Saturday, November 30, 2013

Home at Retama Village

Roger here...  We have been home at Retama Village in Mission, Texas now for a couple of weeks.  It took three days to move things back and forth from the motor home to our coach house so that we could truly enjoy the quiet times here.  A major chore involved moving all of our outdoor furniture from inside the coach house to our outdoor living area under the pergola in the back.  We love the lush plant life and the privacy of our back yard.

Backtracking a bit,  the last leg of our journey to Retama Village was pretty much uneventful.  We opted to take the toll road around Houston.  It was kind of expensive, but probably worth it due to the relative lack of traffic.  The bridge in the picture spanned a vast waterway and an endless view of the trappings of an oil-based economy.

I am happy that the economy seems to be thriving here, but I am equally happy that our home for the winter is in a quieter area of Texas.  I am also happy to have the bug splat off the windshield.

Back to our place at Retama Village....  Look at this picture and the picture below.  Can you see two things missing in the second photo?

The first missing items are the two propane tanks. One services our gas grill.  The other gives us warmth and serenity in our fire pit.  It was relatively easy to get them filled and operational.

The second missing item involved a full day of sweat, sticky goo, and labor --- moving and trimming the aloe plant that we lovingly refer to as Seymour (from the Little Shop of Horrors).  

We planted Seymour three years ago.  He was in a four-inch pot from Home Depot.  Each year when we return, he has gotten noticeably bigger.  This year he was gigantic and weighed as much as a half-ton pickup truck.  (Slight exaggeration, but I quipped that Seymour was the size of a Volkswagen -- D.)

Dianne's beloved Meyer Lemon Tree (that she grew from a seed from a lemon provided by her cousin's daughter, Leigh) was literally being crowded into non- existence by Seymour and the spineless prickly pear cactus on the other side.  Something had to be done.  

The cactus was simple.  With a few cuts with the pruners that I brought from our former home in Indiana, I was able to get rid of a third of the plant. I replanted a small section in the back which will probably get too big in a year or two.  

Seymour was another matter.  It was very difficult to remove the outer growth, and each section was a gooey mess (good for my skin).  It took a lot of hacking, twisting and tugging to remove each of the very heavy sections.  

I was finally able to dig out the much smaller center section and plant it in a shallow hole near our property line.  (We contacted our neighbors to ask permission, for we know that Seymour will rise again).  Fortunately, one of the lawn maintenance guys saw me stuffing the various Seymour parts into lawn bags and offered to haul them away.  I was very glad he was there.

The Meyer Lemon Tree again has room to grow, and hopefully produce fruit someday.  (After a dose of citrus tree fertilizer, Lemon Tree now looks perky and ready to grow...D.)

Moving Seymour also allowed a better place to display our other killer plants.  The cacti with the needle-like spikes.  Three puncture wounds and several fire ant bites later, and I have satisfied my Indiana farming genes.

Dianne did some gardening as well.  The asparagus fern and begonias that she planted in pots survived our recent cold snap (40s), wind and rain.  

So did the Texas Bluebonnets.  Dianne is looking forward to a springtime display of blue.

We are beginning to have the feeling of settling in for the winter.  The rocks that we picked up during a beach hike on Whidbey Island are displayed on the Texas bar.

Dianne here:  I'm back in my twice-weekly routine of volunteering at Cinderella Pet Rescue walking dogs.  I was sorry that my favorite pal, Bart, had not been adopted while I was gone, but I was really glad to see him again and get a good black lab ear cleaning!  
Me and my Pal, Bart

My good friend Sue, who volunteers with me, took this photo with her phone.

Roger's last day as Chairman of the Retama Advisory Committee is today.  He plans to use all his new-found free time to get back into an exercise routine.  Back to Roger....

The bicycles are in the rack and ready for use.  Let the much needed exercise begin.

The lights by the pool at the clubhouse that we pass on our evening walks are lit.

The social gatherings are in full swing.  Yesterday, Dianne made two pies to share at a delicious community Thanksgiving dinner.  The week before, we were invited to a hog roast.  Thanks Eddie!

The roses are in bloom.  The temperatures have climbed back into the 70s and 80s.  Life is good.

For our readers who like to follow our travels, I apologize in advance:  We won't be updating our blog as often while we're settled in here in the Texas Tropics for the winter.  -- D.

The pet picture of the day shows Dianne and her friend, Sue on one of their daily morning walks with the dogs.  They are walking on top of the levy near the Rio Grande River.  

Klick, Gabe, Sue, Tequila, Dianne, Bandido - 4 Miles Every Morning!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Return to Texas --- Dianne Learns How to Drive!

Dianne and Glyn (the man who taught her how to drive the motor home)

Roger here...  We have arrived in Texas!  We are not at our home in Mission yet, but we are in Texas.  


10.  The roads get appreciably better at the state line.  Most of the state roads (even the two lane roads) have shoulders that are wide enough to drive on.  Many people do drive on them.  For some reason, they are also smooth with few, if any potholes.  

9.  You can buy delicious barbecue at road-side (drive- through) shacks.  I know this is a fuzzy picture, but I think you can see the smile on my face as I walk back to the motor home from one of these low-key places.  You'll get a better idea of why I was so happy when you take a look at the brisket sandwich below.

8.  Men on horseback wait in the Barbecue Shack lines with cars and people on foot.

7.  Drive-through doughnut shops are everywhere.  Fortunately, for our diets, most of them are not large enough for our motor home.

6.  You see as many Texas flags as you do American flags.  They are often displayed at businesses and in front of homes and ranches.  Oh, and the ranches almost always have an impressive entrance of some sort.

5.  People wear cowboy hats even if it is not Halloween.  Sometimes they are used to keep the constant sun out of yer eyes when y'all take a nap.

4.  There are more Whataburgers than McDonalds.

3.  The people are very friendly.   A guy waiting in line with me at the drive-through barbecue shack talked with me for about 20 minutes.  I now know his life story.  (Texas barbecue is not fast food.)  The guy who sold me the barbecue talked with me for another 20 minutes.  He now knows my life story.  Texas conversations take some time.  (Perhaps this is why my sandwich was lukewarm before I got it -- D.)

Another related element of Texas conversations... saying "You guys" labels you as a non-Texan.  The proper term is "Y'all" if you are talking to one person. "All Y'all" is plural.

2.  The driving rules are different.  If you are being tail-gated on one of those two-lane roads with the extra-wide shoulders, it is common courtesy to drive on the shoulder (at the same speed) so the tail-gater can pass.  By the way, the tail-gater will give you a hand gesture as he goes by --- not what you think --- the hand gesture is a friendly wave and a howdy.  

Another related difference... Don't be surprised to see someone enter an interstate from a frontage road, even if there is not an entrance ramp.  This is probably not legal, but I have seen it several times.  

1.  EVERYTHING IS BIGGER IN TEXAS ---especially the high school football stadiums.

We are currently at Rainbow's End Escapee's RV Park in Livingston, Texas for a three-night stay.

Bandido and Tequila love the extra-large dog park here.  Lots of room for off-leash fun on sunny days.

Time to wrestle

Time to play with a big ball

Time to chase squirrels up trees

Time to rest after a long chase

Time to pose in the sun
Why three nights at the Rainbow's End Escapee Park in Livingston (the Piney Woods in "Deep East" Texas)?  We had a couple of reasons:  

We soon intend to exchange our South Dakota citizenship for Texas citizenship.  Even though we are still technically full-timers, we own property in Texas and spend at least six months there every year.  It only makes sense.  

The Escapees Headquarters at Rainbow's End has a well-respected mail forwarding service.  Yesterday, we officially changed our mailing address. As I am writing this, Dianne is communicating our address change to the places that need to know.  We will be changing our vehicle registrations and driving licenses to our residence address in Mission, TX soon after we return there in a few days.

The other reason for our stop at Rainbow's End.... I enrolled Dianne in a driving school which is currently located here.  Until yesterday, Dianne had never driven our motor home.  We have talked  for some time about the importance of her knowing how to drive it.  We would be in a mess if I broke an arm or sprained my right ankle.  

Dianne fully bought in to the importance of doing this, BUT to say that she was looking forward to it would be a huge exaggeration.  This posed picture of the biting of finger nails does not begin to show how nervous she was.  I truly felt sorry for her and wanted it to be over as badly as she did.  Well, she probably wanted it to be over more.

Glyn, her instructor, sat in the passenger's seat while she drove.  I sat in one of the recliners and vowed to be silent.  (I was pretty good.  I only told her to slow down once :-). 

Glyn is an experienced driver of all vehicles.  He was once one of those Ice Road Truckers (like those of TV fame) who drove over the frozen lakes in Canada and Alaska.  Dianne loved that show, so this helped her to know she was in good hands. 

Glyn did a great job building her confidence and explaining the driving process, especially how to know she was in the center of her lane.  She drove extensively on two-lane roads, four-lane roads, successfully negotiated right- and left-hand turns at traffic lights, backed into imaginary campground sites (orange cones), and executed numerous other maneuvers.

After two and a half hours behind the wheel, her ordeal ended.  I have to say that she did really well.  I was proud of her.  Her future driving will probably not be extensive (maybe rest stop-to-rest stop), but we now both know that she can do it if the need arises.

Tomorrow, we begin a two-day drive to our home in deep south Texas.  It is time for us to sit still in the warmth of Retama Village in Mission, Texas for several months.  

We have two pet pictures of the day this time.  

Every time we extend or pull in our motor home slides, we put the cat in a crate and the dogs in the bathroom.  We do not want any smashed paws when the slide drops down.  Tequila really does not enjoy being confined in the bathroom.  She often lays by the door and extends her leg under the door to let us know that it is time for her to be released.

Such a girly-girl, showing some leg!  Mommy needs to paint her toenails! -- D.
Look who found a warm, sunny spot between the windshield and the front curtain on this chilly morning:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Old Court House Museum
Hi all, Dianne here.  Vicksburg, Mississippi was originally supposed to be just an overnight for us on our way to Texas.  When hooking up the car at our last stop, Roger saw that the rear driver's car tire was completely flat.  He filled it with air, and it held, so we limped along south, stopping to check the tire and add air as needed to compensate for the slow leak that had developed.  For that reason, we decided to spend an extra night in Vicksburg to have time to get it fixed.  That also gave us time to check out Vicksburg, which we had always heard about but never visited.

Our stop at Vicksburg is at the Ameristar Casino RV Park, conveniently located near I-20.  It is just down the street from the Ameristar Casino, and has free shuttle service.  Neither Roger nor I are tempted by gambling, so we have not checked out any of the local casinos, but for around $23 a night it can't be beat.  (We would have paid more for 50 amp electric, but with the cool weather, we knew we wouldn't need our air conditioners).  

We didn't gamble or visit the Vicksburg National Military Park.  What we DID do was drive downtown to check out old town Vicksburg.  It reminded us a little bit of  Natchez -- built high on a bluff overlooking the river.  

Our first stop was the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum.
One of many exhibits, which were arranged chronologically
It is housed in a restored 1890 building where Coca-Cola was first bottled anywhere in the world in 1894.   We paid our $3.50 per person admission to the clerk at the soda fountain and enjoyed the exhibits:
Vintage Coke Bottles

Old Marble Soda Fountain
We lingered afterward long enough to enjoy Coke ice cream floats -- mine with vanilla and Roger's with chocolate -- made with local Mississippi Luvel dipped ice cream.

From there, we walked down the hill to the Catfish Row Children's Art Park,

And beyond that to view the Vicksburg Riverfront mural display on the flood wall down by the river.

We've seen our share of murals as we've traveled the U.S., but we both remarked that these were the best we've seen so far -- really special.  They were actually the highlight of our day in Vicksburg.  There are 32 life-like murals painted by artist Robert Dafford depicting periods of history in Vicksburg, lighted at night, and each with a descriptive plaque giving a bit of history to go along with the artwork.  Really very well done.  Here is a sampling of some of the more interesting (to us):

I took the following photo just to remind myself of the mural topic, but it describes it better than I could, so I'll just include it:

Scene depicts downtown Vicksburg "back in the day"

Did you know that ferries were once used to transport trains???  I was astonished to look at and read this one:

We had heard of the Sultana before, but did not realize its tragic history:

All I can add to that is wow, tragedy caused by greed, pure and simple.

We walked past the Depot Museum...

...then up the hill back to the main part of town...

No trip to the deep south would be complete without viewing some antebellum homes, so that's what we did next... 

Most of these mansions are now bed and breakfasts.  To learn more about them, click on the link under each photo.

Our Coke floats had worn off by this time, so we drove south on Highway 61 to The Tomato Place (click on link for Trip Advisor review).  It's a funky, eclectic little place featuring fresh-baked breads, smoothies, and flavorful tomatoes -- an anomaly in this day and age.

One of their signature sandwiches was a BLT -- my favorite -- so that's what I had, on fresh-baked whole-wheat bread.  I could even taste the tomato!  
 Roger ordered the BLT po-boy, also on a fresh-baked roll.  

We left with some coffee beans, homemade jam, and a container of frozen prepared red beans to enjoy some evening.  Oh, and a loaf of fresh-baked whole wheat bread.  

What a fun, quirky lunch stop!

We enjoyed our day in Vicksburg and decided to spend one more night before crossing northern Louisiana into Texas.  Roger spoke with his brother on the phone, who used to travel to Vicksburg on business.  He told us we must have catfish before we leave, so another meal out was planned.

The next day, we pretty much just hung out in the motor home.  (Roger watched football and I did some  After looking into the local dining options, Roger found the place for catfish in Vicksburg was Rowdy's Family Restaurant.   We were not disappointed...
Thin-fried catfish, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, cornbread and hush puppies.  I had never had southern black-eyed peas before, or turnip greens, so I figured this was the place to do it.  Yum!   
I'm such a good boy!

The pet picture of the day is a somewhat grainy shot taken through the car windshield and the motor home windshield as we arrived home from our catfish dinner.  We never know which of our pals will be watching and waiting for us -- this time it was Bandido.