Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spring is Bursting Out

I've seen several signs of an early spring lately.

On our recent trip to and from Winstar ("Winstar and Some Oklahoma Highways and Byways"), we saw several redbuds and dogwoods in bloom. I've never really been much of a fan of dogwoods, which is odd since I grew up in Fairfield, Texas, which is not far from Palestine, Texas and the Dogwood Trail; but I love the redbud. Redbuds are not really red, but more of a purple color, and that contrasts beautifully against the dark wood of the tree.

I get a bit confused about the dogwood. There is another tree that blooms about the same time, but is a bit "dirtier" in appearance. I'm not sure if that tree is a pear (perhaps a fruitless pear), but have a bit of trouble distinguishing between the two trees. I believe the dogwood has cleaner blooms, which are a bit brighter and lighter in color.

During our days in East Texas prior to retirement, I always enjoyed watching for the daffodils to bloom. To me, these were always the harbinger of new life in early spring. But the most beautiful plant in bloom, at least for me, is wisteria. My mother really loved seeing wisteria in spring. When you catch wisteria in its prime, the colors are so vibrant, and I love the way the flowers seem to drape through the trees.

But I digress . . .

I've also seen numerous trees in our area leafing out this past week, including the mountain laurel with its bluish lavender flowers hanging in small clusters. And this scares me a bit because we are still in winter. We could very well have one or more hard freezes during the next month.

Still, I enjoy the many colors of spring and the promise of warm weather ahead.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

It's Warming Up

We've had another enjoyable week.

As reported in another entry ("Winstar and Some Oklahoma Highways and Byways"), we took a short trip this week. It's always good to get away for a few days, but it's even better getting back home.

The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year. On Thursday, the high in San Angelo was in the low 90s. What's going on? Back in 2011, I recall extremely hot weather early in the year, even in the 100 degree area in March. That was the year our extreme drought started. Hope we are not in for a repeat of that.

On Saturday night, we went to the Angelo Civic Theater to attend a performance of Love Letters, a play by A. R. Gurney. Throughout the play, childhood friends Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner sit side by side at tables onstage and read the notes, letters, and cards which they send each other throughout their lives. The correspondence chronicles the development of the characters as they progress from childhood, through boarding schools and college, and then as adults. The relationship they share is the core of the play, and each one influences the other in ways they learn to appreciate over time. It is an interesting and touching play. As someone who has been married for 40 years, it caused me to reflect on the many ways Donna and I have brought about changes in each other over the years.

Looks like a good week ahead. Temps should be in the 70s and 80s for the next week or so. We might even get out for a good hike at the park one day.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Winstar and Some Oklahoma Highways and Byways

Donna and I made another trip to Winstar Casino just north of the Red River on I-35 earlier this week. This is becoming our "go to" casino mainly because it is just about the closest one to us. During one day, we took a short drive about an hour east to visit Choctaw Casino in Durant, OK, but did not find the video games there we hoped we would, so we did not linger long there.

I've covered Winstar before (October 2016), so I'll not dwell on it this time. On our return to San Angelo, we decided to take something of a roundabout route to see some country we had not been to before.

We started by heading north from Winstar on I-35 for about 10 miles or so to the small community of Marietta. We then took State 32 west to Ryan, about 51 miles. Much of the first half of this section of the trip was under construction, with the speed limit about 45 miles an hour. It was our experience that the state highways we traveled on this trip in OK had a speed limit of 65 at best, so travel is a bit slow. That doesn't necessarily bother us, as we are out there to see things. But the highways we traveled were also a bit narrow with no shoulders, and I would not enjoy pulling a trailer along those roads, especially if there was construction.

But the countryside itself was quite nice. The land is gently rolling with scattered areas of trees and prairies. There are numerous creeks, and there had been good rain lately and many of these creeks were really rolling along pouring their water towards the Red River.

Just east of Ryan, we had a real treat. I always enjoy watching hawks as they sit atop dead trees and power lines surveying the countryside, looking for their next meal. Along this stretch, there was an unusually high number. Then ahead atop a power pole, I saw a hawk that looked a bit larger than the rest. When we approached, we saw that it was not a hawk.

What a treat for us to see this regal fellow along Oklahoma 32.
At Ryan, we took US 81 north for about 10 miles to Waurika. There we turned west on US 70 for 5 miles before veering left on Highway 79 to head back into Texas and on to Wichita Falls. Part of the highway along the stretch from Waurika passed through the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation.

At Wichita Falls, we picked up US 277, which took us all the way to San Angelo. Almost the entire section from Wichita Falls to Abilene is 4 lane, most of which is divided. It is really a pleasant drive. There are still a couple of short stretches under construction. This is a good road. Although it is not an interstate, the highway is routed around just about every town except for Anson, so you can really make good time on this highway. I think we will probably make future trips to Winstar on this highway, then pick up US 82 east of Wichita Falls for the trip to Gainesville before turning north for the last few miles to Winstar.

Most of the trip passed through rural agricultural land, and that is country I love to see. Most of the land in Oklahoma was devoted to ranching activities, while most of the stretch from Wichita Falls to Abilene was farm land. Perhaps the most interesting stretch was just south of Abilene where the highway passes through the hills of the Callahan Divide. The road curves and dips up and down for several miles in this area, and it is very scenic. Then it levels out and returns to traditional ranch country. A few miles north of Bronte, we passed the entrance to Fort Chadbourne, which I wrote about in August 2014.

I enjoyed the trip, but I was glad to get back home. We'll be heading out again soon, though, so stay tuned.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

We Had Some Rain

After our good weather of several days, a cold front started pushing through last Sunday. It was really Monday before it arrived in force. The rain came in about mid-morning, though it was only sporadic and light, but as the day wore on, we did have some better showers. The heaviest rain fell after dark and before dawn Tuesday. In all, we had about 1.25 inches of rain. This is our first substantial rain of 2017.

Anytime we have a cold snap coming our way, Donna thaws out some stew meat and makes a big pot to last for several days. Stew is one of my favorite meals. I could eat it year around, even when the temp is hovering around 100 degrees. It certainly is one of my favorite comfort foods.

After the cold front passed through, the temps slowly began warming again, reaching the 80s by the weekend. However, each day has been pretty windy, but that is to be expected for our part of the country. But the wind makes it a bit chillier than the thermometer readings. We've resumed our regular walking, but we do try to avoid the windy days. Since it is not as windy in the morning, as a rule, we try to walk then, but it is cooler then.

The Boss said she wanted a recliner, so we went furniture shopping Friday morning. We hit all the major furniture stores in town -- except for one that has a pushy salesman. Donna found a few chairs she likes, but I only found one. We'll go back out Monday and see if we can decide on a pair. We may even go to the pushy salesman shop since they do have some good prices there.

Other than that, things have been pretty quiet around here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Out in the Country

Donna and I like to get out in the country from time to time and drive along some of the back roads. I'm always amazed at how different the countryside looks from these lesser roads than it does from the main highways we normally traverse.

We had recently heard a commercial for a small Mexican food restaurant in nearby Miles, so we used that as a pretense to explore some of the country in that area.

We started by heading northeast on US 67 through Miles and on to Rowena. We've passed through Rowena dozens of times over the years but had never taken the time to get off the highway and drive through this little community of 700 or so folks. I find it hard to believe there are that many people in this town. I did not see a single convenience store or any place to purchase gasoline, meaning that the folks here would need to drive into nearby Ballinger (about 7 miles northeast) for all of their needs. The main street through town, Edward Street, is fairly neat in appearance and shows that there once was a decent little business district. The most prominent structure in town today is the Saint Joseph Catholic Church, whose tower is visible on any approach to this small town on the prairie. Among historians, Rowena is reputed to be the birthplace of Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame.

The old business district in Rowena. Today it is almost like a ghost town, but it must once have thrived. The building in background on right is the Catholic Church.

I did not know it when I took this picture, but this place appears to be the home of Horny Toad Brewing Company.
Saint Joseph Catholic Church. Many early settlers were Germans and Czechs.

Old school building. I suspect that children today go to nearby Ballinger, but they may also go to Miles. Some students attend Olfen ISD to the southeast.
From Rowena, we hopped back on 4-lane US 67 to Ballinger. I'll not dwell on Ballinger much today as we plan another outing entirely to that town later on. We did drive quickly through their City Park on Elm Creek and then to Ballinger City Lake a few miles west of town.

Dam on healthy Elm Creek in the city park on the east side of Ballinger.
Ballinger City Lake a few miles west of Ballinger.
From the city lake, we headed back to Rowena, crossing the Colorado River. We picked up Highway 2133 which generally parallels US 67, but is more circuitous. I suspect at one time in the distant past it probably was the main road as it started out following the Colorado River. In those days in the arid west, people stayed close to water as long as they could when traveling, for when it ran dry, it stayed dry.

This is what the Colorado River looks like in our part of the country. It's hard to believe that this tiny river is at least partially responsible for so many lakes downstream, such as O H Ivie, Buchanan Lake, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Travis, and others.
Back on US 67, we backtracked to Miles. Our first stop was Sklenarik's Smoked Meats in the downtown area. We've been stopping at Sklenarik's for years and buying their sausage. We normally buy their jalapeno and cheese. Today, we bought several packs of that for others, but for ourselves, we decided to try their ghost chili and cheese variety. Sounds hot to me. Ymmmm!

We then drove a block or two down the street to Los Carlos, the Mexican Restaurant we had heard about on a local radio station. The outside of the building may look questionable to some folks, but the inside is clean, bright, and well-maintained. Donna tried their calibacitas plate, which contained grilled chicken and some grilled vegetables. Whenever I try a new Mexican restaurant, I like to eat enchiladas. I prefer Tex-Mex enchiladas, though, and not the New Mexican variety with red sauce. Since Los Carlos uses red sauce, I opted to try something new. The special of the day was a beef guiso plate, so I decided to try it. I was a bit disappointed. The meat was tender and good quality, but it tasted like the meat you might find in a can of beef soup. It did not have the spicy taste I've come to expect from guiso. The rice and beans were fine. The chips were a bit thin, easily breaking if we dipped too much salsa, and the salsa, although pleasant, lacked any kick at all. But the food was quite decent, though a bit pricey, I think. Since it is basically a 50 mile round-trip from our house to the restaurant, I doubt we will venture back; we have too many Mexican restaurants in Angelo of a higher quality and more reasonable price.

Los Carlos Restaurant, on the north edge of downtown Miles. The place is much nicer inside than you would think based on the exterior.
From Miles, we headed north out of town and picked up Highway 1692. We passed through pretty flat countryside, some fields with cotton waiting to be delivered to the gin. We passed an old, crumbling schoolhouse. It basically was standing alone along the side of the road, making me wonder what community must once have been in that area.

Old school at intersection of Highway 1692 and Klattenhoff Road.

Cotton waiting to be taken to market.
It was good to get out and see some country. We enjoy these little outings on the backroads of this part of the state we love so much.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Critters, Critters Everywhere

Donna and I had a couple of errands to run this morning. As we were leaving RCW, we passed a rather large rafter (flock) of turkeys. We actually have 2 rafters in RCW, and they usually stick close together. Occasionally, they will merge, and when they do, they number about 25 or more.

After running our errands, we stopped in for lunch. Quite often when we eat out, we like to ride around Lake Nasworthy. Our normal drive is by the swimming beach, then around through Spring Creek Park. Today is a dreary winter day in San Angelo, and it has rained off and on. On such days, you can often see lots of wildlife, and we did today.

We turned off Knickerbocker Road into Mary E. Lee Park, a small park where the beach is located. Just as you turn off Knickerbocker Road, there is a prairie dog town there, and the chubby little fellows were active. It's obvious these guys haven't missed many meals.

4 prairie dogs in this photo. The 4th one is in the background, left-center.

Yeah, these little rascals are healthy.

The fellow in back is about to enter his home.
We then continued on around on Fisherman's Road to Spring Creek Park, There we ran into a herd of deer. What we found funny is that when we stopped to admire these gentle animals, a turkey emerged and approached us. We wondered if he had been fed in the past and expected us to feed him. But several deer were following him. We then wondered if they saw him as their leader, or if they might be chasing him. I guess we'll never know. He came right next to our truck and I got a good picture of him.

Leader of the pack. This bold fellow strolled right up to our truck. I did NOT zoom in for this photo.

There are 9 deer in this photo. It is hard to count all of them, but they are there.
We then drove around to the Horseshoe Bend area of Spring Creek Park. There we came across a good sized rafter of turkeys.

Turkeys peacefully grazing around the pecan trees.

I spooked this bunch a bit. They didn't care for us getting so close.

It was a fun outing. We really enjoy watching wildlife. We have several deer that visit RCW. We always look out our back windows just before retiring each day and first thing upon getting up. We often see deer in our yard feeding on the soft grass. Sometimes, they even bed down right under our windows.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Weather Has Been Good

It's been another week of good weather here in San Angelo, Texas.

Donna and I have been trying to get back into a walking routine lately, and the good weather has certainly helped. I've walked 4 or 5 times this week, often wearing shorts thanks to the warm temps and bright sunshine. What a treat for early February.

After one of our afternoon walks, we went out on the back patio and repotted some plants. I also took advantage of the good weather to clean out our grill, the one we bought just before Christmas. With the good weather, we've started using the grill a couple of times each week, so I wanted to clean it up some. This week, for example, we've had steaks twice and burgers once. It's great to get outside.

On Thursday night, we attended the Valentine Dinner at RCW. We enjoyed a nice meal while listening to the mellow sounds of Farrel Smith and his faithful saxophone. He played a number of old and slow songs because, as he says, he is old and slow. And, as always, it was great to visit with friends and fellow inmates from RCW.

On Friday, we grilled burgers for lunch. There just isn't anything that compares to a good home made hamburger. Donna and I are always on the lookout for that old fashioned burger in our travels, and we've found quite a few good places. But homemade burgers are really the best. It seems as if it gets increasingly more difficult to find a place that makes a true burger. So many places today want to add all sorts of things to burgers, from bacon to French fries to cole slaw and other things that seem strange to me. I'm old fashioned and just want an old fashioned burger. Besides, one of those new fangled burgers is more than I can eat, and most are so large it is almost impossible to get your mouth around it.

The weeds had just about gotten out of hand in the front bed, so I crawled around out there in the sun and wind Friday afternoon to pull them. Donna and I walked earlier than usual Friday because high winds were predicted. Guess we didn't get out early enough as the wind blew us all around. I always use a GPS when walking. In addition to distance, it also tracks my time. I was amazed how much the wind slowed us when we were walking directly into it.

After another morning walk Saturday, we slapped some steaks on the grill along with some veggies and enjoyed a nice lunch. After lunch, Donna went back to the trailer to finish the cleaning she had started last week.

When I awoke this morning, it was 56 degrees, but the high today is only expected to be about 10 degrees warmer. A cold front is blowing through. Tomorrow, the high will be in the 40s. Rain should start blowing through late tomorrow, and Tuesday should be wet and cold, but we can always use the wet. It should warm again later in the week.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

It's Been a Good Week

It's been a good week here at Rio Concho West (RCW).

The week came in with good weather. It was nice to see lots of sunshine and temps reaching into the 70s and even the lower 80s for the first few days of the week. We were able to get out and begin walking again in earnest on a regular basis, and we even managed a 5+ mile hike at the park on Monday. That was great. (See the "Hike Report" from earlier this week.)

We visited the tax appraisal office one day this week to do all the filings appropriate for us in an attempt to keep our taxes down for 2017 and beyond. Donna got her hair done at the little salon in our club house one morning this week. Our community newsletter arrived this week, so we sat down to plan our activities for the month. I guess this is something of a slow month, for there aren't that many things we signed up for.

We also planned our next trip, which will be to the Winstar later this month. Based on our play there late last year, we have started receiving offers from them for free rooms, so we will take advantage of that.

We spent one afternoon this week working on the trailer. There was some cleaning we needed to do, so we took advantage of a warm day to spend a few hours working there. The old girl was due a good cleaning.

And we got out and about and did some shopping and eating out. We're still watching our weight, so we ate pretty light when we did go out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Retirement Anniversary

It was exactly 6 years ago (February 1, 2011) that Donna and I enjoyed our first full day of retirement. It was so wonderful to sleep in that morning knowing that we could spend the rest of our lives doing exactly as we wanted.

We've enjoyed these past 6 years, and we've done quite a bit of living.

Throughout these years, we've done a lot of traveling. We've traveled all over Texas, from the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast; from the East Texas piney woods to the mountains of West Texas. Most of our travels have been in our beloved Hill Country.

We've also traveled quite a bit outside of the state. In 2012, we took our trailer out for an extended 8 month trip, enjoying several western states. We repeated this earlier this year with a 6 month tour of the Southwest, hitting some places we had not been before.

We've done a lot of walking. I have recently started tracking my walking. Since moving in to Rio Concho West in late June, I've plodded over 350 miles on foot. We've enjoyed some nice hikes over these past 6 years. And we're still hiking when we get the chance. Our legs are getting a bit worn, but we still enjoy seeing what is around that next bend.

And we're not about to stop yet. We have some trips planned over the next few years, long trips that will take us through several states. We don't have anything definite yet, but we are beginning to narrow things down.

Most of all, though, I've really come to enjoy living in my home in Rio Concho West and to enjoy the simple pleasures that San Angelo provides. We enjoy our eateries, our community theater, an occasional movie, and spending time with friends and neighbors at RCW.

Retirement has been good and continues to get better.