17 February 2014

Going Bionic With a Hip Fillet - Part Deux

My stay at Methodist Hospital for Surgery was as good as you can imagine a hospital stay could be, and better than most hotel stays I've had. The staff and facilities were both top-notch. Even the food was excellent. The evening after my surgery (Monday), they brought me a breakfast menu and took my breakfast order for the next morning. Everything sounds good when you've been fasting for 18 hours. I opted for a heartiest thing on the menu -- eggs, bacon, potatoes and a biscuit. Now I just had to wait about 12 hours to get it. Much to my delight, though, David, the night shift nurse, brought me a late-night snack of peanut butter and graham crackers. There is nothing better than peanut butter to break a fast!

My first solid meal since Sunday could not have been more satisfying; breakfast was just as hearty in reality as it looked on the menu the night before. Lunch was a lovely chicken Florentine, and dinner was a tasty fettuccine primavera. Isn't it funny that whether we're on vacation or being filleted, the dominant topic of conversation is food? (And, yes, Julie Richey, even hospital asparagus has that after effect.)

I was released on Wednesday afternoon, and the recovery/rehab at home has progressed extremely well. Having been filleted two weeks ago today, I'm getting around nicely on my walker, and today started using just the cane while at home.

I have yet to settle on a name for the new bionic hip, but have gotten many excellent suggestions! More as it happens...

04 February 2014

Going Bionic With a Hip Fillet - Part 1

At last... I have a bionic hip! Two years and several diagnoses and treatments in the making, I got my first artificial joint yesterday -- a right hip. The process has been educational and enlightening and LOADS easier than expected.

I can't possibly top Steve Carell's description of the process on his recent appearance on Letterman's show, so watch this first: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQSQTeza50I. My experience varied only slightly...

One O.R. nurse (pictured here) took care of my entire prep process -- stabbing me with the I.V.; giving me the stylish blue-and-green-print dress with low-cut (err, open) back and clashing yellow rubberized non-warming socks; and manscaping the region with a partially-functional disposable electric shaver.

The anesthesiologist showed up next, treated me to a relaxer via the I.V. and reviewed the routine with me. Before I knew it, I heard "Mr. Taylor, how do you feel?" and I was in the recovery area. No pain. No nausea. Great nap. Easy!

While I was being filleted, Tom was accompanied in the waiting room by our friends, DeeAnne and Debbie. I had the easy part here -- just sleep; they had the boring part -- waiting. Thanks, girls, for keeping him busy! The three of them were waiting for me in the room when they wheeled me up. The rest of the day was completely uneventful, thankfully.

02 February 2012

Nicaragua - Postcard 1

These postcards must have gotten lost in the Internet.  I sent them 2 weeks ago from Nicaragua.  (Joking aside, though, Nicaragua may be third-world, but they have amazing Internet coverage in some of the unlikeliest of places.)

MIA (the airport in Miami) is an emotional trip.  Arrival is a big downer -- a mess of terminals and a mass of people.  Our connecting flight to Managua was to depart from gate D32 (See photo for directions.  Who signs off on this stuff?)  and our arriving flight seemed to have arrived several miles away in spite of the moving sidewalks.  We found the AAdminal's Club(R) and were allowed admittance because, although we are merely peasants, we were on an international flight at some level above steerage.   One complimentary beverage coupon plus "We do not announce flight departures here."  Sweet.  When it was time to get on the next flight, we asked the AAdmiral for directions to gate D32 and, luckily, it was close.

Getting on any plane to evacuate MIA is a joy, and once the wheels are off the ground, it's pure elation.  The short 2-1/2 hour flight to MGA (Managua) was quite pleasant, and we arrived a few minutes early at gate 6 (of 6).  MGA is surprisingly modern -- something of a giant Quonset hut with all the modern accoutrements.  Clearly, Nicaragua has planned ahead for the tourists who will spill northward from Costa Rica, now that it has become way over-touristed.  We had only carry-ons, so we were able to proceed directly to Passport Control and Immigration for the quick US$10 (They didn't give a price in cordobas, their local currency.) pass-through.  And just as promised, a driver awaited us holding a paper sign with Tom's name and the resort's name printed in bold letters.  When he showed us to the parked Toyota VX sport-ute (badged a Lexus GX here in the 'States), we knew the 2-hour ride to San Juan del Sur was going to be good.  And it was.

Several images stuck with us along the roadsides to the resort:  cows (not "cattle", as I associate that with groups of cows) and horses grazing unfenced just feet from the pavement; the high quality of said pavement; and the red "Claro" satellite dishes atop the meagerest of residences.  It was doubtful that they had running water inside those homes, but at least they had satellite TV!

Around 3:00 PM, we arrived at Pelican Eyes (the resort), a larger-than-life set of structures strewn up a steep hillside in a jungle on the eastern edge of San Juan del Sur.  Instead of "Resort and Spa", they should call it a "Resort and Gym", because the place is like one giant Stairmaster.  There are clearly no "accessible" accommodations here.

I'll "send" more postcards of our adventure in a few days…

25 September 2011

Wine Country – Part Deux

Heirloom tomatoes from Cakebread

Saturday was our unplanned day.  While at the Sunshine Foods market yesterday, we got some provisions for light breakfasts at the double-wide, so we enjoyed Greek yogurt, Costeaux granola, fresh figs and heirloom tomatoes.  The tomatoes get a shout-out here…  At Cakebread Cellars, they have a kitchen from which they cater special events and offer cooking classes.  To supply their kitchen, they grow vegetables and herbs in their organic garden.  Whatever produce they do not use in the kitchen is offered for sale to winery guests in their “honor shed” – a tiny wooden structure with a couple of shelves of veggies and a money basket.  You bag your selections and leave cash in the basket.  For $2.50 we got a basket of 7 perfect heirloom tomatoes.  (Note that only 5 are pictured; 2 were consumed before I could arrange the plate and snap the photo.)

For our free day, Julie and Chris had lunch with some local friends, and Tom and I made a lunch date with the CIA – the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  Greystone is a huge structure in St. Helena that once housed Christian Brothers Winery.  The CIA bought the facility, converted it into their western campus and opened a “teaching” restaurant.  The kitchen and wait staff are all CIA students, except for a couple of seasoned pros who I guess would be considered faculty.  The restaurant’s patio was shady, breezy and cool, but we opted for a table in the dining room next to the open kitchen so we could watch “the kids” at work.  The restaurant is not-for-profit, so we enjoyed the most generous portions at the most favorable prices of any meal on the trip.  We had a very nice bottle of their namesake chardonnay for $30, which is unheard-of in this part of the world.  After lunch, it was back to the double-wide to link  up with the Richeys for some bocce and zinfandel.

Chris and Tom taste and pose
Mazzocco Winery (home of the double-wide) is owned by the Wilson family (think sporting goods), so we received an invitation to a hoe-down (I don’t make this stuff up.) at their namesake winery for the introduction of their 2011 releases.  Wilson Winery is a couple of miles down the highway.

Tom, Chris and Julie with the pony
In addition to the requisite wine sampling, festivities included games, line dance lessons, hors d’eouvres (which were awfully gourmet for a hoe-down) and a pitiful little petting pony trapped in a pen that was too small for him to even turn around in.  They also served a full dinner, with a pig on the spit, all the trimmings and a huge dessert buffet, all paired with Wilson’s just-released reserve wines.  I would guess there were 100-150 guests, and everything was complimentary.  So I’ll have to amend my previous comment about prices at The Greystone.  But wait!  There’s more!

One of the games was a bean-bag toss, only modified appropriately to be a cork toss.  You toss a cork in one of the various size holes to win a prize commensurate with the size of the hole.  Three of the four of us each won a bottle of Wilson’s 2009 zinfandel.  (Sorry, Chris.  I know the pressure was on.)  More trivia:  Remember the soccer ball from “Castaway” with Tom Hanks?  It was displayed behind the bar in their tasting room.

Picnic lunch at deLormier Winery
Sunday was our escorted tour of several other Wilson family wineries, covering Sonoma and Mendocino counties and highlighted by a picnic lunch at DeLormier Winery.  The four of us were joined by Julie’s friend from Santa Rosa, a fellow mosaicist, and her husband.  The tour lasted about 7 hours, and was capped with a full tasting at Mazzocco.  For dinner, we drove into Healdsburg and had a very low-key meal at a local hamburger hang-out.

The final tasting at Mazzocco Winery
Monday was going-home day, but our festivities were not over, yet.  We were invited to the Richmond home and studio of friend and artist, John Wehrle (www.troutinhand.com).  So on our return trip to SFO, we detoured through Richmond for art, conversation and Thai food.  Final trivia:  There are very few gas stations along the 101 anywhere close to SFO.  We had to back-track to gas up the Jeep before surrendering it there.

Back in the reality of Dallas, I now anticipate the next big event – the South Cobb High School class of ’81 thirty-year reunion.  Yikes.  Stay tuned...

14 September 2011

Wine Country - Part 1

Our Deck View from the Double-Wide

What could be prettier than tasting America’s finest wines in their native region with friends?  Doing so a week before the harvest (or “the crush” as some call it), when the vines are loaded with the sweet red berries that will become some of the world’s premier wines over the next few months.  I got to do just that this past weekend at a variety of spots in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties in northern California.

Our trip began early Thursday morning.  We arrived at SFO just in time for lunch, and as we headed north toward winedom, we stopped at Fish in Sausolito for a bite.  Fish is an organic seafood (DUH!) restaurant focusing on sustainable fishing practices.  The setting is picnic table casual, but with the patio overlooking the bay, who cares?!

From there, it was north to Caymus Winery for our first formal tasting.  It was more entertaining than educational, and the wines did not compel any in our group of four to make a purchase.  Of course, there was plenty of profit for them in the $30 (each!) tasting fee.  From there, we headed to Healdsburg and Mazzocco Winery, not for the tasting, yet, but because their guest house was our accommodation for the extended long weekend.

“Guest House” is their euphemism for what we in the south would call a double-wide.  No kidding.  Granted, the setting was beautiful, with the winery on one side, and vineyards & a runway on the other.  Thankfully, the runway was the Healdsburg regional landing strip about 200 yards away and only had to handle about four small plane take-offs and landings each day.  The deck affixed to the double-wide was great – long and wide, with a panoramic view of the Mazzocco grape fields and said runway.  They did a nice job with floral plantings around the double-wide, and on one end we had a bocce court and a horseshoe pit.  But it’s still a double-wide.  To their credit, the nightly rate for four of us in the very large double-wide (with kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths) was a fraction of what a pair of hotel rooms in the region would have been.  And the scenery (looking away from the double-wide) was great.  Added bonus:  We had two bottles of Mazzocco’s reserve wines awaiting us when we arrived.

Thursday’s dinner was at The Farmhouse, a small restaurant attached to an ultra-lux inn in Forestville.  The food and service were predictably excellent and predictably expensive.  Then it was back the dark winding road to the double-wide.

Per a recommendation from one of our hosts at Mazzocco, Friday breakfast was at Costeaux Bakery in downtown Healdsburg.  The omelets and coffee were great.  Thankfully, it was pretty early in the morning, so the bakery case stocked with sweet pastries and tartlets was easier to resist.

Stacks of Barrels at Cakebread
Our first stop after breakfast was a tour and tasting at Cakebread Cellars in Rutheford.  This was an hour walk-and-talk through their vineyards and winery, followed by a half-hour tasting of several of their products that are not widely distributed (if at all).  Our guide, Summer, was interesting and entertaining, and she had the product in the tasting room to back up the typically over-descriptive wine-speak.  “Heavy on the nose.”  “Fruit-forward.”  “Hits the middle of the palate.”  Shut up already!  Do I like it or not?  Interesting bit of trivia:  Cakebread is a family name, and the founder used to run a garage in Oakland.

From Cakebread, it was off to Yountville (“YONT-ville”) and lunch at Bouchon.  Bouchon is the little sister of the famed French Laundry, so we decided to call it “The Laundrette”.  They serve French fare at French prices with French service (respectively, excellent, high, and slow by American standards).

Quixote Winery by Hundertwasser
Our afternoon tour-n-taste was at Quixote Winery.  Quixote is a boutique winemaker with very limited distribution.  They are as famous for their Hundertwasser-designed structure as they are for their superb screw-cap wines.  Even the wine barrels are fun here, with colorfully striped steel bands binding the oak planks into place.

Colorful Barrels at Quixote
On our drive back to the double-wide, we stopped at Sunshine Foods in St. Helena and picked up stuff for a simple, quiet dinner at “home”.  Sunshine is proud of their products (expensive!), but the quality of their organic locally-sourced foods is indisputable.  Paired with some excellent Mazzocco reds, our double-wide dinner was delightful.

Tomorrow is Saturday, our planned no-plans day…

21 May 2011

I AM-sterdam!

Day 8

We've mastered the trains!  We cabbed it back to the Bruges train station, got on the correct train to Brussels, and linked up perfectly with our Thalys train, enjoyed lunch and drinks, and arrived in Amsterdam at 186 MPH right on time.  Well, we *did* slow down to about 30 a few of minutes before arrival at Amsterdam Centraal.

Yes, they spell it with two A's.  Speaking of spelling, they have more English-invalid letter combinations in Amsterdam than I have ever seen.  Pick any permutation of J, K, L, and T, toss in a vowel or two, repeat at least once, and that's a perfectly good name for a street.

We cabbed it to Hotel Amistad, and began our Amsterdammer adventure.  This is gonna be fun!  We walked around the area, as we always do when arriving in a new city.

It's Friday, and tonight is "disco night" at the Van Gogh Museum.  Our host at Amistad, Jost, suggested that we buy tickets ahead of time so we don't have to wait in the ticket queue; excellent advice.  We got to bypass the 15-minute queue for tickets.  The museum is open until 10:00 on Friday nights, so we arrived around 7:00 PM.  DJ, bar, energy, and art.  What a great combination!  I noticed that their audio tour headsets only have one earpiece.

We ended up at dinner across the street from the hotel at a Portuguese spot, which was great.  It's a family-owned and -operated spot that serves great fish dishes.

Day 9

Today is "tour day".  We follow Rick Steves' walking tour and learn lots about the city.

Another aside here...  European floors are numbered from zero.  So the ground floor (what we'd call the first floor in the U.S.) is floor zero.  That means the basement is negative one, and if you're on the third floor (as is our room at Amistad sans lift), that's the 4th floor in the U.S.  We will have very shapely legs by the time we get back to Dallas.

Because of Amsterdam's renaissance tax history, buildings are skinny and tall.  They used to have to pay taxes based on the size of their plot and the height of the entry stairs; servants used a ground-level entrance, and elites ascended several steps to the front door.  Our hotel building was only as wide as our compact queen-bedded room.  Our room was street-facing, 3 flights of stairs up.  Thankfully, Jost was better fit than we, and hauled our 2 carry-ons up for us.

We learned the lay of the land (which used to be marshland) and scoped out some potential eateries.  Amsterdam is much like the U.S. -- there really is no "native" food, as, say, Italy or Spain.  (Sorry, France.  Y'all know how to dramatize food, but there didn't seem to be anything really "native".  We love you, though!)  There is a lot of every cuisine here.  And since Holland used to own Indonesia, there is a lot of that here.

Dinner was at De Kas, a large organic spot southeast of the city center that grows much of its own veggies and herbs.  It was good, but I think its hype is bigger than its bites.  Its prices certainly are.  But my dinner was free!  My fish was WAY over-cooked (mushy, not flaky), so I reported that to our head waitress.  I was comfortably full on the house-grown organic veggies, which were grilled to perfection, so I didn't need the fillet anyway.  Tom and I shared the cheese plate for dessert.  The bill arrived one "menu" (my 4-course meal) short, and the waitress explained [in perfect English as they all speak] that the chef appreciated my comments and complimented my meal.

Day 10

Mothers' Day at the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of The Netherlands.  Rick Steves was right again -- Dutch art is "meat and potatoes" compared to the rest of Europe's stuff, and way more up my alley.  We did the "approximately one-hour" audio tour, and 2-1/2 hours later were glad we did.  The main museum is closed for renovation until 2013, so all the stuff we saw was in The Phillips Wing, which was added recently in 1890 (yes, eighteen-ninety).  The "meat and potatoes" exhibits are like a U.S. fireworks show -- start with some bravado -- a 1/12 scale dutch war ship model --slow it down with a bunch of still life paintings, then have the grand finale -- Rembrandt's "The Night Watch".

After the museum, we had a late lunch at a chic Indonesian restaurant, sharing "The Indonesia Plate for Two".  It was a selection nice of small dishes, each of which was great.

After lunch, we toured the red light district, which, as you might imagine, is not terribly active on a Sunday afternoon.  Still interesting, though.  And it's really a pretty small area.  From there it was back south toward the hotel and happy hour.

We didn't know about Sunday happy hour; we just came upon it.  We found a "friendly" [as if not all bars in Amsterdam aren't "friendly"] neighborhood spot near the hotel called Taboo.  There were lots of vacant sidewalk tables, so we parked at one and had a glass of wine.  Within the hour, the place filled to capacity and spilled into the street.  It was orchestrated almost like a flash mob.  (See pictures.)

Day 11

Today's plan was to take the bus out to Keukenhof Gardens, a renouned botanical garden open only two months each year in the spring to show off their spectactular tulips.  A colleague had told me about it.  (Thanks, Julie!)  RAIN.  So instead we made this our "lazy day", which every vacation needs anyway.  Shop, sip, and savor.

Day 12

It's our last full day on the trip. We figured we'd do Keukenhof today since we had rain yesterday.  Well, today, more rain.  We don't really want to tour the tulips in the rain.

So instead, we did a canal tour on a boat and a walking tour of Jordaan ("yor-DON"), a great quiet neighborhood (except for canal maintenance -- see the pics) where the Franks hid during WWII.  We had an hour before our boat set sail, so we found a sidewalk cafe (imagine that) and enjoyed a salad and some wine.  I'm sure Grand Island, Nebraska, is close, but I'm pretty sure I should have been born into cafe society.

The boat tour was fun,  if not predictable.  It lasted an hour and took us on a large loop around the city.  We learned several tidbits about Amsterdam.  For example, this is the only city that built a multi-deck parking garage for bikes.  (See pictures.)  And they've already outgrown it!

Sushi seems to have taken Amsterdam by storm, so we decided on a sushi spot for the last supper.  I hope that the restaurant we chose is not representative of Amsterdammer sushi.  It was adequate at best.

We returned to the hotel and asked them to book us a taxi to Schipol (they call it "skipple", but everyone else calls it "shipple".  Since they own it, we should probably go with their pronunciation.) at 5:00 AM for our 7:20 AM flight.

19 May 2011

In Bruges

Day 6

Today is travel day to Bruges, and what a day  it will turn out to be...

The day started with breakfast at our morning standard, Cafe Parvis.  From there, we checked out of the hotel and headed on the Metro toward Gare de Nord.  On our map, red and orange look very similar...  After a few stops, we realized that we were not headed to the gare, so we hopped off and grabbed a cab.  But for other reasons (my incorrectly set watch) we missed our train to Brussels and had to buy another ticket.  No worries...  164€ down the tube.  Arghhh...

But it gets better (worse, actually)...  We got to Brussels, finally, a couple of hours later.  We LOVE the Thalys high-speed (186 MPH) trains.  Smooth, quiet, food and drink service.

OH!  I think I forgot to mention that with the EU, there are no passport checks or customs when traveling country-to-country.  And while on the subject...  When we arrived in Paris after Miami, there was no immigration paperwork to complete and only a quick passport check at CDG.  I bet it won't be so smooth next week when we return to Dallas via Heathrow.  But we'll burn that bridge when we get there.

Back in Brussels...  We're just here to change trains to get to Bruges.  On the Belgian trains (state-run) there is no first class (the difference in first and second classes on European trains is not as it is on airlines), no reserved seats, and no reserved schedule.  You buy a 24€ ticket and it's good on any train (to a specified destination) for 30 days.

We found the track, ascended the escalator, and hopped on the train.  [Insert high-pitched conductor whistle here.  Really.]  After about 20 minutes up-rail, the conductor passed to check everyone's tickets.  Tom presented his, and the conductor replied (in perfect English) "This is not the right ticket."  I presented my ticket, which was the same, pointing out the we both at tickets to Bruges.  "The tickets are okay, but this train does not go to Bruges."  Red faces reigned.  The conductor was the perfect gentleman and explained to us that we need to get off at the next stop, swap tracks, go back to Brussels...

In Bruges!  (If you haven't seen that movie, rent it.  Colin Farrell and Ralph Feines.)  We cabbed it from the train to the hotel, where Tom has booked the "honeymoon suite" on the canal.  That is an exaggerated description, but it was an adequate hotel.  (See our canal-view pictures.)  Rick Steves hit the nail on the head with his description of the hotel -- big and basic.

We walked up to Market Square, Bruges' main one.  Bikes, taxis, city buses, and horse-drawn carriages whiz by.  High energy old world.

Dinner was at a "tapas bar" called Rockfort.  I had foie gras (imagine that) and Tom had eel.  The place was as modern and chic as any Dallas restaurant, but architecturally set 300 years ago.  The food and service were fantastic (the latter of which we would learn is unusual in Bruges).

Day 7

We did Rick Steves' walking tour of Bruges, hitting all the highlights, including Michelangelo's "Mary and Jesus" sculpture, "the only Michelangelo sculpture exported from Italy while he was alive".  What a specific claim to fame.

The rest of the day included lunch at a sidewalk cafe (Still lovin' the cafe life!) and turning in early.  We're leaving tomorrow morning and don't want a repeat or the previous day's train fiascos.