January 31, 2013 Thus ends the first month of 2013

The days sort of drift together, on the beach.  It’s been surprisingly cool (bordering on cold) some mornings, but today started sunny and warm.  We took our dogs out for a walk out on the beach, and since nobody else there, we let them off-leash for awhile.  We were happy to see Julienne run around a little - hopefully she's coming out of her depression.  And Shorty took to the beach like, well, like a fish to water!  He loves to run on the beach, sniffing and pawing at the sand, and when he gets thirsty, he takes a quick drink of salty water.  I know that isn’t good for him but he never drinks very much.  He had such a great time!
Lonnie and Chris are staying just down the beach from us so we stopped by to see them.  They have a huge dog named Fanny and a little bitty dog named Pita.  Pita is the cutest thing - she’s tiny and fragile-looking but full of attitude.  At first she was skittish of these newcomers in her yard, especially the noisy one (Shorty), but eventually she decided to teach him who was boss.  Shorty said she fights like a cat.
But she's also a good wrestler.  And a good chaser.  And a good friend.
While the dogs were playing, Lonnie fixed us a breakfast/ brunch/lunch.  Whatever you call it, it was great!  And he had quite an audience - cooking sausage is a great way to make friends.
After that meal is when the day started drifting away.  We did some small, random tasks and Randy went grocery shopping, and then it was time for dinner.  We went back to Lonnie and Chris's 5th wheel where Randy and Chris fixed fried fish, batter-fried veggies, baked mac-and-cheese and garlic bread, followed by Randy's excellent nutella-and-banana crepes.  Randy fried the fish outside, where it got steadily windier and colder.  It was a great night to be inside, although the outside is where the beautiful sunset was going on.  

January 30, 2013 Central Market, Houston

Last night was it really windy in Gilchrist.  We brought the front slide in, to save some wear-and-tear on the awning.  We didn't bring the bedroom slide in, but it wasn't a very relaxing night, anyway.  The wind kept intermittently rocking the RV - not enough to be dangerous, but enough to be felt.  And then it began to rain.  So we slept, but not very well.

That would have made today a good day to sleep in, except that we had other plans.  We've seen Central Market on Food Network and since there is one in Houston, we decided to go see it.  Today was forecasted to be windy and overcast, which is not good weather for walking along the beach, but it's just fine for wandering through a grocery store!  It's about 90 miles away but part of the trip is on the ferry, so it takes almost 2 hours.  That's alright - we kind of like the ferry.  As noted in our January 18, 2012 entry, the ferry is free and really efficient.  The ferries (there are several of them) look top-heavy; they have a very slender construction on the main level to allow for more cars, while the second level is where the crew works.
When we got off the ferry we took highway 45 north into Houston.  My first surprise is that Central Market is part of the HEB family.  I like the HEB stores but I didn't know they were associated with Central Market.  My second surprise is that the store is not quite as large as it looked on TV.  Oh, well, that's not important, because it certainly is large enough.  They have a good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.  This is just the potato section:
Several aisles are devoted to wine.  I thought they could take out a few of those and add some more chocolate, but maybe that's just me.  I really enjoyed the samples, and they had tons of samples: oranges, apples, grapefruit, 6 kinds of breads with butter and cream cheese, chocolates (well, some), spreads, jams, and I can't remember what else.  And the bread was especially wonderful.  These folks know how to bake! 
In spite of having one of each sample (and two of some), we decided to have lunch at the Central Market Cafe. They do a really good sandwich business there.  Randy got roast beef and I got Black Forrest Ham on Ciabatta, with lots of goodies. 

After lunch we were ready to go back home.  On the ferry ride back we saw at least 10 huge tankers lining up on the horizon, ready to come into port, while overhead gulls and pelicans floated on the wind without a single wingstroke, like kites with invisible strings. 

When we got back on the Bolivar Peninsula, we thought again how strange it seems to us that so many houses are being built right on the spot where, just a few years ago, Hurricane Ivan wiped out everything.  Now we see whole groups of new houses, all high on stilts, at least one story above the ground.  Personally I think that if you have to build your house on stilts, you might want to consider building somewhere else.

January 29, 2013 On the Beach

Today we went shelling again.  A few months ago I ended up giving away a lot of the shells that I picked up here last time, but I cannot resist - if there is a beach, I must shell!  We joined Lonnie and Chris on the beach, where the waves were rolling in fast and high.  The wind kept blowing, but sun showed through occasionally and we had a lovely time.  And we have some pretty new shells to clean.
There is a type of seaweed that washes up on the beach here.   Most of the fronds are torn off by the time it lands on the beach, leaving just the base, which looks like a huge dead spider, or one of those hidious facehuggers from Alien.
And they are EVERYWHERE!
I know I have arachnophobia when things that just look like spiders freak me out!

January 28, 2013

It’s nice to get off the road for a few of days.  We came to the San Antonio area because our nephew Lance and his family are here and we always enjoy spending time with them.  Lance and Marla had previous commitments for most of the weekend but we got to spend every evening together.  Friday they took us to dinner at Freebird World Burrito; Freebird is what you get if you cross a burrito restaurant with Subway.  You pick the wrap size, then decide what toppings you want.  This works really well -   someone like me can get the basics (meat, rice, beans and cheese), and someone like Randy can get the kitchen sink.    

Friday we went grocery shopping at HEB - we really like this store.  The quality of their product seems consistently good and the prices are reasonable.   Here’s an odd thing - there are about 40 million birds in that area.  When someone gets really close, they take to the air but they don’t go far.  I think they were here last year, too.
The next night Randy fixed dinner for everyone - shrimp and cheese grits, sautéed zucchini and onions, salad with apricot vinaigrette dressing, and for desert - nutella-and-banana crepes.  I filled up on the main course, overdosed on crepes, then went home to slip into a food coma.

The next day we picked up Jordan and drove around town a little.  We drove out to an RV campground on the river, to check out possible workamping options, then to Rudy’s for lunch.  Rudy’s is famous for BBQ: you order at the desk and they give you a tray full of food and about half a loaf of sliced bread.  20 minutes later you sigh in satisfaction and take the scraps to the garbage, because as the sign says "Your mother is not here, please clean up your own mess".   I recommend either the sausage or pulled pork.  Or both.

Later that night we all got together for chili dogs and chips, and Jordan and I made whoopee cookies for dessert.  We sat outside and ate by candlelight, then moved inside and talked some more.

And Monday morning we were back on the road, headed to Gilchrist.  The trip is almost 300 miles and it was overcast all day.  To break up the drive a little, we stopped at Buc-ees, a famous travel stop.  The last time we were here we had trouble finding a parking spot for the RV.  Now they have added a huge parking lot, plus a gas station.  And diesel was $3.57, which is as low as we’ve seen it in a long time, so we filled up.  

When we left the gas station, I was driving the RV.  After all, the next 100 miles were straight ahead on I-10, so it seemed like a good time for me to get some experience.  But it wasn’t.  I just didn’t have control of the thing.  Nothing bad happened (except for a little heart arrhythmia for Randy) but we switched back right away.

We got Gilchrist before 4 pm and I took a quick walk on the beach - it was high tide so I couldn’t do much shelling, but it was still good.  The waves were really coming in high, stirring up foam.
The sunset was gorgeous but right after the sun set it got pretty cold.  We had dinner with Lonnie and Chris and headed home to warm up!

2013 Stopping in Texas for awhile

Another day, another 330 miles.  Which, in an RV, is a long time sittin'.  But we are getting further along our journey and the weather keeps getting better and better.  This is still desert country, but it's more interesting when there is something outside the window besides dry, empty plains. 
Shorty finds it all overwhelming.
Early this afternoon we arrived in Schertz, where we plan to spend a few days.  Randy, who has been doing all the driving, is feeling better than I am.  My shoulder is hurting quite a bit, so I am going to lay low tonight and hope it gets better.  

January 23, 2013 Out of New Mexico and into Texas

We left Queen Creek, Arizona on Monday morning, heading towards South Carolina.  As we drove east on I-10 we saw about 20 billboards for “The Thing”.   We aren’t on a tight schedule and admission is just $1, so what the heck, we stopped.  It's a pretty good tourist trap, as tourist traps go.  It’s got a big gift shop, a little restaurant, and a very friendly lady who took our money and directed us to the path out back to “The Thing”.  They want to make sure you get your dollar’s worth so they have a big, strange assortment of oddities on view, like a 1937 Rolls Royce that “was believed to have been used by Adolph Hitler...the thing is, it can’t be proved.”  That pretty much sums up all the displays.  There's a lot of random stuff:  French lithographs, old sewing machines, and an old bedroom set where people throw change on the mattress for good luck.  In the last building is “The Thing”.  Back in 1950 when they opened the attraction it may not have been perfectly clear what this was, but it’s obviously an old mummy of a woman and child, with a conical straw hat placed modestly over her midriff.  
Well, we got our $1 worth, so no complaints.  Back on the road!  Originally we planned to stay in Deming but Randy found that Faywood Hot Springs were open so we went there instead.  It is literally out in the middle of nowhere.  The road is rough and hard to follow.  Scruffy trees grow far too close, threatening to scratch the RV.  The sites were uneven gravel and very dusty.  Dust was everywhere.  But . . . they had hot springs!   They had several sets of 3 concrete troughs with warm, hot and hottest water.  I liked hot but Randy went right to the hottest. 
If there was anything else in the area we might have stayed another day.  But there’s not, and sooner or later you have to get out of the water, so Tuesday we drove back to Deming.  At Deming we bought 79 gallons of diesel fuel at $3.69 a gallon, and it's a sad day when that is considered a good price.  We dropped the RV at the Escapee park and drove the Jeep about 31 miles south to the border.  Just the other side is the small Mexican town of Palomas.  The host at the Escapee park said that this town was nothing compared to Los Algodones, which surprised us because Los Algadones is just 3 blocks wide and 2 blocks long.  But when we got to Palomas, we understood that he meant it’s nearly as touristy as Los Algodones.  It looks like a pretty normal little town, with just a few stores catering to US tourists.  
The main tourist store is the Pink Store (Los Algodones has the Purple Store, so why not?).  It sells everything - silver jewelry, painted pottery, ceramic plaques - everything.  The Mexican lady who opens the door is so tiny that I paid her to let me take her picture.  I am such a tourist!
We had lunch at the Pink Store.  I had some fine beef fajitas, and I was happy to learn that they do not put ANY tomatoes in their guacamole.  They also have the prettiest washbasins I've ever seen in a bathroom.
And I love this little group of statues, but I didn't buy them.  I think they work best as a group and I don't have a place for all of them.

Today we drove to Fort Stockton.  It’s a really straight shot east on I-10, but a lot of the roads out of New Mexico and into Texas are being worked on.  Over half the road is blocked off by concrete barriers for miles and miles.  It makes a long, boring drive into a long, tense drive.  But there wasn’t anything between Deming and Fort Stockton that we wanted to see, so we just kept going.  We had breakfast at Fork in the Road but just snacked in the afternoon.  This is what lunchtime looks like in the RV:

And that was followed by miles and miles of driving.  It just wore poor Shorty out.

January 20, 2013 On the Road again

Just when the weather in Arizona gets perfect, we leave!  We were going to stay here a few months, enjoying Clyde and Nancy's company while we looked for a summer position.  But we were fortunate to find what we were looking for rather quickly.  It's a long drive to South Carolina and we have some things to do along the way, so it makes sense to start now.  We will head east in the morning, and hope the good weather follows us!

January 20, 2013 Arizona Winter as it should be

The weather finally turned!  It’s above freezing - in fact, it’s in the 60’s.  This is what winter in Arizona is supposed to be.  And this week the Olive Mill restaurant is celebrating the new olive crop with an outside party, with wine tasting and music.  The music was provided by trio called “Urban Electra”, who are really good.   They played a lovely series of classical airs, then moved seamlessly into Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, and made it all sound great!  Sitting in the sun, eating, talking and listening to music was a perfect way to celebrate the return of sunny days.
As Randy says “the hardest thing about retirement is that you never get a day off!”  It’s a hardship, true, but we do our best.  We decided the dogs needed some exercise so Clyde drove us out to the Maricopa State Park.  We took the “scenic” route to the park - the GPS didn’t have a clue where it was and didn’t want to admit it, so it took us out in the desert and in a big circle, until Nancy called the park for real directions.  But when we got there, it was worth it.  We opted for the short trail, about 2 ½ miles long.  The trail was pretty wide and easy to follow, with a fair amount of dips and rises to give it just a little challenge.  The trail took us up to where we got a great view of the natural desert landscape - dry and dangerous, but beautiful in it's own way.
My experience at the Desert Museum taught me to look for small cactus, and I was rewarded by finding this small beauty.  Who knew there were pink cactus?
The dogs did great on the walk, although on the way back Julienne got a little help.  Guess we forgot to tell her that the purpose of this was to give her exercise...
And we went to Organ Stop Pizza - we were here before and it’s in our blog from February 13, 2010.  Nothing has changed, which, when everything works, is exactly what you hope for.  Of course the pizza is still just OK and they serve Pepsi instead of Coke, but at Organ Stop Pizza, the food is secondary.  The draw is the big, beautiful, Mighty Wurlitzer.  It turns out “The Mighty Wurlitzer” is not a fancy nick-name, it's the real name of a specific type of pipe organ that can create full orchestra sounds.  (You just have to admire the guy who can call his creation “The Mighty” whatever.)  This one is gorgeous - ebony black with bright gold-tone scrollwork.  The man who plays it takes requests and knows every song by heart.  The whole room is part of the act, from the drums, flutes, bird whistles, etc on the walls that join the Wurlitzer as if by magic, to the big glitter ball overhead and bubbles floating down during some songs.   
They balance the formal grandness of The Mighty Wurlitzer with some really kitschy things. The background for the dramatic “Phantom” music is a child’s Kaleidoscope, projected behind the organ.

And old-fashioned songs like “Clementine” and “Me and My Shadow” are played with the words projected on a screen, so folks can sing along.  The oddest thing to me is the ratty-looking cat marionetts that sort of twitch or dance to some songs.  At least I think they are cats - it’s hard to tell what that they are really supposed to be.
These things bug me for some reason, but if I ever come here and they are gone, something unique will have disappeared and I would miss them a lot.

Something else I haven’t seen before is an ad-hoc sales car lot - just an intersection out in the middle of nowhere, where people park their cars, with prices or phone numbers chalked on them.  I know, small things amuse me, but I've never seen this before.  It’s not a big thing, just another local custom that varies from place to place.
But this blog is about food, so back to the eats!  As soon as the weather got better Clyde and Nancy took us to San Tan Flat, which I keep calling San Tan Flats.  They serve basic country-style food; I got a big cheeseburger so no complaints there.  
The food is OK but, as with Organ Stop Pizza, the food is not the main draw.  San Tan Flat has a unique dining arrangement outside (I assume there is inside dining but we chose outside).  You find a rough picnic table that's free, and someone goes to a wagon parked  in the corner to load up a cardboard box with small wood pieces.  Then you build a warm, bright fire in the fire box next to your table.  You order inside and then spend the evening eating and talking in front of your own personal fireplace.
The guy providing music was great - he has a mellow, pitch-perfect voice that sounds a bit like Garth, but more flexible, and with just his guitar for accompanyment, he filled the night with mellow songs.  A very good night.

We still had more time to fill (no time off, remember?) so we found a mini-golf course.  We went with Dale and Heidi, and the truth is none of us are likely to make a living on the golf course.  I only hit the ball into the water once, but there were several holes where I finally just guessed at how many times I hit the ball.  Good thing we didn't take Dale up on his offer to play for money!

But we tried.  What form!

 What style!
 What grace!

January 17, 2013 Beautiful Cactus

Today we celebrated the (slightly) warmer weather by going sight-seeing.  Dale and Heidi drove Clyde, Nancy, Randy and myself to the Desert Botanical Garden.  
It's amazing how many cactus they have there - we spent at least 4 hours walking through it, I took almost 300 pictures, and I'm sure we didn't see everything.  It's hard to know what to post!  But I'll start by saying some of them were HUGE - just how big can a Saguaro cactus get, anyway?
I discovered that I really like little cactus, too.  For example, this little thing is just about the size of a baseball and looks like a sea urchin.  The spines are bigger than the actual cactus!  I'm sure it's as painful as a sea urchin, too, but for once I did not touch.
And these cacti look like sea anemones, right down to the way they all bend in the same direction as if they are in a flowing current.
They have Chain Fruit Cholla, Creeping Devil and Bunny Ears Prickly Pears; big, beautiful Golden Barrel and purple Lady Fingers.  They have something called a Boojum tree, and Old Man cactus, which is covered with wispy white hair.

This one . . . it has a nice long Latin name - Mammillaris geminispina - but to me it looks like a mass of fat worms squirming together in a ball.  I wasn't even slightly tempted to touch this.

This one got my vote as the most "do not fall on this" cactus.

They have some interpretive signs along the pathways and a lady who talked about the local birds.  From these I learned that Saguaros often grows under Palo Verde trees from seeds dropped by birds, and that hummingbird eggs are just a little bigger than an aspirin.  Unfortunately they don't have labels for all of the plants.  So when we found a cactus tree with a lot of soft white airborne seeds on it, we don't know what relationship they have to the cactus.  But they are beautiful, anyway.
Saguaro, of course, are everywhere.  This classic cactus stands tall in every Western film.  In real life, however, sometimes they like to get a little creative, and things can end up looking like this:
Inside a saguaro, under the thick green skin, is a skeleton of wood to hold up all that weight.  When the cactus dies, the green part rots away but the skeleton remains.  And it looks really cool.  The Cactus Garden has a complete one, which is fairly unusual. We would love to have make off with it but we couldn't figure out how to smuggle it out under our jackets.  What a shame!  
In my opinion, this was probably the prettiest cactus in the park.  It's a little smaller than a volleyball and the spines look like small pink flowers.
For lunch we went to the Garden's cafe.  They have a small menu of reasonable food and a lot of outside seating.  There were not a lot of people here today but considering how bold the local critters are, this must be a popular place.  In addition to the usual assortment of small birds and ground squirrels asking for handouts, they also have a flock of almost-tame quails and one Roadrunner.  There was one little sign that suggested we not feed the animals, and of course we all followed that suggestion.