Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy (Cold) Boxing Day

Ok, so by typical Northerner standards, 29 degrees is not really cold. But for us Snowbirds who like to dress in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops year round, that’s cold! And that’s what we woke up to on this sunny Boxing Day. Since we Americans don’t officially celebrate this day, I had to do a little research to find out exactly what it’s about. Celebrated primarily in Canada and Great Britain, its origins may be related to the Feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26, when King Wenceslas gathered food and wine for a poor man. Through the ages it has traditionally been a day to help the poor. These days it has become like America’s Black Friday, a huge shopping day.

We have still been busy enjoying our time here in the San Antonio area. Of course there have been the usual happy hour gatherings in the afternoon, we’ve been taking turns with Deb & Rod and Brenda & John hosting.

Deb is making sure we have some healthy veggie snacks:

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John enjoys a conversation with Jim and Rod:

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Thursday evening the six of us went to dinner and a stroll to look at the lights along the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio.

Brenda and Deb get settled at the table on the balcony overlooking the Riverwalk:

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We celebrated a quiet Christmas Eve and Christmas Day here at home. Brenda and John joined us both days. On Christmas Eve, we had a happy hour with snacks. For Christmas Day, Jim roasted a turkey and baked the most wonderful pecan pie; and I made a few side dishes. Brenda brought more side dishes plus her amazing buns (we call them dinner rolls) made from Canadian flour that she brings with her. What a great meal, and wonderful company! It made the day more special.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Warm First Day of Winter

Finally, we’ve reached that magic day, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of sunlight and the longest night of darkness.  Now we can begin the process of watching the days grow longer, minute by minute.

We’ve been enjoying very nice days here in San Antonio, this morning when we got up it was 63.  It was cloudy, almost foggy, but by noon it had cleared up and the sun was shining brightly.

Jim was having a conversation with a friend who had been asking about my blogging habits.  He told this friend that it’s hard for me to write a blog every day when we’re not doing much of anything, who wants to read about us drinking coffee for a couple of hours while we wake up, then go do laundry, clean the house, fix meals and read.  We’re told there really are people who are interested in these mundane activities, so I’ll try to pick up the blog writing pace a little.

Actually, we have been getting out and doing a few things.  A couple of days last week we spent polishing the Castle, I even asked Jim to find some metal polish so I could polish the wheels – I have 2 of them done, 2 to go.

On Saturday, we decided to take the day off and go for a drive.  We ended up doing a “Texas Wine Country” tour, up to Johnson City where we visited the Texas Hill Country Vineyards:

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Ah, choices, choices!!

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Along Highway 290 from Johnson City to a few miles past Fredericksburg, there are about 10 vineyards – no, we didn’t go to all of them.  We stopped at one more along the way, William Chris Vineyards, then skipped ahead to the Chisholm Trail Winery.  It’s located about nine miles west of Fredericksburg, then another 2.5 miles down a narrow, almost dirt road through cattle and horses until you think there can’t possibly be anything down there, but finally come to the sign:

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Where we were greeted by “Pick-up” the Santa-costumed dog (sitting pretty in her chair by the tree):

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After our wine tour we stopped back in Fredericksburg at a local German restaurant before coming back home.

Brenda and John arrived Sunday, so we all gathered at Deb & Rod’s for dinner.  Deb made a fabulous casserole with turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and gravy, and I made a big salad.  Brenda managed to save a bit of peanut butter pie she’d made, so we enjoyed that for dessert.  It’s great to get together again!  

Yesterday, Jim & I had planned to visit the missions here in San Antonio, but the morning was overcast so we decided to wait for a sunny day to get better pictures.  Instead of the missions, we ended up going to the Market Quarry Shopping Center, where there is a Whole Foods market.  One of our favorite stores to browse!  We found some goodies to cook for our “Dinch”. Of course, as soon as we went shopping, the sky cleared and the sun warmed us up!  After we ate, Deb called to let us know Happy Hour was at Brenda & John’s, so off we went for that.  We sat outside, enjoying the warm weather.  When it got dark and chilly, we came back home.

Today, we got together for lunch in Boerne with another group of friends who are staying at Buckhorn Resort near Kerrville.  We picked out a restaurant “about halfway” between our respective locations.

Below (left to right ) are Steve, Cathy (she’s behind Paul so you can’t really see her), Paul, Mary, Rod and Deb.

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And on the other side of the table are Brenda, John, the other John, and Sandy, and another view of Steve.

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After lunch we gathered outside the restaurant, “The Dodging Duck Brewhaus” which is located across the street from the city park along Boerne Creek.  Below, Mary prepares to hug friends.  Jim has his back to the camera, and John is on the left:

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What a fun time – it was wonderful to meet new friends and reconnect with Sandy & John and Mary & Paul.  We hope to catch up with them again before long!

After we got home, it was already time to get set up for today’s Happy Hour, which took place at our home.  Again, we sat outside until it got dark and started to get chilly.

Not a bad deal for being winter!  We’ve been on the road for 4 years now, and this is the warmest we’ve been at this time of year, we’re loving it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yes, We Still Have a Blog

I knew it was time to get busy and write a new entry when Jim made a comment the other day, “this would be a good picture for the blog, if you still had one.”  Hmmm….has it been that long?

What have we been up to, where are we now and what are we doing?

The last time I wrote, we were in Livingston.  Much of our time there we were visiting with our friends, Mike and Rhonda and their family.  We were blessed to be invited to their home for Thanksgiving.

Below are four generations of the Heath family. On the right is Mike, one of Jim’s best friends from high school.  Next to Mike is Polly, his mom.  Jeremy, next to Polly, is Mike’s son.  He’s holding his younger son, Ryan.  Next is Gene, Mike’s brother who is holding Jeremy’s older son, Landry.

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While we were in the area, we also went to Old Town Spring, where we visited with another of Jim’s friends from his high school days.  Donny Hickmott owns an art gallery there, The Walking Stick, where he displays his fabulous paintings.  If you find yourself in the area, we definitely recommend a stop there.

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Rhonda, Mike’s wife and I stopped at the Wimberly Wine shop to pick up a couple of bottles of Texas wine.

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At the Escapees Rainbow’s End park, we also got caught up with our list of cleaning and sorting through some of our “stuff” and took care of some much needed financial planning.

Our time in Livingston was busy and productive!  But of course, it was soon time to move on and we pulled up our jacks and rolled the Castle on to Braunig Lake RV Resort just outside of San Antonio.

Deb and Rod were already here, and we went out for dinner with them our first night here.  We’ve had some fun times with them over the last week or so, including a day trip down to Rockport to buy fresh shrimp.  While we were in town, we met Donna and Nolan for lunch at The Big Fisherman.

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We’ve also made a couple of trips over to the San Marcos area to investigate the massive outlet malls there and visit the Camping World with Deb & Rod. 

Yesterday, we drove and the four of us went to lunch in Lockhart, known as the Barbeque Capital of Texas.  We chose Black’s Barbeque, owned by the same family continuously for over 80 years. 

Deb and Rod heading for the door:

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Our reviews were mixed, Deb didn’t care for the sausage, but we all thought the brisket and turkey were great.  I think we were all most impressed by the sides, though!  Our day trip also included a few other stops, as well, including the outlet malls, Sam’s Club and Spec’s, a Texas discount liquor outlet.

I’ve been busy learning and living the new Weight Watchers program.  While we were still in Livingston, I attended the roll-out meeting and got all the new materials, calculator and so forth.  The entire “points” system was changed, so there is a lot of learning and re-learning involved.  Everyone I know says they really like that fruits are “free”.  The new program really does steer our eating in a healthier direction.

We have plans to get together with more friends over the next couple of weeks while we get ready for our next move.  We’ll be making our way to the Arizona desert, and yes, there are boondocking plans!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Honey, We’re “Home”

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I was having a conversation with someone – at a check stand or in line at Wal-Mart, perhaps - and I was asked, “Where are you from?”  To which I answered, “Livingston, Texas”.  The person with whom I was conversing mentioned a specific location near here, asking me how I like it – I had to answer honestly, “Well, I don’t know, I’ve never been there.”  Even though I don’t remember the circumstances of the conversation, I remember the blank look on the woman’s face when I said that!

So, now, we can say we’ve “been there”.

We left our pretty spot:

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at Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, Louisiana, bright and early yesterday morning (I think it was Monday about 7:30) and continued our Westward trek.

Bayous & bridges, traffic (oh yes, and construction zones), you’ll find it all on I-10.

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I took over the driving, thinking there would be a rest area in about 30 miles, but the rest area mysteriously disappeared, so I ended up driving about 100 or so miles.

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What – a bridge?  You didn’t tell me I’d have to drive over a BRIDGE!   It’s one thing to ride over one, but quite a different kettle of fish to drive over one!

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But I got over it:

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And we made it to our Home State:

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Soon we turned off of I-10 and took the “back roads”

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to reach our little home spot at Rainbow’s End near Livingston, Texas.  In nearly 4 years on the road, this is our first visit to the Escapees headquarters location.  When we pulled in to the park, I was busy making sure we turned onto the correct road and didn’t get a picture, so that will wait for another entry.  We are in the “new” section of the park.  The sites are OK, not nearly as nice as those at Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale, but they are OK.  So far, the people are friendly and the place has a nice feeling to it.  While we’re here, we plan to take one of their tours of the facilities, and we’ll be able to pick up our mail right here at the mail facility.

We got our site, got backed in and set up, then took off for a quick Wal-mart run to pick up a prescription.  While we waited for the prescription to be ready, we went across the street to a local Mexican restaurant and had a great meal.  We got home and settled in for the first few minutes of the Broncos/Chargers football game.  I think after the Chargers scored the second, or maybe third, touchdown, we sort of lost interest and fell asleep.

This morning I attended the line dancing class before we took off for a run to Mike & Rhonda’s house in Spring, where we will spend Thanksgiving day.  Mike and Jim were good friends in high school, and that friendship has endured a lot of years.  We’re blessed to be able to spend this special holiday with them.  It’s about 65 miles from here, and we wanted to be sure we could find our way.  When we got there, we all went out to lunch before we headed back home.

The weather has been warm and muggy with a few rain showers thrown in for good measure.  But not to worry, we understand there’s a cold front moving our way and will be here in time for the holiday!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lovin’ Louisiana

Ellie 003How in the world do I characterize this visit?  My friends ask me how New Orleans is now, “after Katrina”?  We’re tourists here, yet we’re not.  Every place we visit is actually our home, if only for a few days, or a few weeks.  We like to experience a place with that in mind.  Yes, of course, many times we do the “touristy” things, but more often we’re visiting someone who lives there, and we end up doing things with the people who do live there. 

In this case, it’s a little mixed up for me.  Rosalie is originally from New Orleans.  I first met her when we both worked for a school district in Colorado Springs around 1988.  Since then, she’s lived in Michigan, Colorado Springs and Alameda California.  Now she’s returned to her roots, where her family still lives.

We’ve only visited New Orleans once before – when Jim attended a conference in 1995.  We spent a few days here, and we were totally tourists then.  We “did” the French Quarter, sampled traditional foods and so forth.

But, this visit is entirely something else.  I guess you could say it’s a little of everything!  We’re staying outside the city, so we get to experience “The North Shore”, which has become the place for the “nouveau riche” to settle.  We’re in a state park, so we have a bit of the “camping out” feeling to our stay.  We’ve traveled to the city and experienced some of the same things that a tourist might.  But we’ve also just done things that a native might, like going to dinner at a friend’s house or taking a walk in a park.

As to “how is New Orleans doing now, after Katrina” – that is also a question with many answers.  We see few signs of distress, but haven’t been to areas that were very hard-hit.  Some of the houses in Rosalie’s neighborhood flooded, but her house did not.  The city is busy, lots of traffic, and perhaps the mood is a little subdued, but still fun and vibrant.

So, just what have we been doing?  A quick summary – on Tuesday, we arrived and got settled in to our new place. 

Wednesday morning, I walked down to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain with the dogs.  A little later, we took the car down to the shore and looked around and took some pictures.  The picture at the opening of this entry was taken at the shore, and Jim caught this one of a flock of White Ibis flying over:

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Rosalie came to visit us on Wednesday afternoon, and we grilled chicken here and talked for hours, getting caught up on the years we’ve missed in each other’s lives. 

Thursday was our day to visit the city.  We started  by driving across Lake Pontchartrain – if you know Jim, you know he’s not real fond of bridges and tunnels.  And, the “bridge” (really, it’s just a Causeway), that crosses the lake is just 24 miles! Well, Jim handled it just fine!

Near the end:

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We could see the New Orleans skyline:

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We arrived safely at Rosalie’s recently purchased home, where Jim helped diagnose a small wiring issue with a lighting fixture before we jumped in her car for the ride over to The Camellia Grill, where we dined on – hamburgers! 

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Yes, in New Orleans!  We really went there for dessert,  which is the most awesome chocolate pecan pie you can imagine, heated on the grill, no less!  Rosalie shared with me that The Camellia Grill was the local place for high-school dates. Lunch was followed by a ride on the streetcar:

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down St. Charles Ave. to Audubon Park, where we walked “the loop”, admiring the palatial homes along the way:

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and checking out the bird population on “Bird Island”:

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And admired the park’s natural beauty":

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With a little rest break too:

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We then got back on a streetcar and rode down to the Business District, with Rosalie pointing out places that had meaning in her history – the church where she was married, the building in which she attended school, etc. 

We arrived at the World War II Museum:

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just in time to purchase tickets for the last showing of the day for the movie, “Beyond All Boundaries” which was a summarization of World War II, complete with a variety of special effects.   After the movie, we enjoyed a cocktail in the lounge, then grabbed a taxi back to Rosalie’s car.  She got us back to her house, where we picked up our car and made the journey back across the Causeway to our home base at Fontainebleau State Park.

When we arrived home, guess who stopped over to visit – Rollie and Gina!

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Rollie called us Wed. night and said there was a good possibility they would come and stay a night at Fontainebleau State Park before going home on Friday, and sure enough, they were parked a couple of rows over from us!  Rollie came to the door just as we were about ready to walk over to their place.  Gina was talking to their daughter, but came over after she got off the computer.  What a wonderful visit!  We got to see them again Friday morning as they completed their homeward journey.

Yesterday (Friday?), we hung around home most of the day until time to return to New Orleans for dinner at Rosalie’s house.

The one outing we made was over to a local eatery we first heard about when we checked in to the park -  Louis and the Redhead Lady, a seafood restaurant not far from the park.  Wow, it was excellent!  Word has it that Guy Fieri  of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” on The Food Network visited here and will feature this place on his show. Jim had a sampler plate, while I had a crab cake and shrimp & artichoke soup.  That was one of the best meals we’ve had in a restaurant for a long time!  We highly recommend that place if you’re in the area.

We weren’t due at Rosalie’s until around 6:00 p.m.  Well, talk about getting out of our routine – we’re usually well settled into our little Castle by that time!  Instead, we once again navigated our way across the 24-mile bridge that Jim loves (not!) and stopped at a Whole Foods Store to do a little browsing and purchase the dessert we were to bring.

We were still early to Rosalie’s for dinner, but no problem, we just got a little longer happy hour!  She’d invited another friend of hers, Ava, whom I met several years ago. It was a fun evening with really, truly, delicious traditional New Orleans food – Jambalaya - prepared by one of the best cooks I’ve ever known.  Rosalie can out cook most of those famous TV chefs any day!

We got back to the park around 10:30 and found it full!  Lots of weekenders here with kids, bikes, dogs, firewood, music, and all that goes along with families on a camping trip. There’s also at least one Boy Scout Troop, so the place is full!

This morning we braved the “Saturday before Thanksgiving” crowd at Wal-mart and did our grocery shopping.  Whew, got through that one with a minimum of aggravation!

Back home this afternoon, Sandy and I went out for some Geocaching at the park –we found 4 of 4.  We had fun and got a little bit of exercise at the same time.  While we were gone, I think John finished his chores and I know Jim got in some college football watching.

Scenery along the way while we searched for the caches:




Sandy found this little moss covered cache which completed our day:


Tomorrow we’re hosting a picnic.  We are expecting Sandy and John, Rosalie and her sister & brother in law, and hopefully, Gina and Rollie will be able to make the 65 mile drive back over as well. 

What a week it’s been!  Monday is travel day to Texas, more Justravelin adventures on the way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Next Stop

Those last few days of our time in Summerdale at Rainbow Plantation sure seemed to fly by. All of a sudden we realized we still had a lot on our list and not much time to get it all done. So, we’ve spent the past few days catching up on some jobs, like washing the Castle, grooming the dogs, finishing up some organizing, and of course, visiting with friends!

Bright and early this morning, we pulled out of our site at the plantation and rolled along to Robertsdale, where we made a stop at Camping World to have a window replaced. There is a small window near the bottom of our entry door, and the seal between the double panes had failed. Tiffin sent the replacement (under warranty) to Camping World and they installed it before we got under way this morning. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Tiffin not only paid for the window, they also picked up the shipping and installation charges. And Camping World had us in right at 8:00 and we were on the road just after 9:30.

A last look at the Mobile skyline:

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Before getting Jim’s least favorite part of the trip out of the way – the tunnel that goes under the Mobile Bay:

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We had to make an unscheduled stop to secure a loose windshield wiper. While we were stopped along the side of the road, we picked up an unofficial leader. Sandy and John passed us, so we got to follow them for most of the trip:

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We saw a lot of water along the way:

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To our destination, Fontainebleau State Park near Mandeville, Louisiana:

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Where we’ll be for the next week. Sandy and John took a slightly different route to the park, so we actually ended up getting here a few minutes before they did, but we all got set up just across the road from each other. Since we both had a travel day, we decided we should just eat out tonight, so we all went to a Mexican Restaurant not far from the park for a delicious dinner.

This is our new home for the week:

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This state park is located along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, on the site of an old plantation. I have a feeling this week is going to go by fast! We want to do some exploring here, as well as some visiting in New Orleans. A friend I used to work with has recently moved back to her home town of New Orleans, and we’re excited to be able to spend some time catching up with her.

Yes, life is good!