Wintering in Texas (December 29, 2017 – April 1, 2018)

We left Georgetown, TX on December 29th and headed south in search of warm weather for the winter months. We drove 264 miles and overnighted in Kingsville, TX at Nature’s Own Resort. This was our second overnight stay at this campground and we were very pleased with it once again.

On Saturday, December 30th, we drove 112 miles to Los Fresnos, TX where we spent the month of January at Palmdale RV Resort. Los Fresnos is in the Rio Grande Valley, about 8 miles north of Brownsville and 20 miles west of South Padre Island. Palmdale RV Resort is not as fancy as Llano Grande, where we spent last January, but it was quite adequate and only cost about 60% as much as Llano Grande. The campground was once a trailer park and, as a result, the sites are quite a bit larger than normal. Our site had a small concrete patio but the rest of the site was grass. We backed our rig into the site so that our door was aligned with the patio but found that we were still about 25 feet from the electric and water hookups due to the oversized lot. Fortunately our electrical cord and water hoses were sufficiently long enough to reach the hookups. We checked in shortly after noon and learned that the office was closing at 1 p.m. and would be closed until January 2nd. Phil was given a very brief orientation and was able to buy the last two tickets to the New Year’s Eve dinner and dance.

As we learned in 2017, the winter winds are quite strong in the Rio Grande Valley. The regular wind blew at about 15-20 mph but we frequently had gusts in excess of 30 mph that rocked our rig. The temperature was quite a bit cooler than we had experienced in 2017 but, with daytime highs generally in the 50s and 60s, it was significantly better than the bitter cold and snow that hit the Midwestern and Eastern United States.

The New Year’s Eve dinner began at 6 pm and consisted of prime rib and baked potato, followed by ice cream sundaes. The live entertainment consisted of a female country singer and was scheduled to run from 8 pm to midnight. We lost interest pretty quickly. We returned to our home after the first set and watched the ball drop in Times Square on television. It was a little more meaningful this year, since we had been in Times Square just seven nights before.

The poor weather kept us from doing anything very memorable the first week. We attended the Welcome Back dinner on January 5th and enjoyed chatting with some of our new neighbors. We learned that we had missed a newcomer orientation earlier in the week but managed to get caught up on what we had missed. The dinner was followed by a magician but we decided to leave when he took a break.

We decided to try installing the screen that we had purchased from a fellow RVer in San Antonio. The screen attached to our awning easily and was anchored to pegs in the ground with a series of bungee cords. The bungee cords are designed to allow the awning and screen to flex with the wind. However, after a couple of days of extremely gusty winds that shook the screen and awning violently, we took the screen back down, retracted the awning and decided to save it for calmer weather.

On Monday, January 8th, we drove to South Padre Island. We stopped at the Visitors’ Center to get some coupons, then went to Laguna Bob’s for lunch. We sat outside on the deck and watched the pelicans, while we dined on chicken wings. After lunch, we stopped in several beach wear stores and Jan searched in vain for a new swimsuit. We then drove further north on the island and strolled along a fairly deserted part of the beach.

We returned home in time for our first potluck dinner at Palmdale. They hold potluck dinners every Monday, followed by a lecture. We quickly learned the protocol for Palmdale potlucks includes bringing your own plates and utensils. The after-dinner lecturer for the four Mondays in January was doing a series of lectures about ancient civilizations, with a special emphasis on ancient Greece. We chose to skip the lecture and, instead, returned home to watch the NCAA national championship football game.

On Friday, January 12th, we drove to Mercedes, TX and attended the All Valley RV Show. We had attended this RV show last year and there was one gadget vendor that brought us back this year to stock up on various odds and ends. We strolled through the area with RVs on display but only went inside a few of the fifth wheels. There were none that were comparable to our own but we did find one that had a full-sized bathtub (something that Jan misses in our new lifestyle).

After the RV show, we drove a short distance to the International Bridge between the U.S. and Mexico. We paid $2 to park our car on the U.S. side and then 50 cents each to enter the short bridge across the Rio Grande River to the town of Nuevo Progreso. Once we reached the Mexican side, there were quite a few beggars underneath the bridge. Jan dropped some money off the bridge and we were immediately followed by a swarm of people calling for her to throw more. Fortunately the beggars were unable to reach us and could not follow us when we got off the bridge. The town of Nuevo Progreso has a population of only 11,000 but caters to American tourists with an abundance of dentists, pharmacies and beauty shops. There are 190 dentist offices in Nuevo Progreso and we have spoken to quite a few Winter Texans who get their dental work there. As we strolled along the crowded sidewalks, we were repeatedly solicited for low-cost dental work, medicine and haircuts. Phil was approached about 50 times to see if he wanted his shoes polished. Jan stopped in one of the pharmacies and asked the price for Zrytec. The price was quite inexpensive but it was a Mexican generic brand so we decided not to chance it. After strolling along quite a few blocks and returning up the other side, we stopped for lunch at Arturo’s. Arturo’s was the top-ranked restaurant in TripAdvisor and we both enjoyed our meals. Jan had the house salad and Phil had “salsa verde” pork. After lunch, we decided to backtrack and find a beauty shop where Phil could get a haircut and Jan could get a pedicure. There were many to choose from and, when we finally selected one, Phil’s haircut cost $4 and Jan’s pedicure cost $10. We then did a little browsing in one of the larger stores but ended up only buying a bookmark. Leaving Mexico was almost as easy as entering. We only had to pay 25 cents each to cross back across the bridge but we did have to show our passports to re-enter the U.S. Our trip to Nuevo Progreso was quite interesting and we wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. The town is definitely poor but we didn’t feel at all unsafe.

On Monday, January 15th, we attended another potluck dinner but, once again, opted out on the lecture. The following day, the temperature was in the 70s so we decided to visit the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge for a hike. The refuge is just north of Los Fresnos and should have taken about 30 minutes to reach. However, the refuge is in the boonies and, when we were within a few miles, the road was closed for construction. Jan called the office for directions and the detour ended up taking us quite a long distance to reach the park. After chatting with the volunteer in the Visitors’ Center, we headed out to do some hikes. We started with the Mesquite Trail, a one-mile loop. We then drove to the Osprey Overlook and hiked a portion of the Gator Pond Trail. Unfortunately, south Texas has been very dry and the water in the 3,500-acre freshwater lake had receded so far that we could barely see any birds. When we reached Gator Pond, there was no water in the pond and, therefore, no gators.

The rest of our week was uneventful. The daytime highs were in the low 60s but the winds were quite strong each day, keeping us indoors most of the time. On Saturday, we drove about 35 miles to Donna, TX and visited the Don-Wes Flea Market. Our primary reason for going to the flea market was to get our water softener upgraded by a vendor we had met the previous week at the RV Show in Mercedes. The flea market was quite popular so we had to park quite a distance from the entrance. Fortunately the vendor had a wagon we could borrow to transport the water softener from our car to the vendor’s booth. After dropping off the water softener, we wandered along the flea market and bought some sunglasses, fruit and candy. On Sunday, we returned to the flea market and picked up the remodeled water softener. When we got home, Phil ran the water softener through a regeneration cycle and it was clearly easier than before the upgrade. The rest of the day was largely devoted to watching the NFL conference championship games. Unfortunately, the Vikings got whipped by the Eagles, losing 37-7 after being ahead 7-0. We gave up on the Vikings in the third quarter, thus limiting the pain somewhat.

On Tuesday, January 23rd, we went back to South Padre Island and visited Sea Turtle, Inc. The mission of this organization is to rehabilitate injured sea turtles for return to the wild and to educate the public about endangered sea turtles and their marine environment. When we arrived shortly after noon, we learned that there was a sea turtle release scheduled for 1 p.m. from Isla Blanca Park, at the south end of the island. We quickly examined a number of sea turtles swimming in large tanks at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center. Their star attraction is a sea turtle named Allison who had lost three flippers in 2005 and has been fitted with a customized prosthetic device to improve her mobility.

We then drove to the south end of the island and walked through Isla Blanca Park until we came to a crowd of over 500 people who had come to watch the release. We learned that they were releasing 50 sea turtles that had suffered cold stunning during the recent temperature drop. This was just one batch of the 350 sea turtles that had been brought to the rescue center for treatment following the cold snap. The larger turtles were transported down to the water’s edge in pickup trucks. The smaller turtles were carried by volunteers from the parking lot past the rows of spectators so we had plenty of photo ops. The turtles were carried about 20 feet into the surf and then released. It was quite a sight to see and we were glad we had timed our visit to coincide with the release.

After walking back to our car, we had lunch at Dirty Al’s, overlooking the tour boats.  On the drive home we stopped at the Port Isabel Lighthouse that was built in 1852. We got back home just in time to join a happy hour at one of our neighbor’s sites.

On Sunday, January 28th, we drove 33 miles to Boca Chica State Park, east of Brownsville and just north of the mouth of the Rio Grande River. Boca Chica Beach is one of the last undeveloped beaches in Texas. We strolled along the beach for over an hour. We didn’t sense the strength of the wind as we walked southward with the wind at our back; however the return trip was quite a struggle. Several pickup trucks drove by us on the beach but, since we had the Nissan, we were not tempted to drive on the beach ourselves. In reality, even if we’d have the 4-wheel-drive RAM, we wouldn’t have driven on the beach since it was high tide and the sand was quite soft. The beauty of the beach was spoiled somewhat by the large amount of trash that had washed up as far inland as the dunes, presumably by the recent hurricanes.

On our drive home, we stopped to get a photo of the SpaceX Ground Tracking Station. We also stopped at the Palmito Ranch Battlefield, the site of the final land battle of the Civil War. The 2-day battle on May 12-13, 1865 actually occurred five weeks after Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, VA. As an insignificant footnote to history, the Confederates won this battle.

On January 29th we returned to South Padre Island for our last visit of this winter. After shopping for some beach shoes for Jan, we went to Clayton’s and sat on the deck overlooking the beach. Clayton’s claims to be the biggest beach bar in Texas. They were offering one Busch Light and a half-order of nachos for $1 so we each had one. The wind was quite strong so we needed our jackets even though it was fairly sunny.

On January 30th we returned to Nuevo Progreso. We had a late lunch at Red Snapper. Jan had garlic shrimp and Phil had fried oysters. Both were very good. Then we returned to the beauty shop we had visited on our previous visit. Even though it had been less than three weeks since his last haircut, Phil went ahead and got another $4 cut. Jan had a $6 manicure that was so comprehensive that it took well over an hour to complete. We both tipped a lot more than usual but the cost was still an incredible bargain. We then returned to our campground in time for our last happy hour with a group of new friends.

On February 1st we got up early and were on the road at 8:58 am. We drove 326 miles to Kerrville, TX where we will spend two months at Buckhorn Lake Resort. This was the longest drive we’ve made to date. Fortunately we had multi-lane divided highways the entire route and arrived at Buckhorn at 3:30 pm. This was our third winter at Buckhorn and our fourth stay there. Kerrville, TX is the closest thing we have to a hometown now that we’ve been on the road full-time. We use these return visits to see our doctor and dentists. In addition, Phil gets to play pickleball most mornings.

On February 3rd we took the Buckhorn bus to Bandera, TX for the Mardi Gras parade. Bandera is known as the Cowboy Capital of the World.”  Before the parade we sampled cups of gumbo from three of the many contestants at the gumbo cookoff. We then watched the parade with 68 floats and collected lots of beads. Jan got a chance to wear the mask she had bought in New Orleans. After the parade we had more gumbo for lunch at TJ’s at the Old Forge.

The next few weeks were colder than usual for Texas so we were not very active, except for myriad doctor and dentist appointments. We attended a few social hours, including one on the island that included a very talented musician.


On February 17th Phil left for another two-week contract work assignment in Malta. The weather in Malta was similar to that of Kerrville, cool and overcast. Our son, Jason Bain, arrived for a week-long visit starting the morning of the day Phil left. We had time to all have lunch along the Riverwalk before dropping Phil off at the airport. During the week, Jan and Jason visited San Antonio and Luckenbach. They also drove to Austin and spent the night with Caleb and Brittany Dickerson. While in Austin, they visited the State Capitol and the Baylor Street Art Wall, which is scheduled to be demolished later this year and relocated to Carson Creek Ranch near the Austin airport.

Jason left on February 24th and Jan spent the following week alone. On the 27th she enjoyed a jam session at a neighbor’s campsite.


In the next two weeks we had dinner twice at the Wild Ass Hey Barn. Tonya, who formerly operated one of our favorite local dining spots, Tonya’s Our House, is now managing this restaurant which is connected to a Kerrville campground. Our second visit was for the Friday night catfish dinner, which featured an Open Mic night for local musicians (a carryover from Tonya’s Our House). One of the most interesting features of the Wild Ass Hey Barn are the barstools that are constructed from a wide variety of materials.

Jan finally ordered her birthday present, a telephoto lens, and we drove to the Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden to test it out. The Prayer Garden sits on a hill high above Kerrville.

On March 15th we were spectators for the Golf Cart Rodeo at our campground. Each team consisted of a male driver and a female navigator. The man was driven down from the office blindfolded. The object of the race was for the woman to give directions to the man while he attempted to drive blindfolded around three steel drums. The woman had to plant American flags in buckets on top of each drum. The winner was the couple who could complete the circuit in the shortest time.

On March 18th Phil flew to Spokane, WA for a weeklong contract job in Nelson, British Columbia. The weather was overcast almost all week but was fortunately warm enough that snow and ice did not become much of an issue. The scenery was pretty but would be even more impressive in the summertime.

On March 30th we took advantage of a beautiful day to get out and do some last minute exploring before leaving Texas. We had planned to climb Enchanted Rock. However, it was Good Friday and we learned that all Texas schools were closed, resulting in extremely long lines at Enchanted Rock. Instead, we stopped in Fredericksburg and found the streets and shops to be more crowded than we had ever previously experienced. We limited our shopping to a stop at Rustlin Rob’s Texas Gourmet Foods where we stocked up on some treats for our upcoming travels. Next we drove to Wildseed Farms where we walked through the gardens and gave Jan another chance to try out her new camera lens.

We ended the day with a visit to Luckenbach where we sat outside and enjoyed a couple of musical combos.


Christmas in the Big Apple (December 23 – 27, 2017)

After 14 straight years of meeting for Christmas in cabins at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Eva, TN, the group decided last Christmas that we should do something different for Christmas 2017. We all agreed that Christmas in New York City sounded like fun. Jan began last winter researching places to stay. She had considered hotel rooms but felt that it would be preferable for socializing if we could all share a townhouse. She looked at many options on but most were too expensive or inconvenient. Finally, Jan found a brownstone in the Upper East Side that was large enough for us and booked it nine months in advance. The brownstone had the added advantage that it was only three blocks away from Jan’s niece, Katie Schlegel. In addition to our sons, Jarrod and Jason Bain, we were joined by Jessica Mollman, Brittany Dickerson and Caleb Dickerson.

Our flight departed the Austin airport at 9:15 on Saturday, December 23rd. Although the airport was only 33 miles from our campground in Georgetown, TX, it took us nearly an hour to get there so we got up at about 4 a.m. and departed at 5 a.m. The economy parking lots at the Austin airport were packed but there were numerous flagmen directing us to open parking spaces.

Our non-stop flight to JFK airport in New York was rather turbulent but we arrived on time. We used a Via driver to take us to the brownstone. We were greeted and shown around by Ben, the brother of the owner. Jason, Jarrod and Jess had arrived shortly before us and were returning from lunch as we arrived. After taking time to check out our residence and get unpacked, we walked up the street and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Brittany and Caleb arrived shortly after we returned from lunch. Katie came to visit and, after lots of chit-chatting, we walked up a few blocks to do our grocery shopping for the next few days. Since we’d been up since 4 a.m., we decided to go to bed while the rest of the group went out on the town.

On Christmas Eve morning, we had breakfast and then headed out. The weather was in the low 30s and windy so we had to bundle up. We walked a few blocks to Central Park and strolled around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”). We spent about 1 ½ hours exploring The Met, which was only enough time to see a small portion of the exhibits. We decided to walk back to our neighborhood and, although Jarrod and Jess went off to a ramen restaurant, the rest of us went to Joy Burger Bar for lunch. Katie’s boyfriend, Sheamus, joined us there. After lunch we returned to the brownstone to warm up and spend some time visiting.

In the evening we headed out in the bitter cold via the Metro subway to Gramercy Park, a private gated park that is only open to the general public for Christmas Eve caroling. Unfortunately we arrived as the caroling was ending and the park was no longer open to the public. We then decided to walk down to the Union Square Holiday Market but, again, arrived too late and only got to see the vendors taking down their booths. We next decided to go to Rockefeller Center where we saw the huge Christmas tree and the ice skating rink. The streets were mobbed with others who were as bundled up as we were. We had to stand for over 30 minutes while the ice was resurfaced before seeing any ice skating. We then walked up Broadway near Times Square and on to Macy’s on 34th Street. We were surprised to discover that Macy’s had closed at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve so we were unable to go inside to visit Santaland. We stopped off for a late night snack at Little Italy Pizza before returning home via the subway.

On Christmas Day, we had our breakfast and then did Dirty Santa gift exchanges. In the afternoon we walked to the Lasker Ice Rink in Upper Central Park. The temperature had dropped into the 20s. Despite not having ice skated in 20 years, Phil joined the younger folk on the ice. Jan opted to take pictures from the safety of the rink’s perimeter. Although we had bundled up for our walk across Central Park, it didn’t take Phil long to work up a sweat once the ice skating began.

After skating, we walked back to the brownstone and relaxed a while before dinner. Sheamus’ mother, Georgette, joined us. We called for a couple of Via drivers to take us to Carmine’s Italian restaurant in the Upper West Side. Carmine’s is a large restaurant and was filled to capacity for Christmas dinner. The food was served family style. We started with Caesar salad and calamari, then ordered four entrees. We all ate a lot but we still had plenty of leftovers to take with us at the end of the meal. After returning home by Via, we stayed up until almost 2 a.m. playing The Game of Things and having a lot of laughs.

Group at Carmine's
Christmas dinner at Carmine’s

On December 26th we walked to MYNY Bakery Café for breakfast. We then took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked part way up the bridge. The weather was still very cold and the wind discouraged from walking any farther across the bridge. We then walked down to the Financial District and visited the new structures on the former site of the World Trade Center towers. We warmed up inside the huge Oculus shopping mall and then visited the South 9/11 memorial pool. Next we walked to the Staten Island Ferry and rode for free back and forth across the Hudson River and got a great view of the Statue of Liberty. Katie joined us when we got off the ferry.

We took the subway to the East Village and had lunch at McSorley’s Old Ale House. McSorley’s was established in 1854 and is the oldest Irish pub in NYC. The floors are covered with sawdust and no memorabilia has been removed from the walls since 1910. McSorley’s is one of the last men-only pubs in NYC, only admitting women when legally forced to in 1970. After McSorley’s, we braved the cold again and strolled through Chinatown and Little Italy. We took the subway back home and dined on leftovers from our Christmas dinner. After dinner we played a round of The Game of Things but didn’t stay up too late since Caleb and Brittany needed to leave at 5 a.m. the next morning.

On December 27th, Jarrod, Jason and Jess picked up breakfast from MYNY Bakery Café. Their driver picked them up about 9:30 a.m. and, after saying our goodbyes, we headed out to do our last sight-seeing. We took the subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and viewed the spectacular architecture. We then walked to Grand Central Terminal and explored the huge structure. We found the opal-faced clock, valued at $20 million, above the Information Booth. We also located the world’s largest Tiffany Glass Clock, below the 48 foot, 1,500 ton, Transportation statue overlooking 42nd Street and Park Avenue. We then walked up to 33rd Street and then took the subway back to our neighborhood for another lunch at Joy Burger Bar. After retrieving our luggage at the house, we met our Via driver for a trip back to JFK airport.

We had a nice flight back to Austin, took the shuttle to our car and made the long drive back to our campground in Georgetown, TX. When we arrived at the campground at 11 p.m., we discovered that the gate closed at 10 p.m. and we were unable to drive to our site. After finding no alternatives, we parked our car outside the gate and Phil walked in the dark to our campsite and got the truck. We transferred our luggage to the truck and managed to get home and unpacked by about midnight. We retrieved our car in the morning. We were glad we had decided not to leave Georgetown until December 29th.