Friday, 27 February 2009

Remembering Freddie - Fender, that is

Today we went to look at the 2 bedroom condo we're moving into on Sunday. We had originally wanted it for the last half of March but were informed that we had to take it for the entire month. It is very nice, had granite countertops, mostly new appliances and a washer and dryer in the unit. But IT DOESN'T HAVE INTERNET!! We are going to take a laptop over there tomorrow and see if someone nearby has an unsecured signal we can pirate. If not, we'll need to explore our alternatives and see if we can find an internet provider for a month.

We then drove to San Benito to visit the Freddy Fender Museum - actually a section of the San Benito Community Centre. It also shares the space with the Texas Conjunto Music Museum (basically music with guitars, drums and accordion) and the San Benito Historical Museum.

Freddy Fender (nee Baldemar G. Huerta) first became famous by taking well known rock and roll hits and translating them into Spanish and recording them. He took the name from the guitar and amplifier, and Freddy because the alliteration sounded good to him and it would,"...sell better with Gringos!" He even did three years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Two of his most famous hits were "When the Next Teardrop Falls" and "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights".

We were made aware that he was a native son of San Benito by seeing his face emblazoned on the San Benito water tower adjacent to the main highway.

His Grammy awards were on display won from his work with two bands, " The Texas Tornados" and "Los Super Seven".

as well as his Tejano Walk of Fame star,

his ALMA (American Latin Musician Award)

proclamation for the Texas Walk of Fame from the then Gov. George W. Bush

and a commendation for his exemplary musical talent and ability.

Also of note was a honkin' belt buckle

and a jar of Freddy Fender "King of Tex-Mex" picante sauce.

We were also informed that this Saturday will be the 1st Annual celebration of Texas Independence.

Taped in the front window of the community centre was this unusual poster about "The Big Squeeze - Accordion Throwdown". We weren't too sure about the outfit the accordionist was wearing.

Signs like this are ubiquitous and certainly nothing we customarily see in the True North.

While Skip was perusing a free map of San Benito, he noted an advertisement for Vicky's Restaurant, specializing in Mexican cuisine. We programmed the GPS and went there for comida (lunch).

Growing like a weed in front of our car was this

a tomato plant - in bloom! It's freaking February 26th for Pete's sake!

Did I mention it was over 90F today as well?

After lunch I reprogrammed the GPS for Judy's Stitchery Nook, just a couple of kilometres to the north. Wow! What an amazing stitchery store! I have never seen so many colours of cotton perle floss! There was a hardanger class going on so the 'man chairs' were occupied - Skip stood outside in the heat and chatted with a retired Gr. 6 teacher (36 years in the classroom!) from Chicoutimi, Quebec whose wife and friend were in the store with me. Another Canadian was also visiting the store from Winnipeg. Basically, half of the customers at that moment (excluding the hardanger students) were from Canada. I did look through their extensive hardanger pattern complement and noted that she did stock some patterns from X's and Oh's. I exercised a tremendous amount of self-restraint and only bought three things:

Hardanger for the Holidays,

Heart and Hand "Summer Alphabet" sampler kit and

Victoria Sampler "Hearts of America - Texas" kit

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

This and That - Lots o' Pics

We haven't done much that is terribly blogworthy lately - just some local birding and hanging out.

Yesterday we braved the brisk north wind, packed a lunch and went to the SPI convention centre to see what we could see. We saw lots of gulls, terns, egrets (white, snowy and reddish), tricolour and great blue herons, a killdeer and a semipalmated plover. We also saw the resident alligator for our first time this year. We figure he's at least 6 feet long.

Returning from Port Isabel yesterday, I took a photo of the area where we are staying south of the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway. Ours is the building under the asterisk (I didn't know how to put an arrow on the photo).

It's a 6-storey building, one of two identical ones built in the 80s and the southernmost condos on the island. It's not right on the beach but pretty close.

Today we wandered around Port Isabel. Skip posed by the lighthouse before our lunch of enchiladas and tostadas.

I posed by a pirate.

This was the only day I've worn jeans since our arrival on Feb. 1. I should have worn capris because it was quite warm without the usual stiff breeze.

There was an osprey sitting atop the world's largest fly fishing rod (80 ft. tall). He was looking right at us.

We then went to Laguna Madre 10km away and saw another osprey that had just caught a fish. We made him nervous so he flew around looking for a safe place to land

but he ended up on top of a telephone pole with the fish firmly grasped in one of his talons.

I finished the Peacock Tail and Leaf scarf and started a scarf using the Maikell's Shawl pattern from "Knitted Lace of Estonia" with KnitPicks Shadow 100% merino wool yarn in the Juniper colourway.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Birding in Edinburg (Texas, that is)

This morning we crossed our fingers and tried to start the car and it started! I did a happy dance in the parking lot.

We hopped in the car and drove over to Edinburg (no 'h') to go birding at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands there.

We stopped for lunch on the way at Alameda Restaurant (Mexican food, of course) in Elsa. After lunch we noticed that the 'check engine' light was back on. Rats! (or words to that effect). The engine seems to be running well - no 'missing' - so we're not sure what the problem is. Some sensor issue, I guess. This evening after getting groceries on the way home, I started the car and the 'check engine' light didn't come on. Skip says I performed a miracle. I'm just happy the light is off (for now). But I digress...

At Edinburg, we paid our $1 each (senior's rate) and walked along the trails beside each of the two 'lakes'. There were lots of cormorants, great and snowy egrets, great and little blue herons, black-crowned night herons, coots, green-winged teal,

and blue-winged teal,

a couple of least grebes (and their cute fluffy butts),

great kiskadees, a long-billed thrasher,

ruddy ducks (first time I've ever seen one) in winter plumage

and some Muskovy ducks,

which apparently don't count because they're a domestic duck.

In the garden beside the birding/education centre we spotted the resident groove-billed ani. I thought it was a grackle at first until I noticed his big bill.

That was another first for me.

I got a good shot of a Sabal Palm, the Rio Grande Valley's only native palm. They are only found in this area in Texas as well as in Mexico.

They're called palmas redondas in Spanish (round palms) because of the shape of the fronds.

This park is supposedly a good place to spot green kingfishers but we didn't see any today.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

No End of Excitement

Yesterday we met Ken and Donna at their place in Weslaco.

We then drove down to Progreso. We parked the car adjacent to the bridge across the Rio Grande (called the Rio Bravo in Mexico). We paid our 25 cents and walked through the turnstile and proceeded to walk the few metres across to Mexico. I took this photo from the bridge. The river is very narrow there and the water so shallow, one could easily wade across.

We only walked a couple of blocks. The sidewalks were lined with merchants peddling their wares - silver, wood back scratchers, fabric bags, etc. etc. There were many dental offices where many people from the US and Canada go to get major dental work done for a fraction of the cost. Also there were scores of pharmacies where all drugs could be purchased over the counter, again, for a much lower cost.

Here's Skip at a bar that served drinks right on the sidewalk.

We ate lunch at Arturo's, a nicely appointed restaurant which catered to the majority of people coming over from the US at this time of year - Winter Texans.

We then walked back and I noticed the little tank in the middle of the street. Yikes!

The military are trying to wrestle the power away from the drug cartels (los narcos) but are having a very difficult time of it.

Earlier that day about 20 mi. up the valley at another bridge, there had been a protest on the Mexican side by 'los narcos' against the increased military presence and the increase in the cost of diesel fuel. Shots were fired and 10 people were killed. On the news people have been advised to 'be very careful' if crossing to Mexico.

We then paid our 30 cents and walked back to the US where our passports were scanned and we were waved on - no questions asked. And at the next post we were asked if we had any booze or tobacco. And that was it. I'm sure it's a bit trickier crossing in a vehicle but crossing on foot was a breeze.

We then drove over to the Subaru dealer in Pharr - about 20 miles to the west - to get a second opinion on the persnickety car. It was decided to change the spark plugs as they hadn't been changed during the last tune-up over a year ago. How did we know this? We called the dealership back home. It was also discovered that our oil was very low, which was perplexing because it had just been changed before we drove down here. We got the oil changed as well.

This morning, the car wouldn't start. It was clearly 'missing' on a couple of cylinders and the engine just wouldn't 'catch'. We called the AAA to get a tow to the garage in Port Isabel. The tow truck guy, Hector, wasn't given complete instructions on how to find us by the dispatcher and he was unable to call me on my cell phone because his service wouldn't connect to mine so we waited 1.5 hours for him to show up. Finally, he drove into our parking lot and I flagged him down.

He had the nifty kind of truck that just pulls the disabled car onto a flat bed on the back.

Once off the truck, the mechanic, Robert, got in and the CAR STARTED RIGHT AWAY!!!! Argh. However, it was clearly 'missing' on at least one cylinder. He has the new spark plug wires on order so we just left the car there and dejectedly left on foot. Hopefully the part will arrive tomorrow and it can be fixed by the weekend - not that we have any big plans but it would be nice to be able to explore another area of the valley.

There is a free bus, The Wave, that makes a loop through Port Isabel, across the Queen Isabella Causeway then up and down South Padre Island. It runs every half hour from 7am to 7pm. We were able to hop on a couple of blocks from the garage and it took us within a couple of blocks of the grocery store on the island where we stocked up on provisions for the next couple of days. We then walked back to the condo - about 4 km.

With all this sitting, I've been getting a lot of knitting done. I have completed 65% of the Peacock Tail and Leaf scarf already. At this rate, I should have this scarf done by the end of the weekend.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Lace Scarves

I finished knitting the Madli's scarf on Sunday. It will look great once it is blocked but that will have to wait until I get home.

I started the Peacock Tail and Leaf scarf from Nancy Bush's "Knitted Lace of Estonia", one of my favourite knitting books.

I have knit and frogged several times. The KnitPicks Alpaca Cloud yarn in Papaya colourway is very fine and I had to frog twice to get the right needle size - 3.25mm. (What! Me? Swatch?) I calculated how many repeats I needed to achieve approximately an 11" blocked width as I only had 400m of yarn. The lace pattern is not hard, but a bit fiddly and I had to 'tink' (knit backwards or un-knit) several times and finally resorted to using a life line.

Things are going well and if I keep at it, I could have the knitting finished within the week. As per usual for the rectangular scarves/shawls in this book, it is first knit with an edging that continues into the centre pattern. Then a second edging is knit and grafted onto the other end of the centre part. Once I knit the second edging, I can knit the centre part until practically all the yarn is used up. This scarf will block out to half again as wide and should be quite long.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

My Funny Valentine

We had a very low-key Valentine's Day. The technician came and fixed the air conditioning in the condo. He replaced the unit outside and added freeon. He also cleaned the air filter which was FULL of dust and dirt. And surprise, surprise! It works now!

We walked to Yummie's for lunch, only about a 10 minute walk then after lunch we strolled along Padre Blvd. and went into some of the shops and stopped in for a latte and Skip had a gelato, went to a bank (Wells Fargo) and the SPI Tourist Information centre. After Skip's nap, we took a long walk on the beach.

It was a very nice day and one of the best things was the very cute Valentine I got from Ollie.

Inside was a lovely poem:
I thank you for the food you bring,
and for my little squeaky thing.
I thank you for your friendly talks,
and when you change my litter box.
I thank you for the naps we share,
and putting up with tufts of hair.
I thank you for these things you do...
But most of all for being you.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Love, Ollie ♥ ♥ ♥

Skip's card was very nice too. :-) ♥

Saturday, 14 February 2009

"Check Engine"

Yesterday morning, Skip and I headed out to do some things in Brownsville. When he started the car engine it was chugging and the 'Check Engine' light came on the dashboard. Eek! We drove it to the edge of the parking lot but it continued to chug. We parked the car and tried to find the closest Subaru dealer. I called the closest one - in Pharr, TX 70 miles away - and he said he couldn't do anything for us until Monday. If we weren't going to be using the car much this weekend we decided to make a shopping trip to stock up on enough food to get us through the weekend.

While stopping to fill the tank with gas, I asked the clerk at the gas bar if he knew any local mechanics that would service a Subaru. He recommended that we go to "Robert's" and gave me the address. We arrived at Robert's garage and were told he would be right back by one of the 3 mechanics. His desk was at the side of an garage open at the front and back and there were about 10 sets of keys sitting there belonging to cars waiting to be serviced. After 1/2 hour, Robert arrived and assigned one of the mechanics to hook the car up to the 'scope'. He explained that he probably couldn't do much today but he could certainly order parts and do the repairs if that was required. Nunfo, the mechanic, checked all the spark plug wires and sprayed the connections in case there was any moisture there. It was very humid and I would not have been surprised if there had been condensation in the gas tank. He took it for a test drive and deemed it 'fixed'. $45 poorer (money well spent, I might add) we drove away much relieved that we didn't have serious car problems 3200km away from home.

We had worked up a hunger so decided to have lunch in Brownsville before hitting the driving range (the reason why we were going to Brownsville in the first place). We pulled in at 'Emilia's' a very busy Mexican restaurant (which are understandably plentiful here). We determine a restaurant's quality by the number of cars in the parking lot and Emilia's lot was full.

After lunch we drove to the Fort Brown Golf Course adjacent to the University of Texas at Brownsville.

The golf course is on the Mexican side of the levee and if the US ever builds the wall they've been threatening to build, it would cut it off from the rest of the US.

It is so close to Mexico that when I faced northwest to take Skip's photo, a Mexican Flag was visible behind him.

Also, there is a sign posted in the clubhouse that says. "Golfballs are not to be driven into Mexico. Violators will be prosecuted."

While Skip drove golfballs, I sat in the car with the windows down and got a lot knit on the Madli's scarf. It was glorious with the hot wind blowing, cooling things off just enough. I decided to start the second lace edge that will be grafted on to the centre part. Once it's knit, I will know exactly how much yarn will be left to knit the centre part and get the maximum number of repeats completed with a minimum amount of yarn left over.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Late Afternoon Birding

After our big day of birding yesterday (our second this week) we took it easy today. After breakfast, I went for a long walk up the beach and back - about 5 miles (8.1 km). It was a perfect day for walking - not too windy and it was overcast.

I did some knitting and after lunch and Skip's nap we went to the post office (no mail for us) to mail some postcards, the car wash and birding at the convention centre.

The birding conditions were perfect. It was low tide and the water was really calm. There were tons of gulls, skimmers and terns - mostly royal terns. My pictures today were of much better quality.

In addition to those photographed, we also saw through the scope (but didn't get pictures of): a long-billed dowitcher, a black-bellied plover and a willet.

Lesser and greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Marbled godwit

Pied-bill greve in breeding phase

White ibis

Brown pelican taking off. This species is endangered but is making a comeback since DDT was outlawed.

Reddish egret

Roseate spoonbill

The secretive Clapper Rail.

Lesser yellowlegs

Pintail duck

It's going to be 84F tomorrow (29C).