Sunday, February 28, 2010

Retama Village Coach House Tour

Hi all, Dianne here. This is just a quick blog to share some of the photos I took during the open house Saturday at Retama Village.

If this topic doesn't interest you, you can skip this blog, because that's all it will be!

If you are interested in any of these photos, remember you can click on them to make them larger.

Every year Retama Village residents volunteer to have their coach houses open for interested people to look at and get ideas. All but one of the coach houses that were open were in Phase I, so they were all 12 x 20. There was only one completed 12 x 24 coach house in Phase II, so we took lots of measurements there.

People finish off their little coach houses depending upon how they use them. For instance, some people have a washer and dryer in their motor home or fifth wheel, so they don't take up space in their coach house with a laundry area. Many people design a sitting/TV area with comfy chairs. Almost all of them have a nice bathroom, with shower, stool and sink.

One even has a murphy bed setup, with built-in cabinet units flanking each side.
Perhaps the most unusual one we toured belongs to a couple who are really into woodworking (toys, etc.). The husband is also a gourmet cook. They divided their coach house into two halves: One, a complete woodworking workshop, and the other a very nice kitchen with granite countertops and lots of cabinets. That's the only one we saw that opted not to have a bathroom.

I also took some photos of how people have outfitted their outdoor patio areas.
Some have complete outdoor kitchens,
many have lovely sitting areas with chimineas or patio portable firepits.

When we design our little coach house, here's how we plan to use ours:

Roger and I plan to sleep and watch TV in our motorhome. Our bed is very comfy and we don't want to take up space in the coach house for a bed. By watching TV in our motorhome, we can take advantage of our Motosat Direct TV and DVR without having to pay another bill for cable TV.

We definitely plan to have a laundry area. That's the only thing I miss from our "sticks and bricks" house.

I plan to have a tiny kitchenette; nothing more than a sink to
wash dishes in, a counter, a residential refrigerator (with ice maker), and a microwave-convection oven. I hope to buy a portable induction burner to use as my "cooktop." (I rarely use more than one burner at a time). Most of our meals use our outdoor grill anyway, with just a salad or other low-carb side dish. If I need more burners or more oven room, I can always walk 10 feet and use the kitchen in the RV.

I'm excited that I'll be able to use my Fiesta Ware dish set again, also my yogurt maker and my ice cream maker (need freezer space for it). I'll probably leave my bread machine in the motor home kitchen and use it there, so it will be out of the way.

We plan to have an eating area in our coach house big enough to invite friends or family in for a nice meal, then wine outdoors on the patio. Basically we'll use the coach house to cook, eat, and do laundry in, plus a small sitting area with storage for out-of-season clothes.

Now the trick will be in designing a tiny layout to incorporate all of those features! Should be fun. We'll have that to look forward to next January when we return to Mission. Our coach house shell and concrete pad, plus landscaping, will all be done and ready for us to finish out when we get back there.

The final photos are of a coach house that will be two doors down from us. It shows how the outside of ours will look when it's built. Note they have already laid out the irrigation piping in this lot, prior to the sod being placed.

The front planting area is designed according to an overall plan. Our lot (lot #215) is scheduled to have prickly pear cactus plants plus pink salvia. I was excited about this, because that was exactly the plantings that I'd hoped to have in front of our coach house. (I'd been admiring a planting like this at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park where we've been staying). I took a photo of one of the established planting areas at Retama with the cactus + salvia, to show what ours will look like.
We get to choose the plantings in the back. (My little Meyer lemon tree that I grew from a seed (it's about 18" tall now) will feel right at home in the Rio Grande Valley!)

As I mentioned in a prior blog, the landscaping in the public areas is geared to native Texas plantings, with bird- and butterfly-friendly plants.

I've included a photo of our neighbor's pergola and backyard area. Our pergola will be identical to this one.

Check back soon, because we have more blogs to update. We had a very interesting drive today from Mission to Rockport, including our first driving snafu that forced us to unhook the tow car and flag down a patrol car for help!! (All is well, so don't worry about us). Just a teaser to encourage you to check back in a day or so!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pontoon Boat Ride on the Rio Grande River

Roger here....

Time is short for us here in the Rio Grande Valley, so we are cramming in our last few adventures.

Dianne here: One of the perks of staying at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park (or buying a lot at Retama) is that if you get a group of eight together, for a small fee you can charter the pontoon boat owned and operated by Bentsen Palm Village. Back to Roger....

Yesterday, our next-door neighbors and new friends from Ontario
(here at Bentsen Palm Village) invited us to go with them on a pontoon boat trip up and down the Rio Grande. Kathy is a retired elementary school teacher and Chuck works in real estate. Others joining us on the trip were Paul and Suzanne from Quebec
and Bob and Merry. By the way, that is Dianne in the orange (Texas orange?) hooded sweatshirt.

Steve, who led us on our kayaking trip, steered the pontoon on the two-and-half-hour excursion.

It was a bit chilly that morning, but the sun was bright.
We got to see the downstream portion of the river this time, which was a little more developed than the sights we saw from the kayak. No wildlife pictures this time; several attempts, but all blurry.

We were able to see several parks on the Mexican side of the river and a few restaurant/bars
(Riverside, with the excursion boat,
that has running water; Pepe's, with the thatched roof,

and no running water
- but renowned margaritas) on the American side. We have not visited either establishment yet, but there is always next year.

We traveled all the way to the
dam that controls water flow but does not create a reservoir. We stopped at a public park on the U.S. side of the river for a restroom break.

(Dianne here:
I took this photo of a popular Mexican park across the river from the Texas park where we stopped for our potty break. It was very disorienting, because the river is so twisty-curvy that at this point Mexico was actually NORTH of Texas!! I just had to photograph the Mexican park from my vantage point south looking north.

Finally, we made our way back to "Smugglers' Cove."
"Smugglers' Cove" is a hidden offshoot of the river, where the pontoon is tethered. By the way, Smugglers' Cove was actually used for smuggling at one time. When Mike Rhodes bought the land, it was completely covered with plant growth and not navigable. He cut it all back and dredged the cove to build the boat docks.
Dianne again: Don't get the wrong idea; it wasn't drugs or even liquor or immigrants being smuggled.

The farmer who owned the land before Mike bought it was smuggling more than his share of water for irrigation from the river. The U.S. and Mexico share water rights to the Rio Grande River.

Another adventure in our new home in south Texas!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parties at Retama Village

Hi all, Dianne here. Roger and I attended two parties at Retama Village last weekend.

The first party, Saturday night, was thrown by Mike Rhodes and the Bentsen Palm Development company for all the owners at Retama, plus the workampers at the RV park. We were invited to attend by Jennifer, the sales agent, when we signed the purchase agreement for our new lot. Jennifer thought it would be a good way for us to meet some of our future neighbors.

The party Saturday night was a Texas BBQ, complete with live band, catered food, and lots of dancing - both line dancing and the Texas Two Step! Roger and I have lots of work to do as far as dance lessons if we are to take part in this in the future....

Jennifer said we should wear our western gear, if we had any. (Denim and cowboy hats was as good as we could do this year!) The party was originally scheduled as a "Welcome Back" party much earlier in the season, but the weather here has been so cold and wet this year that it was pushed back until they quipped that now it was a "Welcome Back/Good-bye 'til Next Season" party!

Since we didn't know a soul at Retama Village yet, Jennifer was kind enough to seat us at a table with some very friendly people. It was a lot of fun and gave us a taste of future gatherings with new friends and neighbors.

Last week when we had the photo op with the golden shovels at our new lot,
we met the two couples who have completed lots with coach houses two doors down from our patch of dirt.

next day we answered a knock on the door of our motorhome and received a party invitation from Jim & Niroo, our future neighbors, to a patio party they were having on Sunday.

We were thrilled to be included and got a taste of how it will be to "hang out" and/or entertain on our patio once it's built. What nice neighbors!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mike Rhodes' Tour + A Big Decision

Roger here.... I have always been a nature lover. I prefer hikes in the woods to golfing. I prefer snorkeling to tennis. One of my proudest accomplishments was to establish (with a colleague) a 3-day overnight environmental education camp program for all of the 7th graders at my school in the 1970s. (By the way, it still exists, decades later, only now in all three of the junior high schools). (Dianne here: What Roger won't tell you is that he was given an award from the Indiana Tree Farm Association for developing the best environmental program in the State of Indiana at that time). So, I was very excited about taking a guided trip through the local jungle on a 10-person ATV.

Last week we signed up to take the very-popular tour of the "greater" Bentsen Palm development here in the Rio Grande Valley. The tour of this remarkable project was actually conducted by Mike Rhodes, the owner of the 2,600 acres where our RV resort rests. The large ATV vehicle that you see was our transportation. Dianne and I were in the back seat, where we held on for dear life as we plunged through the jungle on the ATV trails. Can you tell that it was very chilly that day? (Darn that El Nino!)
No pictures during the trip - way too bumpy - needed both hands to hold on! (Dianne here: Notice the foam bumper pad above our heads; that was there for a reason!)
Dianne and I were both surprised that the owner of the development was the guy who drove the vehicle and did all the commentary. We were soon to be impressed by his vision for this development and the remarkable progress he has already made.

Mike Rhodes is an ecologist, a farmer, an educator, and a developer. His vision is to make this 4 mile by 2 mile section of land adjoining Bentsen Rio Grande State Park and bordering the Rio Grande River the perfect community. He drove us through much of the 3,000 acres that he has donated as a wildlife refuge and the 800 acres that he has donated to the North American Butterfly Association - lots of rare butterflies here! He has forged partnerships with the state park and environmentalists. He is re-vegetating old fields with native Texas plantings to return them to their natural state.

He has developed a series of biking/hiking/ATV trails so that the people of the area can enjoy the results. The indigenous fauna that thrive in the refuge include: bobcats, jacarundi, ocelots, millions of birds, coyotes that howl every night, butterflies, fire ants (much to Chaplin's chagrin) and of course my favorite, the javelina. Being a former science teacher with an affinity for life science and ecology, I was intrigued by his preservationist efforts. (Dianne here: His wife is a master gardener and very interested in Texas native plants. She has overseen the common plantings at the RV park and also in Retama Village. The goal is to plant bird and butterfly-friendly native Texan plants throughout the development.)

But, it does not end there. He built the Bentsen Palm Village RV Park next door to the state park, so that the state park could return its campground area to a natural state. He worked closely with the City of Mission to develop a huge public park for the city, that has nearly every recreational amenity - tennis, basketball, soccer, baseball, frisbee golf, bike trails, shuffle board, on and on and on.

He is developing very nice family-oriented housing developments along the periphery of the property, full of playgrounds, swimming pools, community areas, and green space.

His pet project was that he donated the land for the development of the IDEA School, a charter school that has had amazing success. He continues his involvement on the school board. The teachers at the school take turns tutoring every evening or in Saturday School so that none of the students fall behind. The focus is on academics. The high school is ranked among the top public high schools in the country. Most of the graduates get college scholarships, and they continue to be counseled by IDEA school professionals as they progress through college. There is a huge waiting list to get in. Residents of the RV park donate their time to help at the school - reading to young students, among other things. The school even has a program for teaching English to the students' parents who do not speak it and wish to learn. The focus on academic growth and hard work of the dedicated staff is obviously the key to the success of the school. As the former principal of a junior high school, I was very impressed.

Now for the part that will surprise some of our friends. The last stop on the tour was Retama Village. It is a 55+ gated community adjacent to Bentsen Palm Village and Bentsen Rio Grande State Park. There are a variety of options to purchase lots and homes in this community. They vary from two-bedroom homes, one- or two-bedroom casitas with covered RV ports, and RV lots with 12 x 20 (Phase I) or 12 x 24 (Phase II) -foot coach houses. We have included a few pictures of the public areas at Retama, including the lap
and social pool, hot tub, library,
billiard room,
outdoor kitchen,
etc. It is a beautiful place. In addition, residents have free access to the State Park and all of the amenities at the RV park: kayaks, bicycles, dog park (a real plus for our boys), among others. For a small price we also have access to a pontoon boat on the Rio Grande and the ATVs for playing in the jungle.

Look at the picture of Dianne with the golden shovel
and you'll know what's coming. After a couple days of thinking it through, we purchased an RV lot in Phase II with a 20 x 24 coach house, and will be finishing off the inside to meet our needs. There is a 12 x 17-foot semi-private patio behind the coach house that we will cover with a pergola. The outside structure and landscaping (and maintenance) will be taken care of by Retama. This will be our new home base. We will be selling the little house in Indiana, but will be traveling to Indiana every July and August so that I can help my former school corporation do all those necessary HR things that must occur at the beginning of each year, also so we can see our friends and Dianne's cousins near Lafayette. I am going to let Dianne explain why this makes sense for us. Honestly, it really does make sense.

Dianne here: This really wasn't as much of a snap decision as it sounds. I had been researching home bases in the south for over a year, and had read about Retama Village. It sounded so perfect for us, that I was ready to buy one sight-unseen when we sold our house. Part of the reason we rented a spot here at Bentsen Palms Village this winter was so that we could check it out, and check the area out, in person. A wrinkle in the plan developed when we ended up with the small house in Indiana that we also owned, when our daughter and granddaughter moved to Florida last August. At that time we decided to keep that house as a home base instead, and travel around in the winter instead of in the summer.

We've learned a few things since we've been full-timing in the RV. We learned last winter, after touring all of Florida, that the rv lots there just didn't feel right for us. We'd been to Florida so many times that by the time we left there last April, we were pretty sick of it and ready to head north. We have also learned that the places far enough south to stay warm in January and February are few and far between in the U.S., and crowded with snowbirds, making it necessary to plan way ahead and pay top dollar if we want any space at all. Rent for RV spaces in those places are only going to go up as the baby-boom retirees head south.

A flaw with our plan of keeping Indiana as a summer base and traveling the rest of the year was that we would miss out on some prime travel months (May and June) that could be spent anywhere in the U.S., not just in the extreme south.

Another flaw in our original plan came to me as an epiphany after we were down here. We had kept the little house as an appreciating asset, since our "home on wheels" is a depreciating asset. Texas wasn't hit as hard in the housing bust. The RV lots at Retama Village have not gone down in price, but instead have gone up in value over the past three years, and re-sales don't last long on the market. My epiphany was that the little house in Indiana was not going to appreciate much, if any, in value; we certainly would not be able to recoup the maintenance money we would need to sink into it (future new roof, huge trees trimmed, some new flooring, new wallboard).

Our cost of living this winter here at Bentsen Palm has been incredibly cheap. All the things we enjoy: hiking, birding, biking, kayaking, geocaching, and just hanging out on the patio, are right at our fingertips without even having to get in the car. Our days go fast here, and our time here is almost over. We're not ready to leave! Since Retama is right next door, we will still have all of those conveniences. There are lots of community green spaces, and a community organic garden where residents can stake out a plot and grow their own produce. There is a grove of citrus trees planted there also, which will provide fruit for the picking as soon as they are large enough to produce.

Retama and Bentsen Palms Village share the incredible dog park, so our whippets can have lots of room to run at full speed when they want to, and play with their many dog friends. In short, there is no other place in the U.S. like this that I know of, that has everything we want. There are volunteering opportunities here that interest both of us: Roger plans to volunteer at the Idea School, and I hope to volunteer next winter at the Cinderella Pet Rescue.

Our daughters live in California and Florida; both areas where an rv lot that we would be happy with would be out of reach financially. Texas is in the middle, and far enough south that we could drive either east or west at any time of year from here. We'll still see our Indiana friends in the summers; that won't be any different, because we would not see them between November and March anyway. Summers are so hot here that our house on wheels will whisk us away to places north every April, and we'll have six or seven months to travel the entire U.S., not just the south. If we decide not to spend the winter in Texas some year, we can rent our space out while we're gone. The rental rate here is 100%, because Bentsen Palms Village RV park sells out with returning snowbirds very early. As soon as that happens, people start calling Retama to rent out the few owner-unoccupied lots for the following season.

The more we pondered our decision, the more it became a no-brainer. The clincher is the very friendly people here, both snowbirds and locals. It is a very welcoming place. The advantage of an rv lot over a house or even a casita is that residents spend so much time outdoors that it's easy to make friends and socialize.
In fact, we've already met our future neighbors, who have invited us to a patio party this evening.
The "sold" coach houses
in these photos are in the lots next to the lot we purchased; ours is just dirt right now. They'll start construction of our coach house in a few weeks. They look alike from the outside, and there are strict covenants to "keep up the appearance" from the street side and help hold the value.

Roger and I are very excited and very sure about this decision. I'll include a link to a blog that shows some of the
clever ways folks have finished out their tiny coach houses.

These are all in Phase I and are 12 x 20. Our little house will
be slightly larger, 12 x 24, and on a larger lot which backs up to a nature area, so we'll be able to
do even more!