Thursday, November 24, 2016

Don't let the little things get you down.....


As I write, we are on the road, heading toward the RGV (Rio Grande Valley), where we will winter.  We departed San Antonio after voting and having lunch with Jane, heading to our next assignment at Llano Grande RV Park in Mercedes, Texas.  

This is a new adventure for us, after almost 5 years of volunteering for our National Parks, Forests and Historic sites, we are taking on our first "Workamper" "job".  Let me explain what that is...People who live full time in their RV's are called "full-timers".  People who live that way can design their lives to fit their personalities.  We have (until now) chosen to be full time volunteers for the National Park System (no pay).  Other people choose to continue working, by doing jobs that are conducive to the lifestyle.  So, those people living in an RV and working at paying jobs (usually for private organizations), are called "workampers".  Most "workampers" are paid in both amenities (pad, full hook up, laundry etc) and a wage (usually minimum).  Bill and I, with an extensive resume by this time, have been vetted on several occasions.  These requests, arriving via e-mail, have always become the victim of my "delete" button, until now.  Llano Grande looked quite inviting

and, after a phone interview, we decided to "run an experiment" and try workamping at this private RV Resort for the winter.  Hard to resist working 12 hours a week (each of us) at the customer service desk, and receiving, in exchange for this hard labor, a full hook-up, wifi, electrical stipend, and use of 

the pools,

 hot tubs, 


 quilt shop craft shop, 

art studio ,

 exercise gym  

golf course, sports bar, restaurant and all events parties/dances.

But, first, let us complete our time at Government Canyon State Natural Area
                   Chewbacca Mom (Candace Payne)

 It was  September 7th and I was just cruising through Facebook posts when I saw an interesting looking link posted by Jennifer (our San Antonio Niece).  It was a post about a women's event at her church, featuring "Chewbacca Mom".  Jennifer noted she was going.  Then my sister-in-law (Jane, Jennifer's mother-in-law) said she was going to go.   In this moment I saw a rare opportunity for a "girls night out".  So, thinking that's what I was going to get myself into,  I added my 2 cents and said "I'll go too".  I  didn't even know what or who "Chewbacca Mom" was.  I know who Chewbacca is.  Was this the real life Mom of the Chewbacca character?  I didn't really care WHAT,  or who this event was all about, I was just really focused on the "girl's night out" aspect,  so, I signed up.

On September 16th I met up with Jane (my sister-in-law),

we picked up Jennifer (niece) and her friend Jennifer.  We hustled through dinner at Chipotle and arrived at the church just before the program began.  We girls gradually took our seats and listened, with interest, to the introduction by a woman who represented the "Radiant Woman's" ministry at Discovery Church, San Antonio:

The speaker struck me, for that matter, many of the women there, who were a part of the ministry team, struck me.  When I say "struck me", I don't necessarily mean funny (as in HA HA), or weird (as in freaky) but just stereotypical of the genteel, southern belle.....  You see......

.#1:  Bill and I had only been in San Antonio for 2 weeks at this point, and not acclimated to the traditional customs, etiquette and established ways of the south.  

#2:  It would be important for you, at this juncture, to note Bill and I live in "Columbia" clothes.  The Columbia "outdoorsy" genre fits our casual lifestyle.

#3:  I wear almost NO makeup- EVER.  

#4:  I wash my hair everyday, but, it is stubborn, and I often look a wreck in the hair department, especially in the San Antonio heat and humidity.

#5:  And when Bill and I are able to make it to church these days, we dress as we always have when attending Alpine Chapel....very casual.
THIS would be our absolute Sunday best
This was going to be a special night, so I had dressed best jeans, western shirt, cowboy boots, but when we walked in to that church and the ladies in charge of the event greeted us, I really felt like a duck out of water.  EVERY church woman there had on a dress, nylons, bouffant hair, full makeup, and all their southern charm.  I did what I usually do when faced with feeling like I don't belong or don't measure up.....square my shoulders, lift my chin, put on a confident air and muscle thru it.
So, it was in that mood I listened to our introductory speaker, not yet knowing what the night was really about.  
It was totally unexpected, to find out the speaker, Candace Payne, previously a typical suburban Mom, who, like me, struggles with her weight, saying "No", and often feeling inadequate, and she shared those things with us.  But, Candace possessed the talent to turn all of that into laughter, and within a minute of her taking the stage, we were smiling, then beaming, then laughing with a little chuckle, then laughing with a few guffaws for good measure and none of us noticed what we were wearing or what the woman next to us was wearing, or how we felt about ourselves in the presence of this amazing woman.  The laughter did not stop, pause, break or slow down for the next 2 hours.  I won't rob you of the joy of discovering Candace on your own.  Look her up on YouTube (see the link above) as "Chewbacca Mom".
If you relate to her as much as we did, whatever load you are carrying around will be made lighter, as thru her simple act of joy, sitting in that car in the Kohl's parking lot, reminds us all to laugh at the simple stuff, and give little or no credence to the superficial trappings that, in the long run, do not matter at all.

Back at the Government Canyon State Natural Area Volunteer Village we were getting used to Zoey and Ella showing up unannounced.

These little girls, daughters of the parks superintendent, like to visit with us volunteers, all of us over a certain age, and way beyond the age their playmates would be, but, in that neighborhood, we were the closest thing to buddies Zoey and Ella were going to get.  Bill and I introduced them to "Make Way for the Ducklings" while munching on cheese and crackers  Many of these scenes, with minor changes, were repeated over the two months we were there.

Now that we were settled in and evaluating the cause of the tire blowouts mentioned in our previous blog entry, Bill and I had begun the process of lightening our load, pitching the unnecessaries.  One of those items was a rather large sketchpad Bill had had for years, and wasn't using.  We decided the girls might like it.  But, just let it go, Bill could not do.  Nope, he had to send it off with a sketch on page one, and he wanted it to mean something.  So, Bill set his easel up in their yard and began to sketch the supers house.

 But, he is an artist after all, and in the sketch he applied some artistic license  Adding a barn with horses and a windmill (located in another area of the park).  Then, as a final touch, he staged a "shootout" at the OK corral between a little iron cowboy

he had spotted residing in the garage, and a lawn sprinkler (a tall skinny post which held two hoses, not unlike pistols) to which Bill added a cowboy hat.

Knowing that something special was coming their way, the girls waited patiently, several days, for their surprise gift.

When Bill finally showed it to them, they thanked him, grabbed it and ran home, fighting over who got to hold it, the entire way.

(well, next to Candace)

Here is a standard grasshopper, right?

Well, a Differential Grasshopper to be exact.  Actually kind of pretty!  So, why is this my funniest moment?   Well, this guy found himself in my kitchen while I was cleaning house.  Not desiring to kill him, I got my trusty vacuum cleaner out and fired it up.  Do you have any idea how fast a grasshopper is?  Well, I'm here to attest.....VERY fast!  The funny part???  It was 6 minutes of chasing that little bug around the RV.  Every time I came within inches, he escaped again, sometimes within the swirling vortex of the suction.  I was laughing so hard, while chasing him around the house, he almost made his escape.  After the catch, he was released to his natural element.

As it seems to be a "buggie" month, and they are so fascinating, I guess we should take a look at a few of the locals now.......In last month's blog we discussed the American Snout

 and how one came into the house.  Then, we had the visiting grasshopper (above).  But, for the most part, the critters have stayed outside:

LOTS of lizards:

This one liked the tree: 

But, this one thought Tessa's water dish was a better option:

on that 95 degree day, I didn't blame him.

The first time I saw a "Walking Stick" I was about 8 years old, hanging out alone at "the fort" (in Wildwood, IL).  I could tell you where this secret place was, but I'd have to kill you:-)  Since spending time in Texas and California, Walking Sticks are becoming rather commonplace to me, but they do show up in some of the strangest, most unexpected places:

On the Fee Booth: 

On our truck:  can't find the pix of the walking stick, but this guy kept me from getting into the truck.

Now, as interesting as Walking Sticks are, 
how about the Praying Mantis for cool!!!

I have yet to ID these guys, but still wanted to share them with you.

And, fair warning for the faint of heart....Jumping out of the truck one night, to open the park gate, I spotted something on the ground that grabbed my attention.  With the naked eye I could tell it was an absolutely life or death struggle between a large beetle and an even larger butterfly.  At 1st, it looked like the butterfly

            was winning, as he had the beetle on his back.

Suddenly, the roles were reversed

and the beetle had control of the situation, to the end.
I guess I never thought of beetles as carnivores, but here was the proof.

These orange guys were plentiful ...

all over the place

This butterfly looked like he was doomed, but a few minutes after this pix was taken, he flew off:-)

One of the neatest sights we have experienced is triggered by driving down a 2 track road, grasses as tall as the top of your hood, waving gracefully as I pass by.  As I putz along, the feathery tops sweep

How is that for a picture that shows the beginning of the phenomena
 I have just described.  Didn't even know I had this until after I wrote about the scene,
gently by my open windows and brush my elbow in a familiar, momentary connection.  Unlike this photo, where only 1 avant guard is checking out the pathway,  huge clouds of his friends and relatives would fill the air ......  yellow, orange, white, blue, green.  I have never seen so many varied species of butterflys as we have here.

I have afore mentioned we work in the Fee Booth 2 days/week.  In order for me to maintain the integrity of my cash drawer, I sign it out and handle all of the computer and cash work, while Bill handles the "meet and greet" with the cars/drivers.  During a Meet and Greet Bill's job is to ascertain how many people are in each car, their ages and find out their purpose in visiting the park.  With the growth of deeply tinted windows (especially down here in Texas), the driver will often assist Bill in getting a head count by lowering the rear one.  This also allows the kids (the usual occupants of the back seat) to interact with him.

Two weekends before we left Government Canyon, that back window went down to reveal 3 little 8 year old (furthest from Bill), a 10 year old (in the middle) and a 7 year old (closest to Bill).  From the moment that window dropped and Bill began his interaction with those girls, that 8 year old was in quite a "Mae West" mode.  A provocatively playful mood....8 going on 24.  She worked at making eye to eye contact with Bill, smiling ever so demurely.   She then proceeded to wink at him...several times in succession, as she tried to gain his attention, as middle children often will.   I caught the end of her one act drama as I leaned out of the Fee Booth, in response to Bill's comment "you gotta see this" (spoken quietly under his breath).  It was the funniest moment ever, as her Dad drove away, with this raven haired, precocious little girl, straining in her seat, looking back winking and waving as their car disappeared around a curve in the road.

Yes, our days are by no means boring.  Our days off, when we are hanging out at home in the
volunteer village, our campsite is quiet and private.

The nosiest interruptions are the coyotes in the early evenings, the fighter jets and cargo planes.

We just love watching those fighters and hulking K135 tanker planes flying out of Lackland AFB.  When you see and hear this K135

 moving thru the sky, it is almost surreal that

something that large could actually be airborne.   

And, speaking of Texas skies,... at the risk of being labeled a traitor, Bill and I both agree, after traveling this entire country, Texas skies are the most beautiful skies we have ever seen!

I submit this evidence: 

There, I said it, let the feedback begin!

Lately, after enjoying those Texas skies we will go inside and catch some TV.  The presidential debates (the outcome of which is now known) grabbing our attention, despite our aversion to the whole thing.
Even Tessa is questioning the sanity of these two candidates.

Yes, days and nights at home are peaceful. 

Well, it can get rowdy for a few minutes when Zoey and Ella come over, but we welcome that little interruption.  One day the girls came by with their Dad, Chris, our park superintendent.  This visit Chris came bearing a gift.  Chris had harvested his beehives and produced about 30 pints of honey.  Well, me... I'm not a fan...but BILL, Oh Bill loves his honey.  He conferred on Chris's honey a standard of "delicious!".  Just another unique experience, a result of being "on the road", learning new things, making new friends along the way.
As it turns out, the girls came by again, our last night in camp, and presented us with an additional pint of honey.  (Janie, we'll save it for y'all).

As it seems to do on a yearly basis Bill's birthday arrived (73rd) October 4th and with it, the question of the day..."Where would you like to go for dinner?"  Apparently, the 1st Mexican restaurant we discovered in San Antonio (thanks to Jane), El Jarro De Arturo, had made an impression, as that was his choice.

A wonderful  evening it was, despite the cancellation if our dinner partners, Tim and Jane (Bill's sister and BIL).

One thing we can say....2 months in San Antonio, many dinners out and not a one of them was a bust.  I will add this though, the FIRESIDE in Ellison Bay, WI still holds the top award for "BEST FRIED
PICKLES" in the country.
Red Robin in San Antonio , one exception to the rule of "no chains"
Gino's from home!

Pico De Gallo an a wonderful evening with Annie
In Austin actually, more on this one next month
Chris Madrid's, not quite as good as Hopdoddy's

 Good though Arturo's is, our


 HOPDODDY'S in San Antonio (Cantera)

We found the locals  quite entertaining

Bet you never thought you'd see a "burger joint" on our BEST OF recommendations!
Hopdoddy Burger Bar | gluten-free buns and fries in Austin, TX:

But Hopdoddy's is it!  BEST burger we have ever had in a restaurant!  Not to mention the fries!
Check it out if you get to San Antonio

Speaking of food......., you know the saying "you can take the cop out of the police department, but you can't take the police department out of the cop"?  Well, in the same vein,... "you can take the entertainers out of the "hood" but "you can't take the hood out of the entertainers".  So, that was how we ended up cooking for the "kids" who were camped out in the yard next door to us.  This group of 20 somethings, spending 6 months working very hard in the Texas heat for the Texas Conservation Corps.  The kids were at Government Canyon for 2, 11 day cycles, building a boardwalk trail.  Working days in the heat, snake infested savannah and sleeping nights in their little tents, all the while battling the same chiggers which had left me in abject misery for 6 weeks.  My need to express our appreciation was burning and I could not deny it.  A huge batch of pulled BBQ chicken, macaroni salad, potato salad and brownies with ice cream was served up our last week there.  The BBQ was such a hit, it has become my new "go to" BBQ recipe.


3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons butter
1 cup Heinz ketchup (a must for us)
14 cup packed brown sugar
           14 cup chili sauce (Heinz is a good one)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
          12-34 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
12 teaspoon salt
2 dashes hot pepper sauce

8 large chicken breast halves, bone-in with skin (a large family pack will usually have about 7-8 breasts.)


In a saucepan, saute the garlic in butter until tender.
Add the next 8 ingredients.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Remove from the heat and set aside.
Grill the chicken, covered over medium heat for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
Baste with sauce.
Grill 15 minutes longer or until juices run clear.
Continue basting and turning during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Serve on Kaiser rolls with any extra sauce you set aside for dipping.

All of us, by the end of the evening, filled with food and life stories and dreams, all 10 of these (hard to fill) young adults, were stuffed and we made our respective ways to our "bunks" and crashed, satisfied with the success of the evening.
What did we have in common with these youngsters???  We are, to a person, lovers of nature and this country, which is why we all serve.

It was also during our last week at Government Canyon that Bill's need to paint could no longer be denied.  So, it was back to work on "Starrett Lake" when Zoey arrived for a visit.  She admired Bill's

painting while...

 we admired her necklace.

And to top off our final days at Government Canyon, one last family gathering, celebrating 2 things:

SIL Jane William and Ben
our nephew, Ben's birthday

and the Chicago Cubs,

If you have to ask what "goat" this T-shirt is referring to, you're out of the loop.

who would begin their 1st world series game in 108 years while we ate dinner that night.

This celebration, coincidentally,  took place at a well known Chicago eatery, Gino's East....yep, right here in San Antonio!  Where else would died in the wool Chicagoans and Cubs fans (well, some of us anyway) eat while celebrating our home town?

Ella and Zoey came by for 1 last visit, as our time at Government Canyon SNA drew to a close.  We have a "carved in stone" return date of October 3rd, 2018, but management has suggested that "exceptions" can be made to accommodate and earlier visit.  Government Canyon would like us back, and we would love to be back.  God has His plan and we will remain open to His direction.


Our last day arrived too quickly, and yet, with all we had to do to get ready to leave, voting seemed

very important.      So, as soon as we could launch, we headed out to meet up with Jane and vote.  After the 25 minute wait, we were quick to finish.  After lunch with Jane, we started our trip south to Llano Grande RV Resort.  Now, the trip is billed as 4 hours, but that would be in a car.  In the truck, pulling a 40 foot 5th wheel, we usually have to add half again the time estimate.  That would have put us at Llano around the reasonable hour of 6 PM,  Then, I spotted a sign indicating Corpus Christi city limits.  I suddenly remembered there was a script waiting at Walgreens for me there.  If I had known what I thought would be a 15 minute side trip, would turn out to be an hour and a half side trip, putting us at Llano well after dark, I might have rethought the importance of that script.

No worries, we had our pad assignment (224B) and could go directly there, park and start settling in for our 5 month stay.   Bill had no trouble backing in to the site, but our unit was so close to our neighbors, as to make it almost impossible to put our room extensions out.

Our neighbors, Ken and Kay, came over to talk, and shared with us the fact that the park had never assigned an RV that size to 224B, as it made for very close quarters.
When we first arrived, we were on the pad to the right in this picture.
Armed with that information, we went to bed in "traveling" mode.  The next morning we put a call in to the resort manager and asked for a larger site.  After a few suggestions on our part, which were summarily shot down (that spot is already taken), we were re-assigned to site 224A (right next door) and received a commitment that both neighboring sites would be left unoccupied, giving us, in essense, 3 sites and plenty of room.  Not the most scenic location ever, but considering the venue, at least it's nice to have space around us.

This is our 1st Workamper "job", as I have said.  It is at a private RV Resort.  At such places the RV's are usually packed in pretty tight, so it is quite a luxury to be sitting in the middle of 3 sites at the edge of the park.

After moving and spending the day getting everything back to "normal" living status, we decided to begin exploring our environs.  I pulled up Trip Advisor and located a 5 star Mexican restaurant just 2.5 miles away.  Off to Nana's Taqueria we went.

Upon our arrival we secured a table on this charming patio, and discovered that a Taqueria is, for the most part, a taco restaurant.  I say "for the most part" because some  Taquerias do offer a widely varied menu.

 Bill, being more adventurous than I, ordered the Nana's Combo while I ordered the standard beef tacos, which they dubbed...  "Llano Grande" Tacos. I figured a taco named after our RV park had to be good:-)

That said, in all of my travels over the years, my favorite tacos

Tasty Tacos ® : Mexican Restaurant, Des Moines, Iowa:
Tasty Tacos
               were found (1978) at a hole in the wall Mexican Restaurant
 on the East side of Des Moines, Iowa.

Check out:

Why were they so good? They were fried!

 Imagine my surprise then, at the moment that dish was set in front of me at Nana's and I saw the

Llano Grande Tacos were fried as well! YUM!  

Though the Nana's menu is limited in it's scope, it sure isn't limited in quality, taste and friendly wait staff.  5 star food??? NO WAY....Nana's deserves more than that.

The morning of our second day at Llano we had been summoned to an all staff meeting (about 60 people).  Word was, the meeting started at 8:30 am in the auditorium.  This was an important meeting as it was to be our 1st get together with our co-workers.  I wanted to make a good impression, so we arrived 5 minutes early.  As we walked into this huge room, filled with our co-workers and bosses, we realized the meeting was well under way, with the head woman at the microphone.  As we entered, trying to blend in unnoticed (impossible to do) the director stopped speaking and welcomed us (ouch) then asked us to introduce ourselves (double ouch).  I could not help introducing us as "Bill and Jan Suttie, the ones who had been told the meeting started at 8:30".  We survived the embarrassment, and the one hour of training we were given a the close of the meeting:-)

We weren't scheduled to work for 5 more days after that fiasco.  We made good use of the time to learn the area (Weslaco), the park and made some friends.  Brian and Edmee, like many of our park residents, are "winter Texans".  We found we have a lot in common.  An invite was extended by them to go birding at Estero State Park:

They were the 1st couple we had met with whom we felt really connected.  Turns out Estero State Park is walking distance from Llano, but we drove over to save time.  Brian served as our guide, as he knew every bird there on a first name basis!  The walk worked up our appetites, so we introduced them to Nana's.  They seemed to like it.

The days for us to work arrived as Team #1 completed their week (Th, Fr, Mon, Tues, Weds) and Team #2 (us) were up to bat.  It is entirely up to Bill and I how we split up our time, as long as 1 of us is on duty when we are expected.  We evaluated our options:

Jan work 8-12, Bill work 12-4 each day

Jan work all day 1 day, Bill work all day the next and rotate

Jan work 1/2 the week and Bill work the 2nd half of the week

With the plan to complete some of our projects without interruption, we decided to lay out schedule like this:
Jan works 1 entire week
Bill works one entire week, and we rotate.

Thus, with Team #1 in place on our off weeks, we will each have 3 weeks off at a time.

It was with this plan in place that I naively headed off to my first day.  Naively because there were some things I did not know yet:

#1- the park had a new computer system
#2- No one on the permanent staff had yet mastered it
#3- Many of the glitches had yet to be worked out
#4- if you make a mistake (or the buyer changes their mind several times) when inputing the data, there is no going back.  You will have to start all over again.  THIS is not easy when dealing with people of a certain age!
#5-  Remember that 1 hour of training I got after the staff meeting???  Well, that would be the extent of our "formal" training, the rest was going to be up to us to get, on the job.
#6-  When beginning a new job during the busiest week of the year, it is very difficult to get anyones attention, to find an answer.

By the end of day #1 I was exhausted, and loving the job.  The challenge of making everyone happy, under the most difficult of circumstances, is my new favorite pastime.  I found meeting the challenge extremely gratifying:
Take 1 grumpy person (or 3) and turn them walking away with a smile THAT'S a good day!

Thus went Thursday.  On Friday the Park rolled out another new computer program, designed to allow patrons to book their event tickets on-line and supposedly relieve my burden.  And, as with most new programs, there were glitches.  Guess who had to field all the calls from those dissatisfied customers?  Yep, yours truly.  My hope lies in the next week being covered by team #1, and my urgent prayer that things will be going much more smoothly by the time Bill starts his 1st week on Thursday, November 17th.  By then, the glitches should be ironed out.

One of the things that drives me crazy (yep, my OCD kicks in) is clutter.  But when we are in "camp", it is inevitable some things have to be stored outside (bikes, plastic bins).  I really dislike the way that looks.  Until the day last week we were walking to the pool and saw the coolest thing attached to Team #1's (Jodi and Mike) 5th wheel.  I decided we had to have it, and stopped to get the info from them.  A week later our "garage" was being installed.  With a side zipper door, access is easy, and it keeps the site looking neat, as well as, giving my bike protection from the weather.

With the election behind us, I leave you with this thought and request:

 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, ...

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