Saturday, May 31, 2014

Feathering Our New Nest

The best thing I can say about my hair in this photo is that at least I'm not all gray yet....

Hi all, Dianne here.  You may have been wondering why Roger has been writing all the blogs lately.  All I can say is, I must have inherited an extra "feather your nest" gene, because every time we have moved from one house to another (or to the RV from a house) I have gone into extreme project mode.   After almost 43 years, Roger is used to this and knows that there is no point in trying to rein me in.

This stage of building our casita is like being nine months pregnant; everyone wants to know "Have you gone yet?"  The answer is no, not quite, but probably next week.  In the meantime, I have filled my days preparing.

I started in early April by repainting all of our metal patio furniture, including the candle lanterns and even the garden towers and planters.  

The garden stuff had moved from shabby chic to junky mode, so I cleaned them with steel wool, some C.L.R., and painted with my trusty metallic bronze Rustoleum.

All of a sudden, things we'd let slide for years just had to be repaired before the move, like a lamp switch and a mosaic planter that had broken that I still wanted to use.  It's still not perfect, but at least it's now usable and the huge crack is regrouted.  Once it's planted and strategically placed, the unmatched tiles won't be too noticeable.
Another item that had to be repaired was a wicker table whose glass top had been broken by the Texas wind blowing a big candlestick onto it.  This table has sentimental value because it used to be on Roger's parents' screened porch.  Glass tops are not very practical down here because of the wind and dust.  I got the big idea to fashion a mosaic top for it so that it could once again be used as a table on our new, larger patio at the casita.

Of course, I've never done a mosaic before, but that didn't stop me.  After all, I had done the backsplash in our coach house, so how hard could it be?  
We bought a piece of 1/4" plywood and our friend and next-door neighbor Bob cut it for us using his saber saw (Roger sold his when we started fulltiming).  I coated it with water seal and resigned myself to the fact that the table will need to stay under the porch roof out of any potential rain.

When we cleaned out our storage closet, I found that one of my good china dishes (wedding present) had gotten broken.  I added two dishes in colors and patterns I liked from the local Goodwill store, picked up tile scraps from our construction site, picked out the flattest and prettiest pebbles from our travels, added in the sea glass we've picked up here and there, and bought a small bag of garden-shaped tiles to give it some extra color and shape.  It was kinda fun smashing the plates into usable chunks.  I played with the shapes on a cardboard box top using an outline of the table top.   

I knew my table would be a random pattern, but I also wanted to make it a sentimental top that would be fun to use.  I even used the "Noritake Ranier" pattern marker off the bottom of my china plate just for fun.

Next step was to arrange and glue the pieces to the plywood using tile adhesive.  I also covered a few of our pebbles with masking tape to keep the grout from getting into their sandy surface.
  Here's what the table looked
like after gluing and before grouting:
The small tiles around the edge (with spacers) are leftovers from tiling my coach house backsplash.  I cut them in half using the tile nippers I still had from that project.

Here's the finished product, after grout sealer.  It won't win any prizes, but it's once again a usable table and has some sentimental value, with our rocks, china pieces, construction tile pieces and sea glass incorporated.

Here are a few more "projects":
I picked out some of our favorite rocks and covered them with mineral oil to make them look wet and more colorful.  Then, to keep the dust off of them, I bought a glass canister and lid.  This will go inside the casita on our TV cabinet when we move. 

I bought a nifty silverware caddy and new flatware, so that I can save drawer space in my new cabinets.  

People wonder why I would want such a small house as our new casita.  The answer is that I have enjoyed the convenience of living in our RV for the past 5 1/2 years.  Everything is conveniently organized and it's so small there are no more whole days spent doing housework.  I didn't want to go back to those days!  The trade-off is that every inch has to be planned for best and highest use.  I consider it a fun challenge!

For instance, I came across this nifty wine bottle shelf on sale and thought I'd use it to store rolled towels on in the bathroom.  That idea faded once I realized that the only wall space for it had to house the towel bar.  I puzzled over what to use it for for a couple of days, looked on Pinterest and Google, and finally came up with this idea:
I found three acrylic canisters with lock-on lids that fit where the wine bottles (or towels) would have gone.  It will hang just off the kitchen in a little nook
Nook is on the left just beyond the arched doorway
where I plan to put this cabinet to house canned goods:  
Perfect size but might need to be repainted

I buy Mexican coffee beans in a large bag at our local HEB grocery, and one of the acrylic canisters will house coffee beans, another will house spaghetti, and the third probably penne pasta unless I come up with a better idea.  I have a small ceramic canister from Harrod's in London that I'll place in the basket under the canisters that will hold tea bags.  So, this plain little niche will soon be a tiny pantry!

Another small project will be these Mexican
tiles that I bought and plan to glue to a 2 x 4 and place atop the cabinet that's above my head in the photo above.  La Cocina means "The Kitchen" in spanish, and since this area used to be Mexico, I thought it was appropriate.  It will also coordinate with the Mexican talavera cabinet knobs that are now installed on my new cabinets:
These knobs are prettier in person

But I saved the best project of all for last!

Charlie the cat has always had the Taj Mahal of litterboxes.  In our house in Indiana, we even built a special cabinet for him in the mud room:

The enclosed box kept our whippets out of the litter box, which they considered to be a "brownie dispenser."  (Gross, I know, but dogs will be dogs.)

In the RV, Charlie's current box is a "Clever Cat" large enclosed box with a hole in the lid.  Serviceable, but gray and not too cute.  I'll spare you a photo of the current, used litterbox.

One of my big challenges in the new casita was where in the world to put the litter box??  The bathroom is too small, and no room in the bedroom for it.  The only real alternative is in the TV area in front of the kitchen peninsula:   

The litter box will sit about where the bag of grout is in this photo of the unfinshed kitchen.
The cabinet on the far right (that opens to the living room side) is where we plan to keep our pet supplies.  Here's what I came up with:

When we cleaned out our storage closet, I emptied one of our old trunks.  We think this might be a trunk Roger's mom bought to send him off to Purdue with in the fall of 1968.  

I pried the lock and handle off the front and scrubbed the rust off the remaining hardware with an SOS pad:
Then I painted the hardware and trim with gold metallic paint:
I sent away for some heavy-duty pretty contact paper (from
Next I used an old credit card to smooth and adhere the contact paper to the inside and outside.  I popped any bubbles with a sewing needle and smoothed them out.  I used an exacto-knife

to trim around the hardware.
Sorry 'bout the moving boxes in the background, but that's how we're living at the moment!

I had pried out the rivets to remove the bottom panel from the side that will face away from the doors entering the room:
Inside that, I cut down our old RV welcome mat for a scratch spot for Charlie to wipe his feet after exiting the litter box.  At Petco I found a litter box the perfect size to fit inside.  Best of all, three of its four sides are tall because Charlie is a hearty litter scratcher and a low-sided box would just not do!  I will simply open the trunk lid for easy access to clean it out.
Here's what the entrance will look like to Charlie:
He has enough clearance to climb inside the pan but not kick litter everywhere.  I stuck one side of an "extreme" velcro pad to the top of the trunk and pushed a charcoal odor absorber (the kind sold for certain litterboxes) onto it.  It held!

We had saved brass trim off of a wicker basket that fell apart.  I spent one afternoon polishing the brass to get rid of the black tarnish spots.  When you're retired, you have time to polish brass on a pretty day on the patio!
Roger helped me drill through the thin metal sides and screw the large pieces onto the trunk.
 The small pieces I simply glued with clear Liquid Nails on top of the existing plainer pieces.

The piece de resistance was actually Roger's idea, seconded by our neighbors Bob and Linda at happy hour one evening (after a few drinks).  Roger thought it would be cool for Charlie to have a beaded curtain to walk through to get to his litter pan.  An added benefit is that he can stop and play with the beads when he's done.
 I bought some cheap child's necklaces and cut them into four equal sections.  They actually didn't even come unstrung when I cut them; must have been because they were designed for small children.

My next puzzle to solve was how to hang them?  I repurposed a very short tension rod that we used in our motor home.  I cut apart a cardboard box and made a strip off one corner that would hang over the tension rod.  
 I used my Liquid Nails again to glue the sections of necklace to the cardboard v-shaped strip:
I did one side, let it set, then flipped it over and staggered the remaining pieces between the first ones.
After the beads had dried, I glued the cardboard strip to the top of the tension rod, with the beads hanging down on each side.

Knowing how Charlie will enjoy batting at the beads, I also dipped the end of each strand into the Liquid Nails to help keep them from unstringing.
Here's what the beaded entrance looks like:
And, the main point of the whole project, here's what the litter box will look like to the casual observer just entering the room:
The dark line is just a shadow
I don't really worry about Charlie not wanting to use his new digs.   He is the best. cat. ever.  and has never once made a mistake in that department. All I'll need to do is show it to him with the trunk lid open at first and he'll take it from there.

The pet photos of the day are a story unto themselves:  The first photo (above) shows our friend Jim teasing Bandido, Tequila, and their two whippets Klick and Gabe at happy hour at their house one evening, before they headed back to Minnesota for the summer.

Fast forward to now, and every time we stop by to check on their house.  Both of our dogs immediately go to their door as if to say "Come out and play!  Where's Auntie Sue?  Where's Uncle Jim?  Most of all, "Where are their toys??"

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hiking in Mission, Texas

Roger here...  If you have followed our posts, you know that hiking is probably our favorite outdoor activity.  When we travel, we seek out interesting day hikes that take us to vistas that we have never before seen.  State and national parks are among our favorite jaunts, but we also go on three- to five-mile hikes several times every week during our stays in South Texas.

We brought the camera along today so that you could join us on one of our frequent routes.  So get off the couch and put on your hiking shoes!

We are starting in our back yard at Retama Village in Mission, Texas.  Tequila is resting up for the trek. Don't pay attention to  Bandido.  He is just letting us know that his patience is running thin and that it is time to go.  Do you have your shoes on yet?

We are heading for the back construction gate passing our new (under construction) casita in the background.  Lots of construction activity today :-).

At the back gate we hook up with a City of Mission hike/bike trail.  The trail is four miles in length (one way), but we will only be on it for a short time.

A quick look back from the trail gives you a view of our neighborhood (Retama Village) beyond the undeveloped grassy area.

We will need to turn right at Schuerbach Road. We are exiting the trail and heading south toward the Rio Grande River levee.  There is not much traffic on this road, so it is a good place to walk or ride a bike.

An endless field of sunflowers dominate the views to the east.

There is literally nothing other than sunflowers in this field.

The western view is dominated by a heavily wooded national wildlife refuge.  

The green trees in south Texas are often very different than those from our native Indiana.

We are now strolling past the National Butterfly Center.  The diversity of butterflies in this area is staggering.  This is an interesting facility that now offers segway tours of the acres of fields filled with butterflies.  Be sure to keep your mouth closed unless you want to see how butterflies taste.

Tired yet?  Lots of interesting things to see ahead.  Let's go under that barricade and climb to the top of the levee that protects our property from the Rio Grande River from infrequent flooding.  Hurricanes do make their way down here, but we have not experienced one yet.  Since we are about sixty miles from the Gulf, flooding is more of a concern than the strong (but waning) winds.

You want to know about the barricade?  You may already have guessed.  It is a deterrent to the use of cars by the illegal folks that travel across the river.  More about that later.

The view changes from the top of the levee.  No, you can't see the Rio Grande River  here but it is only a quarter of a mile away across the meadow and trees.

 The surface of the levee is hard-packed gravel/dirt.  It is quite smooth and great for walking.  (Actually, you could have worn your sandals.)  It is also drivable even for low clearance cars like our Toyota.

Did you notice that we crossed a small bridge as we climbed onto the levee?  The canal on the right will stay with us for all of our walk along the levee.  The canal is one of a series of waterways that provide water to the Rio Grande Valley.  We could have walked along the dirt road on the other side, but the views are better up here.

Don't be concerned about the Border Patrol agent who is heading toward the river. We are GLAD they are here.  We usually see two to three trucks on the levee when we hike up here.  The agents are always friendly and occasionally stop to talk.  Be sure to wave as they go by.  They usually wave first.

Thirsty?  Hope you brought some water.  We always bring water for the dogs on hot days.  You can have some, too.

On any hike Tequila is diligent in her quest for lizards.  She frequently finds them along this stretch resulting in several jolting stops for Dianne.  You are welcome to take the leash, if you like.

Ok... Our second Border Patrol sighting.  This time the agent is on an ATV.  This is probably a good time to let you know that you do not need to be concerned about your safety on this hike.  Illegals definitely travel through this area, but the ones we see are not dangerous.  Most of them are from Central America and have traveled through Mexico seeking a better life for their families.  The drug traffickers would only be interested in us if we were involved in the drug trade.  We are obviously not part of that sad reality.  The border patrol does a great job keeping us safe.  Bandido and Tequila are also deterrents.  So, let's continue our hike.

We have now passed the wildlife refuge so the view to the north now lets us see the farmer's field behind our home.  There are often Brahman cattle in those lots.  Our casita, motor home and the starting point of our hike are located behind the first tree line.  If you look closely, you can see a motor home in the upper left corner of the photo.  You can also see a couple of homes behind the trees.

We are still walking along the top of the levee next to the canal.  Bicyclists (myself
included) frequently travel on the quiet stretch of Old Military Road on the other side of the canal.  Maybe we can go on a bike ride later?

The canal and dirt path are especially scenic here.  

As we turn a corner (still on the levee) the manicured lots of Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort come into view.

The park is full during the winter months, .....

... but as you can see, this is the off season.

Our neighborhood of privately owned RV lots and homes where we started the hike (Retama Village) is right next door. We share some facilities with Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort, including the dog park, the wood shop, and the organic garden plots.

Those casitas at Bentsen Palm Village look pretty nice don't they?  They are the luxury answer to "camping cabins."  My brother and sister-in-law stayed in one during a recent visit.  Extremely nice.

Take a right at Bentsen Palm Drive  (north) and walk down from the levee.  That is the visitors' center of Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park.  This facility is also the headquarters of the World Birding Center (for good reason).  The variety and number of easily-seen birds here defies description.  They are often outrageously colored like the Green Jays (green, blue, yellow), tanagers (red, black) and the orioles (orange, black).  There are also noisy, interesting chicken-like chachalacas.  Roadrunners, hawks, and several varieties of doves are also prevalent.  We will have to visit on another day.

Dianne always stops at the visitors' center at this stage of the hike.  There are lots of interesting displays in the World Birding Center.


Dianne is not going there.  She is making her obligatory stop at the facilities.   You will just have to wait with me and the dogs until she comes back --- unless you have to go, too.

It is a good thing that you did not go with Dianne!  You would have missed the three Border Patrol agents on ATVs zooming toward the levee.  Wasn't it nice that they waved to us?  Looks like they are having a busy day.

The hike/bike path where we started our trek begins at the state park.  Let's take it.  We still have a little way to go, but there is some cool stuff up ahead.

That looks like a corn field across the street.  A corn field with palm trees?  

As an Indiana boy, I think the rows look a little too close together to be corn. What do you think?

Let's go across the street and see.

Definitely not corn.  It is sorghum.  Sorghum is a big crop down here.  It is used to make syrup and silage.  

Moving on.... the landscaping along the hike/bike trail is getting a little lush.  What do you think this is?

It is the entrance to the RV Resort that we spied on from the levee.

As you can see, it is not too shabby.  The Best RV Resort in America award was granted just last year.  Impressive.  

If you want to stay here during the peak months of November, December, January, February, March... reservations are a good idea.  It is definitely worth the pre-planning.  It was our visit here four years ago that led to the purchase of our lot at Retama Village.

Look.  Up ahead is the adobe wall that separates our neighborhood, Retama Village, from the hike/bike path and the local roads.

The landscaping along the outside of the wall is a highlight of our hike, so let's slow down a bit.  The areas on both sides of the hike/bike path are covered with blooming shrubs of every color.  Those shrubs attract and are often covered with butterflies.  The National Butterfly Festival is held at the nearby butterfly park in early November.

It looks like we are almost home.  Retama Village is just up ahead.

Turn right at the entrance and walk through the gate.

The clubhouse is straight ahead.

Let's take a quick look at the clubhouse entrance before we walk down the street to our coach house and our motor home.

Are you tired or invigorated?  You just walked four miles in an hour and fifteen minutes.  What's that you say?  You were sitting at your computer the entire time.  In that case, it is time for you to take a hike :-).