Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I saw an ABC News story that really touched me. It was about an 11 year old boy who when given 2 weeks to live decided that what he wanted to do in that 2 weeks was feed the homeless. And feed the homeless he did .. inspiring people to take action around the country to feed hungry people. What an amazing thing for a child to do and I had to wonder why if a kid could mobilize so many people why more of us couldn't make an even bigger dent in this area and on other social issues. I also wondered why some people end up so selfless when the norm really seems to be to just look out for our self or our own.

I had the opportunity to be a guest at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Community Health Leaders (RWJF) awards last month. The RWJF recognizes people who are impacting health care in an innovative and positive way. The competition is tough. They select 10 every year, this year their were 800 nominations. The leaders that are recognized are the cream of the crop. I have actually been to 4 of their ceremonies and the stories of the leaders always inspire me. The conversations among the leaders are unlike most events I go to because each person is truly passionate about their cause and how they can move it forward to impact more people in a positive way. At this conference there were 95 past & present awardees from 47 states and Puerto Rico, young, old, blind, deaf, in wheel chairs, all ethnicities and all with a common thread of making the world a better place for others.

Quite a room .. quite inspiring.. yet I still wonder what the common thread is that makes a person step outside the world of self interest to devote their lives to making it a better place for others? These folks put aside the excuses of family obligations, lack of money, time, talent, resources, ability or interest by others to name a few and against the odds, against reason in some cases, make things happen.  No excuses, lots of determination and a passion to make the world a better place.  Too bad we can't bottle that!   I welcome your comments on the subject ..

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Back in the Valley Again ...the Rio Grande Valley that is

The lively supermarket announcer is going on and on in Spanish about what I can only assume is a store special.  The store is filled with Hispanic families with overstuffed carts interspersed with white haired grandparent types going about their shopping duties.

The local Jack in the Box has at least a hundred grackles whistling and chattering away.  I have to stop as a stray dog crosses the road in front of me but I notice that there are large grapefruits already in the local propane companies grove.  Another month and grapefruits will be dropping off trees everywhere here.   As I head down the palm lined street the sun is just starting to set.  The palms waving in the breeze against the deep red sky are just beautiful and I know that I am back in the Rio Grande Valley again... my home the past 4 winters.

The Valley is like no place else I have ever been.  It is a poor area.  A border town, where Mexican nationals come to shop and retirees come to winter.  The local population is over 95% Hispanic and Spanish is the most predominate language spoken even though it seems most locals are solidly bi-lingual.   It all makes for an interesting & rare mix of cultures.

Thousands of northerners come here to 'winter' every year.  The attraction being the tropical weather, cheap prices and the fact that the locals are so welcoming.   In Florida & Arizona the northerners are called Snowbirds and they are not always welcomed with open arms.  In Texas the northerners are called Winter Texans and the folks of the Valley always seem happy to have us here.  The different townships have Winter Texan welcomes with food, entertainment and free give-aways.  There are Winter Texan Health Fairs. Two Winter Texan newspapers offer specials on everything from dining to eyeglasses.  The restaurants of the area love us.  Branson entertainers come through our parks to entertain us as do the local entertainers, especially cool are the Folkloric dancers with their colorful outfits.

The flora and fauna of the area is colorful as well.  Flowers, bushes and plants bloom all winter. Through November and come spring the bushes are teeming with colorful butterflies.  The birds here are more colorful than most places too.  Among them are bright yellow Kisskadees, Green jays, Altimira Orioles and Cardinals but the Cardinals here are a much more vibrant red than I have ever seen up north.

There are at least a hundred RV & Mobile Home parks in the Valley which stretches from Brownsville at least 70 miles west past Mission, Texas.  Life in the parks takes on a 'summer camp' type feel.   Most parks have Activity Directors and offer something for everyone from dancing classes, card playing, quilting get-togethers, pool tournaments, water aerobics and on and on.  Some parks have whole booklets they publish every month with there activities.  At my park people like to bike ride, bird watch, kayak and just hang out.  There are local places catering mainly to Winter Texans such as Pepe's on the River, that is a pub type place under a palm thatched roof with a deck along the Rio Grande river.  They have entertainment daily with dancing, cheap drinks and they are extremely popular even though the service leaves a bit to be desired.  Their dirt lot is packed on weekends with big trucks and tow cars from just about every state and province in North America.  There is also the DonWest Fleamarket in Donna, TX that caters to Winter Texans, has entertainment on weekends and carries just about any accessory you would need for RV or Mobile Home.  After a few years, it seems that many people buy mobile, modular or park model homes in the park of their choice and make themselves more permanent residents.

The Valley has much to offer .. I could probably write a book but I will just say .. if you are retired and tired of holing up in your home all winter .. why not come check out the South Texas Tropics.   Whether just passing through, staying a season or retiring here, there really is something for everyone is this unique little tucked away place down in the tip of Texas!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Here Birdie Birdie ..

Finally! I just reached the 300 lifetime bird mark .. almost 2 years after Terry, Larry & Jerry got me hooked on the damn things. Wintering in South Texas has its drawbacks. Getting hooked on birding and butterflying are two of them. A few years ago, I could take a walk in a park and enjoy watching the birds flit & fly about and listen to their songs and just be happy, but not anymore.

Fast-forward to today and I can't go to a park without binoculars and a bird book ... I stop, start, wait watch,stalk and listen to everything that flits, flies and rustles. I am a danger driving down the highway if there are birds on the wires or flying over head. My dog has learned to stop if she hears bird noises, sometimes she just lays down as I tip toe around trying to get a good view of a bird. People stare as you sit in a car by feeders for hours, hoping to get a glimpse of a bird that was reported to be there.  My obsession is bad!

Terry, Larry & Jerry did me in when they 'enticed' me to take a bird trip.  I just wanted to see what all the buzz was about and I saw something like 68 different birds all in a few hours. There are big ones, little ones, all colors, shapes and sizes .. some have wing bars, some eye rings .. who knew all this stuff? The sad thing to say is that once you cross a line and go beyond the 'a bird has 2 feet, feathers and a beak' it can be hard going back. In South Texas, the birding group went once a week and I went when I could .. but now that I am fully obsessed, every day is a birding day ...I even check out the birds flitting in the bushes when I go to the grocery store. I plan trips based on birds.  I drive miles to see birds...  I used to make fun of people standing around looking in the trees with their binoculars and now I are one. The tragedy!

Today while out 'officially' birding, I met a couple of hippie guys. They had to be about 50 but didn't look to differently than I they likely did in the 60's or early 70's. I thought it unusual to see hippies out in a birding area .. but birding they were & they knew their stuff and were excited about all the birds in the area. One of them told me he too got hooked on birds in South Texas. He said 25 years ago he went down to the border to visit a friend and saw his first green jay and has been birding ever since. When this guy headed to Texas 25 years ago I am sure he had no intention of checking out the local fauna.  He was probably looking for a buzz yet he still got hooked on the birds none the less.  The glit in the eye of the green jay was too much for him!

So my advice to you is this .. if someone invites you to go look at a few birds with them .. run!! Run fast and run far, do not gaze upon the colorful feathers or catch the glit of their little eyes .. run!

Whether or not you are in the grip of the winged ones or not .. you might like some pics from one of my fellow South Texas bird obsessees, Fred Walsh, who is actually quite good with a camera.  His pics from the winter months contain some great pics of the birds of South Texas.  The Rio Grande Valley of South Texas truly is a birders paradise.  Here are some links for birding information in the area: World Birding Center, Santa Ana NWR, Laguna Atascosa NWR, and Sabal Palms Audubon Center.   To find out more about Birding in your area contact the National Audubon Society.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Stamp out voting ignorance!

Please don't vote if you only get your political information from:
  • Billboards
  • TV
  • Email
  • Your Church
  • Radio shows
  • Your friends

As d-day approaches, there is a huge 'get out to vote' campaign.   I think that is great .. it is a privilege that we live in a country where we have the freedom to vote privately and without fear.   The problem is that we have gotten lazy.  We don't inform ourselves about the candidates or issues any more.  We believe the rhetoric spewed on our airways and through email boxes and even from our pulpits without ever digging deeper.   With the advent of the internet we have access to more information than at any other time in history yet we don't always use the resources available to make an informed voting decision.   What is your elected officials voting record on issues that are important to you?   How will each candidates tax plans effect you?  What is Socialism and does it effect you?  Will my taxes really be raised?  Does stem cell research really kill babies??   Will we be less safe if one presidential candidate wins over another?  How much authority does a president really have??  

Don't know?   The good news is you can.   There are plenty of internet sites that can help you be an informed voter.  FactCheck.org is a great way to see through the spin you see and hear and get the facts about an issue or statements being purported by a campaign.  They are independent and unbiased.  GovTrack.us gives your representatives voting records, information about Congressional Bills and Resolutions and much more helpful information.   Your elected officials usually have a website that includes information on how they have voted on issues.   I try and stick with factual non-biased informational sites.  Usually, when someone sends me an 'accusatory' type email or makes statements that are designed to make you fear a candidate, I check it out.   Such emails as Obama is a Muslim extremist, he is reading terrorist books, he is Castro all over again.  I check out & have always found them to be lies based in ignorance maybe, but always designed to provoke fear.  I was going to add emails designed to evoke fear of John McCain but actually I haven't received any.  I could give you speculation as to why that is but I will refrain.

The point here being that each of us have a responsibility to be an informed voter.  Do the research yourself.  Don't be intimidated by church leaders who say that you are not a Christian if you vote for Obama or friends that insinuate you hate the environment if you vote for Mc Cain.  The fact is you can vote for Ralph Nader and still be a Christian!  

Voting is about whom the best person is to promote what is important to you.  If you are going to take the time to vote, please take the time to be an informed voter.  I find ignorance of our political system to be at an appalling level.   More voters is great but what we really need is more informed voters.   I have links in the side bar under "Participate in Democracy' to sites that will help you be and stay informed about the political environment within the US.  Do your part and educate yourself and help others to educate themselves (you can even Digg this post to help it reach more folks) .. we can stamp out voter ignorance .. one person at a time.


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