Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Visit From Blake!

Our son, Blake, likes to travel almost as much as his parents.  So we weren't completely surprised when he called to say he was flying from Shreveport, Louisiana, to visit us.  Yay! We picked him up at the airport on Friday evening, and we had our first overnight guest staying in our motorhome.

We asked what he wanted to do on his 3-day weekend stay.  He requested lemon bars and a roast beef dinner, and he wanted to learn to play pickleball.  We got all three of those requests taken care of quickly, and he thought it was all yummy--even the pickleball.

We also played some late night shuffleboard, and that was fun.  I'm not sure the shuffleboard courts have ever been used until 11 p.m. before!  He also thought it was great that you could play as many games of pool as you wanted because the pool balls were always left out.  He mentioned that senior citizens must be more trustworthy than college students, because he couldn't imagine this system working on a university campus.  We also played ping pong, and all the paddles and balls are available all the time too.  We played games of speed scrabble and boggle back at the motorhome, and Mema was really happy that we also played pitch at her place a couple times.  

Another of his requests was to eat "lots of citrus".  I think we accomplished that with juice from oranges that had been picked from the tree only minutes before we squeezed them.  

We also had freshly picked navel oranges and lots of tangerines!  Blake had a vitamin C overdose!  Because everything becomes a competition, there was the game of seeing who could jump and pick the orange that was highest on the tree.  Mom obviously found another competition in which she did not excel.

We have blogged about the ice cream and the performers that come to the resorts in South Texas.  Blake got to experience both when we went to the Magician/Comedian show while we ate our ice cream on Saturday night. 

We did some home cooking, but we also tried some new places in the area.  Our favorite was Schneider's Guesthaus and Beer Garden in McAllen, with authentic German food and drinks.  We chose three different German meals, and the four of us sampled them all.  They have great schnitzel of all kinds!

In the course of his visit to Mission, Blake got to experience the extremes of South Texas weather.  We had sunny skies and the warmest day of our month-long stay on Saturday, a beautiful cloudy temperature day on Sunday, and then rain and the coldest day of our stay on Monday.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Free Day--School's Closed!

After an ice storm in Oklahoma, we got the automated text message from our former employer that school had been cancelled.  We always loved those messages--it meant an unexpected free day to veg at home.  Even though we usually spent these days catching up on work emails and tasks at home, it was always fun to get that text message!

So we had mixed emotions when we got that message on February 16.  But as we thought about our former co-workers fighting the ice and hunkering down with the heater with temperatures that struggled to climb above freezing, we decided our day off was probably all right.

We met the bike club at 8 a.m. for a ten mile ride for breakfast at a local Mexican restaurant.  

We got back to the park in time for Denisa to head to Pickleball.  

She worked up a sweat, then headed to the rec hall just in time for zumba class.  

The temperatures were over 80 degrees, so it felt so good to hit the outdoor pool on a beautiful blue sky day!  (Note:  This picture was taken on a different day when the pool was vacant.  I'm sure some of the bathing beauties wouldn't want to be on our blog.)  

By the time Denisa finished up with a shower it was only 1:00.  So there was still plenty of time to enjoy on this free day.  It was almost hot outside, so we hunkered down under the air conditioning for some of the afternoon.  It was a pretty good free day!

As is the usual case, the cold front that hit Oklahoma on that Sunday evening came to south Texas about 24 hours later.  To be fair, we also have clouds and cold weather in the Rio Grande Valley.  Our temperatures plummeted, and we were shivering under cloudy skies with highs that struggled to get into the 60's by the next day.

Denisa's Motorhome Driving Practice

In most states, anyone with a regular driver's license can take the wheel of any size motorhome and drive it legally.  But of course we would choose to become residents of the state of Texas, where they have decided that operating a vehicle weighing over 26,001 pounds means you must have a special class B exempt license.  In order to earn this special license status, one must pass a written exam and then pass a driving exam in that heavy vehicle.

These requirements have caused quite a bit of stress in locating the correct DMV office to test, making testing appointments, etc.  But Denisa is the most stressed because she has not even driven the motorhome . . . until now.  One morning she woke up at 3 a.m., worrying about passing the driving test.  When she woke Mark up at 3:25, he knew it was time for a driving lesson even though breaking camp was inconvenient.

We waited until daylight, then pulled in the slides, unhooked the utilities, and adjusted the driver's mirrors.  When the automatic entry steps wouldn't retract, we thought it might be a sign from God that Denisa really shouldn't try to drive this beast.  After sitting still for three weeks, the steps had locked up and it took some tools and time to convince them to stow away. 

Denisa got her nerve back up, and started the engine.  Mark insisted that she drive out of our spot down those narrow resort roads with all those innocent white-haired senior citizens milling around.  They didn't know what danger they were in!

Mark thought that after raising two sons through their learner's permit years, he was finished with the tension of riding with a new driver.  But I think he had all those memories of potential crashes flash before his eyes as we hit the open road!

We had a well-planned route to travel that was free of low hanging limbs, avoided narrow roads, and had a good place to turn around.  It took Denisa a few miles to get the feel of just how wide this beast is and where to plant the left front tire to avoid running off the road on the right side.  We did some left and right turns, and even took the ramp on and off the interstate for some high speed driving.  

We picked out a deserted parking lot for practicing some backing maneuvers.  By the end of the practice drive, Denisa felt successful in her ability to drive through the easy routes.  More importantly, Mark was hoping that she would now not wake him up in the middle of the night.

We parked the motorhome back into its space, but left the slides in for the night.  This was our first evening to spend in the shrunken interior that happens when all four slides are not deployed.  We found that we are fine for one night this way, but we certainly wouldn't want to live like this all the time!

We took another practice drive the next day, just to make sure that Denisa's first successful drive wasn't a fluke.  It was windy on the second day, so she got just a taste of a side wind.  We finished up this practice drive in the deserted parking lot to practice parking skills.  We have heard that the Class B driving test includes parallel parking a motorhome.  GASP!  Denisa has no confidence in her ability to parallel park a car, much less a 35 foot motorhome!  After watching a very good you-tube video (how did we survive without you-tube to teach us everything?) Mark made a successful parallel park.  But the really big news is that using the same you-tube tips, Denisa also was able to park this beast!

Please don't notice that the motorhome is a good five feet away from the curb on this "successful" parallel park.  This would probably crush Denisa's confidence, and Mark is worried that she might not be able to sleep at night!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Preacher Who Married Us

Rev. Darrel Hardy must have done a good job when he performed our wedding ceremony, because after 33 years those vows have still held!  Darrel and Winona Hardy are very special to our family.  

They were the pastoral family for many years at the Beaver United Methodist Church when Denisa was growing up.  They organized all those summer youth trips and winter ski trips that were a great blessing for the youth in our church during our teen years.  Rev. Hardy performed the wedding ceremony for not only Mark and Denisa, but also for both of Denisa's sisters.  He drove combine for us in the summer, and worked as a rodeo clown keeping bulls away from the cowboys for years.  On a more somber note, he also preached at Denisa's Father's funeral, and has promised to return to Beaver for Denisa's Mother's funeral some day.

Now he is retired, but like many wonderful preachers he is still a full-time minister.  So last Sunday we made the trip to Trophy Gardens Resort in Alamo to hear his sermon and spend a little time with Darrel and Winona.  Denisa's Mother makes it a point to meet them for lunch every winter, but this was the first time she had ever made the trip on a Sunday to attend their church service.  We had a special bonus to this visit because their daughter Sonya and her husband were visiting them this weekend.  They were celebrating their wedding anniversary weekend by spending it with her parents.  I'm sorry that I didn't get a picture of Sonya!

As you can see, Darrel and Winona still look great!  Since it was the Sunday of Valentine's weekend, they recognized the 15 couples that were celebrating 50th wedding anniversaries in the congregation at Trophy Gardens.  In his usual style, Rev. Hardy gave each husband a red rose to give to each wife--and they were required to present it with a kiss in front of the congregation.  Winona read off the names of the couples, while Darrel coached the kissers.

There were two roses left, so Rev. Hardy sent them home with Denisa and her Mother.

We had time on Sunday afternoon to bike back to the World Birding Center.  Some times we forget that working people have only the weekend to play.  Many of the birds were hiding from the louder families that were enjoying the park today.  But we still spotted some beautiful birds on our bike ride through the park.  
 Here's Mr. Cardinal and his lovely (but not as colorful) Mrs. Cardinal.

 We also got a picture of a green jay trying to blend in with the lime green leaves on his tree.

And finally, the bird trifecta, with three different birds in the same frame.

Just as important, we got some good exercise on our 10+ mile bike ride!  We parked the bikes and hiked down a couple of the trails inside the park as well.

The hawk tower is on one of those hikes.  While standing on the tower, we didn't spot any hawks cruising the breezes. But we did see a border patrol helicopter overhead, cruising the Mexican border just south of where we were standing.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thoughts After One Month on the Road

It has now been a month since we left our home in Oklahoma and drove off into the sunset.  We've learned a little and had a lot of fun.  Here are some thoughts on the first month from both of us:

Denisa - You can still get a tooth ache and need a doctor even when you are on permanent vacation.  Even with dental insurance, the endodontist made us pay the total price in full because we weren't "from around here."  Now there are the phone calls to the insurance company and the doctor's office to get reimbursed.

Mark - Our outdoor loungers and cooker still don't know that we have retired.  They are still neatly tucked away in the storage bays under the motorhome.  I'm not sure when the relaxing part of retirement starts?!?

Denisa - When you don't have a local bank, you don't have a good place to cash a check.  So we finally decided to open an account at a bank that has branches across the country with a good on-line system.

Mark - The alarm has been set before 7 a.m. almost every morning.  For the last 3 weeks we have been at Bentsen Grove Resort, where there is an exercise class at 8 a.m.  We made friends with Art, who was a football coach at Moore High School in the Oklahoma City area.  If we miss exercise class, Art chastises us the next time we see him.  There's something about disapproval from a football coach that will get Mark out of bed earlier than he had planned.

Denisa - We are working at becoming Texas residents, but we're not sure if this state wants us.  There is a lot of paperwork to get vehicles registered and tagged in Texas.  Vehicles have to be safety inspected yearly.  Most important, we have to take a series of written tests and a driving test to get a driver's license to drive our motorhome.  There will be a blog about this later.

Mark - One of Mark's plans for retirement was to learn to play the guitar.  With all his extra time, he would surely have time to sit for hours learning to strum beautiful melodies.  In the last month, the only time the guitar case has been opened was to see if it had been smashed.  The only space for the guitar and case is behind the driver's seat.  We forgot to move it one time when we put the slides out, and didn't notice until we heard an awful crushing sound.  The good news is that it was the case, and not the guitar that was being crushed at that point.

Denisa -  We still feel like we need to get something accomplished every day, and we are often frustrated at how long things take.  It's a good thing that we have an extra eight hours in our day to get 30 minutes of business accomplished.

We wish we would have kept track of how many times this first month we have heard, "But you're too young to be retired!"  We were feeling pretty old among our peers when we were working.  But now that we are hanging out with senior citizens we are feeling really young among our new peers.

Winter Texan Appreciation Day

What happens when you cross beautiful weather, free food, good entertainment, and retired people with plenty of time on their hands?  You get a packed house at the park!

Every year the Mission Texas Chamber of Commerce hosts an appreciation party.  All these winter Texans make quite an economic impact on the Rio Grande Valley, and this is a party to say "Thank You" for your dollars.  There is barbecue for lunch, door prizes (can you still call it door prizes when you are outside?), and nonstop entertainment that changes every 25 minutes.  Some of the entertainment included family groups, country bands, and the local high school varsity Mariachi band.

The local girls certainly don't mind posing in their lovely dresses.  Check out the photo bomber in the picture below.  This wasn't his first experience at bombing.  He told us he was a WWII bomber--with a sense of humor who was happy to share the camera with two beautiful girls.

We also walked to the local museum, that was hosting a Mexican Artisan Festival.  We watched part of a play, but understood none of the Spanish dialogue.  The lovely costumes, however, made for colorful pictures.

Part of the Artisan Festival was a sidewalk chalk drawing contest.  They were still chalking as we walked through the park area.

Our economic impact seems minimal since we are only here for a month, and we have found this area to be a very cheap place to visit.  But it was nice to feel appreciated on such a nice weather day!

Friday, February 20, 2015


Denisa's sister, Connie and her husband Joe had been visiting southern Arizona to celebrate one of their grandson's 6th birthday.  (Happy Birthday Max!)  It was a mere 1100 miles to stop by Mission, Texas, for a short visit.  So they jumped in the car at 4:00 a.m. in Arizona, and arrived here at 9:00 p.m.  What a day on the road!

We showed Connie and Joe how real retired people enjoy the warm weather in South Texas, and we really enjoyed having them around for a few days.  We played lots of cards, and they made friends with the people that scoop the ice cream here at the resort.  Connie enjoyed the zumba class we attended together, and she was a faithful participant every morning at exercise class.

We have to include the iconic retired pictures for this post.  We hadn't tried out the shuffleboard courts yet, but we found that it was a fun game!  We played three different games, and changed up partners for each one.  Denisa is thinking about joining the professional shuffleboard circuit, as she went undefeated for the evening.  Of course, she won't be playing cards professionally, as she didn't win a game of cards the entire time they were here.
When they packed for their trip to Arizona, it was 18 degrees at their home in Oklahoma.  So my sister didn't even pack any short sleeve blouses.  Her children will be amused to hear this detail, since they will recognize that she owns a purple blouse just like the one she is wearing in the picture. This one, however, is from Denisa's limited wardrobe.  You can tell that we are sisters when you look at our closets and we have more than one twin blouse.

Here is a picture of our shuffleboard challengers.  I actually should have taken a picture of Joe picking an orange or tangerine.  He said that this was the first time in his entire life that he could remember picking a piece of fruit straight off a tree!

Here's Mark showing some awesome shuffleboard form!

There is never a shortage of entertainment at the resort.  So if one tires of shuffleboard, ice cream, and playing cards, there is plenty of music going on.  Pictured below is our favorite visiting group so far--Cross Strung.  

They play lots of stringed instruments and sing, and put on a great show.  Sometimes they even share the same instrument, with one person fingering the chords with their left hand and strumming the strings of another instrument with their right hand.  I wish we would have gotten a picture of the five of them standing close together with each person "helping" to play two different instruments--and it all sounded good!  I also wish we had a picture of all of them fitting into the motorhome they travel together in.  They have ten people (with another baby on the way) living in that motorhome!  When I start to complain about the lack of storage space for clothes in our motorhome, I need to remind myself of this family!

Connie and Joe left us on Saturday morning--trying to hurry home to Edmond, Oklahoma before the ice storm hit there on Sunday.  I'm not sure that they made the right call.  Shouldn't you stay here in warm south Texas until that cold weather is over, instead of rushing home before it starts?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Our road trip continued to Port Aransas, where we could either swim to the island or take the ferry.  We opted for the free ferry ride and we were heading to the island on the boat just as the sun was setting.

We spent the night on Mustang Island, and the next morning we were blessed with a beautiful blue sky beach day.

We started the day at the University of Texas Marine Discovery Center.  We looked at their educational exhibits and enjoyed the children's section displays as well.  Denisa and her Mother were "fishing" with magnetic lures, and Mark is posed with his best sea turtle face.

But our favorite part of the Discovery Center was looking at their aquariums.   The fish pictured below changed from light tan with small dots when he was resting on the light sand, to dark brown with larger dots when beside a rusty pipe.  We could watch the color changes that took place in less than a minute when he moved around the aquarium.  This is a picture of him in "change mode" going from light to dark.
After our fish entertainment, we headed to the beach at Port Aransas.  They have the sand solid packed so we could drive the car right on the beach beside the ocean for miles.

For future reference, we also saw RVs parked alongside the ocean.  We might have to try that next time.

We did some sea-shelling as we stopped at three different beaches along the island.  We found a few unbroken sand dollars and other treasures.

We stopped at Mustang Island State Park, and even found a starfish on the beach!  Mark wanted me to add the disclaimer that no starfish were harmed in the making of this blog.  All the sea life was dead when we found it.

Mustang Island turns into North Padre Island around Corpus Christi, so we have now been on both ends of Padre in the last few days.  Again we had to have some shrimp, flounder, and crab cakes to eat before we left the coast and headed back to our home on wheels!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

First Car Road Trip

Denisa had to return to the San Antonio area for a dentist appointment to get her permanent crown.  So we took Denisa's Mother with us for a road trip that included our favorite things from that area.  After singing in the church choir on Sunday morning in Mission, we headed north for Gruene, Texas, and our favorite (so far) Texas Dance Hall.  If you are keeping track, that would be the third dance in as many weeks.  Amazing!

 Bret Graham was singing the noon to 3:00 shift, and we enjoyed his music so much that Denisa literally danced the sole right off her shoe.  Good thing we had packed another pair of shoes in the trunk of the car!

We had a nice dinner in Gruene and found that this little historical town was packed with people enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  There are no stop lights, so we had police to control the heavy traffic at busy intersections.

We really enjoyed the  Gruene General Store.  Lots of free samples to taste, and fun tourist things to buy.  Mark thinks it is great that we don't have any room for souvenirs, so Denisa can't go shopping.

When you live in a motorhome, you can travel without ever having to pack a suitcase.  But this road trip should be a rare occasion for us. Mark wasn't sure he could sleep without wheels under him.  But it was nice to spread out at Mark's brother and sister-in-law's home.  They have a beautiful new backyard that allowed us to enjoy their company and the weather!

After Denisa's dentist appointment we had a delicious steak lunch at Lucky and Lizzie's house to make sure that the new tooth was up for the job.  Lucky was in charge of the steaks on the grill outside,

 while Lizzie was in charge of the food inside.  They are a great team and made us feel so welcome!
As we left their house, we got stuck in a Texas traffic jam behind a caravan of horses and wagons!

South Padre Beach Day

Retirement is like another day at the beach with beautiful blue skies!  We've probably visited Padre ten different times over the years, but we decided this was the prettiest weather we have ever seen there.

The ocean water was chilly but "wade-able."  We walked six miles on the beach that was almost deserted. Denisa spent her time trying to sneak up on the local wildlife.
We did get close enough to take several bird close ups.  I don't know the exact names of these birds, but we can say that they all seem to prefer salt water and time on the beach.

A day at South Padre isn't complete without eating fresh sea food.  Our favorite restaurant is "Dirty Al's" with its "Sorry, we're open!" sign out front.  

There are no food pictures, because we ate it too fast.  We did take a picture out the side door of the restaurant with the fishing boats and the resident pelicans waiting for the next free meal.

We stopped in at a local fish market for fresh shrimp to take home for another meal later.  It was a great day on the island!