of the city.
The waiting lines for the tours are long so Washboard Willie, a wandering minstrel, entertains the queues by singing Christmas songs, accompanying himself with sleigh bells and washboard.
Finally dark descends and the tour begins.  Up and down the bumpy streets of Hidalgo the touring vehicles make their slow way.  Now and then the trolley slows or stops so the narrator can point out a special display, such as the house of musician Ramon Ayala, the local celebrity.  His elegant home is always festooned with lights from the ground to the rafters including all the surrounding trees!
The displays are varied, bright, creative and beautiful. 
They range from sublime reminders of the real meaning of Christmas,
through imaginative and symbolic images,
to this whimsical illustration of the Christmas song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Texans never pass up an opportunity to brag about their state, so even Christmas light displays include a bit of Texas pride. This display includes an armadillo, the Lone Star, the Texas statehouse, a spaceship representing Houston, and all, of course, in the patriotic colors of red, white and blue.
Other displays have even less connection to the coming holiday, such as this lighted image of a London double-decker bus.  Brightly colored dinosaurs, the Loch Ness monster, butterflies and peacocks add variety to the displays.  Christmas cards, designed and drawn by local school students, line the walls and fences along the tour route.
Over fifty commercial sponsors also provide elaborate and prominent light displays.  Sponsors include local TV and newspapers (both English and Spanish language media), the H-E-B grocery chain, Hershey's, Kleenix, Pepsi, Kraft, Oreo, Maxwell House, and, of course, the City of Hidalgo.
After an hour-long tour of over 900 light displays lining the city streets, the trolley returns its visitors back to the stage in front of City Hall.  It is no longer empty but is filled with the music of the boys' choir of Estudiantina Guadalupana from San Luis Potosi, Mexico.  The boys are dressed in outfits resembling medieval minstrels and they sing enthusiastically in both Spanish and English. 
(If you look carefully at the above picture, a very small boy is just barely visible to the right of the speaker on the left side of the stage.  We estimated his age to be no more than five years but he sang a solo in a voice ten times his size and with all the stage presence of a professional!) 
We hope this internet tour gives you a hint as to why Hidalgo's "Festival of Lights" is one of our favorite holiday outings, year after year.   With this virtual tour, we send our holiday greetings to all of you:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Eskimos in deep south Texas?

Gazing out my window for the past several days, I’ve seen a strange sight. There’s been little foot traffic outdoors, but I can clearly see that the folks who are out walking are all bundled up in winter jackets, knit caps or hoods, and gloves! Has south Texas been invaded by Eskimos?

They don’t look like the conventional Arctic-circle-type of Eskimos, though. I’ve seen no fur parkas, trousers or muckluck boots. No sled dogs have been prowling around our neighborhood and there are no dogsleds to be seen. Of course, there’s no snow for the sleds to travel on, either! So what’s going on?

A cold front has hit south Texas. Three days ago, in the afternoon it was sunny and 85 degrees. Down here, near the Mexican border, they call that "Chamber of Commerce weather." Twelve hours later, it was windy, cloudy with a cold drizzle and was 44 degrees! The temperatures hovered in the 40s all day, and the next morning had fallen to 38. So, those strange figures I’m seeing outdoors are just Winter Texans trying to keep warm!

Now 38 degrees doesn’t sound cold to those of you up north who are reading thermometers registering below zero. You may also be experiencing blizzards or ice storms which deep south Texas has so far escaped.

You’re right, of course, it’s not REALLY cold. But many of us down here have traveled thousands of miles just to escape northern winters! We’ve sold our snow blowers, given away our snow shovels and ice-melting salt. Some of us even got rid of our winter coats, hats and gloves, thinking we’d not need them again.

Then, suddenly, our "Chamber of Commerce weather" becomes an "Arctic Blast" instead. We have to scurry around to find the layers of clothes we need to survive, and we end up looking like overstuffed snowpeople even though we have no snow!

So, the weirdly waddling walkers I’m seeing out my window are winter-wrapped Temporary Texans, not Eskimos! We’ve all driven many miles and many days trying to escape the bitter winters of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Maine, Colorado or Canada. But the cold weather has caught up with us anyway, and made emergency Eskimos of all of us, in spite of our attempts to find summer in December!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Saved by a Stranger

The skirt only cost 50 cents at a yard sale some years back. It is a bright combination of turquoise, white and copper-color with black accents in a southwestern desert motif. Many yards of material are gathered on its wide, elastic waistband and an even fuller ruffle swirls around the bottom of the skirt. 

It looked like it was made for dancing. I paid the half dollar and took it home. Over the years, topped with a plain white knit blouse, it has been the perfect outfit for our weekend outings to public dances. The fullness of the skirt flares out like an air-filled sail as we swing and swirl in various dance steps.

There is, however, a hidden danger I had never even considered. Several weeks ago, dancing at a neighboring RV Park, I visited the ladies’ room at the break between music sets. We had chosen seats on the opposite side of the dance floor from the restrooms. The lights were high and the dancers were clustered around in small groups resting and visiting with friends.

I walked across the dance floor – clumsily as usual – reached my seat and sat down. But something was wrong! I felt the cold plastic of the seat of the chair against the backs of my bare thighs! I was trying to unobtrusively solve this mystery when a lady – a perfect stranger I had never seen before – approached me.  She didn’t even introduce herself; she just came very close to my ear and whispered, "Your skirt is caught in the elastic of your panties!"

I had walked nonchalantly across the width of the dance floor, under bright lights and within view of dozens of other dancers, with the back of my ruffled skirt tucked into my underwear! What a sight I must have made, with the backs of my bare legs and my underpants revealed for all to see!

I thanked her profusely. I was able – rather inconspicuously – to rearrange my outfit to a more decent position. Then I made a hasty return to the ladies’ room to fix the problem. I shall be eternally grateful for that stranger who was kind enough to save me from further embarrassment!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Decline and Fall of Democracy

"U. S. government shut-down!"
All the news media tout.
So what is this latest
Congressional quagmire about?
The President's not explaining;
Dems won't talk to the G. O. P.
Workers laid off receive back pay
From the taxes of you and me!
National parks and monuments closed.
Doors shut at the C D C.
N I H suspends its research
That could benefit you and me!
The nation's blood is boiling.
It's mood from "mad red" to "sad blue,"
While the rich get richer, the poor go hungry,
And the rest of us get the "flew."
So, "government of the people, for the people,"
And by them has now been axe'd,
Replaced by government in spite of the people,
Beneath them and behind their backs!

To Share or Not to Share

Marriage means sharing; that’s the way it must be
When two are joined as one.
You must share your love, your hopes and dreams
Or trouble has begun.
You must share your troubles and your smiles,
Your schedules, your space, your time.
Perhaps you’ll even share in-laws and kids,
As up life’s hills you climb.

You’ll share your money and property.
You may even share your name.
Ah, once those vows at the altar are said,
Life never again is the same.
BUT ...
Even in marriage there are limits to sharing.
If you don’t respect them, you’ll lose all your caring.
Sharing a flu bug goes beyond and above
All the requirements of marriage and love!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ark Anxiety

I think I know how the animals felt
As they floated in Noah's ark
Above a trackless, watery world
Without a place to park.
The ark was small; its cargo large.
'Twas cramped, and no doubt smelly.
They had nothing to do but bide their time;
They didn't even have a telly!
Can you imagine the foxes and geese,
The elephants and bees
Floating together for many long days?
There must have been many skinned knees.
Or worse. 
 There must have been some times
When they wanted to kill each other.
It surely took all of Noah's skill
To protect them from one another.
But a little white dove with an olive branch
Saved them all from extinction.
People, animals and birds survived
(even the flamingo, "the pink one").
I sympathize.  We've had daily hard rain
For nearly three weeks straight.
We've not yet started to build an ark
But how much longer can we wait?
There's standing water everywhere,
And mud up to our skinned knees.
Thank God for those drought-busting drops,
But send a dove with an olive branch, PLEASE!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pilgrim's Progress Report

Our 2013 Summer Tour is now over and we have returned safely and happily to our Texas winter home.  We have not been very faithful about submitting progress reports but since many of you faithfully followed us through all the stops on our Summer Tour, I think we owe you some personal reflections on our RV Adventures.

Eight years, four months, and fourteen days ago we sold our home in the town where we had lived for twenty-five years.  We had previously bought a thirty-two foot fifth-wheel trailer and a Ford 350 pick-up to tow it.  The next day, we hitched up and headed south in it as our full-time home.

Many friends -- and some family members -- thought we were crazy, of course.  They chose a variety of terms to describe us and our unconventional lifestyle:  "gypsies," "vagrants," "drifters," "trailer trash," and, of course, the IRS definition of full time RVers as "moderately affluent homeless."  In self-defense against labels like these, we chose to identify ourselves as "The Pilgrim Pair" because, for us, it felt more like a pilgrimage than a cop-out!  Thus the name of this communication: Pilgrim's Progress Report.

We've not done well in making statistical reports on our journey, but we've driven over 146,000 miles in these 8 plus years.  This summer alone, we towed the trailer 6400 miles and drove the truck an additional 2000 miles  We've had at least four major repair jobs on the truck, but no accidents.  The trailer has had a couple of malfunctions requiring trips back to the factory in Junction City, Kansas.  Considering its age -- 12 years -- it's doing quite well, however. 

In our eight year sojourn, we have visited -- once, twice, or regularly -- over ninety relatives and friends too many to count.  We've made scores of new friends along the way as well.

We were reminiscing the other day about how things have changed since we took up full-time residence in our RV.  For example, fuel costs more but the diesel fuel our truck needs is easier to find these days.  There seem to be more orange barrels and road repair and construction than there used to be.

Internet access for us on the road has improved in a major way so that on-line shopping, bill-paying and banking frees us from paperwork and standing in line waiting.  The recent improvements in GPS technology have been a great blessing for us as we wander into many unfamiliar areas.

I no longer get cold chills up my spine when I consider the kinds of emergencies that might arise: vehicle breakdown, sudden illnesses, getting lost in an unfamiliar area, getting medication refills, getting "lost" from our mail, etc.  I no longer worry about any of them because they have all happened and we have survived!

One change we could not adequately plan for, however, is that old age happens.  We knew that vehicles age, and that some other people do, also.  We never imagined, however, that we might feel its effects!  We are finding, though, that we can't work as hard or as long as we used to; morning aches assail us in ways they never used to do; walking or biking uphill is harder work than it used to be; 10 pm seems to come quicker than ever before; and nobody even asks anymore whether we are old enough to qualify for a "senior discount"! 

We're coping with elder-hood the best we can.  We never pass up a roadside rest area or another chance for a potty break.  We always hold the handrail when going up or down stairs.  We only read the headlines and pictures in the newspaper since the print has gotten so much smaller!  And, finally, the crowning adjustment to advancing age: I can now use the "accessible" stall in the women's room without a pang of guilt! 

Despite these inconvenient detail, this Pilgrim's Progress Report is positive!  We still agree that "Retired" is what we always wanted to be when we grew up, and we're making the most of it.  (We are working on a Plan B for when we must hang up the keys, however!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


If love's what makes the world go 'round,
As I've heard sages say,
Then why do I hate lovebugs so much
When we hit them along our way?
Love seems to guide their every move,
They travel two by two.
Because they're locked to each other's butts,
What else could they do?
They're only found in southern climes;
The North is not their place.
But, if I could, I really would
Send them all to outer space!
They're so busy lovin' they don't think
To watch where they are headed.
So unnumbered hordes of these little pests
On vehicles, get smashed and embedded!
They smush across the windshield,
The bumper, radiator, and hood.
They leave -- not blood -- but a sticky
Gooey mess that is not good!
We must stop as soon as we safely can
To scrub them off while wet.
They'll make a stain if we let 'em dry.
Then, we hit another set!
So, if lovebugs are examples of love,
It's a kind that we don't need.
In the lovely flower garden of life
Lovebugs are naught but a weed!
As world turners, lovebugs are a flop.
Can't turn themselves, I'd say.
But I'd be eternally grateful
If they'd just get out of our way!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Trouble on the Trace

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a beautiful drive.  It is a U.S. National Park that is perhaps 200 to 300 feet wide and 444 miles long, running from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.  It passes through parts of the states of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Construction of the Natchez Trace Parkway was begun in 1939 but was not completed until 2005.  But the history of the Natchez Trace is very old.  Prehistoric animals began establishing the trails through the thick forests as they sought out water, salt, and grazing resources.  Burial mounds near the Trace dating back 2000 years indicate that the peoples of the middle Woodlands culture used those animal trails in their migratory lifestyle.. 

Indians of the Mississippian culture -- the Choctaw and Chickasaw -- developed those early animal trails into an elaborate system of foot trails.  These trails enabled them to move through the dense woodlands with ease by the early 1700s.  An unnamed Frenchman, in 1742, was the first European known to have traveled the early Trace.  He complained about "the awful conditions" he found there during his travels. 

As the 18th century progressed, however, farmers and merchants from the Ohio Territories and "Kaintucks" from south of the Ohio River began using the Trace in increasing numbers.  They would float their produce or merchandise down the Ohio River on flat boats and on down the Mighty Mississippi to Natchez or New Orleans to sell.  Completing their business, they returned home either on foot or by horseback.  The steamboat, which could travel against the river's current, had not yet been invented.  The old Natchez Trace, they discovered, was a well marked route back north.

President Thomas Jefferson, eager to develop the United States' frontier westward, commissioned the Natchez Trace as a postal road in 1801.  Within ten years, the Trace was navigable by wagon.  The invention of the steamboat a few years later gradually put the Trace out of business as the route of choice for northbound travelers.

From its very early days, The Natchez Trace was called "The Devil's Backbone" because trouble seemed to lurk along its rugged miles.  Hostile Indians were a menace to the traveler at unexpected places.  Wild animals and snakes roamed the forests.  Lack of pure water and disease were common in the portions of the Trace at lower elevations.  Highwaymen roamed the route seeking to lighten the purses of the returning sellers of goods.

Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, was killed on the Trace in a stand (overnight lodging) in which he had taken refuge.  He was on his way to Washington, D.C. and to this day it remains a mystery whether his death was murder or suicide.

Twelve Confederate soldiers lie buried near the Trace.  There is nothing that identifies their names, ranks, or the dates or causes of their deaths.

Dozens of prehistoric Indian burial mounds testify to the troubles of life on the Trace in very early times.  The deserted town of Rocky Springs bears silent witness to the effects of the Civil War, yellow fever, the boll weevil and soil erosion during the late 1800s.  The Trace has, over the years, earned its nickname, "The Devil's Backbone."

Well, last Thursday, we, too, experienced trouble on the Trace.  No hostile Indians, dangerous wildlife, or sneaky highwaymen.  No illness or unexpected death.  No travel headaches (except that many of the public restrooms were closed due to the "sequestration"!).  No truck problems, and we didn't even get lost!

We did, however, run into trouble as we traveled "The Devil's Backbone."  Stopping for lunch at a roadside point of interest, I unlocked the door of the trailer and went in.  I was greeted by a dessert bowl upside down in the walkway.  It was intact, but behind it was a sizeable pile of dishes and pieces and broken shards of glass!

I remembered that several hours earlier we had bounced our way across an especially rough bridge.  Bruce had commented, "That will probably scramble some things in the kitchen!"  Well, he was right.  We had sixteen scrambled bowls.  The pantry cupboard door had bounced open.  Even though it is tucked away beside the wall of the slide, the storage bin had fallen out, crashed to the floor and scattered dishes hither and yon!

What a mess!  Lunch was late as we cleaned up shards and slivers of broken glass.  The devil may have been laughing at the trouble he had caused us, but we had a good laugh, too.  Only four of the sixteen bowls were broken, and nobody got hurt!  Our troubles on the Trace could have been so much worse!

Nashville Nightlife

Stop #30 for our 2013 Summer Tour was a visit with a friend who lives near Nashville, Tennessee.  Nashville's greatest "claim to fame" is, of course, country music.  Our friend had bought tickets for all of us to a club in downtown Nashville called the "3rd and Lindsley."

 Our friend is a fan of the group "The Time Jumpers" which was featured at 3rd and Lindsley weekly on Monday nights.

Vince Gill, one of the band's vocalists and guitarists, has a successful career as a soloist.  Several of the other band members have repeatedly won awards for excellence in the country music field.  "The Time Jumpers" show began at 9 pm, but the opening act began at 7 and was a very pleasant surprise!

A young man by the name of Pete Huttlinger was the leader of a band that did not have a catchy name. But, oh! what a soul-soothing sound.  They played music from their latest CD release entitled "McGuire's Landing."  Pete had not only composed the 15 pieces of music on the disc, but he also wrote a story that tied all of the music into his tale! 
A little later, when a man came around to our table selling the "McGuire's Landing" CD, we bought it, curious to hear the rest of the music.  (Of course, the salesman's pitch to Bruce, "Don't you want to buy a copy for your daughter?" (ME!) helped clinch the deal!)  We've played it over and over again as we've made our way south to our Texas winter-home.  The music just keeps singing in our heads
What a double treat we got when our friend took us out to enjoy the Nashville nightlife!

National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) 2013


National Older Adult Conference of the Church of the Brethren is not for kids; not even for teenagers or young adults!  Only the over 55 crowd are invited to attend.

Every two years, for about four days, this "aged assembly" meets in Stuart Auditorium at the Lake Junaluska conference center in North Carolina.  Chief Junaluska himself greets us at every arrival and departure.
This year, September 2 to 6, about 800 "seasoned citizens," gathered for worship.  Many were over eighty years of age and the eldest present was ninety-five.
"Healing Springs Forth," from the biblical book of Isaiah, chapter 58, was the theme which guided our time together. 

We sang a lot, under inspired music leadership,
and enjoyed the music of an excellent choir.  We ate a lot of ice cream (the non-drinking Brethren equivalent of booze).
We learned a lot in daily Bible studies on the theme.
We listened -- and "Amen"d -- a lot to the messages of several inspiring preachers and lecturers.
We laughed a lot at other speakers on topics such as "Hillbilly is Not Politically Correct."
Some of us also shed tears during a drama dealing openly with mental illness and suicide. 

Applause was loud, long, and well-deserved at the keyboard concert given by a young couple of talented musicians from Pennsylvania.
In four short days, many of us felt we had blossomed from "old age" into engagement with life again!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lake Junaluska and the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival

Tucked away in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, about 20 miles from Asheville, North Carolina, is the small town of Lake Junaluska.
It is home to a large and lovely man-made lake named for a prominent chief of the Cherokees.  For centuries, this land was theirs.  
For the past 100 years however, it has been the home of a retreat and conference center operated by the United Methodist Church of the Southeastern District.

This was stop #29 on our 2013 Summer tour.  Every two years this center hosts the National Older Adult Conference of the Church of the Brethren, our church family.
We enjoy the use of their spacious auditorium and many comfortable meeting rooms for about four days.
Sleeping accommodations range from this elegant hotel to the very simple campground where we stayed.
Inspiration Point, on a high rocky bank, overlooks the lake.
But our favorite spot -- and one of the reasons we arrived four days early -- is the walking trail around the lake.  Circling the entire lake is four miles but this foot-bridge cuts one half mile off the hike.
At the far end of the lake, this ancient, one-lane vehicle bridge crosses above the dam where walkers are drenched in the sound of water rushing down to the creek below.
Another reason for our early arrival -- besides being guaranteed a camp site for Labor Day week-end! -- was the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival.
This celebration of mountain music and dance is regularly held over Labor Day week-end in the main auditorium at Lake Junaluska Conference Center.
How we enjoyed two evenings of toe-tapping, hand-clapping mountain folk music and the many skilled and energetic groups of cloggers.  We look forward to the next Smoky Mountain Folk Festival in two years. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Elk Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains

We arrived at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, Stop #29, a few days before our conference was scheduled to begin.    It's always good to have a few days of rest and catch-up time between travels, and this is the perfect place for that. 

The small town, a little west of Asheville, is centered around a large, beautiful Methodist Conference Center and its 400 acre lake.  It has allowed us to refresh both body and spirit with daily walks around the lake and a delightful Labor Day Mountain Folk Festival of music and dance.

The first night we arrived, we took the advice of other campers and went elk hunting in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.  We don't hunt armed with guns or bows and arrows, of course, but with cameras and curiosity.

The scenery was breath-taking as we climbed higher and higher along the Blue Ridge Parkway and connecting mountain roads.  But no elk to be seen.
Each turn and twist of the road opened to us a new vista of beauty  But no elk.
Our ears crackled with the decreasing air pressure as we drew nearer to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  But not a four-legged creature was stirring.
Then, ever so quietly, out of a dense thicket of trees and brush, strolled this magnificent looking creature, a young but full grown female elk.  We never learned the reason for the ear tags and necklace she wore, but she gazed around calmly as if she was used to being the entertainment for a crowd of human gawkers with cameras.
While she got down to the business of eating dinner,
two more female members of her family arrived, one full-grown with a nursing calf.
We watched as the family ate dinner together.
If we kept quiet and still, these residents of the forest did not seem to be camera-shy.
Then, to our surprise and delight, Papa came home to supper, too!
He was, indeed, a noble specimen of elk-hood: a full-grown male with a ten-point rack of antlers.
He grazed on the lush green grass, leafy vines and tree leaves as he watched over his family. When his stomach got full and his patience got short, he encouraged his family to move on.
Our elk-hunting safari had been more successful than we could ever have imagined!