Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lil' Ole Pie Maker, Me!

Hi all, Dianne here.  I'll explain more about the pie-making saga later, but first, here's a short trip down full-timing memory lane:

We began our full-timing journey in December, 2008.  Our first non-traditional Christmas Day (2008) was spent strolling around beautiful Savannah, Georgia.

Christmas, 2009 found us in Kerrville, Texas, fresh from our stint working Amazon's 2009 Christmas rush in Coffeyville, Kansas, and on our way to Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort next door here in Mission.  A highlight was viewing the amazing Christmas Lights in Johnson City, near Kerrville.

Christmas, 2010 found us on Malibu Beach in California, spending our first Christmas in a long time with daughter, Robyn.  (Not a bad view, huh?!)

This Christmas was our first spent at our winter home at Retama Village in Mission, Texas.  This is such a special community that we wanted to take part in helping with their special Christmas dinner. Our planning meetings went smoothly, with an organized gal at the helm (Barb B.) and a little -- well, maybe a lot of wine to keep the good ideas flowing.  

One of my favorite parts of Christmases past, other than spending it with family, was the holiday baking.   My friends and family know that I LOVE
pie.  I also enjoy cooking, but don't do as much these days because our eating habits have changed to a healthier diet (which does not include pie).  During our first meeting when assignments were being hashed out, I heard the words come out of my mouth "I want to make all the pies."   Where did that come from?  Must have been the wine! What in the world made me think I could pull off making and baking pies for 90 people??  

Well, the offer was made and accepted, so the challenge for me was to somehow pull it off.  The other committee members I think knew how crazy it was, so they all offered any help that I needed.

The crusts were made the weekend before, rolled out and frozen for the big day.  I used my favorite pie crust recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks, "Cooking with Dave's Mom" by David Letterman's mom.

Christmas Eve was baking day.  The committee met at the Retama clubhouse at 8:00 a.m.  I had lots of help with peeling and slicing apples and moral support, as I began to freak out when the pecan pies refused to look done.    I finally gave up and pulled them from the oven, then laid awake that night worrying that they would be a runny mess when it came time to serve them.  Luckily, they were fine, and this being Texas (pecan country) it was the most requested of the four varieties.  (Apple crumb, pumpkin, pecan, and Door County Cherry, a special recipe suggested by Barb B.).

17 pies later, the last were pulled from the oven a little after 4:00 p.m., and we all went home to rest up for the next day.

Christmas morning we were back at the clubhouse and it was another busy, busy day.  Dinner was to be served at 3:00.  The committee began the day with mimosas and baked goodies furnished by Barb.  

Barb's husband, Ron, was the meat master, and spent all day in the outdoor kitchen preparing the prime rib and ham.  (The meat was beyond wonderful).

My friend, Sue, prepared the scalloped potatoes and helped prepare the Red Lobster rolls for last-minute baking.

Sue also made Krumkake, a traditional Norwegian light rolled cookie.   I had never heard of them before, and suggested she make a sign so folks would know what they are.  Silly me, being from Indiana, I forget that South Texas is largely populated in the winter from those in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.  They knew what Krumkake was, and were quite excited to see them!

Roger took my photo behind the dessert bar, with some of my creations.

We paused for a group photo for a job well done.  I'm trying something new and listing links to the recipes we used.  Most of these are mine; the cranberry jello salad was the one we used at the dinner, and lots of people were clamoring for the recipe for that, so I'm including it here.   I uploaded the recipes from my Mastercook files to my computer, then uploaded them from there to Evernote, a web link service.  Merry Christmas!

Door County Cherry Pie
Pecan Pie
Flaky Pie Crust
Perfect Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Retama's Good Cranberry Jello Salad

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were drizzly and cold here (50s), although we were too busy to notice.  It has since warmed up and the sun has returned for some sunny winter days in the 70s.  The pet photos of the day show a very happy Charlie the cat on our Mexican Olive Tree, harking back to his free days in Indiana before we began fulltiming.  

He was an outdoor cat in those days, free to roam the neighborhood, climb trees and pergolas, even the neighbor's roof.  He has to be tied up here, though, which he's not happy about.  Problem is, he is not street smart in the ways of Texas, and does not know what rattlesnakes and coyotes are, or the circling hawks and crested caracaras.  Sorry, Charlie, this is as much outdoor activity as you're going to get here in Texas!  

Bandido was a happy guy, too, 'cause Doggie Santa brought him some yummy treats and squeaky balls.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Walk in the Park

Bandido here....   It has been raining here since last Saturday.  Mom and Dad say that the rain is needed, but I am sick and tired of sitting in the motor home watching old Dog Whisperer episodes.  Except for the first rain, most of the rain has been drizzle, but it has been chilly (50s) so our fun trips outside have been short.  Mom has been busy making 16 pie crusts for the Retama Community Christmas Dinner.  I am not allowed in the coach house when she is cooking, and even worse, I am not invited to the dinner.  I have not been a happy puppy.  Grrrr.

Everything changed yesterday.  The sun came out.  The wind dried up the mud.  The temperature climbed to the mid-70s.  I let Mom and Dad know that it was time to get off their butts and get outside by closing Dad's computer with my paw and vocalizing a few doleful whines.  Works every time.

I thought we were headed to the dog park when I saw Dad putting on his shoes.  So, I helped him along by licking his face and nipping at his feet when he put on his socks.  They surprised me though, when they did not take the turn to the dog park.  At first I was upset, but I sensed that this might be a long walk.  I was right.

After a short stroll, we arrived at the entrance to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park.  I have been here before.  It is a fun place.  Lots of things to smell.

We passed a couple of Border Patrol cars as we entered the park.  The agents always wave to me.  They are so nice.  I try to never bark at them because they might take me away from my parents and send me to Mexico.

We looked at a map to see where we would be walking.  We decided to walk all the way around the park.  Wow, look.  We are really close to Mexico.

Mom and Dad took turns going into one of the bird blinds.  One of them always stayed with me because I don't like to be alone.  In fact, I don't like any of us to be away from each other.  We are a family of three (not counting the cat who is really not one of us).  If any of us wanders off, I try really hard to herd that person back.  It is a big job.  Anyway, Dad says that he saw a Baltimore Oriole and a Black Crested Titmouse.  Big woop.  Unless I can chase them out of the yard, I really don't care.

I would much rather spend my time smelling new smells.

After a while, Mom had to go to the bathroom.  This happens a lot with Mom.  Dad secretly took her picture coming out of the "Big John".  So funny!  Mom didn't even know he took the picture and now it is here for everyone to see.  Funny Dad.  He might be in trouble.

We walked to the top of the hawk tower, but did not see any hawks.  I love it up there.  It is so high and you can stand in the wind and see all the way to Mexico.

Mom and Dad were all excited about the water level in the resaca (a lake that used to be a bend in a river) below the tower.  It almost dried up in the drought.  It is not full yet, but it is getting better.  That is a good thing for all the wildlife in the park.

We passed by Dad's favorite tree.  He thinks it looks all eerie and creepy.  He especially likes riding his bike by it at Halloween time.  Just looks like a tree to me.  I really don't understand why Mom and Dad get excited about some things, but I like them anyway.

The sun really was bright.  Me and my shadow..........

When we got back home, Mom's pedometer said that we walked 4.9 miles.  I don't know what that means, but I feel a nap coming on.

Wait a minute..... This day just keeps getting better.  Mom stopped by the mailbox after we got back.  She ordered some special yogurt stuff to put on my dog biscuits and it arrived.  Chaplin used to really like the dog biscuits, but being from south Texas, I have always thought they were a little bland.  Anyway, she glazed the dog biscuits right away and I got to have one.  It  was yummy.

When my parents weren't looking, I helped myself to some more.  (I guess they had to have been looking or there wouldn't be a picture.)

It was a perfect day.  

Now for the "human" picture of the day.....  It got pretty hot during our walk.  When we were close to home, Mom started walking with her arms sticking out.  She told Dad that she was airing her armpits because she forgot to put on deodorant after her shower.  Personally, I think she was very aromatic!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rainy Days in Texas - Finally!

Roger here...  Excitement in South Texas!  It actually rained  --- not just a little bit, but a full-blown, all-day event.  Just look at our concrete driveway --  Not just drops, but yes, it is completely wet.  

I know this is not big news for our friends in most of the country, but this is the first rain Dianne and I have seen in South Texas since January of 2010.   Most of the rain fell on Saturday, but it continued at a lighter rate most of the next day.  Our scientifically accurate rain gauge (yardstick in Bandido's wading pool) confirms that over a two-day period we got about three and one-half inches of rain.  Wow!

What did we do during the two days of rain?  Well, on the first day we did not do much.  The electricity went off at 9:30 a.m.  Power was not restored until 6:30 p.m.  The important task of the day was firing up the generator in the motor home, then connecting the coach house refrigerator to the motor home so that our food stayed cold.  

I also had some quiet time to begin planning our travels for next spring, summer, and fall.  The first stop will be at the April RV Dreams Rally in the Texas Hill Country --- then on to southern Utah, near Zion National Park.  We'll be there for a month, AND our daughters and granddaughter will be joining us there for a week.  Can't wait.  After that, more travels in Utah, and an extended stay in the mountains of Colorado --- all subject to change.

Back to the rain and the power outage...  Dianne and I could not figure out why the power went out, and why it took so long to repair.  It was not windy.  There was no ice on the lines.  It obviously was not snowing.  There was no lightning.  Did a truck hit a power-line pole?  Did terrorists attack the power station?

The answer is kinda interesting:  Since it had not rained here for so long, the transformers were covered with dust, AND the wooden utility poles were extremely dried out.  Evidently, the rain caused arcing at the transformers, which ignited the dust, which set the utility poles on fire.  4000 homes were without power while workers extinguished fires in several locations and reconstructed the damaged lines and power poles.

The second day of rain was much calmer, but it was still wet and even a little chilly.  So, we mostly stayed inside.  I did some more trip planning.  We made a couple of campground reservations in the places where we intended to spend a month.  I watched a couple of taped Purdue basketball games ---  both were victories for the Boilers.

Dianne took a few pictures of our previously thirsty plants.  We water the plants nearly every day, but it is amazing how green things can get after a soaking rain.

Our new jasmine vines; we hope they eventually cover the pergola!

My tomatoes are getting big!

Ixora blooming and  Sago Palm

We sloshed through the mud to the dog park.  Bandido laid  down in the water tub, rinsing off all the mud.  What a good dog!


Eight Chachalacas sittin' in a tree....
Dianne downloaded a couple of wildlife pictures that she had taken at the Butterfly Park.

Rare Yellow-Angled Sulphur

I walked Bandido in the rain.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset at the end of a rainy day.  Life has been good.

I have been trying to get Bandido interested in Purdue basketball --- to no avail.  The pet picture of the day documents my failure.  I am afraid that Bandido is far more interested in my popcorn than my Boilermakers.

Please, Dad, can I have some?   Maybe some beer, too?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

Hi all, Dianne here.  This will be the first Christmas since 2007 that we will have a "house" to decorate, tiny though it is.  It was fun to dig out the very few Christmas decorations that we'd stored away, and added a few new ones, too.  

This charming Nativity scene was purchased in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico last April before we left the Valley.  I love it because it reminds me of the warm, friendly people who populate this area of deep south Texas, or "Texico" as some folks call it.

A favorite decoration was given to us by our dear friend Nancy R. when Roger's mom passed away; it reminds us both of Nancy and Roger's mom, and it's beautiful besides (the photo doesn't do it justice).  It's very fragile, so it has been packed safely away since 2007 and we're glad to see it again.  

We have our little LED tree in the front window, so that it shows from outside.

Roger got into the spirit, installed hooks, and strung "snowflake" lights outside:

Yesterday, Roger finished up by decorating the patio outside and stringing lights over the pergola:

Retama is such a special community:  Last season they had a fundraiser to purchase new Christmas decorations for the clubhouse.  You might think it was a simple matter of purchasing new lights, etc.  Well, not here!  The work began last March -- Quilts were made, shopping went on all summer, and the end result was magical!  My photos wouldn't do it justice, but here's just a sample, showing the outdoor fountain. 

Roger and I attended the open house to unveil the new decorations, and it was packed.

Better photos of the beautiful decor can be found on the Retama Holiday Blog, a blog put together by the gals who did the lion's share of the decorating, and chronicled their progress.  Check it out!

The neighborhood is also sponsoring the local children's home for Christmas, so today I was able to do a little Christmas shopping for a young boy and little girl.  If that doesn't put you into a Christmas mood, nothing will!  

Despite the greenery and lights, it's still warm and beautiful here in Mission, TX.  We attended our final butterfly walk last Friday morning, and John, one of our guides, found a beautiful Sphinx moth for us to inspect.

Here's a beautiful sunrise I saw one warm morning as I drank coffee and watched the birds on my patio.  You might think it would be difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when it's so sunny and warm most days.  Well, I'm here to tell you that the warm people down here more than make up for a change of seasons.  Y'all can keep the snow and gray skies up north!

The pet photo of the day shows how the action is picking up at our "play dates" at the dog park!  Bandido can be seen in the center top in the background, chasing a brown dog at full speed.  Tomorrow is December 1, and someone at the dog park this morning said that 42 RVs are scheduled to arrive at the adjacent RV park tomorrow!  The same folks come back year after year to spend the winter at Bentsen Palm Village, so if you want to visit, you'll need to make a reservation by early March.  That's a sure sign of a very special place!