Monday, January 31, 2011

(Nothing's) Cuter Than a Speckled Pup

Hi all -- Dianne here.  Famous last words:  "We don't need three animals in a motor home."  Well, my friends and family won't be surprised (because they already know I'm dog-crazy), but we have already added a new furry baby to our family.

Meet Bandido (Spanish for bandit).  Those of you who have read our blog for a while might remember the dog parade last winter that was a fund raiser for Cinderella Pet Rescue here in Mission, Texas.  Cinderella is a no-kill shelter (see link).
 Lots of RV'ers from the RV park next door as well as here in Retama have volunteered at Cinderella for several years, and foster dogs often come to play at our dog park.  

We adopted Bandido this morning, and he has settled right in.  First up:  Meet Chaplin.  The tails were wagging and noses sniffing, so that went really well.  (We knew it would; Chaplin would get along with ANY dog).

Next was Charlie the cat.  We weren't so sure about that one, but no problems there, either.  Noses sniffing and Bandido's tail wagging.  Charlie isn't the least bit afraid of anything, and Bandido is no exception.  

We walked Chaplin and Bandido over to the dog park to play.  Since there were quite a few dogs there at the time (all of them interested in the new pup in town), we took Bandido into the agility section where it was quieter.  He was a bit overwhelmed at all the doggie attention.  He'll be running and playing with the other dogs before we know it.

Here's the story behind Bandido:

A local bed and breakfast was burglarized and ransacked.  When the owner and police were inspecting the damage, they heard something and found a small, dirty, black puppy hiding in one of the cabinets.  When the pup was cleaned up at Cinderella, they discovered he wasn't black at all, but is mainly a blue heeler mix.  They named him "Bandido" in honor of his heritage.  It is not known whether Bandido found an open door and was looking for shelter inside, or whether the real bandits left him behind.  At any rate, he's six months old and is very affectionate, calm, and smart.  

He loves to give kisses to both Roger and I.

Since blue heelers are known to be intelligent and "need a job," we plan to use the agility course next door and try our hand at agility training.  He seems very calm, though, so we're not sure what the rest of his "mix" is.  He will be a great hiking buddy when we hit the road again next April.  Can't you just picture him in a red bandana?  I've already got one ready for him. 

 By no means does this mean I don't still ache for Jasper.  I look at his picture and think about him every day.  We thought we'd get another whippet, but decided it would be nice to rescue a dog-in-need this time.

Note to my cousin Charles:  No, you can't have Bandido to herd your cattle, even though blue heelers are also called Australian cattle dogs.  He does look longingly through the fence at the brahman cattle at the dog park.  I'm sure he'd like to nip at their heels, given a chance.

Earlier this week I rode my bike over to the bird park next door (Bentsen Palm State Park).  It received quite a bit of flood damage last June from Hurricane Alex, and parts of it are still under reconstruction.  Sadly, most of the javelinas we made so much fun of last winter were lost in the flooding, so my only photos this time are birds.

At the green jay blind there was a lot of bickering with a squirrel who was hogging the bird feeder.

The birds finally won out, though.

I also saw a kiskadee this trip, plus an Altamira oriole, and a golden-fronted woodpecker. 

 Birders are flocking (pardon the pun) down here to the bird park to see a rare black-vented oriole that has taken up residence this winter.   (My photo is of an Altamira oriole; I haven't seen the black-vented oriole yet).  Problem is, the rare bird doesn't realize he's supposed to stay in the bird park, so he has been hanging out in the RV park and here at Retama.  That means the birders who have flown in from around the country have also been wandering through our neighborhoods!  Makes me feel smug, though, that I can sit in my backyard and see birds that they have flown across the country to see. 

Left is a photo of a golden-fronted woodpecker at the bird blind in the park.

 One of the interesting birds that hangs out near our back yard is a white-tailed kite.  I'll try to get a photo of it.  It is interesting because it is a pretty large bird, but it hovers in the air like a hummingbird, which makes it fun to watch.  I also saw a loggerhead shrike this morning on our fence.  So many birds, so little time....

I'll not rub it in about our 80-degree, sunny days down here, because I know my friends in Indiana are about to get hammered with a monster winter storm.  I will tell you that this same storm that is headed your way is expected to drop our daytime highs from 84 to 39 on Wednesday!  At least no ice here, so I won't complain.

Here's the whippet photo of the day that I took after our latest trip to the dog park with Chaplin and Bandito.  For those of you wondering how Chaplin is doing, he ran and played with Bandito this last time like he hasn't run and played for MONTHS, since way before Jasper got sick.  Bandito learned to fetch a ball on the second try.  He's a keeper!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Show & Tell

Hi all -- Dianne here.  We're still in the middle of finishing the inside of our little coach house.  The photo above shows the view from our front windows.  The empty lots across the street will someday be built with coach houses like ours.  For right now, our view is beyond to the finished casitas (RV port homes) in our neighborhood.

I hate to rub it in to my friends back in Indiana, but the weather here has been beautiful this winter; sunny skies and 70s for the most part.  We're still hanging out in shorts and t-shirts most days.

Last week the work on the coach house was mainly insulation, drywall, mud & tape.  The workers are very meticulous, and are doing a fantastic job.

The inside of our motor home is piled with boxes (sink, faucets, water softener, ceiling tiles, microwave-convection oven) and there is more stuff stashed under the motor home (another sink, air conditioner, etc.).  We'll be living in a mess until it can be installed or at least moved into the coach house.

Today they are installing and painting the woodwork.  Next they will be painting the inside, and then installing the floor tile.   By the end of this week it should be looking good. 

 We haven't met with Raul's cabinet maker yet; I'm sure that will take a while.  Our appliances will be delivered February 7.  No more laundromat for me (at least while we're in Texas).  Soon we should be able to have our furniture POD sent here from the storage facility in Indianapolis.  

Today we had another big delivery:  A rustic "Texas" bar set for our patio.  Roger found these on line (I'm including a photo of the logo so you can find the web site if you're interested).  

We had electrical outlets installed at counter height on the outside wall in back, and this bar will be really handy for fixing margaritas and serving snacks under the pergola.  The back of the bar has drawers and doors with shelves inside for storage. 

 The matching rustic cooler-on-legs has an Igloo cooler built in, ready to ice down our Texas Shiner beer!  The handle is in the shape of a longhorn steer head and the top is decorated with more stars.  

The set is made from old, weathered barn wood.  Both the bar and cooler have bottle openers attached.  We think these are pretty cool!  

We've attended a couple of neighborhood get-togethers, and Roger has become a "regular" at the Retama Friday morning men's breakfasts.  I did a sneak photo of Roger and some of his breakfast pals out in front of our motorhome the other morning. 

For those of you up north who are starved for greenery by now, these beautiful orange vines grow along the fence rows here.  We have one in our back yard along the fence.  I don't know what they are, but they're sure pretty. 

Another nice feature of Retama Village (and the adjacent Bentsen Palm Village RV park) is that they share an organic garden area. 
 Anyone can sign up for a free garden plot.  I plan to sign up for one next year when we arrive, so that I can get my gardening "fix" next winter. 

 This long walkway is on our way to the dog park, which is also shared with the adjacent RV park.  Along one side is the organic garden area, and along the other side is a row of young citrus trees of all varieties.  I'm assuming that when they are big enough to produce fruit, that it will be free for the picking by residents of both the RV park and Retama Village. 

Speaking of the dog park, it's a fun daily gathering place.  The palapa and chairs are in the middle.  

Here's a shot of Chaplin just entering the dog park, to give you an idea of just how LARGE it is.   You can just make out the palapa in the distance.  Plenty of room to run at full whippet speed, when he's in the mood.

Then, there's another large area on the OTHER side of the palapa; plenty of room to toss balls and frisbees to eager dogs.  And beyond that, in a separate fenced area, is a full set of agility equipment.  This is truly doggie heaven; it was one of the reasons we bought a lot at Retama.

Roger and I are still healing from the loss of our beloved Jasper, but it's getting better.   Chaplin seems to be doing all right; we don't think he's depressed, but it's hard to tell.  The dog park helps, because he has lots of opportunities to socialize with his pals there.

One of Roger's favorites at the dog park is Jagger, a standard poodle who is very friendly and loves to play.

The whippet picture of the day is a shot of Chaplin meeting and greeting a beautiful sheltie named Bandit.  There are dogs of all shapes and sizes, and they all get along and play well together. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jasper -- A Sad, Sad Day

Jasper 12-24-99 - 1-15-11

Roger here....   Ten years ago...  Our daughters grew up, graduated,  and moved out of the house.   We were happy, but there was a definite void in our lives.

Within the year, we drove to Bloomington IN.  In the parking lot at the Indiana University Football Stadium, we met Jasper for the first time.  He was nine months old and living with a grad student at Indiana University.  

The young man who owned Jasper wisely realized that he was too busy to care for a dog that was so full of life.  Jasper became an integral part of our lives from that moment.

On the way home, we stopped at a pet store to buy the essentials for taking care of a dog.  Dianne went into the store while I walked Jasper around the parking lot.  I will never forget how he looked at me during that first walk with those big brown eyes.  We bonded instantly.

When we opened the doors of our house to him, he immediately bounded up the two flights of stairs, rarely touching the steps.  We watched in amazement as he leaped OVER (not on) the bed.  Our boney, skinny-looking dog with the hind legs you could see through on a sunny day was an athlete.

When we went to bed that night, he did not hesitate to hop up and burrow his way under the covers where he warmed our feet -- a nightly ritual for the next ten years.

Jasper loved me, but he adored Dianne.  He quickly became her shadow, and remained so.  One day, I took him off his leash while hiking in the woods a couple miles from our house.  He gave me one of those brown-eyed looks and went into a 35 mph sprint.  No way for me to catch him.  He made his way straight home to Dianne.  

He loved to run - to chase squirrels, to leap over flower beds, to chase tennis balls (when he was in the mood).  Unlike most whippets, he also loved to swim.  
He was not a good swimmer, but any time there was activity near the water he joyfully leaped in as if he were a labrador.  He never met a person he did not like, running up to strangers while wagging his tail and begging for attention.  (He was not a good guard dog.) 

 He was so very, very gentle with our granddaughter, Kaia, during her toddler years.  I have vivid memories of her leading him around the house on his leash, while he remained so calm and patient and walked so-o-o slowly beside her.

We loved Jasper so much, that we found Chaplin a couple years later.  Chaplin is a sweet, gentle, fun dog who has been a good companion for all of us (including Jasper).  However, from the outset, it was evident that Jasper would be the alpha male -- a role that Chaplin readily acceded to.  Jasper's role at the dog park became one of intervening with the other dogs if (in Jasper's mind) they became too rough with his dog, Chaplin. 

Jasper always considered himself to be a person.  (Dianne and I did, too.)  

Jasper was not without his faults :-).  He was an expert at stealing Chaplin's treats (and ours).  If we forgot to put the cat food away, as soon as we closed the door, he would immediately leap onto the console of the motor home, where he licked the bowl clean.  He often knocked over the trash can, but he would always wait until we left the room. 

 He did not bark often, but if a large dog or a raccoon (and in one case an armadillo) got too close to the campsite he did not hesitate to run them off. 

 He was an expert counter surfer. One evening, after work, when Dianne and I were enjoying a walk around the yard, the two chicken breasts that were thawing at the back of the counter disappeared.  There was no evidence that they had ever been on the counter other than a very clean, empty plate.  We soon found Jasper in the corner of the family room, head lowered, tail between his legs, looking at us with doleful brown eyes.  It was hard to be angry with him.

Two weeks ago Dianne noticed blood in his urine.  Since he was acting perfectly normal, we were not that concerned - the internet led us to believe that it was probably a bladder infection. We took him to the vet, that day.  We were devastated to learn that he had a large tumor on one of his kidneys.  An x-ray revealed that the cancer had spread to his lungs.  We knew that there was no hope.   The vet was surprised that he was doing so well.  He was not in any kind of visible distress, so we brought him home, where he received more table food and coddling than he has ever had in his life.  (Actually, he has always received a lot of coddling).

We were blessed with two weeks of the Jasper that we have always known.  Perky ears, curiosity, those intelligent eyes, prancing along during his walks -- always insisting on taking the lead.  We also had the mischievious Jasper  -- stolen cat food from the console, stolen treats from Chaplin, trash can surfing.

Two days ago at the dog park he chased Chaplin doing a full-blown 35 mph run.  So glorious, yet so sad.  It was a great day.  It was his last good day.

We knew yesterday morning that he had gone into a rapid decline.  By the middle of the day, he could hardly walk.  On the way to the vet's office, he licked my hand.  His last view before passing was of Dianne's face.

Writing this is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I am writing this because it is too difficult for Dianne to do so.  Selfishly, it is also therapeutic for me.  We have lost pets before and are familiar with the pain, but this is different; Jasper was much more to us than a pet.

We'll get back to our regular, hopefully upbeat, posts in a few days.

By the way, our blog name will not change, because Jasper's spirit will always be traveling with us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Coach House Progress

Hi all -- Dianne here.  
No travelog this time...the above photo pretty well sums up our life right now.

Our workers have made great progress on finishing the inside of our coach house, so I thought I'd get us up to date.   Our time has been spent on trips back and forth to Lowe's, Home Depot, and Sears, and also researching and ordering things on line.  It's all coming together, so here's the latest:

The framing, wiring, and plumbing is done now, except for the main circuit box.  They've installed the water heater (in the attic!), the bathroom vent fan/light/heater and the plumbing is roughed in for the washing machine, ice maker in the fridge, sinks, water softener, and shower.  

We originally thought we'd get an "on demand" water heater, but since Raul can put one up in the attic out of the way, we decided to save our money.  No worries about frozen pipes down here, either!

We're excited about the tray ceiling Raul has constructed, with its rounded corners.  The border will be bright white with recessed can lights.  The middle will have thermoplastic panels that look like a copper tin ceiling, with a ceiling fan/light in the middle.  I had a fake copper tin ceiling in my Indiana kitchen remodel and liked it a lot.  That was a LOT more work, though, because it was Armstrong ceiling tiles and I had to paint them to look like old copper.  Now you can buy panels already finished and ready to just glue up, and they aren't as fragile as the ceiling tiles were.  

Here's a photo of the brochure, showing what they will look like.  These are used in a backsplash, but ours will be in the tray ceiling.

We already have the fan and soon the lights will be installed.

Our bathroom faucet came today (the UPS man is my new best friend).  I can't wait to see it installed, with our Talavera Mexican vessel sink, which is also on its way.  I picked the hummingbird pattern.  Here's a photo from the web site that I printed out of what the sink will look like:

The most exciting thing so far is that the framing is in the wall to install our stained glass panel that we've been lugging around the country in our motorhome.  In Indiana it just hung in a window; in Texas it will be installed in the wall between the kitchen/living area and the bathroom, so that we can leave a bathroom light on to illuminate it. 

 The "bird" theme is perfect here, because we are right next to the World Birding Center in Mission, TX.  I saved all my wooden bird houses to decorate the bathroom with.  Can't wait!

The expenses just go on and on, though...two of our much-used items decided to die as soon as we arrived here in Texas:  Roger's electric shaver and my vacuum cleaner.  So we each got new toys.  Roger loved his old shaver, so we replaced it with an updated version of the same thing. 

 He especially likes the way it looks at night when it's charging (the whole "Star Wars" thing guys have).

We've picked out the floor tile that we want, and the paint color.   Roger has already designed a nifty threshold design using the stone border and smaller tiles, then the rest will be 6" x 6" diagonal tile.

 Tomorrow the guys are coming to install insulation and drywall.  Raul said he'd be ready for paint by the end of next week.  I kept my Ellen Kennon paint samples from our kitchen remodel, so we were able to narrow colors down to match the furniture before we left Indiana, then match the tile we picked out here.  It's "full-spectrum" paint, which should really show its full potential down here with all the sunshine.  

We've picked out appliances at Sears, and will go next week to finalize our order for that.  (They are on sale next week until the 19th).

This is happening so fast that we really haven't done much of anything else.  The only non-remodel activity I had this week was to walk over to the RV park next door to visit the "Veggie Man" who comes once a week.  I published a photo last year of all the items I was able to buy for a few dollars.  Here's a photo of my trip this week:  

I spent a grand total of $8.50!  

Roger went to his first "breakfast with the guys" this morning.  He said more than twenty guys showed up, and they all went to breakfast to a local Mexican place called "Chuy's" and had a delicious authentic Mexican breakfast.  He's still talking about the fresh, warm tortillas.  Guys + Food = A good time was had, of course!  

Tomorrow night we plan to venture out to the Retama clubhouse to attend the wine and cheese get-together.  We each bring cheese and a bottle of wine to share.  We have some bottles of wine left from Paso Robles, so we're all set.  Should be fun!

The whippet picture of the day shows Chaplin laying in soft grass heaven.  Our new sod has no deadly spurs or fire ants.  After four months in a desert climate, he's a happy camper now.