Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Some Things I Would Like For Christmas

My two front teeth

The frost that was on the pumpkin

Tea with Lizzie Bennet

My childhood

1 set of chicken’s teeth

Some of last year’s snowflakes

The last rose of summer

A visit to King Arthur’s court

Some of the water that went over the dam

The spilt milk

The evening star

A ride in Michael’s rowboat

The name of Lot’s wife

To meet Eve’s daughter

The keys to the Kingdom

A king’s ransom


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Snacks - a poem

Two men.
One stout one not.
Sitting across from me
Seiza-style by the low table.
My western knees would
Not bend their thataway.

Steaming bowls
Chase away the winter devils.
I wonder at their capacity to hold such great portions.

Our tongues were
Born the same year.
And this day
There are many bowls full.

Growing up
I ate my fill of warm toast and jelly
Every day after school, while
One boy staved off
His hunger by rubbing a button
Under his nose.
The other by
Burning a strand of hair to sniff.

Now we are
All three old.
It is may years
Since the hunger of after-war.

Stone hibachis on the tea-room floor
Shiver, and
Our bowls are full of
Toast, buttons & hair.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Vintage Rides and Car Buffs

His eyes polished the chrome detailing. Shiny layers of custom paint shone in the late afternoon sun. ‘69 Chevy Super Sport. 23,711 miles. Mint. “My daddy had one of these. It drove like a boat, an’ he loved it,” he reminisced in a soft Kentucky drawl.

I scanned the hotel parking. Antique cars—some in trailers, others parked on the asphalt next to newer cars were filling the lot. Late into the warm summer night owners and admirers were holding a security vigil waiting for the dawn when they would roll their entries over to the big show a few miles up the road.

This is the NSRA Street Rod Nationals held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. This year is the 41st annual event held August 5 through 8, 2010. Open to vehicles 30 years and older it showcases cars from all over the US and Canada, and a few from the UK--all built in the years ranging from the 1920’s up to the 1980’s.

Billed as the largest street rod event in the world, more than 11,000 cars participate in the event which attracts over 100,000 visitors who come to see the cars and vendors as well as other enthusiasts.

Did you know that some of the cars have graphic designs worth up to $150,000?

Everything from the muscle cars of the 60s and 70s to the old classics and vintage autos are on display. And if you’re looking for an original vintage auto part, you just might find it at the giant swap meet.

There’s even a “Women’s World,” arts and crafts area for “car widows.” It’s a great family event with live music and special activities for all.

Tickets are $14 for adults (13 and older), $5 for children (6-12). Kids under 5 free. Discounts are available for military and seniors 60+. Visit their website at www.nsra-usa.com

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tabasco Treasure

A salty, piquant aroma of pepper sauce tickles your nose as soon as you walk into the visitors center. Sign up for the next tour beside a giant size replica bottle of Tabasco sauce.

This is Tabasco country, and you’re on Avery Island in southern Louisiana a 2-1/2 hour drive west of New Orleans.

Here you can tour the pepper sauce factory to learn and see how it’s made. At the reception area meet the guide – a spicy Cajun gal who talks about the McIlhenny family who started the operation in 1868. Today, product is shipped to 40 countries worldwide. Did you know that most of the pepper plants grown on the island only produce seeds? These seeds are so valuable; they are stored in bank vaults until ready for export to Central and South America where they are grown into plants. The peppers are returned to the island where they are ground and mixed with Avery Island salt and put into barrels to ferment for 3 years.

You can buy the sauce and mementos in the old-fashion Tabasco Country store, the last stop of the tour. Hungry for pepper-flavored ice cream? How about a dollop of spicy jelly? You can taste a variety of Tabasco spiked foods at the store’s sample bar.

If it’s not raining, enjoy bird watching or stroll the 200-acre Jungle Gardens to see the bamboo, azaleas and camellias. There’s plenty of wildlife to see, from the Snowy Egret to alligators, nutria and armadillo that share the swamps and marshland.

For a $1 bridge toll you can visit the 2600-acre Avery Island that sits on a salt mound that is deeper than Mt. Everest is high. Tour hours of the pepper sauce factory are Monday – Sunday 9 to 4. It’s closed on major holidays. Admission is free. Phone: 1-800-634-9599. Visit their website at www.TABASCO.com

Monday, June 14, 2010


Suddenly, there she stands - the glorious and exuberant “Pinkie.” And the longer I remain at the foot of her portrait, the lighter my heart becomes as I soak in the joy of the moment.

Here is the little girl on the verge of womanhood. Her lustrous shell-colored satin bonnet trails matching ribbons that fly in the wind. She is at once casual and elegant. Childlike and mature, as any 11 year-old might appear to be.

Even if you’ve seen a print of this oil you might not have caught the soft delicate shades the artist brushed into the original oil. Photos and color plates often show the clouds as menacing and dark – they’re not. Some prints show them tinged with red and orange – they are not that either. Instead, the fragile blue and frothy white clouds dance and shimmer in lively strokes that caress the canvass.

A bright breeze blows the diaphanous cream-colored fabric of her gown aside to expose the pointed toe of her little black shoe. The visual pun of her extended little “pinkie” finger is amusing but the gesture is a natural part of her casual pose.

This is a portrait of Sarah Barrett Moulton by Thomas Lawrence (1794). She was a member of the prosperous Barrett family from Jamaica. Did you know she is related to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning? Her brother Edward was the poet’s father, and Sarah would have been Elizabeth’s aunt - had she lived. Sadly, she died within the year.

“Pinkie” is often thought of in tandem with Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy”. Yet two different artists painted them some 24 years apart. For me “Pinkie” is the crown jewel of the vast collections of rare books, immense gardens and art at The Huntington in Pasadena, California.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Vibrant Las Vegas!

Stepping out of the terminal at McCarran airport in Las Vegas, the 110-degree June heat smacks you in the face like a hot iron.

Now that I’ve run the gauntlet of one-armed bandits and electronic billboards encircling the baggage carousels, I’m ready to head to the taxi line to pick up a ride to my hotel.

At Trump Tower there’s a corner room waiting for me on the 44th floor. In the morning I can see The Strip set against a backdrop of pearl grey mountains fringing the Mojave Desert. At night it sparkles with countless lights. Did you know that seen from space Las Vegas is the brightest city on earth?

In the suite, the main bathroom (and there are 2) is larger than my apartment in Chicago. Soaking in the Jacuzzi-style tub, I can see the city, or watch the TV embedded in the oversized mirror over the sink. It’s off-season, so I can afford a really nice room at great rates.

There’s no smoking in the whole building, and no casino here at Trump. Best of all I can get a complimentary late check out ‘til 4 pm.

I personally don’t gamble but am always real happy to lose a bundle at the dining table. And there are lots of choices all over town. Just off the lobby of Trump, DJT restaurant serves a beautiful assortment of appetizers. One or two will make a perfect size meal. That leaves me enough room for dessert.

Strolling around town, you begin to realize that nobody is actually “from” here. Yet they all manage to find their way to this dazzling down. Where else can you meet a taxi driver from Haiti, a waiter from the Philippines and a bouncer from Bulgaria all in the space of 1 hour?

Most folks say that business is picking up; people are coming back for the fun and excitement to be found here. Just outside the window, I can see the Wynn and Encore. I think I'll head on over there for lunch.

The energy of this town resonates with me. Viva Las Vegas!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Medical Tourism Explained

My new book "Travelin' Trots" was just published as an ebook on Smashwords. In it I talk about some of the pitfalls and benefits of being an accidental medical tourist. I hope you'll take time to check it out at Smashwords, for free.

"35,000 feet over the Amazon jungle Mary Anne gets slammed with a debilitating gastrointestinal bug . Seven hours later she lands in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language. Now she has to quickly find medical help. A travel writer and nurse, she documents the process and what it really feels like to be sick on the road ..."

Won't you take a moment to spread the word about my book to everyone you know.

Thanks for your support. Mary Anne

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Medical Resources On The Road

Where are you going on your next trip? I'd love to hear from you. Are you planning a medical tourism adventure? If so, here's a short list of medical resources to get you started planning for the big event:

American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (www.surgery.org)

American Society of Plastic Surgeons (www.plasticsurgery.org)

ASPA physician-finder (www1.plasticsurgery.org/ebusiness4/patientconsumers/findintsurgeon.aspx)

CDC (www.cdc.gov)

Deloitte. Medical Tourism: Update and Implications – 2009 Report (www.deloitte.com)

eMEDTV (www.emedtv.com)

Fodor’s (www.fodors.com)

Foreign Currency exchange (www.xe.com)

Frommers (www.frommers.com)

International ASPS member surgeons (www.isaps.org)

JCI accredited hospitals (www.jointcommissioninternational.org)

John Hopkins Hospital (www.jhintl.net)

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com)

Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com)

MedlinePlus (www.medlineplus.gov)

Quest Diagnostics (www.questdiagnostics.com)

Travel costs calculator (www.xe.com/tec/table.shtml)

Travellerspoint Travel Community (www.travellerspoint.com)

TSA guidelines (www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/index.shtm)

Urgent Care Association of America (www.ucaoa.org/buyers/ucaoa_orgs.php)

US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html)

WebMD (www.webmd.com)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dallas: Day 28

If it’s going to be this cold and snowy in Dallas, we might as well go home.

On the last days of the journey, we drove up to Dallas and saw their record snowfall. Schools closed and children were struggling to find makeshift sleds or build lopsided snowmen. This has the makings of tales they would tell their own grandchildren, decades from now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Austin: Day 27

Forget the live music, the Governor’s Mansion, LBJ museum or the bats. We came to Austin for the wood-fire BBQ.

Some of the best of its kind can be found at a converted “speak-easy” with a panoramic view of Texas Hill Country, at the edge of the city.

This is the County Line restaurant (On the Hill location), one of 2 in Austin. There are 2 in San Antonio, and ones in Montgomery, Houston, Albuquerque and Oklahoma City.

The menu features bring a chuckle to the reader with such entries as “all you can stand” family size platters, Skeeter’s Caesar Salad and the Hippie Burger. The burgers come with a “heap of fries and a bowl of beans.”

Come hungry. This is real Texas-pit barbecue

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Texas Hill Country: Day 26

In the mid-1800’s a large number of German settlers migrated to Texas to avoid political persecution and economic troubles back home. Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach founded the town of Fredericksburg naming it after Prince Frederick of Prussia. It’s one of the charming small towns in the Texas hill country where visitors can find a number of B&Bs, wineries, dude ranches and parks.

In 1849 Fredericksburg was the last stop for gold rush prospectors bound for California to load up on supplies before heading to the coast.

A number of shops, restaurants and historical buildings lure travelers from all over, and it’s a favorite weekend destination for folks from nearby San Antonio and Austin. One such building is the Nimitz Hotel, originally hosting stagecoach travelers in the 1860’s, now houses the National Museum of the Pacific War.

16 miles east of Fredericksburg is the LBJ historical park, complete with memorabilia from President Johnson’s childhood, and the family ranch.

On the road, we saw a trailer transporting a couple of cows. If you look closely, you can see a border collie sharing the ride.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Castroville: Day 25

The last place I would expect to find great sauerbraten would be west of San Antonio, in Castroville located on the edge of the south plains of Texas.

Entering the 150- year old European style “Old Alsatian Steakhouse & Ristorante”, is like walking into a scene from a fairy tale, with old stone houses with beamed roofs and little gardens.

Here, diners can feast on steaks, seafood and northern Italian cuisine for lunch and dinner, as well as authentic Germanic dishes. I was tempted by the Alsatian sausage sampler with mustard and pickles, the veal marsala, Alsatian salmon, German apple rum cake - but could only fill one stomach.

The village was founded in 1844 by Henri Castro of Landes France, who obtained a land grant of more than a million acres of land in Texas, then recruited 700 colonists from his native land, particularly the Alsace-Lorraine region.

Today, visitors can take a walking tour to view some of the 50 buildings from that time – many of which are B&Bs, restaurants or private homes. The Chamber of Commerce publishes a catalogue detailing the history of many of the houses.

If you speak Alsatian, you’ll feel right at home conversing with folks of the older generation who live in Castroville.

Visit their website at www.oldalsatiansteakhouse.com

Thursday, February 11, 2010

San Antonio: Day 24

On a rainy, cold morning, we walked the four blocks from our hotel in the downtown area of San Antonio to the bullet-riddled remains of the Alamo.

Now a national shrine, the mission was built in 1724 by Spanish missionaries. What remains of the original complex contains the chapel, the long barracks – site of the most bloody hand-to-hand combat, and a gift shop/museum.

Inside the church, visitors can listen to a docent who relates the history of Texas and the Alamo. During the battle, a handful of women and children were gathered in the sacristy for protection. Many of these survived as eye-witnesses to the fight.

Originally, the church did not have a roof although one was added about 100 years after the battle. Standing inside the grey stone walls, with it’s crumbling frescoes, you can smell the cold, damp stone.

General Santa Anna’s 5,000 Mexican troops attacked the site in February 1836. The siege lasted 13 days, ending on March 6th. All 189 defenders were killed. They had come from many US states as well as Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany and Denmark. Here was the last stand of Davy Crockett (frontiersman), Jim Bowie (the knife fighter), and Col. Travis.

The phrase “Remember the Alamo” was the battle cry of the Texans who then defeated Santa Anna’s men at San Jacinto some 46-days later, in a revenge battle. That victory signaled the birth of the Republic of Texas.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

San Antonio: Day 23

Twenty feet below street level visitors can sip margaritas and feast on any number of local specialties as they watch the flat-bottomed chalupa boats float down the San Antonio River. This 2-1/2 mile stretch of river bank is bordered by stone walks and lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, bars and museums. It's traversed by 13 bridges and flanked by 11,000 trees.

Ask most travelers about San Antonio and they might mention the Alamo. But more than an outpost at the edge of the South Texas Plains, this town is the seventh largest city in the US.

The night these travelers discovered the River Walk it was unseasonably cold and windy for January. We chose to sit outside on the verandah under the propane heaters and bundled up in wool panchos, while our server prepared a bowl of fresh guacamole at tableside.

Holed Up In Houston: Day 22

Leaving the hotel in Montevideo at 1:00 am to catch a 4:00 am flight to Panama City early Saturday morning, we ran into a mega storm cell that pushed back departure by 90 minutes. Just enough to snarl up the connecting flight from Panama to Houston.

That flight was also late, imperiling the connection to ORD. It took nearly an hour to get through immigration (I can never remember a time when I wasn’t queasy, achy and worn out weaving through those lines). With minutes to spare after picking up luggage, we got through customs, but the flight scheduled to be the last leg of the journey, was pulling away from the gate.

We took a taxi to the nearest hotel and let the dust settle for a couple of days.

By then, we were running dangerously low on G7 instant coffee. For those who enjoy café sua, this is the nearest thing to heaven-in-a-cup.

Luckily Houston is home to the largest population Vietnamese-Americans in the country, in fact it has the largest Asian population of any other city in the South. So we stocked up on coffee at the Tan Binh Market on Bellaire Blvd., in the vast New Chinatown area. In its parking lot shoppers can admire the sculptures honoring military who served in Vietnam, and its people.

Montevideo: Days 12 - 21

Two days later, I felt miserable and became convinced I would shrivel up in the hotel without seeing the light of day. Between Monday morning (when I weighed myself in Panama) and Thursday I had lost 38 pounds. (No typo here).

Friday morning, called in the doctor - this was the 3rd one. He assured me I was on the right path, and added Cipro. He also didn't seem too concerned about all the weight loss, and assured me I would gain it all back... drat!

So what does one do all day then (esp. with only 1 or 2 channels of English language TV?) I was too sick to do anything except drag myself to the bathroom, and drink Gatorade and/or ice water. Did not even have the strength to open/read/write emails. Too tired to read. Too tired to open the computer, except for short bursts after a long rest. Slept hour after hour, day after day. Now I'm trying to catch up on things.

Total consumption of solid food: 3 tablespoons of rice, 2 tablespoons of applesauce and a banana in 5 days.

When my health began to improve we went to a favorite restaurant where I nibbled on plain chicken. The picture above shows the facade of Locos de Asada, and its sister restaurant Tannat.

Not a fun way to enjoy Montevideo for 11 days, but we did see some lovely sunsets from the room.

Finally mustered the strength to walk around and enjoy some of the lovely summer days in downtown Montevideo. The picture on the left shows a vendor of mate (the national drink of Uruguay) mugs, while the one on the right was taken at one of the many city squares where craftsmen sell their wares.

Panama to Montevideo: Day 11

Monday noon we left Panama City for the 7 hour flight to Montevideo, Uruguay. About 2 hours into the flight I started to get achy and chill. As the next 5 hours dragged on I was getting sicker by the moment. High fever, chills, anorexia (so unusual for me not to want to eat), weakness, lethargy, stomach pain (and worse). Really felt miserable and it was one of the few times I didn't pack antibiotics and Tylenol in my carry on.

By the time we got to the hotel in Montevideo, I just wanted to curl up in a dustbin and die. Everything hurt (the typical flu symptoms, plus “la tourista”)

Tuesday morning I awoke feeling even worse, and agreed to bring in the heavy guns. The doctor arrived within minutes. Through the hotel interpreter, I learned that she wanted to administer an IV antipyretic - Yikes! I didn't even recognize the name. By then I didn't have the strength to inquire or resist. She gave me a stack of stuff to do-take-etc. 12 hours later, I was still miserable and by then had made a zillion trips to the banos.

Called the doctor again. Arrived soon after. Made a few adjustments. Reassured me I'd be fine.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Panama: Day 10

Leaving Panama City in the morning. Always a great time. Plenty to see and do. Here are a few of my favorite sights. Top photo is a shot of Panama City, old and new. Took that shot walking back to the Sheraton Caesar Park from Los Anos Locos. The sidewalks are a little uneven and steep, but it's a good hike back to work off the ceviche.

Had our own mini eco-tour right outside the 14th floor window. The day we arrived, I thought it was a powdery smudge on the glass. Over the next few days, it became larger and more defined (about the size of a 50-cent piece).

By the last day, little insects emerged and were clustered around a colony, the size of my fist. By tomorrow, they'll all be gone.

The bus is parked outside the visitors center in the national park. You can see all kinds of critters, bugs and birds up close and personal - no walls, no nets.

Next 2 pictures are views from the living room (Pacific ocean, and dusk descending on the city).

Here in Panama, you'll meet some of the friendliest folks around while enjoying fresh seafood right off the boats.

Thanks to ESPN, I can watch the play-offs while packing.

Adios amigos ... on to Montevideo, UR

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Panama: Day 9

Jean Pierre drove us to the Amador Causeway for lunch at Lenos & Carbon. This is Tom's fish (grilled red snapper). So good that only bones were left. Our table was just inside the wide, breezy veranda.

The causeway road is 2 lanes wide (one in and one out) connecting 4 small islands that were once a part of Ft. Grant, built in 1913 to protect canal access during WWI and WWII.

Today, visitors will find a number of restaurants, shops and a marina. Closer to the mainland is the Frank Gehry-designed museum of biodiversity currently under construction.

In the old Canal Zone, many of the US military buildings have now been converted into educational institutions or private enterprise.

A new (wider and deeper) channel is being dug for the Canal itself, so that it will eventually have 3 shipping lanes. It continues to operate 24/7 with thousands of ships passing through every year.

Everything from enormous ocean-going container ships to cruise liners to small tugs fill the 3 locks that span the canal, crossing from the Atlantic to Pacific - or the reverse. Cuts the shipping time by 14 days (around the Cape), is much safer for shipping and provides a steady income for the country year round.

Last stop was the American cemetery outside the city limits.