Monday, February 24, 2014

New Best Friend

She's been here all the time, but I really hadn't noticed her before.  In the past several days, however, we've been spending a lot of time together.  I've discovered that she is always ready to help.  She isn't talkative or gossipy, and is always compassionate and ready to give a warm hug when needed.  She is wonderfully accepting, whisking away any nastiness I may share with her.  Dependability could be her middle name, but she is also wonderfully flexible, graciously doing things my way and never insisting on her own.

My new best friend is not a person, however.  She is an appliance!  A urinary tract infection has given me a great deal of time to spend on the toilet these past few days.  I've come to consider her a close friend, "a buttock buddy," so to speak.  I so appreciate her non-judgmental receptiveness and her constant, 24/7, availability.  Her gentle warm hugs are comforting, especially in the middle of a dark and sleepless night.

Since my doctor's appointment last Friday, she and I are not spending quite so much time together.  But "a friend in need is a friend indeed" and my new best friend is just that kind of companion!

Monday, February 17, 2014

High tech finance

"To err is human; to forgive, divine," wrote some wise person long ago.  Some wise person of more recent times has amended that saying to make it more applicable to the 21st century:  "To err is human; but it takes a computer to make a real mess of things!"  The last few weeks we have learned the truth of that modern-day version.

We decided it was time for us to replace our Ford truck.  It was only nine years old and had a mere 150,000 miles on it, just a good start for a diesel engine we had heard.  Unfortunately, during those years and miles, it had swallowed up in repair bills nearly as much money as it had cost us to buy it new!  That money was coming out of our retirement savings.  At the rate we were spending it on truck repairs, it would soon run out and we'd have to die before we were ready!

We shopped carefully for a truck that would meet our needs -- and we found it!  They offered us a really good trade-in on our aging Ford, but they weren't willing to trade us even up.  They expected money -- quite a bit of it -- besides our truck.

Bruce contacted our financial gurus and asked them to sell some investments and forward the appropriate amount to our bank account.  We waited, and then we waited some more.  No financial transfer appeared in our bank account.  Then we got a notice that the stocks had been sold, but still no increase in the amount of our checking account.

Finally, after nearly ten days, there it was!  The amount of money we had requested appeared in our checking account!  But it was recorded there in RED, not BLACK!  Our account -- rather than being credited with the money we had requested -- was debited by that same amount!  In one mistaken key stroke of a computer, we were reduced to paupers!  We were suddenly in debt to almost everybody in the world and it looked as if we would be confined to debtor's prison until we could pay back every penny!

The notice from the bank came, of course, on a Friday afternoon not long before closing time for the bank and the office of our financial advisor.  A quick phone call to the bank eased our minds a little.  The person who took our call was sympathetic but could do nothing until she was notified of the mistake by the person who had made it.  The office of the person who had erred was closed for the week-end!

We knew that the several checks outstanding on that account would add to our overdraft problem.  We were getting worried, and took a drastic measure: we called one of our money managers at his home on Friday evening and explained the situation.  He was very embarrassed and apologetic about the mistake, but he couldn't do anything about it until at least Monday morning when people would be back in their respective offices.  Saturday morning, the overdraft fees were already beginning to accumulate/.

We spent the weekend wondering how long it would take to pay back a sum of five figures.  What would it do to our credit score if those other checks came in and were returned for "Insufficient Funds"?   Would the bank really believe that it was an error?  What about all the fees required to set it straight?

But our story has a happy ending.  Early Monday morning we received notification that the error was being corrected electronically.  The financial advisor's office assured us that they would pay any and all fees incurred in this computer mix-up.  By Monday afternoon, the technological mishap had been made right, costing us nothing but some shock and anxiety!

That 21st century wise person was right: "To err is human; but it takes a computer to make a real mess of things."  Thank goodness that humans can still correct computer errors!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rio Grande Valley Music Festival

Mention "Texas" and folks will imagine longhorn cattle, cowboys, oil fields, Hispanic culture, sagebrush, and wide open spaces.  Rarely will the Lone Star state be associated with music.  But, last week we enjoyed some of the best (and some not so good!) Country Western music and Mexican folksongs.

We spent a day at the Rio Grande Valley Music Festival.  It is an annual event, held at the Livestock Show Grounds in Mercedes, just a half hour's drive southeast of our winter home.  Entertainers donate their talents and time and all proceeds go to a fund which supports music education in the schools of the area.

This was our first chance to attend, and the event reminded me of the county fairs I had attended so often back in Ohio.  Only, instead viewing livestock and domestic arts, on the five stages set up for the festival we listened to a wide variety of  entertainers. 

Some of the artists were local, but many had traveled a great distance.

For example, the "Manitoba Sisters," performing in a tent on Stage 4, had traveled many miles from home.  The four sisters performed on banjo, guitars, and keyboard and were backed up by a band of RGV Music Festival volunteers.
A group of mostly young persons, who called themselves "Cross Strung"  hailed from Salt Lake City, Utah.  They are seen here performing on Stage 1 in the main building on the show grounds, 
 They featured acoustic guitar, electric guitar, violins (fiddles), and the adult of the group played several different instruments including bodhrán (Irish frame drum), guitar, and Irish flute. 

This unique combination of instruments enabled them to play both Country Western music and Celtic (Irish) music,
Jeff Gordon, apparently a perennial favorite, also performed on Stage 1.  He, too, had musical back-up support from a band of RGV Music Festival volunteers.

Winter Texans are well represented in the festival crowd, as you can see from the preponderance of  gray heads!


A variety of vendors, selling items from CDs and ceramic pots, jewelry to T-shirts gave the day a bit of merchandising appeal.  But it was the food vendors who really did a brisk business; hot coffee in the morning's cold temperatures to corn dogs and Bar-B-Que later as the sun came out and warmed the crowd.
 Public School musical groups are frequent performers for the festival, which provides financial aid for their departments.  Here, the Edcouch-Elsa High School Estudiantina performs Mexican folk songs for the audience.  An Estudiantina group is similar to a mariachi group except it includes only string instruments and no brass.  The students were talented and enthusiastic and the audience showed their appreciation by a standing ovation.

What a fun day!  Over our years in south Texas, we have become enthusiastic fans of the classical music offered by the Valley Symphony Orchestra and mariachi music performed at the University of Texas Pan-American and several local high schools.  The Rio Grande Music Festival expands our list of opportunities for music enjoyment here in south Texas. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014


My husband has an addiction. It’s not to alcohol, nicotine, or illegal drugs. Gambling is not the temptation. Fancy, fast sports cars or other women have no allure for him. He’s not a glutton, or a couch potato. He’s not even a workaholic, although he might be called a "responsibility-aholic" because he never fails to keep commitments he has made. He is, however, addicted.

He jumps up from his chair like a jack-in-the-box at the first strains of waltz music or a cha cha beat. He is eager to learn every new two step maneuver. He searches the internet for instruction videos of new dance steps. He’s the first on the dance floor at line dance time and the last to leave when the band is done playing. My husband is addicted to dancing!

As a growing boy, dancing was not part of his experience beyond the occasional square dance. But, in retirement, when he discovered that his feet and body could gracefully keep time and sing together, he got hooked. He is mesmerized by the sight of couples rhythmically swaying and stomping to Country-Western music.

At first, I didn’t really share his passion. I tried my best to break his chain of addiction before it got serious. I’m a clutz on my feet, but even my inability to learn new steps or my clumsy stepping all over his feet did not deter him. I don’t have the energy to dance three hours an evening six evenings a week, so he occasionally found a substitute for me. Smoky bars are not my favorite type of environment, but we went anyway because that's a place where people dance. I enjoy doing things other than dancing, but gradually our calender became built around dance schedules. I thought that the stiff muscles and painful joints he experiences after dance nights would discourage him, but he seems to forget them long before the next dance date arrives.

I must confess, that his dance addiction has not been all bad. Dancing has been more successful for him than Weight Watchers. It has helped him shed about 30 unnecessary pounds. Dancing weekly has given the two of us lots of quality-time together, and we’ve met so many wonderful new friends. Learning new steps together has kept our minds open to new ideas and new possibilities and the regular use of the muscles and joints of our bodies has slowed the aging process caused by arthritis and inactivity.

Oh my! I can’t believe what I just wrote! Am I getting addicted, too? 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Butterflies of Falcon Lake

We needed a vacation from our vacation!  We couldn't get away from the cold and wind but at least we could get a change of scenery to shiver in.  So, eight of us set out for Falcon Lake State Park for a few days.

Jane and Jack Pronovost, MarySue and Bruce Rosenberger, Steve and Jan Campbell, and Willis and Rebecca Coombs -- and Blayde, of course -- spent parts of four days enjoying the beauties of Falcon Lake and its surroundings.  The sparse trees, wild shrubs and thorn bushes are a marked contrast to the rich cultivated fields of the middle Rio Grande Valley where we usually spend our Texas time.
We hiked along the lake shore each day, bundled up against the cold north wind.
Mexico lies just across the lake on its western shore.  Falcon Lake serves as the reservoir for water for both countries.  The international border is clearly marked in the middle of the bridge across the lake.  Identical power plants, one Mexican and one U.S., control the release of water from the lake according to an international treaty.
Sunsets over Mexico, across the lake from the state park area are beautiful -- when the weather is warm enough to sit outside and enjoy them!  We had to be satisfied with enjoying a warm campfire instead!
 We did, however, enjoy the wildlife.
This golden-fronted woodpecker was one of the avian treats we found along our hikes.  We also saw a vermilion flycatcher, a meadow lark, several large coveys of quail and lots of red-winged blackbirds.  One bird friend made himself right at home around our campsites.
This road runner apparently thought he owned the spots where we were camping and he proceeded to strut around keeping a close eye on "his" property.
He was a comic little chap and provided us an afternoon's entertainment.
We walked through the butterfly garden, admiring the variety of plants growing there.  However, there were no butterflies!  The poor little creatures apparently were in hiding from the strong cold wind.  So, we played at being butterflies ourselves!
Behold! the Rebecca Butterfly,
the Jan Butterfly,
the Jane Butterfly,
and the MarySue Butterfly!
We are deeply indebted to Rebecca for doing such scholarly research that she discovered the scientific name of this butterfly species.  It is, she says, the species Animalia, phylum Anthropoda, class Humana, order Frozenera, and sub-order Rhopalocera Amigas.  Now, isn't that impressive -- and imaginative -- research?