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Tuesday 27 November 2007

The Musical Fruit

My dear Louisiana wife recently ran out of her beloved Camellia brand red beans. Since these beans come from near New Orleans, she visited her favorite Cajun foods website only to discover, to her horror, that they were no longer available from that distributor.

A big bag of beans

An immediate Google search ensued and fortunately she was able to locate them from a local midwestern source (!). But to be sure that she wouldn't be caught short again any time soon, she bought the large economy size.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 24 November 2007

I Wear The Chain Stores I Shopped At In Life

After that sumptuous feast, CVH and a few of her girlfriends piled into a giant SUV and headed to an outlet mall outside of Columbus, Ohio. They got a room at a motel next door that apparently exists for the sole purpose of boarding shoppers (that part sounds nineteenth-century all by itself). The mall opened at midnight, but she said the interstate started backing up around nine-thirty p.m.; fortunately the mall had arranged for several police officers to provide traffic control.

Despite the snow and sleet, the lines outside the stores were so long that several stores opened around eleven (this is not an enclosed mall, so these folks were outside, exposed to the elements). CVH and her friends shopped a few hours, caught a nap, ate some food, shopped again, napped again, and proceeded in this fashion until Friday evening, when they went to the barbecue joint next door and partied down.

She got home around noon on Saturday, barely in time for us to head downtown and catch Dickens's "A Christmas Carol". We had gotten some last minute bargain tickets that put us in row ZJ, seats 52 and 53. I wasn't expecting a very good view with those numbers, but when we got there, we discovered that their theater is very well laid out, and the seats were quite good at regular prices and excellent for what we paid.

It was a tight production, quite enjoyable, and although they were herds of small children in attendance, they behaved themselves quite well. We've never really understood why people take small children to such a dark and adult tale (this production's ghost of Morley nearly scared me), but for whatever reason, the company plays along; they even had an actor dressed up as Puss-n-Boots posing for pictures with the kids after the play.

Categories: News from Louisville

Thursday 22 November 2007

I can't believe I ate the whole thing

Since it was just the two of us this Thanksgiving, CVH and I treated ourselves to a fancy meal at the Oakroom in downtown Louisville. The restaurant is located in the Seelbach Hotel, a fixture of Louisville for over one hundred years (and the inspiration for the backdrop of Tom and Daisy's wedding in "The Great Gatsby"). The Oakroom is decorated in fine Edwardian period style; sitting there, I feel as if I'm in the first class dining room of Titanic - the same quiet luxury of oak panelling and beamed ceilings. Similar to the experience of sitting in the lobby of the Galvez Hotel on Galveston Island.

Todd Richards

We got a nice table for two, well away from the parties with small children, although another group got the private alcove that was the favorite of Al Capone when he came to town; it's replete with special mirrors, just to minimize the chances of unpleasantness, you understand. The chef there, Todd Richards, is well known (he goes up against Cat Cora on Iron Chef week after next; we'll be watching) and prides himself on selecting the freshest ingredients for his restaurant. And although the Oakroom has a bit of a traditional, almost fusty, reputation that Todd has to work within, there were still a few surprising dishes on this most traditional of food holidays that stood out by virtue of their fresh, crisp, near-kosher-clean-taste:

  • The apple cider with cinnamon "ice" was like biting into an apple that had just fallen off the tree and then lightly spiced
  • The pumpkin sausage soup was a rich and toothsome delight
  • A sweet potato salad with onions, turnips and crème fraîche (sounds weird, I know, and the first bite was a surprise, but by the third bite we were both trying to figure out how to get more of it on our forks)
  • A corn bake with chipotle and jalapeño fries (I'm afraid Todd needs to spend a little more time in Texas before he tries this one again)
  • Haricot verts (aka "green beans") with truffle oil
  • And an endive salad with edible flowers and bourbon pecans. In fact, bourbon showed up in a number of dishes and condiments, no surprise there I suppose.

Plus men here in Louisville still at least put on a jacket when going out to a five-diamond restuarant. I lost interest in the Thanksgiving dinner at the Doubletree in Houston when I had to sit next to guy in a t-shirt and baseball cap. If I'm spending fifty dollars a head on a buffet (with no wine), I expect to feel like I'm not at Quiznos.

There was a nice young lady playing the piano while we ate, but she was playing such a meloncholy medley that CVH speculated that she was sad because she could not be with her family this Thanksgiving.

Later in the day I began to feel the consequences of indulging in such a feast and began to wonder if I've passed the time of my life where this is a good idea. Perhaps next year we'll find a nice prix fixe Turkey Day dinner.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 17 November 2007

Morrison Heady

Today we went to go see a short play about Morrison Heady, a remarkable man who was a strong advocate for the blind in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mr Heady lost his sight as a child, one eye each in two separate freak accidents, and as an adult he fell off a horse, striking his head and eventually losing his hearing from that accident. He was quite an educated man, the son of a doctor, and proceeded to collect monies for the production of a raised-type copy of Paradise Lost (this was in the pre-Braille days - the English letters were embossed on a heavy sheet of paper). He then came to Louisville and was one of the founders of the American Printing House for the Blind in the basement of the Kentucky School for the Blind.

Unfortunately, the Civil War put those plans on hold, during which time the school was used as a hospital. But after the war, the project got going again, and has been cranking out the Braille books, audio books, and large type books ever since. The play, however, focussed on Morrison and his indomitable spirit: he wrote music, books, invented devices, including a mechanism for opening and closing farm gates without dismounting from your horse, and a special glove that allowed people to communicate with him. The glove had the letters of the alphabet drawn on it, and by pointing to the letters, you could spell out your message to Mr Heady, who would then speak his part of the conversation.

The play was attended by the playwright, Donna Ison, and the author of the book that inspired the play, Ken Thompson.

Categories: News from Louisville

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Blindness 101

The number of persons who are blind or have visual impairments is above average where I'm currently working. Therefore, to help those of us who are new to such an environment, the company holds a seminar from time to time called "Blindness 101", and I attended it today.

One of the first things that you learn is that normal English idioms involving words such as "look" and "see" are not considered offensive to the vast majority of people who are blind, and "blind" is considered perfectly acceptable. So "Have you looked at my email?" or "Did you see him today?" are considered OK in conversation. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when speaking with a blind person to avoid embarrassing either of you.

Don't talk loudly unless you are certain that they are also hard of hearing.

Immediately greet persons who have visual impairments as soon as they enter the room. Address them by their name (so they know you're talking to them, and not to someone else in the room) and tell them your name (you know what it's like when you answer the phone and the person on the other end just starts talking without identifying themselves). Finally, and this one can be hard to remember, when you leave the conversation, indicate this clearly to the other person so that he or she is not left alone talking to someone who isn't there (although these days I guess people would just assume that they're on some sort of fancy cell phone).

Be thorough and precise when describing people, places, or things to those who are totally blind. Feel free to use visually descriptive language (colors, designs, etc); it's OK.

Don't pet the dog. In fact, just ignore the dog until you get to know the person better.

And speaking of dogs, there was a lot of discussion on that topic (I suppose that in any random gathering of people, you're going to get some dog lovers, like me, and those indifferent to man's best friend just sit back and tolerate us). Did you know that "dog guide" is the most correct term? "Seeing Eye Dog" and "Guide Dog" are actually brand names! The dogs are usually bred at the training centers these days, so don't expect to donate your dog to service. The puppies are given to families with children to raise and assimilate them for a year; the families then give the dog back to the center (that's got to be difficult) for another nine to twelve months of training. The total cost to raise a dog guide is somewhere between twenty and thirty-five thousand dollars (at least according to the training centers), but the recipient doesn't pay anything more than a token fee or the cost of flying the dog to their home.

Denver, the dog guide, and Gary

About twenty percent of the blind community uses a dog guide. It is a lot of responsibility, as any dog would be. I had to pleasure of meeting Denver, a dog who was the subject of an Animal Planet documentary on dog guides. Woo Hoo! My brush with fame and celebrity.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 10 November 2007

Yet more health information

Today's big activity was attending a health information conference at the Galt House (a big convention hotel) downtown. This wasn't one of those health fairs where all the parties had a table and you went around to collect schwag; rather it was done convention style: there were a couple of keynote speakers, and then you went to breakout sessions where various speakers made their presentations. Nonetheless, there were some nice giveaways including this zippered portfolio thing. And it was all free.

The conference was organized by the Epilepsy Foundation, so a lot of the sessions dealt with epilepsy, but there were also sessions on healthy diet, heart health, brain injuries, and the importance of a positive attitude for your mental health. One of the most fascinating presentations was on non-epileptic seizures and convulsions; the doctor had videos and it was like something from Discovery Health Channel. The message of the guy from the Brain Injury Association was that brain injuries can cause symptoms that look like just about anything else you can imagine (and some things that you cannot - note that Oliver Sacks has a new book out). Another interesting session dealt with the elderly, who may be having seizures when everybody is assuming that they're just getting old and senile. So if grandma is acting funny from time to time, but not all the time, you might want to take her to a neurologist. I also learned that lay people who go to health conferences like to talk about themselves (in particular, their problems) a lot.

And if you don't know this already, NEVER put anything in the mouth of a person who is having a seizure.

The nurse from the heart center had a lot of good advice for heart health - exercise, don't smoke, watch your weight, floss your teeth, and a list of foods to avoid. I could understand the doughnuts and microwave popcorn, but when I saw my beloved cornbread on the "avoid" list, I had to ask why. I guess I was a little aggressive as she visibly reeled back, however it turns out that a lot of people get their cornbread out of a box, which is not good, though homemade cornbread (with canola oil) is OK. Cornbread from a box?, I thought; What will people eat next? One guy even asked if they put MSG in packaged foods. Obviously he was in the right session for him.

There was a delicious lunch, paid for by Norton Healthcare (a big local health provider, which is apparently making a lot of money); CVH said that she had eaten a lot of lunches at the Galt House in connexion with several non-profit events, but never as good as this one. She didn't think that the kitchen could turn out food as nice as this. We had (among other dishes) cucumber and onion salad, scalloped potatoes, vegetable lasagna with cream sauce, green beans sautéed in butter, apple pie and carrot cake; it all tasted like Christmas to me, so much milk fat. I'm sure the nurse from the heart center was appalled.

We had a good time, and it was educational, too. I was so motivated that I suggested that we stop at Cherokee Park on the way home and walk the scenic loop. We walked the hills and valleys and visited the new dog run. The run is built on that part of the park that the interstate runs under (I'm sure Mr Olmstead is spinning in his grave), and so wasn't heavily used anyway. The dogs looked like they were having a pretty good time. One of the driving forces behind this dog park was to get loose dogs off of Cochran Hill. People had brought their dogs to run on Cochran Hill for so long that it was known locally as Dog Hill, or even more commonly after what the dogs had left behind because their owners were not picking up after them. The police have said that they were going to enforce the leash laws on Cochran Hill now that there is an official off-leash park, but we still saw a couple of miscreants out there.

We also saw a young lady, we passed her about three times, who was going over to different trees in the park, inspecting their leaves, and then taking a couple from the tree. At one point she pulled her car over into the grass (a definite no-no in the park), got out, leaving the car running, and inspected a tree for several moments before taking a leaf and getting back in her car. She had Kentucky licence plates plus stickers for a Kentucky university and a sorority on her back window. I told CVH that ruled out somebody from Texas who had just never seen colorful trees in the fall; maybe it's a botany project. But then I said, No, I was a science major, and a botany project would be done in a more structured manner. More likely an art project, given the way she drove her Honda onto the grass and left it running while pulling a leaf off a tree.

Categories: News from Louisville