Are We There Yet?

No.  The answer is no, we are not in Austin, Texas yet.  After nine hours of slow going on icy roads we finally gave up in Brownwood.

This was my view as we headed out this morning.

My view as we headed out this morning.

The temperature this morning  was a startling 7 degrees as we reloaded my daughter’s electronics in our cars.  We were afraid to leave them in the cars last night with temperatures predicted to linger in the single digits.

But hey, who doesn’t like to start their morning with an invigorating workout of moving boxes-heavy boxes?

If this post is making no sense to you, then you might read yesterday’s post because I’m just too beat to go over the whole story again.

Texas is a big state, I know that, but it should only take about seven hours to get from my home to Austin.

Nine hours later and I’m still not there.

If I head North I expect to occasionally battle icy roads.  When I head South, I expect the ice to slowly lessen and then disappear, not to get worse.

This was what the icy road looked like for most of the nine hours of the trip

This was what the icy road looked like for most of my trip

As I spent the last hour of the journey trying to reflect on the positive that I could find from this mind-numbing adventure, here is what I came up with -

**I did get much further in my Ken Follett audiobook than I ever thought I would on this trip.  That was nice.

**I saw lots of good citizens helping one another.  That was nice.

**I didn’t see many accidents.  And that was nice.

Um…..  That’s about it.  The rest of the trip was pretty miserable, long, messy and cold.

I really hope tomorrow I’m not posting from another town that’s not Austin!!

Adapted from Wikipedia's TX county maps by Set...

I think the red dot is where I am. The red dot is not Austin.

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This is not a fire in my hotel in Austin

This is not a fire in my hotel in Austin

Today’s post is suppose to be coming to you from a hotel room in Austin, Texas, but Mother Nature changed my plans. Instead, I’m in front of a warm fire in my very own den.  This is usually one of my favorite places to be, but, tonight, outside, a large orange and white truck looms.  It’s silently reminding me that there are places I need to be.  It’s also reminding me how cold my fingers and toes were yesterday when we loaded furniture in the freezing temperatures. 
wpid-IMAG0725-1.jpg
We were suppose to move my daughter to Austin today, but with poor road conditions to the east and south of us, we decided to wait until tomorrow.  All day the big truck sat and waited, reminding me we were still here and all my plans had to be, well, re-planned.  Today,  I angrily glared at the truck each time I ran another errand in the bitter cold. These were things I planned to put off until Monday in hopes of warmer weather.   But now I won’t be back Monday and these errands couldn’t be put off any longer.  So back out in the extreme cold I went, time after time.

 
Procrastinator, remember?  Hater of cold weather, remember? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived as a pioneer woman.

 
Of course,  I loved having my daughter here an extra day, (I’m still working on my diabolical plan to keep all my children locked in the basement) but she’s ready to get back to Austin.  I know it’s hard to believe she doesn’t want to live with me the rest of her life–and harder to believe that I know her going back to Austin is for the best.  Sniffle, sniffle.

Anyhow, that all explained and whined about, I’ll now try to make some sense of this post.   It’s just my attempt at letting everyone know that I’m not, once again, going to wait months to post. I’m not going to quit every time things are a little crazy. That’s the key to this I guess.  I also know many of you are dealing with a lot more crazy than I am.

There will never be a perfect time everyday to blog. Schedules change, weather changes, but you just have to find a minute to do what you enjoy. So here it is. My minute or fifteen minutes of sanity in a rough (did I mention cold?) day.

 
I hope all of your days were cozy, stress-free and toasty.

Spain in my Heart

I love Spain. Well actually, I can only say I love the parts of Spain I visited.  I love Madrid, Sevilla and Granada.  Okay, I suppose, the truth is I only visited a small part of each town so I can’t say I love all of Madrid, Sevilla and Granada.  That would be like saying you love New York City after only having been to Manhattan.  Wait, I’ve done that, so -

I love Spain.

And more appropriately for this post, I love the people of Spain.

Before I start telling of my Spanish journey, let me talk a minute about communicating in Spain.   I had a few years of Spanish in high school and college, in Texas, in the late 70′s and early 80′s, so the language barrier was no concern.  And it wouldn’t have been a problem if they would have slowed down a bit.  Again – from Texas.  I have trouble understanding people from the Northeast.  But seriously, we had few problems communicating.  At least one in our party of four would have the sense to understand instructions being conveyed in Spanish.  Patience and hand gestures go a long way.

The only time I felt completely clueless was in a bar watching football (okay, soccer).  The game was tied when the bar owner turned down the set.  People begin to leave and I was positive they went out for a smoke.  Surely a game in the Euro 2012 tournament would not end in a tie.  In America we would play on until a winner was declared.  Only when the local tv coverage ended did I realize it really was over.  Thank God I didn’t ask a local.  I do believe this might have caused some eyes to roll and the phrase, ‘Stupid American’ to be uttered somewhere in the bar.  Europeans take their football seriously.

Madrid

English: Coat of arms of Madrid (Spain). Españ...

English: Coat of arms of Madrid.Never really figured out the bear but this was definitely my favorite Coat of Arms.

Madrid is my kind of town.  I could spend hours writing about the museums and churches but others already have done this with more eloquence than I possess. In this little post, I’m writing  about the people.  We got in town on a Sunday and we were leaving Madrid on a Tuesday.  The Prado Museum is not open on Monday so we hurried over to see what we could before it closed.  We arrived at the time when the museum is open to the public for free.  When we got there hundreds of locals were waiting in a line halfway around the enormous building.  Did I mention it was 90+ degrees?  No one cared. We immediately noticed that the people were talking to each other.  There were probably cell phones around but I didn’t see any texting or playing games.  No one had ear buds in to drown out their neighbors.  Children were talking to parents.  Grandparents were talking to friends.  I’m a little sketchy on what was being said, but, by golly, it was friendly talk.  No one tried to cut in line.  No one kept checking their watch to make sure they weren’t being cheated out of five minutes.  The incredibly patient people were enjoying each other as they waited for the privilege of viewing art of the ages representing their past.

The next morning, we visited the Royal Palace and again we were faced with a line and 90+ degrees.  Spain in June can be warm.  To the side of the line was a man playing accordion with an open case for donations.  Instead of people scurrying by and avoiding eye contact, the crowd circled around him.  Two older couples started to dance.  We were entertained as we waited.  I didn’t see a lot of donations go into his case but I saw a lot of love flowing through the crowd.

Coat of arms of Seville

Coat of arms of Seville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sevilla

Our Spain trip wasn’t long enough (what vacation is) and we left on Tuesday for Sevilla.  My son and his girlfriend are Studying Abroad in Sevilla so, as sad as I was to leave Madrid, I was excited to board the train.  Sevilla, like Madrid and Granada, has incredible architecture.  You walk around  constantly looking left, right, up and down. Our feet (sometimes blistered feet) trudged many miles everyday.

We ate most of our meals with my son, his girlfriend and my daughter’s friend, also Studying Abroad in Sevilla.  I was fascinated at the rapport between the waiters and my son.  He  had a few favorite restaurants and, in less than a month of living in Spain and less than a month of learning Spanish, he was communicating beautifully with the servers.  The communication may not have been as extensive as if he were a local, but each understood the other.  And trust me, he’s a student, they weren’t being overly kind to him because of the tips.  They were being kind because they genuinely liked him and his girlfriend and vice versa.  At that point, I was most pleased he had chosen Sevilla for his overseas studies.

My favorite part of Sevilla was getting a gelato in the evening and sitting in the square.  Local families sat in the finally cool air and shared their days (okay I’m guessing).  The children played football (okay, soccer) in the square with their friends and were having the time of their lives.  Abuelos watched the young ones on the playground equipment as they conversed with other men.  All this was happening at ten or eleven at night, a school night, and no one was bothered by the time.   Again, not a cell phone or laptop to be seen.

English: View of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain

English: View of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Granada

Granada was a day trip to visit the Alhambra.  It is a must see in Southern Spain, thank you very much Mr. Steves.  Yes, it’s easy to spot Americans because we all have the same ‘Rick Steves’ Spain 2012′ book in our hands.  (I wonder if he needs a people watching companion?)  We met still another Study Abroad student from my hometown studying in Granada.  Crazy, huh?  I loved all the familiar faces and Spanish comprehending ears.  We stopped to talk and have a quick drink on the main square before we had to run catch our train back to Sevilla.  Here we learned that the people don’t disappoint, even if they aren’t originally from Spain.  George, our host, was from Colombia, working in Spain, and learning English.  He humored us by telling us he was learning phrases like -

“My name is George.  What is your name?”

“The girl is pretty.”

“Where is your mother?”

Sound familiar to anyone who has taken first year Spanish in the states?  Not only did he make the hot afternoon bearable by sitting us under a handy water mister, he also entertained us with his minimal English and his huge heart.  We hated to leave for the train but we were ready for our much-needed siesta.  This is one of my favorite Spanish customs.

If you  want to know about traveling in Spain, I strongly suggest a book by Rick Steves but as you follow his traveling guidelines, take time to enjoy the people.  Be pleasantly startled, as we were, when a ‘gang’ of roller-bladers filled out favorite square in Sevilla one evening.  And then, as quickly as they appeared, they skated off to their next square.  Be patient as you wait for the Flamenco dancers to appear because I guarantee you’ll never again see more passion displayed by a few dancers and musicians. Spain is about Art and History, eating and dancing, and so many other things, but most importantly, Spain is about the people.

The Curse of Company

It never fails, right?  It doesn’t matter if your company is friends or relatives.  Something’s going to go wrong at your house.  It can be a clogged sink at Thanksgiving or a frozen water pipe at Christmas, but the minute company comes-a-calling, something is going to break.  My mother was the victim of the  ‘ company curse’ last week.

My mother feels she has two jobs when visitors come.  She believes her first job is to feed them to death.  The curse involved here is the ‘traveler’s curse’.  The ‘traveler’s curse’ is that as  soon as you travel fifty miles from your house, you need to eat everything available.   My mom never misses a chance to make food available.

The ‘company curse’ had to do with her second job.   This job is to make sure we are comfortable as she entertains us.  This involves finding out everything going on around her hometown, north of Houston,  and making sure her swimming pool is ready to go.

My son, his wonderful girlfriend and I  went  to visit mom last week.  My daughter met us at her house.  After we said our hellos and mom told us every event going on within a fifty mile radius, she sent my son to turn the heater on the pool so the water would be the perfect temperature to swim the next day.  This would be the first time the pool was used this year.  Mom was excited that the Houston temperatures were warm enough for swimming, with a little help from the heater. My big toe let me know that a little heat definitely was required.  Son turned the heater on and we thought all was good.   The heater and pump were replaced on the pool last year.  But, we found out later,  the heater didn’t work.  Mom was more disappointed than the kids.

Next it was the air conditioner.  As I said, it was hot in Houston and the humidity was at about 90%.   We, West Texas dry climate people, were sweating profusely in the still air.  When we took our daily walk and the pollen showered our sweaty bodies, we took on a new yellow glow.   Luckily the repairman came the next day and temporarily fixed the broken air conditioner.  He repaired the air conditioner for the  short-term and explained the mega bucks needed to fix it completely.

A typical home air conditioning unit.

Sadly mom's problem involves the coil. Not an easy fix.

The next problem was my fault.  As we were playing cards one night and mom was telling us how her hand mixer broke as she was making my son’s favorite cheesecake, I broke her chair.  Yes, I have put on a little weight over the last few years but that’s not why the chair broke.  Like the mixer, the chair has been in my mom’s house for as long as I can remember and  I have grown children.  The chair had two of the brace poles (have no idea what they’re really called) already broken and maybe, maybe I was leaning back in it.  Remember I was really hot and someone dropped a playing card and I leaned back in hopes of catching a card breeze.  Another pole came out and the chair broke.  Thanks to my cat-like reflexes and fear of embarrassing myself by falling to the floor, I jumped out before the chair collapsed.  I heard my retired elementary school teacher mom saying something about how all four legs should always be on the ground.  I felt about eight.

All this and you might think it wasn’t the greatest trip, but it was.  Mom came to terms with it all- even the air conditioner bill.  I tried to hide the broken chair in the corner before I left. My sweet son promised to fix it next time he visits so mom was happy.  But, let’s face it, no matter what goes wrong, just being around friends and family seems to make all catastrophes better.  Maybe that’s the purpose of the ‘company curse’.  Even though mom hated the problems, at least we were there to lend a little support.

After we left, the pool repairman came and replaced the thermostat (no charge).  Of course, there was that residual ‘company curse’ bad mojo.  Mom called me today and told me her phone isn’t working.  All her calls are going to another lady’s house.  She can call out but we can’t call her on her house phone.   The phone repairman is coming tomorrow.  I bet he gets leftover cheesecake.

South-African Rose baked Cheese Cake on Dr. St...

Mardi Gras Mania

My mother and father grew up in the little town of Amite, Louisiana, but they never took my siblings and me to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.   (Can’t imagine why)  My first chance to see a Mardi Gras parade took place in Alabama.  It was Mobile, Alabama to be exact.  I’m embarrassed to say I thought New Orleans and Galveston, in my home state of Texas, were the only places to hold Mardi Gras celebrations.  Now, I know better.  Do you think there might be other stuff going on in America that I’m not aware of?  Anyway, I now feel certain that many places have parades- just not as far North as Amarillo, Texas.

But my first Mardi Gras experience took place where it all started. Sorry New Orleans. The first Mardi Gras parade in America was held  in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama.  New Orleans started their party fifteen years later.

My ignorance runs even deeper.  I thought Mardi Gras was maybe a week of parades and balls.  Sorry, my friends, this is wrong.  In Mobile the first parade of Mardi Gras is in November.  During the three weeks before Fat Tuesday, the town holds parades almost every night.  And the locals do it right each night.  I was there on a random Tuesday and the floats were beautiful.  The high school bands that played between the floats were energetic and talented.  I imagine this was not the first parade they had marched in over the last few weeks but they didn’t disappoint.

Amateur float makers everywhere, we need to hang our heads in shame.  We have parades in my little town and we have an awesome band but our flat-topped trailers covered in hay bales and brightly markered posters would be laughed out of the Mobile parades.  The one picture of a float that I took (below) shows you what I mean.  These are well thought out designs and they don’t use the same floats night after night.  I’m guessing there are hundreds of floats housed all over Mobile year round as they prepare for Mardi Gras season.

Next let me tell you about the gifts tossed from the floats to the waiting crowds.  You know about the beads and doubloons but do you know about the stuffed animals, roses, candy, peanuts and Moon Pies? Yes, I said Moon Pies.  In 1956, Alabama float riders started sharing Moon Pies with the crowds.  I didn’t even know these treats still existed.

And what do you collect your goodies in?  Many parade goers have wheeled boxes.  Sacks don’t work well because the torpedoed goods come quick and you need somewhere to toss your items as you prepare for your next catch.  Seasoned parade goers have rakes to collect goods that don’t clear the protective three-foot fence.  The plastic bags from the local grocery store that we use for our little parades would never hold the plethora of loot recovered on a Mobile Mardi Gras night.

Now you understand why I didn’t get a lot of pictures.  You look down and you might be sporting a bead imprint across your face the next day.  And the night I went, it was ladies throwing the gifts from high atop the floats.

All from my one parade

Beads, beads and more beads

I feel like I stumbled upon a well-kept secret.  I went to a Mardi Gras parade and I didn’t have to fight Time Square sized crowds.  I didn’t even have to flash anything to get beads.

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