Friday, March 29, 2013

Highlights of our trip to Nashville

Any time Greg & I make the trip from Portland to Nashville (typically only once or twice a year), it can be a bit of a challenge to see all of our family & friends in the week that we're there. For Greg it's easier: his parents live in Old Hickory; everyone else has moved out of state. But in order for him to not burn too many vacation days, he usually only takes a day or two off, which means he works remotely during the day but on Portland time (so from 10am-7pm CST). That somewhat limits his ability to enjoy the trip & have time to visit with everyone.

While my grandmother lives in Hermitage, conveniently close to the airport and to Greg's parents' house, the rest of my family is one hour north of Nashville (my mom, step-dad, sister & two nephews in Springfield/Orlinda) or one hour south of Nashville (my dad & step-mom in Franklin). Due to their work schedules as well as which days my nephews will be at home (versus with their dad), visiting with them can take some coordinating and usually involves an overnight stay.
There was a dusting of snow on the ground when we arrived in Orlinda.
That's exactly what happened on our recent trip, as I mentioned in my previous blog post. As soon as we landed in Nashville on Saturday, we borrowed a car from Greg's parents and made the drive to Orlinda. We spent the evening catching up with the Campbell's & Corbin's and spent the night at my mom's house. On Sunday, we went to my sister's house to see the goats & cats, then returned to my mom's house for some quality time with both families.
Hanging out with the goats on the Campbell farm
I spent the week before the trip making a book about our life in Portland for my 12-year-old nephew, Grant. I wrote the copy, edited the photos (I used only photos that I had taken, no stock images) and had the book printed at my local Walgreens the night before we left. I didn't have time to make a second, different book for my six-year-old nephew, Bryce, so I had gone to Powell's earlier in the week and bought him a copy of Larry Gets Lost in Portland. I gave the kids their books on Sunday and Greg & I sat down to read with each of them. They both seemed to like their gifts but ultimately Bryce decided he would rather I make him a personalized book about farming so I ended up returning Larry Gets Lost with the promise that I would make him a book sometime before his birthday in August.
Bryce reads to Greg
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at my mom's house. Greg rode the Berg in laps on the wrap-around porch and we kept the kids entertained for several hours playing Uno and Farmopoly. After dinner it was time to drive back to Nashville, where I stayed at my grandmother's house and Greg went to his parents' house.
Greg rides the Berg
Monday & Tuesday were pretty quiet. I had made plans to visit with friends, but those fell through. Thanks to Greg's mom, I was able to get a free visitor pass to the YMCA so I could go to the pool for aquatic therapy and use the exercise bikes and other gym equipment for my hip rehab. My grandmother & I made a few trips to the grocery store to stock up on food for the week and, of course, I had to go to Mount Juliet Beer Company to pick up some craft beer! I also spent some of my spare time going through the storage containers in my grandmother's garage to hunt for things I wanted to bring back to Portland.
A few hand-selected craft beers from Mount Juliet Beer Company
I didn't see Greg again until Wednesday night, when I met him & his parents at Palmas Verdes for dinner. Unfortunately, Greg had come down with a sinus infection and was not feeling very well so we didn't do anything else and he was forced to cancel his plans to get together with some friends the following evening. I, however, had big plans for Thursday. I had spent the first part of the week plotting out some fun activities for my 82-year-old grandmother & I to do together. I specifically wanted to focus on things she wouldn't normally get out & do on her own. I called our outing "Playing Tourist in Your Own Hometown."
Hogwash soap at Puckett's Grocery
Our first stop of the day was Thistle Farms. I found out about this wonderful organization when Greg's mother sent me a bottle of their shower gel for Christmas. I really loved the natural ingredients and smell of the Tuscan Earth scent. I checked out their website and discovered you can actually visit their sales & manufacturing facility on Charlotte Pike in Nashville. My grandmother was also familiar with their work but had not been able to locate any of their products (they're typically sold at gift shops and specialty stores). We dropped by right after they opened on Thursday morning. As we had not prearranged a tour, we browsed the small shop area and purchased some scented candles and other products. All for a good cause!
Browsing in Antique Archaeology
Our second stop was also based on a tip from Greg's mom. She had mentioned at dinner the previous night a TV show she watches called American Pickers. One of the hosts, Mike Wolfe, owns a shop near downtown Nashville called Antique Archaeology. While I have never seen the show, I was intrigued by the shop's location in the old Marathon Motor Works building. Unexpectedly, when we got out of the car in the parking lot, I immediately noticed the smell of roasted malt. I had already researched the latest breweries that have opened since we moved, and I had not found one in this area. But it wasn't a brewery; it's Corsair Artisan Distillery! Sadly, while you can take a tour (with tastings!) of the distillery, or even drink a beer in their taproom, they wouldn't be open until much later that afternoon and I already had plans for us for the rest of the day. We did enjoy browsing the antiques shop (although I'd be more inclined to call it a junk shop!) and I especially enjoyed poking around the refurbished car factory. Hint: If you ever go there yourself, be sure to cross the street to the unmarked red brick building and check out the free exhibit of some of the old Marathon vehicles.
Cars were manufactured here in 1914!
As it was now almost 11AM, it was time to go to an Indian restaurant for lunch. I love Indian food, but my grandmother doesn't usually try ethnic cuisine unless she's with someone that can help guide her through the menu. In this case, it was easy, because Tamarind Indian Bistro offers a lunch buffet which is a great way to sample a variety of dishes and figure out what you like & don't like. While it's always tempting to stuff yourself at a buffet, we exercised great moderation, knowing that we would be on our feet for the next few hours and wouldn't want to feel weighed down by too much food.
Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville
After a brief stop at the Nashville Visitors Center in the Bridgestone Arena to pick up some maps & brochures, we continued on to our next scheduled stop, the Tennessee State Capitol. I had called earlier in the week to inquire about taking a free tour, and was told to come at either 1 or 2PM to avoid the crowds of school children who would be on the morning tours. One of the mandates of my surgeon & physical therapist was that if I was going to be walking very much, I needed to use my crutches. As an hour-long tour of the capitol building definitely qualifies as being on your feet for an extended period of time, I dutifully used the crutches. Besides, it helped me stay on pace with my grandmother and be more aware of when she might be getting fatigued, too.
My grandmother inside the TN State Capitol
Since the last time I was in the capitol building was probably during elementary school, it was nice to see the recently refurbished interior and re-learn some of the history of the building, which was completed in 1859. While the House of Representatives had been in session that morning, they had adjourned for the afternoon so we were able to see all the main offices, including the Governor's office, as well as the Senate & House Chambers. While we did not have the time or energy, I would suggest visiting the free Tennessee State Museum, located one block from the capitol, if you're so inclined.
Legislative Plaza
After our tour, we enjoyed a walk across Legislative Plaza before repositioning the car for our next stops, the Nashville Public Library and The Arcade. I had hoped to find metered street parking somewhere on Fourth or Fifth Avenues, but construction had overtaken many of the spots and all others in the vicinity were occupied. Thus the library was my fall-back parking destination, as you can park in their garage for the first ninety minutes for free. It's just a few short blocks walk to The Arcade, which had been added to our list primarily because of The Peanut Shop, open since 1927. I bought several bags of roasted peanuts-in-the-shell for the Campbell's (special order from my mom), and another bag of peanuts plus one bag of dark chocolate-covered walnuts for myself. We returned to the library to get our parking ticket validated and went upstairs to the third floor to view the beautiful hammered copper panels by Gregory Ridley in the Grand Reading Room.
A Nashville institution
Our final stop of the day was one I had particularly been looking forward to: Fat Bottom Brewing. Opened in 2012 by the son of former Governor Phil Bredesen, the brewery is housed in the old Fluffo Mattress building in East Nashville. While my grandmother is not a big drinker, she was totally game to sample the four house beers currently on tap. It helps that I got them free with the Scoutmob app on my iPhone! I didn't particularly love any of the beers but I felt they were true to style and well made. After a friendly chat with our server about the abundance of great craft beer in Portland, I was also given a free sample of the limited edition Belgian Blonde (maxed out at 6.2% ABV by TN law). My thirst for good beer satiated, I even managed to use my iPhone to navigate our way home using back roads and thereby avoiding rush hour traffic on the interstate!
They named a beer after my grandmother! (Well, maybe not, but her name is Betty!)
After our most excellent adventure on the previous day, Friday was a good day to rest. I did go to the YMCA again for more hip rehab but otherwise spent the day reading, looking at old pictures and finalizing our weekend plans. Although Greg was still quite miserable from his head & chest cold, we did meet up with our friend, Eric Speich (best man at our wedding) & his wife, Jennifer. They have moved to a new house in the year we've been gone and are now expecting twins in August! We also got to visit with Eric's parents, Garry & Peggy. Sadly, while I was writing this blog post, we learned that Peggy passed away this evening (March 29th). It was not unexpected as she had been quite ill for the past few years and had gotten much worse in the past few months. Still, it is sad news, and I am very thankful that we got to spend that time with her, give her our love and say goodbye. Greg ended up losing his voice completely while we were out with the Speich's, so we called it a night fairly early.
My sister, Emily, & I excited about our new computer (late 1970's)
I think I'll end this recap here and write about the remaining two days of our visit in my next post. It's hard to keep the momentum going with a heavy heart.
Greg & I with Eric & Jennifer Speich (who got married in 2012) on our wedding day: July 29, 2011

The link to all of my photos from this trip is embedded in this post's title.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Transcontinental Foray on Crutches

As I mentioned in my last post, Greg & I decided to make a last minute trip to Nashville a few weeks ago. While our preference was to visit in April, we could not find any seats using our American Airlines mileage award tickets. We also considered waiting until the summer, but again, the restrictions of our previously issued tickets extremely limited our ability to find seats. So on Saturday, March 2nd, we got up at 3:30AM to make our way to the airport for our 6:00AM flight to Dallas.

In order to fulfill our commitment to taking public transportation whenever possible, we had to first find a way to get to the Hollywood Transit Center MAX station for the first train to the airport at 4:21AM. There are no buses running until after 5AM (Line 14) or 6AM (Line 75) on the weekend and therefore no way to connect to the MAX from our house. We were confident we'd be able to find a car2go nearby and could drive it to the MAX station and leave it on a nearby side street.
We were amazed how many people were out & about in our neighborhood at 4AM on Saturday morning! We located a car2go just a few blocks from our house but didn't worry about reserving it (you only get a 15 minute hold anyway; you can't reserve any further in advance). Of course, just as we were about to cross the street to pick up the car, we saw someone drive off in it! Thankfully the next closest car was less than 1/2 mile away, so I reserved it using their iPhone app and we had no problem driving it the couple of miles to the transit center. We still had plenty of time to make our connection to the MAX train and arrived at the airport as planned at 4:45AM. Total cost: $4.56 for the 12 minutes we rented the car (which was actually free because I had credit on my account) and $2.50 for one transit ticket (we have one monthly pass). Minimum cost of taking a taxi would have been $30.
Greg & I both traveled very light for this trip. I only carried a regular-size backpack with one change of clothes, a book, and a few miscellaneous items plus a small tote bag with sandwiches, fruit, etc. to eat throughout the day. Greg had to carry a backpack with his work laptop, headset, etc. since he would be working remotely all week plus a second backpack with a few changes of clothes. I have the luxury of carrying minimal supplies whenever we go home because I still keep a bunch of extra clothes, shoes, toiletries, etc. at my grandmother's house in Hermitage. I have the extra stuff (dated as it may be) because I always had dual residences (New York/Nashville; New York/Sacramento; New York/New Hampshire) when I worked as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines.

Another motivation both for traveling light and getting to the airport early was to allow plenty of time to get through security and to the gate on crutches. I had seen my hip surgeon and physical therapist at the end of the week and, due to a flare up of tendonitis caused by walking too much, they both recommended I use crutches if I was going to be on my feet for any length of time. Obviously, the airport requires lots of walking! Thankfully, on the two flights to Nashville as well as on the three return flights, those crutches qualified me for complimentary seat "upgrades" (typically to the bulkhead row directly behind first class) in order to give me more legroom and have less distance to the bathroom. For the most part the gate agents were also very helpful in allowing us to pre-board and one flight attendant, who obviously felt sorry for me when she found out why I was on crutches, tried to ply me with free mimosas for the entire flight (but I only accepted one).
there were snow flurries in Nashville when we landed
We made it to Nashville without incident and had arranged for Greg's parents to meet us at the airport with their spare car. Due to a scheduling issue with my sister's kids (their dad gets them every other weekend), the only opportunity we would have to see them the entire week that we were home would be the Saturday & Sunday of our arrival. Since they, and my mom & step-dad, live an hour north of Nashville in Orlinda/Springfield, TN, we needed a car to get there. Thankfully, the LaRowe's are always happy to share one of their two cars with us!

The week went by very quickly from the minute we landed. Considering it has taken me multiple paragraphs just to describe the process of getting to Nashville, I'll cut this post off here and pick up next time with a few highlights of our visit.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Two months down, several more to go

The time is flying by, as always. Hard to believe my last post was over a month ago. Of course, I'm still very busy with my hip rehab. March 15th was the official two month post-op mark so I figured it's time to update everyone on my progress.

As I mentioned in my last post, Greg & I had lots of activities planned for the week of February 18th. While it was a great week, the ultimate result was that I spent way too much time on my feet which caused tendonitis in my right leg. I had weaned off crutches so was not carrying them with me, even on days that I walked for hours. As my therapist said, "It's called walking PROGRESSION for a reason!"
Who carries 12 750ml bottles of beer home on the bus six weeks after hip surgery???
Luckily I didn't do anything to damage my surgically repaired hip. I simply overused my leg muscles (the very ones I am so diligently and gradually stretching & strengthening during rehab). I did see my surgeon the following week for my first post-op appointment. She was still very pleased with my progress and did not admonish me too severely for over-exerting myself. She just cautioned me to stick with the "slow & steady" pace of rehab to avoid any further complications.
I should have been doing a lot more of this and a lot less walking!
To help decrease the tendonitis, my doctor put me back on Piroxicam, the anti-inflammatory I took for the first month after the surgery. I also had to start using crutches again, any time I would be on my feet for more than 20 minutes. For me that's pretty much every time I leave the house. While I hated lugging them around everywhere, it was a far better alternative to not being able to get out at all!
Maybe I should ride around town on a horse like the police!
One of my post-op projects had been to call American Airlines to find out when we could use our plane tickets from Portland to Nashville (the trip we didn't take in December due to the possibility that I could have the surgery sooner than later). We had originally booked the trip in August and used frequent flyer miles for both tickets. The itinerary was not ideal: overnight flights from Portland to Las Vegas to Chicago and then a final flight to Nashville the next morning. The return trip was easier: Nashville to Washington, D.C. to Portland.

Reissuing the tickets required calling the AAdvantage desk because two of our flights were on Alaska Airlines and we had been told when we cancelled the original tickets that we had to keep the same itinerary on those segments. Of course, this complicated things tremendously because I quickly discovered that for the entire remainder of the validity of the tickets (they would expire on August 15, 2013) there were not two seats available on ANY of those flights at the same mileage allotment we originally used, no matter what day we traveled! If we wanted to alter the itinerary in any way we would have to pay $150 per person; ditto if we decided to reinstate the miles to our accounts.

I am not one to give up easily when it comes to getting what I paid for, so I started calling the AAdvantage desk twice each week and spending over an hour on the phone each time having the representative check all flights on all dates to find an itinerary that would work for us. After several weeks of this, I finally scored a round-trip ticket for myself but still nothing for Greg. At this point we were starting to consider paying the $150 fee, at least for one of the tickets.

I really got frustrated with the whole situation when I spoke to a representative that said we DID NOT have to book the exact same itinerary and proceeded to find a seat for Greg using the same miles but not on the same flights (or dates) that I was traveling. Still, I thought it was better than nothing because the dates did overlap enough that we would be in Nashville for the better part of one week at the same time. She issued both tickets, which were for travel to Nashville on March 2nd (Greg) & 4th (me) and return to Portland on March 11th.

I thought the drama was over until 24 hours later when I received an email confirmation for one ticket but not the other. I double-checked our accounts and one itinerary had been updated but one had not. I immediately called American again and was told that the seat on one of the flights was no longer available. Of course it WAS available when the ticket was supposed to have been issued, so I got transferred to a supervisor. It took another hour and a complete change of our outbound itineraries but the end result was that we both would be flying together to Nashville on March 2nd and returning to Portland together on March 11th.

The date this was booked: February 25th, less than a week before departure. We quickly notified our families that we would be coming to visit and started making arrangements to get together with as many people as possible, knowing we would probably not make another trip to Nashville in 2013. I had already checked with my doctor that it would be okay to fly but had been told to take my crutches as a precaution. So less than two months post-op, I traveled cross country, which I will write about in my next post!