Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

But first, there was Thanksgiving. We joined 1,000 others at the Valle del Oro Thanksgiving pot luck. Most of the seating is in the ballroom and it can be very noisy. So we always try to sign up for a table on the outside edge. This year we were at table 1A. Here are most of the people at the table. Notice, no one is looking at me. That is because I was trying to get John's attention, so you could see him. Everyone is looking at him, also trying to get his attention.

Here are most of the covered dishes we brought to share at our table. They are still covered to keep them warm, as you can see.

We had fun and ate a great meal. But there weren't any leftovers for us. Extra turkey, stuffing and gravy is donated to the Mesa Food Bank. So Friday, I cooked 2 small turkey breasts, dressing and mashed potatoes. We had our own dinner that day and are still eating leftovers.

We also decorated our Christmas tree Friday. Last year we bought a very small tree with lights. So we pulled it out of the box and put on the decorations.

This small train reminds us of all our grandchildren.

These Santas are too heavy to hang on the tiny tree, but they still decorate the room nicely.

I used to have quite a few small nativity scenes. We carry these three with us.

We aren't the only residents who think it is time to put up the Christmas decorations. They are coming out all over the park. Do you really think Santa will slide down this chimney with ease?

Great news! We only have 1 more Christmas gift to buy! Now, if only the Christmas cards were done.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

John and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Take time to thank God for all your blessings. Then take time to enjoy them.

We are thankful for each other, for our family, for the freedom to travel this great country, for health, for the warm weather in Southern Arizona. For everyone who reads this blog. For knowing Jesus Christ.

I am grateful I no longer have to do all the work of hosting a big holiday dinner, though I used to love that. Even before we became full-timers, I was happy to attend the feast at our son and daughter-in-law's home. Though we really miss them and our grandchildren, especially on holidays, we will enjoy sharing a meal with maybe 800 people here at Valle del Oro in Mesa. I only have to fix a green salad for 12.

However, on Friday I will roast a turkey breast and prepare dressing and mashed potatoes--for 2.

Have a great day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It Looks Like Summer

We have to look at a calendar to be sure it isn't still summer, rather than late November. Especially when we look at the beautiful rose garden outside the main building here at Valle del Oro.

We have never been here during an Arizona summer, so I don't know if these bushes bloom then. I do know they like the weather we are having now--high 60s, low to mid 70s--and every single plant is blooming. Some of them have been given in memory of former residents who have died. Those gifts are really appreciated by those of us here today.

I don't have anything more to say about the flowers. But especially for those of you who have snow, cold rain, or freezing temperatures, these pictures are to remind you of summer.

John describes them as "eye candy." Don't you agree? This is one reason we enjoy going south for the winter.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bugs, Butterflies and Cactus

But before I get into all of that, let me tell you about breakfast yesterday. John and I don't go out to eat very often and when we do, it is usually for lunch. But Thursday we decided we would act like most RVers and go out to breakfast. Where to go? We checked out the list of local restaurants that had been visited on the Food Network program Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. We chose Joe's Farm Grill.

My green eggs and ham is on the left; John's Big Breakfast is on the right. The pancakes weren't ready on that one yet.

We were less than impressed. The food wasn't very hot or very tasty. When we picked up the pancakes, the woman at the counter forgot to give us syrup. My flatbread had been burned on the grill. And we had to pay $1.99 for each coffee! We won't return there, but we won't give up on Guy Fieri.

The restaurant had both indoor and outdoor seating. Look at this impressive tree on the grounds.

But this sign was enough to discourage me from either climbing on the tree or sitting under it.

From breakfast, we drove to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. We have been there before, but we really enjoy it. This fall they have a display of Big Bugs, done by sculptor David Rogers out of wood. The 11 sculptures range in size from 300 to 1200 pounds and from seven feet to 25 feet long. The first one we saw was this Praying Mantis.

Spider and web.

Daddy longlegs.

Damsel fly.


Dragon fly.

Assassin bug.

The Butterfly Pavilion had a display on Monarch butterflies.

Compare the color of the back side of the butterfly's wings to the front, shown above. Part of each wing is white.

It looked like the butterflies wanted out. Most of them were resting on the screen walls of the enclosure. Who can blame them. The pavilion doesn't have any milkweed plants, the kind the butterflies like to eat and where they lay their eggs.

This little boy may be a budding scientist. He was looking at this butterfly through his magnifying glass.

Of course, the Desert gardens have to have cactus plants. Here are a few I enjoyed.

Doesn't this area look cool and inviting?

This is a traditional O'Odham desert kitchen display, built to show how humans have adapted to the desert for hundreds of years. It is open on top to allow the cooking heat to escape.

This sculpture of a cactus is part of the entrance garden. It was made by Dale Chihuly, who still designs gardens and other things out of glass. I really like it.

The Desert Botanical Garden is a great place to learn more about the Sonoran Desert and desert plants from around the world.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Way It Used To Be

Back in the early 20th century, John's dad and his parents lived on a homestead outside Roswell, NM. They were 50 miles from Roswell, so a trip to town on a buckboard took two days, one way. At night, they would camp and John's grandmother Nora would cook a hot meal. When people do that today, they often use charcoal or propane. Back then, it was wood fires and dutch ovens.

In light of this history, when we read about the Chandler, AZ, Chuck Wagon Cook Off, we knew we wanted to attend. What a great morning we had Saturday!

Eight teams took part in the competition. They bring their equipment in chuck wagons, sleep in bedrolls at the site, cook using dutch ovens and other cast iron and enamel cookware, and often wear period clothing. Each team was required to prepare food for 40 people, plus the judges. They were given the meat, dried peaches, and probably pinto beans and potatoes to prepare their meals. Each team prepared five dishes: meat, beans, potatoes, biscuits and dessert. This shows the competition area.

Here is one of the wagons. All their equipment had to be brought to the competition in the wagon.

They arrived Friday night and set up camp. They dug a fire pit and several decorated the pile of dirt they dug out.

Here you can see the various kinds of pots and pans that were used.

Note at the top left corner of the fire pit, there is a covered tank. That is used to heat water.

That water was so hot, the dishwater was steaming. In deference to health department regulations, one rinse basin contains bleach.

Look at how this coffee pot can be tipped to pour coffee without getting you hand burned.

Each wagon put out a menu. Those of us attending could choose which wagon we wanted to buy a meal from. The newspaper story about the event said the meal tickets would be sold out by 11:30. Lunch was served at noon. In reality, the tickets were all sold out by about 10:15. Next year we will either have to arrive right at 9 am to get our tickets or they will have to attract more teams to the competition.

These are some members of the Manflo Ranch team. They prepared the plate I purchased.

This is the chili beef simmering at the Cowgirls Forever site.

And this is Barbara of Cowgirls Forever with her "spice rack" of glass canning jars.

I'm not sure what is being stirred here--cream gravy, potatoes, or what. Note the long-handled wooden spoon or paddle. The shovel to the right is used to pick up wood coals to place on top of dutch ovens. It allows the ashes to drop off in transit.

The chuck wagons used on cattle drives didn't have fresh fruit, but they could carry dried fruit. For this event, everyone had dried peaches. Here they are being reconstituted and cooked.

Barbara is putting a lattice top on her peach cobbler.

At judging time, each course is placed in a separate container, then taken to the judges. Look at those biscuits.

It must be important that mashed potatoes be smooth. Notice how he is putting the potatoes through a sieve.

A box of beans.

And it off to the judging tent.

Then it was time for us to eat. At the bottom is my plate from Manflo Ranch. At the top is John's plate from Brown Dirt Cowboys. We didn't know anything about them and they didn't look very professional. We bought one of their tickets, because that was the only team not sold out. Their food was great and later we learned that they were winners of the 2010 Arizona National Chuck Wagon Cook Off.

There were other things to look at while waiting for lunch. We saw demonstrations of weaving and the wool from various kinds of sheep, candle dipping, blacksmithing, wheelwrights, and rawhide rope braiding, as well as these old fire arms.

There also were several bands that played throughout the day. This is Pioneer Pepper & the Sunset Pioneers.

Here is a slide show of other sights at the chuck wagon cook off.