Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The gift of spring

The Gift of Spring

Spring arrives slowly on Block Island shores,
It awakes, goes back to sleep, and then snores.
Down at the Spring House pump, that's where it all began,
When the wild mint grew through the old ice, to which we all ran.
Guarded by an old snipe, a big spider, and a new field mouse,
We went down the short trail to the old Pump House.
We always lingered, down at the old well,
Looking for signs of true spring, and what it would tell.

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Snookery

We have to give credit to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for rescuing redfish (red drum) and trout (spotted weakfish)in Texas. They were pretty near gone. However, the snook or in Spanish the Robalo is a native species and really needs our help. The South Padre-Port Islabelle area is the only place in the US that has significant numbers snook outside Florida - and few in number at that. This is why I think we need a snook hatchery down here.

For those of you who don't know, a snook is a turbo-powered bass on steroids with a major attitude. Rednecks love to talk about peacock bass from South America and the Amazon but the snook puts them all to shame. Yankees like to talk about how savage bluefish and stripers are, but there's simply no comparison because snook are spooky, wily, powerful and smart. You are lucky to catch one in your lifetime, and catching one is considered to be extremely good luck.

There is quite a business in fishing for snook in the Brownsville Channel and some guides can land you one on light line or better yet a fly rod, the most manly. However, the number of snook hasn't changed much and most folks get no snook because there just aren't many left. This is in spite of wonderful efforts by the guides to release all snook regardless of size - take a picture and let 'er go.

So my idea was to get some university and local folks together to try to raise a whole bunch of snook babies over several years to try to save the species in Texas. The idea would be to actually promote taking legal 24-28 inch snook so people could release them, eat them or mount them, whatever (they taste as good as they look - just watch the gill flaps, they can cut your finger off). So a fish hatchery would be needed, something I smugly call a "snookery."

Don't worry, you have not been snookered. But once you catch the fever - and bag a snook - you won't want to fish for much else. You don't have to go five hours out to sea to get a line pull like that, pound for pound. By comparison catching redfish and trout is like pulling up old boots from the muck. No, the snook deserves far better than that. Either we help the species survive or it will be gone forever.

It would be a darned shame if we did nothing for the South Padre Island snookery.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Rolling Parking Lot - And No Parking Anywhere!

THis blog was initiated by an article by Sandy Feet, who was cussing a fit because she couldn't park next to the beach for a sand castle lesson she was giving, and almost got her van towed away.

Imagine a time when you can't drive a car anywhere on the Island except at maybe 5 MPH during the peak times. Imagine a time when you can't find a parking place anywhere on the Island - including your own darned house! Imagine a time when it takes over an hour to get across the causeway, not counting Spring Break.

Well, that time is right now. True, it only happens during special occassions but it will only get worse as time goes on, more folks move to the Island, and more tourists show up for their vacations because there are more houses and condo and hotel units. That's what we get for becoming the "Texas Riviera."

True, the spikes still come on Friday afternoon and most folks leave on Sunday, although Memorial Day and July 4th tend to make the duration a little longer. I don't have any statistics but what is happening is that more people are on the Island between Monday and Thursday. Eventual growth could lead to eventual gridlock.

Let's do some basic transportation planning. Divided highways such as the Queen Isabella Causaeway with two lanes each way can probably handle 50,000 vehicles a day. However, they end up in an undivided "main drag" with a 30 MPH limit that probably reduces it to 25,000 a day. So if you have 25,000 vehicles a day, you are going to have Level of Service (LOS) "E", where the traffic falls below 50% of the speed limit. That would be 15 MPH. I'm not good with graphics in a blog like this, but the curve in exponential, so if you have, say, 30,000 vehicles a day, the traffic will be almost stopped, which technically is called "stop'n'go" or a "giant rolling parking lot" (LOS G - being funny here). Add just one traffic accident and you have the recipe for a true disaster, expecially if there is (Lord forbid) a hurricane or high-rise fire.

Locals - and folks like me who are moving to the Island but know the place well - know how people will hit the side streets so as to gain some footage on the main drag traffic. This was particularly true on the night of July 4th, 2004. I personally watched starting at 12:15 until the road was free-flow (no delay) at about 3:15 in the morning. That was a 3-hour traffic "rush hour." At that later time, the traffic on the Causeway seemed to move OK, although there were two major accidents in the clearing stages. The cars racing down the side roads were incredible, some attaining over 60 MPH (with people still walking on the side of the road). Many had tricked-out muffler systems so they sounded like farting airplanes or something.

South Padre didn't plan for all this traffic and they didn't plan for all the vehicles to park somewhere. If the transportation plan for South Padre is bogus, the parking plan is nonexistent. My suggestion was to direct visitors to places such as over-flow parking near Louis' and the Convention Center, using shuttles, but this idea probably makes too much sense to be adopted without a good fight and the kybosh. Another suggestion was that locals (local driver's license, local utility bill) would get special parking permits in addition to the Hurricane Sticker.

If we don't develop plans for traffic and parking, we'll end up like tons of other coastal tourist spots that have horrendous problems. Possibly the worst is on a small island called Block Island, Rhode Island. Here the walkers, bicyclists, and runners go faster than the cars downtown, which makes everyone mad and then the Mopeds follow the bikers and blow through and it is a complete mess. On South Padre island, the cars will hit the emergency/pedestrial lane as well as the center "idiot" turn-out lane, sometimes with disasterous results.

But don't take just my word for all this, and how the situation is so dire. The local Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) engineer, a real nice guy, can fix you up with all the vehicle counts at certain points in South Padre. Now, these counts are based on those black rubber tube thingies (pneumatic counters) you drive over, and only reflect Monday-Thursday traffic, but when compared over the years, you'll get a good sense of what is happening over time. You can then ask for a special study to measure weekend and holiday vehicle peak traffic and see if TXDOT can fund it. Be sure to ask for the traffic recorders to be set out on Thursday and taken in Monday - these guys and gals travel all Texas and do not work Fridays or the weekends. Just having automated data from the Causeway doesn't give you the whole picture, so don't fall for that one.

The parking problem is just a function of traffic volume. It's that easy, except forecasting how much "over-flow" parking is needed would require a little more effort and maybe some grant writing. If you'd like a second opinion, please contact Mr. Dennis Perkinson of the Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M. Tell him Sam Wells sent ya! We're old buds. I'll let him know you're onto him ...

Saturday, March 26, 2005

On South Padre Climates

I sat down to write about the weather, but let me start with a note about folks who like to brandish stuff after their names, like Dr., Jr., III ("Trey"), JD, MPA, MD, and so forth. My dad has a PHD but folks don't call him "doctor." I have a Master of Geography but please don't call me "MAG" and I don't ever use the moniker.

But all geographers love climatology and the weather. Some folks think that grographers won a key WWII battle by surprising the Nazis during the Normandy Invasion (D-Day). Surfers, now those are budding little geographers because they can predict waves, sometimes much better precision than the big-government weather folks, the NOAA. Suffice it to say that the weather in Austin and South Padre is completely different.

That's because the two towns are in completely different climactic zones. Austin's climate is more influenced by continental air masses, while South Padre is predominantly a coastal marine area. What's the difference?

Let's look at the summertime, when fewer cold fronts sweep the state. A continental high pressure cell will form over New Mexico and wander almost overhead in Austin. This means dry and hot, with clockwise winds spinning most of the wind from the southeast. Down at the coast, the same winds flow but they have something call the "sea-breeze effect" that can set up some major showers, and perhaps even a few water spouts (funnel clouds over the Gulf). These showers don't happen all the time and it is very difficult to predict them.

The Laguna Madre makes things even more interesting, as it is an unusually warm body of shallow water. Interaction with sea breeze and the Laguna micro-region and the Rio Valley can lead to some interesting little thundershowers.

I hate to be on the beach during a thunderstorm, given the lightning stike potential (more people are hit by lightning in Florida than bit by any shark, alligator, all animals combined). So one day I watched this black cloud come up from Mexico ... and said "Honey, let's boogie back to the barn." So we scampered home in the midst of a few of those really fat raindrops. And then ... nothing.

So considering myself an amateur expert, I was completely miffed. I sat on the porch and watched that black cloud turn up to Brownsville, nail Harlingen (2 inches of rain), and then circle back over the north end of the island, making a big giant circle back to where it began. I beleived that storm was mocking me!

After seeing that about five times, over the years, I began thinking (thought you smelled wood smoke, eh?). So I did some research and contacted some weather gurus such as Troy Kimmel and Mark Murray up here in Austin. The answers, while complex and confusing, seemed to help.

What happens sometimes is a coastal trough develops about 20-40 miles off Padre beaches, roughtly running parallel to the beach. Sometimes you can see the cloud bank off the beaches. The sea breeze develops about 10:00 in the morning and leaves the trough to travel northwest (sometimes the sea breeze gets all the way to Austin, providing some much needed farmer's rain). If there is any instability over the region, larger than expected thunderstorms can develop. That can create "outflow boundaries" that have cooler air at the edges. Sometimes these outflow boundaries can develop even larger storms, which tend (we're guessing here) to push from the north back to the south. A special kind of double-low pressure system known as a tropical upper trough (TUTT Low) can also produce similar results.

All this doesn't sound very satisfactory but it will have to do for now. The weather dudes were careful to say that the average thunderhead only lasted about 15-30 minutes, so what I was watching was a series of cells that appeared to move as one in a circular pattern (he did ask if I had a beer or two, also! That's an Aggie for ya.). I hope we get to see lots of these little black clouds because South Padre Island is normally a very, very dry place, maybe 20 inches of rain a year as compared to almost twice that much up in Austin.

This just in: Dr. Gray has just released his preliminary 2005 hurricane season outlook, and it's not a good one. Eleven named storms, a number he says could be revised upwards. He mainly blames it on unusually warm ocean currents. We'll be watching those coastal troughs and TUTT systems in the early part of the seaon, since those are the ones that would be most likely to impact the lower Texas coast. I'll have more to write on those, as the season progresses, but "retrograde" lows that curve to the west are the most dangerous for us.

As a final note, three major hurricanes hit the Bahamas and Florida last year, and the only way to get through to my folks was on satelite phones and satelite Internet. The only way for them to transmit was with a satelite dish - that hadn't blown away - and a generator for the juice and repowering the phone batteries. So, when I get the bucks, you know what I'll be buying! Best regards,

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Buying on South Padre

A few folks have asked how to buy a place on South Padre and although I don't have many tips, you have to be ready to "swoop and pounce" for a good deal if you're in the under-250K league like us. Swoop and pounce means you have to (1) make one or two or three visits to the Island and (2) you have to pounce because the good deals last hours, not days or weeks.

I've never seen anything like it. One house out by the Tiki was listed on Friday and we liked it, but by Sunday a contract was already written and accepted - no deal for us. Gosh, we wasted three hours getting that offer right. Heck, we wasted a long drive all the way to Padre. So we kept looking and found some of what the house inspectors call "bulldozer material." I mean, these were nice houses back in the 1960's and 1980's but they were in such bad shape the house inspector refused to survey them. Whoa! Hey, they were in our price range, but we appreciated the advice.

On the third shot we found something that someone obviously took care of, a little old, but the house inspector said it was not so bad, like definitely not bulldozer material. So we wrote it up and laid down a check for a grand in earnest money. Since we already did one application, we flew through the papers in less than an hour. Scribble, scribble, scribble.

It was accepted in several hours - unbelievable!

I want to offer some advice because that house inspector was a real help, even though realtors really hate them - with a capital "H". To tell the truth, we offered before having the inspector come by but the idea was that our offer was contingent on the survey. He found stuff I could't ever find. It was well worth the $250. Don't ever buy a house of any kind on Padre without spending this little bit of money, even if it is new. What happens is that the salt environment is so harsh and the contractors are so loose (no offense, but there are lots of kinds of contractors and self do-ers) that you really need a second opinion. Write it into the contract that your offer is only good if you like the house inspection.

So yes we had some issues and after we move in, I have a good document from the house inspector for planning what I want to upgrade over time, like maybe getting a new A/C sometime but no big rush. Apparently, South Padre island chews up A/C units and spits them out. I had no idea. Well, welcome to the Coast, gringos!

So if you have a nice realtor like we did (leave a message below if you want to know our favorite), a few weekends, and the ability to swoop & pounce, that's about all there is to say. If you're in the plus-300K league, well, things are much more relaxed and the deals on houses and units don't disappear in minutes - some have been on the market for many, many moons. This is similar to any other coastal resort town in the US, except maybe things in Florida are still screwy because of all the hurricane damage (yes, it is really bad stil, since November, with blue tarps still on many roofs).

So yes, you're in a flooding area subject to high winds, hurricanes, and the Formosan termites, but it takes only some "swoop & pounce" to seal the deal if you really love the area. For middle-class, regular old folks like us with two grown kids, that was quite a feat.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Design Review Planning Revisited

In a recent blog Sandy Feet described how most of the design and review decisions related to remodeling of existing businesses, which is fine, but apparently some big developers have some BIG IDEAS for South Padre Island, and maybe this is where we should spend our energy. She's right, of course. North, south, and middle, SPI is expected to rapidly grow over the next five years as the "boomer" generation retires here or makes more visits. To reiterate, most of the design-based decisions to date are about signs, appearance (paint job), and trifling things like that, involving maybe $500 in improvements. Folks, we're fixing to be stream-rolled with new construction projects and my read is that we're not ready to stand up to these million-dollar projects. Indeed, the construction of several thousand hotel/motel units has already significantly altered the visual landscape of the area, some say to the detriment of the community.

And we're not ready, is what I say. South Padre Boulevard from the Causeway to the Convention Center is basically one big long corridor that offers a perfect opportunity to regulate the apprearance of commercial structures, pedestrian amenities, and screening and landscaping (not to mention traffic capacities). Don't like the tacky T-shirt shops with post-modern aluminum and plate glass? Now is your time to act; about four major projects are thought to be coming down the pike. Yup, block-long affairs, capital U-G-L-Y, and all in need of some guidance before construction.

Now, I am not certified by the American Planning Association (although I'm a planner by graduate school degree), and do not have the SPI Design Review Planning Guidance or the highway beautification documents, but I can add a few grains of salt here. Let's start by saying that most of the jobs associated with planning on SPI are actually done pretty darned well. I'm talking about zoning, stormwater, sewage, impervious cover (well, maybe), parking, signage, massing (building footprint), and things like that. The only "black eye" on parking was to allow cars to be able to park in front of establishments so they had to back out right into Route 100 traffic, which is a real no-no from a traffic safety and planning perspective (this is known as rollover-curb parking on the right-of-way; the Mall, Blue Marlin, and other retail outlets are guilty as charged here; these are probably "grandfathered," anyway).

One of the main principles of design review is that (1) the vision should apply to the entire subject area and not individual cases, in this case the entire South Padre Boulevard corridor, and (2) that performance standards should allow for alternatives while maintaining the desired outcomes, without being overly prescriptive. This is a tall order and I don't think we have "the vision thing" for that yet. For example, one presentation by a Pittsburg planning company showed how nice a shaded, pedestrian boulevard would look great except that it had red brick buildings, which look totally out of place in a beach community. And were those maple trees? On SPI, I doubt they'd make it a year.

So what the heck is SPI? Historically, SPI had been a small group of summer bungalows, some with those neat "Bali" roofs. The commercial property on Padre Boulevard was either a beach bungalow or a flat-top one story building. In the 1970s, some geodesic domes were built, although it would be a stretch to say that would be part of an Island legacy. After that, the post-modern cubist style moved in on the main drag, lead by the T-shirt shops. Essentially, there is and was no "historical district" with a defining architectural style, such as one would find in Brownsville, Harlingen, or Mission. Lack of a historical district really puts the hamper on a design review board because they can't require certain standards of performance for old buildings or, for that matter, new buildings that could emulate such a standard.

My feeling is that SPI is split between to design styles: the Spanish stucco block buildings (often with arches and flat roofs) and the wooden beach house with a big "swooping" roofs. Design review boards can actually lead architectural styles for new construction down these two paths, if it deems this necessary or "good." By doing so, the brand new block-long warehouse stores could be made much more pleasing to the eye. For example, the design board might not approve a blueprint that had more than 20 feet of straight lines without an arch, roof dormer, or something to that effect. Note that having two or more styles would be better than what is done up North, where "1890 colonial" is more the norm.

Two observations before I sign off. First, there is very little shade on the Boulevard. People love a little shade now and then, especially in the thousand-degree summer sun, although palm trees really don't do the trick that well. So one suggestion is to build some bus stops with shaded covers (and flowering plants) so that the Wave can attract more people to use transit instead of cars. Who knows, perhaps the benches could have advertisements or something, but lack of shade and lack of transit volume is really hurting the system. Attractance, is good.

Second, there is guidance about how to grapple with gambling, in the context of design review planning. I think we need to fess up that even though most people hate it, there is a high chance SPI could eventually get video lotteries (slot machines) and casinos within the next five years. There are even rumors that some of the T-shirt shops are actually place-holders for future Keno and crap-table shacks. Are we ready for that?

I don't think so. We need a comprehensive corridor plan. Let us know how we can help!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Alaska Ho! The AWNR

Last I heard the US Congress has approved a budget bill that could include massive drilling fot oil & gas in the Alaska Nation Wildlife Reserve (AWNR), something set aside for over 50 years. Well, the budget bills are in trouble for other reasons, but this section of the appropriations bill was passed with flying colors. Legislation by appropriation. Whatever you think, here's the reality of the situation.

Alaskan crude oil comes down all the way from North Slope oil fields to the port of Valdez, of major distinction because the largest oid spill happened off there in Prince Edward Sound - the Exxon Valdez, of all boat names. The oil is transported by oil tanker to ports mainly near Los Angeles and El Segundo, California, although some goes to other port refineries on the West Coast.

Now, there is little way to transport crude oil over the Rockies, so the oil and refined products tend to stay on the West Coast. Only the West Coast. So if the West Coast refineries are full of crude oil, the excess would go to places like China and Korea and Japan, since the US cannot absorb much more volume of crude oil on the US West Coast.

So one might draw the correct conclusion that opening up the ANWR would not do dookie for the US balance of crude oil consumption. I've been in this business for many years and the major oil companies really do not want to develop the AWNR because it is so expensive. It was purely political. The soonest something could happen would be 2010, and by then the oil flow would only be a million barrels a day, or less than a tenth of one percent of our daily imported crude oil consumption. It would come at billions of dollars worth of investment and, frankly, the oil exploration and production companies would want some government money just to get it out of the ground. Wow, you didn't know that that, did you? Heck, the oil companies can't even drive a truck over the ground except when it is totally frozen. It's bad for the permafrost but also the trucks get stuck real bad in the mud.

Opening the Western Gulf of Mexico to drilling makes more sense to me, even though South Padre Island is in that part of the world. We don't want drilling on the beaches here but some gas wells about 13 miles out to sea would provide not only some needed energy but also some real good fish habitat. We've seen some small-time wilcatters driling on Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi but they are small time operators. The real big drill rigs are out in water at least a 200 feet to a half-mile deep, or more.

I feel bad about the ANWR going to heck over some misguided energy policy. Find it on the map; it is a horrible place to extract hydrocarbons, about as far from Valdez as you can get. What happened was that the old wells in Prudhoe Bay have been playing out, much diminished. Not as much oil is coming out of Valdez any more. The local senators and highly connected polls want to keep the boondoggle going, however, no matter what the cost. It is a shame; we all know just a little bit about the unique wildlife and natural beauty up there.

We can safely get more bang for the buck from the Gulf of Mexico and I don't think it would hurt us on South Padre Island. The worst problem is the towing of oil platforms into the port of Brownsville, which sometimes causes tar to end up on our beaches. Something can be done about that, too. And that, friends, is the news!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Manana - The Art of Doing Nothing

OK, my rant about Spring Break is over and I'm back to daydreaming about what I'm going to do when I finally make the move to South Padre Island - like unload the bed, first! Sure, there is fishing, sailing, kiting, surfing, eating, dining, walking, shopping, and for some of us, a little working (hopefully lots, or we'll be selling).

Then there's the art of Manana (pronounced man-yana), of putting things off as long as you can so you can relax. Lots of folks have absolutely no idea about the Manana factor, being Type-A folks that always have to be stirring like a margarita blender on high speed. For us Beta types, it just comes natural. A book, a lounge chaise, and a cool drink is all it takes. So many folks come down to Padre and ask "what they heck is there to do down here" and this is unfortunate, since the obvious answer is "absolutely nothing." Chill. Turn off the cell phone, the computer, and the TV. Listen to the ocean. Ah, now that's life.

Lot's of our Manana time revolves around what the sun is doing. Morning coffee with a newspaper (mainly to be used for wrapping fish) on one side of the house, in the shade. Noon at the beach for an hour, with lots of sunscreen. Afternoons on the other side of the house, in the shade again. All bets are off when there's no sun or it's raining, though: there is always tomorrow, Manana.

Sooner or later, yes, you'll make your move and actually do something. The main point is not to act hectic, hassled, or hasty. It is not macho. It goes against the grain of Manana, being so close to Mexico and all that. And yes, a siesta in the afternoon is completely acceptable. I'll see you ... manana!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Life's About the Play, Not the Pay

There was a question on the South Padre Island forum asking "how old is too old for Spring Break." Naturally, I had to add my two cents, saying never. Then a person responded something like "some people never grow up" and I think it was an observation, nothing personal, but I'd like to expand on the concept. See, I am moving to a place where there's an ordinance against neckties.

Then, I talked with my brother, Morgan, who is helping write a book entitled "Is the American Dream Killing You" and a companion book soon to follow. He lives in Costa Rica now, by the way. I asked about my "life's about the play, not the pay" idea and he agreed wholeheartedly. He's a yatch insurer, professional yatch racer, and a wannabee champion surfer.

The book is very timely, by the way, since about half of the Americans think their jobs suck for air. It also comes at a time when the President want to encourage private investment in Social Security, which is literally like beating a dead horse. It comes at a time when the bastions of corporate management, like Martha Stewart, Enron and Worldcom, are headed to prison (or just got out). Over 60 percent of the people making the minimum wage are over 20, according to the US Census. What happened to this country?

Perhaps the American Dream where you went to school, dressed up for jobs in suits, and made huge bundles of money honestly is over. Even the doctors and lawyers are griping about their formerly kushy jobs. You have plumbers with plumber's cleavage making more money than State workers in management, for crying out loud.

One of the happiest people I met on the Island is a person that builds sand castles.
So I might live like I'm still 25 years old, but don't ask me to "grow up." If you lose the ability to play, just like a kid, you're doomed. I'm headed to where I can go play on the beach and still make almost six figures. Austin got way too serious for me.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Island Blogs

I got a nice note from a guy on Block Island, Rhode Island, one of my former summer haunts. His favoritie things are fishing, flying, and "tormenting elected officials," which endears me to him greatly. See

Of course, the king - I mean Queen - of South Padre Island blogs is Sandy Feet, aka Lucinda Wierenga. This is more of her own commercial blog, as opposed to folks that use free server services such as from Google (iBlog,, etc.). She was nice enough to link me at her site at

My folks are on one of the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, Man-o-War Cay, and I've asked around there if there are any bloggers. It seems I've developed a taste for island-type bloggers. OK, they're a little salty and need some lemon or ketchup or mayo!

So I'll do some more research here as long as the beer holds out, and get back on what I find. I do know that a common thread might be island development, but I'll be as neutral as I can ... oh, where's Everrett from BLock island when you need him?

The sign is out front, waiting for a buyer so I can skeedaddle down to South Padre.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Twenty-One Plumerias

You can tell a lot about people from what kinds of plants they have. I currently have 21 plumerias; I usually also grow peppers, tomatoes, and onions for salad & salsa, too. I'll have to admit, 21 plumerias is a little excessive, but allow me to plead my case.

Once there was a little greenhouse nursery that only did tropical plants, here just outside of Austin. So we showed up on a boring Saturday afternoon and saw these amazing trees that flowered. "What on Earth are those," we asked. "Plumeria, our specialty. That's the Hawaiian lei flower, just like you see on TV." We asked about some of the cheaper models (they can run to $300 a plant) and hooked up with some $12 big ole stragglers that couldn't sell as good.

Frangipani is also a term used to decribe the plant, although it more correctly refers to the sweet scent of the flowers as used in perfume.

Unfortunately, there's not a big market in Austin for plumerias and the place went out of business, shipping their plants and their high-dollar botanist back to Houston. So on the close-out sale, we kinda bought whatever was less than $12, maybe another $90-some bucks or so.

Then we discovered we could mate the things - what's it called, propagation or something? Wierd bats and moths did the job for a few plants but my son figured out how to use a toothpick to cross-fertilize the plants. Basically, most hummingbirds and moths and bats can't get way down to the, err, uvulum or something, so a little help is good.

So what happens when they are mated successfully is that the female whatever thingy grows a big ole seed pod with like a hundred seeds in each one. It looks more like a long bean or something similar, maybe 5-7 inches long, two beans on each side of the stem. When they dry out and crack open, the seeds explode all over and are carried with the wind - which is why we used some of Lori's old nylon stockings to make sure we got a few. Yep, a few folks were asking why I was decorating my plants with hosery! Everyone thought I was a little kinky, too.

Well, those little puppies could certainly grow. I planted 25 seeds and every single one of them sprouted. Through neglect on my part (bummer) about half died, which I guess is par for the course with the botany thing. It tunred out that Eric's hybrid was a common Mexian purple crossed with a true Hawaiian gold, which makes a pretty flower but little of the scent we saw of the parant plants. Not that we are complaining.

We might unload a few plumerias but most are coming down to South Padre Island so we can put them in the ground and not have to dig them up or move them in the garage every year. They really can't handle temperatures below 38 degrees very well, and four hours below 28 degrees will freeze the tips bad, causing them to tuen black. Hey, I know some SPI locals just like that!

Just kidding, too. When we get down there you may have to take a rooting from one of these plants. An amazing plant; it also grows from cuttings if you put them in some water. I'll experiment with some grafting, too, where you can have a plant with three kinds of flowers. Stop by, have some coffee, and check these little boogers out.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Stripping and Waxing!

Sounds sexy (whoo-hoo), but stripping and waxing floors is a big chore I'm finishing now, one of the final touches before selling the Austin house. What I did was to throw out all the nasty carpet in the house except for some new stuff in the master bedroom. Nasty? Yes, carpet is the nastiest thing you can put down for flooring. In high traffic areas the dirt goes through the carpet mesh, down into the pad, and sits there making mildew and all kinds of allergens. Vacuum cleaners just beat the dirt further into the pad. For real, dude! It was real gross there for a while, removing the, err, waste. We sneezed for days ...

So instead of buying Saltillo or other clay flooring for over a buck a foot I bought boxes of commercial linoleum - for 30 cents a foot. Pergo (fake plastic wood), hardwood, and ceramic seemed so high I just did what I did and after stripping the floors and testing the no-buff polish, it looks great. It reminds me of the Travertine floors of long ago. They kind of have a racket, where you have to get Armstrong commercial vinyl tile, the stripper, and the waxer, all the same brand. Hey, it's dog-friendly and easy to clean, once it's stripped and waxed good.

So I got real good at using the right glue and putting the 12-inch squares down but soon was cutting little, itsey-bitsey pieces around the closets and rapidly lost my drive. I still have a closet or two to do.

Then I discovered that there's always at least an 1/8-inch gap between the flooring and the trim. I wasn't putting down several hundred feet of quarter-round trim, so I caulked the gap and used tape to paint the trim down over the caulk. Not bad, but for $500 of vinyl "sea shell" tile I was wore out and my knees were about to fall off into the bar ditch.

The realtor of course liked the beige paint and was somewhat taken back by the tile. "OK," she sez, "you can bring in throw carpets if you want or there are folks who are hyper-allergic so maybe they'll like this kind of stuff." When I mentioned stripping and waxing and polishing she was out the door so fast it would make your head spin.

I have to comment that I've seen a lot of thin-set ceramic tile, like Saltillo and other commercial clay products, and often it cracks or comes loose. A true ceramic floor requires at least one-half inch of masonary mud. The worst part is when refrigerators and other heavy stuff is brought in with a hand truck and the thin-set tiles go "crick, pop, crack." Busted! I think you could land a Space Shuttle on this here linoleum and if you had the right kind of stripper and polisher, it would be just fine.

The house goes up on the block Friday. Wish us luck. I'll still be, err, stripping and waxing. Just don't let on to the realtor, OK? She's not the wild type, if ya know what I mean.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Iguana of the Porch

I got "Spike" for Lori many years ago, and he lived a long time until a Black Widow spider bit both him and me. Killed ole Spike in two days. Meanwhile, I was on the road in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the biggest toe you ever saw in your life. After I came back we killed that widder good, nesting right under my chair, it was. Anyway, Lori sorely missed that ole boy 'iggie' and a year later for Christmas I got another green iguana for Lori. Sweetie, a real suuuweeeet gift. A girl, naturally. We know she's a girl because she's laid a dozen eggs or so when whe was hiding. Spike would never do that; he used to chase Lori around the house when she wore anything red. Funniest thing you ever saw. Whoop, whoop, whoop!

To cut to the quick, the new girl iguana needs a porch. In the house we're moving, there's a little porch in front, which is probably where the critter will go for a while. Sure. But there's something strange about this house: it has a second story back door leading to nowhere. Air. Seriously, there's a door and you probably want to keep it locked especially if you sleep walk. It's wide open virgin territory, sailor!

Evidently, at one time there was a really nifty, huge back porch on our property, and it probably rotted out and was carried off and all that is left is a master bedroom door leading to nowhere. Well, that iguana and me is going to change some things. We're going to build a back porch, come hell or high water.

Now this takes some real, manly, red-neck planning, which hopefully doesn't involve drawing a picture - but we'll be glad to pull our Stanley tape rulers out if you insist. The big question to me was whether I should get longer 4X6 posts so a roof could be built over the porch, or short posts to just come up to the railing? I've just seen too many 4X4 posts twist and crack and 'noodle', and I'm not a little concerned about the hurricanes, too. What kind and how long and can I have them delivered without going broke?

When we finally end up on South Padre we will probably be exhausted and nearly out of cash. But I have plans for Sweetie the iguana, a back porch, and a quiet place to hang my hammock that is my own. This is not the iguana of death. This is not an existential iguana. This is the iguana of the darned wooden porch. Good place.