Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 30, 2017. Dolphin watching in the Gulf of Mexico

CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Isla Blanca County Park

LOCATION:  South Padre Island, Texas

WEATHER:  Beautiful.  Sunny. Highs about 80  

I rode my bike again to the Visitors' Center to use wifi and to post the blog!  I don't want to leave my readers hanging!!!   As I mentioned before, we are trying to sell the bikes and bike rack.  The bikes are getting rusty.  My right brake has frozen up, so I have to remember to use the left hand brake sparingly.  If I squeeze the brake too much, I will fall head over heels over the bike.  Makes for interesting riding! 

The highlight of the day was a dolphin-watching boat ride in the bay then out to the Gulf of Mexico.  We sailed near the bridge that connects South Padre Island to the mainland.

It was a beautiful afternoon to do this.  We took the 4:00 tour, which also caught a bit of the sunset.



The boat owners have the cutest Scottish Terrier that rides each time on the boat.  He spots the dolphins before anyone else sees them. So cute!

And George hamming it up with him.

We saw lots and lots of dolphins.  It was hard to get a good picture, though.

We had a nice view of the hotel "strip" along the Gulf of Mexico side of the island.

For $10/person, it was a great value and a beautiful trip.  Afterwards, we celebrated our last night on the island with $.50 oysters on the half shell at Dirty Al's.  

DINNER:  Using the rest of the drum fish filet, I coated it with Japanese bread crumbs (Panko) and George cooked it on the BBQ grill in our cast iron skillet.  Turned out beautifully.  Really really good.  Side was stir-fried rice with leftover rice and veg.



Monday, January 30, 2017

January 29, 2017. Enjoying the sun

CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Isla Blanca

LOCATION:  South Padre Island, Texas

WEATHER:  Sunny.  Beautiful. Highs in 70s  

What a difference the weather makes.  Yesterday, everyone stayed inside their campers and/or did indoor activities like we did such as going to the movies.  Today started out glorious and remained that way.  Everyone suddenly was outside.  We have several new neighbors, mostly from Quebec and Ontario. They tell us that there are fewer Canadians here this year due to the strong US dollar.

George worked on the bike rack.  We are trying to sell the rack and bikes, as we don't really bike that much.  Having said that, South Padre Island is a great place to bike as it is flat and there are good bike paths. I biked about a mile to the Visitors' Center to use the wifi.    In the afternoon, we took the Wave, the island's free shuttle service, to a restaurant that is on the Gulf side.  We watched the waves and could see oil derricks out in the distance.  

Back at the campground, we joined a bunch of our neighbors for happy hour.  We talked with another couple who are full-time RVers like us.  Similar to our practice, they don't stay in one place very long.  They returned, like we did, here to Isla Blanca because of the park residents' friendliness and the shuttle bus system.  

We bought a filet from Dirty Al's seafood market and restaurant, and George grilled it on the small grill we just bought.  It was big enough that we will have the other half tomorrow.  

DINNER:  Grilled filet (drum), salad and rice.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 28, 2017. Windy weather on the island

CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Isla Blanca

LOCATION:  South Padre Island 

WEATHER:  Blustery. Cold. Highs in 50s  

The winds were very strong during the night.  Our Airstream "rocked and rolled" in the wind.  We awoke to find that the electricity had gone out during the night.  We were ok as we switched the refrigerator to gas and were able to heat water for coffee on the gas stove.  


Since it was fairly dismal weather,  we drove to the Visitors Center to use their wifi again.  Back at the camper, we had a fancy lunch of shrimp cocktail.  Our $4 shrimp purchase has now lasted us 3 meals!

Then, we went to see the movie La La Land, along with lots of other people.  The theater was packed.  I really liked it.  George was so-so.


To kill some time, we went to a marina whose bar sells $1.99 margaritas.  We had one, while we watched the strong waves.

DINNER:  We went to one of our favorite restaurants on the island, Gabriellas.  We shared a pizza, one of the best I've ever eaten.  George was happy as they supposedly have the best craft beer selection on the island.  


With the electricity restored, we watched the dismal Trump news on TV.  Bleh!



Saturday, January 28, 2017

January 27, 2017. Blustery day on South Padre Island

CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Isla Blanca State Park

LOCATION:  South Padre Island, Texas

WEATHER:  Cooler. Very windy. Highs in 60s  

We had a bad night.....the propane detector alarm went off all night long.  It made some terribly loud beeps, then silence for awhile.  Just as we got back to sleep, it went off again.  After about an hour, George got so annoyed that he just ripped the alarm out and cut the wires.  This morning, he looked at the device, and realized that it was several years old and should have been replaced awhile ago. 

We don't have wifi at the campground, so we drove to the Visitor Center to use their internet.  We made arrangements to stay in Austin after our visit here, and in Florida where we will be in early February.   South Padre Island is a real tourist spot. These stores are all over the island, selling island goodies.
The island is run over in the spring with college spring breakers.  They rent vehicles like this to drive around.
Since there wasn't much to do outside in this weather, we went to the island's brewpub.  Everyone else had the same idea...it was packed.  We had some oysters on the half shell and their $3 beers.  We had a nice conversation with some Minnesotans sitting next to us.  We see a lot of Minnesota and Iowa license plates.  Probably because this is is a straight shot south from those states.    

As we pulled in to our campground site, our nice neighbor whom we have met here for three years, invited us into their camper for drinks.  Theirs is a very big camper, probably about the size of our new tiny house.


DINNER:  Using a recipe I found in a magazine, I made a shrimp dish with poblano peppers, bell peppers, garlic and Mexican cheese.  




Friday, January 27, 2017

January 26, 2017. Tiny house is starting!

CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Isla Blanca Park

LOCATION:  South Padre Island, Texas

WEATHER:  Sunny. Highs about 70


Today was a work day.  We had appointments with our builder and interior decorator back in Retama Village.  We drove back to our "village", about 75 miles away for the meetings.  We had hoped to change the floor plan a bit, but the builder is not willing to do that.  We just hope it doesn't end up feeling cramped.  Already, I'm starting to think of "tiny" furniture for the "tiny" house.  

We signed more papers and signed more checks....:-(  It is now official.  The house and RV parking area will look something like this.  The tiny house is 12 feet wide and 40 feet long.  

Back in South Padre Island, we walked to a nearby restaurant for their happy hour.  We had a snack of blackened snapper jaws.  Pretty tasty.  We watched the beautiful sunset.
DINNER:  Leftover curry over rice.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

January 25, 2017. Getting reacquainted with South Padre Island

CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Isla Blanca Park

LOCATION:  South Padre Island, Texas

WEATHER:  Sunny and windy. Highs 80  

We jumped on the "Wave" free bus shuttle and rode to the downtown area.  George made a stop at the hardware, then we used the wifi at the visitors' center. 


South Padre Island is famous for its sand castles.  These are in front of the visitors' center...
They are huge...
There are about 20 all around the island.   
We had a nice lunch at a bistro, then walked back to the campground for exercise.  Later, we hopped on another Wave, this time to cross over the bridge to the mainland to the town there.

We went to "Joe's", a Mexican seafood restaurant where they were having an oysters-on-the-half shell happy hour.  We had a dozen for $7.95.  Yum!


Another Wave back home.  We stopped at Dirty Al's seafood shop and restaurant and bought some shrimp to cook for dinner.  


We talked with new neighbors from Alaska.


DINNER:  BBQ's shrimp on the grill.  I served them with cheesy grits and roasted onions.  


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 24, 2017. Off to the beach!

CAMPGROUND:  Isla Blanca County Park.  Location, location, location!  Bathrooms dismal, but we are right on the water.  Electricity and water hook-ups,  but no sewer.  No wifi.  $150/week.  8 stars out of 10.

LOCATION:  South Padre Island, Texas

WEATHER:  Muggy.  Highs about 80


Knowing that our next campground wouldn't be as nice as our "home" in Retama Village, we took long showers and did laundry.  We had a SKYPE call with a potential housesitting assignment in The Netherlands.  Then, we were off to the beach.


Our destination was South Padre Island, about 75 miles from Mission, our new home.  We have been here twice before.  The campground itself is just so-so, but you can't beat the location.  We are right on the water.
You can see our Airstream from the boat dock.
We are next to Dirty Al's Seafood Shop and Restaurant.

We were greeted by a couple from Michigan who come here each winter.  We met them two years ago, and it will be fun having them as neighbors again.  


We chatted with them and some folks from Ontario for an impromptu happy hour.   The great thing about South Padre Island is that there is a free shuttle that stops in front of our campground and goes up and down the island, as well as to a town across the bridge.  We can jump off to go to restaurants, shops, etc, without having to drive the truck.   DINNER:  Chili with extra beans and onions.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 23, 2017. Business day

CAMPGROUND:  Last night in Retama Village.  The sales group has two RV lots with small coach houses reserved for visitors like us.  It has been very nice "camping" here.  

LOCATION:  Mission, Texas

WEATHER:  Sunny.  Very nice.  Highs about 80  

We met with the interior decorator to pick out our colors.  Lots of decisions....countertops, floor tiling, shower tiling, cabinets, wall color, grout, backsplash, lighting, faucets, and appliances. .  It took about an hour.  She said we were "easy".

We won't be so easy, though, when we talk with the builder.  We hope we can make some revisions on the floor plan.  Since it is so tiny, we want a very open plan in the tiny house.  We hope they are willing to accommodate our ideas.  We will be leaving here tomorrow for South Padre Island, but will make a day trip back here to meet with the builder and any other people we need to see.


After meeting with the decorator, we went to downtown Mission in search of a hardware store.  The downtown has seen better days.

In the afternoon, the real estate agent took us to meet the company's CFO to discuss payment.  Their offices are in nearby McCallen, Texas which is larger and more developed than Mission.  We will probably be going to McCallen for shopping and for entertainment. There is also a great regional airport in McCallen, which has frequent flights to Dallas and Houston.   


DINNER:  Curried vegetables and chicken over rice.  


Monday, January 23, 2017

January 22, 2017. Mission's nature parks

CAMPGROUND:  Another free night in Retama Village.

LOCATION:  Mission, Texas in south central tip of the state

WEATHER:  Super windy.  Highs about 80  

We toured the state park that is within walking distance of our new home.  It is one of the world's birding centers.  People come from all over to look at the birds, mostly migratory.  We sat on one of the park's comfortable swings to watch.

Then we drove about a half mile to the National Butterfly Center.  The butterflies stop here on their way from Mexico to Canada.  
Back at the village, we walked around getting ideas from other homeowners about layouts.  

We learned that the word Retama is a type of tree in this area.

 This is the lot where we will build our tiny house.  We chose one that is next door to a lot with mature trees, hopefully providing shade.  


Our tiny house is a bit of a new concept in this village. There are normal houses here, along with houses called port homes which are small homes with huge enclosed RV garages.  The other most common type of housing units here are small 12 x 24 "coach houses" on lots with concrete pads for RVs.  Some of the coach houses are finished out to use as a sitting room or a laundry  with washer/dryer or just storage.  People don't live in them, as they live in their RVs.    The developers built one spec coach house that is larger than the standard ones.  This is what we are buying.  It is 12 x 40.  Ours will be the second one like this built here.  It will look like this...

We are going to design it so that we will live in it while we are here.  We can decide whether to rent it out when we are traveling, or just rent the RV pad.  


In the evening, we relaxed in the hot tub in the pool area.  We were the only ones there.  Nice!

DINNER:  I tried out a new recipe using my new immersion blender.  I made a cauliflower soup purée with chorizo, and lime/cilantro sour cream.   Very tasty!  


Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 21, 2017. Homeowners again!

CAMPGROUND:  Another free night at Retama Village

LOCATION:  Mission, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley

WEATHER:  Unseasonally hot.  Highs 100s!  

First thing this morning, we met with Bill, the sales agent here.  We decided to go for it!  We selected our lot, signed the contract and made appointments to see the interior designer.  Wow!  What a whirwind!  We hope we made the right decision.


To celebrate, we drove to Progreso, Mexico for lunch.  There are several other border towns closer, but apparently Progreso is the safest.  We parked the car and walked across the border.  We walked on a bridge over the Rio  Grande
  There were lots of gringos crossing over to shop.

As we continued on the bridge walkway and after crossing the river, the hands started coming out of the gate begging for money.

It was sad and creepy.  

As soon as we walked through Mexico immigration, the noise of vendors assaulted us.  There are hundreds of dentist offices, pharmacies and beauty shops with hawkers outside encouraging you to come inside for "cheap root canals" or viagra or pedicures.  We stopped for a margarita in one bar.  Unlike Naco, Mexico where we had walked across last week, this is totally geared to American tourists.  Everyone speaks English and every transaction is made in USD.  

It is very chaotic, but fun, too.  

We found a quiet place for lunch.  We shared a plate of grilled mahi mahi served with mashed potatoes and rice.  Tons of food!  Then, back through the shopping area to the border.  This guy tried to get George in to the pharmacy.

When we got back to the car, the thermometer read 112 degrees!  After we started the car, it went down a bit!  
Back at the "village", we went to the swimming pool to cool off.  
George always complains that I nag him about making sure he has the keys before locking the Airstream door.  He says he will put on my tombstone...."George, do you have the keys?"  Well, this afternoon, I went to the pool first.  I was not at the camper  to "nag" him and sure enough, he locked the keys in the camper.  He tried for about an hour to break in.  Then, a kind neighbor came over with some tools and worked on the lock for another hour.  By this time, it was getting dark.  We finally called a locksmith who opened it up for us.  We definitely need a better system, to hide a second set of keys.  
DINNER:  I made a hamburger/rice mix using one of the leftover hamburgers that George grilled the other night.  I stuffed bell peppers with the mix and melted some cheese on top.  Pretty tasty, and easy after a late evening waiting to get into the camper!  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 20, 2017. Just maybe will buy here?

CAMPGROUND:  Another (free) night at Retama Village 

LOCATION:  Mission, Texas, in south central part of state

WEATHER:  A bit hot and humid.  Highs about 80  

We drove to downtown Mission to grocery shop and see the sights.  Next to us is McCallen, a much larger city with a great airport.  We walked around our "neighborhood".  Our street is in Phase I which has concrete slabs with a coach house.

We went to our sales presentation in the afternoon.  Bill, the agent, took us for a tour on a golf cart.  We looked at lots like the one where we are parked, and toured larger homes.  They have a bit of everything.  Then Bill took us in his car to areas around the development.  The national butterfly center is behind us and a state park that supposedly has the best birding in the USA.  They are very concerned with maintaining a green environment.  


Bill is a great salesman and put no pressure on us at all.  He lives here himself and has one additional lot that he rents out in the winter. After looking at the options we are quite tempted to buy one of the lots like where we are staying, but with a bigger coach house, 12 x 40.  It is in Phase II with slightly bigger lots and coach houses.    Our coach house, which they would build to our taste, would be big enough to be considered a "tiny house" with a bedroom, kitchen and bath.  It seems like a good deal.  It would solve our issue with MN residency, provide us a place to stay when we don't want to be on the road, and would hopefully be a bit of an income stream to rent it out when we are gone.  Note to friends and family.....we will let you know when we decide. You could come visit us.  We would be in the Airstream and you could have the coach house! Included in the price is access to many amenities.  The club house has a country-club feel.

Two swimming pools and a hot tub ......



In the evening, we attended a cook-out/pot-luck dinner in the pool patio area.  Really nice outdoor kitchen.  We took porkchops to grill, and I shared my orzo salad.  There were only a few other couples.  We talked with a couple from Alaska and another that had lived in St. Croix.  
We listed the pros and cons of buying.  We will "sleep on it" and talk with Bill again tomorrow.  Who knows?    

Friday, January 20, 2017

January 19, 2017. Settle down in Texas?

CAMPGROUND:  Retama Village.  We are staying free here for 3 nights as a "perk" for looking at a possible lot to buy.  Also available for RVers to rent out on a monthly basis.  Full everything, including access to beautiful club house.

LOCATION:  Mission, Texas, in very south central trip of state

WEATHER:  Sunny.  As we drove farther south, the temps went up to 80


We left Carissa Springs and drove through lots of oil fields, most sitting idle.  Everything looked pretty poor, except for an occasional obscenely huge and ugly mansion.    

We stopped in Zapata for lunch.  We pulled into this local restaurant, mainly because it advertised truck parking. It was full of local workers.  Huge portions for cheap.  We split the lunch green enchilada special.  First came a huge bowl of chips and salsa, then a strange soup with spaghetti noodles in it, then the main dish.  We felt sick as we ate too much......all for $8 total!  That didn't seem to stop others who were eating huge portions of their famous chicken fried steak with heaping piles of side dishes.  


We drove about 5 hours to Mission.  The valley around Mission is a popular winter area for snowbirds.  

I had been researching locations that sell RV homes (small homes that have huge RV garages), and found Retama Village in Mission.  When I sent an email asking for information, they invited us to stop by for 3 free nights to check it out.  So here we are!    

It is a beautiful "resort".  There are several sections.  We will learn more tomorrow when we listen to the sales presentation and get a tour.  Our sales rep settled us on one of their RV lots.  Each lot is very big with a concrete driveway.  Each lot has a "coach house".  Some are basic, just used for storage, and others are set up as guest houses, with full bathrooms and small kitchens.  

The coach house where we are staying is still a shell.  We can store stuff in it while we are here.  Everything is neat and upscale.

We aren't sure if this is what we want or not, although it is inexpensive and very nicely done.  We are anxious to hear more about it tomorrow, and to talk with some of the owners to see how they like it.  


DINNER:  We didn't feel like driving to the grocery store, so I used items from my back-up box.  I made an orzo dish with tuna, leftover smoked salmon, and peas, all in a cream sauce.  I made extra to take to the pot-luck pool party tomorrow night.