Monday, March 31, 2014

Three Months Post-Op

Today marks exactly three months since my double knee surgery. This will be my last post in which the focus is my knees, since, as time goes by, there is thankfully less and less to report.

My physical therapist at OHSU, Lindsay, has been really helpful over the past three months. She encourages me not to give up when it seems like I'm making little to no progress, and then pushes me to work harder. I usually leave my 45-minute appointments sweaty and worn out, even after a 10-minute icing session on the Game Ready machine.
In terms of exercises, the focus is still on strength-building of the core muscle groups in my upper legs and butt. What I do at home differs somewhat from when I'm at physical therapy but only because they have machines I use for leg extensions and lying squats. Otherwise I use my own weight and/or resistance bands to do bridges, clams, crab walking, one-legged squats, etc. I also use a foam roller or a rolling pin to do self-myofascial release (muscle massage).
I continue to enjoy my new Schwinn exercise bike. I can finally ride with resistance so I feel like I'm getting more of a workout as opposed to just spinning the wheels. I typically ride 6-7 miles in about 30 minutes and am sure that will improve as I get stronger. I'm looking forward to getting out on my real bike in another couple of months!
Unfortunately, I still have a lot of daily aches and pains, primarily in my right hip (the one I had surgically repaired in early 2013) and in my right shoulder (which was diagnosed with bursitis several years ago). Some of the pain is triggered by my work at Irvington House; I go up & down multiple flights of stairs and spend many hours every week scrubbing bathrooms, making beds, doing laundry, etc. But even when I do next-to-nothing, I still have a lot of achiness. Hopefully this will subside over time as it's just not fun to get up every day and not feel 100%!

My next follow-up appointment with my surgeon, Dr. Herzka, is next Thursday. Afterward, I will have my last physical therapy appointment for awhile, as I leave for vacation on April 23rd and won't be back for almost four weeks. I will continue to do my daily exercises while we're traveling and hopefully feel strong enough to go on some nice hikes and city walks. In the meantime, I've enjoyed venturing out on sunny days to take pictures of the beautiful spring blooms!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scenes from Portland Dining Month: The Bent Brick

For me, eating out is an opportunity to enjoy dishes that I normally don't prepare at home. Thus, every year I look forward to March 1st-31st, when I can choose three courses for $29 from more than 90 participating restaurants during Portland Dining Month. And, if I can't decide where to go, I can always "Spin the Wheel of Deliciousness!" This year I was one of a dozen Portland bloggers chosen to share my experience at a specific restaurant during Portland Dining Month. My destination: The Bent Brick in NW Portland.

While I like the convenience of making dining reservations via my OpenTable account, The Bent Brick only takes reservations by phone. It's a missed opportunity to accumulate Dining Rewards Points, which can be redeemed for checks to be used at any OpenTable restaurant. As an added bonus, when guests make Dining Month reservations through OpenTable, Downtown Portland donates money to the Oregon Food Bank. A definite win-win!

I called the restaurant to make a reservation for Tuesday, March 11th. I left a message; my call was returned the following day and my reservation for two people was confirmed. Unfortunately, I had to cancel at the last minute but was able to secure another reservation for Thursday, March 13th. The hostess very considerately asked if we would be celebrating a special occasion (no) and if we have any dietary restrictions (none).
My husband, Greg, and I arrived at the restaurant on time for our reservation at 6:15pm. We were given a choice of tables for two in the cozy, candlelit space and were offered both the regular menu as well as the special Dining Month menu. Our server, Camille, explained that the restaurant takes pride in using local suppliers and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. She offered to get us a beverage while we made our menu selections, so Greg ordered a draft beer. Unfortunately, Camille returned a few minutes later and said that tap line had quit working and requested another choice. She also brought us two tasty Wisconsin cheddar profiteroles with black truffle salt, compliments of the chef.
The Bent Brick's Dining Month menu features two options for each of three courses, with each course having one vegetarian option. Considering that two of the choices on the menu, the black truffle salad appetizer and braised beef cheeks entree, would normally cost $37, the $29 3-course menu can represent a great value.
Greg & I usually try to order different dishes, especially if it is our first time dining at a particular restaurant as was the case at The Bent Brick. However, the Heirloom Beet Salad appetizer ($12 on the regular menu) was very similar to a dish I make at home, so we both ordered the Oregon Black Truffle Salad. We both enjoyed the variety of textures and layering of unique and complimentary flavors, but thought the dish was a little salty and would have preferred a lettuce that was easier to manage with a fork.
For our entrees, we both chose the Cocoa Braised Beef Cheeks, as neither of us were particularly enamored by the description of the Sauerkraut Pierogies, not to mention that they were listed as a $13 starter on the regular menu (versus $24 for the beef cheeks). While the meat was cooked to perfection, the flavors of this dish were a bit overwhelming - sauerkraut, beets, and horseradish sauce, amongst other things. We were also surprised by the crunchy coating surrounding each "cheek" and thought they would have been better unadorned.
We finally were able to deviate on the desserts, with Greg ordering the Butterscotch Pot de Creme while I chose the Apple Crisp (both regularly priced at $8). I'm not a fan of butterscotch and thought Greg's dish was a bit sweet and too thick, but he had no complaints. I enjoyed the fresh, still slightly crispy layers of sliced apples but found the crumble part of my dessert a little too dense and somewhat dry.
In the end, Greg and I left the restaurant completely satiated by the high quality comfort food, even if our palates were still perplexed by the complexity of the beef cheek entree. It did not appear that portion sizes had been scaled down for the Dining Month dishes, nor that we were treated any differently than diners who ordered off of the regular menu.

The service by the entire staff was strong until dessert, when we waited at least 15 minutes with no explanation for our dishes to be served. Otherwise, our water glasses were constantly refilled and empty plates and dirty silverware quickly replaced. Camille explained the contents of each dish when she presented them, and checked up on us during each course to ensure we were enjoying our meal. 

Many thanks to Portland Bloggers for selecting me to write about Portland Dining Month, to The Bent Brick for providing the gift certificate that covered dinner for two people, and to Watershed for their communications guidance. I'm grateful for the opportunity to experience a new restaurant, and hope to make time to get to a few more places before the month is over.

The Bent Brick is located at 1639 NW Marshall St, Portland, OR 97209. You can make a reservation by calling (503) 688-1655. They are open for dinner 4-9pm (Tue/Wed/Thurs/Sun) & 4-10pm (Fri/Sat). The restaurant is closed Monday.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Strangers in Bars

Over the past few months, I've been brainstorming ideas for a new blog. Initially I was leaning toward a Portland focus, maybe something along the lines of "I Heart PDX." Each post would be titled "Reason # ___ Why I Love Portland." This would give me a pretty broad platform for writing about a multitude of topics.

I started searching online to see if anyone else had the same idea. It turns out there are a lot of bloggers who write about their love of Portland. Some are focused on food and/or drink, but many cover a wide range of topics. No one is using the exact format of listing reasons though. I'm still toying with this idea. But I've come up with another one as well.

Last month I was out drinking beer with my friend Cindy Anderson, publisher of the Portland Happy Hour Guidebook. I was telling her about my new blog idea and she suggested I write about my observations and conversations with people I meet at bars. Considering I do go out fairly often, usually on the hunt for the latest local brew, and I have a tendency to start conversations with total strangers, this idea intrigued me.

After some research, I discovered that Sandra O'Connell in Vancouver, BC publishes a blog called Tales From A Bar Stool. The first post dates back to September 2008 and records her observation of a male friend hitting on two older females. As her blog gained in popularity, and she focused more on her writing career as a whole, she gradually evolved from posts about strangers to more well-known personalities and events. She still writes about her experiences, including a list of lessons learned at the end, but this is no longer her primary purpose.

With this in mind, I started brainstorming a title for my new blog. I like the idea of something less obvious than "Strangers in Bars." For example, "A Glass Half-full." Turns out that's already taken! Or "One Pint at a Time." Also taken! I do not necessarily want the title to reference alcohol. I meet interesting people everywhere I go and enjoy chatting with strangers on the bus, at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, etc.

I'm still working on a general format for the blog. I don't want it to be written in the form of an interview or Q&A session. Beyond getting some basic background information from "the stranger," I prefer to just let the conversation flow on its own. Then I'll write about what I find most unique or interesting about that person, relative to the environment in which I met them.

My goal is to meet at least one new person each week and write a blog post about the encounter. I plan to continue writing here at Alethea's Excellent Adventures as well and will use this forum as I always have, as a way to share my travels & life experiences with friends, family and the general public who might find some of the information useful.

So, my dear readers, I'm asking all of you to weigh in on the title and subject matter of my new blog. I'd love to hear your thoughts and to know what you'd like to read about. Do you like the "Strangers in Bars" idea or some variation on that theme? What about "I Heart Portland?" Please feel free to leave your comments below this post or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter. Many thanks in advance!

Monday, March 3, 2014

8+ Weeks Post-Op

I wanted to write a quick update as tomorrow I start my ninth week post-bilateral knee surgery. I've previously written a couple of detailed blog posts on the subject: Rehab on the Double and Knee Surgery Times Two.
Shoveling snow on February 8th - 5 1/2 weeks post-op
I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon last week. When she walked into the exam room, she introduced me to her two resident interns by saying "This is my bilateral patient. You won't come across many of these." Most doctors won't operate on both knees at the same time because they know the rehab will be much harder. I can say from experience this is absolutely true! But we decided to do both of mine on the same day for insurance reasons (saving at least $2000) and so I would be close to 100% in three months. Otherwise I would be facing another surgery around April 1st, followed by another three months of rehab.

Dr. Herzka examined my knees and pronounced all six incisions well-healed. I walked back and forth across the room so she could check my gait. No issues there. I sat on the exam table so she could feel my knees as she moved my lower legs up and down. I've been having sharp pain, particularly in my left knee, at a certain degree of flexion, but she didn't find anything to be off track. The pain is most likely caused by muscle weakness in my glutes and thighs, which forces the wrong muscle groups & tendons along my knee to compensate. The key to overcoming this issue is to focus on strengthening those key muscle groups (hamstring, quadriceps, and adductors).
my therapist tried kinesio tape to help with the pain in my right knee
Next, Dr Herzka extended my legs completely and moved the kneecaps from side to side. I experienced sharp pain when she moved my left kneecap inward, but she said it was probably scar tissue, which we may be able to lessen with deep tissue massage. Finally, I laid on my side with knees in a slightly bent position while Dr Herka extended my leg backward from the hip. I knew what her comment would be: my IT band(s) are very tight. I am already dealing with this in physical therapy, using a roller to release the tissue. It is extremely painful but produces noticeable results within 10 minutes. However, it is a short term solution; the only way I will get past all of this is to strengthen my thigh muscles & glutes!

The prognosis is still good, although I need to continue physical therapy for the foreseeable future. I meet with my therapist once a week and do daily exercises at home. I still can't ride my bike outside but Dr Herzka told me to gradually increase the resistance on my exercise bike. With hard work, I will eventually be back to something near my pre-surgery (and pre-damaged) condition!
enjoying a sunny day at the coast - 7 1/2 weeks post-op