Nashville – Part Three – Grand Ole Opry

A visit to Nashville would not be complete without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry. Trust me! Even if you are not a country music fan … and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be … attending a show at the Grand Ole Opry is … well … you just have to go and see for yourself.

Touted to be the home of country, bluegrass and gospel music, I didn’t know it was also the largest radio broadcasting studio in the world. The Opry shows have been broadcast live since 1925. Folks … that is approaching 100 years. The show’s announcer with the golden voice, Eddie Stubbs, even inserts radio commercials between acts. Shows are performed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

The Grand Ole Opry was nothing like what I imagined. First, the Opry complex, which includes a hotel and shopping mall, is about 20 minutes from downtown Nashville … and just a short Uber ride away. Our Uber driver told us the mall actually used to be a waterpark but they tore it down and built the shopping mall. The Opry moved from the downtown Ryman Auditorium in 1974, where performances had been held since 1943. The current venue has a capacity of 4,400 seats. Since we purchased our tickets the night before, we sat in the nosebleed section! Not a complaint. Another interesting tidbit … the seats are actually long upholstered benches instead of individual seats. It felt like we were sitting with family members.

The format of the Opry shows is divided into four one-half hour segments. The format also lent itself time for occasional short radio commercials. Each 30-minute show had three or four performers. The night Katie and I attended we saw performers/groups like Larry Gatlin, John Conlee, Riders in the Sky, Ricky Skaggs and the Opry Square Dancers to name a few. Charlie Nagatani was also in attendance as an Asian cowboy singer and entertaining. I think it might have been his first performance, but don’t quote me on that.

We also purchased the Post-Show Backstage Tour held right after the show … because that is how we roll. We are curious people that love to know what goes on behind the scenes. The tour lasted well over an hour. Note to self … if I ever come with hubby to Nashville … don’t do the Backstage Tour. It would have been way too long for the dude!

So the tour included getting to stand on the famous wooden circle on the stage where so many legendary singers have performed. We were also treated to peeking into the 18-themed dressing rooms and private VIP areas. I loved the large guitar music picks on the floor noting the dressing room numbers. A quick walk past a wall filled with the nameplates of Grand Ole Opry members was also in the cue. The highlight for me was the video featuring Darius Rucker. It showed Rucker being invited to join the Opry in 2012 by Brad Paisley during an Opry performance.

Next post … our favorite Nashville museums!

A cancer story – it is Survivor’s Week at MDA


This week is “Survivor’s Week” at MD Anderson. When MDA social media asked if they could hang a banner of Rick on their skybridge, I immediately said, “yes.” There are lots of smiling faces hanging from banners there this week. Yesterday, I had to see Rick’s banner in person to see if it was real. He is located about halfway down the skybridge. Little did social media know the significance of the request and our connection with the skybridge.

Katie, our number one daughter who works at the Houston Zoo, met me for lunch to celebrate at the Rotary House restaurant. I wanted to introduce her to a spot her dad and I have hung out at for a good meal during our many MDA visits.

Many of our family members have been so helpful and supportive through this journey. But Katie has been my rock, actually more like a boulder, for so much of the journey from initial appointments, to surgery day, spending the night with her dad in the hospital, and walking last year’s MDA Boot Walk. Unfortunately, cancer affects not just the patient but family members, friends and co-workers. Rick has been blessed with support from too many to count.

It was over two years ago Rick was diagnosed with Stage IV Kidney Cancer at MDA. There have been plenty of opportunities for us to travel across their skybridge, which connects their main building with the buildings across the street. We spend most of our time at the May’s Clinic but frequent the Main Building for testing and other doctor visits. I can’t recall the exact number of steps over the skybridge, but it is quite a hike.

In the beginning of his cancer journey, I pushed Rick in one of MDA’s many available wheelchairs across the skybridge. After he was accepted into an immunotherapy clinical trial, Rick started receiving immunotherapy infusions. I think it was after the third infusion about six weeks later, we rode the oversized golf cart from one side to the other. Rick walked the rest of the way holding onto my arm to testing appointments. Did you know MDA provides golf cart rides back and forth over the skybridge all day long to those that can’t walk it?

Fast forward a tad. It wasn’t long until we were actually walking it together … slowly at first. Then last year, about this very time, we noticed the banners on the skybridge.

“You know … someday your picture is going to be hanging up there don’t you?” I said.

I like to think Rick, and all the others hanging out on the skybridge this week, are there to put a face on cancer and that cures are indeed possible.

Nashville – Part Two – The Catbird Seat


When I was attempting to snag online reservations for our little mother/daughter trip, I knew I wanted to include an interesting restaurant experience. Nashville’s The Catbird Seat, immediately came to mind. Each time I visited their website, I would ponder … why the name … The Catbird Seat?

I recall reading “The Catbird Seat” by James Thurber in college. The short story was written in 1942 with comic irony involved! His story focuses on the thoughts of a boring little man trying to first kill the woman who is disrupting his job, and then deciding to make it seem like she lost her mind. After finally sitting down in the restaurant/kitchen, I decided Thurber’s story had nothing to do with the restaurant. Instead, I prefer to think of the alternative meaning of the catbird seat as a “valuable position,” which is where each restaurant patron is located during dinner.

The Catbird Seat opened in 2011 as an upscale restaurant serving New American cuisine. The type of food reminded me of watching an episode of “Chef’s Table” on Netflix. Crazy interesting exciting food that puts lazy taste buds on notice. It was definitely not your typical family fare! Open Wednesday through Saturday, they serve a changing tasting menu in their U-shaped kitchen that seats only 22 guests. The kitchen is in the middle of the room with patrons sitting at a long U-shaped bar around the kitchen. Reservations are released 30 days in advance with a requirement to prepay food, service and taxes.

They have several beverage options which include curated alcoholic and non-alcoholic pairings. Take your pick! The beverages are not included in the prepaid price. We choose the non-alcoholic pairings. I read in a review they were creative and we didn’t want to be bobbing and weaving all the way to our Uber when the night was over!

Scan through the photos. Each one is labeled with the dish presented on pottery plates or bowls. The only blooper … our bowls were empty before we thought to capture it … was the beets infused with coffee from crema with potato and white chocolate masse, dehydrated olives and lime.

At the end of the meal, we were handed a clever menu of what we just ate as a keepsake. Thank goodness! I would never remember what to tell people what just happened! My favorite was the sunflower seed risotto, but I am not going to lie, the 30-day dry aged strip loin from Bearcreek Farm in umami crust with morel mushroom and BBQ tofu was a close second.

After the last course, vintage cookie jars were delivered around the “table” and finally the check. The couple next to us received the Big Bird jar. When they opened it there was a little note inside. Apparently, it was their anniversary and the note wished them well, along with four little cookies. Katie and I received the Felix the Cat cookie jar and our delicious cookies. Looking around the room, we noticed Ernie, Homer Simpson, Betty Boop and lots more. What a fun way to say goodbye!

Next Nashville blog installment … how about the Johnny Cash Museum (my personal favorite) and the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry?

Nashville – Part one – historic hotel and getting around


It has been ten years since Katie and I took a mother/daughter trip … way too long. So much has changed since we last traveled. Uber is huge in Nashville and our basic mode of transportation when walking wasn’t an option. I think we saw a total of five cabs the entire three days we hung out in Nashville. The airport even has a sign entitled “ride share” to direct those needing transportation.

So why Nashville? OMG … for lots of reasons! How about country music, history, culture and amazing food! While we ran out of time, and nerve, we did NOT try Nashville’s spicy “hot chicken.” We also missed Robert’s Western World, a honky-tonk on Broadway, where we were told you have to order a fried bologna sandwich and a PBR. Maybe next time … only I will have to pass on the fried bologna ‘wich. Ate too many of those growing up.

We stayed at the historic Hermitage Hotel close to Legislative Plaza in Downtown Nashville. I give it five stars! I wish I had taken more photos of the hotel. Check out their website for lots more! The dude that took our luggage up to our room indicated we should be sure and visit the men’s room in the hotel … while not occupied of course. I know … sounds strange. It has an unique color scheme and two-person shoeshine station. Built in 1910, The Hermitage Hotel has a long history yet hasn’t aged a bit! We were impressed with the in-mirror television in the bathroom and each room had their own doorbell. You can tell I don’t get out much! Obviously, it is all about the little things at the Hermitage.

Hungry for lunch, we walked just a couple of blocks from our hotel to Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant on Church Street. A southern bar and grill, Puckett’s feels like an old-fashioned grocery store. Katie and I shared their BBQ sliders three ways (pulled pork, chicken and brisket) and sweet potato fries. It was a great way to be introduced to food in Nashville.

You might ask … why did we share lunch? We were saving room for our dinner that night at The Catbird Seat! For that you will have to stay turned to Nashville – Part Two.

Lulu collage quilt – she is finished!

Picked up Lulu from Erica, the awesome long arm quilt lady at A Needle and Thread, and couldn’t be happier! It was so fun to collaborate with her. Erica quilted an outline around the entire elephant image and custom quilted around the flowers, leaves, butterflies and other critters. I especially love the puffy textures she created with thread on the fishes. On the background yellow batik, Erica quilted an lovely all-over leaf design.

I’ve seen collage quilts quilted in tight vertical and horizontal grids. I know this ensures the fused fabric pieces will stay in place … but then I saw an alternative. Our collage quilt instructor, the awesome Jo Lynn, brought several completed collage quilts to class and they were stunning. On her quilts, the collaged image was custom quilted around the whole image as well as into the flowers, feathers, critters and such. I loved the look!

The amazing Sally embroidered the patch for the back of the quilt in hot pink thread. I had Sally place it on white fabric to remind me to “audition” background fabric on all future collage quilts. I almost had a huge “Oops.” I originally purchased plenty of white fabric for the elephant background while still taking the collage quilting class. I was obviously trying to hurry the process. Thank goodness I brought an unfinished Lulu for “show and tell” to the prayer quilt ministry I volunteer at on Wednesdays. The ladies stepped up and gently prepared me for an intervention. Yep … I would be making a huge mistake with the white! It was either Noreen or Cathy that suggested yellow and it really works on this quilt!

So what is next? I created a collage pattern and am busy working on a prototype collage quilt. Stay tuned! Future blog post in the making!

A cancer journey – scan result days make me nervous


So last week Rick had his three-month scans which included MRI and CT scans and the usual bloodletting. Scan day is emotionally draining and exhausting. Reminders everywhere of how far we have come … and we don’t want to go backwards.

Yep … and it never fails. Despite the anxiety, we chuckle every time we spend the day at MD Anderson. There are new things to learn. This time the lab where Rick has bloodwork in the Mays Building went all techie. We used to fill out a slip of paper with pertinent patient information before dropping it in a little plastic basket and wait to be called up to the desk. The paper slips have been replaced with electronics. Progress? Yesterday, when we arrived at check-in to see Dr. Campbell, all the iPads, except one, were out-of-order. Rick’s clinic went all techie a while ago. Not complaining mind you! I can relate! Heck … after replacing my sim card and getting a new iPhone, I am still dropping calls.

So to put life for us in perspective … since his diagnosis of Stage IV Kidney Cancer just over two years ago … Rick and I have welcomed two grandbabies. Ben, 18-months-old now, was born down the street in the medical center on one of Rick’s long immunotherapy infusion days. And little Zelie was born two weeks ago to our son and lovely daughter-in-law, Kate. Even Jacob has been deeply involved in Rick’s journey. Now four, Jacob came to wish his Pop-Pop good luck two years ago on the day Rick’s tumor/left kidney was removed. Jacob also walked the MD Anderson’s Boot Walk with us this past November while Baby Ben slept in his stroller. You don’t have to tell me we are blessed.

So just how did it go yesterday with lab results? Our visit with Dr. Campbell, our oncologist, and his lovely PA, Simi, was all we had prayed for. MRI … stable. CT … stable. Rick is just over a year from getting kicked off the clinical trial and receiving no cancer treatment. He still itches all the time, mostly from the inside, which tells us the immunotherapy is still working.

I asked Dr. Campbell how patients who are on Rick’s clinical trial are doing because I want to know. My editor, the lovely Cynthia, has trained me well. I had my steno pad all ready for details and statistics. Dr. Campbell indicated 55% of those on Rick’s immunotherapy clinical trial drug ARM of Bevacizumab and Nivolumab are having positive results. In the coming months, the trial will end and it will be number crunching time. I will be there with pen in hand to probe for any updates. It is my hope these two drugs will be the answer for all Clear Cell Kidney Cancer patients … not just for the 55% with positive results. That is probably just 50 people.

And now for the really great news … we don’t go back for FOUR months!!!! Can I get an amen?

Lulu Collage Quilt – part two

In a couple of weeks, Lulu will be hanging out with the longarm lady getting some custom quilting work! But first a little progress report. Lulu, the collage elephant (pattern by Laura Heine), went from having lots of fabric pieces pinned to her … to taking the fused backing paper off all the pieces, and repositioning the pieces back on the quilt. The backs of the pieces are tacky enough to stay put until the final fuse over the entire elephant shape. Next, I cut around the elephant shape. I was now ready to fuse Lulu to my background fabric. But there was a little snag.

I had purchased the background fabric for Lulu at the fabric store where I took the class. Big mistake on my part. I was in a hurry and didn’t really think it through. Lulu was left behind on her board in the workroom and I just wandered around looking for … whatever!

Thank goodness for quilting peeps! I recently dragged Lulu for a little “show and tell” to the Prayer Quilt Ministry at our church. Before fusing Lulu to the background, I wanted to audition her with the background fabric. Right away I could see by the many frowny faces that the white backing I had picked wasn’t doing Lulu justice. Yeah … I had those thoughts but didn’t trust my gut. I went back to the drawing board and found this bright yellow batik! Quilting disaster averted! After some serious ironing of the batik fabric, I positioned Lulu on the backing fabric. I applied the fabric fuse around all the outside edges and pressed with a product called FabricFuse by thermoweb. It is a quick bonding fabric adhesive which dries in four to six hours. I’m certain most quilting shops/craft stores sell something like this product.

I’ve also have chosen a purple batik for the backing and a Kaffe Fassett fabric for the binding! In a couple of weeks, I will post the finished quilt!