Wrapping it up in Texas

LOCATION: In our tiny house in Mission, Texas

WEATHER: Hot and humid again. The cool front (taking us down to 91) blew through, and we are up around 100 again.

We are counting down our days here with lots of to-do lists. I finished one up and started another! On today’s list was a haircut for me. All of the hair dressers are Latinas and I enjoy hearing them switch back and forth between English and Spanish.

A kind friend dropped off a broad-brimmed safari hat (for George for our Botswana safari) and a shiny blouse with lots of bling (for me to wear on the cruise ship on one of the gala nights). So nice!

I did a water aerobics class. This is my get-up….

While I was swimming, a beautiful greenjay swooped down in front of me. They are prolific here, and so beautiful.

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIPS: I thought of another one that I use a lot while on the road in our Airstream. We have just a small place in the refrigerator to store butter. A regular butter dish will not fit. So, I buy the softened kind…..once…..then refill the tub with a stick of butter as we travel. I keep the unused quarters in the freezer until I am ready to use them.

DINNER: Every day the refrigerator and freezer look a little less crowded, as I try to use up everything before we leave. Tonight – tacos with leftover chicken and hamburger, the last of the salsa, onions, poblanos, and jalapenos – topped with some remaining sorry bits of lettuce and tomato.

Dia De Los Muertos prep

LOCATION: Our tiny house in Mission, Texas

WEATHER: Getting better. Record highs for this time of year (96) but very pleasant evenings

What a busy day! Chair yoga class, then 2 water aerobics sessions. Then, in the afternoon, I participated in a fun activity offered up by our community’s activities committee. About 15 of us met in our craft room to make Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) pumpkins. The directions were to bring scissors and a glass of wine to enjoy while carving (sounded a little dangerous…)

I had warned the coordinator that I am the least artistic person I know. She and others helped us carve and decorate.

I happened to sit next to this lady who is a real artist. She put me to shame, of course…

They all turned out quite different.

I put mine in the planting area in front of our house…

A close-up of my finished product…

Then, I rushed home to get ready for guests. Two couples came over for drinks and snacks. They are super neat people and we had a great time. Thankfully, it was cool enough to sit outside.

DINNER: Not very hungry after the get-together, we just shared a hamburger. Only 3 days of lunch and dinners left before we go on our trip. The trick is to eat up everything in the refrigerator without any food-less meals!

Absorbing some Tex-Mex culture

LOCATION: In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Suddenly cool. High 70

After the cold front came in yesterday, we enjoyed some outdoor chores. We had planted some oleander plants last spring around our electricity breaker box to improve our neighbor’s view of our house. Over the summer, their bougainvillea grew into a huge bush, making the oleander unnecessary, so we transplanted the plants to our fence line. We don’t have neighbors on that side, but one day we probably will, so it would be nice to have some plants for privacy.

Some friends invited us to their house for happy hour. This was the first time that we have been able to sit outside. They live in a nice port home and we sat in their patio area

We drove over to “The Junk Yard”, a popular Sunday afternoon venue. The customers appear to be local cowboys, Mexicans, plus us Winter Texans. It is an outdoor junky bar with indoor and outdoor seating. Lots of interesting characters making people-watching very intriguing.

A lot of the customers arrived via motorcycle, especially biker babes. We were probably the only customers not wearing cowboy boots. We always enjoy watching dancers do the Texas Two-Step.

We are right next to the Mexican border – just over this levee.

This couple was particularly good. The lady was really dressed up, in a short short skirt and cowboy boots. After the dance, she came over to George, gave him a hug, and said “Welcome Back”. Is this something George hadn’t told me?…..as we (or at least I) have not been here before!

DINNER: Grilled porkchops that I served with a Dijon mustard sauce. Sides were French fries and a salad.

Catching up…

LOCATION: In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Hot – 95 – 105 every day with sun…..until yesterday

I haven’t posted for a while, as life has been pretty mundane. Each morning is filled with exercise – water aerobics, chair yoga, and regular yoga for me, and exercises for George in the club’s workout room. Then, most afternoons we have some errands to run……We both bought some dress-up clothes for the cruise. I was lucky to find a little black skirt that I can scrunch up in my suitcase for $7. George bought some dress pants to go with the suit jacket he had bought in a thrift store in Minnesota. On our cruise, there are several “gala” evenings when fancy clothes are required.

We have also been working on our upcoming trip. This is our itinerary so far:

Fly to London
Train to Southampton and stay in a B&B
Pick-up rental car and go to the village for our one-week housesitting assignment
After the assignment, back to Southampton
Board ship for 17-day cruise
Air B&B in Capetown – TBD
Air B&B in wine country – TBD
Flight to Botswana
Safari in Botswana to 2 different camps
Flight to Zimbabwe
Hotel and activities at Victoria Falls
Flight to Johannesburg
Housesit in Johannesburg for 3 weeks
Trip to Krueger National Park – TBD
Arrangements back to USA – with possible layover in Dubai – TBD

So, most has been accomplished. Whew! I love doing all of this planning.

We have invited neighbors over for a couple of happy hour events with the idea of picking their brains. One couple spent a month in southern Africa last year, so they gave us some hints. Another couple spent the summer in New England, so we talked about campgrounds there for our road-trip next summer.

It has been super hot every day, making gardening difficult. When we arrived back here last week, several dead plants welcomed us. George cut them back and cleared away a lot of dead brush. Yesterday, we watched the car thermometer drop from 102 to 90 in about 5 minutes. Then, a strong Canadian wind blew in cold, refreshingly dry air, and the outdoor temp quickly dropped to about 65. Wow! (When the TV weatherman reported this, he pointed to British Columbia and Alberta on the weather map as the source of the cold winds, but said that the winds were coming from Ontario!)

The butterflies are in full force here. We are on a popular migrating path, as they fly from Canada to Mexico. Here in our community, we are encouraged to plant bushes that butterflies like…

There are also a lot of hummingbirds around.

While we were gone this summer, work continued on The Wall. These Wall parts are now sitting in a big lot on the road next to our development.

Workers in these pick-up trucks spend their days guarding the Wall parts. What a great use of our tax money! Not!!!

DINNER: We will be here another 10 days or so, so I am trying to use up all of the food I bought (I think I bought a little too much). Meals have included scallops sauteed in garlic butter, gumbo, hamburgers, and salmon burgers. Last night, taking advantage of the cool temps, George grilled a steak. I smeared it with chimichurri – very tasty.

Sandcastle Days

LOCATION: In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Continued heat. High 93

George likes to cook Sunday morning breakfast – always to include grits. So, we enjoyed avocado toast, grits, and sunny-side up eggs while we watched “CBS Sunday Morning”. This is our Sunday ritual whenever we can do it.

Then, off to South Padre Island, about 1.5 hours from here. They are celebrating Sandcastle Days there this weekend.

We timed it so we could have lunch in one of our favorite places – on the mainland across from South Padre Island (SPI). We had a nice view of the bridge while we sipped on their Bloody Mary special and shared shrimp chalupas. Seeing traffic flowing freely made us feel better, as we were worried about potential huge crowds for the festival. In the spring, when college students flock to SPI for spring break, they say that it can take up to 3 hours to cross the bridge.

SPI proclaims itself to be the “Sandcastle Capital of the World”. There are about 50 sandcastles that are permanet installations all around the island. This weekend, though, artists from around the world have come to participate in contests and to show people how they make their artwork. Some of the winners are from PEI, Holland, Michigan, and New Hampshire, as well as SPI artists.

The festival is at one of the island’s beach bars.

As usual, everything in Texas is big.The sandcastles are lined up on the beach

George waded in the Gulf while I found a little shade and people-watched.

This was one of our favorite ones…

The last artwork we saw is a sculpture of a big fish made out of trash that the artist has collected from the beach. Not only is the trash ugly, but it is also killing the sea turtles and other aquatic life.

On our way home, we scoped out a few RV parks as we would like to stay over on SPI for a week or so in the spring.

DINNER: Gumbo. I jazzed it up with andouille sausage, shrimp, grilled vegetables, and okra. I added file’ gumbo powder that I bought in Louisiana on our road trip.

A Mexico day in Mission

LOCATION: In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Ditto from before – hot and humid. High 98

I faithfully did water aerobics, even though there was only one other participant. We had to turn up the volume of the CD we exercise to, as the gardeners were busily and noisily trimming bushes.

We needed to buy some coffee, and we didn’t want to tackle the big supermarket that is always packed on Saturdays. So, we decided to pick it up at our neighborhood local (Mexican) grocery store. Since it is next door to one of our favorite authentic restaurants, we decided to make it an outing.

First we had lunch at Villa De Mar, a Mexican seafood restaurant. I like it because the food is good and the staff are very friendly. We were the only English-speaking customers, again something I like. Our waitress couldn’t speak much English and looked relieved when I spoke to her in Spanish. We shared an order of fish tacos. First up, though, was a Negra Modelo beer. It came “dressed” with a rim of chili-lime salt & pepper mix.

With the beer, the waitress served tortilla chips, a plate of refried beans, and two types of hot salsas. The chips were the authentic home-made kind, simply fried up leftover tortillas. Then, we were served complimentary bowls of fish soup. Then, the tacos. It seemed like a lot of food, but couldn’t compare with the amounts the Mexicans were eating. And…..all very inexpensive.

We stopped next door at the Mexican grocery store to buy our coffee. The selection of food is just like being in Mexico. The pinatas welcome customers in the first aisle..

Then, the fresh, hot tortillas in a hot-box….Lots of dried chiles and unusual spices that I want to learn how to use….

The produce section is amazing. All fresh and cheap. A huge stack of prickly pears and big Mexican pumpkins..

Huge piles of jalapenos

Dried chiles to scoop up….

Stacks of cheap, perfectly ripe avocados…

A large selection of Mexican cheeses..Ridiculousy cheap ($.30) big bundles of cilantro

And, pinto beans that people buy in large quantities…

Back home, we did more computer work. I lined up our flights to the town in Botswana where our safari will start. We have a few gaps in our schedule for which I am researching options. We have invited some neighbors over for cocktails next week to pick their brains about things to do in South Africa, where they spent about a month last year.

DINNER: BBQ’d chicken. This is something I started doing on the road…..I buy rotisserie chicken and then grill wings, legs, and thighs with BBQ sauce. This takes away the worry about not getting the chicken cooked throughout on the sometimes-iffy grill. I always freeze up the remaining parts of the rotisserie chicken for future meals. Sides were salad and RiceARoni, something I haven’t eaten in years, but was quite tasty. It is a leftover from my road-trip pantry box.

Checking off items from the to-do list

LOCATION: Our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Ongoing heat and humidity

The morning was filled with exercise – water aerobics (me) and gym (George). He bikes to and from the clubhouse. I usually walk, but in the heat, I rely on the pick-up. (I seem to whine a lot about the heat, don’t I?) 🙂

In the afternoon, I went to our mall to get new lenses for my scratched-up glasses. I just hate driving here. The interstate that connects towns in our area is under construction, and traffic is a mess. The speed limit is 70 and on the frontage roads, it is 55. Crazy! Mission is part of the Rio Grande Valley. We are about 1/2 mile from the border.

We did computer work at the clubhouse in the heat of the day. I crossed off a lot of my to-dos: 1) rental car from here to Austin to pick up our $149 Norwegian Air flights to London, 2) finalized our safari plans for Botswana, 3) reserved a B&B in Southampton, England before our housesitting assignment, 4) organized our VIP papers – wills, pensions, etc, 5) and reserved a rental car for our housesitting assignment outside of Southampton. Wow!

Later in the day, a Mexican fellow knocked on the door. Being hot outside, we welcomed him into the house. Later, I realized that we probably shouldn’t have done that, as we are advised that illegals pass through our area, and sometimes try to enter houses. But, I like to think that we are humane people, and wanted to help him. It turned out that he had washed our Airstream last year, and was checking to see if we wanted it washed and treated again. Generalizations are dangerous, but we have found that all of the Mexicans (legal and illegal) here are extremely hard-working and kind. They do really hard, unpleasant work that most white people would not do – like working in 100+ temperatures doing grueling work. This guy was just drumming up business ….the American way!

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIP: Thought of one more, even though we are not camping right now. It is related to the kitchen drain strainer I mentioned the other day. That strainer helps keep little pieces of food out of the drain which can create bad odors. In addition to that, we treat the drains about once a month while we are on the road….. I put about 1/2 cup of laundry detergent and 1/2 cup of water softener down the toilet. Then, add a lot of water. I do the same with the bathroom and kitchen sinks, but just cut it in half for each. This seems to help keep things smelling nice and fresh.

DINNER: Shrimp tacos. Full of grilled shrimp, sauted veg, salsa and cheese Bueno!

The Long To-Do List

LOCATION: At our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Hot and humid. Short rain showers

We are getting back into the routine at Retama Village. I did a water aerobics class, and George worked out in the gym.

We both have LONG to-do lists related to house things, and finalizing plans for the South Africa trip. It is good to check a few things off each day.

In the heat of the day, we went to the clubhouse to use their internet and get more things accomplished.

When it cooled down a bit, George did some yard work, including transplanting my basil into some pretty Mexican pots. (It was still too hot for me, and I cowered inside)

We did a shopping trip to Target. My saucepan has been blackened by cooking over campfires, so I bought a new one. On next summer’s trip, I will pack one set of cookware for indoors cooking and keep the iron skillet and this blackened sauce pan for outdoors. While we were there, we got our flu shots – and got a $5 Target gift coupon each!

George got the grill going. He wanted me to take this photo to prove that sometimes he can get a fire going in this grill……but not always!

DINNER: Grilled hamburgers stuffed with bleu cheese – superb Iowa Maytag bleu that we bought along the way. Sides were baked French fries and green beans from our Iowa friends.

We don’t have cable TV since we are here for short periods, so we don’t get PBS. Very disappointing. Generally, there is not much on the channels we get over the air. So,, tonight after dinner we watched the DVD “Memoirs of a Geisha”.

Busy day in Retama!

LOCATION: At our tiny house in Retama Village in Mission, Texas

WEATHER: H>O>T>

We worked like busy bees all day – 5 loads of laundry, catching up with mail, cleaning the house, and putting stuff away.

Our community is looking very nice. The bushes seem to have grown and are sprouting blossoms that the 10000s of butterflies enjoy. Some of our plants made it; others will have to be replaced. The association takes care of mowing and we have automatic sprinklers, so the grass stays nice.

I joined some other women in the clubhouse for “Wine Wednesdays” and got caught up on some of the community news.

After it cooled off a bit, George and I went to the pool to bob around some. We had the pool to ourselves. Nice!

DINNER: ShrimpNGrits. We had some grits leftover from breakfast the other day so I used the grits up with this recipe, adding some cream cheese and cheddar cheese. I sauteed poplano and bell peppers up with green onion and garlic, then addedd shrimp. I then added the cheese grits mixture until everything was melted and yummy. Side was salad.

To my brother, one of my faithful readers: The reason I sometimes need to dip into the back-up pantry while we are traveling (rather than eat out) is that typically we are far away from any restaurant. And, in unfamiliar territory, we don’t like driving around at night. So far, all of my make–do recipes have turned out, at least George hasn’t complained.

Back “home” at our tiny house

LOCATION: Back in Retama Village in Mission, Texas where we had a tiny house (480 square feet) built two years ago. We are about as far south as you can go in Texas, about 1/2 mile from the Rio Grande River

WEATHER: Beastly hot and humid

Our final leg of the trip was about 3 hours – from Three Rivers to Mission. We could tell we were getting close — palm trees lining the highway, dead armadillos on the highway shoulders, and lots of Border Patrol vehicles whizzing by!

Our trip started in mid-May and ended today, October 1. We put about 12,000 miles on the Airstream, and about 17,000 on the pick-up – with additional day trips. This is our route….

….plus a detour of a flight to northern Alberta to attend a great party!

When we arrived, we worked like devils unloading the trailer, sweating to beat the band. Then, I made a trip to our local supermarket to stock up. I was a little giddy with the opportunity to buy things to fill a much larger refrigerator!

Some friends in our community, also Airstreamers, invited us over for a lovely dinner. They, too, travelled a lot this summer and we compared notes. They served us some turkey brats flavored with jalapenos – really good.

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIPS: Yesterday, I posted about the sink strainer that has been the single best purchase I have made. One of our readers, Pam, asked me for the dimension. For our sink in a 25′ Flying Cloud, I bought the strainer that is 4.5″ inches from side to side – outer dimension. Hope this helps!

We have a lot more to do – laundry,, pack for our trip to South Africa, and I keep telling myself that I don’t have to do everything in one day!