Earlier in January, there were several Travel Expos up and down the Valley from McAllen to Port Isabel. Even though the shows were geared toward attracting Winter Texans, there were many permanent residents that attended. Great entertainment and music were offered at every show. Plus, lots of information and freebies were given out. There were exhibitors from cities and states in the U.S., as well as exhibitors from Mexico.
Those shows did not pertain just to travel but to a wide variety of subjects including how to cook and eat healthy, what bank to use for the best interest rates and best service, who to call in an emergency and on and on. The most popular booth at the Harlingen show was the one giving out a free scoop of soft ice cream. Unfortunately, they ran out of chocolate and then out of vanilla before I got my scoop! And how I do love ice cream. Think I’ll go have some right now!
Read more: Now, that's Texas Talk
What is it like to be retired? There is a difference in being retired and in slowing down. Most of the people who come to the Rio Grande Valley for the winter are not really retired, they have just slowed down. They are sometimes even more active here than they are back home. They keep busy helping their neighbor, giving back to the community, doing volunteer work at their church or pitching in as they help to prepare meals at the RV parks where they stay. And they do this until it warms up back home. Their minds are just as eager to learn as they always were.
Since it is said that our Rio Grande Valley is a world unto itself, most of the Winter Texans want to learn more about “our world”. But as soon as it warms up, the itchy foot wants to put the petal to the metal and head for home. Some even leave too early and are caught in a snowstorm in route. Just because the farmers are planting in the Rio Grande Valley doesn’t mean it is planting time back home. Stay a little longer, folks, we enjoy having you here!
Read more: King Ranch tours teach history and farming
Sometimes it seems to me that maybe the old ways were the best ways. The way we used to do things maybe took a little longer, but then what were the results in the long run? And what about all those old tried and true reminders of how to behave? They never seem to go out of style. Remember what your mother used to say? “Pretty is as pretty does” or how about “Beauty is only skin deep” or “You will be known by the company you keep.” Or better yet, “If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.” And I bet you can remember many other tried and true guiding remarks that your mother said over and over and over. Maybe some even stuck.
And how did we live when we were growing up? Much, much more simply than we live today in this fast-paced world. Today the radio and television tell us almost immediately what is happening across the ocean. We stay connected all the time to people we do not even know. Would it not be better if we stayed more connected within our own families? Would it not be better if we recycled instead of throwing away what is sometimes still useful so that we can have the latest model? The latest style? The latest color?
Read more: Oh! The Good Old Days
What is the most important natural resource to a farmer? Probably water - a commodity that we just can't do without. Most of our water supply in the Rio Grande Valley comes from the Rio Grande River or as it is called in Mexico - the Rio Bravo del Norte - the brave, wild river of the North.
Read more: Water – a blessing to the RGV
Winter Texans contribute so much to the economy of the Rio Grande Valley. And that's great! We need those extra dollars. But money can be such a fleeting thing. Winter Texans are giving much more than money. They are giving a commodity that cannot be put in the calculator.
Read more: Thank you for your giving
It's the day after the day we have been waiting for. Such anticipation to have the family together for such a grand celebration. And then very quickly, it is all over. Of course, the house is a mess. Stockings are scattered all over the floor and gifts are stacked in the corners ready to be put away. Empty boxes filled with wrappings and ribbons need to be destroyed or carefully stored to be recycled next year.
Read more: On the Road with Jo - The day after - What will you resolve to do?
In the last several issues many traditions - some ten, some fifteen and some twenty years old - have been discussed. The ten-year-old Holiday Village in Brownsville; the fantastic, inflated balloons in the McAllen parade is a three- or four-year-old tradition; the Christmas tree forests in local museums are now traditions.
First of all, what does that word "tradition'· mean? The word comes from Latin meaning the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs or information from one generation to the next. A tradition can be " invented" politically, culturally or strictly for financial reasons - that is to bring more money into your city. Or a tradition can just happen!
Certainly, in my family we have some Christmas traditions. And I bet you have traditions in your family also. In my family, our Christmas traditions start on Christmas Eve with tamales and homemade chili. That meal is probably not a very old tradition in most South Texas border families, but for my family, the tradition probably started forty or fifty years ago.
Regardless of what time the guests leave, and dishes are washed and put away, the next and more important tradition, must be observed. We just must watch The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens before we turn in for the night.
Christmas day has another set of traditions - one that absolutely exasperates newcomers to the family. All Christmas gifts must be opened one by one and passed all around the room to be admired by all before the next gift can be opened. This process can take all morning - with of course, time out for orange juice, coffee, pan dulce and sausage balls.
Afterwards, the cooks take over with the preparation of at least two traditional presentations - homemade sage dressing and ambrosia (fruit salad). There is no recipe for either of these dishes. The cook goes by looks and taste as the ingredients for the dressing are mixed together - after all, that's how mother did it!
Now my father's contribution to the Christmas dinner was a delicious and HUGE bowl of ambrosia. His words were “you women should let a man make a contribution to the feast.” Little did he know when he started that his contribution would never look quite right to him, so he just kept adding one fruit after another until he had a wash tub full of ambrosia - a perfect complement to all the other Christmas delicacies.
I smile to myself every time I prepare a bowl of ambrosia as I, too, just keep adding another fruit until it looks and tastes just right. Traditions are wonderful - they build memories that last forever and can bring joy and nostalgia to us all.
All of these traditions may be forgotten or replaced in the future. But there is one tradition that hopefully will never be forgotten and will last forever. It is a tradition that is not glitzy nor glittery - perhaps that is why it is not observed as much as in years past.
Las Posadas, possibly the greatest and oldest tradition of all, was brought from Spain to Mexico some 500 years ago. In Spanish, the word "posada" means inn. This tradition re-enacts Mary and Joseph searching for a place for the Christ Child to be born.
In times past, the procession would be led by children dressed as angels followed by Mary riding on a donkey that was led by Joseph. Neither rain, nor cold, nor wind would interfere as the group moved from house to house singing a special song that asked for lodging. Over and over they would be denied until finally a predesignated home would open wide their doors and welcome the group in. This celebration would begin on December 16 and would be repeated for nine consecutive nights until Christmas Eve.
This tradition brings to all of us the true meaning of Christmas. Unfortunately, there are not as many celebrations of Las Posadas as there used to be. Organizing, preparing and taking part in a Posada takes time.
Sometimes we don't make time for the most important tradition of all...the celebration of the true meaning of Christmas. If you are ever invited to a posada, be sure to go. The experience will build a special memory.
I wonder - will this tradition disappear? Will we get too busy to observe this tradition? As we celebrate this special season, will we remember the true meaning of Christmas?
Oh, to be a kid again. What a magical time of the year. A wonderful time of the year when traditions are born, and memories are made. Homes will be filled with Christmas trees and pine boughs that exude the smell of Christmas! Nutmeg and cinnamon, chile and roasting turkey lend their mouthwatering smell to the mix of fresh baked sugar cookies. Daddies are out stringing Christmas lights and inflating reindeers and Snoopys and Charlie Browns as one neighbor tries to outdo the other to see whose yard will attract the most attention.
Every community is offering something special for us to enjoy with their traditional offerings... lf we could take advantage of all the festivities being offered, we would be busy every weekend traveling from town to town to enjoy parades, special music, theater, sand sculptures, Christmas lights, Holiday Villages, Christmas tree forests and manger scenes.
A Sandcastle Village will be on display at South Padre Island, near Louie’s Back Yard and Gravity Park. Viewing started November 25 and will last until January 13. The sand sculptures all have a holiday theme. The weather has been beautiful for a visit to South Padre Island, so pile the kids, or your group of friends, in the car and head for the island.
Brownsville has developed a tradition in their Holiday Village Display. Now in its 10th year, the display has grown from 10 to 33 miniature houses all decked out in holiday finery. Go early perhaps to start your trip with a visit to Gladys Porter Zoo. The lights turn on in the houses at dusk, but if you wait too late you will have difficulty finding a parking place.
Museums in both McAllen - the IMAS - and in Harlingen - Harlingen Arts and History Museum - have Christmas Tree Forests. These displays have become a tradition when individuals, clubs or businesses, elect to decorate a Christmas tree with a special theme.
I entered a tree for several years. One year I used my late husband's collection of Micky Mouse memorabilia for the decorations. Another year, I used my daughter's collection of dolls from around the world. Once a local antique store decorated her tree with teacups, saucers and lace doilies for a very feminine and original presentation. Each tree has something different and interesting for visitors to see.
Viewing of the Christmas Tree Forest at the IMAS is included in the cost of admission. The trees will be on display through January 4, 2020. Donations are welcomed at the Harlingen Arts and History Museum as there is no entrance fee. The trees are on display until early January.
Hidalgo celebrates with their Festival of Lights with daily live performances from December 1st to the 30th• The free performances start at 7 p.m. and last approximately one hour. The Festival is held outside in front of the Hidalgo City Hall where the grounds are decorated with lighted life size presentations. Trolley rides are offered for a small fee and will take you through a fairy land of Christmas lighting.
The biggest extravaganza of all may well have been in McAllen for their parade of giant inflatable balloons that followed a set route. This extraordinary, super display has become an annual event so if you missed it this year, there will be a next year. The parade follows a set route, but there is also a chance to purchase reserved seating.
At least one church will be hosting a live Nativity December 21 and 22. The First United Methodist Church of La Feria will host its Live Nativity from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the Saturday and Sunday mentioned. The church parking lot will become the town of Bethlehem and visitors can either walk or drive through the village and see the original Christmas story of the birth of Jesus.
The gifts may be piling up under your Christmas tree but let us remember that not all families will be able to visit the beautiful Christmas displays. Lack of a car or lack of money to buy gas may prevent some families from sharing in the wonders of Christmas. There will be some who cannot afford the Christmas tree nor the gifts to go under it. Churches, schools and many organizations join in another traditional happening - the drive that is organized for Toys for Tots. We can all share in the gift of Christmas by donating to this drive. Even a small gift will make some child happy.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year! Let's make it a wonderful time of the year for all!
Thanksgiving is here. It's a special time when all of us can give thanks for our lives and the many blessings that we have received. Then it is Christmas – a wonderful time of year when families get together and share the excitement of opening gifts among family and friends. And before we know it, it is December 31, New Year's Eve, and time for us to look back over the past year at what we have done and what we failed to do. Most of all, we need to look forward to what we will do in the coming new year.
The new year, 2020, is truly upon us! As we meditate on our blessings, perhaps we should examine how we have shared those blessings with others. Perhaps we are using the excuse that we have so little to share, it wouldn't make a difference. Not true! Over time, a little at a time can add up to a whole, whole lot!
For example, let's look at what a difference the Minten Sisters have made with their gifts to Driscoll Children's Hospital. The three sisters, Dorothy, Esther, and Janie, have made a huge difference with their sharing during the past years. In 1976, they had decorated their entire home with their collection of Christmas memorabilia kept from their childhoods and into their adult years. To all of these they had added many new decorations. They had a couple of parties and an open house that year for family and friends. The next year, they had the parties but needed to have two open houses to accommodate all the family and friends who wanted to see all the different things they had collected during the past year.
By 1981, they were having six open houses plus several other parties with over 600 people attending. Before sending out the invitations for the 1982 events, the three sisters and their parents (now deceased) decided to make these parties count for something. It was decided that the family would give $2 for every guest that attended that Christmas. By 1986, so many people had heard about their Christmas decorations and the imaginative, creative way in which they displayed them in their ranch home, that they were prompted to open their home for public tours by reservation only. (Do not just drive up to their home unannounced! You must have reservations or be part of a pre-arranged tour.)
Their home became known as The Christmas House, and next door in the farmhouse, their grandfather had built in 1926, they opened a year 'round Christmas store called Santa's Texas Workshop. Now, the sisters (Dorothy aged 92, Esther, 88, and Janie, 75) are currently in their 34th year of having their home open to the public. They are still raising money for Driscoll Children's Hospital.
How have they done this? There are several ways--$1 from each modest entrance fee charged to paying guests; $2 for each non-paying guest (family, close friends, paying guests who return for subsequent tours during the same season). The sisters share the latter by adding their 1/3 to their own personal donations which they give annually.
Then there is the ORGAN FUND. In 1993, a guest from McAllen jokingly gave Dorothy a nickel "tip" for playing the antique pump organ. Dorothy didn't want her to do that, so she told the lady that she would make sure that the nickel would be given to Driscoll at the end of the season. Other guests left money on the organ during the remainder of the season, so it became a separate way to raise money. Since then, every year, guests at the first tour of each season have started the Organ Fund, and tour guests have perpetuated it to the tune of a grand total of $91,590.46. Every penny of that Organ Fund goes to Driscoll Children's Hospital to help children in South Texas who have heart problems. It is part of the grand total, $360,025, raised since 1982. It is proof that everyone makes a difference.
According to Janie Minten, some of their most generous guests who contribute to the Organ Fund are the students from La Gloria School, a small elementary school founded in 1909 to serve the educational needs of the rural ranching/farming community. (The Minten Sisters grandfather was one of the three founders). Five generations of Minten family descendants have attended that school, and Dorothy and Esther came back after college and each taught there for over 30 years each!
Every year, the sisters invite the school to bring each of their classes (pre-k through 6th grade) to tour the Christmas House. All of those children are admitted free, but they love to bring donations to put on the organ. They also love to shop the after Christmas ½-price sale after their tour of the house. When paying, if they have change coming, most of them say, "Just keep the change, I want to help the children who are sick!" That money is always added to the Organ Fund!
So, what started in 1982, as a small donation from the Minten Family has now become a sizeable amount contributed to by thousands of people during the years. What started as a nickel donation on the organ has contributed a grand total that is now getting close to $400,000.00. None of us have so little that we cannot share what little we have. We, too, can make a difference!
Over time, even a nickel multiplies and continues to multiply. Let us all share our talents and our blessings and remember what Charles Dickens said through the character of Scrooge, "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year!"
Have you noticed? The latest thing in specialty tours are those tours that are offering destinations that feature foods from their area. The latest travel e-mail that promoted cuisine destinations featured Poland - and not just Poland, but a tour that offered time in Northern Poland to sample their cuisine followed by a visit to Southern Poland to taste their typical foods.
The United States can offer some typical foods also but dividing our country into two sections for food would be virtually impossible. For us it is much better to look at states and then break those states into regions.
Perhaps, one of the foods most typical for the state of Texas might be bar-b-que with the city of LaGrange considered the bar-b-que capitol. Recently, I heard a discussion on the differences in bar-b-que sauce. Texas bar-b-que tends to have a little chili and maybe just a touch of bourbon or beer. On the other hand, bar-b-que sauce prepared in North or South Carolina will taste a little sweet. Pecan pies or sweet potato pies also tend to have their claim to fame in East Texas and parts of Louisiana.
Our Rio Grande Valley region certainly has their very own food heritage, most of which originated in Mexico ... we call it Tex-Mex or Mex-Tex. In our region we can offer tacos, enchiladas, empanadas, tamales and on and on. My taste buds are watering just thinking of all those wonderful, delicious dishes that started in Mexico, jumped across the border, and often picked up a little Texas flavor, producing dishes that are not really Mexican nor are they really Texan.
One of the most popular is the local taco - do you want a breakfast taco prepared with a flour tortilla wrapped around eggs and potatoes, wrapped around eggs and beans, or filled with eggs and chicharrones (pig skins)? Or how about tacos for lunch with fajitas stuffed temptingly inside a doubled over, fried corn tortilla?
Another specialty of this area is the tamale - a specialty served year-round but extremely popular during the Christmas season. One of the fillings for the tamale is pork, but it could be beans or chicken or even coconut and raisins. Local families will prepare well in advance for the traditional Christmas feast and the Posada - posada translates to inn. A posada is a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay where the Christ child could be born. The mouthwatering dish often served at a Posada will not be turkey and dressing as so many might expect. In the Rio Grande Valley, the main dish will probably be tamales.
Making tamales is no small chore. First you must buy all the ingredients including the corn husks, the lard, the pork, the spices and the masa - a very, very finely ground corn flour. Because the preparing of tamales is such a labor-intensive chore, families often gather together with neighbors and have what is endearingly termed a tamalada ... the work will go a little faster if a little gossip is thrown in as the masa is spread on the corn leaf! Just image the bathtub, or a number three wash tub, filled with tepid water in which the separated com husks are soaking. Once those leaves become pliable, they are ready to be trimmed and then spread with the masa mixture followed by the prepared filling. The corn husk blanket will then be tenderly folded over and put aside to be frozen. Later those delicacies will be steamed and served for the eager guests to enjoy.
Now don't try to make tamales on your own unless you can differentiate between the right and the wrong side of the corn leaf. It does make a difference!
Even though I really enjoy a good tamale, my favorite of all the typical Mexican dishes is the empanada - similar to the fried pies my mother used to make. The Mexican version is not fried but baked - better for our health - even if the dough is prepared using lard. Favored fillings could be camote - sweet potato - or pineapple or even cajeta - a caramel tasting spread.
Although these dishes had their beginnings in Mexico and spread to Texas, these flavorful offerings can now be found all over the United States and beyond. People who grew up in this area, went away to school or to work, will always come home with a craving for a "Taste of the Valley" just as I have substituted the empanada for the fried pies my mother made. It's a taste of home!