Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Updating December 2011
So what have we been doing here over the Christmas holidays? I painted the staircase we bought last year - easier to climb than the trailer stairs. We had our picture taken for the Park Book that comes out next September - showing all the residents. We haven't had one of these books yet but they are handy if you forget someone's name. We have been experiencing a cool spell here over the holidays - Christmas Eve was cold and rainy - but the rain is needed so we don't complain too much. We have been golfing and biking and shopping. I taught my first exercise class on Wednesday at 8 AM but am restricted to a 30 minute time slot - and I am used to an hour time slot back home so it is difficult to get everything in. We have learned how to play Fast Track - a card game and enjoyed a chocolate fondue at neighbours one night. On Christmas Eve we attended the Candle Light Service in the Clubhouse and had Christmas Dinner in the Clubhouse at noon on Christmas Day. The resort provided the turkey, ham and gravy. Then we did a round of golf on our little 9 hole Par 3 course since the sun came out for a little while and then we spent a quiet afternoon and evening watching The Rainmaker" movie starring Matt Damon and Danny DeVito. We did a little after Christmas shopping on Boxing Day (which they really don't have in USA).
Dec 27 - we went on the Resort Bus to the Santa Rosa W R Cowley Sugar House - the only Sugar Cane Factory in Texas and the biggest and newest one in the USA - but it is 35 years old. This factory is a co-op from 169 sugar cane growers in 3 counties in the Rio Grande Valley. These farmers grow 56,000 acres of sugar cane thanks to irrigation in the Valley. Sugar Cane takes 365 days till it is ready for harvest and after the first planting in a field it will be harvested for 4 years before resting in another crop for a year and then back to cane. The plant is self sustaining in power and waste reduction and the boilers power turbines and the extra power produced is sold back to the power grid. All their raw sugar is sold to Dofino Sugar and refined elsewhere and the waste molasses is sold to feed lots to be mixed in the cattle feed. Environmental restrictions regarding the burning of the cane fields may close down this industry in the future.
Each of their tractor trailer trucks hold approximately 28 tons of sugar cane. In good weather, the sugar mill runs around the clock during the harvest season, which is from early October to the end of March.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

First Week at Trophy Gardens, Alamo, Texas

We arrived around 1 PM on Wednesday, Dec 14/11 - sunny and warm and Texas windy. We extracted ourselves from our little Subaru Impreza and all the stuff we brought. Before we go home I must take an inventory of our clothes - we brought a bit too much cause we didn't remember what we left behind in April - we had to buy 20 more hangers.

At 3 PM I joined the neighbours at the clubhouse for a Brown Bag Christmas exchange - 100 people joined in with the exchange of $5 gifts in these brown paper bags - lots of bottles of wine, tins of popcorn and boxes of chocolates ( which everyone down here refers to as candy). I was fortunate to go back to the trailer with my new gift - 4 muffins and a loaf of homemade bread made by the neighbour across the road from us. Poor Don was back at the trailer still setting up things so the food came in handy since we hadn't shopped for food yet.

Thursday morning, I took Don's bicycle (mine has a flat tire - which happened right before we left last April) and joined the Bike Club here for a 10 mile ride - with a stop for breakfast at a restaurant - which was the destination. The weather was a bit cloudy but still warm. The afternoon was spent washing the Texas dust and dirt off the trailer. We had drinks later that evening at Rick and Brenda's new mobile home - they were leaving the next morning for their home in Hot Springs Arkansas for Christmas with their family.

Friday morning I went to exercise with the ladies in the Clubhouse to a 30 minute Jane Fonda dvd at 8 AM and did a line dancing session at the Clubhouse from 9 to 10 AM. In the afternoon we visited the local hardware store and signed up at the local library - but we do have a library in our clubhouse that may have more books. The weather has turned cooler and cloudy today and will be that way for a few more days. Don played poker with the boys in the Clubhouse in the evening and I caught up on my emails.

Saturday - still cool and rainy. I went with our Kincardine, Ontario friends - Bonnie and John - to a World Birding Centre in Edinburg for a talk and hike from an experienced birder - focusing on Winter Wetland Birds. It was weather for the ducks and we saw lots of them and herons and a flock of over 100 White Pelicans. Also learned that the Moorhen is now called the Common Gallinule. Meanwhile, Don took my bike to the Don West Flea Market Birke Repair Shop and had a new back tire installed on my bicycle.

Sunday - still rainy - vegetation is greener all the time. Highlight of the day was attending the Christmas Concert of the University of Texas-Pan American's award-winning Mariachi Aztlan Band at the UTPA Fine Arts Auditorium. The show also included performances by the Luz de Luna Folkloric Dance Ensemble and McAllen High School's Mariachi Band. It was a Christmas music day with carolling back at TG in the Clubhouse at 6 PM.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 2011 - to Texas

Friday Dec 9 to Wednesday Dec 13/2011
Time to pack up and head south. We left Lakefield at 9 AM and headed south. Lunch at Don's parents in Toronto and then to London for dinner and spending the night at our friend Susan Reid's new home. Susan had just retired from a 35 year career at Bell.
Saturday we drove south to Louisville, Kentucky and stayed in the Marriott Springhill Suites - thanks to Tom's points. We had a nice dinner at the Cardinal Hall of Fame Cafe - showcased all the Louisville sports teams. Sunday's drive took us to Tunica, Mississippi to stay in a Harrah Casino there and indulged in a Paula Dean dinner - Southern Home Cooking. Up early on Monday morning, we drove 13 hours - through Arkansas and into Texas - past Dallas and Austin - to San Antonio. That evening, Don relaxed from the long drive and I explored the San Antonio Riverwalk - to enjoy the lights and took a boat tour to know the landmarks for touring the next day.
Tuesday was spent enjoying the sights of San Antonio. We started out on the Riverwalk and decided that we would each do what we wanted - Don didn't want to keep up with Mary the Tourist. I spent the morning learning all about the Alamo. The Alamo is known as "the cradle of Texas Liberty" where Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Barrett Travis and 186 men sacrificed their lives for Texas independence. I did the audio tour - 33 stops, saw the 20 minute film, had a private 11 AM tour of the Alamo grounds - no one else signed up? and checked out the model of the Alamo - housed in a history shop across from the actual Alamo - this model is owned by Phil Collins and he does a narrative of the battle of the Alamo - he is a collector of Alamo relics.
From the Alamo I stopped in at the Menger Hotel - where Roosevelt recruited his Roughriders in the Bar there. On to the RiverCenter Mall for lunch in the Food Court - they had about 6 dental chairs in the open area of the mall - for teeth whitening (first time I have seen this anywhere and I wanted to mention it to Katie). I wandered around all afternoon - learning more about the Riverwalk and visited La Villita - site of the first neighbourhood dating back to the 1750s and now has artisan shops in the old houses. I returned to the hotel after 4 PM and relaxed before returning to the Riverwalk for a lovely 3 course dinner at the Ibiza Restaurant at the Hilton Hotel. Back to the hotel for a swim and a hot tub on the 3rd floor rooftop of the hotel. (Forgot the camera today - will try to put in a few pictures later.)
Wednesday - 4 hour drive to Alamo Trophy Gardens.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nov 10/11

Thursday, November 10/11 Cloudy - 58 degrees
Metro to Alexandria, Amtrak to Baltimore airport ($27 today vs. $51 on Sunday night for same trip). Flew at 1 PM with few bumps to Buffalo. Picked up car ($39 for parking). Fueled at Smoking Jo's in Sanborn, NY ($3.41 for $51 fill-up), over Lewiston bridge ($3.25) to visit Ellie Lech in St Catherines and another stop in TO at the Marsdens homestead and home in Lakefield by 9:20 PM.
Impressions of Washington:
Beautiful city - so much to see. Helped that I had perfect weather and the trees were turning colors - dropped back into fall for these few days.
Conservative city - tons of office workers - no wild clothing or hair - young workforce - not many old people around.
Lots of runners around city - on The Mall
Most workers - security and police. Purse checking and xray machines in almost every building.
Need to go back - did not do Supreme Court or the Art Museums
Great to visit with Tom and being spoiled with nice accommodations and dining.

Wednesday, November 9/11

Wed. Nov 9/11 Sunny 66 degrees
Metro to L'enfant Plaza and stroll over to the Library of Congress (Jefferson Building) - another beautiful building - tour of The Great Hall, Main Reading Room and Jefferson Library Room. Saw the Giant Bible of Mainz (Germany) - written by hand by monk on parchment in the mid 1450's and the Gutenburg Bible - first book printed with movable metal type (only one of three perfect vellum copies in existence.) Strolled over to Madison Library and got my LOC Library Card - good for 2 years and now I can go into the special reading rooms. Watched some "I Love Lucy" clips from a exhibit that was there.
Walked to Air and Space Museum - amazing place but teaming with school kids. Had lunch salad at the McDonalds on site. Over to the White House Visitors Centre and watched film. Walked by historical Willard Hotel and stopped in fancy Lobby there. The Trolley Tour driver said that presidents would meet with influential citizens in this lobby - origin of "Lobbying".
Strolled by the Treasury Dept Bldg. and Sherman Park Monument in front. Saw the White House from the street but any tour has to be booked months in advance.
Walked back to The Mall and toured the 3 floors of the Museum of American History - liked the bones exhibit - dealing with death mysteries, and Julia Child's kitchen and Bradford Doll House.
Then next door to tour the first floor of the Museum of Natural History that I missed yesterday. Back to Metro by 5:30 PM and dinner at Outback Restaurant with Tom. Hot Tub again - legs and feet were very weary by this 3 day tourist blitz. Packing for going home.

Washington DC Nov 8/11

Tuesday, November 8/11 Sunny 67 degrees
Metro to L"Enfant Plaza and walked over to Capital Building and did 9 AM tour. Beautiful building - incredible tower. Had very knowledgeable tour guide - older woman from Pennsylvannia who treated our group of 20 like she was a sargeant major - but in a nice way. Then back down the street to the National Botanical Garden Greenhouse and Gardens. Blitzed the Museum of the American Indian and enjoyed the temporary exhibit there entitled "A Song of the Horse Nation". It is a beautiful new building on The Mall shaped like a Southwestern Mesa. Walked over to Union Station for lunch in the Food Court there. Toured National Postal Museum after lunch and heard about the Pony Express and Owney the Postal Dog- now stuffed there. Interesting place.
Then back to The Mall and visited the National Archives - to see the original Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Next stop was the Natural History Museum - 2nd floor to go through the Bufferfly Exhibit - free on Tuesdays - I know how to plan. Also saw the Hope Diamond. No time for the first floor - come back tomorrow. Back to the Metro and off at Alexandria to meet Tom, had a quick Chipotle Grill supper and then a ghost and graveyard tour from their Visitor's Centre - Ramsay House. Lovely clear evening with the moon almost full. Alexandria is also home to the George Washington Masonic Memorial Temple (mentioned in the Dan Brown book - "Angels and Demons".) After the tour -back to the hotel and the hot tub.

Washington DC Nov 6-10/11

Mary Travels to Washington DC Nov 6/11
Since son Tom works in Washington DC a week a month I thought I would take this opportunity to visit with Tom and share his hotel room to have a home base to explore Washington DC - hadn't been there before. Don decided not to go with me because he had been to Washington on a tour when Tom was in Air Cadets.
On Sunday, Nov 6/11 I drove down to Buffalo Airport and flew Southwest to Baltimore Airport ( little over an hour flight) for cost of $159.40 return. I took the Amtrak train to Alexandria VA ( another hour and cost of $51 - one way). Tom picked me up at the King Street station and we had a lovely dinner at a "The Wharf" Fish Restaurant in this beautiful historical port town - close to Mount Vernon - home of George Washington. I had delicious She Crab Soup and Tom had Crab Cakes - shared dessert of pumpkin creme brulee - yummy. Home to the Marriott Courtyard Hotel - handicapped suite - in Springfield, Virginia. Tom gave me the king sized bed and took the sofa bed himself in the other room. Wasn't that nice!
Monday, November 7/11 Sunny 65 degrees
Breakfast of fancy oatmeal at the hotel cafe bar and then Tom dropped me off at the Metro Station - bound for Downtown Washington DC. Invested $31.50 on-line for the Old Town Trolley tour for the day to get oriented to where the points of interest are situated. First did the Uptown - Georgetown Loop - past the National Cathedral (Anglican) - but could not stop to tour this stop because it was closed - due to damage from the August 2011 earthquake. We toured by lots of embassies (Embassy Row) on Massachusetts Ave., National Zoo, Georgetown - old historical part of DC, Washington Harbour, Foggy Bottom where George Washington University owns blocks and blocks of real estate, Watergate Complex, and around the back view of the White House. That tour lasted about 90 minutes and then I needed some exercise and strolled over to the Old Postal Pavillion to view the city from the height of the observation deck in the tower - 270 feet high. This was a good alternative to going up the Washington Monument because that was closed due to earthquake damage too. It also housed bells in its tower.
From there I strolled back to the trolley headquarters and had a few minutes before the National Mall/Downtown Trolley Route so I toured the Ford Theatre and saw where Abraham Lincoln was shot by the actor John Wilkes Booth - a Southerner. Lincoln died later in a house across the street from that theatre. All this before noon - what a tourist!
Afternoon tour by all the buildings on The Mall - Smithsonian Museums and Capital Building, Supreme Court, Library of Congress and Union Station. Stopped off at the Smithsonian Castle - saw film and back on to go by Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Roosevelt Memorial, and new Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. Switched to the Arlington Memorial Trolley to go over the Potomac River to check out the Arlington Cemetery. Walked around there for a few hours - visited JFK's gravesite, Arlington House (Custis - Lee Mansion) Amphitheatre, Canada Cross and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Trolley back over the bridge to see the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, WWII Memorial (at the end of the Reflecting Pool - under construction) and the Korean Memorial. Crossed back over the bridge with the Trolley and caught the Metro at the Arlington stop and back to Springfield by 6:30 PM. Tom and I went out to dinner at a lovely Steakhouse - I had a stuffed Acorn Squash and Tom had fish. Then a trip out to Tyson Square Mall to refund an item for Diana. The Santa chair display was already there for the Christmas shoppers. Back to the hotel - and the hot tub to soak my weary bones. Great day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Travelling home now. We packed up the big truck and headed out of Trophy Gardens, Alamo Texas on Sunday, April 10 at 9:30 AM. Our first night on the road was at the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel, Lake Charles, Louisiana. We arrived about 6 PM and had some supper and signed up for their players card and spent some of their bonus bucks on the slots. We stayed the next morning there until noon so that we could get a few more bonus bucks - senior's monday special.

Then we took off for the Paragon Casino in Marksville, Louisiana - only about 3 hours north. Another nice hotel room - this one had alligators and fish ponds in the hotel lobby. Another feature was their cinema with 4 theatres - so we watched "The Lincoln Lawyer" starring Matthew McConaughay and Marissa Tomai that night.

Off early on Tuesday morning for an 8 hour drive up to Tunica, Mississippi - a Harrah Casino hotel for the night. We crossed the Mississippi River and headed north. The Tunica area has 10 large casinos and is the 3rd largest casino draw in the USA - after Las Vegas and Atlantic City. We toured the new Tunica Museum and learned about the area - which was a very poor area until the casino started up about 10 years ago and now it is a destination in itself. The Harrah Casino didn't give us any fun money to play with so we went casino hoping and found one that had senior's day and signed up there for a player's card and had some fun. We did find a coffee shop in one casino that was an internet hotspot so we checked on our emails. All these casino hotels charge for internet in the rooms - from $6 to $12/night so we found other places for free.

On Wednesday, we got on the road early for our 8 hour drive to Cherokee, North Carolina - another Harrah Casino. Our travel took us through Tennessee - from Memphis to Nashville through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (very touristy area - all kinds of theme parks - Dollywood is there - and dinner theatres, wax museum, etc) and over the Smoky Mountains into Cherokee. It is a beautiful area - perfect for hiking in the woods but we didn't have the time - although the weather was sunny and warm and the wild flowers (including trilliums) were blooming in the forest. We have been enjoying the spring blossoms on the trees - especially the dogwood and cherry trees. This Casino Hotel is on an Indian Reservation and has alot of Indian art - wood and stone decor. It seems very new and is expanding by building another 500 room hotel on site too.

Thursday morning - another 7 hour drive - destination Tom and Diana's house in Chesapeake, Virginia. Here we are relaxing for a few days - this afternoon we played golf - 18 holes on a real golf course - a first for me - no great shots but it was fun. Tonight - a fish fry at Tom and Diana's church.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yesterday was our hottest day in Texas. We considered putting on our air conditioner in the trailer but we knew a cold front was coming in and by the time we went to bed the temperature had dropped to 70 and was 60 by the morning. Check out the thermometer in our trailer in this picture. Not much difference from inside to outside. I spent most of the day at the pool.

Today Don and I went on a Tour of the La Sal Del Rey Wildlife Tract. This is a tour offered by the Valley Nature Centre with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We had to be at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge at 7:30 AM. We were loaded in a 12 passenger van and drove with a park naturalist for an hour north to one of 3 natural salt lakes. El Sal Del Rey, Spanish for "Salt for the King" was first located by the Spaniards in 1697 and quickly claimed for the king. They harvested salt here that was hauled out by ox carts to the Gulf, into Mexico as far away as Mexico City, and to all the Missions in Texas. Salt was the first Valley export. In 1747, the first Spanish settlers started commercial salt harvesting and 1/5 was set aside for the King. Salt was harvested commercially until 1936, and production has recently been started again by oilfield companies to use the brine for drilling fluids (it acts as a lubricant).

The salt lakes became involved in important Texas court cases as state mineral laws and changed in the late 1860's from public to private. The lakes and mineral rights became private domain in 1866.

We were out walking on the sand like it was a thin coating of ice. It has not rained here for many weeks so with the dry conditions, more salt is visible. Some birds were visible - small birds on shore and a flock of 8 white pelicans were floating on the water. We did see some wild turkeys in the brush. Our tour lasted till 1 PM and then we walked around Santa Ana and actually saw more birds there. At this time there is a"hawk watch" in the park. Lots of hawks roost in the trees there at night and will fly up to the high warm thermal winds in the morning to travel north.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Getting close to the end of this winter lifestyle in Texas. We have said goodbye to many of our neighbours this week as they head back up north. We have set our takeoff date for April 10 and will slowly make it over to see Tom and Diana in Virginia Beach by the 14 and proceed to Ontario on the 17th. So what have we done lately other than golf, swim, bike, eat and play games? On Saturday, March 26th, another neighbour Barb and I went to the Texas Women's Expo at the McAllen Convention Centre. It was the first time an event like this was held in the Rio Grande Valley and it seemed to be well attended by the ladies of the valley. It was the first event I had been to that I saw more local Hispanic people than Winter Texans. We enjoyed visiting the exhibitor booths and listening to speakers on Yoga, Feng Shui decorating, heart health and even a little fashion show. There was a salon doing haircuts, manicures, eyebrow waxing etc but the line-ups for that were long. On March 30 we enjoyed a boat cruise out of South Padre Island that toured the port of Brownsville. (We had won this trip for 2, as a prize from a Casino Night we had in the park. Don and I accumulated enough points by playing Blackjack that we made the winning bid on this trip at the end of the night point auction.) The Brownsville Ship Channel has been open since 1936 and is located at the southern most tip of Texas. It is a 17 mile channel. It was a windy day but we were sheltered for the Gulf of Mexico waves by travelling on this channel of the "Laguna Madre" which is the inner-coastal waterway. Cruising in the port of Brownsville we saw ships in drydock - for repairs. Also many shrimp boats were in the port. Apparently the shrimp season was just shutting down and will reopen in July. They informed us that the shrimp nets now have turtle guards so if the turtle get in the net there is a spot where they can escape. We also saw oil drilling platforms waiting to go out in the Gulf of Mexico. They come complete with helicopter pads but you have to be important to travel out the rig that way - regular personnel and supplies are transported by boat.It is built like a giant jack (all four corners can be ratcheted down so that it sits on the bottom. The biggest industry in the port seemed to be the selvaging of old ships. The big tankers, cargo ships, old navy ships, etc are cut up with giant blow torches after all the wiring and tubing, etc are removed. The metal is cut up in finer parts and loaded on a cargo ship to be taken to China to be reprocessed into metal spools for export to factories whereever. Glad to see the old ships aren't just put out of service and abandoned or sunk in the oceans? The cruise lasted about 3 hours and was followed by a late taco lunch, which was included in the trip and served in a restaurant on the pier. The next morning we did a Border Patrol Tour that the park arranged with their bus. We travelled to the Westlaco division of the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley. We had an interesting talk for one of the agents - she showed us her M-16 fully automatic rifle ( and let some guys of the group hold it - not loaded), her bulletproof vest, bullets from her pistol (223 cal 60 grain steel jacketed), night vision goggles and an infrared camera, and her snake protective shin guards. They catch up to 300 illegals sneaking across the border in the Rio Grande Valley a day - a million a year are caught across the the length of the southern border from Brownsville Tx. to San Diago Ca. They showed us the holding area where the illegals are processed and there were about 30 in the cells from the night before, half female and half from points further south than Mx., after which they see a judge and then receive a sentence depending on the number of times they have been caught. After they serve their time they are deported, the mexicans dropped off by truck but the others have to be flown to thir country of origin. There is also alot of illegal drugs that get seized - 700,000 pounds of marijuana last year. The age range to apply to be a border patrol agent is from 19 to 39 years of age. The women who spoke to our group was out of the navy after 11 years there but wanted to be closer to home to her 3 kids so she applied for this job - better pay too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another update to tell about a few new experiences. On Monday, I went with 7 TG neighbours to partake in Winter Texan Appreciation Day in Progresso Mexico. Don declined the adventure since he had been there in February when I was in Arizona and didn't want to go again. Even with scary reports of drug cartel problems in the Rio Grande Valley, the Mexican border towns rely on Winter Texans coming over the border to go to the dentists, buy their medications, eat and shop. This was the day they show their appreciation and the main street of Progresso was closed to traffic and 5 stages with entertainment were set up and there were many giveaways of bags, hats and pins. Winter Texans love anything that is free so lots of people came over to enjoy the day. We started with a Mexican breakfast in a little cafe on the side street. Luckily one of our group could speak Spanish to help us out. The rest of the morning we spent shopping and getting pinned with little advertising things. Lots of police presence around. We had a little refreshment at a local cafe - for the 8 of us - no charge because one of our party bought their medications at the pharmacy connected to it. On to lunch at a bakery/pharmacy/retaurant/pub with live music we could dance to. Then back to the main street to buy our last supplies and back over the border bridge - showed our passports, paid duty on liquor and home by 3 PM.

On Tuesday I had another new adventure by going to a Ropa warehouse - used clothing that comes from ? in great big bales that people climb on and sort through for things they may want and then pay for the pound for what they want. You were old clothes that you can was after you get back and you should have a shower as well. One of the TG ladies I was with was collecting baby clothes and old sheets and tablecloths that she takes to her church group back home. The baby clothes are cleaned and repaired and given to poor families. The sheets and tablecloths are used for quilts for charity too. Her 4 garbage bags of lout cost here less than $9. I got some t-shirts for Katie's sculture work and a few other things for a cost of 20 cents a pound so the adventure cost less that $4.

That evening I went to a concert of the McAllen Symphonic Band. Incorporated in 1974, McAllen Symphonic Band is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide cultural entertainment to the community and an outlet for local musicians who enjoy rehearsing and performing a variety of music. This concert was called "Water Music" and included selections from Pirates of Penzance, Titanic, The Little Mermaid and Handel's Water Music. There were about 75 musicians on stage, young and old and many were music teachers and band directors. The concert was very enjoyable.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Into Kingsville - a town that grew thanks to the King Family (mostly Henrietta and her grandson Bob) bringing the railroad to the area so they could ship their cattle and other products. The Kings donated an acre of land to any church that wanted to come to the town. They also donated land for schools. Our first stop was at the King Ranch Saddle Shop. Beautiful expensive things - complete with lots of stuffed animals and a working saddle shop. Check out their products at http://www.krsaddleshop.com/.

Back on the bus to be transported over to the John E. Conner Museum at the Texas A&M Kingsville. It contained the Graves Peeler Hall of Horns (trophy game mounts collected by an amazing, hunter, rancher and lawman, and the saviour of the Texas Longhorn.) It also had historica exhibits and a temporary exhibit of quilts from the Kingsville Saturday Quilters.
Back on the bus and returned to Trophy Gardens by 5:30 PM after starting out at 6:45 AM - good day - lots of learning.
Back to the King Ranch trip. On the 2 hour coach trip on the way to the ranch we had a local historian - Helen Myers - give us the history of the ranch and area. When we reached the ranch, a Ranch historian (retired teacher) boarded our bus and told us lots of info on our hour bus tour of the Ranch itself. The picture on the left is their business center which was originally their general store for the families that lived on the ranch. The first home on the property was a 2 room mud hut that Richard King brought his young bride Henrietta home to. A second home was built but burnt down in 1912 and the 3rd home was built on the original site. Henrietta King instructed the architect to design a house that anybody would be comfortable walking into wearing boots. Driving by the front door of the Ranchhouse you see Peacocks and Peahens at the front door. These have always been on the property from early days because Henrietta was afraid of rattlesnakes and peacocks will attack and kill rattlesnakes. Henrietta was a teacher (at age 17) from Brownsville and taught their 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys)and the ranch family children to Grade 8. The King children were sent to boarding school in St Louis Missouri for high school. The 2 oldest girls married men from St Louis, one of the boys wanted to be a farmer rather than a rancher so his parents set him up on a farm, the other son died of pneumonia at age 19 and the youngest daughter (Alice) came home to the ranch. She married a lawyer - Klieberg in 1886 and they ran the ranch for years. Henrietta lived to 93 and lived on the ranch all those years. Richard King died at age 60 from stomach cancer in 1885. Alice and her husband had 5 children and their son "Mr Bob" ran the ranch from age 24 to the end of his life. This picture on the right is of the carriage house - it has been in Ford commercials - lots of F-150 Ford King Ranch trucks to be seen. Another thing they showed us were "bump gates" so the drivers don't have to get out of their trucks to open gates on the Ranch - they work on a swinging spindle in the middle. The cowboys still use horses when they round up cattle in the mesquite tree brush areas - where the cattle pasture in the summer heat.

There was a bulldozer at work clearing mesquite bush because these were originally grasslands but due to the imported Mexican cattle grazing mesquite trees resulted - the mesquite trees are not native to Texas and are very difficult to kill because 2/3rds of the tree are the roots. The wood is super hard but very beautiful and now being used on expensive floors and furniture.

Today King Ranch is far more than cattle and horse ranching and is still owned by the descendants of Richard King.
Oil was discovered on the property and Exxon Mobile has a natural gas plant on the property.
Cotton is grown and they have one of the largest cotton gins.
They have 2 large sod farms - a leader and innovator growing high quality turfgrass sod for commercial and residential applications - in Florida.
They are the largest citrus growers in Florida - they are Tropicana and Minute Maid
King Ranch owns 90,000 acres in Florida.
They grow sugar cane and process powdered sugar.
They own a John Deere dealership in Texas, a horse farm in Tennessee and another farm in Pennsylvania and ranches in other locations in the world - Argentina, Brazil, Australia.
King Ranch offers one of the best hunting areas of South Texas - includes limited Nilgai (African antelop) hunts.
King Ranch is also a leader in wildlife management quail, white-tailed deer, wild turkey with Nature tours available. We saw alligators swimming and they have to harvest these non natives due to overpopulation.
It was all very impressive and then we went for lunch at a buffett in Kingsville. I am going to start a new post for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time to catch up again. What have we been doing for the last 10 days? Just enjoying the Texas sunshine. Last Wednesday we did meet our friend Thery King and her cousin Wanda for a lovely lunch at Pirate's Landing in Port Isabel. Last night we played "Night Golf" - a scramble with glow in the dark balls - it was fun with 45 people out. Sorry to say cousin Don and Maureen left this morning for Winnipeg and we will miss their company here at Trophy Gardens.

Today I was off on an adventure to King Ranch - a 2 hour bus trip north of us. The King Ranch is the largest family owned ranch in Texas - 825,000 acres. I wanted to tour this ranch because we have a Ford "King Ranch" pick-up truck and have passed the ranch on our way to the Rio Grande Valley for 2 winters now. So here is some info on the King Ranch.
Captain Richard King (1824-1885) , a Rio Grande Steamboat Captain bought 2 Spanish land grants on the Santa Gertrudis Creek and founded the legendary King Ranch in 1853. He bought Longhorn cattle from Mexico and battled droughts and cattle thieves to build a profitable ranch. Note the famous "running W" brand used by the King Ranch. Santa Gertrudis beef cattle were developed here in 1920 from Brahman cattle ( 3/8th) from India and English Shorthorns (5/8th) - a dark red hide which protects the cattle from sunburn and the first American produced breed of beef cattle. Later came the Santa Cruz beef cattle. Today they have 60,000 cattle - 30,000 breeding stock and 30,000 for market each year. the cattle and horses are sold to a buyer. There is a herd of Longhorn cattle on the ranch. Longhorn cattle are well suited for the climate and conditions of Texas but are too lean for the beef market - their colourful hides and horns are more valuable.
There are also cinnamon colored quarter horses and thoroughbreds - famous for the horse "Assault" who won the Triple Crown in 1946 - only Texas horse to do this. There is a horse cemetary for its famous horses - about 7 stones are in view. The horses were buried head, heart and hoof.
There are about 100 families involved in the running of the Ranch - some who have been involved for 7 generations. When Richard King purchased cattle from the villagers of Cruillas, Mexico, he wisely offered them work and a place to live if they helped him move the cattle north and continues to work with him on the ranch. These rugged, hardworking men became known as los kinenos, or King's people. Some of the families live on the ranch in a small subdivision of houses called The Colony.
On the property is the Ranchhouse - 32,000 square foot house that has 17 bedrooms and 19 bathrooms, a diningroom table that holds 40 to 50 diners - now run as a hotel for King Ranch corporate personnel.
The Corporate Centre of the King Ranch businesses is in Houston.
There was a dairy operation (Jersey cattle) on site until 1953 - used for supplying milk for the ranch's families.
(Bedtime - more info to add tomorrow)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Time to get back on track with this blog. So the sad update on golf is that Canada lost the tournament to the USA and then this past Wednesday it was Winter Ranch (the RV Park beside us) and Trophy Garden Challenge (our park) and we lost again. Maureen and I attended a 90 minute seminar from golf guru "Steve" (http://www.cornettasgolf.com/) that preachers to the recreational golfer at a nearby hotel ballroom. It was entertaining and we are hoping it helps our games. (It isn't showing so far?)

So what else have we done - besides golf and potluck dinners? Don and I went on a little bus trip to a Rio Grande River Cruise last Monday. We had an hour ride on the Rio Grande River - saw the damage on the riverfront properties from the flooding of the river last fall. The river stayed elevated for 33 days. We had a delicious lunch at the Riverside Grill where our cruise started and ended. The Border Patrol presence is certainly seen. We saw their lookout tower right beside this RV Park right on the river. I am sure it gives the residents some excitment at times.
Today, Maureen, Gail and I went to see "Man of La Mancha" A Musical Play at the University of Texas in Edinburg. It was very enjoyable and the actors were very talented.
Tomorrow is the Bike Club's Picnic at a local park. Some RVers have already left to go home and more take off each day. By the end of this month, the place will be alot emptier.
Almost forgot to mention I won $5 at Bingo on Friday night. I taught the weekly craft class on Friday - the Art of Zentangle - structured doodling. Got to keep busy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Update for this week. Monday was the Aloe Vera Farm tour. It was very interesting but sad because the aloe vera plants were severely damaged or killed by the freezing temperatures this February. It will take the plants 8 to 9 months to come back for the leaves to be harvested again - if they survive. There was a 45 minute outdoor tour on a haywagon done by a retired teacher who owned a citrus farm next door. Then we had a 45 minute indoor tour by an 88 year old lady - with a wonderful dry sense of humour - a little like Betty Whyte. She and her 89 year old husband help one of their sons manage the place. These presentations were followed by a chicken dinner lunch in their diningroom which they turn into a dance hall on the weekends. Plus they have made a golf course inbetween the aloe vera fields. And they are selling house lots around the place too.

So on to more of the week and it has been golf tournaments on our little Par 3 - 9 hole golf course on the property of this RV Park. Wednesday was the Canada-USA challenge and the Tropy went to USA this year. Today was a lady's scramble followed by the ladies luncheon and tomorrow is a Breast Cancer Fundraiser Scramble.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Been back in Texas for almost a week and can't say I have accomplished much? Been out on the golf course here a few times to get back in the swing of things (pun intended), taught my exercise class on Tuesday and Friday morning - suffered from that with those 2 weeks off routine in Arizona.
Did get out of the park with Maureen (cousin Don's wife) and Gail (another Manitoba friend) to visit the nearby town of Pharr. There was a 45 minute Trolley ride to see its historic buildings, followed by a chicken dinner and then a "Senior Cinderella Play". This was put on by the Pharr Literacy Program - a grass roots organization that started several years ago to bring ESL classes to the hispanic population (97% of their population) and now they run a nursery, their classes in English, Spanish, sewing, computer, business are all free with the students having to do volunteer service for their classes. This county is one of the poorest in the USA so they are giving these people a chance to better themselves. The evening cost us $15 each and was enjoyable.

Today we had a block potluck lunch party with about 40 people of our street participating. The food was great and I conducted a icebreaker game - each person had to write on a little paper - 2 unusual, unknown things about themselves and I read them out and people had to guess which person they came from. The things you find out???

The weather temperature is nice and warm - 80 degrees today but there is a strong wind - which isn't helping my golf game much. Someone told me that the wind is good to have - with no wind - little pesky bugs come out.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Last day in Arizona for this trip - to fly back tomorrow to Texas to rejoin Don in the Trophy Garden fun.
Yesterday Lynn and I spent the morning on a Historical Tour of Florence - travelling around in a trolley and stopping to tour homes or public buildings in that town. For lunch we had enciladas and tacos at an old Inn and listened to a man talk about a gunfight that took place in Florence between the sheriff and his deputy for unknown reasons. After lunch we went to the Casa Grande Ruins for a Native American Music Festival - featuring flute music. The weather has been sunny and 80 degrees so it was a pleasure to be outside for these events.
Tom, Lynn and I went to the movies to see the new "True Grit" movie with Jeff Bridges and then we had to rent the old "True Grit" with John Wayne. The new one is more sophisticated but the old one has its charms too.
That is it for Arizona.