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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Touring Texas

We're back home after taking a break from winter to enjoy some Texas sunshine. Several things combined to prompt us to take this trip with my sister and her husband. Not everything we had planned worked out but we just adjusted the plans and saw some other things instead. The first days were cloudy, one was rainy, and the last two were gorgeous. We saw Texas in July many years ago and got the impression it is all desert and scrub. Visiting in the spring was entirely different.  Texas had a lot of rain this winter and everything was lush and green. The sight of flowers, green grass and trees was food for winter-weary souls.
We flew out Tuesday afternoon, March 18, and arrived in San Antonio, Texas, in the evening where we had reserved a rental car and motel room. For the next six days we drove around Texas in this 2013 Impala, pretending we were from California. (notice license plate)
We started our first day of being tourists by driving into San Antonio to see the Alamo. Although it was cloudy, it was nice and warm and did not rain on our parade. We spent about two hours looking at the displays and learning some Texas history at the Alamo. Six Flags Over Texas is more than an amusement park. Six different flags actually flew over Texas until it finally became a permanent part of the United States. The flags of Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, United States, and Confederate States of America flew over Texas before the end of the Civil War. Then it went back to the United States where it has remained. But a lot of people lost their lives in the fighting that went on to get to that point.
We could take pictures outside the Alamo but not inside. The grounds between the buildings are beautifully landscaped.
The Battle of the Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836) was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under launched an assault on the Alamo (an abandoned Catholic Mission established in 1718) near modern-day San Antonio. All 180 of the Texian defenders were killed, including Davy Crockett. The defeat at the Alamo intensified the revolutionary spirit and "Remember the Alamo" became the battle cry until Texas achieved independence and became its own Republic.
After we left the Alamo we walked about a mile to O. Henry's house. But we walked more than a mile because we followed the Riverwalk which winds through the city on both sides of the San Antonio River. It is a beautiful walk but rather expensive to eat or sleep there. We just enjoyed the scenery which was free for the looking.
O. Henry was not a very noble character in some areas, but he was a master at writing short stories with a surprise twist or ending. Two of my favorites are Gift of the Magi and Springtime a la Carte. He lived in this little house in San Antonio for three years during his writing career.
He left everything in the house when he moved to Austin, so everything inside is what he used when he lived here. I am always fascinated with seeing the places my favorite authors did their writing. Here I am, sitting at O. Henry's writing table. His actual name was William Porter and O. Henry was his pen name.
We walked some more of the Riverwalk to get back to our car. After not being able to walk my trail all winter, I was dragging but I made it. Our next stop was a botanical garden in San Antonio. It was not free like the Alamo and O Henry house, but well worth the admission price. Texas has many diverse regions. The San Antonio Botanical Garden is divided into sections which allowed us to see most of them in a nutshell. On the Texas Native Trail we walked through the Hill Country, East Texas Pineywoods, and semi-arid South Texas Plains.  There we were finally able to identify Texas Mountain Laurel tree we had been seeing.
In another part of the garden we walked through the Conservatory which houses a tropical paradise of anything from palms and other tropical plans to desert cactus.

And of course, the formal gardens were awash with spring flowers that were a feast for the eyes.

I have so many pictures of the garden that it is hard to select which ones to show here. Of course, this required more walking and by the end of the day I was stiff and sore but that was the price for seeing everything I wanted to see. We went back to the same motel for the second night.
On Friday morning we drove a little over an hour north to the LBJ Ranch. This was the home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. We took a free driving tour of the ranch area and then paid $3 to tour the Texas White House where the Johnson family lived. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house but everything in it is what they used. We got an education on Johnson's personal life which was a side we never knew before. He was a Texas cowboy and enjoyed the things for which cowboys are known. We could take pictures outside and some of the things we saw were his barn where the cattle were worked and his airplane.

Johnson called this Air Force One-half. The landing strip at the ranch was not long enough to land Air Force One so he would land at Austin and take this smaller plane to the ranch. He flew back and forth often, spending at least a quarter of his presidential time at the ranch. I could see why this place would have been relaxing in comparison to Washington DC!
On our way from the ranch to Fredericksburg where we had motel reservations, we stopped at the Wildseed Farms. It is a nursery, but they also grow fields of wildflowers. We saw some bluebonnets there but they were not in full bloom yet. They had a lot of cool rainy weather this winter and the season was getting a slow start. Fredericksburg is proud of its German heritage and we had a  genuine schnitzel supper at a German restaurant. Our waitress was a German and the food tasted very much like the food we had in Germany.
Saturday was a rainy day but we had indoor activities so it didn't matter if most of the day was drippy. We drove east to Austin and the home of one of my good friends. We have worked together on family history and genealogy nearly ten years. He was here several times to chase down his ancestors and it was good to see where he lives. We made our plan of attack over a cup of coffee and then headed for the Texas History Museum in Austin.
The displays gave us a good overview of Texas history and life in the various sections of the state. There is the Hill Country in the east, Great Plains in the panhandle, desert is the west, and farming and citrus orchards in the Rio Grande Valley in the southern tip, to name a few. As a lady at a visitor center told us. "Texas has everything. Some states have mountains, some have beaches, some have lakes, some have farming, etc. but Texas has everything."
Leroy and our friend enjoyed looking at this old pickup that has seen better days.
We also saw an old ship that sank off the coast in 1686. It was recovered and is being reassembled in the museum. I was amazed that it had not entirely rotted away in more than 200 years under water.

After we left the museum we walked to the University of Texas where our friend used to teach before he retired. In the Ransom Center on the campus, we saw a Gutenberg Bible printed in Germany between 1450 and 1455. It is one of only five Gutenberg Bibles in the United States. The Bible is open to a place in Exodus but we could not begin to read it as it. This Bible was printed before Martin Luther translated it into German, so this copy is in Latin.
The Gutenberg Bible is the first substantial book printed from movable type on a printing press. Gutenberg's invention revolutionized the distribution of knowledge by facilitating the production of many copies of a single work in a relatively short amount of time. This led the way to the Reformation in the 1500s.
We ended our day with a meal of delicious real Texas Barbq, and then drove about an hour east to our motel at Bastrop.
On Sunday morning we attended the Grace Mennonite Church near Bastrop. We enjoyed the fellowship and were invited to stay for lunch which extended the fellowship hour. We were glad to be able to visit with Maria Bontrager but missed her parents who are currently in Guatemala. Of course, we played "The Mennonite Game" and it didn't take long for us to connect with several people who were related to or know the same people we know. We had a long drive ahead of us so we left around 1:30 pm and headed south. One of our goals on this trip was to see the land where my paternal grandfather owned a citrus orchard in the early 1930s. I had been able to locate the exact spot in advance so we could drive right to it. The sun was setting when we arrived so it was not a very good photo opportunity. We agreed to return the next day when lighting would be better.
It was foggy Monday morning so we decided to head southeast to South Padre Island. The island is connected to the mainland by a long bridge.
The island is 3.5 miles long and definitely a resort area. But the bridge and beach are free so we took advantage of the opportunity to dip our feet into the western side of the Gulf of Mexico. The water is clearer there than on the east side of the Gulf. We could easily see the sandy bottom.
We crossed the bridge again to the mainland and went up in the old lighthouse on San Isabel Point. I have seen lighthouses before and always wanted to climb one but none I had seen were open for visitors. It was well worth the $2 to be allowed to climb the circular stairs to the top. The view was spectacular.
We got a quick lunch at Dairy Queen and then boarded a boat to go out and see the dolphins in their natural habitat ("In person" as one of the other passengers told her son). We were half way through without seeing any dolphins and thinking we had been ripped off when suddenly, there they were! Fins on all sides of us. It's hard to capture them on photos because they are so fast but I got a few lucky shots.

If you click on the one above (or any of the photos)  it will enlarge and you can see three or four dolphins leaping out of the water. For obvious reasons, they hang around the fishing boats.
After we left the boat we began our trip back north. On the way, we stopped again to see the land my grandfather once owned. He had a 10-acre orchard on this land which is now divided into four residential properties.
It wasn't too hard to picture it as an orchard because there was a fairly large orange orchard just across the road. My sister spoke to the owner and was able to purchase a 5-gallon bucket full of tree ripened oranges for $3. That was a special bonus!

We stashed our loot in the trunk and headed back to San Antonio for the night. We had about a 4-hour drive ahead of us to the same motel where we spent the first two nights. We made only two stops along the way. One was to buy a small bag of pecans at a roadside stand. The other was to snap a few pictures of the wildflowers blooming along the roadways. They are still not in full bloom but I was thrilled and satisfied with what we saw.
There were a few other varieties on the bank but the most prominent were the Bluebonnets in both blue and red. (They are also found in pink, lavender and purple.)

The typical blue ones were what I wanted to see and here we found a whole bank covered with them.

That was our grand finale. It was getting dark when we reached our motel and dark again when we left it in the morning. We returned our rental car Tuesday morning (24th) and got to the San Antonio airport in good time to catch our flight back home. It was 83 on Monday and when we got home it was 39. But I brought some Texas sunshine home with me on my face and arms. The sunburn is already beginning to fade but the memories will last as long as I do. It was a wonderful break from winter and Texas assured me spring is coming again. Thanks to Texas, I think I can survive until spring arrives here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Aegirocassis benmoulae

The calendar says Friday is the first day of spring and the earth is right on time. We turned the corner on winter last week in preparation for the new season. The thick layer of snow we had last Sunday disappeared rapidly during the week as temperatures soared into the 50s. There are still piles of snow around the but landscape has turned from white to brown. Flocks of robins have returned and my Snowdrops are blooming. Early in the week I found they were blooming under the snow so I scraped the wet blanket off to give them a little help. They are always such a cheerful sight because they are the very first flower to bloom. If the snowdrops are blooming, spring can't be far away.
The orderliness of nature is another reminder of God's faithfulness. He promised the seasons will always follow in their turns as long as the earth remains. And spring has never failed to follow winter.
Whether you study either end of nature, from the vast expanse of the heavens to the microscopic details on earth, the intricate perfection of how things are made and how they work together is astounding.
All of nature is proof of a Creator. Anyone who believes that such perfection and order evolved by itself is simply a fool or deceived. It takes more faith to believe in evolution than to believe the world was created by God.
In the paper this morning I read a report on an unusual creature that was recently discovered. Here are some excerpts (I'm omitting the false parts about millions of years and evolution).
Paleontologists working in Morocco have found a fossil of a bizarre sea creature that could grow up to 7 feet in length and gathered plankton like a whale. . . The newly discovered animal, dubbed Aegirocassis benmoulae, is an early member of the arthropod family tree. . .
Despite its large size, Aegirocassis benmoulae appears to have been fairly common, Van Roy said. He and the Moroccan fossil collector Mohamed Ben Moula, who first discovered these large animals, have found dozens of preserved specimens in the Moroccan desert. Early fossils of arthropods are hard to come by, which made this particular find so exciting.
Most fossils are the remains of the hard parts of organisms, like shells and bone, because soft tissues decay so rapidly after death, explained John Paterson, an associate professor at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, who was not involved in the study.“However, these extraordinary fossils are soft-bodied, which are typically very rare,” he said. “They require rapid burial and low oxygen conditions in order to be preserved in such exquisite detail.”
According to Van Roy, giant storms occasionally caused large mud flows to wash into the ancient sea, smothering everything at the bottom and making it inaccessible for scavengers.“If you have the right sediments and they react with the right decay products, then you can basically turn soft tissues to stone,” he said. “But a very specific set of criteria must be met, so sites like this are extremely rare.”

These highly educated but ignorant men are building their explanation of these fossils on a false assumption involving millions of years. They believe these creatures were "buried rapidly" by a "giant storm." If they would read Genesis they would know when that happened. It was not millions of years ago but Noah's flood just a few thousand years ago. Fossils are proof of the Flood, not of millions of years of evolution. How much trouble people make for themselves when they don't believe in God and have to try figure out other explanations for things in nature!
"In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth . . . All things were made by HIM and by HIM all things consist (are maintained)."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Charter Day

On March 4, 1681, William Penn received from Great Britain’s King Charles II a charter for land in the new world that would later become the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Penn had a vision for establishing a “land of peace, justice, equality and freedom for all men and women.” Many people throughout Europe who had been persecuted for their faith came to “Penn’s Woods” to find freedom of worship.
To celebrate the granting of that charter to William Penn over 300 years ago, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission annually holds a Charter Day, where the public can have free admission to all 25 of the state historical sites administered by the museum commission.
Charter Day is typically the second Sunday in March each year. That was today and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to see the Conrad Weiser Homestead. I have been on the grounds many times but the buildings were never open.
This picture was obviously not taken today but on an earlier visit. Conrad Weiser's house is the small one. The larger one behind it was built later by the people who bought the farm from the Weiser family.
Today I finally got to go inside Conrad Weiser's house. He and his wife and 14 children lived in this small house. At the end of the room is a stairway and door to the loft where the children slept.
Conrad Weiser was born in Astaat Germany in 1696. His family migrated to America in 1710, settling in New York State. It was in this vicinity where Conrad initially gained contact with the Iroquois Nations. At the age of fifteen he voluntarily decided to live amidst the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois. Conrad attained significant knowledge of the not only the language but also the customs and traditions of the Mohawk tribe, which proved invaluable later in his career.
Weiser moved to the Tulpehocken area in Pennsylvania in 1729. Weiser’s knowledge of the Iroquois was immediately employed to negotiate a series of land ownership treaties between the Pennsylvania colonists and the Indians. Weiser was able to maintain fairly stable relations between the Pennsylvania government and the Iroquois Nation during the 1730’s and 1740’s.
However, by 1752, Weiser had grown rather exhausted in negotiating with the Indians, and decided to attend to local affairs. Weiser desired to establish a separate county from Lancaster in which the town of Reading would be located. His wish was granted, as the county of Berks was created in 1752. Additionally, Weiser was appointed the county’s first justice of the peace.
The American segment of the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War, erupted in 1754. Weiser was placed in charge of a local militia in the Tulpehocken region. Then in 1756, Weiser was appointed Colonial of the First Pennsylvania Regiment. Until 1758, he spent most of his time riding between Forts Northkill, Lebanon, and Henry in Berks County as well as other forts under his charge. 
Weiser conducted his final substantial contribution to Indian/Colonial diplomacy in 1758, negotiating the Treaty of Easton, which concluded the vast majority of Indian insurrection in the eastern third of Pennsylvania. He retired to his house in Reading after completion of this treaty and expired in 1760.
Weiser's regiment wore green coats with red cuffs and vests. Some re-enectors were there today to show us how they dressed, drilled, and fired their muskets.
The musicians also demonstrated how they issued commands with the fife and drum. The fife and drum were used because the commander's voice could not be heard over the noise of the muskets.
Some French soldiers and one Indian were also there and demonstrated their drills. Their commands were issued in French. For safety reasons, neither the French or Americans actually fired their muskets. They went through all the actions but when the commander said "fire" they simulated the shot by saying, "boom." But the French fired in French with "la boom."

The program was curtailed a bit due to the deep snow which still covers the ground. They did a lot of work to clear the paths and this much space for the drilling demonstrations. It was a nice sunny day and the temperature went up to 45 so it actually felt warm in the sunshine and was a nice day to be outdoors. Maybe next year there won't be so much snow and we will venture a little further from home for another free visit to a historic site.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

See What I Mean?

At least ANOTHER six inches of snow fell today.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Winter Woes

This is a winter that won't soon be forgotten. The season arrived softly in December and controlled itself in January. We had some small snows but it was treating us well UNTIL February arrived. The thermometer dropped like a rock and stayed down as the snows kept falling. Since it never got warm enough for the snow to melt, all those little snows kept piling up.
And it wasn't just here either. The whole East Coast was thrown in the deep freeze and the lid slammed shut. At least we didn't have the blizzards the New England states got with a foot or more of snow at a time, every other day. We never got more than 5" at a time.
February 2015 goes down in the books as a record for both snow and cold. The lowest I saw the temperature was -4 but some places were even lower. That subzero stuff was not a once-and-done either. It was repeated and then wind added to make sure we got the message.
Toward the end of February the extended forecast promised when we reached March 1 things would change and the snow would begin to disappear. Ha! This is March 3 and there has been no change. It wasn't below zero this morning but the snow sure isn't melting.
I went to Lancaster today to work at the historical society but kept my eye on the sky. When I saw it was sleeting at 2 p.m. I quit early and headed home. The road was ok but traffic moved slowly. I got home just in time. I'm hearing on the news that there are a lot of accidents now and the road is very slick. I'm gad to be home and here I'll stay.
There is one ray of hope which makes it possible for me to end this on a positive note. On the way to Lancaster this morning I saw a bluebird. Either it was crazy, trying to get off-season rates, or it knows something I don't. Spring is only a figment of the imagination today! But when the birds know it's time to migrate, then there is hope.
(Scratchboard art by my daughter-in-law, Amy Stauffer)