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!

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.

A cancer journey with immunotherapy – infusion #7 sweet spot and a return trip!


Last week we had a major milestone with “the schedule” at MD Anderson. We discovered our sweet spot after lots of 12-hour “infusion” days. Basic schedule now is bloodletting at 6:30 in the am, meet with clinical trial nurse and oncologist at 8:30, and then a lovely infusion before and during lunch! No more grumpy bug faces on our part. I think we got this! Maintenance infusion #7 was a like a gentle fall breeze and we got home about 2 pm.

The most interesting part of the day was meeting with one of Dr. Campbell’s fellows! I learned our awesome oncologist, Dr. Campbell, gets a new one each month. I wish I wrote down his name. The young man was chatty … I love that … and has a PHD in immunology. He told us Rick had kidney cancer long before the severe symptoms appeared that lead us on the quest to figure out what was wrong. He called those scary symptoms the “tipping point.” I learned once you get to that point it is imperative to quickly get a correct diagnosis and start treatment. We also learned that Rick’s clinical trial for clear cell kidney cancer now has all their sixty patients. Rick was number 36. No more slots are available. So far Rick is still the rock star performing the best in this particular immunotherapy trial. Sixteen and one-half months to go!

The day after the infusion we took a trip … back to Washington, DC … to hang for a few days with our son and lovely daughter-in-law. We were there last in March to fulfill a promise and witness Kate’s confirmation into the Catholic Church. That trip was also after Rick’s very first infusion after being approved for the clinical trial. We went back and forth on the teeter totter about whether we should go. Rick was in lots of pain and nauseous most of the time. It was Rick’s decision to go for it … and we made it happen. I remember pushing him through the airports in a wheelchair. Back then he didn’t walk much in D.C. He was mostly there in spirit.

What a difference seven months make. This time we stayed up late, walked our feet off, got up and personal with lots of Washington D.C.’s monuments, went on an awesome history tour (History Nerds) of the Gettysburg battlefield, played trivia with Ricky’s cadets in a bar, toured the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and so much more. I think I got my hubby and travel buddy back!

My favorite day was the Gettysburg battlefield tour in Pennsylvania. Ricky and the lovely Kate had purchased the tour for hubby’s birthday present in September. I had no idea Gettysburg was only a ninety minutes drive from Washington, D.C. Al Condit was our amazing tour guide on the History Nerds tour bus which lasted just over two hours. The comfortable bus held about a dozen people. Al knows his Gettysburg history and provided non-stop fascinating commentary and occasional videos on the famous three-day battle. We got out of the bus a couple of times … once on the Confederate side and once on the Union side at Little Round Top. While there are many ways to experience Gettysburg … I totally recommend the History Nerd tour. Just saying!

A cancer journey … promises and second infusion


Last year when Kate, our lovely daughter-in-law, was going through RCIA studying to become a Catholic, my husband made her a promise. He would be there with her at the Easter Vigil in Washington, DC when she officially became Catholic. A few weeks later we paid for plane tickets. I even did something I’ve NEVER done before … paid for four days of hotel on hotels.com. Oh yeah … we were going to be there … or be square!

Shortly after, Rick got the kidney cancer diagnosis and it didn’t look like that promise was going to be kept. I knew Kate would understand but Rick and I were both really upset. We had quietly prayed for over four years that Kate’s faith journey would lead her in the direction of the Catholic Church and now it was going to really happen.

Dr. Campbell told us it was possible Rick would feel better after his first immunotherapy infusion. Maybe even well enough for the trip. Not sure I believed him. But we clung to the possibility. Except the first infusion was delayed five times and time was getting short. Every time I spoke with our son, Ricky, on the phone I would tell him to be prepared that we might not come. Personally, I really didn’t think it was even possible considering how bad Rick felt. We were to leave on Thursday, March 24. That Monday before, we were still going back and forth on whether we should go. On Tuesday, my hubby said, “We are going.” He was a little better … but wouldn’t be running sprints in the airport.

The trip was way more fun for me than for my husband. It was the first time in months that I had sat in a restaurant and held an adult beverage in one hand … especially one so darn cute with lots of fruity stuff poking out the top. After the first three sips, I was calling my Sangria … Sagria. It was a magical night!

We had to majorly slow things down for Rick. He took lots of naps during the day. I also rolled him through the airport in a wheelchair. Rick barely managed to get through the three hours passion service on Good Friday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. I don’t know how he did it. Well, it wouldn’t have happened without our son dropping us at the curb. On Saturday, Rick did have to miss the four-hour Easter Vigil. It wasn’t going to be over until 11:30 p.m. and I insisted on him hanging out at the hotel. Kate’s awesome mom recorded the big event on video for Rick to view later.

The day after we got back from our trip, we meet with Dr. Campbell right before Rick’s second infusion. The lump on Rick’s chest had turned from hard to soft and flattened out. Imagine going from a “D” cup to a “B” in two weeks. He is getting some of his stamina back and his blood levels look great. His doctor told us Rick’s improvement was “dramatic.” I love that word “dramatic.”

The second infusion went smoother than the first. Not much in the way of side effects. No MDA appointments for two weeks. We’ve got some home projects that need attention and I finally dropped off our income taxes.

This week I learned … it is lovely when you run into people you know at MDA like the amazing Ev and Joan Evans … oh and my daughter, Katie, is extra awesome. She drove her dad home from MDA when the infusion lasted longer than expected and I had to get back home for Mimi’s drop off by the day center bus. She is my hero! I also learned how much pleasure I get out of just getting the sheets washed when I realize I don’t have to be at MDA the rest of the week! I learned the simple pleasures of walking among the cherry blossoms with people that I love like Aleta, Sarah and Kate. I learned how much of an awesome adult my son, Ricky, has become. He took such great care of his dad and me on our visit. I got a little emotional when he dropped us at the airport. I also learned the priceless value of a kept promise.

Our Adventure Wall

I saw this post on Facebook the other day about “How to Hang Pictures.” It made me think about our “Adventure Wall” in our family room. I have always meant to write a blog post about it. One photograph gave me the idea for the wall. It was one of our son while he was studying abroad several years ago in Spain. Ricky also had the opportunity to travel all over Europe. Oh, and after college graduation he traveled throughout Peru for three weeks with his sister. They brought back hundreds of amazing photographs. But there was one particular photograph of Ricky curled up in a window opening in Dubrovnik that always made me smile. It caught the essence of this funny guy that I call … my awesome son!

But you know … I’ve gathered lots of photos over the years and finally decided it was time to display them so I could look at them all the time. My daughter, Katie, is also a world travel and inspired us to do some traveling. Yep, we have a few hundred photo memories of our own.

Collaborating with the engineering hubster, we came up with a plan. I picked my absolute favorite sixteen photographs … eight horizontal and eight vertical. I had them enlarged to 11″ by 14″ and purchased mats and frames on sale.

It took us one whole day to hang the photos. Hubby utilized his AutoCAD program so we would get super precise with the layout.

Now when I walk past the wall … I dream of where that next adventure will lead us.

Hello again New Orleans!

 


So we hadn’t been back to New Orleans for a couple of years and have just recently returned from a quick weekend visit. While New Orleans is mostly about the food, there is lots of shopping, people watching, wedding parties strolling down the Quarter, street music and atmosphere to be enjoyed. We stayed at our favorite Hotel Monteleone located in the French Quarter on Royal Street. The location is great for accessing shopping and restaurants. We also visited Harrah’s Casino, which is much nicer now that it is a non-smoking casino. Yes … I said non-smoking! I learned lots watching hubby play craps and perhaps next time I might even be persuaded to join him at the pass line to throw the dice!

BREAKFAST OPTIONS – We had some interesting restaurant experiences that I just have to share. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, especially when I don’t have to conjure it up. Be sure and check out the Ruby Slipper Café located at 200 Magazine Street, just outside the Quarter. It was recommended by several FaceBook friends and I can see why. The café has several locations and open seven days a week. Their motto is “there is no place like home” and it shows. The staff are the friendliest we encountered during our visit. Hubby had the Eggs Blackstone, which is two perfectly poached eggs over bacon, grilled tomato and open-faced buttermilk biscuit finished with hollandaise sauce and served with breakfast potatoes. Yum! We also had an interesting breakfast after attending Mass at St. Louis Cathedral on Sunday. I had noticed The Grill, 540 Chartres Street, as we walked past it from our hotel. It certainly meets all the criteria of a “dive,” but from the window, had a healthy number of people with smiles on their faces. After Mass, we entered into a world fresh out of the past. The interesting counter configuration with seating stools looked ancient like something out of the 1950’s, or older. I couldn’t help but notice most everyone had an omelet on their plate. OMG … best omelet ever! I had the Vegetable Omelette with delish grits! Eggs were light and fluffy and with over 10 different kinds on the menu how can you go wrong.

OTHER DINING OPTIONS – Dinner in New Orleans is a bit of a challenge, unless you dine at a place that accepts reservations. Wanting to be spontaneous is not recommended. That being said, we had a lovely dinner at King Fish on Chartres Street. They have an interesting menu (crab lollipop appetizer was a huge hit) and the service was great. We also stopped into Kubi’s Bar & Café located at 109 Tchoupitoulas on our way to Harrah’s. Now while I’d definitely call it a dive, hubby and I shared an excellent burger, the Kentucky, brushed with BBQ sauce, topped with bacon, cheese and fried onion rings. Our worst meal was at the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street. The line was long, the service too fast, and the food … put fast food to shame. We talked about getting bread pudding for dessert, but skipped it because the food was so bland and well, old-looking. We won’t be going back.

A LITTLE SHOPPING Laura’s Candies has two locations in the French Quarter and has been around since 1913. We couldn’t resist the pralines and promised to come back for more. Unfortunately, we ran out of time! One regret I had two years ago was not making time to check out The Quarter Stitch, a needlepoint and yarn shop, on Chartres Street right down the street from Jackson Square. The place has been open for 43 years and the ladies are so nice. They offered to teach me how to needlepoint, but I declined. These eyes are too old. They have amazing canvases all ready to needlepoint. I lingered through their lovely yarn and chose two skeins of ruby red Merino Superwash made in Peru. Bonus … PJ’s Coffee Shop is right across the street. Hubby had the best time hanging out there while I yarn shopped!

I already can’t wait to go back!