Fall in the sub tropics – part II

fall-dark-cloud-reflection

Winter is coming…

autumn-fluff

Autumnal Fluff

seed-pods

Seed Pods

Winter is coming… The evil Canadians sent it last night and the temperature dropped by almost 50 degrees. Those beautiful orange leaves, from the last post, are all on the ground.

Despite that, some of the hibiscus are still blooming and the bottle brush and giving us a splash of red.
bottle-brush

Translucent Berries

Translucent Berries

My friend at Evil Squirrel’s Nest urged us to feed the outside critters with the cold front and this is a cute little Texas Fox Squirrel eating her snacks. I love the way they look slightly different from state to state. Ours aren’t very furry but their tales are really long.

I'm coming down for the snacks. Muchas Gracias, Senora!!

I’m coming down for the snacks. Muchas Gracias, Senora!!

Nom, nom, nom

Nom, nom, nom

Fall in the sub tropics

The tree outside my house

The tree outside my house

Houston is in the sub-tropics, I live a little further north just on the edge of an ecological division between coastal and piney forest. Whatever the case, fall comes late to these parts. Sometimes we don’t get one at all if a hurricane runs through. It was similar in the north of Scotland. One day it was summer and then the tail end of a tropical hurricane would blow all the leaves off the trees and BAM – it was winter.

Most of my local photographs are taken next to our containment pond. For those unfamiliar with the term, the pond is there to soak up our many floods. It also dries up to barely nothing in a drought. Usually noisy Teddy is with me but I was quietly stalking and suddenly saw this precious pair.

baby-nutria

Baby nutria with mama after a swim

Nutria is an invasive water living mammal not unlike a beaver or coypu. They were introduced to the south for the fur trade so, as usual, we humans are to blame. The baby was gently bleating to Mama about the strange lady with the camera. I haven’t seen them for a while because the Rangers remove them. For the short time that they are here, I will enjoy their little furry faces.

mama-nutria

Mama nutria swimming

As I was walking about I could hear the drying leaves rustling and the ever present noise of the frogs that live at the pond. Then I spotted this poor cold turtle – he stayed right on his little island because it was too cold in the water. It’s all relative, temperature wise, as the temperature was mid 60s and sunny. ☀

cold-turtle

cold-agave

A ‘Chili’ Agave!

El Segundo Barrio, El Paso

Sombreros!

Sombreros!

I was so excited after I saw my room, that I immediately changed into one of my shorts outfits. I think they are glamorous and chic; perhaps a little young… Anyway, I particularly wanted to visit the area close to the border with Mexican shops. At one time you would just have crossed the border. An attractive young lady was leaving the hotel at the same time and I asked her if she could tell me how to get there. Not only did she take me there by foot but gave me her telephone number in case I wanted to cross the border with her. Then she emailed me during my visit. This was typical of the friendliness of the residents and she represented both El Paso and her ancestors who were Syrian. A Syrian community had settled there many generations ago. I just have to make a small point – American Arabs have been here for hundreds of years.

Fancy dress shop for weddings and events.

Fancy dress shop for weddings and events.

Mexico or Texas?

Mexico or Texas?

We said goodbye and as you can see from the header photograph, I quickly felt I was in Mexico even though it was Texas. When the violence and cartels came to Cuidad Juarez, many of the residents sought refuge in El Paso and set up similar shops. I had arrived after a cold snap and most people were wearing trousers or leggings. Not only did I stand out with bright blonde hair but I was wearing less than everyone else. Then I noticed a Hispanic Ranchero walking alongside me, crossing at each traffic light. He was about my age, well dressed with white hair and a Stetson. When we stopped at the lights he would very deliberately look me up and down as though I were a prime heifer (at my age, I would made into cat food).

I was getting anxious about whether I was dressed appropriately when he finally went ahead of me but just waited… As I passed him, he whispered something to me in Spanish. It was too low for me to make out with my bad Spanish but I suspect it was –

• An invitation to join him somewhere for love, sweet love
• An inquiry as to how much I charged for the hour
• Or a simple compliment

I dashed off in horror (that my Nana was right about Women who wear outfits so skimpy you ‘can see their breakfast’) and immediately shopped for an appropriate outfit to buy. There was a real mix of Hoochie Mama style and basic stuff. Eventually I choose a long tunic and some leggings and was brave enough to ask the shopkeeper, a lady with ample assets on show, if I was dressed appropriately. She poo-pooed my concerns and said that it was just the cold weather front. Perhaps she wasn’t the right person to ask? Eventually I got the balance right, modest for church and barrio; cougar style at the hotel.

There are murals all over downtown El Segundo Barrio. This is Pancho Villa.

There are murals all over downtown El Segundo Barrio. This is Pancho Villa.

This a link to the history of El Segundo Barrio (The Second Ward)

Despite my encounter, I felt no fear in the shops or the area which was, in parts, a little down at heel. Downtown is so small that you quickly go from Wells Fargo headquarters (hiss, boo), fancy hotels and restaurants to the Barrio. I eventually bought a $3 fedora because the sun was hot on my head. The first shopkeeper went to great lengths to send me to another shop because he didn’t have what I wanted. When I arrived at said shop, I noticed that not everything was new (to me). I am not really very fussy but I would like my hat to be brand new – fortunately, they were. Some of the other shops also had a mix of new and secondhand clothes. Wonderfully fascinating unless you have airs and graces like my Teddy who turned his nose up at the thrift shop shirt I got him (dry-cleaned and in perfect condition). He will wear it (by royal thrift decree)!!

anson-ii-flowers
This an example of a fancy new restaurant with a beautiful flower display, just 2 minutes from the Mexican shops. Below is the sidewalk clock.
sidewalk-clocksidewalk-sign

More adventures to come…

El Paso, Texas

View over El Paso towards the border with Mexico

View over El Paso towards the border with Mexico

After being so sick this year, I was desperate to take a little late summer trip to a quiet town. Houston and surrounds has been blisteringly hot this year, so I wanted to go somewhere cooler but not cold. I swear I have lizard DNA; bask in the heat, hibernate into a death like state in the cold. There were still enough United Airlines points to go somewhere domestically so I decided to head to El Paso.

Y’alls know how big Texas is but El Paso is so far away from Houston (675 miles) that it is in another time zone. As I approached the city, I looked out in fascination at the mountains and river valley wondering whether I was looking at Mexico, New Mexico or El Paso, Texas. It was so beautiful – bright sunshine, arid landscape and mountains. My fellow passenger and I were astonished at how quiet the roads were, even in the middle of the city. Bliss…

My friend Lisa lives in El Paso. This is her blog title with a red link ‘Life of an El Paso Woman’ . I can’t remember when we connected but she kindly asked me if I would participate in her Saturday interview after my book, ‘Letters from Cairo’ was published on Kindle. It is so strange how connected we can become with fellow bloggers, invested not just in their opinions but the lives that they choose to share with us. I am happy to share far too much and then am embarrassed when a local friend reads my personal thoughts – go figure!

I got an UBER at the airport and lickety-split, I was at my new hotel. The Hotel Indigo is in a refurbished building – link to the El Paso Times article on the hotel.  It was built in 1963 and refurbished at various times. Teddy has Intercontinental points so I was given a top floor room on the 12th floor (squeaking in delight). I was awestruck as I gazed out the floor to ceiling windows with a view of Texas and Mexico. It was a hip and groovy room; the architects did a great job. All the little touches added up to a fantastic whole.

Each room was adorned with succulent plants

Each room was adorned with succulent plants

Curiously, on my first evening, I ate at the funky 5th floor roof-top bar where I met two architects. (I know that doesn’t make sense – the building was angled and some of the rooms had a view of the 5th floor bar). It was alongside the cute little pool which was lit up in different colors as darkness fell. The bar was underneath a roof but open on two sides, letting a cool north Texas breeze in. Temperatures were comfortable for me – a dry 95 degrees by midday.

Hotel Indigo rooftop pool

Hotel Indigo rooftop pool

The wonderful Electricity sign glowed with an array of colors at night, as did the pool.  Every little detail was perfect from the pink chairs, to the copper wall detail with wood and glass.

Looking into the bar from rooftop

Looking into the bar from rooftop

Back to the architects; they had the privilege to be working on one of the many older buildings that are being refurbished. Downtown seemed to be reviving but you could see that El Paso was once a very rich city. It is directly across the Rio Grande River from Cuidad Juarez in Mexico. This was once an open, busy crossing until the cartels made Juarez one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. There is a highly guarded fence between countries with a very high presence of border control. El Paso is home to the biggest military base in Texas, Fort Bliss, so there are many reasons to keep El Paso as safe as possible. For many years it was the safest city of its size and, in general, our Texan border towns are safer – see this article in the Texas Tribune

Highly guarded fence between El Paso and Juarez

Highly guarded fence between El Paso and Juarez

One look at El Paso and I was ready to move there. More posts to follow.

In Memorium

White Ginger Blossom

White Ginger Blossom

I was driving down our main interstate to meet my husband for lunch in downtown Houston. A large car dealership had a flag at half-mast and I wondered if I had missed something, not having seen the news since the previous day. It struck me that President Bush Senior might have passed on and then I forgot about it.

When I arrived home and turned on the TV, there was the sad news of yet another mass shooting of officers who had been guarding a peaceful protest in Dallas TX. This time, I have no opinion of the circumstances or gun law but just wanted to express my condolences not just to the officers killed this time but all the other innocent victims from other atrocities all over the world.

I now expect something awful when I turn on the news. Hostages killed in Dacca, bombs in Iraq marketplaces, a massacre at a nightclub. May they all rest in peace.

Small Town America

antique modern

Happy 4th July!!!

On Saturday we went to Montgomery, our favorite small town, close to our own home. This is a newly renovated antique shop, Modern Farmhouse Antiques, above, but they have kept the post office boxes, below, intact – isn’t it wonderful?

post office

On one side of Modern Farmhouse Antiques there had been a soda shop and the other side was the post office. One of the banks, below, has been a pet store for some years.

first state bank

This another of our favorite antique shops below – Garrett House Antiques.
garrett antiques
Montgomery is a thriving small town and when you eavesdrop on the locals you hear the warmth and care of a real community. Sam Houston visited Montgomery and is one of the founding fathers of the state of Texas. I enjoy the link to Montgomery because I come from a long line of people named for him and looking at the antebellum houses summons up a visual image of the times. My great grandfather was named Sam Houston Dellinger.

We always eat at the Cozy Grape where I greet my favorite server, Caroline, in her native language, “Bonjour, Caroline! Ça va?” This is followed by European hugs and kisses. On one memorable occasion, a table of older ladies commented, “Oh my, it’s just like being in Paris!” It’s not really but it was delightful to see the wonder on their faces – so exotique!

Finally a marker to the history of Montgomery. Happy Independence Day!
montgomery sign

The Bluebonnet Saga

Texas Bluebonnets in Mercer Arboretum

Texas Bluebonnets in Mercer Arboretum

All the Texans will immediately know what bluebonnets are but for the rest of the world they are a small, indigenous Texan wildflower that grows prolifically on verges or prairie in the springtime. My first thought was that they looked like little Lupines (and they are). When we moved into our brand new house, 11 years ago, we were delighted that our township planted the verges along the walking paths with thousands of bluebonnets. I think the first year everything was fine – we loved looking at them. By the second year, locals and outsiders alike had discovered that they could take the annual Bluebonnet shot (grandchildren sitting in bluebonnets) just north of Houston instead of going into the hill country.

Our street was outraged because if you sit on them, you kill them and they won’t come up the following year. All you could see were sad little broken stems. In a large area, they seed easily so there is not such a problem. Not only that, we had PAID for them in our outrageously high rates! One quick thinking neighbor put out an adorable little sign that said –

PLEASE DON’T SIT ON US. BLUEBONNETS ARE VERY DELICATE AND WILL NOT GROW NEXT YEAR. THANK YOU FOR BEING CONSIDERATE.

My sign would have been more like this –

GET YOUR RED NECKED IGNORANT ASSES OFF MY BLUEBONNETS – REVENGE WILL BE MINE. F*** OFF BACK TO YOUR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD OR I WILL GET MY GUN.

On the lighter side, my friend and I hatched so many nefarious plots to get rid of them that it kept DESPICABLE US amused during the slow murder of our bluebonnets. Her plan was the most achievable – we dig up a nest of fire ants and put them in the middle of the verge. I wondered about getting some snakes from my reserve but they might have killed them too. Blow darts are always a consideration in my mind (native ancestry, perhaps?) but I don’t know how to get the poison delivered. Do you think Amazon delivers that kind of thing? I think what incensed me the most that they actually blocked our street with their stupid red neck family vehicles.

This is not a Disney story – there is no happy ending. Over a period of years they systematically killed our bluebonnets. Finally, to our relief, the township decided that it was more sensible to seed a variety of wildflowers which change every year. As much as I loved the bluebonnets, I am just as happy with poppies, Indian Blankets, Indian Paintbrushes and the ubiquitous but cheery pink and red poppies.

The verges look like this now

The verges look like this now

A rosy rash of poppies!

A rosy rash of poppies!