Bread-baking in the cold…

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  A bit warmer.  High up to 50!  Some sun

STEPS:  12,327
CLASS:  Chair yoga

The situation in Texas seems to be in national and international news.  The cold snap continues and most people are still without power, and no one can tell them when it will be restored.  For some reason, Retama Village has been spared.  People here have opened up their homes to let others (without heat) sleep in spare bedrooms and coach houses. 

One of the repercussions of the weather/outages is that Covid vaccine shots have been postponed.  Many of the vaccine sites are without electricity and water.  Others have closed so that people don’t have to wait in line in the cold.  What a mess!

It warmed up today more than the last few days.  It stayed in the 30s most of the day, but the sun came out in the mid-afternoon, and it was quite pleasant.  I seized that opportunity for my daily walk, followed by a walk with Kypsie, the foster dog.  We returned to the dog park and she recognized the dog that she had played with yesterday.  Joy!

I spent another couple of hours plotting our summer trip.  Some of the state park campgrounds’ websites are terrible and it takes a long time to get anything accomplished.  I have decided to just book weekend sites and wing it for mid-week stays.  I have Plan A, B, C, D, E, F, and G!  This is due to not knowing if/when we can enter Canada, and whether we will be leaving in early September for Europe. 

George decided to make a baguette.  Unfortunately, the yeast had expired (Sept 2020) and there was just a bit of flour left.  The baguettes didn’t want to rise, due to the yeast and the cold house, so the baguettes morphed into flat breads….Paul Hollywood would be appalled!

DINNER:  I used one of the flat breads for a Jacques Peppin recipe called Shrimp Burgers.  Per his recipe, I melted some Manchego cheese in a skillet, and topped it with shrimp.  I added sauteed onions and cooked until the shrimp turned pink.  Then, I slid the mix onto the flat breads, adding red onions, cilantro, and salsa.  All was good, except the bread was almost impossible to cut!  It gave our jaws and teeth a workout!!!

Continued cold…

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Another cold one.  High 39.  Most of the day in the 20s.  Overcast

STEPS:  16,842
CLASSES:  Chair yoga and 2 line-dancing

Three other ladies braced the cold and joined me for the classes this morning.  After classes, I stayed at the clubhouse to use the internet.  I spent about an hour trying to reserve a campsite in Michigan for this summer.  Reservations had just opened up for that particular campground this morning, and already most sites were full!  I was able to get a few nights, but not the entire stay we had hoped for.  Again, our plans are fluid.  If I have to cancel this (if we get to go to Canada), I will only lose $8 reservation fee. 

While I was at the clubhouse, people from the RV park next door (owned by the same company as Retama Village) started to straggle in.  They have been without electricity for a few days.  They are cold!  We have invited them to hang out in the clubhouse to keep warm.  Our First Responder team prepared soup for them.  All of us residents donated cans of soup, crackers, bowls, etc for them.  It is heartening to see how people come together.  People opened their coach houses, those with Murphy beds, for the RVers to stay overnight.  Electricity is out in much of Texas.  I don’t know why we are so lucky to continue having it.  They say this week is the coldest it has been in Texas for 100 years. 

We have not ventured out of Retama Village, but we hear horror stories about life outside……grocery stores and Walmarts closed up due to lack of electricity.  Barren shelves in stores that are open (another run on bread, milk, and  toilet paper!).  Gas stations not open as they don’t have power to pump gas.  Icy road conditions.  Long lines at propane stores.  Better to stay here until things warm up this weekend. 

When the temps hit 32 by early afternoon, I took my walk.  It is not too bad, except for the leg when I have to face the NW winds. 

After the walk, since I was bundled up, I took our neighbor’s foster dog Kypsie for a long walk.  I took her around Retama Village and looked at all the dead plants.  It is pretty sad-looking.  Some people have elaborate coverings for their plants – sheets, boxes, coolers.  It looks quite strange.

Then I took Kypsie to the dog park here in Retama Village to play with some other dogs.  She loved it.

We have a combination of migratory birds and local birds here right now.  In the past, we have never seen the beautiful green jays here in our neighborhood, but this year, they are all over the place.  They particularly like the food our backdoor neighbor puts out.  We enjoy watching them.  We kind of wonder why they don’t head farther south with this cold. 

DINNER:  I returned to Jacques…..his twist on the traditional South France fish stew called Bouillabaisse.  He substitues chicken thighs and sausage in this recipe.  It was a hearty meal for a cold night.  This one was a winner (after I’ve had some meal failures recently). 


LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Sunny but COLD and windy.  High 36.  Most of the morning hovered around 21, with windchill, it was 8.   That is crazy for South Texas

STEPS:  10,341

I probably sound like I am whining, but it is indeed cold here.  The citrus crop is probably ruined for the year.  Lots of people are without electricity, and many homes (especially the poorer ones) are not well-insulated.  Here in Retama Village, people’s pipes are freezing.  We are all taking care of outdoor pipes at homes for people away from Retama Village right now. 

We had set the thermostat on 40 in Joy.  We heard the furnace kick in quite often during the night. 

We awoke to quite a bit of damage from the cold and overnight drizzle/freezing rain.  Our oleanders are not happy…

Joy was iced up.  We had to use the blow-dryer to get the door unfrozen..

Due to the cold, I planned to drive down to the clubhouse for yoga class.  The doors on the pickup were frozen shut, so I just walked.  The iron gate to the swimming pool/courtyard was frozen.  Another lady poured her hot coffee over it to get the latch to open.  The ficus in the courtyard were not too happy, either.

No one else showed up for yoga, so I just had to walk on home.  The village looks kind of creepy….Everyone has covered their plants with sheets, so it looks like ghosts are lying about.

A lot of people here in Retama Village volunteer at the nearby Cinderella Pet Rescue Center.  I think they operate on a shoe-string budget.  Before this cold wave, they put out a request for supplies to keep the dogs and cats warm.  People donated blankets, and even styrofoam coolers for the cats to sleep in.  Some of the dogs are in outdoor kennels.  They asked for people to volunteer to foster the dogs for a few days to keep them out of the cold.  Our neighbor agreed.  I told her I would help her walk the dog during her stay them,  so today we gave Kipsy a nice walk.  She is a sweet dog.

Since I was bundled up, I decided to take my daily walk.  I was pleased to get in my 10K steps.

The residents of the RV park next to us are without electricity.  The entire Rio Grande Valley is out of propane, too.  So, we announced to the RV park that they could come over to our clubhouse to keep warm and to sleep there, if they needed to. 

What a contrast….This Facebook memory came up today from 3 years ago when we were in Baja California (Mexico) with our beautiful daughter

DINNER:  Another bit of disappointment…..I made a recipe that I had seen Jamie Oliver make recently.  It is Morrocon Fish.  I think the sauce was just overpowering…..It included harissa, anchovies, tomato sauce, kalamata olives, saffron, and salted lemons.  I poached the fish in the thick sauce.  .  Sides were minted couscous and yogurt with harissa. 

The highlight of the evening was watching a Rick Steves “Monday Night Travel” podcast.  We have signed up for these for every Monday night.  Tonight’s show was about European foods.  Yum!

BOOK:  “The Book of Longings” by Sue Monk Kidd.  It was a great day for reading.  This is an interesting/unusual book about the fictional wife of Jesus, named Ana.  It is loosely based on the Bible, but humanizes the characters (Judas, Jesus, Mary).  4 stars out of 5

A greenhouses tiny house!

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Rainy and cold again;  High 36

We did our regular Sunday morning routine – CBS Sunday Morning on TV while we ate George’s grits and eggs.  Then, we stayed inside most of the day.

Our living room looks more like a greenhouse –I brought my flowers and basil in.  They are much happier inside…

George brought in his tomato plants, too.  There is one lonely tomato on these two plants…

Note the messy house…..we have wet jackets, scarves, and gloves drying out, hanging on all available furniture.

I went up to the clubhouse to do laundry and to use their wifi.  The wifi was not working, though, probably due to the cold.  I had hoped to do more summer travel planning.

The day never warmed up.  It looks like we have a few more days of cold before it warms up again…

By mid-afternoon, quite bored, I cleaned out the spice drawer…

And, then I alphabatized all the spices and returned them to their drawer.  I wonder how long that will last?

DINNER:  Another recipe from a magazine…..Za’Atar-Spiced Steak Salad.  This was interesting and tasty.    It called for a lemony dressing with pepperoncini, and a side of whipped feta cheese with garlic and more lemon.  I toasted naan to use as croutons.  We used flank steak, per the recipe.  This is the first steak we have eaten in months.  I’ve kind of lost  my taste for it.  I froze half of the steak and George will grill it sometime soon, when it warms back up. 

Summer planning / wishing

LOCATION: In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Cold (for here).  Overcast and some light rain.  High 39

STEPS:  I braved the elements and got in 11,892
CLASSES:  2 Line-dancing

The morning whizzed by, walking and doing line-dancing classes. 

While George was playing chess in the afternoon, I got out my travel reference books and started planning our summer road trip.  Alas, I can’t plan too much because of so many unknowns.  Will we be able to join our friends in Nova Scotia for one or two Canadian trips that we have planned?  Will we be going to France for our rescheduled (once already) canal boat trip?  (That will affect the return date of our trip). 

For planning, I use the internet of course and also this excellent Army Corps of Engineers Campground book. 

I hauled out my (well-used) atlas and started looking at routes.  I also listed a lot of fun and interesting Harvest Host locations along the way – mostly wineries, breweries, orchards, and farms.  Even a sausage shop! 

In any case, we plan to spend quite a bit of the summer in Michigan.  I belong to a Facebook group called Airstream Addicts, and had posed the question of interesting places and good campgrounds in Michigan.  I received great feedback and used that for planning.  I decided to lock in the 4th of July weekend in one of the recommended Michigan State Parks.  When I looked…..already full!  So, I tried a second one.  This campground had 1 site left for that time period, so I grabbed it.  If the Canada trip comes true, then I can cancel and  will lose  only $8.  While we are in that part of Michigan, we want to take the ferry to the Isle Royale National Park.  There is a lodge there where we will stay overnight.  We looked at the availability for the night we hoped to be there, and there was only one room left!  Again, we grabbed it and can get our money back if we reschedule for another date.  This is crazy!  I hate locking ourselves into places this far in advance, but it looks like we have to. 

A high point of the day was eating some fresh Texas oysters.  George shucked 9 for our happy hour…..

They were big, slimy, and delicious!!!!

DINNER:  Another vegetarian dish; another recipe from my big stack of recipes cut out from magazines over the years…

Pasta with Walnut Pesto and Peas.  It was quite tasty and different.  With a food processor (a recent acquisition for me), it was easy.  You make a pesto with walnuts, olive oil, peas, and parmesan cheese.  Add that to sauteed onions  for the sauce.  Toss with farfalle (bow-tie) pasta and more peas.  Sprinkle on additional parmesan to serve.

The polar vortex has arrived!

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  COLD (at least for Texas).  Overcast and spitting rain most of the day.  High 42

STEPS:  I bundled up (a lot) and got in 10,116
CLASS:  1 chair yoga

The weather is the big topic today.  This photo was taken two days ago, after a sweaty pickleball game at 84 degrees:

And here I am today after a walk in the 38 degree weather….

Our Retama Village Facebook group is full of chatter about covering plants and pipes.  It is supposed to get even colder in the next few days.  Again, we feel so lucky that our daughter came when she did.  It would have been pretty miserable had she come this week.

In the afternoon, we hit the supermarket for 2 weeks or so worth of groceries.  Never a fun time!  Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves by checking out a new Argentinean restaurant.  It is a tiny bistro, with only 8 tables.  They feature Argentine beef and wine, thus the name “Wine Cow”.  It is very cozy.  When we stopped by around 4:00, we were about the only customers, but I think they fill up every night.  We had some Argentine empanadas and a glass of wine.  The menu is all in Spanish.  We’d like to return one day. 

DINNER:  I have made almost every main course recipe in Jacques Pepin’s book “Fast Food My Way”.  I am only missing a few recipes for which I will need to go to a specialty meat store to buy the ingredients.  Meanwhile, my new project is to cook all the recipes that I have torn out of magazines for years.  Do you have a stash, too? 

Tonight’s experiment was Tuscan Farro Stew.  I had bought some farro, an interesting grain, when we last went to Sprouts.  I thought tonight would be a good night for stew.  It is a yummy, warming vegan/vegetarian stew.  Shout out to daughter Alexis!  It turned out pretty well, and I foresee a lot of it as leftovers in George’s future lunches. 

BOOK:  “The Pull of the Stars” by Emma Donoghue is a novel about a midwife working with dying  patients in a special maternity ward in a  hospital in Dublin, Ireland during the Spanish flu.  My friend Jenny had recommended this to me, since there are parallels to today’s Covid.  I really enjoyed the book.  5 stars out of 5

We got our 1st Covid shots. Yay! But what an ordeal!!!!

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Yuck!  Cold, wind and rain.  High 50

STEPS:  6206

I started off on my morning walk, not realizing how awful the weather was, so I wasn’t dressed appropriately.  I turned around about halfway as it was raining and quite cold. 

George received an email from University of Texas Hospital of the Rio Grande Valley (UTHRGV) notifying him that he could get the Covid vaccine later today.  He quickly signed up.  In early January, he had registered on their website and received a confirmation code.  I registered the next day, but did not receive any confirmation.  Later that same day, they closed down their website for registrations.  So, I didn’t know whether I was in their system or not. Of course, it was not possible to contact anyone.   Our plan was that I would tag along with him today just to see if they would give me my vaccine, too.

BUT – Hooray!  Later in the morning, I received an email, too.  So, off we went to Edinburg, about 45 minutes away for our appointments. 

George describes the experience as a “shitshow”.  I have to agree……

There was no signage for parking so we drove around the UT campus looking for the building with a sign (or a line of old people).  Not a good omen.  Finally, we found the right building and a parking space a long way from a sign that we could barely see.

First, we stood in the cold and rain for about 15 minutes, until some other people told us that we had to stand in another line first to register and to get a pink paper.  So, we found that line and filled out some papers, including the forementioned pink paper.  After another 30 minutes or so (thankfully this was inside), we were ushered in to a room filled with computers.  We did a Zoom call with a clerk who registered us as UTHRGV patients.  The room was noisy and it was hard to hear.  Most of the info she asked was already on the forms we had filled out. 

After that, we took our magical pink paper (what you needed to get the shot) to the Vaccine line.  We had to stand in the cold (in the 40sF) and rain for about an hour.  We were absolutely miserable.  Not realizing that we would have to stand outside, we hadn’t dressed warmly enough.  Our fingers were frozen and all curled up by the time we were allowed to enter the building. We were cold and wet, and so was the pink paper!  I hated watching the people in wheelchairs, as there was no signage for ramps or special entrances for wheelchairs. 

Then, another half-hour wait, this time indoors, thank goodness.  Another clerk entered all of our information into a computer (the same info we had previously provided on paper and also in the Zoom interview).  Another 15 minute wait, and we went to another clerk with another computer.  Again, the magical pink paper.  She entered some more information (the same again) and took our temperatures.  Since we were so cold, the temps were lower than usual.  I don’t  understand why we couldn’t have done all this registration online or on a telephone call from home.  It was so unorganized.  Then…..FINALLY, to the medical student who gave us our shots.  From there, we had to wait in a waiting room 15 minutes to make sure we didn’t have any reaction. 

We ran to our car to get warm, and returned home to a welcoming wee dram of Scotch!!!!

In any case, we are just thrilled that we got the shot.  Hopefully, this will help us with our spring/summer/fall travel plans.  We will just have to wait and see!

DINNER:  Rotisserie chicken, hash browns, and cheesy broccoli.  

Last of summer weather for awhile

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Cloudy but nice.  High 78

STEPS:  13,418 (includes an hour of pickleball)
CLASSES:  1 water aerobics

I am worried about the little dog I see every morning on my walk.  The farmer had not arrived yet this morning, as the gate was still locked, but there was no sign of the dog awaiting him.  I will keep you posted.

I was a bit better at pickleball this morning.  I play for about an hour, but the experts spend most of their mornings on the court.  I just don’t want to get frustrated, so I leave when I am still in good spirits. 

We were notified that there is a gas leak near the clubhouse so they have turned off the gas.  This means that the swimming pool heater is off.  The water was COLD!  A few of us braved the water and did just one class of water aerobics.  The hot tub was not hot, of course, so no comfort to be found there. 

A sad note today….We learned that Rueben, the man who built our shed,  died of complications from Covid.  He had had a virtual monopoly on building everyone’s sheds here in Retama Village, so everyone here knows him.    He was a wonderful man.  He and his wife had a large family.  Years ago, they learned of two babies that were up for adoption but no one wanted them.  The babies were brain-damaged, abandoned by drug-addicted parents.  Rueben and his wife adopted them and raised the two boys.  Rueben always brought them along on building projects.  They loved helping Reuben while listening to rock music at top volume.  He will be missed.

George harvested some more sugar snap peas this afternoon.  They are doing well….much better than our tomatoes.

We enjoyed happy hour on the driveway – martinis in our new Mexican glasses.  This will be the last day for awhile that we can do this, as a cold front is on its way tomorrow.

DINNER:  Thai fish curry.  I used Thai curry paste, lots of garlic and ginger, coconut milk,  and some trout that George had caught on one of his fishing trips.  I served it over soba.  It turned out quite well!  We sprinkled some of our fresh peas on top as a treat. 

Lots of activity…..

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Mostly sunny.  High 82

STEPS:  18,870!  (Includes line dancing and pickleball)
CLASSES:  2 line-dancing and 2 water aerobics

Activity #1 — My friend calls a day like this for me “day camp”  as I bounce from one class to another.

First my walk with Activity #2 …  There was a lot of Border Patrol activity on my walk.  I walked by 3 BP pickups as they rounded up about 8 undocumented men. They were less than 2 feet from me.    Interesting…..the undocumented were all wearing masks, but some of the BP were not!   Some people here say that the undocumented are bringing in diseases. Hum…..A friend jogs my same route, but the opposite way so we pass each other almost every day. This morning, he told me that he passed another group of about 10 and an entire school-bus full of undocumented.  A very busy day.  I need to research what the Immigration folks do with these people.  There are hundreds that are crossing just in our local area.  I have heard 3 theories:  1) that the government returns them to their home country; 2) that they are put in some kind of holding cell — it must be huge with all these people!  3) that the government does a “catch and release” letting them go after they are apprehended with instructions for them to return to court for a review.  If #3 is correct, then I wonder why they pay the coyotes a lot of money to sneak them over and why they hide and run.  If they want to be caught, why hide?  Such a complicated issue…

Speaking of Mexico, this Facebook memory popped up today.  It shows our strange route to go to Loreto, in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula 3 years ago.  Loreto is such a popular place among Canadians that there are direct flights from many Canadian cities to this small beach town.  We were visiting friends and family in Minnesota, so we flew to Winnipeg for a direct flight to Loreto.  We rented an Air B&B and had a lovely time.  We would like to return one day.

Our flower pot that I placed on the ugly electricity transformer is doing well.  The idea is to get the flowers to cascade to sort of hide the transformer.

Activity #3 – In the afternoon, a friend who is also a beginner at pickleball and I went up to the courts to practice.  I do much better when I am not under pressure with the expert players.

The vegetable truck made its weekly visit to our village.  I was glad as I was about all out of veg.  We bought Napa cabbage, onions, peppers, green beans, and broccoli. 

DINNER:  Salad made out of Napa cabbage, tomatoes, and avocado.  Main course was spinach spaghetti and home-made spaghetti sauce, compliments of our nice neighbor. 

BOOK:  “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson.  This non-fiction book is a result of about 10,000 interviews the author conducted with Blacks who fled the Jim Crow South in the 1900s.  It chronicles the lives of 3 families.  This movement of thousands of Blacks to the North is called  the Great Migration.  More people should read this; it makes you realize how horribly Blacks have been treated and how they struggled to survive both in the South and in the North.  5 stars out of 5. 

The Birds?

LOCATION:  In our tiny house in Mission, Texas
WEATHER:  Beautiful.  High 80

STEPS:  9929 plus 1.5 hours playing pickleball
CLASSES:  2 water aerobics

Mornings are chock–a-block with activities. Today’s busy schedule – walk 7:15 – 8:15; quick breakfast then 8:30 – 10:00 pickleball; tidy up the house, wash dishes, and fix George’s lunch, then water aerobics from 11:30 – 2:00.  Shower, eat lunch, then …..relax!  I am having a hard time finishing up some books I’m reading online that will expire soon since I can’t find time to read. 

I feel embarrassed that I often complain about the cool weather – related to swimming, as compared to the frigid weather the rest of North America is experiencing.  My daughter in Minnesota said she had to walk in -35 F wind chill to work one night this week.    This is what winter looks like here in the Rio Grande Valley – very tropical looking.  This is our clubhouse….

We have a LOT of birds in the Rio Grande Valley.  Especially in the mornings and late afternoons, the crows and grackels swarm beautifully in the sky, landing on telephone poles.  They chirp constantly, and it reminds me of the scary Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”…..

In the late afternoon, some friends came over to plan a 4-5 day road trip.  We are hoping to go up to the Fredericksburg area to camp in a nice municipal park and some fun-looking Harvest Host locations.

DINNER:  Beans and rice with the last of the plant-based hamburger we had for our daughter’s visit.    I tried a new way to cook the rice which failed miserably.  Next time, I will return to my trustworthy rice cooker.