We planned to enjoy the bringing in of a new year quietly and at the place we are calling home for now; unfortunately, that is not what serendipity decided for us.  Instead, we found ourselves 450 miles away on a bus with no English speakers surrounded by icy winter weather.  However, it’s wasn’t as grim as it might sound.  Scott and I were enroute to pick up a new-to-us Expedition because the truck finally gave up.  See, it’s all about how you choose to view it, no matter how cold it is.

Christmas Eve, we were headed to spend time with family only to start the day out with the truck giving up, leaving us stranded for a short while.  Don’t fear, our friend Larry was able to assist us and got us home.  We were able to borrow a vehicle for the day so we could be with family.  Christmas Day was amazing.  Most of the time my mother and father have myself and my children with their families celebrating at their home, but this year my daughter Amber took on the work.  Since my son’s Christmas gift was the meal, we had a very simple menu with ham, potatoes, pea salad, and my son-in-law’s Tator Tot Casserole, plus the many dessert treats that were Ren friendly.  Then, of course, there were the gifts!

Often people use Christmas to give huge extravagant gifts for their friends and families which can cause an issue of “keeping up with the Jones'” mindset.  We decided this year we would not fall into this frame of mind and put a simple limit on the amount to be spent.  Even better than that, we gathered the money together and asked our good friend Belle to purchase and wrap the gifts.  None of us knew what the gifts were until we unwrapped them Christmas Day.  The part that made this so fun and challenging for Belle, was it was only $5 per person.  I know, scary, right?  However, this gal hit this challenge out of the park.  She was able to get everyone something they loved and could use while not allowing anyone to feel they had been slighted. It was definitely a wonderful celebration, and one that will be hard to beat.

With Christmas over, the next important chore was to find a vehicle we could afford.  We had some requirements for our next vehicle but were not sure we would be able to find what we needed for the money we had available.  Fortunately for us, we have some amazing friends who were in the right place at the right time.  Our friends Karl and Jessica had a 1997 Ford Expedition they were needing to home and it was in excellent condition.  The best part was it was within our price point AND it fit the requirements we had.  The only thing was, it was in Austin, Texas; we are in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  That is a 450-mile trip and we had to figure out how we were going to get there as soon as possible.  Scott had a four day weekend coming up and we are always up for a challenge; well, once plans stop getting nixed.  Unfortunately, because we had decided a couple of years ago to get rid of our credit cards, we were unable to rent a car; the only flights available were all on standby and the traditional Grayhound bus service was completely sold out.  We, meaning me, were in a total panic, then Scott found something unexpected.

Turimex Internacional is a bus system that caters to the Hispanic community.  At first, when Scott told me about it, I was nervous about it.  I know, I was not in my comfort zone and I found myself putting up barriers.  However, after reading reviews, seeing many photos of the buses and finding out more about the service, I agreed.  It was not the perfect answer, but it was the answer, and it was time to take our own advice and get out of our box, our comfort zone, and live life.  There were some really difficult things about this trip such as there hardly being anyone who spoke English, it was a twelve-hour drive, and not a dining situation except to eat in our seats, but it was a new experience for us.  It has helped us see that there are other possibilities out there for travel.  I will admit, I prefer our own transport, but there is a more willingness to entertain other modes of travel.  Twelve hours after we stepped upon the bus, we arrived at our destination.  We were very happy to go sleep in a comfortable, warm bed.

The day before New Year’s Eve, Scott and I got into our new vehicle and proceeded to go on an adventure.  We have been to Austin many times because I needed to attend Texans for State Parks board meetings, but we had not really seen much of the area except for the downtown Texas Capital building.  I knew McKinney Falls State Park was directly behind the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department headquarters, but we had never stopped in to visit; therefore, we decided this was one of our destinations while we were running around this day.  McKinney Falls State Park has some really amazing features that you are going to love, I know I was in heaven while we were visiting.  The actual falls were created by the wonderful Texas Limestone that once was the roadway for the El Camino Real de los Tejas.  This was the road we traveled along when we visited Nacogdoches November 2015 and was the lifeline for Texas in the 1800’s.  You will find some homestead buildings, a 500-year-old Cypress tree, a natural stone shelter, and many trails.  When you are in the area, go visit; it is so worth the trip.

While we were wandering around Austin, we found the Travis County Courthouse.  Even though we had been able to mark off the county a couple of years ago, I was extremely excited to be able to collect the county courthouse.  One of the things about county courthouses I love is the history.  The original county courthouse was a two-story building near Republic Park in downtown, but this was not the official courthouse.  That was built in 1876, but it was not large enough for their needs so they built a second one in the Second Empire style alongside the Texas Capitol Complex.  Eventually, in 1931, the current building was built and the former building was used as office space for various Texas State Agencies.  The current building is six stories PWA Moderne style made out of concrete with limestone neoclassical flourishes.  As you can see, it fits the Austin eclectic style.

After the capture of the Travis County Courthouse, we knocked about town enjoying the hills, canyons, and scenery.  I can tell you, I am looking forward to more adventures in this crazy place.  There are so many interesting eating establishments, but our favorite so far has been the food trucks.  They are everywhere and some of the local coffee places are welcoming them onto their property.  We had a great experience with one at Radio Coffee and Beer.  Because we were in Austin, we knew there would be great music playing somewhere on a Saturday evening.  We were not left lacking for sure.  This evening we went early for dinner and enjoyed street tacos by Vera Cruz Taco Truck, a couple of blood orange ciders and, of course, coffee.  We were also able to hear some really good music by Christy Hays and Ali Holder.  I just loved Christy’s song style and really enjoyed her songs.  One of the songs she sang “Ribbon of Highway” just spoke to me.  If you would like to hear some of her music you can go here:  https://christyhays.bandcamp.com/.  I can’t wait for her album release in April.  You should be excited about it too!

New Year’s Eve was such a quiet day for us.  We just spent the day with our friends Karl and Jessica, while having lunch at Opal Divines Austin Grill with their friends Taylor and TheLester (turns out it is DLester, but I thought she kept saying “The” Lester!  hahahaha).  It was amazing meeting these two gentlemen who were great conversationalists and very interesting people.  I think that is one of the reasons I love meeting friends of my friends; they are so diverse and I feel like I am a better person because they encourage me to be one.  Plus they have awesome toys!   Once the long wonderful lunch was over, we went back to Karl and Jessica’s and just chilled out, played video games, and talked about everything.  Scott and I were invited to a New Year’s Eve party but we decided we were going to stay in.  We had pizza (did I mention Austin was a food paradise?), booze, and popcorn.  I had forgotten how excited Texans get about fireworks and it was New Year’s Eve so fireworks were a must.  You could hear them popping all around us, in the middle of town.  It was so loud, but I managed to fall asleep until, what I assume was midnight, there was a huge explosion of fireworks.  It was extremely loud, however, my exhaustion was more powerful so I turned over and went back to sleep.  The next morning I woke to Scott snoring like a madman.

It was departure day, New Year’s Day, and it was 9:00 am.  We dressed and gathered our things, headed out quietly and found a McDonalds.  While we waited for our order to arrive at our table we knew we needed to look at the various routes home.  On Saturday the Fort Worth-Dallas area was overtaken by a wintery weather mix and the cities were shut down for the at least a few days.  This wintery weather mix showed up in Austin the night before and I had panicked a little the night before, but Scott convinced me to calm down and we would figure things out the next morning.  It was the next morning and we were viewing the traffic map only to see Waco was shut down as well so we were going to be required to figure out a new path.  Fortunately, we were already near State Highway 79 and it went straight to Palestine then up to Paris along State Highway 19.  We had already been through all of the counties we were driving through, but we had not gotten three of the county courthouses of those counties.  We were able to capture the Robertson County Courthouse, Rains County Courthouse, and Anderson County Courthouse, just by driving right past them.  The best part about the situation is that we didn’t have to drive out of our way to capture them.  Once we got to Hugo, Oklahoma we took the Indian Nation Turnpike home.  We pulled into the driveway around 9:00 pm.

This, in many ways, began as a trip that was filled with anxiety and fear because we were taking a mode of transportation we were unfamiliar with and it was in a situation where we did not know the language.  We found ways to communicate and we made it work; it has helped us be more open to learning Spanish and exploring the culture a bit more.  Mark Twain said, ” Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” After this trip to Austin on the New Year’s Holiday, I find this to be extremely true and I look forward to getting out and living life outside my comfort zone.

Happy Travels Everyone,