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!  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

She's a Project-Lovin' Woman....

Hi all, Dianne here.   (Note:  blogger is acting squirrely and cutting off text.  I apologize in advance, 'cause I can't figure out how to fix it.)  

Back when we had a "real" house in Indiana, the guys at my local neighborhood hardware store once called me a "project-lovin' woman," because I was in there so often buying supplies for whatever I was working on at the moment.  Just to prove that you can teach a 61-year-old woman new tricks, I decided to try to tile our coach house backsplash.  This was the last remaining "finish" item on our to-do list in the coach house. 

This blog may not be of much interest except to friends and family, namely those who know the saga of the Italian tiles.  For those of you who couldn't care less, go ahead and scroll to the bottom to see a cute photo of Charlie the cat watching the pet sitter video on tv.  For those of you with way too much time, continue on....

In September 2004, Roger and I went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Tuscany, Italy with a group of friends.  We all pooled our resources and rented an Italian villa at a working vineyard and olive oil agriturismo, Fattoria de Cinciano.  What a wonderful trip!

At the time, we were in the process of remodeling our kitchen.  We purchased a series of hand-crafted Italian tiles and had them shipped to Indiana to be incorporated into our backsplash.  I held back three of the tiles "just in case" we ever sold that house.  Here's how the tiles looked in our kitchen remodel:
Italian Tiles

If you should want to see the entire finished kitchen, here's a link to the other photos: Finished Kitchen 2005.  Those of you who have seen our little coach house will recognize a few items, like the black Silgranite sink, faux copper ceiling, open dish cabinet, kitchen table and chairs, wine rack, and now, my three remaining Italian tiles.  I still have my "dream kitchen," except now it's very, very tiny!  Isn't it Murphy's law that as soon as you get your house just the way you want it, you decide to sell it and move on?  That's just what we did; we have been fulltiming now since December of 2008, so only enjoyed that new kitchen for a couple of years.

I finally summoned up the courage to go to Home Depot to buy my supplies.  While there, I noticed a product called "Simple Mat," an adhesive mat that takes the place of mortar.  I decided to give it a try, and I'm glad I did.  I'll update this blog if the whole wall of tiles decides to peel away from the wall and fall down, but it seems to be solid (so far, so good....)

I'll just describe the process I used in photo captions:

Simple Mat Cut and Applied to Wall

You simply peel the "wall side" paper off and stick it where you want the tile.
The first tile sheet applied 1/8" above counter

When ready to stick the tiles, you remove the "tile side" plastic off the Simple Mat and position the tiles. You have to be careful, because once they're on, it's very hard to reposition them.

Snipping Tiles around Switch Plate Opening

Roger did the Math to help me lay out my Italian Tiles 

Let's just say it's a good thing I married a smart man.  I'm mathematically challenged, and would have goofed this step for sure!

Ready to Install the Third Italian Tile

Grouting is a messy job!

So is wiping the grout!

Caulked and Polished!

The hardest part for me was wiping the grout haze from the little tile faces. Just wiping with a dry cloth didn't work, so I had to wait and use tile cleaner after 24 hours.  I spent a whole afternoon polishing each little tile until it was the way I wanted it.

 The mosaic glass tiles are "Midnight Blue" and have shiny copper, black, and white accents throughout the glass. 

 I found a perfect light switch plate to match the copper, but had to order the matching outlet cover.  I also had to readjust the switches underneath and use longer screws on the switch box to make it flush with the new tile.  

Now all I have to do is await my outlet cover and it will be totally finished!

One final touch:  While we were exploring Tuscany on a rainy day, we happened upon a beautiful monastery which allowed tourists. 

We could hear the monks singing as we explored the grounds. 

 In the gift shop, I purchased a small hand-crafted tile as a memento.  It had a lovely cypress tree hand painted on it; it just seemed to symbolize our entire trip, for we saw those lovely trees everywhere in Tuscany.  The little tile is an odd shape and not perfectly symmetrical, so it could not be incorporated into a wall.  It now has a home (hung by fishing line) behind my sink.  All of our things just seem to look better and fit better in our coach house.

The pet photo of the day shows Charlie the cat watching the "pet sitter video" I put in for he and Bandido one evening before we went out.  Bandido watched it for a while, but Charlie was so excited by it that he meowed and jumped up on the dash to look behind the TV to see just how to reach the darned squirrel!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Days of the Grackles

Great-Tailed Grackles

Roger here...  How to start?  Our time in south Texas is filled with activity, but the pace is slow.  Does that make any sense?  This post will give a taste of some of the things that keep us busy.  Dianne will start with an explanation of the opening pictures.

Dianne here:  I've loved great-tailed grackles since I first saw them in Coffeyville, Kansas in 2009.  They make the most amazing whistles and crackling noises.  They love my bird seed, but they're too large to roost on the feeder. 

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
 They congregate on the ground below, looking up at the feeder and waiting for the resident woodpecker (who is a very picky eater) to come and push the small seeds out to get at the peanuts.  Now that the green jays are frequenting my feeder, they help out the grackles, too.

We also still enjoy the gang of mockingbirds who hang out and mainly come for a drink. 

Green Jay
 I've had a couple of exciting additions lately, though:

Inca Doves 
Roger again....  I had a unique experience the other day while riding my bike at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park.  I ride several miles in the park three or four times a week.  During those rides, I have occasionally seen bobcats.  Typically, they are trotting along the road or doing one of those lion-like (I'm in charge) kind of saunters.  As soon as they see me, they bound into the brush.  

It always gives me a thrill to see them, but the interaction last week was the best.  As I turned a corner, I saw a large bobcat walking along the side of the road.  I was approaching him/her from behind.  For some bizarre reason, he did not hear me coming.  I continued approaching, trying to make as little noise as possible.  He did not see me until I was right (within three feet) next to him.  At that point, instead of running, he froze and stared at me.  

We stared at each other for what seemed to be an eternity, but was actually only an instant.  I will never forget those eyes.  I rolled past him about 20 feet and braked the bike.  He remained frozen for about a minute before his eventual leap into the brush.  Something I will never forget.

It all happened too quickly for me to get a picture.  It would have been difficult to get the camera out while riding the bike, and if I had tried, the movement would probably have shortened the encounter.  However, Dianne looked up a link that will take you to a photo of a bobcat that one of our neighbors, John Rosford (a professional photographer), took at our state park.  It will give you a sense of what I saw:  Might even be the same cat!

 This was really one of Dianne's activities, but I was the guy with the camera.  We have been intending to repaint the wooden Adirondack chairs that we have on our back patio for a couple of years now.  They were originally bright red, but over the years they faded to a dark pink.  Dianne was inspired the other day, and located the red paint that we purchased last year for this purpose.  (I am not allowed to touch a paint brush.)  The photo above contrasts the new paint job with the old.  Here is Dianne, hard at work.

We dragged the chairs to the front of the coach house to be painted.  When we were finished, we liked how they looked in the front, AND the front has the only shade in the middle of the day.  Sooo.... We decided to leave them there and order new chairs for the back area.  

The new chairs arrived yesterday.  They are sturdy, heavy, and made of polywood (recycled plastic) so they should last a long time.  It was my job to assemble them.  I had some trouble finding the correct phillips screwdriver to use with the provided screws.  I wanted to use the phillips bit on my electric drill, but the box of bits is lost somewhere in the recesses of our storage room.  Finding them would be far more of a project than struggling with a hand-held screw driver.  
(See why??!!  I'd say we're making the most out of our little storage closet! -- D.)
After a longer than necessary time, struggling with the screwdriver and the screws, the chairs were assembled.  We like the way they look.  (They are comfortable, too --  D.)

Roger here again...  Remember the bit about Dianne painting the chairs and me not being allowed to touch a paint brush?   Well....  Dianne had her very own painting incident.   Since it was nearing wine-thirty and Dianne was working so hard, and because I felt like I should be doing something useful, I brought her a glass of wine.  Guess what happened!  After a few sips of wine,  Dianne dipped the red paint brush into the red wine glass instead of the paint can :-)!!!!!!  What a hoot!

This is not too exciting, but it is something we enjoy.  Every day, the half-mile walk to the dog park involves passing a farmer's field.  Brahman cattle are often grazing in the field.  Before coming here, most of the Indiana cattle that we saw were hereford or black angus.  There are all kinds of cattle in Texas, including longhorns, but the Brahmans are unique.  Evidently, they are well suited for the extremely hot summers here.  Lots of loose skin that allows heat to dissipate.  We love the floppy ears and the hump.  We love watching them graze in the field, just across the fence from the dogs in the dog park, who do not faze them at all.

The dog park here does not have a nice pond like the one in Fishers, IN, but it does have a doggie tub for hot days.  After endless trips retrieving a tennis ball, Bandido heads for the tub, drops the ball in the water and enjoys a good soak.

Soon after, he digs in the water.  Much better than digging in our yard.

Dianne here...  Activity is picking up at the neighborhood dog park.  
A group of us have set up twice-weekly "play dates," which are fun for the adults as well.  As they say, a tired dog is a good dog, so we do our best to wear them out.
Click, Bandido, & Pepper

Pretty Katie
Roger again...  In addition to dog park get-togethers, there are many social opportunities here at Retama.  Here are a few events that we have attended during the past two weeks: 

  Dianne and I enjoyed homemade bierocks, German potato salad, cole slaw, and beer at Retama's Oktoberfest party.  

I attended a couple of the men's breakfasts at Chuey's, a local Mexican restaurant (I crave the Mexican omelets). 

 We have enjoyed sampling new beers a few times with our friends, Jim and Sue, while Bandido plays with their whippets, Gabe and Click. 

We are also attending a weekly butterfly walk the month of November with neighbors John and Audrey, who are naturalists and very knowledgeable guides -- D.

Oh, and Retama has a men's organization called the Lumbermen.  From time to time the group gets together to discuss lumber (that is what we tell our wives).  Evidently, the first meeting took place in a local establishment after a trip to a lumber yard.  Since that time, the group thought it would be safer to meet at someone's house.  I was invited to my first meeting this week.  A riveting discussion of 2X4s ensued.

Dianne...  I'm enjoying water aerobics twice a week.  This Thursday morning it was too cold, so instead Bandido and I took a 5 mile walk to the hawk tower in the state park and back.  He wore his backpack and carried my binoculars and his water. Here he is at the top of the hawk tower on a very windy morning:  

The pet picture of the day shows Bandido's method of telling us it is time to go to the dog park.

If that doesn't make us smile and reach for the leash, he has been known to get "verbal" as shown in this 30-second video snippet: