How To Start A New Year

How To Start A New Year

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,
Ren

 

 

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”  -Abraham Lincoln

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” -Abraham Lincoln

The Illinois state slogan is “The Land of Lincoln” and while we were in Southern Illinois in September, we found this to be true because we were confronted with a bit of his history completely by chance.  While heading up to Great Cities State Park in Makanda, we found one of the three sites for the Alexander County Courthouse where Lincoln practiced law.

selfie with lincoln

As you probably already know, I am obsessed with county courthouses and am determined to visit every county in the United States.  This can be an issue sometimes when we are on the road towards our destination, but I am lucky to have a husband who enjoys the thrill of a good travel hunt and, in this case, encouraged me to go find one.  On Illinois State Route 3 we found a roadside park with a large historical marker.  We do not often stop to read the historical markers, but thankfully we did in this case.

welcome to illinois

We found the Alexandra County Courthouse once resided in Thebes, just a mile or two back from where we turned on to Route 3.  Since this was what I like to term “encouragement from serendipity,” we turned around and drove to the once bustling village to find a tiny community quietly living along the Mississippi River.  Driving up to the shoreline, we were pleasantly surprised with a view that was breathtaking.  Here we stood in the shadow of the Thebes Bridge crossing over the great river as it had done since it’s opening on April 18, 1905.

Thebes Bridge

The Thebes Bridge’s total length is 3,959 feet and is 104 feet above the Gathering Blue and was designed by Polish American engineer Ralph Modjeski in the continuous truss bridge style. The truss bridge is one of the oldest types of modern bridges and most commonly found in America.  However, many of these bridges are being demolished and replaced with new structures because of the time and wear on the metal making it unsafe for those using them. Thankfully this does not seem to be the case for this beautiful structure. (https://www.johnweeks.com/river_mississippi/pagesC/umissC14.html

As I am looking at this bridge and in awe of its presence, Scott points to a building high on the bluff behind us and says, “Now that house has one of the best views around here!”  I had to agree with him and found myself a bit jealous of whoever was lucky enough to own the building.  The views over the past 170 years have probably been extremely impressive and I couldn’t wait to get up there to see the view; at least I hoped we would be able to see a view from there.

house on the hill

Having the GPS in front of him, Scott drove to where it showed the building and we were stunned to find an extremely steep road that was not one for the faint of heart. (Keep in mind I was not the one driving; also keep in mind, I am a terrible passenger.)  He made the turn into what we thought was going to be a drive way to a privately-owned home, only to find a public, historical building; we had found the former Alexander County Courthouse.

In the early 1830’s two brothers, the Sparhawk brothers from New Orleans, settled in what is now Thebes calling it Sparhawk Landing.  On October 15, 1835, this settlement was platted by Franklin G. Hughes and Joseph Chandler.  Later, in 1843 Sparhawk Landing was renamed Thebes and, finally, in 1844 the townsite was laid out to become the town we were visiting. (Thebes History http://genealogytrails.com/ill/alexander/thebeshist.html)

Alexander County which was created out of Union County in 1819; it was named after early settler and physician William Alexander of America, Illinois.  He became the Speaker of the House of Illinois Representatives in 1822, making this the county seat of the new county.  However, soon after, the village of America was found to be in the newer Pulaski County, causing the Alexander County Courthouse needing to be moved to Unity, Illinois, in 1833.  In 1842 the courthouse and county records were burned, therefore, moving the county seat to Thebes. 

An architect named Henry Ernst Barkhausen came to America in 1835 and settled near Thebes where he operated a woodyard and ferry across the Mississippi to Missouri.  In 1845 he was contracted to build the two-story structure out of local stone and trees from the area. The land, a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, was donated by George and Martha Sparhawk.  Completed in 1848, the total cost of the construction was $4,400.

As we wandered about the amazing building, we found there was actually a fantastic view both of the Mississippi River and the 170-year-old structure.  I was pleased to see the natural stone and that my hand embroidery piece portraying a stone wall looked much the same.  It always amazes me when art takes on a bit of nature, it helps to preserve the beauty we find around us daily.  

Sitting on the wooden stairs, looking out at the massive body of rushing water while the barges passed under the massive iron Thebes Bridge, I could envision the steamboats of the past making their way while transporting people and cargo to various ports along the Big Muddy.  These large ships were moved by large paddles powered by steam and it was the main source of travel along the river.  Here you would find people of many statuses from the Southern Belle to the gambler to the slaves and you would find the cargo hold to be full of cotton, grains, and everything a river settler might need to survive.  These machines revolutionized travel and life along the shores of the Mississippi River Basin.

The steamboat was the main source of travel in this area from the late 1700’s until around the 1880’s.  People used this mode of transportation for business, personal travel and for entertainment.  You could find a showboat paddling up and down the Mississippi River; these boats were floating palaces with every type of luxury found at popular resorts of the era.  It was a slow mode of travel and that was the cause of its demise.  With the railroad being unified so all of the rails from the North and South were the same, the speed of transport was much better for travel and the moving of items.  Granted the steamboats were still in use until the 1940’s, but they were not used like they had been.  It was the end of an era and culture.

Coming out of my time travel trance, Scott and I moved on towards our state park destination of Giant City State Park just north of Jonesboro, Illinois.  As we drove through the Trail of Tears State Forest (actually within the Shawnee National Forest), Scott realized we were going to be passing through the town where where a pivotal moment in Lincoln’s political career happened on September 15, 1958.  Before the Great Debate of 1958, Lincoln was just a regular man trying to get through life working as a boatman, store clerk, surveyor, militia soldier and lawyer, but in 1834 he was elected to be in the Illinois Legislature.  From there he moved through the political arena, as most do, and found himself in a political fight for a seat in the House of Representatives for Illinois.   Which brought him to the Great Debate of 1958, more importantly Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1958 were a series of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in Illinois, a free state.  The main theme of these seven debates was the expansion of slavery in the new and future territories of the United States. Granted, Lincoln lost the seat he was trying for, but he later had the transcripts from these seven debates causing him to open a door of opportunity for him to receive the nomination as the Republican candidate for the 1860 presidency.

Eventually, we arrived at one of my favorite places, Great City State Park.  We had originally thought about using this site for our viewing of the total eclipse on our trip in August.  Makanda, the town just outside of the park, was the location where the eclipse would happen for the longest period of time.  However, because rain was predicted that day in that area, we chose to visit Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska instead.  Unfortunately, we were not able to see the eclipse due to rain, while Makanda, Illinois, was basking in the eclipse they counting on.

As we were driving down the road, passing the Jonesboro area, a thought came to mind, “Whatever happened to the Alexander County Courthouse?  Where did it go if it were not in Thebes?”  I, being in the passenger seat, began to hunt through the interwebs to find the answer.  It was relocated to Cairo, Illinois; just down river from Thebes.  With this information, Scott drove us to Cairo to find where the county seat had been moved.  There we found a city in shambles and an old downtown almost a ghost town.  

Cairo sits just North of the the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers confluence, a point called Fort Defiance State Park.  This city, once a bustling port town, was home to writers, generals and gods.  It is the location of Neil Gaiman’s award winning novel American Gods, the movie Cairo Time, and documentary Between Two Rivers.  No matter how “famous” these media outlets make the name of the city, it is a city in economic decline because the railroad impacting the barge traffic causing the loss of income, the interstate bypass causing people to go around the city, and people leaving the area to shop causing tax dollars to go elsewhere.  Because of this situation, the area has dilapidated buildings, loss of tourist money, and a community left frustrated. I cannot, however, leave you thinking this city is not worth visiting because this would not be truth.  

Your first impression of this place is a city that is dying; but if you will stop and speak to members of this community, you will find people who are doing their best to rebuild by cleaning up their communities, encouraging the arts, and helping each other out as much as possible.  I find myself rooting for this place and her people because there is such a determination.  Here will you not only find the determination, but you will find a people who know their history and are encouraging the use of it to bring in tourism.  They have the Victorian building such as the library, federal building, and private homes, but what about the Alexander County Courthouse?  

In 1859 the courthouse was moved to Cairo and it was housed in a beautiful building, after the completion in 1865. After contacting the county courthouse, I found that sometime before 1963 the building above was destroyed by fire and had to be demolished for safety issues.  The building of the new courthouse was started in 1964 in the same location as the first building.  This is one of the things Scott and I have found with many of the old county courthouse buildings that are now of a modern designed; rarely are they because the citizens wanted something modern.  However, has seemed to happen in a few cases.  Concerning this county, it was fire and so the citizens of Alexander County decided they needed to move forward.  

During my research to find out this moving county courthouse drama, I found the reason and it was Abraham Lincoln who explained it.  From the book More History, Mystery, and Hauntings of Southern Illinois by Bruce Cline we are given this story:

“In the early 1800s, when Illinois was still a young state, there was great debate about where the county seat of Alexander County should be.  Would it be Cairo or Thebes?  According to an old story told by Abraham Lincoln, it happened in this fashion…

Thebes was already the county seat, but Cairo was growing rapidly and thought it should be moved there.  Tempers were flaring and the Thebians said that Cairo was no more than a daub of mud on the tail of the state.  That statement did not set well with the fine citizens of Cairo.

Just before the election was held to decide the location of the county seat, a Cairo man came up with an inspired scheme.  He fetched a green animal hide and stuffed a large boulder inside.  He tied this bundle behind his mule and drug it around the countryside.  The next day he made sure that the townsfolk of Thebes made notice of the strange marks on the ground.  He suggested  that the marks were made by some species of large serpent.  Rumors were spread that dogs, cats and small farm animals were missing.

Greatly alarmed, the citizens of Thebes took up arms and went in search of the great serpent that was supposedly decimating the small animals of the farms.  So frenzied were the Thebians in their search for the mystery serpent, that many of them did not make it back to town in time to cast their votes for the county seat.  Cairo won the vote hands down.” {31-32}

Will Travel For Music

Will Travel For Music

We recently were told by our friend Heidi Brands about an Irish pub, The Black Raven, in Choctaw, Oklahoma, of all places.  It intrigued me to think of an Irish pub in an out of the way place but never did I think Scott and I would take a sudden drive to a place we had no clue if it would be worth our time and attention.

I received a message from Scott about 2:00pm showing me there would be live music of the Irish persuasion and he really wanted to go.  Knowing how much he loves music, especially of the Celtic type, I agreed.  It was going to be a fast drive but we found it to be worth it.

We walked into the sound of a cheerful reel, the smell of  Corned Beef & Cabbage, and visions of a well stocked bar.  There were only two seats available and smiles everywhere we looked.  It was standing room only for us.

One of the things we enjoyed so much in Texas was the access we had to Celtic music.  It is huge in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at places like the Trinity Irish Pub in Dallas, The Celt in McKinney, and The North Texas Irish Festival in March at the Fair Park in Dallas.  When we arrived in Tulsa, where Celtic music was huge at one time, we were saddened to find it was nowhere to be found, even though Kilkenny’s is strongly attended, only Irish food and pre-recorded music; there is NO live Irish music.  We were stunned and were missing the live music scene for our desired genre.  Needless to say, we have been very sad.

Fortunately, we found this place and really enjoyed the group playing this evening.  The Flowers of Edinburgh are Laura, Rachel (fiddle) and Malia Bennett (guitar and piano), Dave Cooper (bodhran and harmonica) and Phil Reid (fiddle and mandolin) who play traditional Scottish, Irish and original jigs, reels and requests.  They seemed to feel at home on stage and encouraged the audience to join in with many songs.  I was extremely thrilled when they played Wild Rover, only one of my favorite songs.

So while we sat dining on our amazing plates of corned beef and cabbage and enjoying a couple of Irish Coffees, we were able to hear live music we missed. I find myself regretting that I didn’t take a photo of the meal; trust me, it was fantastic. It was such a wonderful way to spend a Friday evening.  Our thanks go to Brian and Wendy, former owners of the restaurant, Scott the new manager, and Kara the bartender.  It was one of the best music times we have had in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Mosquito Repellent

We recently received a request to share information about the Best Mosquito Repellent from Reviews.com.  It is a very interesting article and has a lot of helpful information to keep those pesky bugs away.  Give them a moment and see what they have to say about the Mosquito Repellent you might be using.

For more links that might help your travels be a little more comfortable, please visit our Helpful Links page!

We Screwed Up – We Need A Do Over!

We have been working toward a goal, to have a better life through experiences and relationships. We have both felt this was going to come from downsizing and living fulltime in an RV while traveling and volunteering with the many different state and national parks across the nation. Unfortunately, because we jumped way before we were ready we are having a few issues. These issues and some family emergencies have caused us to decide it is time for a redesign… We are calling for a mulligan.