Showing my friend around the Rio Grande Valley

LOCATION: At our tiny house in Retama Village, Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Cool – 65 and cloudy

We took my friend Nancy to a different part of the Rio Grande Valley, this time to the west. It is much less developed than the area between Mission and South Padre Island.We drove through a lot of towns with billboards all in Spanish. Unfortunately, a lot of poverty. Our first stop was a bird sanctuary. A husband and wife live in their RV, volunteering to feed birds on some public land, and host birdwatchers all day.

The birds are really impressive. Some live here year ’round; others are migratory.

The sanctuary is in a tiny village that looks more like Mexico than the US. It is within a few feet of the river. The town is old, and has a big, colorful cemetery.

For lunch, we stopped in a very traditional Mexican restaurant – the kind I love where the wait staff don’t speak English. Nancy ordered the buffet so she could try some unusual foods – cactus and goat, as an example. We shared a molcajete – the dish that is used as a mortar full of meat, chicken, shrimp, onions, potatoes, topped with avocado.

On our way home, we crossed over to Mexico on a very primitive rope ferry. The guardhouse and pay station was basic.

The guard shack was quite primitive.

We even helped pull the ferry across the river

Three cars can fit on the ferry, and the entrance on/off the ferry was just a dirt road

Then, only a mile from our house, we showed Nancy parts of the government wall

DINNER: Santa Fe chicken pizza. On a pizza crust, I slathered on some taco sauce, then I layered on grilled onions, peppers, and chicken pieces on top. All covered by shredded cheese. Pretty tasty.

The Wall

LOCATION: At our tiny house in Retama Village, Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Another “Chamber of Commerce” Day, as they say. Sunny. High 76

Today’s outing was a pontoon boat ride on the Rio Grande. We embarked in a cove about 1 mile from our house.

We went up the river about 5 miles, seeing interesting birds, landscape, parks, and luxury homes (on the Mexico side). We saw several pieces of rafts that illegal immigrants had used trying to get across the river. This building is used by illegals on the Mexican side to spot for Border Control. If the coast is clear, they leave from that building, swim or raft across the river, climb up the bank on the US side, to the arms of the Border Patrol

There were several Border Patrol and Texas High Patrol (with machine guns) patrolling the river.

Then, we went down the river another 5 miles, where we cruised by the private wall. In about 6 weeks, this 3.6 mile stretch has been built. Working 24/7, the wall is funded by private donors and is being built on a farmer’s private land.

It is pretty jaw-dropping, and obviously VERY controversial.

This is the season for harvesting sugar cane. After the cane is cut, farmers burn the fields to burn off the unwanted pieces. We passed a lot of fires and cruised through a lot of icky smoke.

We stopped at a state park (on the Texas side) to stretch our legs.

Back home, we relaxed at the pool. Nancy is loving the weather and sunshine

DINNER: George grilled some rotisserie chicken. Sides were tater tots and broccoli. We enjoyed a bonfire while the food was cooking.

Welcoming a Minnesota house guest

LOCATION: In our tiny house in Retama Village, Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Couldn’t ask for better. Sunny. High 78

I am thrilled that my childhood friend Nancy could visit us for a week. Living near Minneapolis, she took a non-stop Sun Country flight to Harlingen/South Padre Island airport which is nearby. I wish more of our Minnesota friends would do the same!

We stopped in a town near Mission where I was trying on clothes for the upcoming Retama Village fashion show. The town is a throwback from the 50s and the clothing store has kept its former look.

The town is full of antique shops, and we stopped at one to buy a fancy teacup for the fashion show/tea party.

After some rest in the afternoon, we attended one of our impromptu neighborhood happy hours, where people just gather in a cul-de-sac bringing chairs and drinks. Then, off to a line-dancing party at a nearby retirement community. Our Retama Village group has been practicing these new dances, and we danced with about 60 other people. Fun!

DINNER: Some of my leftover “award-winning” white chicken chili. Had to show it off to Nancy!

Chillin’ with Award-Winning Chili!

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Really nice.  Highs around 70 each day.  Sunny.  Cool at nights – great for fires in the firepit

There is a lot going on in our community, Retama Village.  In addition to community events, we like to invite small groups over for happy hour.  When the weather is nice, we take our dining room table outside.

One evening this week,  we invited some couples over for sundowners (the African word for happy hour).  Two of the couples, and we, shared our experiences in South Africa with another couple preparing to go there in a few months.  Soon, the conversation led to other favorite trips.  One couple said that they would like to return to do a boat cruise in France.  Before we knew it, the 8 of us agreed to rent a small yacht to cruise a French river next fall!

Yesterday was Retama Village’s “First Annual Chili Cook-Off”.  I was one of 15 entrants.  We gathered in the clubhouse and everyone sampled the chilis.

Then, we voted for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.  Surprise!  I won 2nd place!

Some people have asked me for the recipe.  Here it is….

Note – I took this from an online recipe, then modified it to our taste.  The recipe yields 4-5 servings, but is easy to double, triple, or even quadruple (which I did for the cook-off)


2 15-oz can of white beans or 1/2 pound of dry white beans
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion diced
1/2 green bell pepper diced
1/2 poblano pepper diced
2 cloves garlic minced – divided
1/2 jalapeno minced (more or less to taste
4-oz can chopped green chilies – don’t drain
2 teaspoons oregano
4 teaspoons cumin – divided
2 teasponns chili powder – divided
1 teaspoon cayenne
1-2 bay leaves
garlic salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced in small cubes
3 cups chicken stock
1 beer (optional)
Hot sauce to taste
4 oz cream cheese
4 oz heavy cream
1 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 bunch cilantro finely diced


If using dry beans (which I did for the cook-off), soak them overnight.  Drain, cover with hot water and a bay leaf and garlic salt.  Bring to boil, then simmer about 2 hours.  Drain.  If using canned beans, just drain the beans.  Set aside.

Saute onions, green pepper, and poblano pepper until soft.  Add garlic, canned green chiles, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne, and cook additional minute.  Set aside

In a big pot, brown chicken in olive oil and finish off with the rest of the cumin, cayenne, oregano, and chili powder.  Add chicken broth (and beer, if desired). Add the onion mix.   Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the cooked, drained beans and cook 15 more minutes. 

Add heavy cream, cream cheese, and some of the Monterey Jack cheese.  Cook until  cheese is melted.  Salt,  pepper, and hot sauce to taste.  (At this point, I put it in the crock pot to keep warm until serving.  Not necessary if serving right away).

Serve with shredded cheese and cilantro. 

After the chili contest, we made a fire in the firepit and invited new neighbors (from Ontario) over.  A beautiful evening basking in my chili glory!!

Life in Retama Village

LOCATION: At our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Really pleasant. Most days’ highs are 70-80

Life in Retama Village is going well. I keep busy with yoga, line-dancing, and water aerobics.. When the weather is cool (defined as 70 degrees), not too many swim. It is usually just those of us from Minnesota. 🙂 Here is our class doing chair yoga

We have neighborhood get-togethers. One fun event was a Mexican potluck. My contribution was a Mexican pizza. Pretty tasty.

George is doing a project in the woodworking shop, making a table for the Airstream to replace the one that came with the trailer. Hopefully, it will look nicer, and will be a better size to accomodate guests.

We have been inviting neighbors over for several happy hour get-togethers. Last night was a discussion about South Africa – one other couple was there 2 years ago and one is going in a few months. A fun evening. Sometimes we make a fire in the firepit.

It is citrus season now. These big trucks full of grapefruit are lining up at the juice factory. It smells heavenly when we drive by. George picks up some of the fruit on the ground, and put the grapefruit halves out in a tree in our backyard to attract birds.

DINNERS: I have been experimenting with different recipes. Recently, since it was a cool night, I made a sausage/cannellini beans/vegetable soup. Great recipe.

BOOKS: We attended a Retama Village bookclub meeting this week, and had a good discussion. I got volunteered to lead next month’s meeting, for the book “Where the Crawdads Sing”.

We are movie stars!

LOCATION: Mission, Texas in our “tiny house”
WEATHER: A bit hot – 80 and humid

We are settling into our routine. I use my time while in Mission to try to get back into shape – eating better and exercising more regularly. I do chair yoga 3 times a week, regular yoga once a week, line dancing twice a week, and water aerobics 6 days a week. We have been getting together with friends with informal happy hours, but don’t normally do the card games offered every evening in the clubhouse.

As our life here is not as interesting as it is while traveling, I will probably just write a blog weekly, unless something exciting happens, like it did today!……..

Our community manager put out an announcement saying that the property developers were doing a marketing video and were looking for volunteer “actors”. We volunteered and were selected! So today was our acting debut!!!

We shot scenes in our clubhouse – George playing pool…..

And some people playing cards….

Some women selecting a book from the library…..

I was in several scenes, too – playing the piano with people singing around me, a shot of me reading in the library, and another shot of me doing laundry in our laundry room.

It was fun, but there was a lot of down time. It took most of the day.

One of the nice things about living here is that we can leave and feel confident that the house and yard will be safe and well-kept. There is an automatic irrigation system that waters our grass and plants. The plants look like they made it through these 3 months that we were away just fine.

We have planted oleander around an ugly utility box in the back, and those bushes are growing a bit….

DINNER: While we were in Johannesburg housesitting, I perused one of the homeowner’s French cookbooks. I have been experimenting with some of those recipes -interesting side dishes mostly. One was a white bean and potato salad, another was mushrooms, and another a tuna and potato salad. Main courses have been grilled pork (George was anxious to cook again on our grill), chicken curry, and Japanese soba with veg.

BOOKS: “The Black Cat” by Martha Grimes, a British detective series with pub names as the titles. Kind of fun. 4 stars out of 5.

Back after 3-month sojourn!

LOCATION: NYC – Mission, Texas
WEATHER: Mild and humid. High 75

After a poor night’s sleep in Jamaica (New York unpleasant suburb) due to outside noise and our body clocks on the wrong time zone, we got up super early to catch our flight from JFK to Austin, Texas. The airport was an absolute zoo. The line just for security was 50 minutes. So many people, many of them quite pushy!

Then on to Austin. Wow – what a trip….

Johannesburg to Dubai, UAE – 8 hours
Dubai to Copenhagen – 10 hours
Copenhagen to Barcelona – 3 hours
Barcelona to New York City – 9 hours
NYC to Austin 4.5 hours
Then, a 5+ hour drive from Austin to Mission. We are glad we split up the trip!

Plus many hours waiting in security lines, passport control, to/from airport rides, and lots of waiting for flights. But, not complaining, we love to travel!

Everything is good here. It is nice to be able to leave the house, yard, and Airstream to know that all will be safe upon our return.

We are happy to see our tiny house and Airstream again.

DINNER: Tacos and margaritas, to get us back in the Texas spirit! 🙂

BOOK: “To Dwell in Darkness” by Deborah Crombie. 2nd of her books that I have read – another British detective series. Pretty good. 4 stars out of 5.

Ramblin’ on Las Ramblas

LOCATION: Barcelona to JFK
WEATHER: Barcelona – sunny, high 55. JFK – unseasonably warm. High 60

Our flight wasn’t until 6:00 PM, so we were excited to spend another day in beautiful Barcelona. After a coffee in a coffee shop/bakery (they are everywhere), we stored our bags at the hotel and headed off.

Our destination was Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s famous pedestrian mall. It starts at a major plaza then goes all the way to the port. Since it was a sunny Saturday, seemingly all of Barcelona had the same idea and the boulevard was full of people, mostly Spaniards.

It is lovely to see the old buildings and the stalls along the way – souvenirs, flowers, and snacks

Little restaurants were getting set up for tapas and wine

We strolled and strolled, and made it all the way to the old port area. There is a beautiful maritime building…

And a statue of Christopher Columbus….

It didn’t seem all that touristy, but Barcelona can fill up in the summer and/or when cruise ships are in port. It is quite a problem.

We decided to head back to the hotel through back streets, and boy were we rewarded! We peeped down little alleys where people had their clothes drying on their balconies…

Spaniards love to be out and about, and the streets were full of locals. We found a cute wine/beer bar. I had the house wine, again served in a juice glass, and George tried a different beer. Our tapas were Spanish icons – Manchego cheese and a portion of Spanish tortilla (like a potato omelette – not to be confused with Mexican tortillas)

Alas, we had to leave for the airport. The flight was 8 hours, leaving at 6:00 PM, and arriving at 9:00 PM (NYC time). Our bodies, however, told us that is was 2:00 AM.

We stayed overnight at an old Howard Johnson motel – in Jamaica, NY which is the JFK location. It is pretty dicey. During the night, I heard gun shots and a lot of roaring motorcycles. Welcome back to the USA!

Me encanta Espana! (I LOVE Spain!)

LOCATION: Barcelona, Spain
WEATHER: Very pleasant. A bit overcast; high 55

Due to the northern Europe short winter days, we arrived in Copenhagen in the dark and left this morning in the dark, so we really didn’t see anything of the city. Next time….. We had a great Scandinavian smorgasbord breakfast in the hotel – with luscious rye bread, herring, cheeses, and meats.

After a 3-hour flight, we landed in Barcelona and took a taxi to the old city part of town where our hotel is. I lived in Spain in the 1970s when I was in college. Boy have we (both Spain and I) changed. I never would have taken a cab – I was Miss Cheapo during those days. And, I quickly discovered the land of 1 cent glasses of wine with free tapas has totally disappeared… 😦

Our hotel is a cute boutique hotel type of place. We got a map of the city and off we went. Our goals were to see Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and get some wine and tapas. It was quite a hike (2.5 miles) to La Sagrada Familia, but it felt good to walk again after those long flights. I just love the wide boulevards in Spanish cities like Barcelona and the beautiful architecture.

Tickets for La Sagrada Familia are 30 euros each and you have to buy them online weeks before your visit, so we just looked at it from outside. It has also changed a lot since I was here last (1972). When I was here, only this part was finished.

Now a more whimsical side has been added, and they are still working on it.

With that item checked off our list, we went in search of vino, which isn’t hard to find here! We found this cute bodega for our first round of tapas…

It is the kind where you sit at the bar, order your wine from a barrel, select your tapas, drink wine from a juice glass, and chat with the owner. Absolute heaven!!!

We ordered two plates of tapas – one was cheese-stuffed anchovies; the other was spicy olives. Delicioso!

Happy as clams, we walked back toward our hotel, getting lost quite a bit. We stopped at another bar that was a bit more upscale, but since it was farther away from the tourist area, it was actually cheaper. Here we had chorizo and sauteed mushrooms for tapas. George tried a new beer.

Our third, and final, bodega stop was a hipster kind of place with lots of university students. There we had 3 plates of tapas – calamari, grilled peppers, and croquettes (very popular in Spain).

Tired from the flight and all the walking, we headed to bed early – probably earlier than anyone else in Barcelona!

I think I could live in Spain again. Just wonderful vibes.

The Joys of Flying

LOCATION: Copenhagen, Denmark

WEATHER: Rain. Cool. Around 50

The best laid plans…..We were scheduled to fly from Dubai to Barcelona with a layover in Copenhagen. When we got to the airport, we found that everything had been changed. At first we couldn’t figure out why, but then learned that all flights over Iran are being redirected due to the “tensions” there. (I could say more…..)

So, the flight had to detour around Iran, adding several hours to the trip. Then, running low on fuel, we had to stop in Cyprus to refuel. I guess I can now say I have been to Cyprus.

The flight was full of crying babies and yelling children. I felt sorry for them, and their mothers. The flight ended up being 10+ hours. They ran out of food and all the ice melted for drinks. Everyone was wrecked, but tempers did not flare.

I have complimented Norwegian Airlines before as a low-fare, well-run airlines. They certainly took care of us here! Since we landed so late, we missed our connection to Barcelona. They gave us vouchers for an overnight stay here, with shuttles, dinner with wine and beer, breakfast, and rebooked our flight to Barcelona for tomorrow. All done efficiently and courteously. I was proud that I still know enough Spanish to inform our hotel in Barcelona of our delays!

We haven’t seen much of Copenhagen. It was dark when we arrived and we are just near the airport. I was here many years ago. I think I would like to return.

On to Barcelona….hopefully!