Padre Island National Seashore

Looking south on a cool summer’s day:

A beach is a beach is a beach? Not so. Padre Island National Seashore is the largest undeveloped, untouched barrier island, not just in the United States but in the world!  It’s long enough and isolated enough that, after even a modest drive, you are truly on your own: no mobile telephone services, and indeed no other human beings for 30+ miles in any direction.

Mixed feelings in Texas

I have very much mixed feelings about this blog post.  Sadly, Texas is the state where the largest proportion of residents have diabetes – at least count, over 60% of all Texas have diabetes. This leads to mobility problems and, ultimately for many suffers, huge numbers of people with amputated feet.

But in contrast to other countries or even other states, Texas stores do their best to enable their customers who are mobility limited.

This is no unusual sight at the entrance of any store in Texas, be it do-it-yourself store or supermarket or any other large store: a fleet of battery operated buggies:

And this is no unusual sight in any supermarket:

So you can see: it is a real tragedy that so much of the population suffer from health problems – but it is a real blessing that commercial enterprises have done their best to enable their mobility limited customers.

Stay in your vehicle in Texas

I can’t think of any other state than Texas that offers so many commercial opportunities via the drive-thru channel.

Here is a drive thru bank. You stay in your car, and real people (called bank tellers) pass money to you via pneumatic tubes:

America is highly segregated into areas that reflect the financial class of the residents. So here is a similar shot at a much fancier bank in a much more affluent neighborhood:

Need to hand in your cowboy boots for a good cleaning or a bit of repair, handy if you can stay in your three-axel, 6 wheel, 300 HP pickup truck to do it:

And last but not least, it does make a lot of sense that – particularly if you are sick – you stay in your automobile while you get your medication from the pharmacy:

Sadly, I don‘t have a snap to show, but some states have quite impressive drive thru liquor and beer stores. In Pennsylvania it was illegal to buy individual cans of beer – a case or 24 cans or bottles was the minimum size you could buy – so you‘d drive your car into what looked like a garage, where someone would load the beer into your car. Never seen one of these in Texas, however.

Keeping your hands clean in Texas

Not just in Texas, but this is increasingly a common sight in many places in the United States:

In Texas we might say something like: This ain’t worth a hill of beans.  The overwhelming majority of easily transmissible infections are URI’s, or upper respiratory infections – and the overwhelming majority of them are caused by viruses, not bacteria, that are not affected by topical alcohol.

Refining in Texas

The United States is the largest producer of oil in the world, and Texas is the largest producer of oil in the United States.

So if Texas produces a lot of oil, it makes sense that it would have a lot of refineries – and it does.

Interestingly, refineries in Texas are often huge polluters. The refinery operators often have excellent contacts with the local politicians, so it is very common to read about things like an accidental release of toxic gases that occurs once per month like clockwork.

Anyway, here is one huge refinery near Floresville, Texas:

Normally I do no post-processing of my snaps except for cropping, but in this case Google helped me to assemble multiple shots into a single panorama.

Little Alsace in Texas

Texas is an amazing, amazing place. Not a lot of people know this, but it was founded by thousands upon thousands of European immigrants that settled here in the early 1800’s, bringing their language with them and creating miniature villages of how they lived back home. There were Irish villages, Norwegian villages – sadly, most of these are now just ghost towns (but you can visit them, if you know where to look).

But a few of these European villages do not just survive but thrive. Depending on the village, here you will find Americans, born and raised in these villages, that do not speak English as a first language, but rather speak Alsatian or French or German or – believe it or not – Schwiizerdüütsch.

Castroville, a tiny village just outside of San Antonio, was founded by Alsatian and Swiss settlers, and a significant number of the old timers are Americans who actually speak English as a second language to their native Alemannic.

As you head into town, you’re greeted by an authentic Alsatian bakery, selling authentic Alsatian baked goods, in an authentic half-timbered house no less!

While visiting this village with my father and I had the honor and privilege to meet Connie, a 90-year-old native speaker of Alsatian and Allemanic – and I could confirm, she spoke fluently and would be right home in Alsace or even Switzerland! In fact, she was kind enough to take my father and I on a tour of Castroville, where she shared her memories growing up here in this Texas community where there were essentially few or no English speakers.

In fact, she and her father wrote the very first ever American / Alsacienne foreign dictionary!

There are plenty of other historic buildings, including a Catholic church. This is what it looks like from the outside:

And this is what it looks like from the inside:

But the highlight has to be an authentic half-timbered house that came from Alsace itself; it was taken down piece by piece, sent to America a few years ago, and re-assembled in the village by handworkers from France:

I hope to return to Texas soon, and visit a unique French village, where the number of Americans who have French as their first language is shrinking fast.

Bass Pro – the Disneyland of outdoor sporting stores

Anyone not familiar with America is likely to also be not familiar with Bass Pro Shops – an store that sells outdoor sporting goods.

Well, the term store is not the right word – mind blowing wonderland is more appropriate.

And the term sporting goods is the right word either – massive collection of boats and four-wheel-drive-vehicles and tents and guns and more guns and even more guns is more appropriate.

Here is what some of it looks like from the outside (the huge collection of over 20 boats are behind me and not visible in this photograph):

Inside the store, this snap does not even show 20% of what there is:

There is not only an archery section, but also an indoor archery range where you can freely try out any of the gear:

Sadly, this Bass Shop lacks the usual indoor gun range, as well as the private room that have historical antique guns costing tens of thousands of dollars – and usually, my favorites, big bore elephant guns used if you want to shoot real elephants!

But this one still has plenty of guns on display – and many, many more locked in a safe (tip for experts: if you are looking for a particular make and model of gun, always better to ask. Could be they will have it, but not on display at the moment!):

What’s really terrific is that the people working in the gun area are usually older, retired gentlemen, and even if you are not a serious buyer, they are happy to let you handle any guns of your choice – and they’ll spend hours with you, just chatting about firearms:

This Bass Pro shop also lacked an indoor hunting area where – and I am not kidding – you can hunt wild stuffed animals using a laser equipped rifle. Sorry, no laser hunting here, but I’d say well over 200 stuffed animals all over the store:

Now, I’ve never see a Bass Pro shop where you can actually fish – but there are plenty of fish and in fact an entire indoor waterfall:

So, if you are planning a trip to the United States, I highly recommend you see if there are any Bass Pro shops near to where you are going to go!

When them cotton balls get a rottin‘

South Texas is famous for its cotton fields. Here the cotton is ready-to-pick:

It really begs the question: what happen if it rains?

The old western song made famous by the Bluegrass musician Bill Monroe tells „When them cotton balls get a rottin‘, you can‘t pick very much cotton.“ So presumably it is possible for cotton to rot.

But after a rain shower, do farmers worry about how much moisture the cotton has before harvesting?  Is the water content somehow tied to the price?  This is in fact the case for feed corn: the higher the water content, the lower the price.

The lonesome expanse of sea-side Texas

Not only does Texas have one of the longest coastlines of any entity in the world, but in fact – like most of Texas itself – it is an empty coastline.

Here I am standing deep within the Padre Island National Seashore (itself at over 100 km long, the longest protected stretch of beach in the world) watching the thunderstorms brewing in the distance.

I‘d say the nearest human to where I am standing now is over 25 miles away. This is one reason that keeps drawing me back to Texas, time and time again.

My artwork is completely fresh out-of-the-camera and unretouched in any way. This now definitely belongs to one of my all time favorite snaps.

 

Thunderstorm over the Gulf of Mexico

I took what I hopefully believe you‘ll agree is a magnificent snap on a recent holiday in Texas. I‘ve waded out into the water at the North Padre Island National Seashore. As usual, none of my artwork is re-touched or enhanced in any way: this is a color snap from my iPhone 8, and I did not even need to crop it.

If you look closely you‘ll see a few seagulls in the sky.

Bank

Some of my photos are quite boring to Europeans, because they show very common European scenes – but having never seen them, Americans are fascinated.

In this case, the situation is reversed.  No American would hardly raise an eyebrow at this:

It’s a bank!  Although cash machines and cash cards have been around in America for a long time, many Americans still write checks by hand, and pick up money from a so-called “bank teller” – a real person who works at a bank!  The money and checks are transferred back and forth to the cars via pneumatic tubes.

Perpetual pursuit of the perfect purse

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

Hello, my name is Arlene.  And yes I am addicted to buying new purses and handbags.

I currently have, at last count, at least fifteen handbags.  Some are very expensive and come with their own dust bag.  Others are fine leather ones I purchased at discount, paying very little considering the quality of the leather and trim.  Some are made of fabric not to be used when we have inclement weather.

Some people make fun of me – “What! Another purse?”  I simply laugh it off and say I really needed a new one.  I often give them as gifts for birthdays or Christmas.  I fool myself into thinking all my women friends are just waiting for a new handbag.

I have given much thought as to when this obsession had started.  I have come to the conclusion that it started when I was about seven or eight years old making my First Holy Communion.  My mom and I went shopping to buy a communion dress and veil.  But along with the ensemble there was a very small white purse with a gold religious emblem sewn on the front with a prayer book inside.  How could you not feel special carrying this purse?

But like all items people obsess over, the euphoric feeling doesn’t last long.  And before you know it you will find me in the handbag section of the department store.

BUT – this all changed.  Finally, finally I found the one purse that fulfills my every requirement.  It is large but not too large.  It has an opening on the outside for a cell phone plus a charger.  Once I open the zipper of the main compartment I find six compartments to hold everything I need.  I’ll never have to buy another purse again!

(Who am I kidding?  Just thinking about not purchasing another purse makes my hands shake; I feel dizzy, nauseated and agitated.  Am I addicted – you bet your bottom dollar I am.)


 

This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.

 

What is a Texas Bar-B-Q?

Everyone’s heard the word barbeque, even if not everyone has tasted it. And everyone’s heard about Texas, even if not everyone has visited it.

But a Texas Barbeque is really something special.  The snap below is of the hugely famous Bill Miller Barbeque, and I’m told it wouldn’t be unusual to see Willy Nelson here – although I never have.

But the amazing part is what you don’t see.  These Texas barbecues generate so much heat and smoke, that as soon as you drive into the parking lot it gets a bit difficult to breathe.

For this reason, most people order their food in advance, and even if it takes just a few minutes to pick it up, you leave with your clothes deeply soiled with the wonderful barbecue odors.

Convergent evolution vs. design patterns

In biology there is the concept of convergent evolution:

“In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.”

In software engineering there is the concept of a design pattern:

“In software engineering, a design pattern is a general repeatable solution to a commonly occurring problem in software design. A design pattern isn’t a finished design that can be transformed directly into code. It is a description or template for how to solve a problem that can be used in many different situations.”

During recent trips to both Spain and Texas, it made me first realize that both convergent evolution and design patterns are describing something very similar.  Have a look at this:


Spain is filled with Spaniards, and as everyone knows Spaniards are very tiny people. So until recently they drove very tiny cars. But recently Spaniards are getting bigger. I took this picture in Spain, which now seems to be representative of how Spaniards park their cars:

Texas is filled with Texans, and as everyone knows Texans are very big people indeed. But in recent times, Texans have been getting even bigger. I took this picture in Texas, which now seems to be representative of how Texans park their “dualies” (as they call pickup trucks with dual rear tires):

Convergent evolution (biology) or design pattern (software engineering) – you be the judge!

A Texas Safari

A guest blog, by Charles Ritley

South Texas, East of San Antonio, is a giant cattle ranch: grassland chock full of quail and deer—and those who hunt them. While Californians discuss ways to save endangered species, Texans swap recipes for cooking them.

But hunting, like golf, is a socio-drinking experience. Guys form clubs that sub-lease tracts on the large ranches—-and build fancy clubhouses, with overnight accommodations, air conditioning, and satellite dishes. They co-exist well with the cattle, it’s extra income for the rancher, and the basic ground rules are: OK to shoot quail, OK to shoot deer, not OK to shoot cow. (But after you pay the rancher, you may keep the cow.)

Now, I don’t hunt. I did hunt when I was a kid, because everyone did. I was a trap shooter for many years and president of a trap club —- but in my later years I chose not to kill things.

But I had a client who wanted to go hunting. I knew a local business who had part of a game lease, and asked them to help. They set up a quail hunt on a big ranch, and I went along as my client’s bodyguard.

QuailThis hunt was a circus. They had a large 4-wheel drive truck with two chairs bolted to the front, where hunters sat, and two bolted to the sides. In the bed of the truck: extra passengers, the dogs, and their handler. Plus, it held 4 people in the cab. Periodically, when they passed a likely spot, the truck stopped, everyone dismounted, and the dogs were set loose to sniff out and flush quail.

(Now this whole thing made no sense to me. I grew up hunting birds. They have a very sharp sense of hearing. A quail can hear a truck this size when it’s two miles away. But, I withheld my advice. I was just another outsider.)

Eventually, the dogs would flush something, birds would scatter through the sky in all directions, and everyone would start blasting away. (Like London in 1940, but without the sirens and searchlights.)

GinThen everyone would pile back into the truck, where they had: 2 liters of gin, a large bag of limes, and a couple of jugs of tonic water, and proceed to make a round of Gin and Tonics. (One part gin, two parts tonic, one slice of lime.)

After several stops, about a hundred rounds were fired, no birds were harmed, and everyone had consumed at least one G-and-T per stop. At this point, my client—-a nice guy and a close friend—-said he wanted to come because he once sold shotguns but had never been hunting. But now he had enough. In fact, he was scared – really scared. So, I had a conversation with our hosts, but their engines were running, and they weren’t about to stop. So, the client and I just stayed close to the truck and out of what we believed to be the line of fire.

But then another problem arose: when the guys climbed back into the truck, some were full of gin and didn’t bother unloading their shotguns. Now, trust me, you do not want to be bouncing along a pot-holed trail in a 4-wheel drive truck in compound low, crammed into a cab with 4 guys full of gin and 4 loaded shotguns. You really, really, really don’t. So the client and I—-claiming we wanted a better view, jumped up into the bed of the truck with the dogs. The dogs, at least, were stone sober. And unarmed.

Shells

They got a few quail that day, and as I recall they were thrown away. Quail are good to eat, if you pick out the shot, and no one would do that. Eventually, the gin ran out and we headed home. The client and I fired a few rounds into the air, just to act like good ole boys, but I managed to do no harm to anything or anyone. The client, however, did manage to hit–quite by accident–some kind of little wild canary. It kind of exploded in this yellow poof. He felt rather bad about it.

 


 

This guest blog was submitted by Charles Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.

 

When backs are better than fronts – 3

PadreIsland1

Continuing Part 2 of the series, the neighborhood is called “The Island,” it’s built on North Padre Island (a barrier island off the coast of Texas) – and it is arguably the ugliest neighborhood in the United States, or anywhere. As you can see over my shoulder in the photo above, most of the houses have no landscaping – just ugly, bare sand.

Well, more precisely, the fronts of the houses are ugly.  The backs of the houses are a different story, as you can see behind my father, who is bringing in his boat to the boat dock built onto his house.

PadreIsland3

The Island is carved into dozens and dozens of canals, just like Venice only much bigger, and each house is built directly on a canal.  So instead of making the fronts of the houses look pretty, it is their backs, facing the canals, that look spectacular.

PadreIsland2

Because the canals all lead to the Gulf of Texas, they are filled with saltwater fish – making it one of the few places in Texas that you can do saltwater fishing directly from the dock on your house!

The Zen of Polished Chrome

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

We all want to be rich.  Being rich means living the good life.  Being rich gives us the freedom to go where we want to go and buy what we want to buy.  Being rich can and often does create a feeling of happiness or euphoria.

Sooner or later, however, we come to realize, whether consciously or subconsciously, that happiness and contentment is fleeting.  Happiness doesn’t last long.  We want this feeling to last a life-time but it truly is short lived.

Pearl S. Buck once said, “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for big happiness”.  How true.

I have found the small joy in my life that brings me continual happiness.

You are probably sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting to read what this small joy is.

I will gladly share it with you now.

New Faucets

IMG_0604[2]

You laugh.  You think I am a crazy old woman.  How can you find happiness in a new faucet?  But I do!

Keep in mind the last thing I see before going to bed is my new faucet.  I stand there admiring the newness, the shine and the sleek sensual look.  My spirits soar, joy bubbles up, and my outlook for tomorrow becomes positive.  I go to bed knowing that in the morning my friend the faucet will still be there shining light on a new day.

Day after day, night after night, for a short period of time I’ll feel rich and, yes, happy.


 

This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.