Travel Bag

My travel bag used to be pretty simple. Laptop, charger. Done. If I was going overseas, I needed a wall adapter. Lately, the list has started growing. What’s interesting is how much of the technology is duplicated – laptops and phones have cameras and GPS units, for example. This current trip has added a number of things out of boredom, but if you’re going to travel on business, boredom is a good possibility.

Now, we have:

Technology

  • iPhone
    • Wall adapter and USB cable
  • iPad
    • Wall adapter and USB cable
  • Macbook Air
    • Power cord
  • Work Dell laptop (actually, in its own bag)
    • Power cord

Photography (mainly because my backpack is also my camera bag)

  • Nikon D5300 camera
    • Fisheye lens
    • 50mm fixed lens (added this trip)
    • 18-140mm zoom lens
    • 55-300mm zoom lens

Medical Equipment

  • USB charger for Garmin vivosmart3 (“Fitbit”)
  • CPAP (actually in suitcase)
  • Glucose Meter
    • Lancets
    • Blood Testing Strips
    • Alcohol wipes

Navigation

  • Garmin Etrex 10 GPS
  • Bushnell Backtrack GPS
  • Bad Elf GPS adapter for iPad

Miscellaneous

  • Power strip (for CPAP or other needs)
  • Amazon Fire Stick (added this trip)
    • USB cord and wall adapter
  • Bracketron Window Mount (for iPhone camera & GPS use) (added this trip)

I really need an additional USB cable to leave in the car. Next trip.

What have I learned from this?

  • My back hurts. I may know why.
  • Don’t get a GPS from the car rental company when you can use a Bracketron and your own phone, especially if you have a long USB cable for charging. Plus, when you buy the mount, you get the opportunity to sign up as a Uber driver!
  • You can never have too many GPS units.
  • You can never have too many lenses.
  • You can never have too many USB cables.
  • A Fire Stick, Chromecast or Roku is pretty useful now because almost all hotel TVs have HDMI adapters, even the hotels (<cough>Quality Inn<cough>) with crappy cable packages.
  • Best Buy is a bad place to be when you’re bored.

You Can’t Go Home Again

So, I’m in Peoria, Illinois for three weeks on a work project and I’ve been up here before, so rather than travel back and forth on the weekends, I decided to just stay up here the whole time.

Flights to Peoria from DFW can be painful – you can connect through O’Hare (no, thank you!) or to fly back and forth non-stop on a commuter plane, you would lose half of Friday, which as a contractor is a very bad idea ($$$) and you would have to lose half of Sunday coming back. So, what’s the point?

(My flight up here was canceled, so I had to fly to Bloomington-Normal instead, change my rental car, and drive an extra hour to get to the hotel. I was not the only one on the plane who had done so. This may have been a warning.)

Besides, I was up here 20+ years ago on another project and had a good time with happy memories, so what’s not to like in Peoria?

As I sit in my hotel room, waiting for the maids to arrive, so I can vacate and then come back to binge-watch Netflix, I realize how much has changed in the 20+ years.

  • I was single back then, so it really didn’t matter where I was at any given time. I had visitation with my son on first, third and fifth weekends, but that was easy to arrange. I’m married now, so now I actually have a reason to be in Dallas – my dogs and my perpetually injured wife (just kidding, my love!)
  • I was home on the weekends back then. I really never stayed in Peoria over the weekend, so I didn’t have to find something to do. I did go on a river cruise yesterday, which was fabulous, and I might go again today, because everything else is closed.
  • I had someone from Caterpillar to hang out with last time. Mike was always happy to hang in the evenings and there may have been drinking involved. (The drinking may be why I am still blanking on his last name.) I’ve had two drinks this week, and one of them was on the airplane up here.
  • I was staying in a really nice hotel in the middle of downtown that was walking distance from my office. Now, I’m working at a plant so far out of town it doesn’t have an address, just an intersection. I’m in a Quality Inn & Suites (more later) on the outskirts of town which let’s just say is not the level of service to which I have become accustomed on business trips.
  • I was working for a really small company that tended to turn a blind eye to “interesting” expenses (until someone rented a U-Haul to help his girlfriend move.) Now, I’m really concerned about reimbursement and toeing the line (which in many cases has not been defined), which tends to put a damper on fun.
  • I’m older. Let’s just say I’m not as adventurous as I used to be. Back then, I had any number of co-workers to call to help me get out of jail. Now, I would have to call my wife, and she would probably just hang up on me, so she could call her sisters.
  • I picked a very bad weekend to start trying to hang out in Peoria – it’s Memorial Day. You would think that would mean more things to do, but the Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball team is out of town until Tuesday (and out of town next weekend!) and the Caterpillar Museum is closed on Sundays and holidays. There is nothing scheduled at the Civic Center – and that’s 3/4ths of the TripAdvisor top four things to do. The other is a scenic drive, part of which I saw from the boat yesterday.
  • The one great memory I had of Peoria was surviving the Flood of ’93 and flying in from Dallas on a Super-80 that had about eight other people on it. I realized this week that during the Flood of ’93, I was actually in Des Moines.

A Short Story

This is the story of a bonsai plant, so by definition, it is a short story.

Monday, May 7, 2018

My Mom and I have had our differences over the years, but last week was Mother’s Day, and she’s still my mother, so I decided my wife and I should send her a small gift. I dislike flowers, partly because of the markup, partly because it’s so predictable, but mostly because of their short shelf life. So, I decided a plant would be a more lasting gift.

Since everything in the universe is online these days, I just pointed my browser at 1-800-Flowers and looked for their Mother’s Day plant suggestions.

Mom’s in a condo, so there’s not a lot of extra space for gardening, and one of the suggestions was a bonsai azalea. That sounded a bit exotic, nice and small, still very pretty, and within my price range. So, I ordered that for Mom, a doggie bouquet for my wife (from our Chihuahua) and called it done.

I was proud of myself – even with the Mother’s Day rush in full tilt, I had gotten the order placed in time enough where my wife’s gift would arrive Thursday, Mom’s on Friday, both before Mother’s Day with room for error and minimal excess delivery charges. Yea, me!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A flower bouquet arrived at our door. The enclosed card said it was for my wife from our Chihuahua, Rocky, and specifically said it was only from him and not our other dogs. Quite funny, even though that’s the third time I’ve put that on a card. Everybody in my house is happy.

Friday, May 11, 2018

I got a note on a different subject from Mom, replied to her, and in her reply to my reply, she thanked us for the beautiful plant. So, both gifts are delivered, Mother’s Day is coming up, everything is done. Yea, me!

For a normal person, this would be the end of the blog post. Sigh.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother’s Day. My brother was taking Mom out to brunch with some of his friends and their Moms, so we had lunch with my in-laws. Everybody’s covered. Life is good.

After I got home, I received an apology email with a $20 credit from 1-800-Flowers for letting me down. Hmm. As far as I knew, everything was delivered. I actually saw one gift arrive and got a thank you note for the other. So, I figured it was a systems error from the insanity of Mother’s Day at a nationwide florist, and forgot about it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

I got an email notice that my Mom’s gift would be delivered on Tuesday. So, that explains the apology note, since they had completely missed Mother’s Day. Wait. Why did I get a thank you note on Friday? There are a number of medical conditions running in my family, but clairvoyance is not one of them.

Maybe they just sent a placeholder bouquet until the real gift arrived, but they never mentioned that in the note.

I was confused. This is not the first time I have been confused about gifts.

Maybe I should ask my Mom. I sent her a quick, “Hey, I got a really strange email” note.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

(Happy Birthday, Ellie!)

Mom replied to my note. In fact, we had a stream of notes that day. I will attempt to summarize.

She had received a box on Friday with a tray, some pebbles for drainage, care instructions and a six-inch azalea in full bloom. However, there was no bonsai plant.

I started having flashbacks to my first long train ride with my son, when he was six or so. By the time we were an hour out of San Antonio, he had gone through everything I had brought along (snacks, books, coloring books) for the twelve-hour trip. So, I said, “Why not just look out the window at the scenery for a while?” He said, “There isn’t any scenery, just rocks and cows.”

There is no bonsai, just a small flower bush.

So, Mom had called 1-800-Flowers. (Mom and my wife call people. I use chat and email. My wife and I have a long-running debate about which is more effective.)

After a discussion with the (probably off-shore) customer support line, the 1-800-Flowers representative had agreed to send another plant for delivery on Saturday.

Hmm. That would explain the $20 credit.

The plant did not arrive Saturday, so Mom called back – and amazingly got the same customer sales representative (thank you, Evelyn, for helping Mom). They were becoming close. The delivery was assured for Sunday.

Nothing arrived Sunday, so Mom called back. Same customer service representative, who now recognized my Mom’s voice. (You would think they would have CallerID so they could swap repeat customers.) Monday, for sure.

That explained the delivery notice for Monday that I received for a gift that had been delivered Friday.

I was beginning to have visions of a bonsai forest on my Mom’s balcony.

So, I emailed Mom the picture of the bonsai azalea from the website, to show what I had chosen. Surely, that will clear everything up.

To her credit, she only called in the first place because she wanted to receive what I had selected. It never occurred to her that I would actually select a bonsai azalea. I’m not really sure what that says about what she thinks about my taste.

To her further credit, she does not consider a miniature azalea to be a bonsai plant. I checked Wikipedia a while ago, and it says that bonsai is a cultivation method, which means (I believe) that technically any full-size plant could be raised as a bonsai plant, given the time and patience. Speaking of patience, I’m not sure I have the energy to explain to Mom how to update the Wikipedia page to her definition. Maybe she can call Evelyn to have it corrected.

So, Mom now has two bonsai azaleas, whether they are bonsai or not. I have a good name for my next band (“Ladies and gentlemen …. Bonsai Azaleas!”)

I received another apology with another $20 credit from 1-800-Flowers.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Popcorn Factory sent me an email that said they were having a sale on popcorn tins. My grandkids love popcorn. It’s a sale. I like cheap popcorn. So, I was about to hit the order button, when I realized that 1-800-Flowers owns The Popcorn Factory. So, I used one of the apology credits to send my grandkids some really cheap popcorn.

Win-win.

Aftermath

As in, the math after it’s all over. So, I spent $39.99 on a bonsai azalea to attempt to make my Mom happy. Instead, Mom got two bonsai azaleas, a personal quest that kept her busy over the lulls in Mother’s Day weekend, and a new friend in the Philippines. I got $40 in credits. The kids got popcorn. My wife got a flower arrangement from a Chihuahua. I got a really strange blog post, even for me.

I never saw Mother’s Day as an investment opportunity, but so it goes.

I may have to use the other $20 to get my Mom some miniature tools so she can keep her azaleas small. There is nothing more embarrassing than a large bonsai azalea.

Next year, I will just toss a small plant at her and say it is a kamikaze azalea.

Uh, I haven’t driven it much

So, this is probably a contender for the ultimate White People Problem, but my car wouldn’t start, so I had to call for help. I am the first to admit I’m not mechanically-minded, so in times of crises, like warning lights turning on or off on the dash, or cars not starting, I find a professional.

My car is a 2017 Ford Fusion that we got specifically so I would have something to drive to the office, and then (as you may recall) my office got eliminated. So, it hasn’t gotten nearly the usage we expected. In fact, the insurance company kept calling me to tell me their tracking device (that gave me a policy discount) obviously needed replacement because it wasn’t sending any data.

So, the Fusion has been resting quietly in the driveway. For some time.

It rested so long, that when I finally needed it, I couldn’t get into the car.

What I mean is that the automated key clicker-thingie wouldn’t open the door, so I couldn’t get into it the easy way, and at that point, I didn’t know that there’s a secret old-school key hidden in the automated key clicker-thingie, so I was stuck.

Eventually, I found the secret manual key documented on YouTube, but I was afraid I was pushing too hard on the secret manual key (to pry off the secret manual cover), so I gave up.

That was a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been to Ohio and back. Actually, we’ve been a lot of places, but since Virginia is usually with me, we just take her car (which used to be my car.)

So, I’m not really sure when I drove it last, but it’s been a while. I could estimate it, but my attorney has advised against it.

Hey, I lost my job, I’ve been looking for a new one, I was accepted as a SCORE volunteer mentor, we’ve been on a couple of trips, the Spousal Unit had surgery. I’ve been busy.

Let’s just say it’s been a while.

So, I assumed the battery was dead. When the automated key clicker-thingie didn’t work, that confirmed my assumption to me. That is the extent of my automotive debugging skills. It was time to consult a professional.

It occurs to me that if we had driven it to Ohio, my son (who is not a mechanic, but is amazing with tools) probably could have fixed it, but if we could have driven it to Ohio, there wouldn’t have been anything to fix.

So, I called AAA. Well, I filled in the online form. Then, I remembered the last time I had a dead battery, the mechanic sold me a new one, so I canceled the call. Then, I called Ford Roadside Assistance, since their new battery would be under my warranty. I hoped.

I’m not really sure why I have AAA when Roadside Assistance comes with our cars, but so it goes. Call both, have them race to the house. I’m pretty sure some mechanics work for both, anyway.

Ford Roadside Assistance is great. The 800-number texts you for the address, so you don’t have to read the address to a voice-recognition system. The operator can figure out much of your life from the last eight digits of the VIN. They text you a URL where you can track the tow truck from when it is dispatched until your injured car arrives at the dealer.

They dispatched someone to tow my car in, which seemed like overkill, but having just been to the ER and then admitted overnight for a vertigo attack, I’m used to overkill.

When the mechanic called to verify the address, he said he’d just jump it first, since it sounded like a dead battery. (Dead battery, you say? Maybe I should be a mechanic!)

So, this should be simple.

However, it’s my life. Simple, it is not.

The mechanic was a lovely gentleman who managed to get the secret key to remove the secret cover, and got the driver’s door open. When I told him I was afraid it would break, he laughed in that not-at-all-condescending mechanic laugh, and told me I couldn’t break it.

Sir, may I remind you that you are standing in front of a broken car to which I have done nothing?

(I didn’t say that, because I still needed him on my side.)

With the door open at last, we could try to start the car, which didn’t work, as expected. I was afraid he was going to show me a secret way to use the secret key when the push button didn’t work, but either there isn’t one, or he spared me.

So, once in the car, we popped the hood.

Hmm.

He said, “This car has not run in a long time.”

So, I admitted it may have been a short while since last usage.

He said, “You know how I can tell? Look at those nuts in here.”

It really helps if you’re familiar with the Southern/Texan African-American accent, because the soft lilt of horror is what makes this conversation the fun ordeal it was.

I looked where he was pointing. These were not “nuts and bolts” nuts. These were pecans.

“They’ve been chewing on some of these wires. Something was livin‘ in here.”

Pause.

“I don’t know if this will jump. I can’t tell if any of these wires have been chewed through.”

Pause.

“See where these are chewed?”

Pause.

“If this jumps at all, you’re very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

So, now I’m ashamed, and I started quietly removing the half-chewed pecans and empty shells from the platform in front of the battery. I’m beginning to understand why there didn’t seem to be as many squirrels in the yard this winter.

He attached the jumper cables, and the car started right up.

“You got very lucky.”

I nodded.

Very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

More shame duly noted.

So, he ran it until there was enough of a charge for the “Check Engine” light to come on, and then he decided towing it would be the best course of action.

I think he really just wanted to give the car some quality time away from me.

It’s at the dealer now. If he’s a character witness, I may never see the Fusion again.

On the other hand, I drove it from the driveway to the front of the house, so he could drive it onto the flatbed. (In his not-at-all-condescending voice, he said, “I’ll take it from here” as I pulled up next to the flatbed.) So, when the dealer asks the last time I drove it, I can just say, “Today.”

On the Walk of Shame back from the car, my flip-flop strap broke. Yes, I blew out my flip-flop, without even stepping on a pop-top. Broken Flip-Flop

So, now I can’t walk or drive.

At least, there’s Uber.

*** Update ***

The “rodent” chewed through the windshield washer fluid reservoir. It is called a “reservoir” because you can’t, in good faith, charge $337 for a plastic jug. Rodent damage is not covered by the warranty.

Worse news? Apparently, the squirrel in question needs braces.

The investigation continues. For $74. So, if they’re charging, you know they’ll be finding. More updates as available.

*** Update #2 ***

He chewed through the coolant reservoir, as well. So, we’re past $700 now, but at least if I see a stoned squirrel, I will have the suspect.

Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce

So, I spent the night in the hospital last night, just so I could be reminded than Bono doesn’t know how to count to four in Spanish.

I’m in a place called Vertigo.

In the beginning, on Tuesday evening, we went to see Noel Gallagher (I’m pretty sure Noel couldn’t count in Spanish unless he learned the expletives first) down at the Majestic. Pretty good show, but as we were driving home, I felt a little dizzy. As I was driving, I decided mentioning this would not be a good idea.

Had this been a concert in my college days, I would have suspected various fumes in the concert hall, but you can’t smoke anymore and I didn’t have my usual drink, so that wasn’t it.

Had dinner, felt a bit better, made it home, everything seemed to have passed.

Murphy woke me up just before six to visit the yard, and I couldn’t walk straight. I was staggering around the bedroom, and I needed to find something to hold onto just to walk a straight line.

Here’s the definition of being old: my first thought was not, “I’m walking like a drunk.” My thought was, “This is like being on a cruise ship in rough seas.”

On the bright side, we learned on a ship in rough seas, the rule is, “One hand for you, one hand for the ship.” That helped getting around – even if we don’t have handrails all over the house. (Note to self: Handrails around the house.)

An hour later, Murphy woke me up again, and I was staggering again. Perhaps worse.

At this point, I was a bit freaked out. I didn’t have chest pains, so it probably wasn’t a heart attack. I could yell at Murphy without slurring my speech, so it probably wasn’t a stroke, unless yelling at the dogs is a learned reflex. What else is there?

After I woke up and explained to Virginia what was going on, she diagnosed the flu. This is because I religiously refuse to get a flu shot, so she is desperately hoping I will learn my lesson. Not by dying from flu (probably), but suffering a bit. OK, a lot. So, I could break a leg during flu season, and she would look at the protruding bone, and say, “See? Flu.”

Off to our family doctor. Of course, my doctor was out of town this week, so off to his Nurse Practitioner. We sat in the waiting room for a bit, while Virginia did my annual paperwork, which is six pages of crap without a “no changes” option. Rachael Ray was on the TV, making some eggplant dish, and it sounded like a compound butter or something. I was having trouble concentrating, actually. It’s just the third time she said “eggplant” in two minutes, I felt a twinge in the belly. I like eggplant, but the word has always disturbed me.

So, after another “eggplant”, she had a byproduct from the recipe you could “slather on toast.”

Slather.

That’s the evacuation word!

So, I puked into a handy trash can. Of course, I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, so it wasn’t very productive, but apparently, some of my beer belly is actually phlegm.

Note for the future: if the service at the doctor’s office seems particularly slow, puke into a trash can. I was taken into an exam room almost immediately.

I like the Nurse Practitioner. She did a lot of checks in a very short time, was one of the first people to admit she couldn’t get test results as quickly as she would like, but she wanted tests to prove her non-diagnosis was correct.

She wanted tests, but knew she couldn’t get results as quickly as … the Emergency Room.

That’s where I had thought about going in the first place, so next time, I’ll eliminate the middle man.

I actually thought the Nurse Practitioner did a fab job, I just don’t like “probably nothing”, “just in case” and “life and death” in the same paragraph.

She wanted the tests to prove I wasn’t having the stroke she was pretty sure I wasn’t having.

Just working out the logic in that sentence will make some people start staggering.

Virginia asked if it could be the flu, with just a bit too much relish in her voice, and was told there was no possible way it was the flu. Ha!

Off to the ER. Luckily, it’s only one building over from my doctor’s office – but still the longest wheel-chair ride I’ve been pushed on.

I’m pretty sure I heard whimpering from behind me on the uphill parts of the ride.

The ER did some early checks just to make me think everything was progressing because this was an emergency, and then they sent me to the waiting room to remind me I’m not really that important. Or dying (hopefully.)

After the mandatory wait period (and a nap in the waiting room), I was taken back to a room. We had to wait for Virginia to come back from the vending machines before we went back. I wonder if she had gone for snacks earlier, the wait would have been shorter.

First, the mandatory question list, many of which were in the doctor’s list and the ER check-in list.

Then, an EKG – just like the one I’d had in the doctor’s office two hours before. Next, we wait for results.

At this point, I needed a potty break, so one of the nurses helped me stagger down the hall and back.

Then, off for a CAT scan. I would have mentioned I had three dog scans before I left the house, but I was too tired.

I always wonder about tests where the administrators all have to leave the room, and they’re pointing something at your head, or rolling your head in a tube.

Still, CAT scans are very pleasant compared to an MRI. Well, except for the contrast dye they put through an IV, so you feel like you wet your pants.

So, you wait for the CAT scan to get scheduled, then wait to get it done, and then you wait for the results.

After the results came back negative for a stroke, I figured I was ready to go home. The last time I was dizzy with a good CAT scan, I was freed.

Unfortunately, I needed another potty break. This time, the nurse just pointed me down the hall, but I knew where it was, so that was fine. Hands on the wall all the way down.

However, while staggering back to my room, I passed the nurses’ station where the doctor was talking to someone. She saw my graceful ballet steps, and decided she really wanted an MRI, after all.

Ugh.

So, time to sit and wait for scheduling again.

In the meantime, I learned an interesting side effect if I sat up too quickly.

I puked again.

This time, there were puke bags available, so I didn’t need to use the trash can. However, the official hospital puke bags have measurements on the side, so while you’re puking, the patient in you is thinking, “Please stop! This is gross!” and the competitor in you is thinking, “Come on! You can do 500ml easy!”

After that incident, I was given anti-nausea drugs. Afterwards? Really?

Off to the MRI, my least-favorite test of all, and that includes my eighth-grade Spanish final.

For those who have never had the pleasure, an MRI is a large tube that you are slid into so they can take photos or sound images or police sketches – I’m not really sure what comes out, except it always takes a half-hour and you’re strapped down, you can’t move and you have a panic button. Any time you’re given a panic button, it means it is so bad, somebody needed one, and it wasn’t installed yet. I assume that person died of fright. Lovely.

The MRI guys all have the same soothing speech: “This is the panic button. Press it, and I’ll get you right out. Even if you’re just a couple of minutes from the end. Of course, if you come out early … we have to start from the beginning.” So, basically, your one way out is a really bad option. Fun.

They have headphones with music to drown out the noise of the machine. The headphones are the equivalent of your wife whispering to you as the Blue Angels fly over your head. Three feet over your head. And your wife is in the next county.

The good thing about the music is you spend so much time trying to figure out what bloody song is playing, that the time does pass rather quickly.

I assume they don’t turn the music up since loud noises can hurt your ears. Wait.

This was my third MRI. My first was on my knee, and I didn’t understand my wife’s fear and hatred of them – but then I realized I had gone in feet first. My second was the last time I was having dizzy spells, and that was quite different, as in worse, but is was an OpenMRI (code for “chubby or claustrophobic patients”), and it was delayed a while because the patient before me was having panic attacks. Maybe they didn’t explain about the panic button.

This was an old-school MRI – and when I was wheeled into the room, I noticed a couple of braces in the machine. Hmm.

Virginia had asked if they had an OpenMRI, and was told “No”, but was assured I would fit. She was talking about the claustrophobic group – the chubby group is just a bonus.

So, I lay back on the platform, and was asked if I wanted to listen to music. Sure. On go the headphones.

Warm blanket? Yes, please.

Pillow under my knees? Yes, please.

I have learned that if someone in a hospital offers you something, just accept it. There’s a reason it’s an option.

Why is he being so nice?

Ah, the braces.

So, the operator started putting the head cage in place. “Clarice?”

So, let me get this straight. You’re putting me in a tube for a half-hour where I can’t move, you’ve wrapped in a blanket like an Irish burrito and now you’re going to lock my head down. Where is this panic button of which you spoke?

Placing the cage was one thing. Screwing it down was just excessive. The OpenMRI people just took my word when I said I wouldn’t run. They didn’t screw my head down.

I survived by trying to calculate how far (and fast) Virginia would have run when she saw the cage coming down.

The music starts. “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Really? The first line is:

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Interesting way to start a half-hour sliding around in a loud tube.

Plus, in the middle of it, I had contrast dye pushed down my IV. Lovely. At least it was just a warm sensation, not like the CAT scan “wet your pants” dye.

I had asked for Classic Rock. This was a bad choice. Last time, I asked for Adele, not because I particularly love Adele, but because she has a lot of five minute songs, so it was easy to predict how far along I was.

Eventually, the rack slid me out. I didn’t believe it at first, since there were other times where it would back out slightly and then plunge me further into the tube. I could see out the other end (as promised), once I learned to squint around the cage.

Mainly, I kept my eyes shut. A non-metallic rosary would have been appreciated.

Still, I slid out, my head was freed, and I was told they had “gotten a lot of good pictures.” Well, that’s good, especially if that means I don’t have to start over.

Back to my room, where I realized I had forgotten my glasses and seasick patch. They took the patch off, since it has aluminum in it, and it could “heat up” in an MRI.

When they mentioned the tiny circular patch could “heat up”, I understood why they had asked if I had a penile implant. Ouch.

After the missing items were recovered, Virginia said I was being admitted.

So, family doctor to ER to hospital. A medical double-play.

Now, I’m waiting for results and a new room assignment.

The MRI results? No stroke.

In the hospital room, I had yet another questionnaire to complete. So, this time, when asked if I had any chronic pain, I just pointed at Virginia and asked, “Besides her?” The nurse laughed so hard, I got a three-minute break. (I can’t believe I’m the first husband to say that. It’s such a great setup line.)

It was a nice room, but I now had a PulseOx monitor on one hand, and an IV in the other arm. So, potty breaks require assistance just to unplug everything.

The nursing staff was great. They got my nighttime drugs, got me ice chips, got me pretty much anything I needed. It may have helped that I was in a staging room and at that point, I was the only patient in the area.

I even got a CPAP so Virginia didn’t have to retrieve one from home. A CPAP is great, not only because it keeps me alive, but because it is an obvious signal (the mask) that you’re trying to sleep. It doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get poked when you get poked, but still.

At this point, Virginia went home to tend to the dogs and get some sleep.

(Of course, when she stayed in the hospital overnight after her shoulder surgery, I went to walk the dogs, and went back to stay with her. She just stayed home. I’m a giver. It’s what I do.)

I woke up at one point, rolled over, and ten minutes later, alarms went off. Loud alarms. Why is it illegal to sleep on my left side? Apparently, I had slept on my IV and cut off the flow. Oops. Right side sleeping only.

I slept well, considering, until someone came in to draw blood.

Back to sleep, until someone else needed more blood.

Don’t they have blood in a hospital? Why do they need so much of mine?

I finally gave up on sleep about 7am, which was good, since the day nurse came in to check on me and introduce herself.

She showed me the menu for breakfast. The diabetic menu. I didn’t know I was diabetic, but I was starving. The omelet was very good. The sausage sucked. The toast was one whole slice, because, diabetes. The apple slices had more carbs than anything, because, tasty. The iced tea was in the same size cup my dentist uses when he asks me to rinse.

Still, very tasty, given it was my first food in 30-something hours.

Virginia arrived in time for physical therapy.

I changed clothes. This was the longest either of us had been in a hospital without wearing a gown.

I guess “Well, he’s just here for tests”, followed by “Well, he’s just being observed” means no gown required. Maybe they were selling all my blood to buy more gowns, and the new supplies hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe I have cooties, but it wasn’t on my chart.

With the physical therapist, I got to answer more questions and I got to walk with a belt around me, held by the therapist. Not awkward at all. She said I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was.

With the occupational therapist, I got to hang my head over the side of the bed so she could move my head around and see if she could determine where the issue was. (I think she was secretly disappointed I didn’t puke, since she had warned about it.)

The fun part of the occupational therapy session was the explanation of the condition I might have – BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.)

Here’s the short version, and this is from memory, but I’m not making this up: there are three concentric circles in the inner ear which have hairs in them (probably cilia, but who’s counting?) On the hairs are crystals. The hairs move as you do, and the crystals help keep you in balance. I was thinking “cheap gyroscope.”

To hear someone with a beautiful Southern lilt say, “If the crystals fall off the hairs, due to injury or accident, you will have balance issues, and that’s vertigo.”

Crystals falling off hairs?

Is this like having your chakras out of alignment?

Is this just bullshit because I can’t handle the truth?

Existential thought, which meant I missed some of her lecture:

How drunk was our Creator?

“Let’s see. We could just have a small bone balancing on another one, or We could have a bunch of hairs in a circle of goo with crystals balancing on them in both ears, so you have to check two places.”

“Oh, and if one of the crystals falls, you can turn the patient’s head from side to side and see if his eyes start beading.”

Even Virginia could see my eyes whipping around.

After she left, we had lunch. The person on the phone has hearing problems because my turkey was tuna salad. She probably has bad crystals or something.

So, I’m in a place called Vertigo.

I’m home now. I never wore a gown. I’m learning to stop standing up quickly.

I’m trying to rebalance my crystals.

Next week, I see my doctor, and remind him the interesting stuff always happens when he’s out of town. Then, I will ask him for a crystal referral.

A Tale of Two Cities

I’ve been in Dallas most of my life, and as much of my travel has been for business, I usually visit cities that are relatively easy connections. However, visiting the relatives can be a different story. I speak of two of my favorite “cities”, Cedarville, Ohio, and D’Hanis, Texas.

Editor’s Note: This is a filtered brain dump of a bunch of research I did in the middle of the night. So, whether or not it’s coherent is probably in the eye of the beholder. (As always, if you read something I wrote and think, “That is profound!”, please call my wife and ask for her neurologist’s name. She has a lot of specialists.) 

Here’s the ways I usually travel:

  • Ship. Fun. Relaxing. Requires deep water. (So much for Dallas.)
  • Plane. Pain. More Pain. Expensive Pain. Pretty fast, though.
  • Train. Faster than my wife’s driving. Might not be as fast as mine. 24×7 travel. Limited stops. Usually visit Chicago.
  • Bus. 24×7 travel. Small towns. Get to see a mob of people descend on a McDonalds every few hours (“Buses Welcome!”) Spousal Unit refuses to ever ride one again (something about riff-raff touching her.)
  • Car. Back-seat drivers (often in the front seat.) Stress. Highways. Rest Stops. Overnight Stops. Souvenir Stops. Still more fun than the bus.

And now, our two citites.

Cedarville

We’re thinking of visiting the grandkids later this year, and we’re thinking “roadtrip.” I believe they used to drive straight through (ah, youth!), but we’ll stop somewhere for a night along the way. (Memphis is about half-way.)  Two nights in a hotel are cheaper than flights, we don’t have to rent a car, and it’s not like I can’t afford the time right now.

There are two airports within an hour or so of the kids’ place, even though Cedarville is not a large town. (There are a number of universities in the area, so there are students to consider.)

Train service is really bad in Ohio. Cedarville is close to Dayton (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) and Columbus (Ohio State and it’s the freakin’ capital) but neither is on the Amtrak network. (Amtrak was my cruise before I found ships.)

The closest bus service is Springfield and we’ve stayed in Springfield before, so it’s not really that far. (Still, there’s a university in Cedarville. Today’s kids don’t ride the bus? The bus has WiFi onboard, so you could live blog it.)

So, you fly to Dayton, take the train to Cincinnati, take the bus to Springfield, or just drive.

This time we’ll drive.

D’Hanis

My first thought when presented with the transportation options to Cedarville was, “Geez, even D’Hanis has bus service.” Now, D’Hanis is small. It’s unincorporated. It’s in the middle of nowhere. Wikipedia lists it as a “human settlement.” It’s my spiritual home (well, one of them.) It’s also my Mom’s hometown.

The closest airport is Hondo (one town to the east), which is a regional airport (and former Army Air Force training base) so there’s no commercial traffic. My Dad flew in there once in a private plane, and had to wait two days for the weather to clear before he could leave again (instrument ratings are good to have.) The closest “real” airport is San Antonio. Let’s just say people go to the Hondo airport more for the restaurant than the flights.

D’Hanis had train service when my Mom was growing up – in fact, when the first train line was built in Medina County (in 1881) and bypassed the town, they just moved the town closer to the tracks. (This is why there is technically an Old D’Hanis and a New D’Hanis.) By the time I was riding Amtrak for fun, the Sunset Limited passed through town, but the closest stop was San Antonio. I had to stay up late to see D’Hanis from the train, since we passed through before the crack of dawn, but I did manage to see the town – just for a second. Again, it’s a small town. I also found D’Hanis in the 1954 Southern Pacific timetables, so the Sunset Limited stopped there at one point, on the eastboound and westbound runs.

D’Hanis had Greyhound service and the Kerrville Bus Line which was a Continental Trailways affiliate. I actually rode the Kerrville Bus to HemisFair ’68 with my Mom and little brother, who got car-sick. (Bus-sick?) Greyhound absorbed Continental Trailways years ago, and the Kerrville Bus just goes to college towns and casinos now (an interesting market plan.) However, Greyhound seems to be routing on I-10 instead of US 90, so they don’t stop in D’Hanis any longer. So, no more bus service. Ouch.

So, now you have to go to San Antonio to get anywhere. That hasn’t changed much, it’s just now you can’t get to San Antonio.

So, D’Hanis is off the grid. Unless you have a truck. (Pretty much everyone has a truck, but still.)

This really distressed me. It took a while to figure out why, but then I realized that D’Hanis was the place I always knew I could go when I was down to my last $200 (bus fares kept going up!) I would get off the bus, and go mooch off call on my relatives. By the time they realized it was more than a visit, I would be moved in. D’Hanis was the place my late grandmother once said I could be buried if I “died alone” because there were extra slots next to her and my Granddad. (I think she was comforting me after my divorce, since that was the last time I was alone.) Sweet and morbid at the same time. (That’s pretty much the definition of my family.)

Cedarville was the place I knew I could go when I was down to my last $200 and the kids would give me a cup of coffee and point me to D’Hanis. So it goes.

This also means neither town will ever be in a country song. If you can’t get out of town, you can’t be in the song. It’s in the rules.

Kick ‘em when they’re down

A job search is a very painful process when you’re an old, white guy who has spent the last 19 years inside the same company (especially when the company is often an industry punching bag.) So, I should be used to rejection letters by now. I usually don’t mind rejection letters that much, since at least it’s closure, and it’s a chance to think, “I didn’t want to work there, anyway.” With today’s automated application systems, much of the time, your application and resume just go into the bit bucket and you never hear anything at all.

However, some rejection letters are really unnecessarily detailed. Like today’s.

I got an email from a corporate recruiter last week, thanking me for my application (I actually thought I was a reasonable fit for the job), and asking me for some times for us to discuss the position. (I was lucky I saw it, since it was in my spam folder, but I check my spam all the time because I can’t afford to lose a lead.)

It got my hopes up. I should know better by now, but hope spring eternal.

So, I replied, and heard nothing. It’s not a mega corporation, so I thought, “His mail went in my spam folder, maybe mine went in his.” So, I replied again.

This morning, I got a reply.

I reviewed your resume with the manager and compare to the job description and requirements we decided to not move forward.  This system email was sent in error.

Ouch.

So, rejected before the screening call. A new low.

I’m not really sure why this hurt more than the others. I’ve gone through three levels of interviews in before getting rejected twice, but this one really hurts.

I think it’s the implicit “we were wasting our time reviewing your resume.” After all, the erroneous system email was the bright, cheery note that asked me for available times to chat.

So, their applicant system failed twice. First, it told them they might give a shit about me, and then it told me they might actually give a shit about me.

They don’t give a shit about me.

For any other recruiters who may be reviewing my resume, I really don’t need two reasons why I was rejected for your company. Just one is plenty, and is one more than the apparent industry standard of zero. Also, if your system is sending emails in error, an apology would be nice. You’ve wasted my time now.

I sent a “thank you for letting me know” note, but I really wanted to say, “If you would like someone to come review your recruiting system to determine why it’s sending emails to obviously unqualified candidates, please just let me know.”

Also, I wanted to say, “If your system email is a bright, cheery, personalized email from your internal recruiter, but the core system can’t accurately match candidates to positions, you’re customizing the wrong part of the system.”

The search continues.

Has any Italian ever written a complete recipe?

There’s a story one of my nieces tells about her Grandmother (aka my late Mom-in-law who defeated the Instant Pot from the Great Beyond earlier this week.) She was making Grandma’s Baked Beans, and followed the recipe but they didn’t taste right. She called Grandma for advice, and they walked through the recipe over the phone. After the list of ingredients, Grandma asked, “What about the mustard?” My niece said, “What mustard?” It wasn’t in the recipe, it was “implied.” Actually, everyone else knew it was in there, because everyone else in the family that made baked beans had learned by watching, not reading.

Now, I’m sure people are tired of hearing about my magical Instant Pot, but I made pot roast tonight. There were actually some free Instant Pot cookbooks for my Nook, so I just took the first recipe that I found, because it was short.

First thing, I scanned through the recipe to make sure we had all the ingredients (we did, for once) and that I could execute successfully while recovering from a stressful day (seemed possible.)

So, I began.

First, assemble all the ingredients. (I’m probably not experienced enough to say mise en place yet.) Once everything was assembled, I started browning the roast. The recipe said two tablespoons of olive oil. I begin wondering about the author. That’s not enough to cover the bottom of the pot, and everybody knows you need at least that much. So, I eyeballed it. (If I ever write a cookbook, I’m going to use “Chuck Roast” as my nom de plume.) (Two French phrases in one paragraph? Really?)

After the meat was browned, the recipe said to take it out and sauté the onions. Then, add the tomato paste and mushrooms, and continue stirring. Done.

Add the broth, put the roast back in, seal it, bring it up to pressure, cook for an hour. Second existential crisis. You can’t pressure cook on sauté mode. When was I supposed to have turned it off?

I was in the middle of that step and the existential crisis when I noticed the potatoes, sitting lonely and abandoned on the counter. Hmm. Those must go in the pot eventually. Did I miss a step?

So, I re-read the recipe to that point. No potatoes, except in the ingredients. I read through the rest of the recipe. The last step was to “serve the gravy with the meat and potatoes.” Raw potatoes?

This was my “What mustard?” moment. (Jen, I now feel your pain.)

How was that step left out? Who wrote this? Why, look. The author is from Tuscany. This recipe is probably just copied from his Nana’s notebook.

I threw the potatoes in with the meat, after consulting with the wife, since we don’t like raw potatoes. Crisis averted, but I’m worried about the quality of the recipe and it’s almost ten dollars of meat, and the good delivery restaurants are closing. I hope the rest of this was right.

This was the longest pressure cook I’ve done to date. An hour at pressure, followed by a natural release (which took another 20+ minutes, then a fifteen minute rest with the lid off. (Natural release followed by a rest sounds kinda dirty, now that I think about it.)

Hmm. What was that about pressure cookers and time savings?

(Since I never made most of these things in a pressure-free environment, I’m really not sure if an hour and a half is good or bad.)

Come to think of it, I’ve often had the wife or dogs (or both) waiting on whatever I’m cooking, and they’re usually staring (or growling) at me, so I’ve always cooked under pressure. It’s just now I use a pressure cooker.

Gravy time. Add the water and flour (water? Wait. What water? How much water?) to the pot (Do you take the meat out first? What about the potatoes? Were they really supposed to be in there? Am I really mixing gravy around a three-pound roast?)

I asked the Spousal Unit for advice. She said “it must mean a slurry.” Shouldn’t it say a slurry, then? I’m assuming that’s what she learned from watching her Mom, not read.

Finally, I just pretended my Mom-in-law wrote the recipe and added some mustard.

Actually, I just fished the meat and potatoes out (fishing meat?), and made a basic gravy. It was decent, but it would have been better if I had cooked the flour first(or just used cornstarch.) I suppose that was implied, as well. Thanks, author’s Nana.

I need a new cookbook.

Mom-in-law 1, Instant Pot 0

My mother-in-law defeated my Instant Pot from the Great Beyond last night. She’s been gone almost ten years, but I’ve always been pretty sure she’s still watching us, and now I have proof.

My wife still has her right arm immobilized, so I’m still the chef of the house. Yesterday afternoon, the patient requested chili, so I got some ground beef from the freezer, and a couple hours later, when I started assembling ingredients, I discovered that was pretty much the only chili ingredient I had. Oops.

Plan B was goulash, but we were also missing ingredients for that.

My goal while I’m running the kitchen is to prove people can eat before 8pm and survive, so this was not looking good.

Finally, my wife said, “Make sauce.”

This is where my Mom-in-law comes in.

“Sauce” when I was growing up came in a jar, and it was called spaghetti sauce. My in-laws are New York Italians and sauce is a not in a jar. It is in a number of cans and cloves and shakers that have their contents combined in a large stockpot. It takes all day to make. All damn day. Also, it’s not “spaghetti sauce” because it’s not just for spaghetti – you use the same sauce for all kinds of pasta, on entrees, on bread for a snack, as a substitute for plasma in blood transfusions…

As an aside, for some people from the frozen North, sauce is called “gravy.” I grew up in Texas, where there is cream gravy for chicken-fried steak, enchilada gravy for enchiladas and brown gravy for everything else.

My mom-in-law lived with us for six years before she passed away, and the most upset she ever got was when Rachael Ray made sauce as part of a thirty-minute meal, adding beef stock to get that “all-day flavor”. She was more upset about half-hour sauce than she was the day one of the dogs peed on her walker. Twice. Pee? Slightly Annoyed. Sauce in a half-hour? Ballistic.

So, making sauce “quickly” put me on shaky ground, but I figured, I’m Irish, she should expect me not to know better, and it’s not like she’s haunting us or anything.

For the record, my mom-in-law’s sauce must cook for at least four hours, or it tastes “raw.” To me, sauce tastes like tomato and uncooked sauce also tastes like tomato, but I learned early on to not argue with her about cooking.

So, I was going to make sauce quickly (which is different than “quick sauce”), and my Instant Pot had never let me down in the two times I had used it. Plus, I was cooking for an invalid.

So, first step, brown the garlic. Then, brown the ground beef. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste. Stir it all up. Seal the pot.

Wait for the pot to come up to pressure, wait a half-hour, make some pasta, dinner is served.

“Beep!”

I had never heard a “beep” that just sounded unhappy.

The display said, “Burn.”

This is apparently a well-known issue, “the infamous Burn message.”

It means something is sticking to the bottom of the inner pot. (Thanks, Google.)

So, I opened the pot, stirred everything around, resealed and started again.

“Beep.” Burn.

Uh, Google?

So, something may be stuck. Check. There may not be enough “thin” liquid in the pot. Don’t stir in “heavy” liquids (like tomato paste.) Oops.

This was also when my wife mentioned she usually adds a can of water (28oz!) to her sauce. Hmm.. Water would be a very thin liquid. That would have been a helpful reminder a half-hour ago.

Let’s try this again. Scrape the bottom, add the water (note how close we are to the Maximum Fill line), stir all the heavy stuff to the top (consider that logic), seal and pray.

“Beep.” Burn.

I really should have learned to say, “Dammit” in Italian.

I admitted defeat. I moved all the raw sauce into a stockpot on the stove. Four hours later (after we had BBQ delivered), dinner was ready. For tomorrow.

So, “Burn” is apparently just short for “You will burn in Hell for trying to make sauce quickly.

I miss my mom-in-law. I might have had a bruise today, but she would have stopped the madness much sooner.

Frankenstein Ribs

So, I have an Instant Pot and an injured wife, so I’m on cooking duty. Luckily, there are hundreds of experts on YouTube and Facebook to help you learn to use it.

The YouTube cooking videos are my new obsession – replacing “pier runners.” The great thing about YouTube is there is no filter – anyone can be an expert on anything. Just call your channel “Best” or “Greatest” whatever you do.

We had four pounds of beef short ribs, so I decided to make them. There are lots of videos about making ribs in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Most are pretty similar. One did a dry rub. (Shouldn’t they all do this?) One browned the ribs first. (Shouldn’t they all do this?) A couple finished the ribs off in the oven. (Shouldn’t they all do this?)

So, these are Frankenstein Ribs because my recipe is parts of a bunch of people’s recipes. Also, since Italians taught me to cook, I have no idea how much of most of the stuff I used, which is going to make tracking this in My Fitness Pal interesting. In Italian, I used “enough” of many of the ingredients.

I also realized I should have taken better notes.

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs short ribs
  • Grub Rub
  • Garlic Powder
  • One can Cherry Dr Pepper
  • Soy Sauce
  • One medium onion
  • Vegetable oil
  • BBQ Sauce

Preparation (Dry Rub)

  • Liberally sprinkle Grub Rub and garlic powder all over Ribs
  • Let sit 25 minutes

Brown Ribs

  • Set Instant Pot to Sauté mode
  • Heat “enough” vegetable oil
  • Brown Ribs on all sides
  • Remove to platter

(Think “Wow. That oil looks lonely.”)

Aromatics On The Fly

  • Chop one medium onion
  • Think “Wish I wasn’t too lazy to put some garlic in there.”
  • Sauté until translucent
  • Deglaze with sauce (see below)

Turn off Instant Pot.

Place steaming rack in pot (the rack used for steaming, not a literally steaming rack.)

Sauce:

  • 1 can Cherry Dr Pepper
  • “Enough” Soy sauce to make 2 cups liquid

Cooking the Ribs

Place ribs on steaming rack.

Set Instant Pot using the Meat setting – 45 minutes.

When cooking completes, use Quick Release to depressurize pot .

Remove ribs to foil-wrapped pan.

Realize you don’t have any BBQ sauce.

Homemade BBQ Sauce (Bonus Recipe in a Recipe)

  • Put “enough” ketchup in a small dish.
  • Add soy sauce.
  • Add Worcestershire sauce.
  • Add a couple drops hot sauce.
  • Repeat until it tastes like BBQ sauce.
  • Realize you now have a crap ton of BBQ sauce.

Glaze ribs with BBQ sauce.

Broil until the ribs look done, the sauce is caramelized or your spouse asks what’s taking so long.

Serve.

Makes 4 servings.