Sunday, November 27, 2016

Post-Thanksgiving Status

Well, it's been another good week at Rio Concho West (RCW), my new hometown, out here on the edge of the plains.

A couple of weeks ago, I was busy getting things checked out. This week, it was Donna's turn. She started the week on Monday by visiting the eye doctor. The next day, she visited her dentist. Donna is very regular in her visits to these folks while I tend to only visit them when I need to. I suppose that's why she seems to be holding up much better than I. People we meet generally tell Donna how well she looks; then they cast a glance at me and simply laugh in a pitying sort of way. Go figure.

In between visits to these places, Donna was busy getting things ready for our Thanksgiving feast. She made 2 pies, a pumpkin and a chess. Donna loves pumpkin pie during the holidays, but I prefer an old-fashioned chess pie. I believe this may have been the finest chess pie she has ever made. Then she started to work on all the other dishes, such as dressing, cranberry sauce, rice-broccoli casserole, sweet potatoes, lime jello mixed with pecans and other sweets, and numerous other little things. I keep trying to get the old woman to cut back on how much she prepares, but I don't think she can.

This year, rather than smoke a whole turkey, we bought 2 turkey breasts. For the past 20 or 25 years, I've smoked turkeys for our Thanksgiving dinners. I usually start late the night before, then get up every few hours or so to add charcoal, wood, and/or water, whichever is needed. To be honest, I've grown tired of doing that. So this year, Donna graciously consented to cook the turkey breasts in the oven. They turned out great, and I hope this is a tradition we continue.

I walked over to the club house on Tuesday morning to get a haircut. I love that my barber is a 3 minute walk from my back door. This is just another great aspect of living at RCW. While there, I turned a couple of books into the library. We have a really nice library at the club, and it operates on the honor system. So, you just mosey in, select a book or 2 or 3, and take it (them) home. Once finished with your reading, simply return and repeat the process.

Although quite good (the books fill an entire side room in the club house), our library still has limits. I have more or less adopted the practice of checking out 2 or 3 books for trips we take in our trailer since there is no time limit. But when I'm home for a while, I prefer to go to the Tom Green County Library and check out books there. In addition to checking out books, I also spend quite a bit of time browsing the magazines there, such as Texas Highways and True West. This week, I checked out some Hercule Poirot mysteries as well as a book on Adobe Walls, an historic site in the Panhandle of Texas.

Since Donna and I were busy Tuesday morning, we decided to eat out. We opted for Joe's Italian on South Bryant, a place we haven't eaten in 2 or 3 years for some reason. I don't know if Joe's Italian is a chain or not, but we find places by this name in several places, including Big Spring and Longview. Our Joe's has some of the most reasonably priced lunch specials in town. The special changes each day, and costs only $6.99 for the entrée and a salad. This is not the greatest Italian food you'll ever eat, but it is quite good and, as I said, reasonably priced. We both ordered spaghetti and meatballs, and we enjoyed our meals.

The kids arrived Wednesday, and that is when I started drinking. Heavily. It didn't help. The little monsters still tormented me.

But Donna and I endured with minimal damage. The main meal was great. Donna is really a good cook, and her skills have not diminished over the years. I especially love her dressing, and there is a corn and cream cheese concoction she makes that I wish she would make more often. We sent quite a bit of food home with the kids, much to my dismay. I'll have to speak to the chef about this alarming breach of protocol.

On Friday, the kids left and Donna and I started returning to normal. I put the whiskey bottle away until the next visit. Life is good again. Late Friday afternoon the clouds rolled in and we got half an inch of rain. Rain is always appreciated out here.

Well, that's all the news from Rio Concho West, where life moves along just a little more slowly than in the real world. And that's exactly how I like it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an old holiday celebrated not only in the United States but in Canada. Many other countries also have some form of harvest festival. The first celebration in the United States of giving thanks for a good harvest is often traced back to Plymouth in 1621. Later, various states celebrated the harvest on different dates. It was not until 1863 that President Lincoln issued a proclamation fixing the date in the U.S. so that all states would celebrate the holiday on the same date.

I find this appropriate.

In 1863, our country was in the middle of a bloody war that often pitted brother against brother. We were, indeed, a house divided. One of the reasons for issuing the proclamation was to provide some sense of unity between North and South. However, the South refused to recognize the date established for another decade or so. Today, though, Americans observe Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November.

Today, our country is once again divided, this time along political lines rather than geographical boundaries. Still, the division is deep, so much so that numerous recent  news stories have dealt on families who will be bypassing spending time together this year because of these divisions. Now is the time when we could all use a little more tolerance, a lot more understanding, and a great deal of forgiveness.

Rather than dwell on those things that divide us, I choose to be thankful for all the blessings we have in this country. I am thankful to live in this country. Despite the many challenges we face, this is still the best place on earth to live.

Here's wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and the start to a wonderful holiday season.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Week at Rio Concho West

Well, it's been a quiet week at Rio Concho West (RCW), my new hometown, out here on the edge of the prairie.

I've been trying to get back into a walking routine after our recent trips. Walking is easier when we travel because we hike and take interesting walks to places we've never or have seldom ever been. But walking at home can be work because you see the same places again and again. But I seem to walk more when I'm home. I've probably walked 15 or so miles this week; hopefully, I'll work up to about 20 this next week or so.

We started the week off by visiting what has been one of our favorite local eateries, Taste of the Himalayas. When the place first opened a couple of years ago, the food was great. But as time has gone by, the food quality has declined. Most of all, it has simply been inconsistent. The establishment has also recently come under new management, and several changes have resulted. When we ate there this past Monday, we were both disappointed. In fact, after we paid and walked out, we stopped on the steps outside, looked at each other, and agreed that we should not go back for a while. We simply did not enjoy it as we once did. So, we'll scratch it off our list of "go to" eateries and replace it with another one. We'll give it about 6 months or so, then try it again to see if it has improved. If it hasn't, then we'll probably mark it off our list for good.

On Wednesday, Donna and I hopped on the RCW bus along with some other inmates and took a ride over to the Rio Concho Manor for lunch. For the low price of $6.50 (no tipping allowed), we can go through the buffet line and pile on as much food as our trays will hold. The catch is you can only go through the line once, but once is more than enough for us. This past week, I loaded my tray with fried chicken breast, BBQ brisket, mashed potatoes, pinto beans, salad, jalapeno corn bread, and finished it all off with some very rich chocolate cake. And to top it all off, I had a great time visiting with my fellow inmates both on the bus and at the lunch table. That's a pretty good deal. Note that these prices are for Rio Concho residents only; non-residents pay a bit more.

On our last camping trip, we were in quite a bit of rain, so when we arrived home, the truck was pretty dirty. So earlier this week, I took the truck down to our local Gentle Touch Auto Wash on Parkview Drive. These folks do a good job. I purchase the 5 washes for $25 card, which entitles me to 5 exterior car washes for $25. Actually, they give you 1 free as a bonus, so you really get 6 washes for $25. The truck gets an excellent exterior scrubbing, and the good folks there wipe it dry at the end. That's a pretty good deal these days. I then brought the truck home and touched up the outside and cleaned the interior. I like driving a clean vehicle.

Friday, the Computer Club at RCW met. We're all trying to learn the ins and outs of Windows 10. It's always fun watching a bunch of old geezers get together to try to figure out new technology.

Donna and I have never done much decorating at Christmas, but the boss lady decided this year she wanted some lights outside. The bad news is that we don't have any lights for outside, so we've spent some time this week shopping for lights. There are just too many choices out there, but we finally decided on some blue lights to line the eaves of the house. The good news is that I don't have to hang them. One of the many services provided by the good maintenance people here at RCW is Christmas light hanging. I guess they probably got tired of watching old folks fall off ladders trying to hang lights and decided to take the job over themselves. Regardless, sounds like another good deal to me and just one of the many, many reasons we decided to move here.

On the home front, Donna and I are trying to get ready for the invasion of the body snatchers, who arrive Wednesday and expect to be fed a Thanksgiving feast. Yeah, Courtney and her ruffians are on their way, so I ask you folks to pray for Donna and me. We've been doing lots of shopping and Donna is pulling out all her recipes. I look forward to stuffing myself. I just hope we survive.

We had our first freeze of the season Friday night. We have 3 local TV stations, and they reported temps from 29 to 32 degrees, so I don't know which is the most accurate for our location. Now it really feels like fall. Our nights will continue to be cold now, but our days get up to the 60s or 70s, and that is great weather for me. I did a 4 mile walk yesterday afternoon in short sleeves, so I'm happy.

Well, that's the news from Rio Concho West, where the streets are wide, and some of these old folks drive just too dang fast.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Getting Back to Normal at Home

We returned home earlier in the week from our latest trip. We've been trying to get back to normal ever since.

Whenever we return home, I always have lots of mail to go through and other personal business to catch up on. We usually need to get out and pick up some groceries as well. And Donna always has lots of laundry to do. On short trips (anything less than 2 weeks or so), we normally don't do laundry and just let it build until we return home, so Donna usually just moves into our laundry room and lives there for a few days.

I've also been trying to catch up on some other tasks I've been putting off. I've not seen my dermatologist since we sold our home last December, so I set up and appointment with her for next week. And I haven't had an eye exam since 2014, so I set up an appointment with my optometrist and went in yesterday. My vision seems to change quite a bit in between visits. Since my last visit, I've noticed that my far away vision has improved a bit, but my up close vision has declined some. As a result, I've been using some of those reading glasses you can pick up in any pharmacy the past several months. I do quite a few crossword puzzles and I read a lot, so I've really been relying on those reading glasses lately. I've never had to use them before. Just another sign of approaching old age, I guess.

Last time I got new glasses, I decided not to go with bifocals, and that was a mistake. I started using bifocals about 2000 or 2001, and I had no idea how much I really relied on them. But when I got my new pair in 2014 or so, I opted to just go with full vision glasses and I quickly realized that was a mistake. When driving, for example, I could see fine to drive, but I couldn't clearly read the speedometer, radio, and other items on the dash. And when eating, I couldn't see my food clearly. And since I often do puzzles while watching TV, I was actually having to switch between my regular glasses and my reading glasses. So, with my new pair, I have returned to bifocals, and I can already tell the difference.

Last night, we had our monthly dinner at the Rio Concho West clubhouse. We've missed the past 2 months, so we enjoyed the dinner last night. We've come to enjoy these get togethers,  as we always meet new people, visit with folks we've previously met, and enjoy some good food and usually some good entertainment of some sort.

Tonight, we have tickets to our local theater (Angelo Civic Theater) to see a production of Greater Tuna. We really enjoy the theater. Donna and I started attending plays back in my college days, when the first play we ever saw together was Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. We've seen many good plays over the years.

So, we are gradually getting back into a routine here. When we returned home earlier this week, we discovered 1.2 inches of rain in our gauge. We also had rain Wednesday and Thursday, and I emptied 1.5 inches from the gauge yesterday. We've really been blessed with good rain all year.

We have no more trailer trips planned for 2016, but we may take one or two quick overnight trips. Otherwise, we are looking forward to spending time at home for the upcoming holidays.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Rainy Times at Kerrville

We spent several days and nights at Kerrville-Schreiner Park and really weren't able to do much. The weather simply did not cooperate.

Our main purpose in visiting the park was to use it as a springboard to go to Lost Maples State Natural Area. In most years, this would have been the ideal time to visit the park and view the maple trees in all their colorful glory. However, this year, the weather did not cooperate. We just have not had the cool weather needed to produce that wonderful color in those trees. Still, Donna and I did journey to the park on Monday. However, it rained on us most of the way there and the fog was pretty thick. So, once we arrived, we simply did a quick run through and returned to Kerrville. Maybe next year . . . .

The trip to and from Lost Maples was not all in vain, though. The drive from Kerrville along first Highway 27 and then Highway 39 was beautiful. The highways follow the cypress-lined Guadalupe River as it winds and dips through western Kerr County. Of course, resorts and other getaways line the road all the way to the little community of Hunt or so. If you've not been on this road, it is certainly one of the drives in Texas you must take. On our return trip, we took FM 337 to Medina. This road follows the West Prong of the Medina River for most of the route. From Medina, we followed Highway 16 north back to Kerrville. This highway follows the North Prong of the Medina River for several miles. This is really wild country, and I can't stress enough that you should adhere to speed limit and other warning signs along this route. The country is beautiful, though, and worth the time it takes.

We also wanted to walk the new River Trail in Kerrville. The easternmost trailhead is located at Kerrville-Schreiner Park, so we hoped to head west along the trail a few miles and then return. However, the weather just did not cooperate. As we were heading out the door of the trailer for our walk, the rain began to fall. We waited a while, but it just did not let up. Instead, we ended up going to the movies that day and watching The Accountant with Ben Affleck. We did enjoy the movie.

The only sort of outing we had any luck with was a day trip to Castroville on US 90 just west of San Antonio. I had been wanting to visit this place for quite a while. This little village was settled by Henri Castro in 1844. He brought in settlers from Europe, mainly Alsace in eastern France, and the area today retains the influence of that group, especially with its architecture. It is really a picturesque little village. However, we picked a Saturday for this trip, and we should have opted for a weekday. I should have known we were in trouble when we passed through Bandera and saw all the crowds there. Booths lined the square, and some sort of gathering was taking place along the Medina River. This time of year is really an active time for markets and other activities in rural areas. In Castroville, there were a number of events going on. Some were at local churches, some along the road in neighborhoods, and some at other locations. Cars and people were everywhere. I hope to go back at some time when nothing is going on so that I can walk the side streets and admire all the unique homes and buildings.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Kerrville-Schreiner Park

After several days at Blanco State Park, we took a short trip to spend some time at another favorite park of ours: Kerrville-Schreiner Park in Kerrville, Texas.

This 517 acre park on the southeast side of Kerrville was originally a city park, then was transferred to the state for several years before returning to the city in 2004. Many state maps may still show this as a state park, but your annual park passes will not work here.

Donna and I always camp in the Deer Field Loop, which is in the park section on the south side of Highway 173, locally known as the Bandera Highway. This camping area offers about 20 full hookup sites; there are other camping areas south of the highway, but only Deer Field has FHU (full hookups). FHU sites are also available in the Pecan Loop and Sycamore Circle camping areas north of the highway, near the Guadalupe River. We've always avoided these camping areas because they are so close to the highway and we are concerned about highway noise. Also, the north section of the park is where the action is, especially during the summer. Since that section fronts the river, you have a lot of day use activity there, such as swimming, fishing, and kayaking. It is much quieter in our section of the park.

There is no WiFi in the park except for the recent addition of a hot spot around the headquarters building. OTA TV reception is also poor. Local radio, though, is quite good.

We like that the RV sites are pull-thru. However, the sites in Deerfield Loop on the north side of the road tend to have sewer hookups that are slightly uphill from the pads, whereas those on the south side tend to have sewer hookups slightly downhill. This is because of the natural slope towards the river. I have a trailer that does not enjoy a lot of clearance above the road, so in many parks I find that the opening for my storage tanks is sometimes lower than the sewer connection. Things don't drain uphill too well in my experience. Our previous trailer had higher clearance, and I seldom encountered this situation, but I experience it quite often in the Coachmen. This natural slant also means that you'll probably have to level your rig.

Since I've reported on this park before, I'll not repeat what I've already said. Instead, I'll just provide links to previous reports. As with Blanco, we've found this park to be a good jumping off place to area activities, and I'll link to those reports as well.

We have 2 or 3 activities planned for our stay here. Since we do not have WiFi, I'll probably wait until we return home to post.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Good Eats: Old 300 BBQ

When staying at Blanco State Park, Donna and I like to walk down to Old 300 BBQ on the town square for barbeque and beer.
Old 300 BBQ on the square in Blanco.
Old 300 sits on the northeast corner of the square in Blanco. Walk through the front doors past the washtubs full of iced-down beer to the counter and order up. Menu is on the right. If you happen to stop in from 3 to 6, it’s happy hour with draft beer going for $2 a glass. That’s the kind of happy hour the old beer guzzling woman and I like.
Iced-down bottles of beer greet you upon entering. Donna and I prefer draft beer, though.
On this trip, Donna ordered the BBQ stuffed baked potato while I went for the sliced beef sandwich. The potato was huge and much more than little Donna could eat. The potato was served with a cup of chopped beef, a cup of cheese, some butter, and a packet of sour cream. My sandwich was not served on a round hamburger bun as in most places; instead, it came in anearby oversized hot dog bun. The bun was stuffed with thick slices of beautiful brisket. Donna and I could easily have shared the sandwich. There is a condiment bar with pickles, onions, and other items, as well as 3 sauces. On a whim, Donna picked up some “Blanco sauce” which is, indeed, white. It had a good horse radish taste. In looking at it, I did not think I’d enjoy it, but I really did. It gave my sandwich a nice little kick.
Of course, we both enjoyed a brews on tap. Old 300 serves beer from the local Real Ale Brewing Company, so we tried their Octoberfest. It was a decent little Bavarian style lager, but Donna and I are rather routine people and reverted to Bud Light on our next order.
Interior is simple and clean and bright, just as a Texas BBQ joint should be.
The restaurant is simple, decorated with various items from the past. It is open and light, and we like that. There is seating on the porch, but we noticed it was in the sun the entire time we were there.
Main dining area.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Johnson City, Texas: November 2, 2016

During one of the days while we were at Blanco State Park, Donna and I drove north to nearby Johnson City to look around. I’ve always liked this little town of 1,600 or so people at the crossroads of 2 major US highways: 290 and 281. Its big claim to fame, of course, is as the boyhood home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The Pedernales River runs just north of town. Along the south bank of the river just off US 281 is the rather new Pedernales River Nature Park. This 222 acre day-use park is part of the LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority). The park provides opportunities for fishing, picnicking, and bird watching. Swimming is not allowed.
Pavillion at Pedernales River Nature Park
Pedernales River forms the north boundary of the park
The centerpiece of the downtown square is the Blanco County Courthouse. Donna and I strolled the grounds picking up some really tasty pecans. We then walked around the square and a block or two off the square looking in on the various little shops that offer art, antiques, and related items. There is also a brewery with a café that has a pretty interesting menu. But we were a bit early for lunch, and we had our mouths set on Mexican food anyway.

After our walk, we then drove around some side streets and admired the oak trees and many stone houses. We then stopped in for lunch at El Agave on the highway. We had a good lunch at this place. Both of us ordered the vegetarian quesadillas, and we were happy. Service was excellent, and the atmosphere was very nice. We would certainly stop here again.

Then before leaving town, we stopped in at a dollar store and a grocery store for a few items.

Below are some pictures we took of the town.
Blanco County Courthouse

Street on the west side of the square
Junkyard Donna checking some items at one of the shops

1894 Blanco County Jail
A typical shop around the square. Notice historical marker.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hike Report: Guadalupe River State Park, November 1, 2016

Donna and I have tried to hike Guadalupe River State Park a couple of times before, but the weather just did not cooperate. On this trip to Blanco State Park, though, we had some good weather. Guadalupe River SP is about 40 miles or so south of Blanco, so we made the short drive there to test some of the trails.

We made our way to the trailhead for the Painted Bunting Trail, which is the first trailhead beyond the park headquarters on the main park road. There is good parking at this trailhead. After putting on our gear, we headed across the road in a southeasterly direction to hike the trail in a counter-clockwise direction. An information kiosk at the trailhead informed us that there had been a controlled burn recently, but it did not say when exactly.
Parking is just off the road at the first trail crossing. We actually started the hike in the opposite direction, going behind where I was standing when I snapped this shot. We ended our hike at the corner of the parking lot between our truck and the sign.

Hike Stats:

  • Distance hiked: 5.25 miles
  • Time: 02:16:46
  • Elevation Range: 927 feet to 1162 feet

Trails Hiked:

  • Painted Bunting: 2.66 miles (estimated)
  • Live Oak Trail: .82 mile
  • River Overlook Trail: .77 mile
  • Cedar Sage River Trail: about .1 mile (estimated)
  • Barred Owl Trail: about .1 mile (estimated)
  • We also did some road walking to connect trails

The trails that we hiked in this park were in excellent condition. A wide swath had been mowed along most trails. Signage along all the trails was excellent. Trails matched maps. While on the trails themselves, we never doubted our location.

View toward a instant hill across semi-open prairie that had recently enjoyed a controlled burn.

For the first half mile or so, we hiked through a semi-prairie area. Views were available in all directions, with distant hills standing out. Most of this trail was over large exposed rock, so it is necessary to watch your step at all times. Grass outside trails was very tall, at least knee high. There were few trees. Obviously, this area has recovered very well following the controlled burn and is now quite healthy, just as it should be after such a burn.

Trail rut with a generous swath of mown area around it.
After a half mile or so, the trail dipped into some heavy brush, mainly juniper and oaks. There were stretches through here where the trail was on dirt, no rocks, so walking was easy. Where this trail branches to intersect with the Oak Savannah Loop, we turned back north. This section of the trail was basically like what we had just hiked.

Good signs were placed at frequent intervals along the trail.
At the road crossing, the trail began to change slightly. For one thing, we began to come across hunting blinds. Trees along this section were also more numerous. At the split with the Live Oak Trail, the little pond indicated on the map was almost dry. At the end of the Live Oak Trail, we turned east into the Cedar Sage Campground to work our way over to the Scenic Overlook to view the Guadalupe River. At this point, while on a paved road and technically off the trails, we encountered a bit of confusion as the trail map did not match what we saw. We should have brought a park map, which is more accurate as regards campgrounds, facilities, and paved roads. At the restroom, we turned 90 degrees north along the paved road for perhaps a 100 yards or more. There is a parking area there with some signs. At this point, we were able to get on a trail and follow our map again.

These well-built benches looked out cross an open meadow.
One of several hunting blinds we saw along the trails on the west side of the park road.

Junction of the Live Oak Trail and the River Overlook Trail. We followed the trail in the picture to the campground on our way to the Scenic Overlook.

We followed part of the Cedar Sage Trail to connect to the Barred Owl Trail, which then led us to a rocky outcropping overlooking the Guadalupe River. After admiring the view for a few minutes, we retraced our steps through the campground to the River Overlook Trail. This trail does follow the river, and there are a few side trails that work to the ledge overlooking the river. However, good views of the river require a bit of scrambling, and I was unwilling to do this, so we just followed the trail. We then connected to the Painted Bunting Trail again and followed it back to our truck.
Looking upstream at the Guadalupe River from the Scenic Overlook.
Another view of the Guadalupe. Note the cypress trees and aqua water, both typical of so many Hill Country streams.
Again, these are good trails, and they are well maintained. However, there are few views or other opportunities to view anything unique. There are trails north of the river, and they may be more interesting. But the trails we hiked are a good workout and a good chance to get out and enjoy nature.