Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Traditions Away from our Traditional Home

Even though our life style has changed dramatically in the last year, some traditional Christmas activities still live on!  As a child, Denisa remembers helping her grandparents make German peppernuts every year.  We have continued that tradition as adults.  Peppernuts taste a little like bite-sized gingerbread cookies, and they include spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and yes--pepper.

After mixing up a big batch, it took 2.5 hours of rolling, cutting and baking.  We undertook this large project in Denisa's Mother's house with its larger oven and kitchen.  We should have taken another picture with Mark in it, as he rolled and cut peppernuts for the entire evening.

Another Christmas tradition is driving to see Christmas lights. Mark has also been doing lots of chauffeuring since we arrived in South Texas.  He's a great driver for doctors' appointments and errands.  He also doesn't mind driving after dark, so that has opened up a whole new set of activities for the 80-  and 90-year-olds that won't drive in the evening.  One activity that we took them on was a drive through the Christmas lights in Hidalgo.  You know you are in South Texas when Santa is out surfing on the waves in December.

Known for being one of the biggest light displays in the state of Texas, it's less than thirty minutes from our park in Mission.  No lights would be complete in this state without the yellow rose of Texas and those lone stars that we see all over Texas.

Most of the light displays can be seen by driving in the car, and we drove by twice just to be sure we saw them all.  Others were in the park, and we had to walk to see these penguins playing on their igloo.  We were wearing short sleeves and shorts this evening, so we are pretty sure this ice is fake.

Another proof that we are in a very warm climate are the palm trees next to the Christmas trees.

There were big displays for all of the twelve days of Christmas. This is a close-up of the twelve drummers drumming.  If you look closely, you can see the partridge in a pear tree, and the two turtle doves in the background on the other side of that park.

The lighted nativity scene was one of our favorites.

The public parks are full of lights, and the home-owners along the route also decorate.  This mansion was covered with lights!  It also included larger-than-life wise men . . .

on their way to see the baby in the manger.

Mark chauffeured us to the local park, and dropped us off so we could see the end of the folklorico performance.  He had to walk back a half-mile from the nearest parking place, but Denisa's Mother and Aunt Doris got front row seats for the show.

The costumes were great, and the dancers were beautiful for the grand finale!

We've also been to a Christmas cantata this week, another family tradition. We have enjoyed singing in the church choir while we are in Mission, but we got here too late for cantata practices.  Denisa has enjoyed having access to a piano, and she played a piano duet with the church pianist for special music last Sunday.  So the tradition of good Christmas music still continues even when we don't live in a traditional home!

On this Christmas day, we wish everyone a traditional Merry Christmas.  Even though we no longer have a traditional home, we are excited about getting to spend time with our family this week!  Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Our Winter Camp Schedule

We've been camped at Bentsen Grove Resort for two weeks now, fully immersed in the activities of the park. One of our favorite activities would have to be picking (and then immediately eating) citrus off the trees in the park.  There's few things better than eating a tree-ripened grapefruit just a few minutes after it was hanging on the tree.  This is a picture of a variety of citrus, plus a papaya on the left, that we just picked.

Most of the fruit is the size you would normally find at the grocery store.  But there are some monster grapefruit out there that would cost a pretty penny if we had to purchase it by the pound.  It's a good thing that it's the perfect price--free!

Denisa's Mother has been coming to this park for 30 winters, and we had visited her for a short time most of those years.  We always described it as "winter camp for old people" because there are fun things scheduled to do every hour of the day (just like at camp when we were kids).

Now that we are retired, we are enjoying the "winter camp schedule" as well.  Notice we left off the "old people" part of the description since we are the ones now attending all the fun.  Every Thursday we get a two page listing of all the activities we can participate in for free.  This is one page of activities, representing the things available for Wednesday through Friday at the four main locations in the resort. 

The activities are many and varied.  For example, on Monday morning you can participate in exercise class, quilting, bridge, yoga, computer class, biking, table tennis, horseshoes, aerobics, line dancing, zumba, golf, swimnastics, soft ball, stained glass, or pickle ball.  Try as hard as she could, even Denisa couldn't fit all of those into her Monday morning schedule.  Every day the activities change, so the list for other days will also includes bingo, crafts, woodcarving, shuffleboard, melody theater, mah johngg, quilling, cricket, clogging, ceramics, watercolor, radio control, kitchen band, rock club, glass adventures, tennis, darts, cross stitch, scrapbooking, stained glass, bowling, wood burning, church choir, swedish weaving, encaustic, oil painting, smart phones, and Spanish.  If you can't find a class or group that you enjoy, it looks like you don't enjoy much.  One of our favorite activities has been playing pickleball.  Crazy name for a fun game that is related to tennis, but has a different racket.

Denisa is also enjoying her clogging class.  Only here for a month, she has resigned herself to the fact that she'll never be an accomplished clogger.  But they still welcome her with open arms into their clogging fold.  It's a great way to burn calories!  It's amazing that the shoes are provided, as well as small-group instruction for beginners.

We also enjoy the line dancing classes.  It looks like there are more dances than we will ever be able to learn, but there are volunteer instructors that know them all.  No pictures of class because we are too busy concentrating on which way to turn to be fooling with cameras in class. We are amazed at the teachers and their abilities, as well as their willingness to teach left-footed beginners like us.

Every evening there are card games played all over the resort. One can find a group to play about any game we have heard of, and plenty that we have never played.  Also, every evening there is ice cream available for sale.  A dollar will buy a generous cup full that is enough for two people to share.  They usually have 6 or 7 different flavors, and the volunteers get a good work-out scooping all those dips.  Special on the weekend, there are "sundaes on Sundays" with toppings to go with that ice cream!  Knowing how much Mark loves ice cream, this might be his favorite part of the resort.

To off-set all that ice cream, there are vegetables and fruits also available for sale here at the park.  Every Friday a produce truck pulls up with lots of healthy choices.  The fresh pineapples and watermelons have been especially good this year.  Also, the huge fresh carrots and the little cucumbers are picked that morning.  The photo below pictures Denisa's purchases this week.  Smaller than usual because we are leaving for Christmas soon, she still made quite a haul of goodies.

The weeks are rolling by, as we realize we have been here over two weeks now.  We have been welcomed warmly, and we are enjoying the warm weather.  What a great place to hang out for a month!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Few of our Favorite Things

Now that we are coming to the end of our travels for 2015, it seems a good time to reminisce on some of our favorite parts of the year.  So we took a secret ballot to try to determine if we agreed on the favorite things we did in our first year on the road in the United States.  We found that the two of us agreed on almost everything, and that we just couldn't narrow it down to our favorite one or two.  So we listed several favorite things in eight of the categories we like most about being retired.  We feel so blessed to be wandering through God's wonders on a daily basis!  Mark even went back to find some of our best pictures of our favorite places.

Favorite Kayak Trips

  • Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend National Park, TX

  •  Silver Jack Lake - Uncompahgre National Park, CO
  • Watson Lake - Prescott, AZ
  • Lake Powell - Page, AZ
  • Clear Creek Canyon - Winslow, AZ

Favorite Long Hikes
  • Blue Lakes - Ridgeway, CO

  • South Colony Lakes - Westcliffe, CO

  • The Narrows - Zion National Park, UT

  • Bright Angel/South Kaibab - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

  • Peek-a-Boo Trail - Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

  • La Luz - Albuquerque, NM
  • South Rim - Big Bend National Park, TX
  • Angel's Landing - Zion National Park, UT
  • Little Bear Canyon - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park, TX

Favorite Short Hikes
  • Tent Rocks National Memorial - Santa Fe, NM
  • Antelope Canyon - Page, AZ
  • Enchanted Rock State Park - Fredericksburg, TX
  • Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park, TX
  • Grosvener Arch - Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO hike to the bottom (on Mark's list but certainly not Denisa's)
  • Saguaro National Park - Tucson, AZ
  • Hike to the Refrigerator/Freezer for Ice Cream (again on Mark's list)

Favorite Bike Rides

  • Lower Loop - Crested Butte, CO

  • Mission River Trail - San Antonio, TX

Favorite State Parks
  • Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

  • City of Rocks, Texas
  • Hueco Tanks, Texas
  • Enchanted Rock, Texas
  • Davis Mountains, Texas (because of their great ranger presentations)

Favorite Towns

  • Prescott, AZ

  • Montrose, CO
  • Gruene, TX
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • South Fork, CO

Favorite Festivals/Parades

  • International Balloon Fiesta - Albuquerque, NM

  • Illuminated Christmas Parade - McAllen, TX
  • Sweet Corn Festival - Olathe, CO
  • Citrus Festival - Mission, TX

Favorite Foods (we ate in mass quantities)

  • Colorado Peaches

  • Texas Citrus
  • Amish Fried Pies
  • Texas Tomatoes
  • Utah Apples
  • Ice Cream Anywhere and Everywhere (on Mark's list)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It's hard to get in the Christmas spirit when the temperatures have tipped into the 90's this week.  We are experiencing unusually warm weather for the middle of December.  In fact, we have broken the record for the highest high and highest low for the last couple days.  It is definitely shorts weather in the Rio Grande Valley, and we've been swimming several times.

But we did get into the swing of Christmas enough to decorate the motor home.  We saved a small plastic tub of our favorite Christmas decorations that we thought would travel well.  Those have been packed away for the last eleven months, taking up precious cargo space for something used for such little time!  We thought about buying a small live tree to decorate with our saved Christmas decorations.  But Denisa's Mother had a ceramic tree that she wasn't using this year.  So we adopted it for the season, and it's now glowing on our buffet by the table.

Denisa's aunt made this tree five decades ago.  Denisa remembers setting it up as a child, being careful that the colored pegs on each branch were arranged so that like colors weren't touching.  She remembers that each year the number of pegs seemed to decrease, so it was a good thing that her Mother had purchased a new bag of pegs.  The orange and yellow lights, and pink and purple lights, look very similar in the picture above.  But Denisa is proud to say that she hasn't lost her ability of making sure that the same colors are not on adjacent branches.

The ornaments that we had planned to hang on a Christmas tree, are now hanging from knobs all over the motor home instead.  There's also a nativity set on the dash, some red and green runners on the chairs, and a Christmas door mat outside.  It doesn't take too many decorations when your living space is only 35 feet long.

Denisa had hoped to get the Christmas cards in the mail early this year, alerting all of the people we exchange cards with of our new address.  But the planned family picture didn't happen when the Thanksgiving ice storm made it impossible for our family to all be at the same place at the same time.  So we opted for a picture taken the only time the five of us were together--way back in May when Luke graduated from medical school.  

Those cards won't be back from the printer until next week, so it looks like our "early" Christmas cards might not even arrive in mailboxes until the week of Christmas!

In keeping with the Christmas theme, Mark is still growing his set of Santa whiskers.  He actually shaved off the very gray sideburns, leaving only the kind-of-gray goatee.  Denisa likes this version of his no-shave November facial hair better.

Besides our regular events, we have attended a Christmas pageant at a local church, a high-school show choir Christmas program, and a Christmas party at the RV Resort.  The entertainment for the Trim-a-Tree party at the resort was the park's "Kitchen Band." In case you are not cultured enough to have experienced a kitchen band, it's where the musicians dress up in silly costumes and play various instruments straight from the kitchen. 
Here's a picture of Denisa's Mom (in the white blouse) playing the tea pot.  Yes, the woman on the far right is playing a decorated bed pan.  So I guess it would be categorized as a pea pot.

Santa made a surprise visit to the party, complaining that his suit was certainly warm here in Mission, Texas.  So even though it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, the temperature doesn't feel like Christmas at all.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Rio Grande Valley is for the Birds!

We have been having beautiful weather in Mission, Texas!  We think it is ironic that we spent the summer in the mountains where the highs were often in the 60's so we didn't wear shorts all summer.  Isn't it strange that we didn't wear shorts in July, but we had to dig them out of the back of the closet in December?!?

In fact, we have seen record-breaking warm temperatures this week.  With highs in the low 90's and low's in the 70's, this is the warmest weather for mid-December ever recorded in McAllen.

It's been great weather to be outside, so this day we took the bikes for a ride into the Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, just three miles from where the motor home is parked.  The Texas State Park pass we bought last January is still serving us well, as we got in for free with that pass. It's great to have a place to ride the bikes with level roads and without car traffic!

We enjoyed spying on the resident birds in the park.  This is one of our favorites--the beautiful green jay.

Our spying was made easier by the bird blinds set up throughout the park.  Behind the blinds are bird feeders and water sources to entice the birds to the viewing sites.

We spied these yellow-bellied birds, that made a distinctive sound that is something between a baby kitten's meow and a creaky door.

There were also some very Christmasy-red cardinals darting through the forest that day.

We finished the day at the Hawk Tower for a panoramic view of the valley that leads to the Rio Grande River and Mexico.  At the tower we are about one mile from the Mexico border.  The only vehicle we saw on our bike ride was a border patrol pickup. 

There's a beautiful sunset in the works, and a nice bike ride through the trees.  We are really enjoying our time here in the Rio Grande Valley.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Largest Illuminated Parade in Texas

Denisa's Mother has been telling us for years that the Rio Grande Valley hosts some wonderful events, and we are happy to be enjoying them with her this year.  She had tickets for us for the musical, "Guys and Dolls" playing the first weekend after our arrival.  The high schools in this area are huge, and seem to give good emphasis to the arts.  This musical was performed at McAllen High School with a cast of 30 students from their choir department.  We were amazed at the talent, as these high school students sang, danced, and acted their way across the stage.  The play was well-attended with a sea of white-haired winter Texans that paid $10 per ticket and filled the auditorium.  It is a great fund-raiser for the music department, and great entertainment for the winter visitors to this area.  Win, Win!!

We went directly from the musical's matinee performance to find a parking spot for that evening's lighted Christmas parade.  McAllen hosts the largest illuminated parade in the state of Texas, and we were looking forward to seeing it for ourselves.  All the streets for two miles surrounding the parade route were blocked off from traffic, because they were anticipating over 200,000 people for the event.  Mark made friends with several local policemen as he asked advice for getting close enough to drop off Denisa's Mother and Aunt Doris so they could see the parade too.  Having 85- and 90-year-old passengers definitely complicates our normal method of just parking and walking however far it takes.  With police permission, we drove through several barricades to get closer.  We got them two front row seats in chairs on the curb, so Mark's efforts were successful!  The two of us found seats among the thronging crowd, and waited breathlessly as Santa made his way down the street.

Notice the large group of balloon holders in charge of guiding Santa down the street without hitting those electrical lines that run parallel with Bicentennial Avenue.  These handlers are a blur as they run in a circle to pivot Santa in all directions.

Santa was the first of 36 different huge helium-filled balloons in the parade.  Because the theme was "Movies on Parade," many of the balloons (such as this Jurassic Park dinosaur) were not the usual holiday sightings.  Each balloon was led by a golf cart carrying a large light that illuminated the character for this night-time parade.
Some of the balloons were amazingly tall, and you can see the tiny people close to the boot of this balloon.  This reminded us of the Macey's Day Parade we had seen so many times on television.  This tall Nutcracker wouldn't have been able to make the march down the parade route if it was windy. But the perfect weather made handling the balloons as easy as possible.  It also meant that there was a record number of people in the crowd.  We heard reports that 300,000 people joined us for the parade.

The balloons were dispersed throughout the parade, and they were lots of fun.  But the real show stoppers were the lighted floats.

McAllen has its fair share of celebrities that agreed to come home for the parade.  Riding this float was actor Esai Morales, who appeared in the movies, "La Bamba," "Bad Boys," etc. and has had roles in TV shows such as "NYPD Blue," "Criminal Minds," and "Miami Vice."

There were many more celebrities such as Laura Marano, and David Zepeda, but the only one we recognized was Guillermo Rodriguez--Jimmy Kimmel's side kick on his late night talk show.

The illuminated minions made an appearance in keeping with the "Movies on Parade" theme.

Last year we were really impressed with the Citrus parade in McAllen, where floats used slices of differently colored citrus fruits to decorate the floats.  This was the illuminated citrus float, decorated with the beautiful citrus queens from that fiesta.

There were also Christmas season floats, and this one came with soap bubble "snow" falling.  Since our weekly forecast shows highs in the 80's and even 90's, it looks like this is the only chance for snow this December in the Rio Grande Valley.

But our favorite floats had to be those that were centered around the real reason for the season.  It's hard to see, but this nativity included tiny angels that were held in carriers in front of their fathers.

There were large high school bands from all over the Rio Grande Valley, our second proof of the day that arts is still important down south.  Most of the bands featured strings of multi-colored lights draped across their uniforms and horns for this illuminated parade.  But this band had tiny white lights strung in the plume of each band member's hat.  How illuminating!

It was one of the best parades we have ever seen, and was well-organized so there was a steady stream of floats, bands, and balloons.  Thousands of people attended the Enrique Iglesias concert in the stadium immediately before. So the organizers routed the parade through the stadium so all the concert-goers got to see the floats and balloons without even changing seats.
It was a great day (and night) of activities in the Rio Grande Valley!