Wednesday, February 8, 2017

First Week as CareGivers

After a couple of days “shadowing” other volunteers, we have now completed 2+ cycles of 2 days ON and 1 day OFF.  The other 2 teams of volunteers are experienced, having worked here in the past as well as during last month. 

The first day of our cycle starts with opening the building (lights ON and doors unlocked) and ends with closing the building 14 hours later.  In between we answer phones and get the count of meals the kitchen staff needs to provide.  All residents can get around on their own and are expected to contact us by 10AM with their needs for meals.  If they don’t call us, we call them.  Here is a typical meal-time scene:

The second day of the cycle has us driving residents to shopping, hairdressers, or doctors as needed.  The CARE Center provides a small fleet of vehicles for these trips.

The third day we have off for laundry, sightseeing, or other personal activities.  Bob has taken the hydraulic cylinders off of our HydraLift and UPS’ed them back to California to be rebuilt.  We found a UPS Store in nearby Conroe and later went sightseeing in The Woodlands, a planned community this side of Houston.  We thought about going into Houston to play like tourists, but there still might be too much Super Bowl traffic for awhile; we will go there later in the month.

The weather has been great lately: lows in the 60s and highs in the 80’s, plus we’ve had some great sunsets:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

About to become CAREgivers

Our 3 weeks in Falfurrias is now complete.  Twelve Nomads worked on houses of two residents.  Most worked on Mary and Robert’s house in the country, east of town.  It had been in Robert’s family for many generations, and had also been abandoned for some time.  It had settled unevenly, so the floors were wavy, the siding needed replacement as well as a number of windows.  It had been built before electricity was available, so the main supply box was mounted on the outside and most circuits were routed around the outside as well.  Since the old siding was coming off, we took the time to route new circuits inside of the walls.

The two of us worked in town on Nellie’s house and three other Nomads came by to assist us at different times.  Our main jobs were to replace the slats on the side of her carport with new plastic lattice, re-roof a metal shed in the back yard, repair an exterior door on the laundry area, and replace many soffits which had begun to rot away.

As mentioned in the prior posting, Stel took lots of photos of the two buildings and all of our activities, and posted them to her blog.  Click on that link to see some of our results.

We finished work on Thursday and departed town on Friday morning.  Friday night was spent at Pinchers RV in El Campo, TX.  This place was selected for a couple of reasons:

-        it was about halfway to our next stop.

-        it is fairly new, with good reviews on

-        there is a seafood restaurant right next door, and it was very good! (ever tried “crawfish mashed potatoes”?)

Saturday morning we drove north through Houston, and its very slow construction areas to Rainbows End, the Escapees park about an hour north, in Livingston Texas.  We will be volunteering at the club’s CARE center for the month of February.  CARE stands for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees and its mission is:

“…to provide a safe haven with professional assistance at affordable prices for members whose travels are permanently ended because of age or temporarily interrupted because of health problems.”  It is a seniors’ assisted living complex for Escapee members.

We will be assisting with:

“…driving resident to appointments, opening and closing the CARE Center building, monitoring the phone at night, and some light cleaning”

Sunday and Monday we are “shadowing” one of the couples who volunteered for January, so that we can start right in on Wednesday.  Three teams are rotating through 2 days ON, and one day OFF in exchange for free camping and three meals per day.  Many of the volunteers come back year after year.  We are looking forward to helping here.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Still Workin'

Our second week at Falfurrias is complete.  See Stel’s blog (a link should now be on the right side of this page) for more details and photos.  We have had another 3-day weekend to recuperate and are now ready to start our final week.  Most of our group stayed with re-siding the original house where we all worked during the first week.  Last week, three of us went to a second home where we are replacing a lot of rotten fascia, siding a carport with vinyl lattice, and are about to re-roof a yard shed with corrugated metal sheets.

We had a nice ice cream social evening on Tuesday evening.  We each brought ingredients for an ice cream sundae – yum!  We had a good time! 

On our Friday day off, we took the advice of a couple of “Winter-Texans” at church and went to a seafood restaurant on Baffin Bay which drains into the Gulf of Mexico nearby.  The restaurant was known for their “fish ribs” which we had not heard of before.  Two of our group ordered this, but it will likely be a “once in a lifetime” experience (there is not much meat there and a lot of effort to get it off the ribs).

Over the weekend, four of us drove about an hour and a half south to the Rio Grande valley for a luncheon at the Methodist church in Mercedes, Texas.  We expected to know at least one other couple there, but actually knew 2 and met another couple who are originally from Duluth, as well.

After the luncheon, we went sightseeing toward the east, to the spring-break party area of South Padre Island.  All of the condo and hotel development is on the southern end, but most of the barrier island is undeveloped.

Today we have endured lots of wind as a front came through the area.  It was a good day to stay indoors and be glad we are not working with sheets of roofing or siding.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Another Part of Texas

Falfurrias Texas is a little more “city-fied” than Ozona: the local Walmart is only 36 miles away, in Kingsville.  It is, however, another small town with no TV service – this lack of electronic entertainment is getting to be way too common.

We arrived here on Saturday, the 7th, and met the rest of the team, most of whom we have worked with in the past.  Four of the six couples have had some connection to Minnesota (either current or former residents).  All week we have been working on the house of Robert and Mary, longtime members of the local congregation, and Mary has prepared lunch for all of us on most days.  For more detail and photos see   Next week most of the group will remain there while 3 of us will be starting on another house.

On our day off, Friday, we took a sightseeing drive to Aransas Pass and took the free ferry to Port Aransas on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.  After a lunch of fresh seafood  (shrimp-rice bowl and fried oyster Po-Boy sandwich) we continued south to North Padre Island and the National Seashore before returning to the mainland at Corpus Christi.  We found a seafood market, so there was more fresh shrimp for Saturday’s supper.

After some very cold weather in Bandera, where our water pipes froze, we have encountered much warmer weather here in Falfurrias.  Temps have been in the low 80’s but the downside has been the strong winds.  Most of the time the winds have been about 20 mph with lots of blowing sand.  We’re hoping to see those winds subside soon.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

More “Tourist Time”

We ended 2016 by relocating the motorhome back to Quest Ranch, outside of Canyon Lake Texas, for about 2 weeks.  Part of that time was spent just relaxing, but we also got in a trip back to Minnesota for Christmas.  Bob found a “park and fly” package through a motel chain that provided us with 2 nights in a motel (prior to departure and after returning) plus a week’s free parking while we were gone.  The timing worked out well: after a long drive to Dallas, we had a nice dinner and an early bedtime.  We caught the first airport shuttle (5 AM) next morning for an early departure.  Brett picked us up and got us to his place by noon.  His girls were still in school for their last day before Christmas holiday.

                                              Thanks to Jen for taking this photo.
Dave and his family came to Brett’s place for Christmas Eve, and we went to Dave’s place on Christmas Day which was a very blustery day and resulted in a shortened visit – bummer!  We also had a day-trip to Duluth on Tuesday of that week to see Joyce.

We spent time at Brett’s working on jigsaw puzzles.  Anna challenged us by finding a bag which held 2 different 500-piece puzzles.  We managed to separate the pieces and completed both puzzles – something Paige never thought we could accomplish! 

Paige, Olivia, and her friend made a batch of lefse.

On Thursday we had a last day with the family and a late return to Texas, arriving at our motel after midnight, and returning to our motorhome on Friday.

Saturday, New Year’s Eve, we relocated to a private RV park about 90 miles west, in Bandera TX.  Our Nomads friends, Everett and Elizabeth, spend the winter months near here and we planned to meet up with them.  They took us to Cowboy Church on Sunday.  That was a fun and interesting experience.  The music was a country western group.  They’ve also taken us to see some beautiful scenery and historic areas including LBJ’s ranch (the Texas White House) and his boyhood home.  We’ve learned a lot about LBJ and Lady Bird.

On Monday and Tuesday the weather was sunny and in the 70’s so we had a great opportunity to go motorcycling in the Hill Country.  We had great rides both days. 

The weather is going to get colder on Friday (highs in the 40’s).  We’re leaving for Falfurrias Texas on Saturday morning and will be spending 3 weeks down there on a community service project.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Back to the Hill Country of Texas

Our last week at Ozona was fairly relaxed.  We finished scraping, priming, and painting the parsonage.  Also, the handicapped shower for Mariano was completed.  Some of us stopped by to see the work our group did.  Lupe (Mariano’s wife) had prepared peach cobbler and wouldn’t let us leave without some.  Yummmm!  The hospitality shown to our group everywhere we went was incredible. 

Bell Choir with Carollers

The banks in town hosted community open houses 2 days in a row.  One bank had theirs on Tuesday with the young elementary school children performing.  On Wednesday the other bank hosted an open house with the Bell Choir and older elementary kids performing Christmas music.  One of our members, Steve, got corralled into playing Santa Claus at this event (we think he rather enjoyed it!).

Last Thursday we finished up our work at Ozona with a Mexican lunch, provided by the church’s secretary.  Thank you Esther!  Early in the afternoon we returned to Canyon Lake, TX where we had been 3 weeks ago, with some other Nomads who have been working on rebuilding a number of homes which had been destroyed by the flooding of the Blanco River in 2015.

Thinking about our time in central Texas, we realize that it is a whole different lifestyle when services are so far apart.  Where Bob grew up, homesteads were 160 acres, and only a few “big farmers” had more than a section (640 acres).  In west Texas, acres don’t count.  A rancher needs many sections to support any livestock.  Eight to ten sections (5,000 to 6,000 acres) is very common.  One member of the congregation had a “hobby ranch” of only 600 acres for a little retirement project.  Many families have their ranch house and a second house, in town, for use when school is in session.  A weekly trip to San Angelo (80+ miles one way) for shopping is quite common.  That’s probably why 75 mph speed limits are common on two-lane roads.

Here, near Canyon Lake, there are a lot of housing developments with costly new homes in the country.  Commutes to San Marcos and San Antonio are only 35 to 45 miles each way.  The biggest change for us is a choice of TV from either Austin or from San Antonio.  After 3 weeks with no TV, we are grateful!

One week until we see the kids and grandkids again.  So excited!  To everyone out there – Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Still Working

We are coming into our last week in Ozona, Texas at our Nomad project.  We are looking forward to a move at the end of this week, being able to watch TV and have better access to shopping and other services.  However, we’ll miss the people at the church and those on our project. 

As we worked in houses in this community, we are much more aware of all the blessings we have.  Linda is a woman with multiple health issues; COPD, back issues, and more.  She rarely leaves her house and spends most of the time with her beloved cat.  She had holes in her bedroom ceiling that resulted in her waking up to a racoon looking down at her.  There were other rooms with holes in the ceilings also.  We repaired what we could, tried to seal up leaks on the roof, removed any tripping hazards, and replaced some floor tiles.  Her kitchen is basically not useable; appliances don’t work and she can’t navigate in there.  It is not a home I would want to live in but she is so thankful for the work we have done for her.

We also repaired 2 ceilings and replaced and painted outside siding on another house.  This woman was a widow with a 20-something daughter.  This daughter was severely disabled and could not talk or move.  Mom had to carry her to from her bed to a wheelchair or a device that held the daughter in a standing position.  Again, this woman was so appreciative of our help.

The project we are finishing this week is a handicapped shower for a man who fell off a work truck several years ago and is paralyzed from the chest down.  A shower was built for him by a contractor, however, the floor of the shower is tilted away from the drain so water is left standing and the drain was not created properly.  We took out the bench he sat on and re-shimmed the base, so it now drains properly.  He is a gregarious man who had built this house and he spends much time in his wheelchair traveling around town to visit his friends.  His wife made a pot of soup and corn bread for the folks working at the house last week.  They also are so thankful that someone is helping make their life easier.

As we work at these homes, we’ve learned how a big component of our work is spending time listening to their stories and giving them validation.  What they don’t realize is the impact they have on all of us doing the work.  They help us to align our priorities with what’s really important in our lives.