On to Higher Ground: Painted Churches

We left Edinburg, just a day late to avoid the flood. Sounds like they got the field mostly drained and things are returning to normal down there. We headed to Schulenburg to do the painted churches tour and see other attractions in the area. There is a lot to see. And bluebonnets, of course.

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The painted churches are really worth seeing. There are four of them (one, Praha, was closed for repair), spread out in about a 15 mile radius. At first we thought we would do them on our bikes, but when we realized there was so much to see in the area we rented a car. They came and picked us up from Lagrange, about 15 miles away and brought us back to the bus when we returned the car. We were happy to pay the $50 and toured the towns of High Hill, Dubina, Ahmannsville, Swiss Alp, Weimar, Columbus, Halletsville, Flatonia and the surrounding area, including Lagrange where we turned the car in. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The painted churches. This is a self guided tour. You just drive to the church and check it out. Most of them were built in the mid 1800s by mostly Czech immigrants who came to the area and settled among the live oaks and rolling meadows. All the churches and cemeteries are open and we had them all to ourselves.

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The area is lush and green from all the rain and the live oak trees are a sight to see. The bus was parked right next to this one and it wasn’t even as monstrous as some of them, including the second largest live oak in Texas, which is in Columbus. Some of the churches had groves of them.

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This is the second largest one. Seventy feet tall, trunk circumference of 329 inches with a crown spreading over 110 feet. Estimated to be over 500 years old. It spilled way over into the neighboring yard. This picture was taken from way far away with a fisheye lens. So, big. Yeah.

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The first, and arguably most magnificent, church was High Hill. The stained glass alone is worth the trip.

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The sanctuary is pretty spectacular too.
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One unique note: The churches are in very rural areas and are unlocked. The stained and painted glass is not protected with plexiglass or bars. The cemeteries do not have a bunch of broken headstones. Trust the loving universe; they have remained undamaged. If you’re looking for a good place to settle down, unlocked churches would be a good criteria to go by.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church is in Ahmannsville. They all have a very large cemetery as well as pavilions for gatherings. Truly the center of community life.

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Dubina is the oldest one and has the biggest trees on the grounds.
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Dubina has a really interesting cemetery where they took special care to note graves of folks who weren’t buried on site. Much attention to detail in a day when life was much more unpredictable.
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When Schulenburg was formed, because of the railroad, of course, they moved buildings from High Hill by mule and log rollers to the new railroad center. Can you imagine?

These largely Czech communities must have teemed with artists and craftsmen, evidenced by the work in the area. The stonework, masonry, woodworking, stucco, painting, along with the mastery of stained/painted glass are all remarkable. Not to mention the difficulty of construction. They just got ‘er done. Where do you see this level of craftsmanship in today’s world? Yes, there are lots of artists these days, but these projects took a sustained community of craftsmen and artists many years to produce these humbling works. The work ethic and acknowledgement of art and craft are missing in today’s strip malls and Butler building churches. Not to mention that many “blue collar” workers would actually be creatively employed, not just working at Walmart. If you go to church, you may as well go to one where the art inspires you as much as the sermon. That would be a big plus for me.

Many more pics on Flickr. There are just too many to include here. Worth a look.

Wade in the Water…

We had a lovely dinner with friends here in the park last night. As we headed back to the bus, it started to rain. Once we got back, it poured down rain! Almost four inches. Normally, the park across from our spot is a lovely green field, with trees, flowers and birds. Today it is a lake. DSC_1673 IMG_7203
Here comes the Fed Ex guy. He didn’t even get out of his truck to drop off the stuff we ordered.IMG_7204 IMG_7208  IMG_7206
Claudia is up to her ankles! She has very serviceable boots for the occasion. The water is about three inches deep at the step of the bus.

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And, of course, we washed the windows and the wheel covers yesterday in anticipation of leaving. Now we have to wait till we can see the road at least. Get a tire off the road and we are toast.

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These guys got off the hardpacked caliche a couple of weeks ago and buried their rear axle. The second tow truck got it out; but this was before the big rain even. We will be slow and steady when we pull out tomorrow. We will probably recruit some folks to line the road for us so we don’t get off into the grass. What a mess that would be.

Catherine’s Art in the Park

The parade of talented people continues. I needed to touch up some spots on the bus that had gotten dinged by rocks or scraped by branches. Just to knock down the white spots and make your eye pass over. In the old days, I had all the paint and brushes I needed but those all got stored, given away or sold in the purge of our stuff.

There are several artists in the park so I set out to find some acrylic paint to touch up the white spots. I headed to Catherine’s first. One day she had come over to get one of our bus cards as she was painting a dragon and needed a visual reference. She works mostly in watercolor, ink and acrylic mixed media and her work is delicately colored, wispy yet strong, well composed and very engaging. She has a good eye for eyes. If you have ever tried drawing the human or animal eye and making it believable and alive-looking, you know it is a special skill. She’s got it!

Jim saw the finished dragon painting before I did and told me, “You have got to see it!” So I biked on over for a look and to borrow supplies for my touch-up project. She has a lovely little studio shed where she paints and she showed me several of her works. Here is the finished dragon.
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You can see some resemblance to our bus dragon!
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Then we went on to look at some of her other work and I took a few pics. Some of the pieces were framed with glass which always makes for interesting photography but these are all good representations of her style.

She and Bob ride and have horses and her love and understanding of them really shows up in this piece.
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This painting is exceptional. It reminds me of yoga’s Warrior pose, wood nymphs and fairies cavorting through an imaginary landscape.
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Some early work:
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See what I mean about the eyes?
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When I finished taking pics, they invited me to join them for a glass of wine, which I happily accepted. We sat and talked a goodwhile and it was lovely to get to know them both a little better. Happy Hours are great but one-on-one interaction is always the best!

A few days later, Jim broke the bridge of his baritone ukulele. Good thing he already had ordered a new one. He was going to trash the old one but I thought it might be a good art project for you-know-who. She picked it up today and I can’t wait to see what she eventually makes out of it.

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Thanks so much, Catherine and Bob for your hospitality and a lovely afternoon.

Theresa’s New Lease on Seats

There are so many talented people here in the park where we have spent the winter, musicians, artists, quilters, potters, seamstresses, textile artists, massage therapists, painters, singers and performers. And more. I have already mentioned how very friendly and welcoming everybody is.

While talking to one particular lady I discovered that she had just gotten a new sewing machine that can do practically anything. She used to have her own upholstery shop and after we chatted a while, she agreed to practice a little by making new canvas seat covers for our little camp chairs. We got these many years ago for motorcycle camping before we were even married. They have served us well, come apart easily and have their own storage bags for frame and cushions. They had been holding up just fine but one of them finally gave up the ghost and split in the place where we had repaired it with duct tape many years ago.

Here is the BEFORE picture. The canvas used to be as red as the chairs.
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Theresa and I went shopping and I couldn’t decide between the blue and purple canvas so we decided to make two covers for each chair. The others lasted over 25 years but why not? Theresa said they will last another 25 years.

It turned out that the canvas itself wasn’t that hard to sew through, but the corners and overlaps proved tougher to navigate. She persevered and even made two new canvas carrying bags for us. The seats and backs are super tight and comfy now and we don’t have to worry about them tearing like we did before. They are ideal for happy hours since you can sit in front of people when it’s crowded and not block the view. They are also good for Jim playing the ukulele too since they don’t have arms.

Yes, they are low to the ground but they are not at all difficult to get up out of. Keeps us flexible as an added benefit.

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She is also seaming up the armrest covers for the driver and passenger seats. As we have found with others here who have helped us, she wouldn’t take any money even though I planned to pay her, so Jim washed the roof of their house for them in exchange. We believe in paying back and forward.

Many thanks to Theresa. She is a sweetheart; it has been a pleasure getting to know her better. She is also a formidable water volleyball player and has beautiful soft, curly hair and a ready smile.

We love our new chairs! And our new friends even more!

Carmella Meets Toby

The cats have been going outside since we’ve been here. Carmella is by far the most adventurous and when the wind dies down, we take her on “walks.” Which means she gets harnessed up, after squeak begging to go out, and her string/leash attached. She usually just runs under the stored vehicle nearby but we have ventured into the park, about a three acre dog (and cat) park.

Once in a while we actually do walk and it is quite a sight to see the cat walking down the street on a leash. She climbs a few nearby trees and we have learned to unhook the string before she heads up the tree. Jim has gotten the ladder out several times to unravel the string and branches. If she gets freaked by something, she heads for the bus. We just drop her string and she zooms in. It’s nice to see her run again; they used to streak across our acre+ yard when we whistled for them. The whistle has also come in handy in the bus.

Carmella has never been around dogs. There are some very good, gentle dogs here in the park and they all are very well behaved. The dog park is always a good chance to catch up on the dogs and their people. We have a great view of the whole park from the bus.

It’s fun to watch the dogs get that little extra swagger in their step when they know the cat is out. She has met Stella, a wonderfully gentle, very large dog with perfect cat manners. A couple others have gotten close too, but we have evidence with Toby.

Our neighbor Tony has a 12 year old Scottie and they pass by frequently. Toby, the dog, is an older gentleman but when he sees Carmella out, or another dog approaching, he gets a spring in his step which is delightful to behold. He and Carmella have gotten pretty close before but the other evening the perfect storm ensued and they touched noses.

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The approach. Tony is keeping a close leash on Toby and Carmella is being good, just talking to him. IMG_7177
The moment of truth!
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Carmella says, “I can’t believe I did that either!

Open Letter to Dos Okies

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Our good friends Janelle and Bill came down for a lovely long weekend in February. The weather cooperated, the pool was warm, the sun shone, the palm trees swayed and our musical happy hour was a lot of fun. We talked non-stop, ate and drank (of course) and enjoyed catching up and making future plans.

We became friends in Mexico several years ago and have kept in touch. We haven’t been back to Mexico since we got the bus so our visits have been stateside lately.They have a great little serviceable teardrop trailer, a T@b, and they drove down from Oklahoma and camped near us.

It was nice and warm while they were here and we got to see several examples of their latest tie dye art. This pareo, in particular, was amazing in that it was so perfectly tied and so symmetrical. We have known them long enough that we recognize their individual styles. And this is just a half pareo, for just wrapping around your waist.

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This is their bed cover in the T@b.
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And this is them with their cool shade awning for their trailer.
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A few details from Bill’s masterpiece, above.
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While they were here, we were drooling over the new designs that they had produced.

Once when we lived in Kansas, we drove down to Oklahoma for a weekend of tie-dying on their lovely sun porch. I still wear a dress I did that weekend and I kept my Aunt Muriel’s linen tablecloth with matching napkins. I also wore a shirt to Mexico that we did that weekend.

When we moved into the bus, we collected a big bag of white cotton or linen items to transfer to them for future art. In our brain-dead exhaustion and preparation, we winnowed that down and shipped it off. Included was a pair of very durable white cotton Army snow camouflage pants that are at least 35 years old. An old boyfriend and I found a bale, literally, in a dumpster near his house. There were about 40 pairs of sturdy, heavy-duty, white cotton Army snow camouflage pants with tie closures at the waist and both ankles. Some were so damaged we tossed them, but I sold many others and kept several pairs I still have today. They are the original one-size fits none. They are a story in themselves.

We had a hint it was coming and received a box a few weeks later containing two most excellent full pareos. And the missing pants!

My pareo, although we plan to share them…
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Does this look like a Buddha figure or what?
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Details:
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Jim’s pareo…
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And my pants! Does this tie-dye make my butt look big? Ha! Don’t answer that.IMG_7167  IMG_7166

I sewed this Izod alligator on them like 35 years ago. Everybody was wearing those shirts and they drove me crazy. So I made my pants Izod pants. He’s still there. IMG_7172  IMG_7174
Anyway, we are delighted with our new additions. The pareos are a very comfortable lightweight seersucker fabric and they were made with love by true friends. There aren’t enough exclamation points in the universe to describe how thrilled we are.

How lucky are we? Many thanks, Okies. We love you guys.

Spring Into Texas

Winter is really over. It has been raining like crazy here in the Rio Grande Valley and everything is lush and green. And wet.

Our neighbor two doors down has a lovely garden he calls Thorn Thicket. It is a huge attraction for birds and a quiet oasis tucked into his side yard. There is a babbling water feature, a winding path, a swing and benches. When we take Carmella for “walks” she always wants to go there but we don’t let her go in. She is interested in the birds, not the flowers.

This is a small sample of What’s Blooming Now. Hibiscus, cosmos, lovely lilies, sunflowers (!), the legendary Texas bluebonnets and more. It has been a delight to be able to enjoy flowers and hummingbirds all winter long. Being an avid gardener for so long, it is a real pleasure to enjoy different regional seasons. And other people’s efforts.

Gratitude.

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Meet the Fussnecker

I had been meaning to write a post about the vacuum cleaner we bought back when we were visiting Ed and Cindy in Dayton, Ohio and riding the trails there. Because we were so thrilled with it.

One day, when Ed had graciously loaned us his truck, we just happened to pass an old style vacuum cleaner store. It was called Fussnecker’s. We decided to go in and see if we could find an upgrade for our reliable old Royal hand vacuum.

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This little guy is about 60 years old, as near as I can calculate. It was my mom’s and was always on the shelf of the broom closet when we were kids. We used it for steps and cleanup. It was always there. When we broke up my mom’s house I brought it home and we moved it into the bus for daily use.

It works great but doesn’t have a wand attachment to get the corners and all the nooks and crannies in the bus. So we went to Fussnecker’s since we were right there.

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We ended up buying this model hand vac with a wand attachment. We called it The Fussnecker after the store, which Ed and Cindy told us had been there forever.

All set. With three cats, we Fussneck every day around here. It only takes a few minutes to do both strips of rugs under the chairs, the cat waves and the few throw rugs we have in the kitchen and bath. Sometimes we vacuum the cat beds and the quilt and comforter.
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Housekeeping in the bus is a plus; you can deep clean the whole thing, including windows, in about a half hour.

We bought The Fussnecker in August. Used it every day. Cleaned out the filter after every use; and once a week or so, Jim would take it out and blow it out with the compressor. That made it have good “suck.” Come February, it wasn’t performing nearly as well. He ended up taking it apart and replacing a bunch of parts; belt, filter but it was making this funny noise and didn’t have as much “suck” as it used to. This is only about six months into a new vacuum. At least it was still under warranty.

So Jim called the place in Ohio and they told him that unit wasn’t even manufactured by Fuller Brush.
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WUT? Fussnecker’s basically washed their hands of it. Besides they are in Ohio and we are in way south Texas. Hmmm…

We rented a car last week so we could get some stuff done before we take off from here in a few weeks. We went to Mexico to get our teeth cleaned. You can’t believe how many dentists are in Mexico. Separate post coming on that. I had a good experience with a dentist in Mexico about 35 years ago and we had good referrals. It went fine.

I washed all the rugs, the quilts, comforter, blanket, towels and sheets. I also washed Jim’s phone that he left in his jeans pocket. OOPS! Miraculously it got dried out thanks to our neighbor’s borrowed hairdryer and it works fine again. Thanks Suzanne!

We grocery shopped, of course, and stocked up on the heavy stuff like liquor, coffee, pop, beans. Things that are heavier/harder to carry on the bikes.

While we had the car Jim spied a vacuum repair shop and took The Fussnecker in to see what could be done. I wish I had taken a picture of this place because it was stuffed, I mean jam-crammed full of every type of vacuum you can imagine. I have never seen so many! It was a funky little place but the guy honored the warranty and he traded our old Fussnecker out for a re-manufactured one. Totally free.

When we asked about buying a spare belt for the Royal, the his eyes got real big and he said, “That’s an old one!” Jim said, “That’s right, but you know what? It still works great! After 50+ years.” The new one didn’t even last a year!

So we spent like $3.00 and have two vacuums again. It’s nice to have a spare.

 

 

Counting Down the Grapefruit

I eat a grapefruit every morning; have for many years now. Buying them in the grocery store in Kansas was an expensive, wildly unpredictable and often disappointing experience. More often than not, the skins were thick, the fruit was dry and there was hardly any juice in some of them. Why did I keep eating them? Often enough I got a good one and what was the alternative? I mean, I couldn’t go to Florida every morning. When we were in Naples a couple of winters ago our friend Jon had them fresh from the tree too. So fresh the juice runs down your chin.

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Since we have been in the Rio Grande Valley, I am in grapefruit heaven! The park is loaded with trees and we have had a steady supply of grapefruit and oranges. We juice the oranges and some of the grapefruit. These babies may not look supermarket perfect on the outside but they are fabulous and juicy and delicious. I have a favorite tree and can easily borrow a fruit picker for the higher ups. As the season goes on, the low hanging fruit goes first.

We heard the other evening that they were having a Bowling with Grapefruit Happy Hour and I thought “Oh no!” All those lovely grapefruit! So we went and collected as many or more as we will eat while we are still here. It turned out that they juiced a lot of the grapefruit and we ended up with plenty of grapefruit and about a gallon of juice too! It’s going to be hard going back to buying them in the store.

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This is about how many days we have left before we head out and this picture was taken a few days ago! We are heading west from here but don’t have any firm plans yet. We know we are going into the Hill Country to meet up with cousins who are Rvers, then to visit Marni’s sister near Austin. From there we may make our way to Big Bend National Park and set out on the western Mexican border trail. We have friends in Arizona, California and Colorado that we want to see and we hear the bike trails in Colorado Springs are great. A friend here told me you can ride for days.

We want to get some miles under our belts! Rails-to-Trails bike paths don’t seem to be real prevalent in Texas; several are like two miles long! So more research is coming on that. If you know of any places or bike trails that we should check out, let us know.

Stops on the list so far on the list in Texas are Lockhart for BBQ and cousin meet-up, maybe Seguin, Luling and a couple other towns. New Braunfels is nice and the Guadalupe River is beautiful. We may not make it out of Texas!

We are doing some prep-for-the-road type stuff this week. It has been raining so we figured this is a good time.We rented a car so we can go get our teeth cleaned in Mexico ($30), excellent references.  I have a huge large laundry load including rugs, blankets, quilt, comforter plus all the usual stuff. Jim wants to go to a couple of music stores. And I want a martini!

We want to get those chores done before the Olympics start here in the park next week! Too bad they don’t have yoga in the Olympics…This picture is from a few years ago in Mexico but I just did this pose again the other day. Extended pavrita bakasana.

Cell memory is a beautiful thing. Just like a good grapefruit.

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Pico de Gallo

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We have been big fans of Pico de Gallo ever since we first went to Mexico together in 2003. That was our first big Mayan ruins trip in the Yucatan and we encountered an especially delicious form at Chicanna, on the way to the ruins at Calakmul. They called it salsa fresa and we have been making and eating it ever since.

Click here for more of our Mexican adventures 2003-2011.
We went to ruins all over the Yucatan.

Anyway…
Pico is a great Happy Hour food, no calories except the chips you scoop it up with. We eat it on tacos all the time too.  And eggs. And straight out of the bowl sometimes. It is that good.

Here’s how to make it. The secret for making it perfect is simple: eyeball the same amount of tomato, onion and cilantro. Then I add back a little more tomato. Add jalapeño peppers to taste; I usually use about three for about a quart or so. Kosher salt, ground pepper and lime juice add the final touches.

Roma tomatoes
Cilantro
Onion (red or white)
Jalapeño peppers
Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
Lime juice to taste. Don’t scrimp here, this makes it super yummy.

Chop everything up, mix together and let it sit for a while so the peppers take effect.

While you’re at it, make some guacamole to go with it as pictured above. Just smush up the avocados, add back some of the pico, some salt and lime juice. The key to making sure the guac doesn’t turn brown is to cover it with Saran Wrap and push the covering right down on the guac so no air is in there. Some people leave the pit in for the same reason, but this can lead to a surprise when serving.

We’re having tacos tonight with beans, avocados, olives, chicken, lettuce and pico (of course!)

Enjoy!