Some Great Texans!

It was forecast to turn chilly as we approached our first Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) rally at Lake Conroe, north of Houston, Texas. Betty & I had no idea what to expect from the South Texas Renegades, who were our hosts this past weekend. As it turned out, we were overwhelmed by the warmth of southern hospitality that we experienced from beginning to end!

Before we left Canada, I had spoken with Bob about the rally registration process. Rather than putting U.S. cash in the mail, or sending a Canadian cheque, Bob fronted us the registration fee until we could get to the campground. He was the first to welcome us, and provided a schedule of weekend events.

For each of the meals, we and 8 other guest couples were honoured to be served first with wonderful southern cooking, including pizza, chicken & sausage gumbo, and catfish, red beans & rice, with hearty portions of food for all meals.

This blog post would run too long if I named all the wonderful folk with whom we shared a meal and a laugh, but I have to give shout outs to a few:

A couple in their mid-eighties, John and Bettie have aged well (not to be confused with well-aged!). They are a true inspiration to us, describing their plan to full-time for 2 years, but continuing for 17! As we regularly evaluate our 5-year plan, we will keep in mind the possibilities presented by Bettie & John.

Lane & Brenda were our next-door neighbours at the campground, and we
also had an opportunity to share lunch with them at a waterfront restaurant called Papa’s On The Lake. Great neigbours!

We were lucky to meet John & Erin, not only because Erin was the lucky winner of one of our evening games, but also because John was able to describe what I should look for in a Prevost, if I ever win the lottery. Of course, because my luck doesn’t tend to be the same as Erin’s, I don’t buy tickets, so that Prevost may be a long way off!

Betty & I not only shared our love for food and wine with Rick & Denise, we shared a few bottles of the good stuff with them as well! At the end of the night, Rick was still reaching into his extensive stock when we made our way back to our motorhome, sufficiently warmed by the experience that I left my jacket behind on what was apparently a cool night. Rick took the time to drive me to his favorite butcher shop and introduce me to his butcher. In the next
few weeks we are looking forward to cranking up the barby for some tasty Texas ribs, steak, and armadillo balls (bacon-wrapped sausage). Going above and beyond, Rick, who is a commercial pilot and certified aircraft mechanic, took the time to diagnose and repair some wiring issues we were having with our motorhome. What an outstandingly generous man!

While most rally participants were Texans, we also enjoyed the company of a sweet couple from Arkansas. L.B. and Carol were people we would love to have spent more time with, if only to listen to the amazingly distinctive southern accent!

Well, there are many others that we enjoyed meeting at this first FMCA rally. If this group is any indication of what to expect from others in FMCA, we look forward to warming our hearts with hospitality again, regardless of the temperature outside!

Whatever Happened To Galveston Island?

Expecting to see an island reduced in size by recent hurricanes, Betty & I were surprised to find Galveston Island apparently twice the size of our memory. I say apparently, since I am sure the island is the same size as before – just a significantly different recollection…

We began our exploration by visiting the State Park beach side campground where we had previously stayed. More than twice as many sites were developed since our last visit. The drive to the south west end of the island took twice as long, with many more colourful, stilted cottages added to the landscape. Episodes of Beachfront Bargain Hunt flashed through our minds the whole way.

Toward the end of the island we turned our Smart car onto the beach. Charlie enjoyed the chase of the car along the hard-packed sand, taking a mad dash into the waves along the way. He has always loved water, and returned to our campsite a happy and tired puppy.

We then headed down the waterfront drive to the opposite end of the island – a trip that took twice as long as we expected. From there it was our intent to visit the fresh fish outlet that we had stopped at on a previous trip. My recollection was that it was just below the bridge to the mainland, but the drive to the far side of the island was – you guessed it – more than twice as long as before.

Many parts of the island appeared rebuilt after previous hurricanes, and memory didn’t serve to get us to our destination. Enter Google and we were taken past a Disney cruise ship in port, finally arriving at the unique open outlet on the side of the harbor where today’s catch was laid out on beds of ice. The pelicans we remembered seeking scraps at the front of the store were now fenced off on the harbor side, but they were still there. We picked out some large, fresh shrimp, red snapper and a couple of flounder, and the fish were filleted for us on the spot to our specifications.

Back at our campsite, I fired up the barby & we cooked red snapper with fresh lemon slices, some baked potatoes and a Missouri rib eye steak. The surf ‘n turf was paired with a Pinot Grigio and a Valpolicella. I know, twice the food and twice the wine, but the tasty meal fit well on an island that appeared to be twice the size of our memory!

Nirvana

No, not the Kurt Cobain band, but the state of perfect quietude, freedom, and highest happiness. That is where Betty & I found ourselves yesterday.

We began our less than grueling day, breaking camp in Austin, Texas, and driving for an hour to Bastrop State Park. Being a weekend and without a reservation, we had no idea whether they would have a campsite for us. As it turns out, we had our choice of sites, and selected one at the end of a loop, with a scenic lookout over valleys in 2 directions. The park had suffered from a major forest fire in 2011, but new growth and fresh plantings were evident, and the campground is well cared for. To our surprise, we have a large, full service
site at half the price we had paid in Austin. With a paved parking area, the automatic levelers did quick work of stabilizing us, and a push of another button had our slideouts expanding our living space in no time at all.

For lunch Betty presented sushi with an assortment of cheeses and crackers, all paired with a nice Beaujolais. For dinner I prepared my famous prosciutto wrapped asparagus and lamb chops on the grill, and served with mint sauce and a bottle of Cambridge & Sunset Pinot Noir. We sat outside and enjoyed the warmth of a Texas evening, the perfect quietude of our camp spot, the freedom that retirement brings, and the highest happiness of each other’s company. Nirvana!

Which way are we going?

A funny thing happened on the way to McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, Texas yesterday. We plugged the co-ordinates into our gps and set off, without first questioning the route she(?) was taking us. As it turned out, it was the most convoluted, twisty, turny, narrow country road through rural Texas, past Austin’s dump and a wide range of house styles. (We’re convinced that Texas has no building codes or required building permits. You do what you want with your land, however lavish or humble!) Within a mile of the park we crossed over a major street that we had taken many times in the past, as it is a prominent Interstate exit. If we had taken that exit, we would have arrived at the park in half the time!

We laughed at this small (mis)adventure, realizing at the same time that speed, and the most direct routes, are not necessarily our goals on this journey. There is a lot of country to see, and you don’t catch it all from the Interstate.

Not that we are totally devoid of planning — leaving our adventure in the hands of a gps who routinely tells us to turn left when we can see our destination on the right… We planned and succeeded in visiting Central Market in Austin
yesterday, picking up some fabulous fresh fruit, vegetables, breads, cheeses, wines (buy 6, get 10% off – how can you go wrong with their huge international selection!), steak, lamb, and other unique food items. It’s always a treat, but we have to limit ourselves by the size of the Smart car “trunk”.

We also picked up a new Weber bbq (grill in America) that I had ordered on-line last week and had delivered to an Austin Walmart. After some assembly required, I seared those aforementioned Missouri-raised steak, and we enjoyed a candlelight dinner with a fresh salad, baguette, and a nice bottle of Valpolicella.

In the end, our dinner and night’s stay were at Austin’s Lone Star RV Park, as McKinney Falls State Park was fully booked in advance – no room for those who didn’t plan ahead… Before we pulled out of the park, the friendly ranger wanted to direct us to alternate state parks. “Are you headed east or west?” To which I answered: “Yes”!

Early morning pondering

it is 730 and I am sitting in the same spot I have on many previous occasions. On the couch with Charlie curled up on my lap reading a book and having my first cup coffee. We are in Austin at a campground we have visited many times on various trips to South Padre Island. I am thinking about those other times and how I always knew I had to go back to work but now there is no going back and I wonder how long it really takes before that becomes a reality in my mind and heart. I miss my friends and the daily chatter but I am happy with the choice I made and am excited to get to the point where I am not thinking about this as a vacation.