Kerrville, Again (April 14 – June 21, 2020)

On Tuesday, April 14th, we made the 350-mile drive from Brownsville to Kerrville. Although the drive was uneventful, we had not driven much in the previous three months so it was quite tiring. We arrived at 4 pm and set up on our new site. We got the end pull-thorough site in the Executive section. In addition to a larger concrete patio, the end site provided us with a large grassy area next to us.

Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, who were also staying at Buckhorn, dropped by to visit and, since we had not been able to see them for the last few weeks in Brownsville, it was good to catch up again. We learned that, in addition to the office being closed due to COVID, the pools, fitness center and social room were also closed.

On Wednesday morning, Phil rode his bike over to the pickleball courts but there was nobody playing. Later that morning, we drove the Willow City loop to see the wildflowers. We had driven the Willow City loop years ago but the flowers had not been in bloom then. This time, the bluebonnets were in full bloom and were quite beautiful.

As we passed through Fredericksburg, we couldn’t help but notice all the empty stores. However, Jan noticed that the door to our favorite shop, Russlin’ Rob’s Texas Gourmet, was open but the store was dark inside. Jan checked their website and learned that, although the food sampling stations were closed, the store was being manned for drop-in customers. She called and ordered some of our favorite sauces. When we returned, Phil knocked on the door and the store manager already had the sauces wrapped up for us.

Our activities over the next few weeks continued to be limited due to COVID-19. Phil managed to find enough pickleball players to fill one court most days. Jan walked the campground most mornings and we generally got out for a stroll each evening. Trips to the grocery stores and Walgreens involved wearing face masks.

On April 16th, we drove to Ingram and visited Stonehenge II. It is 90% as wide and 60% as tall as the original Stonehenge in England. Jan had hoped to get pictures of the sunset but it was too cloudy.

Fortunately, we were able to get together with Beth and Todd most afternoons for Happy Hour. We hosted a farewell brunch with the Ehlenfeldts on April 20th. Jan made cinnamon rolls and Beth brought seafood quiche. After saying our goodbyes the following morning, we drove to San Antonio to get the Mazda serviced at our dealer. We also stopped at Sam’s Club and Whole Foods to load up on groceries. Masks were worn at all stops.

We drove to Louise Mays Park in Kerrville on April 18 and 22 and enjoyed long strolls along the Guadalupe River.

On April 23, we drove to the Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden to see if Jan could get pictures of the sunset. She had better luck than she had at Stonehenge II.

On April 24, we did a long scenic drive through nearby Mason County to see the wildflowers. We had directions for three different routes. The first route we took involved driving on a unpaved road that crosses several spots with the potential for high water. When we came to the first one, we turned back rather than trying to cross the river. Although the water wasn’t overly deep, the current was quite fast. The remainder of our drive was beautiful and, although there were quite a few low spots, none were underwater.

Our laptop, which we had purchased in 2015, had been experiencing problems with the DC power port and finally died in late April. Jan contacted Dell support and they identified a refurbished replacement part. However, since we were uncomfortable with the thought of disassembling the laptop ourselves, we took it to a local PC repair shop. After examining our laptop, the owner decided it couldn’t be repaired. We decided to purchase a new laptop. However, since the old laptop was now deemed worthless and the replacement part was only $15, we decided to see if we could fix it. In our enthusiasm to see what was involved in dissecting a laptop, we removed a seemingly endless number of screws and Jan disconnected numerous cables and parts. Then, when the replacement cable arrived a week later, our challenge was in remembering how to put the pieces back together again. Fortunately, Jan’s prior life in PC support paid off and the reassembly went fairly easily and we got the old laptop running again. That bought us some time in getting files and applications transferred to the new laptop but we’re still glad we invested in the new laptop.

Mother’s Day, May 10th, was the most active day we’d had in a long time. We started with a trip to Luckenbach, TX. We sat outside and enjoyed some live music. Jan bought a new hat. Next, we visited Wildseed Farms and walked through the gardens. For dinner, we went to the West End Pizza Company in Fredericksburg. We dined on the shaded patio, where the tables were spread out for social distancing. This was our first restaurant meal, inside or takeout, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and it was quite enjoyable.

Later, we went for our usual evening stroll. Near the end of our walk, we met a man walking his three dalmatians. He let up on the leashes so they could come over to sniff Phil. Since they were acting friendly, Phil bent down to pet the dogs. As Phil was petting the second dog, the third dog lunged at him and bit him hard on his forearm. When Phil pulled his arm back, the dog lunged again and bit him on the thigh, ripping a hole in Phil’s favorite shorts. Blood was running down Phil’s arm so we hurried home to treat it, without finding out if the dog had had its vaccinations. We just had to assume that they had.  Phil reported the bites to the office the next day and we never saw the dogs again.


On May 12th, Phil visited his doctor to get x-rays of his pinky finger he had injured a week earlier while playing pickleball. The x-rays showed no sign of any broken bones. The doctor also examined the dog bites and prescribed some antibiotics. The governor of Texas had authorized the reopening of barber shops and hair salons a few days earlier and we were both overdue. We both went in for haircuts that afternoon. Phil had not had a haircut in over four months and the barber told him he had the start of a mullet. The difference was significant.

Before

After

We decided to extend our stay in Kerrville for another month, until June 21st, to see what direction the COVID-19 infections go. After initially being told the campground was full over Memorial Day weekend, there was a cancellation that enabled us to stay in our same site. Phil spent the next two days reworking our travel schedule for the summer and hoping that it holds up.

Brownsville – Month 3 (March 12 – April 14, 2020)

On Thursday, March 12th, we began our final month at Tropical Trails with a boat outing. A group of eleven from Tropical Trails met at the Dishmans’ condo on South Padre Island. Hill Dishman had his own boat and had borrowed one from a neighbor. Although windy, it was a beautiful day for a boat ride. The activity for the afternoon included a poker crawl in which we picked up a paying card at each stop and the person ending up with the best poker hand would win the pot. Our stops were at Parrot Eyes Restaurant and Bar, Longboard Bar & Grill, Driftwood Landing and Laguna Bob’s. Phil had the best hand through the first three stops, then fell into third place on the fourth card drawn. Fortunately, the ‘4’ he was dealt as his fifth card gave him two pairs and he ended up with the best hand, earning $40 from the pot.

On Friday a large group from Tropical Trails took a 2 ½-hour tram tour at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The park, which encompasses over 97,000 acres, was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds. We had visited the park a couple of years before but had not taken the tram tour. The tram ride enabled us to see much more of the refuge than we had seen before. Unfortunately the speakers in our car were not working so we were unable to hear much of what the tour guide was saying. One of the highlights was seeing a small rattlesnake slithering next to our stopped tram.

That evening we had an ice cream social, followed by two games of LCR. Phil won one of the games, earning $4.50 in winnings.  A lucky couple of days!

On Sunday afternoon, Jan participated in the beanbag toss tournament.  We later met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Longboard Bar & Grill and listened to Shake & Bake perform. We then headed to Pier 19 for dinner.

Tuesday, March 17th, was St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrated with a Happy Hour on the patio at Tropical Trails. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts joined us for the get-together.

On Wednesday evening, we had a fish fry at Tropical Trails. Hill Dishman fried up a lot of trout that he had caught on his boat. Everyone else brought a side dish.

On Thursday we headed over to Winter Haven and had a belated St. Patrick’s Day feast with the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and some of their neighbors. We enjoyed lots of corned beef and cabbage. With the current shortage of toilet paper, Tom and Roxi should have thought twice before letting Beth use their bathroom.

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Beth trying to make off with the Rykal’s TP

By Friday, the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic really began to impact our activities. The city of Brownsville closed the schools and imposed a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. (not that that affected us). Restaurants were restricted to take-out. South Padre Island implemented restrictions on gatherings and closed restaurants and bars.  Phil went to H-E-B for groceries and had to stand in a long line to get in the store. Once inside, he found many of the shelves were empty. Toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, eggs and canned goods were unavailable, both in the stores and online.

At Tropical Trails, life was getting increasingly boring. In addition to many of the campers having already departed, some of the remaining campers decided they would self-isolate. This left the campground, which had already been fairly vacant all winter, seem almost like a ghost town. Even when we did see other people, there was very little interaction. There were only four people playing pickleball on Friday and, by Saturday, this had dropped to just Phil and Beth Petruska.

On Saturday afternoon, we finally got around to flying the kite we had purchased when Jason was visiting. Since the kite was only rated for up to 18 mph winds, we had not had many opportunities to fly it earlier. It was quite easy to assemble and flew quite well. The wind was somewhat stronger on Sunday and we flew the kite again. This time Phil relaxed in one of our lawn chairs while the kite soared very high. He may have been testing the limits of the string as the kite was really pulling very hard.

The boredom continued the following week as the pandemic’s spread and resulting stock market drop dominated the news. In addition to the usual strong winds, we had several days with highs in the 90s. Our only interaction with our fellow campers came from a distance. Beth decided not to play pickleball anymore due to COVID-19 concerns, but Phil did manage to arrange to play singles with Hill Dishman a couple of days. Jan made several trips to the fitness center to run on the treadmill. We managed to ride our bikes on occasions when the wind died down somewhat.  On two evenings, we ventured up to the Amenity Center to play shuffleboard and dip our feet in the spa. One night we actually went swimming in the pool for the first time this winter, but spent most of our time relaxing in the spa.

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Jan relaxing by the spa

Hill came by on Monday and gave us some of the fish he had caught. We grilled Cajun red fish on the half shell for dinner on Tuesday.

We rarely left the campground, except for occasional trips to the grocery stores. Phil got up early on Tuesday and went to Wal-Mart for their once-a-week Senior Hour at 6 a.m. He got in line at 5:30 and was glad he had arrived early. By 6 a.m. the line was quite long. Although he was able to buy eggs, paper towels and disinfectants (which are in short supply), many of the shelves were empty. We received notice from the campground office that the H-E-B in Port Isabel had been well-stocked and without lines on Thursday. With nothing else to do, we headed there on Friday to see if we could find the things that had been unavailable at Wal-Mart. We did have to stay in line outside for about 10 minutes but, once inside, we were able to find most of our desired groceries.

One of the greatest shortages during the pandemic was toilet paper, with people hoarding it as panic set in. After checking the Sam’s Club website repeatedly for several days, Phil was able to order toilet paper. His only option was to get a 36-roll pack, which should last us a long time. When it arrived on March 31st, it was such a big deal that we had to post it on Facebook. The post resulted in 69 likes and 45 comments. Facebook became a popular means for people to try to find humor in the face of the pandemic. Leslie, one of our Tropical Trails friends, posted a video showing how to make a mask out of boxer shorts and, of course, Phil had to try it. The things people do when they have too much spare time on their hands!

During the remaining two weeks at Tropical Trails, our days largely fell into a routine. Although Phil played pickleball with Hill several mornings each week and we rode our bikes when the wind permitted, most of our days were spent sitting in our trailer. We both killed a lot of time playing on our phones, Phil did a lot of reading, and Jan worked on Diamond Dots and cleaning house. We did visit the pool several evenings, where we largely had the place to ourselves. About the only times we left the campground were for trips to the grocery store. While it was not the camping experience we had hoped for, we were very grateful to have a place where it was so easy to self-quarantine. In a campground with over 300 sites, we were down to 14 RVs on the property by the final two weeks (even at the peak this winter, there had never been more than about 35). We were also grateful that none of our friends and family contracted the coronavirus during these weeks.

We had planned to leave Tropical Trails on April 12th, Easter Sunday. In anticipation of the trip, Phil checked the truck’s tire pressures two days before. After being unable to get any pressure reading on one of the dually tires, he discovered that the tire had a huge tear in the belts. He was able to order a new tire but it wouldn’t arrive until Monday. This caused us to delay our departure for two days. This was actually fortuitous since the weather on Easter was terrible. The temperature hit a high of 103 degrees (blowing away the previous record of 95) and the winds were very strong, with gusts exceeding 40 mph. In addition, since April 12th was our 17th wedding anniversary, we were able to enjoy a relaxing day. Phil grilled some T-bones for dinner and then we headed to the pool.

On Monday, Phil took the truck to Discount Tire to get the new tire installed. Due to short staffing caused by COVID-19, he had to sit in the parking lot for two hours before getting to pull the truck into the service bay. We got up early on Tuesday and we thought we were ready to leave at 8:30 am. One of the last duties is to fold up the steps but, this time, one of the steps would not budge. We tried dousing it with WD-40 but that had no effect. Hill drove by and offered us some help. He had a couple of his guys work on the step and, after much effort, they managed to get it to fold up so we could depart. Our departure was delayed by an hour but we were just happy to be able to go.

Brownsville – Month 2 (February 12 – March 11, 2020)

On Thursday, February 13th, we attended a happy hour on the patio outside the Amenity Center. A two-man band called Shake & Bake performed for two hours. We were surprised when Hill Dishman, the campground owner, joined the band to sing a couple of songs. Hill has a very good voice and did an outstanding imitation of Willie Nelson.

Friday was Valentine’s Day and we celebrated by heading over to South Padre Island. We first stopped at Tequila Sunset where we sat outside overlooking Laguna Bay and listened to live music. When it started to get too cool for sitting outside, we walked up the street to Louie’s Backyard. At Louie’s, we were able to sit inside and listen to live music. We also visited the nearby sand castle displays.

Jason arrived on Saturday, February 15th, for a week-long visit. After picking him up at the airport in Harlingen, we went to Texas Roadhouse for a very filling dinner.

On Sunday we headed to the Los Fresnos Rodeo. Prior to the start of the rodeo we watched a performer demonstrate his skills with a lasso and bullwhip. We also watched the Banana Derby where dogs raced with small monkeys as riders. Our seats for the rodeo were very good and provided us with great views of the many events. The contestants were all professional rodeo cowboys and quite a few were former world champions.

On Monday Phil and Jason played pickleball in the morning. They were able to play pickleball four mornings that week. Monday afternoon we headed to South Padre Island. Our first stop was Isla Blanca Park. We walked along the beach, visited the monument to lost sailors and strolled out on the jetty. It was a windy day and there were lots of kiteboarders in the bay. We later had dinner at Pier 19.

On Tuesday we returned to South Padre Island for an afternoon fishing boat excursion. Jason quickly caught two sheepshead (one of legal size) before succumbing to seasickness. Phil then caught a sheepshead. Unfortunately, someone else’s line had gotten tangled with Phil’s line. After he was able to remove the hook from the fish, he started to untangle the other line. Once he had untangled the two weights, the other person jerked their line and Phil’s hook became imbedded in his finger. Fortunately the fishing boat had a person on staff who was trained in first aid. The captain took the boat into smoother waters and the assistant snipped the barb off the hook before pulling the hook out of Phil’s finger. Jan did catch the most interesting-looking fish. It was some sort of flying fish but was too small to keep. One we returned to port, the captain filleted our sheepshead. We had them for dinner on Thursday and they were very delicious.

On Wednesday we started the day at the Don-Wes Flea market. We then crossed the border to visit Nuevo Progresso. After eating lunch at the Red Snapper Restaurant, we headed to the beauty salon where we all had pedicures.

Thursday afternoon Jan and Jason headed to Mercedes and did some shopping at the outlet mall. The weather on Friday was quite cool so we decided to go see a movie. We picked up Beth and headed to the Sunrise Mall and watched “Call of the Wild.” After the movie, we met up with Todd.

On Saturday we awoke at 4 am to take Jason back to Harlingen for his 6:10 am flight. We returned home and went back to bed. By the time Phil woke up at 10 am, Jason was already back in Nashville. We participated in a Tropical Trails shuffleboard tournament that afternoon. Although Phil had a fairly low score, he ended up winning $2 for coming closest to the targeted score. The group then headed to Los Fresnos for dinner at Arnie’s. After dinner, we joined the group for a campfire back at Tropical Trails.

On Sunday afternoon we joined a group from Tropical Trails at Harley’s Beer Garden in Los Fresnos. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts also joined us. We sat outside and listened to music. A potluck dinner with BBQ was available but we chose not to stick around for it.

On Monday evening, February 24th, Phil finally got his crown installed on the implant he had done a year ago. Jan went to play Mexican train. On Tuesday evening we both played LCR.

Strong winds started blowing Tuesday evening, with gusts in excess of 40 mpg, and continued all day Wednesday. We got going early Wednesday morning and drove to Nuevo Progresso to get our teeth cleaned by one of the many dentists. The service seemed quite professional. Although the equipment was not state-of-the-art, everything appeared very sanitary. The cost of $25 per person for the cleaning was considerably less than the $85 the Brownsville dentist would have charged. In the afternoon we played cards at the Amenity Center.

Over the next few weeks we largely fell into a routine, with fewer notable activities. Phil played pickleball six mornings and Jan exercised, either on her bicycle or the treadmill in the fitness room. We played games (Mexican train dominoes, LRC or Golf) a couple of evenings each week.

On Thursday, February 27th, we had another shrimp boil at the Amenity Center, with musical entertainment again provided by Shake and Bake. Later that evening we had a bonfire for several couples who would be leaving in the next few days.

On Saturday morning Jan attended a class on making tamales while Phil played pickleball. That afternoon we participated in a shuffleboard tournament. Later we had dinner at Russo’s NY Pizzeria.

On Tuesday, March 3rd, we joined the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Winter Haven RV Park for a game of Mexican Train that lasted several hours. We had to move several times to stay dry when the drizzles started but they never lasted very long. After the game Roxi served us tacos for dinner.

On Wednesday Phil visited a new orthopedic surgeon regarding his shoulder that has been hurting since September. He got a shot of cortisone and was sent home with a list of exercises designed to strengthen his shoulder muscles.

On Thursday the group from Tropical Trails headed to South Padre Island for Happy Hour. We sat outside overlooking the bay at Longboard Bar & Grill and enjoyed the musical entertainment. We then drove half a mile to The Meatball Café where we had dinner. Phil ordered eggplant parmigiana and Jan had cannelloni. Both were very good.

On Friday we returned to South Padre Island. We started at Clayton’s and enjoyed an order of nachos. It was apparent that Clayton’s was starting to gear up for the Spring Break crowd. Gone was the old people music and, in its place, they had a deejay playing hip hop. We decided to move on to Longboard where we sat on the deck and enjoyed music that was more to our taste.

On Saturday, March 7th, we met the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts in Harlingen and attended the Jackson Street Market. This event occurs on the first Saturday of each month. There were vendors set up on both sides of the street for about six city blocks. We examined the wares at lots of booths but ended up only buying three pounds of red licorice. For lunch we headed to Carlito’s Wine House where we enjoyed the music and the food.

On Sunday we met the Ehlenfeldts at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. It was a beautiful day so the zoo was quite popular. We drove around for about 15 minutes before finding a parking spot. We had planned to arrive in time for a 2:30 presentation on ocelots. However, when we arrived, we learned that the time had been changed to 2 pm. We were still able to see the end of the presentation and see the ocelot. After that, we strolled the entire loop around the zoo for a couple of hours. We managed to see all the exhibits except the reptiles and fish, which we skipped due to both tired feet and lack of interest. We then all headed to Cobblehead’s Bar & Grill where we dined outside and listened to music. Three members of the band were the same musicians we had listened to at Longboard on Friday.

On Tuesday, March 10th, we had a farewell bonfire for Joanne and Dave who were leaving on Saturday. We toasted marshmallows and ate s’mores.

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On Wednesday we participated in a bean bag tossing competition, followed by shuffleboard.

 

Brownsville – Month 1 (January 12 – February 12, 2020)

On Sunday, January 12th, we left Fredericksburg and drove 349 miles to Brownsville where we will spend three months at a new campground, Tropical Trails RV Resort. Jan had learned about this campground online and we booked our reservation last summer. Originally, we believed it was going to open in October 2019. However, over the following months, the opening date kept getting delayed. Each time, Jan would call Bonnie, the General Manager, to seek assurance that the park would be open by mid-January. It did finally open on January 1, 2020. When we arrived, we noted that there were only about 30 rigs parked in the 165-acre campground. We quickly discovered that the campground was clearly still a work in progress. We took one of the sites with some grass growing on the door side. In the days to come, Phil watered the grass most mornings. We hope to have an established lawn by the time we leave in April. Although it felt like we were camping in a construction site, the owner was wise enough not to park campers next to each other. As a result, we had plenty of privacy and were able to park our truck on an empty site nearby.

One of the advantages to being in a nearly-empty campground was that we were able to meet a lot of the other campers at the many organized activities. On Monday morning Phil joined about 10 other campers on the four new pickleball courts. He was one of the few who had played the game before and was disappointed that the group disbanded after playing only two games. On Monday night we joined a number of fellow campers to watch the NCAA football championship game and, for non-football fans, a game of Mexican train. While Phil watched football, Jan was quite successful playing Mexican train.

On Tuesday we went to our dentist appointment. After sitting in the lobby for an hour, we learned that they had been unable to confirm our dental insurance. So rather than wait any longer, we rescheduled for Wednesday. We then dropped by to visit the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts who are camping at the nearby Winter Haven campground.  On Wednesday we met at the amenity center and learned to play shuffleboard. Although we had a large crowd, no one really knew the rules so we had to rely on the few who had watched YouTube videos beforehand. In the afternoon, we returned to the dentist. Although we were able to get x-rays and an examination, the cleanings were delayed until mid-February.

On Thursday we joined a group at the amenity center for a shrimp boil. In addition to shrimp, there was more than enough sausage, potatoes, corn and bread so no one walked away hungry.

On Friday we joined a caravan to Nuevo Progresso, Mexico. Since we had been there several times before, we explored on our own but we did join the group for lunch at Arturo’s. After lunch, we headed to our usual beauty salon and both got $10 pedicures. When we returned to the campground, we attended a presentation by a local travel agency that included a Mexican dance team and free margaritas.

On Saturday evening, Jan’s friend, Sheila Gaskin, arrived for a weeklong visit. We attempted to eat dinner at the Texas Roadhouse in Harlingen but the line was too long. We left and headed to the Texas Roadhouse in Brownsville. Although we still had a 40-minute wait, the meal was very good.

On Sunday, January 19th, Jan and Sheila spent the afternoon at South Padre Island. Phil stayed at home to watch the Tennessee Titans lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. That evening, we met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at The Lucky Barrel to watch the Green Bay Packers play for the NFC championship. Unfortunately for our friends from Wisconsin, the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

On Monday, after Phil played pickleball, we headed back to Nuevo Progresso. This was Sheila’s first visit to a Mexican border town.

On Tuesday we attended the campground’s ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce. We then headed to South Padre Island and visited the Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue facility. Later we had an early dinner at Pier 19.

The weather forecast for Wednesday had called for rain all day. Although the rain ended early, we opted to spend the day indoors so we headed to the Sunrise Mall. Phil went to see the movie ‘1917‘ while Jan and Sheila went shopping. We then went to Russo’s NY Pizzeria for dinner.

On Thursday we went to South Padre Island (SPI) and headed to Clayton’s for music and cheap wings and beer. Although the temperature in Brownsville reached 81 degrees, it only reached 68 degrees at SPI and was quite windy. We moved our seats four times to stay in the sun. Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt joined us for the last hour.

On Friday, Jan and Sheila picked up Roxi and Beth and headed back to Nuevo Progresso for the day. Phil met up with Tom and Todd at C & C Wings.

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Jan, Beth, Roxi and Sheila at lunch in Nuevo Progresso

Saturday morning we woke up at 4 am to take Sheila back to the Harlingen airport for her flight home. We got back home shortly before 6 am and had no trouble falling back asleep for several more hours.

On Sunday we went to the SPI Convention Center to do some shopping at the Marketplace. We met the Rykals, the Ehlenfeldts and some friends of the Ehlenfeldts (Ed and Teresa) there. After having explored all the booths at the Marketplace, we all headed to Louie’s Backyard for lunch. We then headed to LongBoard Bar & Grill where sat and enjoyed music by a husband and wife band.

Phil played pickleball on Monday morning. In the afternoon we headed to Boca Chica Beach and spent an hour walking up and down the beach. We were able to see the expansion to the SpaceX facility that has happened since we were in Brownsville last winter.

Phil spent most of Tuesday dealing with various medical and dental issues. We both played shuffleboard on Wednesday morning.

On Thursday, January 30th, the owners of Tropical Trails RV Park, Hill and Donelle Dishman, hosted a happy hour at their condo at the Boardwalk Yacht Club on South Padre Island. Their home was beautifully decorated and included a tiki bar in the lower level. After the happy hour, we all headed across the road to Gabriella’s Italian Restaurant. The food was very good and we had a good time getting to know some more of our neighbors.

We participated in a shuffleboard tournament on Friday afternoon. We played four games but, unfortunately, did not come away with any of the prize money.

On Saturday we drove to Donna, TX and strolled through the Don-Wes Flea Market and made a few purchases. We then headed across the border to Nuevo Progresso for a late lunch.

Phil spent the following Monday and Tuesday prepping for his colonoscopy. The combination of prepping for the procedure and needing to be at the surgical center at 6:15 am Wednesday kept Phil up all Tuesday night watching five episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. The procedure went smoothly. As usual, the prep was worse than the actual exam. Upon returning home, we both slept a long time.

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All ready to go

The high winds kept us from doing much over the next few days.   On Thursday afternoon we drove to downtown Brownsville with the intention of having dinner at the Made in Mexico Festival.  Unfortunately the neighborhood was quite seedy and didn’t appear to be where we’d want to be after dark.  We wandered around the block but decided it wasn’t worth paying the $5 admission.  Instead, we headed back to Russo’s Pizzeria for dinner.

On Friday afternoon we went over to Winter Haven RV Park and had dinner with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts.

Sunday was Leslie Verhaeghe’s birthday and her husband, Jim, had planned a surprise campfire for her. Unfortunately, the strong winds made a campfire a no-go so, instead, we all met in the Amenity Center and ate birthday cake and played games. We learned a couple of new games: Golf and Zonk. Golf is a 9-round card game and Zonk is a variation of Farkle, played with six dice.

The wind on Monday was so strong that Phil could barely manage to get our door open. We are really getting tired of the wind and are already thinking of spending next winter elsewhere. The one excitement for the day came when a herd of goats found their way into the campground. Jim Verhaeghe and his dog, Vader, responded quickly and shepherded them back to where they belonged.

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On Tuesday, February 11th, we joined a group from Tropical Trails for a trip to the Heritage Museum in downtown Brownsville. We attended a lecture by a history professor from UTRGV. The lecture covered Mexican history from their independence from Spain in 1821 until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The professor discussed the factors that kept Mexico from evolving as successfully as the US after obtaining their independence. We learned a lot about Santa Anna who served as president or military-backed dictator 11 times from 1833-1855. Apparently Santa Anna quickly grew bored of being president and would frequently relinquish power to his vice-president, only to change his mind shortly thereafter.

Short Stop in the Texas Hill Country (Dec. 28, 2019 – Jan. 12, 2020)

On Saturday, December 28th, we left Goodlettsville, TN and drove 270 miles to Forrest City, AR where we spent the night at Delta Ridge RV Park. Heavy rain had been forecast for the entire day but, fortunately, we only got light drizzle until we were set up at the campground. Then the skies opened up and we had torrential rain all evening.

On Sunday, we drove 235 miles to Texarkana, TX where we spent two nights at Shady Pines RV Park. This was our fifth stay at Shady Pines and, as usual, we used this layover to get our annual vehicle inspections on the truck and trailer.

On Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, we drove about 285 miles to Elm Mott, TX (outside of Waco) where we spent the night at I-35 RV Park. We had hoped that our route would bypass Dallas but our GPS took us all the way to the edge of downtown Dallas. Then, due to new highway construction, the GPS had Phil in the wrong lane to make the turn to head south. We continued on on I-30 until we found a different highway to the south. It was quite stressful and an experience we will try to avoid in the future. This was our first stay at I-35 RV Park and it was quite nice for an overnight stay. They provide free made-to-order breakfasts that were quite good, albeit a little slow.

On Wednesday, we drove 215 miles to Kerrville where we spent nine nights at Buckhorn Lake Resort. The weather during our stay was surprising nice for January. Although the nighttime temps dropped slightly below freezing a few times, the daytime highs were mostly in the 60s.

Our sole reason for this visit to Kerrville was so Jan could see her HMO doctor and Phil could get his dentist’s final signoff on the implant he got last February. We took care of both of these appointments on Monday, January 6th. Other than Phil playing pickleball every morning, we really didn’t do much else during our stay. We did a 80-mile scenic drive through the Hill Country one day and visited Enchanted Rock State Natural Area another day. When we arrived at Enchanted Rock, we expected to hike the Summit Trail but encountered a sign that said the trail was closed. It appeared that we would be limited to hiking the loop trail around the perimeter of the rock. However, as we began our hike, we could see other people at the summit so, after almost circling the rock, we hiked up the side of the rock to the summit. We descended along the Summit Trail and never did see any reason why the trail would have been closed.

Our original travel plans had called for us to spend the weekend of January 10-12 in Austin, visiting Jan’s nieces, Brittany and Katie, and Brittany’s husband, Caleb. However, when the girls expressed an interest in spending the day in Fredericksburg, we cancelled our Austin reservation and booked a campsite at The Vineyards of Fredericksburg for the weekend. On Friday, January 10th, we made the 35-mile move from Kerrville. Although the winds were gusting during our move, the storm held off until we were settled into our new site and had lunch at West End Pizza Company. However, when the storm did arrive later that afternoon, it was quite intense. The winds were fierce and there was plenty of thunder and lightning. We watched out our living room window as a 15-minute hailstorm pounded Jan’s car but, fortunately, the hailstones never got big enough to do any body damage.

The weather was better on Saturday. Brittany, Katie and Caleb arrived from Austin shortly after noon and we had lunch at the Rathskellar Restaurant where we all had German food. Then, the girls went off to explore the many shops along Fredericksburg’s Main Street and the guys headed to National Museum of the Pacific War. This museum, the only one of its kind in the Continental U.S., is centered on World War II’s Pacific campaign. The tickets are valid for 48 hours and one could easily spend two full days exploring all the many exhibits and media presentations. Unfortunately, Phil and Caleb only had three hours available until the museum closed so they had to move along fairly quickly. They both learned a great deal about the many battles to capture remote islands throughout the Pacific. When the museum closed, the guys met up with the girls again at the Auslander Restaurant and Biergarten where we relaxed and enjoyed drinks and snacks.

 

Christmas in Tennessee (December 11 – 28, 2019)

We had intended to leave Gulf Shores on December 9th but, when we couldn’t find reservations in the Huntsville, AL area, we decided to stay two more days. On Wednesday, the 11th, we drove 150 miles and spent two nights at Sherling Lake Campground in Greenville, AL. This was the same campground we had stayed at on our trip to Gulf Shores in late October. We got the same pull-through site as before (#40). It had rained for all of our previous stay so we hoped for better weather this time. Unfortunately that was not the case, so we spent most of our stay indoors.

On Friday, we drove 340 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent 15 nights at Grand Ole RV Resort, our go-to private campground in the Nashville area where we had stayed numerous times before. We left Greenville early in the morning so we could reach Nashville before rush hour. Although we reached Nashville at 2 pm, the traffic was already bad but we managed to get through it. Jason came over in the evening and brought us lots of mail and packages that we had had delivered to his house.

On Saturday morning, we drove to Montgomery Bell State Park and watched Jason, Jarrod, Jess, and their friend Matt and his girlfriend run in the Bell Ringer 15K race. After the race, we had burgers for lunch at M.L. Rose in Nashville.

On Sunday, Jason, Jarrod and Jess came over for spaghetti dinner.

We had received notice from La-Z-Boy that the two recliners we had ordered in October were available for delivery. However, since the delivery people were not allowed to take away old furniture, we had to find a place to dispose of our old recliners. Fortunately we were able to fit the recliners in the back of Jan’s SUV and we dropped them off on Monday, one at a time, at Goodwill. We spent the next two days cleaning the living room carpet in anticipation of the delivery of the new furniture on Thursday.

On Friday, December 20th, we went to Extra Space Storage in Nashville and rented a 5’ x 5’ storage unit. We had been sharing a 5’ x 10’ unit with Jarrod and Jess for the past two years but, with them moving to Denver after Christmas and taking most of their stuff, we were able to downsize to a smaller unit that we will continue to share.

On Saturday, Jan had a get-together with many of her high school friends at Cracker Barrel in Dickson, TN.

On Sunday, we met Brenda and Philip Dunlap and Jason in downtown Nashville and had dinner at Woolworth on 5th. After dinner, we and the Dunlaps went to the Ryman Auditorium for a Christmas concert by Amy Grant and Vince Gill.

On Christmas morning, we met Jason at Jarrod and Jess’ apartment and had a delicious breakfast, then opened presents. We all then went to Beaman Park Nature Center and hiked a 3-mile loop. After the hike, we drove to our campground and enjoyed sitting outside in the beautiful weather. For dinner, we had our traditional Honeybaked ham and our favorite side dishes. There were plenty of leftovers for everyone.

On Friday, December 27th, we drove to Camden, TN for the annual Madden family lunch at Country & Western Steak House. There was quite a large turnout, including infant Elena Fuentes who drew a lot of attention. After lunch, we stopped by the courthouse to drop off Sheila’s present.

Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 11, 2019)

On Friday, November 1st, we drove 145 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we will spend a little more than five weeks at Gulf State Park. We had reserved site #197, a pull-through site that was just two sites down from where we parked on our previous stay. We will be there for the month of November but will have to relocate for the final eight days of our stay. Two other couples, Tom and Roxi Rykal and Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt, who we had met last winter at Palmdale RV Park in the Rio Grande Valley, were also spending the month of November at Gulf State Park.

On Saturday morning we rode our bikes around the park and stopped at the butterfly garden. We had a trail map but it didn’t include the campground roads so it was difficult to know how to get back home. After riding around in circles for a while, Jan fortunately spotted our rig down the road.

Later that afternoon, we joined the other couples at Flora-Bama, a large, multi-stage entertainment venue on the Florida/Alabama state lines. We watched a performance by Big Earl and his band. They were very talented musicians and humorous, albeit off-color, entertainers. After listening to a couple of sets, we all headed across the road for a late dinner at the grill.

On Sunday we rode our bikes to the beach and walked along the gulf shoreline. The water was surprisingly warm and we enjoyed wading in the surf.

On Monday Phil visited Bayside Orthopedics to get treatment for his shoulder that had been hurting for about a month. He was relieved to learn that the pain is most likely the result of bursitis, rather than a rotator cuff tear. He received a cortisone shot and was referred to a physical therapist in Gulf Shores. That afternoon, Dave and Jo Peterson, another couple we had met last winter at Palmdale, arrived for three nights and dropped by our site to visit.

Tuesday morning we rode our bikes again and stopped over at Tom and Roxi’s site. The other two couples were already there so we spent about an hour socializing before resuming our ride. That afternoon we returned to Flora-Bama to play bingo. We had known Dave and Jo were planning to visit Flora-Bama but were surprised when we all arrived at the same time. The four of us spent a couple of hours playing bingo. The games were free and the number caller was quite entertaining, although somewhat hard to understand. Jan ended up winning twice and getting two half-off certificates for the restaurant where we had dined on Saturday night.

On Wednesday morning we returned to the beach and strolled up to the pier. The surf was rougher than it had been on Sunday. We had to be careful to avoid stepping on several large jellyfish washed up on the beach.

That afternoon we got together with the other three couples. The boys headed into town and visited a local microbrewery, Big Beach Brewery Co., while the girls stayed at the campground and had a wine tasting party. Upon joining up again, we all gathered around the central fire pit near the Rykals’ and Ehlenfeldts’ sites. Later, we moved to the Rykal’s picnic table for a pot luck dinner, before returning to the fire pit for more socializing.

On Saturday, November 9th, we drove to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and attended the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts. This was the final show of the 2019 season for the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. In addition to seeing the Blue Angels , we watched demonstrations by F-16 and VFA-125 fighter jets as well as precision flying and aerobatics in vintage WWII planes and other planes. We were glad we had chosen to go on Saturday rather than Friday because the weather was perfect, whereas Friday’s weather had been cold and windy.

After the air show, we drove to the grill at Flora-Bama to watch the Wisconsin–Iowa football game, since the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts are from Wisconsin. The restaurant was packed and, although the restaurant had dozens of TVs showing college football, almost every one of them was showing the LSU-Alabama game. Fortunately the manager was from Wisconsin so he had one TV showing the game we wanted. He was very helpful in getting us a couple of tables by that TV so we were able to watch the Wisconsin victory.

We kept busy over the next few weeks, both in the state park and in the neighboring communities. The weather was quite nice most days so we were able to ride our bikes frequently. We had numerous get-togethers with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals, including celebrating Beth’s birthday at Crab Trap. We returned twice to Flora-Bama to play Bingo and Jan won a game each time. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we went ahead and reserved a site at Gulf State Park for November 2020. A week later, we also reserved the site for December 2020.

The days around Thanksgiving brought us a lot of activity. We shared a Thanksgiving feast with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals. Sadly, Todd’s mother had passed away a couple of days earlier so Todd and Beth had to depart immediately after our meal to head back to Wisconsin. Our sons, Jason and Jarrod, arrived that afternoon and we headed to the beach in time to see the sunset.

On Friday, November 29th, we rented a couple of additional bikes for the guys and rode all the way to Tacky Jacks in Orange Beach, where we had appetizers. Jan’s cousin, Lori Davis, and Lori’s husband, Bruce, arrived Friday afternoon and stayed until Sunday at the Hampton Inn in Orange Beach. Jan’s high school friend, Donna Ditges, and her husband, John, also arrived on Friday afternoon and stayed at Gulf State Park, two sites away from ours. The Davises and Ditgeses joined us at our campsite and we socialized until it was time for dinner. All of us, except the Ditgeses, headed to Papa Rocco’s for pizza and entertainment by Charles “Bo” Grant. Bo Grant is a former member of the 50’s and 60’s doo-wop group, the Platters. Bo was the last performer to replace an original member of the Platters and toured with the group from 1984 to 1998. We had seen him at Papa Rocco’s two weeks earlier and Jan had told him she would be back on her 60th birthday and hoped he would sing Sixty Candles (Jan’s version of the original song, Sixteen Candles). Unfortunately, Bo’s scheduled appearance on the 30th was canceled so we had to go on the 29th instead. As before, we had a great time singing the oldies along with Bo. He remembered Jan and did serenade her, albeit with the original version of Sixteen Candles.

On Saturday morning, we, and our sons, drove to the Hampton Inn and walked along the beach with Lori and Bruce. That afternoon we hosted a get-together at our site with the Davises, Ditgeses and Rykals. The men watched various college football games on the TVs, inside and out, while the women socialized. That evening, we were joined by the Davises and Ditgeses for Jan’s birthday dinner at Fin & Fork.

On Sunday morning, December 1st, we had to move to a new site for the balance of our stay, since our original site was only available for monthly stays. We met Lori and Bruce at Flora-Bama shortly before noon and discovered that the second church service was still in progress. We were surprised to see such a large congregation at what is primarily an entertainment venue. After discovering that the main building of Flora-Bama did not have the Tennessee Titans football game on TV, we walked across the street to the Ole River Grill and joined several other fans to watch the Titans beat the Colts. On Sunday evening, Donna and John invited us to their RV for lasagna.

Monday was largely spent on domestic duties but Donna and John came over in the afternoon to play games. We introduced them to Farkle and they brought Taboo.

On Thursday, December 6th, we returned to Flora-Bama for our last chance this year to play Bingo. This time, Phil won a game. Jan had been enlisted to serve as the judge but we swear that didn’t impact Phil’s win.

On Friday, three of Jan’s childhood friends, Sheila, Michelle and Helena, arrived for the weekend. It was a group birthday celebration, as all four women had turned 60 this year. They rented a condo in Gulf Shores overlooking the beach and Jan joined them for their stay. The four friends enjoyed the next three days; shopping, dining and laughing. They played Farkel every night.