Category Archives: NOLA

A Tale of Four Cities

Now that all the excitement of disease, death, and urine samples is behind us, it’s time to get back to the real purpose of this blog – FUN! We have a lot of catching up to do, so we had better get started.

As I mentioned previously, we left the Keys, and headed over to the Florida West Coast. Our first stop after driving through the much lauded and equally overrated Everglades was St. James City on Pine Island. You may ask why we stopped in this particular place when Sanibel Island was our destination, and all I can tell you is I let Stewart make the arrangements. Note to self: Google all reservations made by Stewart before departure. The Island was in a beautiful location right on the Gulf of Mexico, and the Intracoastal Waterway, however the median age was 63.2. The only thing that come to mind is they averaged in the ages of great-grandchildren who were visiting at the time the census was conducted. Even the biker bar had a handrail in the restroom with a raised seat.

Besides the mosquito and noseeum infestation, we were able to manage a bit of fun. One of the restaurants we returned to a couple of times was The Waterfront Restaurant and Marina. The food was delicious and plentiful. The fresh clam chowder was particularly good, as was the broiled seafood gumbo. The first time we at there, we sat in the bar as it was packed. Beer was 25 ¢ and served in a mason jar. As you can imagine, hot sun mixed with cheap beer made for an interesting group of diners and drinkers. A few locals entertained us with stories, some of which are just not appropriate to share on a PG-13 blog. The many stickers that graced the wall behind the bar were also good for a few laughs.

The biggest drawback to St. James City being Heaven’s Waiting Room was that Stewart and I are night people. We first began to think about food when the street lights were being extinguished for the night. Fortunately we were able to find one of the best meals we’d had to date at The Lazy Flamingo. Though they are known for their Dead Parrot Wings, we shared an appetizer of conch (pronounced conk by the locals) fritters that were moist and delicious, followed by grilled grouper sandwich for me, and a grilled fish platter for Stewart. We were stuffed to the gills, so to speak, but our very persuasive waitperson convinced us our meal would not be complete without a slice triple layer chocolate mousse layer cake. We didn’t want to let her down, so we dug in. When the bill came, the waitperson had deducted 10% from the bill because she liked us – not something that happens every day. (Note: I did not tell her I wrote a travel blog, which made it even sweeter!)

The third and final noteworthy place we visited that was Woody’s Waterside. Now, before I go any further, I think it is important that you know Woody is a dog. More specifically, a hound dog. His picture graces the wall behind the bar asleep with his tongue akimbo and paws wrapped around a can of beer. After eating there, I will be adding restaurants named for pets to my list of places to skip. In retrospect it seemed like a good idea as the parking lot was full, and compared to the geriatric biker bar, it was fabulous.

If you happened to read my previous post, you know about my experience with the less than competent folks at Quest Labs. Needless to say, I was extremely happy to see Pine Island in the rear view mirror. Our next stop was beautiful St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach. This was 180º from Pine Island. Though we had an inauspicious approach with GPS directing us into a cemetery, we ended up in this beautiful lush place on the bayou where Tampa Bay empties on its journey back from the Gulf of Mexico. Our campsite was surrounded by old growth trees and flowering bougainvillea bushes with the view of the water right across the path. Our three days there stretched into almost two weeks as we were reluctant to give up our corner of paradise. Then, the heat and humidity arrived. Florida in late April/early May is just no fun. There were so many wonderful restaurants and places we went during our stay in Madeira Beach that I couldn’t begin to mention them all. Instead, I will focus on a few standouts.

This was the first real sense we had of the West Coast versus the East Coast of Florida. There was decidedly a different feel here, more Southern than Eastern. The pace was slower, the locals and tourists younger and friendlier. We ate at a lovely place along the boardwalk in Clearwater called Britts’ Laguna Grill. We started out with a dozen raw oysters. They were so large and plump they actually took two bites a piece. Fortunately, we had ordered a couple of caramelized salmon salads. The dressing was made with fresh ginger, and was outstanding. The couple at the next table had smuggled in their dog. It was the cutest little thing tucked inside the man’s shirt. I tried to ask them about the dog, but they spoke no English, and I spoke no Portuguese.

Our Fifth wedding anniversary was during our stay in Madeira Beach, and we had a full day. First thing we did was meet briefly with Tom Morris, whom I had ‘met’ on Twitter. There is always a chance when meeting someone who is only a virtual friend, that they will not be who they seem in cyberspace. In this case, Tom was the real deal. A true gentleman, kind and generous of spirit. I have a pretty finely tuned BS detector, as does Stewart, and no bells went off. Tom was in St. Pete’s giving a speech, and coincidentally, we discovered we were in the same town. This is known in tweetspeak as a tweetup. After his speech, Tom stayed to be interviewed for an Internet TV show. The producer and a freelance journalist were also Twitter folks, ProducerGirl and McMedia, aka, Sandi McKenna. More about Twitter later.

After taking a walk along the beach, Stewart and I decided to look for a place to eat. We stopped in at Crabby Bill’s. It’s been around for over 25 years, and from what we can figure out, Bill is crabby because he wants some good food and good service! There were very few people up on the roof deck overlooking the water, so we thought there would be no problem having a leisurely meal. I’m just going to leave it that if I don’t have anythi
ng good to say, I’m not going to say anything at all.

Later that night, after spending some time with Jeffrey and Emma, Stewart and I headed into St. Petersburg proper to see “I Love You, Man”. It was very funny example of a modern day bromance. One of the bonuses of traveling is seeing concerts and films in strange venues. The audiences are different, the feel of the place is foreign – even if it’s the same film showing in your own neighborhood.

There is this little gadget I have on my laptop that allows me to enter the city we’re currently in, and it pops up all the music in the area. While in St. Petersburg, I found out SEAL was going to be performing the following night at the Mahaffey Theater. We immediately bought tickets assuming we’d be in nosebleed seats. Instead, to our delight, we were able to get box seats right next to the stage. Apparently, they save these until the last minute in case some big shots decide to attend (the venue saves them, not Seal). We have both been to hundreds of concerts, and can say without a doubt, that we have never witnessed as masterful a performance as this. The energy in the room was electric. Seal’s connection to the crowd was almost intimate. The man is a masterful entertainer, a humble man who is grateful for his life, and a gifted singer. He had us in the palm of his hand from the first note. I’ve thought long and hard how I was going to explain this experience in words, and frankly, I’m stumped. It was just too divine even try.

One of the most unexpected treats we’ve had so far on this journey was discovering my dear old friend, Marta Rose, is VP Communications for Panama City Beach. Marta and I had been close friends years ago when we both lived in Santa Monica, CA, but had lost contact with each other until quite recently. One thing I always loved about Marta was her ability to connect with people and places in a very special way. She was able to show us around, and provide some local colour. We ate at the Boatyard, which was delicious, and Guy Harvey’s Island Grill, which was horrible. It was a shame, really, because it is perfectly situated at the end of Pier Park near the waterfront.

James Johnson, another Twitter friend lives in Panama City and was gracious enough to take us to a couple of really cool restaurants. The first one was Captain Anderson’s. It was an old local staple with a variety of delicious fish overlooking a dock with boats moored all along the backside. Next, we went to Ernie’s Bayfront Grill & Brewhouse. They have a great wraparound back deck that overlooks the dock – a coastal feature present at most establishments in this neck of the woods.

Did I mention it was Bike Week in Panama City Beach? Tens of thousands of Harley Davidson’s roared through the streets creating a cacophony of engine noise, music and general revelry. One of the things that really spoiled the dinner we had at Guy Harvey’s was the occasional biker who just had to rev his engine for effect in the parking lot. We were unable to hear each other, and the smell of exhaust was stifling. I did learn a new acronym, though. RUB, Rich Urban Biker, and there were many of these! The way RUBs were described to me was guys who have their bikes shipped down while they board their private jets, change out of their suits into their leathers, and paint on temporary tattoos for the week. As funny as this may seem, from what I saw, the description hit its mark!

One last thing I feel it is important to mention before we leave Florida is we spent three full months along the coastline from Miami down to Key West, and over to the west coast and up through the panhandle. Stewart loves to fish, and as I’ve previously written about even caught Emma while engaged in night fishing off our back dock. During all this time, with countless hours spent bridge fishing, dock fishing and bank fishing, money spent on bait, tackle and equipment, we did not have a single fish dinner that did not come from the grocery store or a restaurant. Stewart is a lot of wonderful things. A fisherman is no one of them.

(I realize this blog is really, really long, but it has been a while since I updated, so please bare with me.)

We headed back to New Orleans, and spent two weeks at the Pontchartrain Landing RV Park. Of all the places we stayed, this was the most enjoyable. It was not the most scenic (we were for the most part in a shipyard), or the best facilities (no restaurant, game room or boat rentals), or the most centrally located (we were down a torn up road right in the midst of Katrina’s devastation), but it was STILL the best campground so far. It’s all about the people. This place had some of the nicest folks we’d met anywhere. The Property Managers, Nate and Dawn Garrder, were always available, kind and working hard to make this the best place to stay in New Orleans. The people working with them, like Jim and Bunny McElyea stopped by just to say hi and see if there was anything we needed. When Jim heard I had gotten good news from Kenner, he immediately went and found his wife to tell her. Bunny was by to share in my joy. We’ve been traveling for almost seven months, and this was the first time we even knew the names of staffers, nonetheless visited with them. They are doing a lot of work to make this place beautiful and fully functional for its guests. We will definitely be going back there.

16 May was our last Saturday night in New Orleans, and we didn’t want to miss one last chance to enjoy the fantastic music scene this great city has to offer. So, around 9:30 we headed over to Bourbon Street where you are almost guaranteed to find good music for free (or the very most, the cost of a beer). We walked around for a bit before we heard some of the best guitar playing either of us had ever heard coming out of Tropical Isle. The place was packed near the front, so we worked our way to the back of the bar area right near the stage. Right in front of us were friends of the bands, one of whom was a music producer out of Austin, TX. He started telling us about the history of the All Purpose Blues Band, and Billy Gregory, lead guitar, in particular. It seems Billy used to play with A Beautiful Day, and has been a New Orleans staple for decades. Their rendition of Black Magic Woman would have made Santana proud! When the band was through with their set, they came over and introduced themselves to us. Stewart and Billy quickly got into a discussion of calluses (Stewart had them, Billy didn’t). I was chatting with one of the other musicians, when suddenly Stewart grabb
ed my arm and starts pushing me. I was a bit surprised my gentle husband was manhandling me in this way, but decided to ignore him. When he kept at it, I decided maybe I should investigate what he wanted. At this point, his gingerly pushing became much more direct, with verbal instructions. “Move”, he yelled. “Let’s go”. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you, those are fighting words for me! When I asked him what the bleep he was doing, he yelled, “this place is on fire! Now, MOVE!”. Finally, I got it. I moved. Poor Stewart. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, it turned into a 4-Alarm fire with 70 firefighters working over the next couple of hours to extinguish the flames. Miraculously, no other buildings were damaged. The owners are planning on rebuilding, and the employees and band assured us they will find temporary work along Bourbon Street until the Tropical Isle reopens.

After we were certain everyone was out safely, and that they would not be playing another set, we wandered down the street to Famous Door, a venue we had visited previously. The same band, Rock Box, was playing. They did a good job covering everything from Led Zeppelin to Lynyrd Skynyrd. We stayed until they finished their set, then moved on to another blues club, where we heard New Orleans Levee Board Blues perform. They were world class musicians, but it was obvious they were playing to the crowd instead of playing what they loved. We were seated right in front, and the dance floor was empty. The place was about half full. I nagged Stewart until he finally gave in and danced with me. Within moments the dance floor filled up, and the band came alive. A group of young women gathered for a bachelorette party saw the crowd enjoying themselves, so they came on inside. The bride was up on stage dancing, her friends all donned wigs in colors ranging from pink to green to purple. By the time the band had finished two songs, there wasn’t an empty table or an empty inch on the dance floor. It was time to call it a night.

After all the excitement of Florida and New Orleans, we decided to bookend this segment of our trip with a return to my hometown, Dallas, TX. We arrived in Dallas on 21 May, and will be taking some trips throughout the state. More later…

I’m the Boss of Me!

Where do I start? I suppose, I’ll begin with the good news, then backtrack from there. I saw the
leading Neuroendicrine Specialists at Oschner in Kenner, LA yesterday, and they told me the oncologist was wrong. I don’t have Carcinoid cancer. The roar of “hurrah” and sighs of relief were
heard throughout the world as this news was delivered. But, how did I get here? How did the doctors get it so wrong?

In late 2005 I went to the doctor for symptoms that I don’t even remember. Whatever initially sent me to her office was quickly shuffled to the back burner as I was told I had Carcinoid Syndrome, and needed to be seen by an oncologist right away. This was two days before Thanksgiving. My daughter, Kate and her husband were coming to Fort Collins, CO for the first time since we had bought a home there, and I didn’t want this news to spoil their visit. Anytime we hear CANCER, images of death are not far behind. I made the decision to tell Kate because I had always resented being left in the dark ‘for my own good’ by parents, grandparents, etc. I feel it is up to each of us, as adults, to make up our own minds how we choose to process information. Kate was 27 years old a the time – certainly old enough to know.

Stewart and discussed it, and decided to have all the testing done as soon as possible. Test after
grueling test showed inconclusive results. I was exhausted, sore and disheartened after three months of non-stop poking and prodding. Finally, I told the doctors if it was so difficult to find, then obviously it wasn’t going to kill me any time soon. In the meantime, I was getting back to the business of living. I put the cancer diagnosis in a back corner of my mind and got back to my life. The Big C was still there, but it was no longer running the show. It stayed there until October 2008, when one of my doctors refused to treat me for something routine until I returned to the oncologist for a follow up. Reluctantly, and still nursing wounds from the first round of tests, I returned for my follow up. The diagnosis was confirmed with no specific point of origin – no change from 2005. The roller coaster ride recommenced. Do I? Don’t I? Where is it? How bad? Am I dying any time soon?

The primary difference this time was I had symptoms. People are always telling me how healthy I look, but one of the first symptoms of carcinoid is flushing. I also was experiencing other symptoms that when put together didn’t look good. In my heart of hearts I did not accept the possibility that I was actually sick. It felt surreal, like the doctors were talking about someone else. This time, they wanted to start me on the drug that I would then have to be on the rest of my life. It is an injectible, and has all sorts of miserable side effects. As much as I wanted to feel better,I felt like they were telling me I needed to use an elephant gun to kill a flea. I WASN’T SICK!

After much research on my behalf by Stewart and my dear friend, Nancy McClellan, DC, we discovered the best doctors around are in Kenner, LA at Oschner. These tireless research doctors moved from LSUHS after Katrina so they could continue their groundbreaking work with neuroendicrine tumours. Dr. Eugene Wolverting in particular makes himself available 24/7 to answer questions posed by the more than 4000 participants on the ACOR email list. He even goes so far as to list his cell phone number on his email signature. When was the last time your doctor gave you his cell number?! My compromise with Stewart and the doctors was I would begin treatment IF the doctors at Oschner confirmed the diagnosis and recommended I begin Sandostatine. In my mind, there was no doubt they would tell me this was all one big mistake. That I was just fine. So, I scheduled my appointment, made travel arrangements, and started the retesting process. 12 May was the appointed day.

The tests required for carcinoid are miserable, and have a set of challenges many are simply not up to at the time of diagnosis because they are too sick. For example, it took me over five weeks to get the lab that Oschner required me to use, to order the tubes for the blood tests. Next, the diet required for accurate results is difficult when I’m in my own kitchen. With my present living
situation, trying to collect a 24 hour urine, and keep it cold is challenging. We have no bathroom,
and our refrigerator is 3 cu ft. Have you seen the size of one of those collection containers? The
lab used the wrong tubes for blood, put wrong preservative in the collection bottle, the list goes on and on. this time I was determined -every test was going to be done perfectly, leaving no room for doubt – one way or the other I was going to know.

We arrived in New Orleans Wednesday 6 May. I was scheduled for octreotide and CT scans Thursday and Friday. The worst part of these scans for me is not the nuclear med injections, but lying still on the tables. I’m grumpy on a good day, but these tests back to back made me downright ballistic. Fortunately, Stewart understood this and kept busy. We ended up going out for some good food and good music. There was nothing we could do before Tuesday when I saw the docs anyway. May as well have some fun in NOLA, and it’s crawfish season! But, I’ll get back to the travel updates after this. For this blog, I’m concentrating on health. Monday over dinner, I put Stewart on the spot, and made him tell me what he thought the doctors were going to say. He said he thought it was a good chance I had it. I told him he was wrong, that it was all a mistake, and that I knew this down to my bones.

Tuesday, we got up and Stewart left a large perimeter around me. Experience has taught him I’m never happy about going to a doctor. This time was different. I had put my future into the hands of these doctors. Whatever they said would dictate the future course of my life. I was not leaving their offices without a definitive diagnosis. No more wiggle room. We arrived, and the first thing I learned was that all my test results had not arrived. furiously, I began calling the labs while the office assistant made calls to various agencies to find out what had happened. there was no more room for errors. I simply could not leave there without knowing. My heart sank to my feet. 15 minutes until I saw the doctors. With much arm twisting and the universe on my side, we were able to get verbal results with two minutes to go. A collective sigh of relief went through the waiting room.

When I was taken to the back, after being weighed (with my back to the scale) and height measured, I was taken into a room, and the nurse took my blood pressure. At this point, you would have expected my heart to be racing, and my pressure to be through the roof. Instead, I was calm and collected knowing I would get good news. If anything, my pressure should have been up in anticipation of good news. It was 99 over 63, with a resting pulse of 73. Not exactly stroke numbers! I was in the zone.

When the doctor asked me a slew of questions about my symptoms and other physical challenges I have, I was certain he was looking for some explanation for my diagnosis. I stopped him, and said to just give me a yes or no. No more grey areas. He said “No, you will live to be an old lady”. I jumped up, pumped my fist in the air and said, “I told you, WOOT!” Stewart was grinning ear to ear, and yelled, “Bitchin’!”. The doctor started explaining the reasons for the false diagnosis, but as far as I was concerned he may as well have been speaking in tongues. All that mattered was I was going to live, and of course, that I’d been right.

So now I need to address how they got it wrong, and how I feel about it. Let’s look at the first and
easier of the two questions, how they got it wrong. As I’ve written about before, carcinoid is a rare and often baffling disease. frequently, it is not found until an autopsy is done. It is slow growing, and relies upon markers to diagnose. The markers are 5HIAA and Chromogranin A. 5HIAA meas
ures the seretonin level, which is elevated in carcinoid patients. The CGA is secreted in carcinoid tumours. My results had been consistently high, but previously, the tests had not been conducted in as rigorous a manner, nor through the lab recommended by Oschner. Also, the dietary and medication restrictions required prior to testing for a three day period had been challenging for me because I need to take the drugs for other reasons. My oncologist, while a wonderful doctor, is not an expert in carcinoid, so didn’t have me restrict all foods and meds as required. The scans were inconclusive, but did not rule out anything, so couldn’t be taken as definitive.

Now, on to the more complex question. How I feel about this. Since I never truly accepted that I was dying this was not nearly as dramatic for me as it would have been if, say, I’d been rewriting my will and planning my funeral. On the other hand, I have given a corner of my mind over to this disease for three and a half years. I know that when I started gaining weight there was a part of me that didn’t care because I figured I’d need the weight when I started dwindling away, and what’s the difference what I eat if I’m dying anyway? May as well die fat as skinny!

I have had numerous medical dramas in my life. Only 2% survive the spinal meningitis I had in 1996. The Hepatitis C I got from a blood transfusion in 1981 left me with permanent damage to my liver. The list goes on and on. Each time I have come away a little more damaged physically, but stronger in spirit. This time is no exception. the gift of life has been tied with a bow and shiny paper, and handed back to me. As I relish this present I cannot look upon it with anything but hope. Hope for the future, and the knowledge that I can use this experience to help others on their journeys through sickness and wellness. I am truly grateful for this.

Way to Go, Uncle Rex

When last I updated this little monologue about our odyssey through the US, I put out a request for places to go and things to do next. Stewart’s uncle, Rex Amack, came through with flying colors. In fact, he so enthusiastically stood up to the challenge that I am dedicating this post to him. So, cheers, Uncle Rex!

As I wrote about previously, we were debating the West Coast of Florida or Hilton Head. We intend to follow, verbatim, the trip suggested by Uncle Rex (UR). We left the Keys and headed across the Tamiami trail through the Everglades to Naples, Sanibel and Pine Island. Next, we stopped in St. Petersburg. We’ll be in St. Petes for awhile since it is a great central location for many interesting and beautiful places. Now, that’s what I call participation! We will pick back up the rest of UR’s itinerary after NOLA.

Speaking of NOLA. The type of cancer I have is called carcinoid. I have Carcinoid Syndrome, which means that it is throughout my body and causes strange symptoms like flushing and wheezing. I plan on living a very, very long time with this disease, but it does need to be tended. The leading Neuroendicrine tumour specialists in the world are in Kenner, LA, a suburb of New Orleans, at the Oschner Clinic. The doctors there have been kind enough to agree to see me. I have been having a lot of bloodwork done along the way, and let me tell you, there are all sorts of obstacles the medical community puts in the way of us wanderers, but that’s another story. My scan dates are 7-8 May, and my consultation is 12 May. I will let y’all know how it goes. Obviously, what they tell me will have some influence on our trip. Not much, but some. Please take the time to learn about this often misdiagnosed cancer. It is often misdagnosed. In fact, the symbol for carcinoid is the zebra. “Just because you hear hoof beats doesn’t mean it’s a horse. It may be a zebra”.

Stewart and I are frequently asked about the logistics of an adventure such as ours. How we get our mail? How do we decide where to go? Don’t we miss home? These are just a few of the many questions we are asked all the time. I’m going to devote a few inches of column space to sharing some of the creative ways we are traveling unencumbered.

Our mail is sent to us by our wonderful property manager, Alex Lay. He fields the calls for the water heater, the trees needing trimming, he deals with all the day to day issues that keep our California home running and us worry free. Our mail is sent to his post office box, and he bundles it and posts it to us wherever we are. For those of you who are interested, the US Post Office does provide a service for a small fee that does basically the same thing. The big difference the post office doesn’t look through your mail for junk and items that are better handled by them. Thank you, Alex!

We have two iPhones, and as of a few days ago, a second laptop. The variety of applications available – mostly for free – on iPhone is staggering. We use no fewer than 50 apps on almost a daily basis. Here is a brief rundown of a few:

~The Weather Channel – we use this to see whether the weather suits us somewhere before heading out.
~Maps – The GPS is remarkably accurate. We have had a few funny instances for example, when it directed us into a cemetery. Considering we were in Florida, aka Heaven’s Waiting Room, we found that appropriate.
~Pandora – for those times when there is no local stations other than Rush-types and Christian music. Before anyone blasts me, there is nothing wrong with it. It’s just not our cup of tea. (did I get out of that one unscathed?)
~Shazam – for those times when we know the song, but can’t think of the artist to save our lives. this app actually “listens” to the song and give us the artist and version within seconds. It feels like magic.
~ Notepad – for keeping track of what we do, where we go, what we eat, hear, etc. Much more environmentally friendly than paper, and easier to keep up with since my phone is attached by umbilicus.
~Social Media – I’m just going to bundle Facebook, LinkedIn, Palringo, Skype and Twitter all together here. Tweetie was the one and only app I ever paid for, and at $2.99 it was a steal!
~Have2P – Yes, I know it’s a funny name, but there is nothing funny when we’re in the middle of nowhere and nature comes calling. You gals know what I mean… I see you smiling.
~Public Radio – I can look up any NPR station that broadcasts and listen to my favorite programs. Since we tend to sleep most of the day and stay up all night, I have found a great station in Hawaii that allows me to listen to Morning edition late into the afternoon.
~Offleash – We’re traveling with two very active Wheaten terriers. They are great, but sometimes their energy needs to be released in a major way. this application uses GPS to find us all the dog parks in the area. We have used it countless times – even submitted one that was missing from their list – pay it forward.
~ Stanza – Through Project Gutenberg and others, there are literally thousands of books available free to be read by anyone with access to a computer. I downloaded, for example, Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons a few days before we went to see the movie so that I would have read it in its original before seeing the Hollywood interpretation. Though Brad Pitt was great, F.Scott Fitzgerald was better.
~ AroundMe – I needed a pharmacy today. I tapped the category, and in seconds a list of pharmacies complete with directions appeared. Granted, I still got lost since I failed to look, but it was there for me.
~ TakeMetoMyCar – We were in Key West, and by the time the day was through we had no idea where we had parked. Fortunately, I’d pressed the screen before we walked away that morning, and it took us right to the car.
~TV.com I know it’s a little screen on the iPhone, but when I was stuck in Peregrine without any wifi or TV signal, I watched CSI and How I Met Your Mother in a YouTube-like format. Very cool.
~i.TV – Speaking of TV, wherever we go this app uses GPS to determine our location, and then gives us the local TV and movie listings.
~Music Recording – 4Trak and GigBaby allow Stewart to record four tracks of music so he can play lead, rhythm, bass and slide resulting in beautiful music.
It’s his own mobile recording studio.
~YouTube – We use this primarily for comedy. Every once in a while A Susan Boyle singing I Dreamed a Dream or Adam Lambert singing Mad world comes along, and instead of being out of the loop, we get to indulge over and over until the tears stop flowing. Speaking of tears flowing, there was one particular Youtube video, Ed Needs Bob that led us to collaborate with Jay Koch in developing a new acronym to describe the sort of laughter that doubles you over and makes tears stream down your face. ENB is when ROFLMAO just doesn’t do justice to our fun.

There are many, many more, but you get the general idea. On our (my!) laptop we have a TV tuner card with fits right into a slot in the side. If we happen to have access to cable, it just hooks right up to the card. If we don’t, I know the name of a good electrician (Stewart) who is quite skilled at working the antenna to get us a picture. When all that fails, Pat Bell, also known as @MickeyMouse1105, tweets me what’s happening on American Idol.

The final question regarding missing home is a bit more complex. We have three daughters and two grandsons who we miss desperately. But the reality at their stages of life (ages 29, 24 and 20) they will have about 30 minutes a week for their parents. Should we spend our time stationary in hopes they throw us a bone? We feel that home is wherever we are together. Peregrine is home, but we are each other’s “home”. We have gotten Skype, and have asked the girls to do the same so we can see them as well as hear their voices. If anyone wishes to reach us, our user name is ravenhouse18. Just give us a warning shout so I can put on my Chapstick.

We did a lot of going back to the same places we had already enjoyed in our final weeks in the Keys. Stewart and I cooked and brought in food while I was recovering, so there isn’t a lot to report other than the remarkable care he gave me, as always. There is one place in particular that is a standout, though. Hog Heaven. The food was excellent, and the live music was a real treat. They played reggae with various guest artists joining them for different numbers. the best part was they serve a full menu until 3:00 AM. As many of you know, we just get started around midnight!

Too much fun landed me in back pain hell. Fortunately, I had my iPhone to keep me company. I have gotten really fast on that thing. In fact, I actually prefer it to my laptop. It is fun to watch the auto-correct transform my thoughts into something completely different. Steve Jobs has a really good sense of humour. I am happy to report my back is healing nicely, and I’m back in the saddle, so to speak.

I would like to share the final day I had before being down for the count. Early Thursday morning – ok, it was around 10:00 am – we headed for Miami where we met Vopni (@talkative_mime) for brunch at a little place called Wagon Wheel West. great breakfast. In my opinion, breakfast is the meal most often ruined. The owner, Wally, was so excited when we told him we’d mention him in our blog, he brought T-shirts for the table!

Straight from WWW, we headed over to Whisk Gourmet. Unfortunately, we weren’t hungry, but we still managed to share a piece of the most heavenly chocolate cake I think I’ve had since my mom’s. We actually fought over the last bite! It was so nice getting to see Ryan and Alyson, my cousins. I hadn’t seen Ryan since he was about 14. Now, he’s all grown up and working for Amex. Handsome, too!

That night, Stewart and I went to see Les Miserables at the Actor’s Playhouse in Coral Gables. The playhouse is owned by Larry and Barbara Stein. Coincidentally, when I broke a tooth in March, Larry fixed it for me. He’s both a great patron of the arts and dentist. What a combination. The company included quite a few from the original Broadway production. When Valjean, played by David Michael Felty sang “Bring Him Home” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We were, of course, there in our flipflops, but who cares. Magic! Incidentally, another one of my cousins, Staci Schwartz, an accomplished actor, was a part of the Actor’s Playhouse until quite recently when she relocated to our nations capital.

Down in the Keys for the most part our choices for shopping are an outlet store or two, Wal-Mart (where I refuse to shop until they pay their workers a living wage), and Walgreen’s. Spending the day in Miami gave us the opportunity to stock up on much needed supplies. We (Stewart!) had broken a lamp at the home we had rented, and buying a new one seemed a better solution than reporting it.

I am at a stand still.There is so much more to write, but if I wait until I have it all written, I’ll never get this posted! So, I’m going to post this, and then get back to the more interesting aspects of our journey. Please forgive me for not being very amusing this go. Too much to say, too little wifi!

Fifty, the New Fifty!

Sorry for the long delay between posts. Each morning (afternoon?) when I wake up I have to ask myself, “Where am I?”

First of all, I have decided to withhold judgment about President Obama. Let’s face it, he inherited a mess, and it is going to take time and BI-PARTISAN cooperation to even begin to fix this mess we’re in. People outside the Beltway seem to be giving him some breathing room, which is a good thing. We didn’t get in this mess overnight. It isn’t going to go away overnight, either. I just wish there was some way to stop the bleeding. I made the mistake of opening my 401K statement (up until now I have avoided looking), and almost cried. The deflated value of real estate values coupled with the disaster, also know as our pensions, is enough to send me to drink. One amusing side note on the budget mess I’d like to share. In late January, I received a notice from the California Franchise Board (their version of the IRS) telling me I owed almost $5400 for 2005. When I called to find out what was going on, I was told that the State just assumed I must have hidden income since I am making my mortgage payments on time! After I stopped laughing, I asked the gentleman if this was one of Arnold’s ideas to go along with IOU’s. Just go after anyone, and see who is dumb enough to pay. Hopefully, Clarence (my contact) will get this sorted before they try and take Peregrine. If the California legislature and local mayors are smart they’ll spend some of their energy collecting from real tax offenders.

OK, so what have we been up to? Our dear friend, Nancy McClellan, lost her 18 year old dog, Honey, so Jeffrey and Emma did what they could to distract her. Nancy was kind enough to watch them while Stewart and I flew to Palm Springs for my mother-in-law’s 75th birthday. My brother-in-law, Lenny, took most of the pictures, so I will have to wait until he sends them to add some here. I do have one, however of Stewart with his mom on his lap. The apple didn’t fall far from that tree! I wonder how much it is worth to her NOT to post this…. Ginger’s party was great fun, and it was wonderful spending time with my three remarkable sisters-in-law. Tavia, Tara and Tonia are as different from each other as my sisters and I are from one another, however, each brings light into any room they enter. I know just how blessed I am in the in-law department. Let’s face it, when you marry a man, you also marry his family. Unfortunately, his brother, Mark, was unable to make it.

While we were back in SoCal, we met up with my dear friend, Peter Wolff. He is presently in LA working on a project using music for pain management and other therapies. I cannot wait to see how it turns out. He promised to let Stewart and I be his guinea pigs. Since we were all the way in Palm Springs, Peter took a train to Claremont where we met for a nice chat and an early dinner so he could catch the last train back to LA. When the three of us get to sharing ideas, and wine is added into the mix (Pepsi for Stewart), there was little chance of Peter making his train. We ended up eating at this wonderful little place called La Piccoletta Ristorante. The cioppino was so delicious that had they not had bread to sop up the broth, I would have drunk it with a straw! After dinner, we kidnapped Peter back to the desert and had a slumber party. Of course, when we looked at the train schedule for the morning, we failed to notice it only runs twice a week, so we had a nice chat back down towards Claremont.

After returning to Dallas, we spent one more week seeing friends and getting in the rest of my favorite restaurants. S&D Oyster Bar and Highland Park Pharmacy were both squeezed into one day (sort of like me and my jeans!). I had told Stewart that the seafood gumbo, oysters on the half shell, and bread pudding with whiskey sauce are some of the best he’d ever have anywhere. I am proud to say I was three for three. Unfortunately, Celebration was closed when we went so the staff could watch the Super Bowl. Real Texans will always put football first.

I do feel it is important to mention the place we stayed in Dallas. When I first booked Staybridge Suites I thought it would be gross. It was way further north than I would normally go, and it was on the tollway. It couldn’t have been better. The people were so nice, free laundry, breakfast, fitness room, free faxes (!), I could go on and on. When we went to Palm Springs, they allowed us to leave Peregrine in the parking lot, and gave us the same upgraded suite across the hall when we got back. Five cornstalks to them.

My birthday was on 4 February, and I really wanted to spend it in New Orleans, so we drove down the day before, and just walked the French Quarter that night. It was my first trip back post-Katrina, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It looked very much the same, but the feel was very different. Not as many homeless in doorways, less celebrants in general. Bourbon St. was still dirty and filled with the over-served, but there was a forced feel to the place. Breakfast at Cafe du Monde did wonders for my general happiness, though. Is there another place on earth that can do so much with powdered sugar, batter (beignets) and coffee? They are is still delicious and just as messy.

On the way to Cafe du Monde, we came across a very cool little store on Chartres called Dashka Roth. She makes wonderful jewelry and Judaica. I got a very cool pair of earrings for my birthday. She has the cutest little Maltese who is very happy to help out. If you have a few minutes, read her Katrina story on her website.

Late that day, we ate at Desire Oyster Bar on Bourbon St. Stewart had had my version of a po’boy, but I felt it was only fair he taste the real thing. Of course, now he’ll never look at mine the same. He swears he will, but I know better. Just a little tip, order the combo po’boy, and don’t eat the bread. It is about the same amount as food as the platter, but a lot cheaper. When we left, a walk was definitely in order. Plus, we only had one full day as we were leaving for Miami the 5th. We found this really cool store, Road Kill. I saw these awesome boots in the window, and just had to have them. I bet I’m the only one with rubber cowboy boots like these. They should be a hit fishing.

We went to hear this very talented band, The Bridge that night at Blue Nile. We got there a little early, so we went around the corner to Igor’s Checkpoint Charlie to listen to some music and shoot some pool. We met a nice guy from Pennsylvania, Tom Klich, who went with us over to hear The Bridge. The Big Easy is that way. Go where the mood takes you.

After New Orleans, we headed to Miami. Going through Mississippi, it was clear that there had been damage from Katrina, but not nearly to the extent in New Orleans. No levies broke in MS. That first night, we spent the night in Ocala, FL, which was experiencing the coldest temperatures on record. It was 26 degrees when we checked into our hotel. V-v-v-very cold! Nevertheless, we made it through the night, and headed down to south Florida in time to pick up my sister, Nancy and her significant other, Russ from the airport.

When we got to the condos I had booked at 8200 Byron in Miami, there were some initial problems, but eventually things were fine. Adam is the owner, and obviously new at the entire vacation rental thing. No sheets, no toilet paper, no soap…. Adam did do his best to make things right, and I am sure with time and experience, he will be great at vacation rentals. I would stay there again. Here is a picture I took out of the living room window with my phone.

The four of us fit as much into a few days together as possible. Nancy loves, loves to shop. so we walked through the shops of South Beach. The first night, though, they took me out to celebrate my birthday to this really great place, called Sushi Siam. The sushi was fresh, and the ambiance was wonderful. The sake was awesome, too.

My cousin, Fran and her husband Ron Sevcik hosted a family gathering for my birthday, combined with a going away party for our cousin, Stacy Schwatz, who moved back to DC. Cousins Brad and Freddie Ross came down, along with Freddie’s love, Cecily. My Aunts Dell and Dottie are still rockin’ their 80’s, and Uncle Zay is still amazing. I wish I could see them more often. The next night, the four of us (at Ron’s urging) headed down to Joe’s Stone Crab. Very expensive, but VERY awesome. Great sweet potato fries to go with the stone crabs. Old fashioned waiters in tuxedos. Very cool.

After Nancy and Russ headed back to freezing St. Louis, Stewart and I spent some time with my cousin, Alysson (Fran and Ron’s daughter) before heading for the Keys. She is actually more like a niece. What a sweetheart. She took us to a very cool Cuban tapas bar, and a Jewish deli – not at the same time. While at the tapas bar, I received a phone call letting me know that once again, I am a grandma. Kellan Vessie Robinson was born 9 February. I hope to see him soon. Vessie, was Buck and his father’s real name.

We have been in the Keys now for over a week, and have no idea when we are leaving. Life here is easy. Get up, fish a little, take the dogs to the beach, read, hang out, read some more. Of course, eat! After how crazy our pace has been since closing on the Colorado house Halloween, we are really enjoying the slower pace. No plans yet where to go next. Stewart wants to head up the west coast of Florida next. I’m more for a trip up to Hilton Head first. I’ll let you know which way the wind blows.

Now, for the saga of Jeffrey and Emma. First, Emma got sick staying with Nancy. Nancy spoiled her with treats. Way too many treats. Unfortunately, Emma was allergic, so once again chewed the hair off her legs. They had so much fun with her, though. Nancy let them climb all over her and the furniture. She said she’s going to get two Wheatens and name them Emma and Jeffrey. Too funny.

Everywhere we go people are surprised that we are able to travel so simply with two mid-size (sounds like a car!) dogs. The worst part is when they get into sticker bushes, or one decides to get sick in the back seat of the car. It is really no different than traveling with kids, except we don’t have to get a sitter. Just zip them into their kennels. It is a bit of a problem, though, because Emma is a bit of an escape artist. She has figured out how to unzip the kennel door, so now she is in her kennel attached to a leash attached to Peregrine’s wheel. Jeffrey, always the perfect gentleman, is content to wait for an invitation to exit his kennel. Stewart groomed them both this week, and they are looking lovely. Now at least, Emma’s legs match the rest of her.

Oh, that reminds me, I found the Jeffrey (person) for whom, my Jeffrey is named. An old friend, Jeffrey Shapiro, is a drummer from LA, and when I was around town while he traveled, I watched his Wheaten, David. I fell so in love with David, that I swore if I ever got another dog, I would get a Wheaten and name him Jeffrey. Jeffrey, the person, is still drumming, and can be heard in various tribute bands. Check out his Myspace page if you get a chance. I don’t know if he still uses it, but back in the day I redid his drum face for a show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

Let’s talk ethanol, E85. It is more difficult to find than I had anticipated in certain states. For example, the nearest station to New Orleans is Baton Rouge. Not exactly around the corner. Also, since the E85 pump is frequently leased by an independent at a national station, the price can be greatly inflated. It is still cheaper than regular gasoline, but the savings is reduced by the station middleman (or woman).

The mileage is not a real problem. There doesn’t seem to be too much difference between gas and ethanol with or without Peregrine. The new spark plugs are great. It has definitely narrowed the miles per gallon, but gas is still leading in mpg. Actually, half a tank of each seems to be the winning combination. Obviously, this is not so simple when there is a huge distance between E85 locations. I do wish we were more efficient when towing, though. At least we are trying to do our part to help the environment and get off foreign oil.

A suggestion: Someone should come up with a user-friendly iPhone application to find alternative fuels using the built-in GPS. There is one for regular stations, but no way to tell which carry E85. All the web-based applications for E85 require that you know the zipcode – not something you’re
likely to do in the middle of nowhere.

After having spent some time in campgrounds now, I feel just fine about what we are doing. It amazes me to see motorhomes towing SUV’s. These folks bring all the comforts of home with them on the road. At the end of the day, they don’t have much more than we do with a little imagination and effort. OK, so a toilet and shower would be nice, but we have a TV tuner with a built-in DVR on our laptop, WiFi, a comfortable queen bed, seating, a table to eat at, book shelves. What more does a person really need?!

It is now clear to me that I have waited entirely too long in between updates. Please forgive me if this is too boring. There were just too many things to cram into one post. I will not be waiting so long in the future! If you have any suggestions for where to go next, please let me know. One last thing, we put Peregrine’s awning up for the first time (top picture). Doesn’t it remind you of your grandmother’s table cloth?! Be well.