Sunday, April 13, 2014

Much has transpired since my posting in late January, and most of it has been pretty good.  I did return from my trip to the Northeast with a truly horrible cold that, from what I gathered, had afflicted much of the population of the US at one time or another during the winter months.  I usually avoid these nasty viruses but this time I couldn’t dodge the bullet. 

The worst of it for me was, as I mentioned in my last post, while I was in New York but the frigid temperatures I encountered in Washington didn’t help and by the time I got home to Asheville I was still pretty sick. 

With the prospect of only a week before getting on the plane to Puerto Rico, I decided that I needed to be more proactive in getting rid of my symptoms so I contacted my doctor and in short order was on Prednisone, Augmentin and some pretty ferocious cough medicine.  It all helped a lot and by the time I left for San Juan, while not completely better, I felt much improved.  In fact my head didn’t explode when the plane took off and pressurized so that was a pretty decent indication that the medications worked the way they were supposed to.

The time in Puerto Rico was relatively uneventful.  My parents had rented a condo on the beach about 15 minutes drive from Old San Juan for the entire month of February.  The plan was for me to stay in the extra bedroom in their condo and for my sister Lisa and her husband David to stay in a hotel that was next door.

The condo is situated on a beach that is probably a mile and a half long, wide and immaculately clean.  While it appears to be pretty popular, particularly on the weekends, it is so large that it never really felt all that crowded.  I walked the length of it several times and had a good gape at the most interesting break in the continuous wall of condos and hotels that line it.  At one point about 2/3 of the distance from my parents’ condo to the Western end of the beach is a fairly large and very old cemetery.  It is odd to see something like this fronting on a beach but it is pretty clear that it predated the construction and development that now flanks the sand.

We really didn’t do a hell of a lot aside from lying around, reading and eating.  One day we all went into Old San Juan to have lunch (dreadful experience) and go see the two Spanish Colonial era forts that are now operated by the National Park Service.  I had been to one of them on an earlier trip to Puerto Rico but seeing it again and the other one for the first time turned out to be a real treat.  My sister and brother in law both joined me for these visits and I got to use my National Park senior pass for the first time.  It got us all in for free. . .another one of the perks of getting older.

We had a couple nice dinners out and my mother cooked at the condo a couple times as well so I didn’t spend too much time worried about my next meal.  This tends to be the hallmark of traveling with my family.  Life consists of planning for the next meal before the last one has begun to digest.

I managed to fly home without incident and spent a couple weeks back in Asheville before my scheduled trip to Melbourne Beach to see my friends Ann and Bowers.  This trip turned out to be very well timed in that the late unpleasant gasps of winter weather were hitting Asheville just as I drove out of town.  I got to enjoy 5 days at the beach with Ann (Bowers was gone for most of the time I was there) with mild weather. . .mostly 70s daytime highs and light to brisk breezes.  We walked the dog every day, ate in and out, and for the first time in my life, I played duplicate bridge. 

I have played social bridge since my Aunt Ruthie and her mother taught me to play in the back of their furniture store in November of 1959 in Sioux City, IA.  Playing duplicate is quite different although I have played something called Chicago Bridge since August at the Reuter Center at UNCA so I did have a pretty good idea how it all works.   Ann and I did pretty well in spite of some mis-steps in bidding (mostly on my part but Ann was kind enough to screw up once so I didn’t feel quite so bad).  It was quite an experience although I can’t see myself playing duplicate here.  It think it requires you to have a partner and pretty consistent times that you play. . .not my style at this time of my life.

After 5 days I returned to Asheville for a few days of reading mail and doing laundry  and then Faye and Jay blew into town for an 8-day visit.  It had been just under a year since their last visit so we decided in advance to do a field trip for a few days so they could see things they hadn’t seen on either of their previous visits.  So, after Jay finished dutifully attending the veterinary oncology conference he came for, we jumped in my car and headed South to Beaufort, SC.  As regular readers of this blog know from previous posts, I really like Beaufort.  It is about an hour and  a half drive from Charleston, and about an hour and 10 minutes from Savannah but is quite unique and interesting in itself.

Once again I found myself heading out of town in uninspired weather and driving into sun and warmth.  The drive to Beaufort is a bit over 4 hours but with company in the car it isn’t so bad.  You don’t have to suffer through quite as much of Interstate 95 as I had endured on the drive to and from Ann and Bowers’ beach house so this one felt like a walk in the park. 

We arrived with plenty of time to check into the City Loft Hotel right smack in the middle of downtown Beaufort and do a little walking around the downtown and historic residential district that surrounds it before cleaning up and resting a bit prior to dinner.

I had gotten wind of a new place (at least new since I was last there) called the Old Bull Tavern.  We had heard from the desk guy at the hotel that they didn’t take reservations, which did not turn out to be the case.  Still, we naively thought that we could just walk in and get a table since it was a Wednesday night in a relatively sleepy town.  Boy were we wrong.  The place was only about a two-block walk but when we walked in we were immediately aware of the fact that there wasn’t an empty spot in the place.

We were lucky enough, after talking to the proprietor and putting our names on the wait list, to be offered seats at the bar by a lovely local woman who was joining friends of hers at the large loungey area in the front of the restaurant.  We had a drink or two and relatively quickly managed to score three seats at the communal table, also in the front of the room.

The joint was really jumping but the service was very good.  Our server was informative and attentive and gave us very good recommendations (as had other diners and people at the bar. . .everyone had an opinion about what was great, which as it turned out, everything was).  We had a fantastic dinner and by the time we were finishing up the owner sat down and chatted with us for about 10 minutes.  This was a truly delightful evening and I would strongly suggest that if you find yourself near Beaufort, schedule a dinner at The Old Bull Tavern.

The next day we headed off to Hunting Island State Park and toured the island as thoroughly as Faye’s sore knee would allow.  She couldn’t join Jay and me when we climbed to the top of the historic lighthouse, but other than that she was pretty game with our walks out the boardwalk over the marsh side of the park and along the beach on the seaside.

After a few hours we headed back. . .Faye having gotten to the point where she really needed some down time.  Jay and I ate a fashionably late lunch and rode bikes the hotel provides free for guests.  These are pretty funky town bikes but they were fine for exploring the relatively flat beautifully shaded streets of Beaufort’s historic residential neighborhoods.  I have been to this small city 4 times now and every time I go I like it better.  It is so tempting to try to score some small piece of real estate here.  One fantasy is to buy a house that I would rent out for most of the year but could use for a few weeks at a time if I have the need to get out of Asheville for a bit.  You are close to the ocean and an easy day trip to either Charleston or Savannah.  I will probably never do this but it is a nice fantasy.

We had another excellent dinner on Thursday night at Wren, where I have eaten in the past and expected a superb experience.  It was burger night during which if you order their monstrously proportioned burger it comes with fries for $9.  You can supplement this beast with various additions that are priced from free to $3 each so it can, if you really want to gild the lily, get more costly.  I kept it fairly simple with a generous glob of blue cheese and could only get through half of the burger. 

I probably shouldn’t have opted for this since it is so easy to make a good burger at home and in general my tendency in restaurants is to order dishes that are too complex or too hard for me to do well at home.  The only reason I did the burger was that it was such a bargain.  It was excellent of course, but not nearly as exciting as food I have had at Wren in the past.  The room is still beautiful and the food is great.  Try it as well as OBT if you are in town.

For our last full day we headed off to Savannah for the day.  I had pre-arranged dinner at a place called Local Ten11 Food and Wine, having read about it rather extensively online.  I hadn’t specifically arranged for anything else that day though, in part because I was not sure what Faye would be able to handle with her progressively more painful knee, which was by then exacerbated by the first stages of a nasty cold the reminded me of the one I had had in New England last January.

We did some light walking around some of Savannah’s historic residential squares and along the overly touristy waterfront.  We also did a light lunch composed mostly of leftovers from large meals we had ordered the day before while sitting in one of the waterfront parks that line the Savannah river.  It was a gorgeous sunny day so it was really a pleasant way to see the city and enjoy our lunch in the open.

In the afternoon we did a little shopping (I found the most amazing boots at ShopSCAD designed by a SCAD grad whose line is called Michael Grey Footwear _ see and then went for some pre dinner drinks.  All day I was trying to connect by phone with a Pyrenees breeder from Petaluma, CA but to no avail so I walked around somewhat frustrated with the day, but still enjoying the city more than I had on previous visits.

Dinner was very good but frankly, in my opinion, overpriced and the service was not great.  Savannah is one of those towns with a lot of competition for whose restaurant is the hot spot to go to at any given time and this place clearly is a contender.  The room is lovely and the location is just far enough from the central downtown district that you don’t fell the omnipresence of tourists that you do as you get closer to the river.  There is a rooftop bar that we didn’t go to (Faye’s knee couldn’t have handled it) so we sat down and ordered our dinner as soon as we got in.  The place filled up rapidly and turned out to be quite lively.  Like I mentioned, the food was excellent but it was so pricey I found it a little hard to justify the cost.  Our server wasn’t very attentive and made a few mistakes, which didn’t make it any easier to stomach the rather monumental bill at the end of the meal. 

After dinner we got back in the car and headed back to Beaufort for one last night.  On Saturday morning we got up, walked across Carteret Street to a market/cafĂ© where we bought lunch to eat on the road and by about 10:15 in the morning we were on the way back to Asheville.

The drive back was uneventful although by then Faye really felt lousy.  We had plans for dinner with Matt and Amy that evening but in the end Faye couldn’t handle joining us so Jay and I attended the dinner without her.  We still had a nice time at Storm in downtown Asheville.

Sunday was departure day for Faye and Jay so just after noon I took them out to the airport for their flight home.  It was, in spite of Faye’s injuries and illness, a really pleasant and fun visit.

The back-story that I haven’t mentioned is that this whole time I was torn between two possibilities for getting a Pyrenees puppy.  As most of you know, I have been trying since August to get a new pup but with no luck.  The breeders in Radford VA with whom I thought I would be doing business tried twice to produce puppies from a young female they have but it didn’t work out.  In the fall she didn’t get pregnant and when they tried again in January she did get pregnant but 4-1/2 weeks into it her body reabsorbed the fetuses.  Between those two I had hoped to contract with a breeder in Salem, OR who had been recommended to me but her attempt at breeding one of her females also failed to produce a pregnancy. 

So finally finding out that there were two breeders in CA both of whom had litters born in early March was a source of considerable excitement and angst.  While Faye and Jay were here I was emailing and phoning back and forth between the two until I finally settled on buying a puppy from Kim Lasley.  Kim bred Abner as well as the father of Harvey, my first Pyr.  I have known her on and off for close to 20 years and in the end decided that my chances of a good fit with the puppy were best with her.

As things stand, the puppies who were born on March 11th will be available for transportation to their new homes by mid-to-late May.  Our plan currently is for Kim’s eldest daughter to fly to Atlanta with my pup on the night of the 22nd of May.  She is going to see her friend in Pensacola and I guess it is convenient for her to fly through Atlanta.  By taking a red-eye there should be no issues with the ground temperatures either at departure or arrival airports so unless things change, on the morning of May 23rd I will show up at the Atlanta airport and meet my new pup.  I am trying not to get too keyed up about this since things can happen and situations change, but right now it looks pretty promising.

Life in Asheville is pretty normal right now.  I spent a couple days with my friend Lanny’s parents and brother when they were here last week and on Tuesday I will take our buddy Tucker and his parents through Biltmore (I guess I have unofficially become an expert guide there).  Then in two weeks I will leave for one more road trip, this time to Ithaca to see one of my nieces, Jackson, NH to see Rob and Carolyn, and one more quick stop in Boston.  I should be home by May 9th which will leave me with two weeks to prepare for the arrival of the puppy.

After that, my assumption is that I will be largely homebound until the new arrival is trained and experienced well enough to travel with me or be left with a sitter at home if I have to fly somewhere.  This is fine really.  I have been doing so much travel since the beginning of the year it won’t kill me to stay home for the remainder of it although I will miss seeing all my California friends this fall.  I do believe though that it is time that I have this new dog in my life.  It has been more than a year and a half since I lost Abner to cancer and more and more I feel that my life won’t go back to something resembling normal or happy without getting someone else (with 4 legs and lots of white hair) into it.  I guess we will all see how this goes.

It’s a beautiful day in Asheville and I am going to go out and enjoy it.  More later.

OK.  I have no idea why Blogger has decided to highlight this last section in white.  Sorry but I have tried every formatting trick I can think of to fix it and nothing works.  You can thank Google and their decision to offer no customer support on anything.
 If everything goes according to plan, I will end up with one of these two puppies in my house on May 23rd.  These photos were taken when they were 15 days old and still looking a lot like guinea pigs.
 The two adult dogs below are the parents.  Mom is on the left and she has a striking resemblance to Abner.