Thursday, April 27, 2006

My take on the candidate's forum 4/26

Fred arrived late; lots of folks left early.
As one early departure put it: "I already know how they are going to answer anyway -- don't know why we bothered to come."

There were plenty of words bandied around about the comprehensive plan; about the Padre Blvd. median project and about sidewalks and pedestrian safety. What I found most striking was what didn't come up: Specifically, the term "beach." It was not one of the top three priorities of a single candidate and was only mentioned once the whole night (near as I can tell) in the closing remarks of Mayor Pinkerton.

Have we really lost sight of what brings people here? Are we really so ready to just take our biggest asset for granted?

Notes to candidates:

Fred - you get an A for effort and and E for execution. You should have had a better plan and not cut things so close -- you know that delays out of Houston are frequent and unavoidable.

Joann - No fair sounding so reasonable, knowledgeable, well-prepared and well-qualified. Clearly you are hiding a very nasty skeleton in a closet somewhere... (just kidding!)

Alex - we are convinced you love the island, but try to get specific about how you are going to show leadership and how you are going to do this better than the others.

Kirk - I think you have done a good job as alderman but your "deja vu" comment poking Fred for not being there was... unbecoming.

Phillip - check your facts: Vegas has already discovered the "family friendly" plan was not working for them and the newest ad campaign plays on the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" theme.

Phillip, Kirk & (to a lesser extent) Alex and Joe Buck: You all talk a good talk about how important communication is -- but apparently refuse to use the excellent tools afforded by the first candidate forum and the SPIRIT online forum. You may have philosophical differences with this organization, but you are needlessly alienating a large percentage of the voters and playing to that "us vs. them" divisiveness thing by refusing to participate.

Update: I am fixing to leave town for nearly three weeks and will miss the most interesting part of this campaign season... alas! At any rate, I trust the voters on SPI to not be blinded by the amount of money being thrown into this race and instead voting for the candidates that will so the best job of representing the interests of all the residents.

Sixteen years ago

Wags got passed around a lot the first two years of his life. He was displaced by a baby and eventually ended up as the ward of Daryl, the guy who lived across the street from me and Dune Dog in Isla Blanca.

Dune Dog - the yellow lab who must have been five or six at this time - was the first dog I acquired as an adult. He was a wonderful companion - stout-hearted and true and a tennis-ball loving fool. All his life he didn't cotton much to other dogs, particularly other dogs who might be trying to steal my affections.

Wags was a big exception to that rule.

Duner loved Wags. They didn't really "play" together but they were definitely buds. Say what you will about Daryl (and his ex-wife, who is still cutting hair here, can probably say plenty) he was too kind-hearted to keep a dog on a chain all day. Wags pretty much had the run of the park while Daryl was away, which meant that he spent a lot of time hanging out with me and Dune.... but also managing to get himself arrested by the county cops.

In later years, I would fondly refer to Wags as "my velcro puppy." Everything stuck to him: twigs and dead leaves but mostly stickerburrs. My earliest encounters with Wags - while he was still living with Daryl - involved throwing him down, sticking a chew toy in his mouth and grimly going after those stickerburrs. He hated it at first, but eventually he realized I was just trying to help and finally seemed to actually enjoy the de-burring sessions. Sometimes Dune would jump in as well, pulling burrs from Wags with his teeth.

Walter and I got married in 1990. He had bought George Colley's old trailer just up the street from mine so there was no pressure to move in together. He still had John Dog (Duner's uncle) and Amber (Duner's granny) and all three yellagators participated in the wedding.

It must have been shortly after this (1990, the year "Sandcastles Step-byStep" was published) that Darryl came to me and asked if I would take Wags. It was getting expensive bailing him out of jail and if I was not willing to take him, well, Wags would have to become a ward of the state. And we all knew all too well what happened to homeless dogs back in those bad old pre-humane society days. For the crime of not being loved, animals were taken behind the police station and whacked with a baseball bat.

While I was not entirely convinced that I needed two dogs, I had absolutely no intention of letting that fate befall Wags.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Eighteen years ago pt 1

I had just turned 30.
I had just sold my first sandcastle book proposal to Meadowbrook. I was head over heels in love with Amazin' Walter - my beloved future ex-husband. I had a spiffy little homestead in Isla Blanca Park that was almost paid for. Amazin' and I were starting to book mall sandcastle jobs and we were publishing "The SoB Newsletter - with a mailing list of 2000 subscribers! - on the MacPlus I had bought with my meagre teacher retirement check.

I felt very much on top of my game in 1988 - the year Wags came into the world.

It took us a couple of years to find each other.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Vote Fred

Another thing that struck me when I got back into town was the crop of ugly campaign signs that have sprouted up like mushrooms during my absence. It appears that everyone forgot how Fred managed to win the election two years ago without posting a single sign.

In addition to not trashing our lovely island with "vote for me" signs, let me be the one to point out what else Fred is _not doing: running ads; making promises that he will not be able to keep; or accepting donations from special interest groups. In short, the man is not campaigning. Instead, he is relying on his record as an incumbent and hoping that the small percentage of residents who actually bother to go to the BOA meetings, keep themselves informed of the issues and vote in local elections will not need his name constantly in front of their faces to remind them to vote for him.

It is no secret that Fred and I have a history; that we were a couple and a team and that when that relationship went south several months back it was not my choice. Nevertheless, I can still say that Fred has been and still is a dedicated and effective public servant whom I hold in the highest regard. He is totally committed to doing what is best for the town and in seeking out the common ground where the interests of the merchants, the bar/party people, the retirees, the beach loungers/strollers, the water/wind people, the bird/butterfly/sealife people, the families, the runners/joggers/bike-riders, the developers/real estate people, the recyling unlitterers, the anglers, the sand sculptors and the island's fragile ecosystem itself can all converge. (Yes, there is such a place!) He is smart and he reads everything and he frequently goes above and beyond.

I KNOW FRED - the good and the bad - and he has my vote.

Fred has made no secret of either his e-mail address ( or his phone number (956-459-2474 but don't call until after 4/27 because he is surfing in Mexico this week) for anyone who has issues to discuss. However, should you wish to talk with him face to face, I am hosting a meet-the-candidate open-house on Thursday, April 27 5:30-7:30 at 117 E. Saturn ("Sandbox Condominiums" where we both happen to reside.) All interested residents are invited to stop by for refreshments and spirited conversation.

Please help spread the word - thanks!

Friday, April 21, 2006

scenic coastal survey

City Planner Cate Ball passed this on to me:

"Cate- we would like to invite you and your fellow town folks to complete a new survey on protection measures for Texas Coastal Scenic Resources. The survey is entirely Internet based and can be completed in a few minutes. Is it possible to circulate the survey to as many people in South Padre as possible? Many thanks- Dr. Lou Mills, Texas Tech University, Dept. of Landscape Architecture.

Dr. Mills is a researching landscape architect at Texas Tech in Lubbock. He has done a number of studies on coastal landscaping, and beach /dune scenic protection…gets his money from the same CMP funds that the Town applies for, such as the Treasure Island beach park.

I found the survey interesting but a bit... manipulative. Of course the pictures without the power lines are more attractive than those with -- but is it feasible to get rid of them? And they made the water tower magically disappear in one sketch -- are they implying we can still have the water without the water tower? (If so, cool!) And it seems like all the sketches are not created to an equal level of completion -- the cleaner sketches that include a palm tree or two are of course going to be more appealing -- and some are very difficult to decipher (are those blobs sand dunes or bushes?)

but what the heck? it will only take a few minutes of your time.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Babies, Sandcastles and Beach Bars

Man! Leave the island for a few days and all hell breaks loose! An escaped convict is hiding out on the Island! The business group seems to think that there is only one issue in the upcoming election (the one that resides between the north and south lanes on Padre Blvd)! And sandcastling babies are endangered by the possibility of a new beach bar!

People. Get a grip.

One issue at a time -- I'll get to the median thing next. But today's rant is inspired by the ad in the PI/SPI Press that says "ZONE B for BABIES not BARS." The ad implies that sandcastle-building babies (presumably these babies are part of a family unit) and beach bars are mutually exclusive.

As someone who has taught many a family how to build a better sandcastle at both Wanna Wanna and Boomerang Billy's, I can tell you two things that I know for certain:

1. Babies are a lot more prone to destroy sandcastles than they are to build them
2. Beach bars on SPI are family-friendly and a major attraction for both residents and tourists

I will be the first to admit that I don't have a real understanding of what the Palms is trying to do and I may learn something that will change my mind on this subject -- but denying the Palms the opportunity to open a bar solely because babies build sandcastles there is just ... silly. Now, there may be other good reasons for denying this, including parking issues and noise. (WW and Boomies are well-established businesses. Most if not all of the neighbors bought in knowing that there were nightclubs in the neighborhood where music is played and patrons whoop and holler a bit. Opening a new bar in an established neighborhod where one has not already existed is another story.)

The Palms has long rented condos. It is an established commercial enterprise. If the owners are open and upfront about their intentions; are able to provide sufficient parking and are committed to being good neighbors with the surrounding community by self-policing the noise issues, I see no reason to deny them the permits for opening up a beach bar.

But what do _you think?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

sick feets

This seems to be the best way to let my friends and family know where I am - which would be UTMB Hospital in Galveston. Briefly, I contracted a cold while working on a sand sculpture project in Houston , drove to Galveston to work on another project but the cold dropped into my lungs and set off a truly nasty asthma event and here I am in a little pink room with lots of holes in my arms and an oxygen tank attached to my nose. The good news is that I have my laptop and the hospital offers a wireless connection which I am able to log into.

Many thanks to the SoBs for taking me into emergency when I was obviously in great distress but unsure what to do. Christy and Glo got my rental car back to Houston, where Christy is hopefully flying out of today so she can cover the sandcastle lessons Amazin' and I both had booked. Amazin' himself is camping out in his van here in Galveston ready to drive me home when I get discharged.
Fred is holding down Fort Feet and the critters therein.

My South Padre Island family has come through for me in ways I had never hoped to have to ask them to. Lucky me, hey?

Update 1 PM: I am waiting for my discharge papers and with any luck Amazin' and I will be home at not too late an hour tonight.

Monday, April 17, 2006

cheap sunglasses

When I parked my van in the Brownsville airport parking lot last Friday morning, it was still dark -- so naturally I left my sunglasses on the dash. Have been looking for a pair of cheap replacements ever since. The Houston Hyatt - where I have been staying until today - doesn't have 'em. I felt fairly certain I could pick up a pair in Galveston, so when I saw my cheap motel room at the Ramada Ltd. was right across the street from some of those cheesy pier gift shops I knew cheap sunglasses couldn't be far away. The first two places I went into had the requisite mostly empty racks of dusty castoffs from seasons past, but at $12/pair they weren't cheap. Mind you, I wouldn't have objected to paying that much if they were something I could use when my basic needs were already being met, but these were truly hideous (we're talking spiderman glasses!)

So I went to the last pier shop which was actually more of a bar, complete with shady characters and large tattooed women lounging on the front steps. However, just inside the door was a rack - more than half full! and the handwritten sign on the top said "Cheap sunglasses - $2.99."

The pair I purchased sit slightly askew on my face, no matter how much I twist and fiddle with them. But somehow that seems appropriate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

homeward stretch

Tuesday Morning

It wasn't near as cold yesterday so I am glad I didn't waste money on socks after all ;-)
Lots of shoveling yesterday and my back is feeling it. All the forms are off and about half of them are cleaned up and stashed back in my room. Which means I only have to tote half of them back today as well.

The highlight of the day was getting to meet John and Mariah. Kirk had told me that he and his (half)brother didn't resemble each other much but I picked him off right away... Kirk has more of his mom in him than he thinks.We shot pictures and told Kirk stories over a cup of coffee before they started their drive to Savannah. Very kind of them to stop by.

Today is my last day on this job. My goal is to finish by 3, get all my stuff back to the room, get myself cleaned up and then come back to explore this hugely interesting mall as a shopper instead of a working woman. My flight out tomorrow is a very early one but I have already gotten my elite upgrade to first class - thank you Continental.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Atlanta day 3


Had a very long day today.... it was frickin cold this morning I am guessing in the low 50's. My feet suffered the most - I neglected to bring any socks with me. And isn't Georgia considered to be the south" - maybe even "deep south"? Shouldn't it be warm here by now? It was a brilliant sunny day but under my tent it never warmed up enough for me to doff my sweatshirt. I was going to pick up a pair of socks on my way back through the mall heading back to my room, but I lost track of time, worked too long and the stores were all closed by the time I started to wend my way home. Guess I will have cold feet tomorrow as well.

I am pooped.

Good night for watching HBO so I am going to treat myself to another split of merlot and a bowl of french onion soup delivered to my door -- which will cost about the same as 24 hours of internet.

I think I can go that long without checking my e-mail. bon appetit.

Monday Morning

Yesterday I happened to notice that the Panera in the mall near my sculpture site advertises free wifi, so this morning I am making use of it while I enjoy a cup of coffee and a french toast bagel - which is totally yummy. Thank you, Panera. I am happy to let the rich folks over at the Marriott enjoy my share of that pricey bandwidth for the rest of my stay.

I had a hard time falling asleep last night - so I concentrated on 1. coming up with a plan for finishing this sculpture that will make sponsors Macys and Jekyll Island happy 2. brainstorming ideas for the sculpture Amazin' Walter and I will build at the Tournament of Champions in Harrison next month -- while 3. trying (not too hard) not to be distracted by thoughts of a certain sand sculptor I am really looking forward to visiting in California in early May....

Kirk's brother John - whom I have never met - and his lady friend Mariah just happen to be in Atlanta this week, and I have been told they will be dropping by my sandpile for a visit today. I am really looking forward to meeting them.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Atlanta day two


I woke up to a rainstorm, grateful for the fact that I have a tent covering my sandbox. It was a cold, wet morning but shoveling sand will get you warmed up quick. Since the sand is piled next to the sandbox, I essentially have to shovel it all twice - once into the wheelbarrow and then into the forms. Autumn took the day off but luckily Don the helpful security guy grabbed a shovel and moved a heck of a lot of sand for me. I have met so many kind and helpful people here in the city!

Thanks to Don, I was carving shortly after noon. I took a brief break around 1:30 and did a bit of quick shopping: I had left the cable for recharging my iPod at home but lucky for me there is an Apple store right here in the mall -- and man was the place jumping. I was able to get the cable and picked up a new set of earphones while I was at it. They sound really good, even after I managed to dunk one earbud in the clay mix bucket about half an hour after I had purchased them.

My first full day on the sandpile is over and I am tired and sore all over -- but feeling good about what has been accomplished. It is difficult to keep a consistent level of clay mixed in with the sand and you can really tell where things didn't get mixed in enough - the color is different yes but also a lot softer and those areas are certain to dry out more quickly. By late afternoon the clouds had moved along and the wind picked up.I did lots of light coats of glue spray on the carved areas before leaving... Sure hope everything is still standing tomorrow.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lenox Mall, Atlanta - Project for Macy's Flower Show

Finding myself alone in a city where I don't have the distraction of a lover -- or anyone else -- to hang with, I thought I would use this fast but pricey inroom internet connection to document a sandcastle project from start to finish. This is a departure from my usual blog style and not everyone will find it interesting -- but if no one else I bet Momfeets will slog her way through the whole thing -- I love you too, Mom ;-)

Not that this is likely to be a typical job. First of all, my room at the Marriott is really topnotch -- spacious and very luxurious with all the amenities. The room itself has been comped, but I can see how the incidentals alone can quickly erode my profit margin; $12/day for internet and no telling how much this little bottle of merlot I found in the refreshment center is going to set me back. No matter; its worth it.

Arrived uneventfully in Atlanta where I was met by driver who proved to be quite interesting; a native Atlantan, he has a masters degree, writes music and is working on a book; has lived all over the world and found he could earn more money and interact with more interesting people making airport runs for Carey Limo Service right here in his home town. After half an hour in the back of his SUV I felt like we were old pals.

The Macy's ladies - Cyndi & Tina & her daughter Autumn - had the sand in the box, the hose (and nozzle) hooked up and a security guard in place -- in short, they are a model of organization and efficiency. The sand sculpture is just one very small element of this special event and they have lots of other details to attend to, which makes their success at meeting all my needs all the more impressive. They made me feel very welcome and treated me to a nice lunch after which I was eager to get started. Autumn helped me find my way back to my room (this is a _really big mall!) to get my forms and we got the first layer filled, knocking off at 7.

Finding sand for this job proved problematic. Cyndi had sent me 5 samples over the previous week, none of which contained more than a trace amount of the silt/clay that is so essential to making sand stand. (Most sand in its natural state has at least some of that sticky stuff in it; commercial sandlots wash the sand to make it more useful for construction purposes.) So yesterday I told Cyndi to pick out the prettiest sand she could find while I started googling for a local supplier of dried clay -- 3 big bags of which showed up at the site just when they were needed. Infusing the sand with clay slows down the process but I feel fairly confident that there will be something to carve when the forms come off and that the sculpture will have a reasonable chance of standing for a week or so, anyway.

And anyone who still thinks that the life of a sand sculptor is glamorous and stress-free can just disabuse themselves of that notion right now. It's hard not to feel self-conscious about my mud-spattered work clothes while riding the elevator up with the beautiful rich people who are my fellow guests at this fine establishment. But I guess over the years I have gotten used to people looking at me funny; hanging out with the likes of Amazin' Walter will do that to you, I reckon...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Landscaping on the Island

I got excited last week when I saw that the Island Breeze - which is a very fine publication IMHO - had published a story on landscaping on SPI. I love working in my backyard and am always interested in tips on what and how to grow stuff here. I know it is a challenge and so was not put off by the title: "Growing Pains - It's not easy being a green thumb on the Island." True enough - so tell me something I don't know...

I hoped to read on to find out some useful tips but alas! the article is comprised mostly of interviews with a couple of professional landscapers whose best advice would appear to be "don't try this at home without professional supervision." The writer also interviews a non-professional former resident whose best advice is -- "get advice from professionals."

And four out of five professional sandcastle builders suggest you leave your next sandcastling beach excursion in the capable hands of the people who do it for a living - US!!!

I have never consulted with a professional landscaper -- even so, I think I have a pretty wonderful backyard and would like to take the writer of that article on a tour if she were so inclined.

We would start the tour on the patio - the one with all the healthy, blooming potted things - and turn left at the sandbox, noting the tall border (12 ' plus?) of flowering purple and orange honeysuckle. Along the east fence is a big fringe of vincas and prickly pear, bougainvillea and a lantana that just appeared one day. Throw in a big patch of purple shower petunias and note the lovely shade - and privacy - being provided by the strand of very tall pine trees that extends along the back fence. The birds love those trees. We would head west to get a closer look at the 3 palm trees (one is Chinese, one is Mexican, the third is a garden-variety washingtonian or something like that) - one magnificently huge yucca and the gladiola bulbs are about a foot tall these days. There is a lovely magenta bougainvillea offering partial shade to the outdoor living room (chair, sofa and table all made from driftwood), framed by a Texas sage that puts out delicate purple flowers. And this is where things start getting a bit jungly - but in a really colorful, tropical way.

More vincas. The coolest and possibly tallest prickly pear tree you have ever seen. The west side of the sandbox is bordered with oleander, hibiscus (hell, it's not hard finding things that grow here - just look for plants that have the same names as South Padre Island streets!) and what Nancy Marsden has called the "Most Fuschia Backyard of the Month," all intertwined with more of the orange honeysuckle stuff. Along the fence you will note the "Fred and Feets Memorial Rose Bed" which at the moment is boasting no less than 8 blooms. Get a whiff of the jasmine as you make the corner and yes, that is one very large bamboo tree arching gracefully over the hot tub and its brick and tile staircase/platform.

Some of these plants were given to me. Most were either dug up from other places on the island (with the owner's permission, of course!) or purchased from the town during an arbor day sale (do we still have those? If we do, when is arbor day this year? and if we don't, why not??!) .... or from Wallyworld. Plain old Walmart - and the pre-super duper one, at that!

“The Island is definitely not the tropical paradise it’s promoted to be.” That's what a professional landscaper is quoted as saying.
Dogshit, say I. And that is the best tip I can give potential landscapers -- professional and non.