Giving Thanks

Send to Kindle

Lois and I are truly thankful every day of our lives. We’ve been blessed in so many ways, we couldn’t accurately count. Near the top of any list of blessings for us, you would find our wonderful godchildren. In 2008, we were extra-blessed, when Laura got married, and moved to NYC with her husband. They now live in the same building we do, so we get to see them more often than we ever used to!

Unfortunately, while Laura came north, David went south. He is doing his first year of medical residency at UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham). It was his first choice, and he loves it, but we miss him. We hadn’t seen him since Laura’s wedding on July 5th. For us, that’s an unusually long stretch not to see one of them.

We’ve now corrected that, and were rewarded (blessed) with a near-perfect long weekend!

On Tuesday afternoon, we drove from Zope to Durham and spent the night in a Hampton Inn there. The next morning we picked up a very good friend of David’s (and for a long time, ours too, once David introduced us) and we headed to Birmingham, AL. The drive was going along fine, including a successful detour off of I85 to avoid a horrible accident, until we hit Atlanta (mid-afternoon). We were stuck in traffic for nearly two hours, for what should have been a 15-20 minute drive-by. All things considered, not that bad.

We got to Birmingham at a reasonable hour nonetheless, and after checking out David’s apartment, headed for a wonderful meal at La Mesa Cantina and Grill. It’s a different type of Mexican Restaurant. The place is gorgeous (including the bathrooms). You can check out the photo gallery and the menu if you might ever find your way there. I had three soft tacos, two with fried oysters and one with grilled skirt steak. They were excellent, but the oysters were truly outstanding. Next time, I’d probably go for three of them!

David Wes Le Mesa

David and Wes at Le Mesa

After some coffee and catching up at David’s, Lois and I headed to the local Embassy Suites to check in, leaving Wes and David to catch up (and play NCAA Football on the PS3).

Epic Battle

Epic NCAA Battle

I have chronicled my WiFi woes at the hotel in two separate posts, here and here. Without that experience, I would have described this weekend as perfect as opposed to near-perfect. 😉

On Thanksgiving day we headed to David’s mid-morning and relaxed there for a while. We then headed out for lunch and a movie. Amazingly, there were no places open for lunch near the movie theater, which was at a giant outdoor mall called The Summit. We even drove around a bit in the surrounding neighborhood, and every single place (other than McDonalds) was closed.

We decided to be pragmatic and we bought prepared food at Brunos (a supermarket near the theater) and ate it at a table that they provide expressly for this purpose). No one would confuse our lunch for a gourmet meal, but we all enjoyed it nonetheless, and it ended up being very convenient.

Brunos Lunch

Brunos Lunch

We headed over to the movie early, which gave us enough time to split a large buttered popcorn (which was indeed gourmet!) 😉 between the three guys.



We saw Four Christmases. Most of it was laugh-out-loud funny, with a few way-too-stupid scenes thrown in to ensure that it wasn’t a great movie… Seriously though, if you like comedies, there are definitely a ton of laughs. Both Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon do a great job, and the majority of the supporting cast is excellent as well. Wes and I were repeating lines from the movie for days, so it definitely hit the funny bone.

In addition to the humor, there are a few reasonably deep family/life insights, most of which are delivered cleverly or at least in an interesting way, so there is even a bit of redeeming value to the movie. 🙂

We returned to David’s and relaxed the rest of the afternoon, and mentally prepared for the big Thanksgiving meal. Finally the time arrived, and we headed back to our hotel for the event. In the lobby of the Embassy Suites is a Ruth’s Chris. We’ve all had many great meals at various Ruth’s Chris restaurants over the years, so we had no doubt that this one wouldn’t disappoint. We were right.

We could have ordered a traditional TG Turkey dinner, but the boys all went for steak. No surprise, as we had been talking about it for a few days beforehand. We also shared an exceptional bottle of Ridge Zinfandel (2006). Don’t get me started about how great most bottles of any Ridge wine are. It’s one of my all-time favorite wine makers.

Ruth's Chris Thanksgiving

Ruth's Chris Thanksgiving Dinner

We skipped dessert there and headed back to David’s, where we had coffee and some cheesecake that we bought earlier at Bruno’s. It was fantastic.

The next morning (Friday), David left early for an overnight on call shift. That’s 30+ consecutive hours in the hospital, usually with little-to-no sleep. We don’t understand the point, but it’s a regular part of his life/schedule, so it’s just a fact of life at this point.

We decided to take the opportunity to create an adventure for the rest of us, which I’ve documented separately. The only thing wrong with Friday was that David didn’t get to enjoy it with us, and that we didn’t get to enjoy David’s company. Otherwise, a perfect day!

On Saturday, we headed to David’s mid-morning to hang with Wes. After a few hours, David called to say that he was headed home. Lois and I went out to bring lunch back in. The plan was Chick-Fil-A (which I’ve never had the pleasure of), but rather than go to the one Wes directed me to, I allowed the GPS to pick a closer one, which ended up being closed. We brought back Quiznos instead, which served the purpose just fine.

You can tell just how wiped David gets after being on call. He needed a slightly larger shot of caffeine than Wes did. 😉

Extra Caffeine

Extra Caffeine

Right after lunch, David napped while Wes and I watched college football and caught up with emails. I created a mini-panic when I tried to fix what felt like a flaky WiFi router in David’s apartment. We had no Internet connectivity for nearly an hour. Eventually, I got it all working again, and it seemed less flaky, but there were moments when I was wishing to have flaky back. 🙁

When David woke up, we watched more football. We didn’t want to go to dinner until the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs Auburn – Roll Tide!) was over, because we were headed to Dreamland BBQ, which we assumed would be a mob scene during the game. We had an excellent meal there (with yet another round of extraordinary service!). Also, since the menu is limited (but exactly what we were interested in), they are constantly cooking all of the available items, so it’s as lightning as fast food, but clearly as good as cooked to order.

On Sunday, we headed to David’s mid-morning again (broken record). We watched the first half of an amateur movie on DVD called The Pinecone Priority. The movie is pretty poorly executed, but it has some extremely clever lines and concepts in it. Wes is one of the stars, so we were happy to watch it, even though it was over-the-top campy… If you watch the teaser/trailer (linked above), you won’t get a sense of how the movie itself is poorly executed, but you’ll see another form of poor execution. Most of the trailer is black. At exactly the 1:24 mark, you can barely see one scene. Wes is the guy on the left in that scene.

Here’s a better picture of Wes, taken by Lois, while Wes was on the TV. This time, he’s on the right. 😉

Pinecone Priority

The Pinecone Priority

We headed for PF Changs for lunch (back at The Summit). All of us count it among our favorite restaurants. The meal was exquisite, including our first taste of the Kung Pao Scallops. David and I split an order of Moo Shoo Pork, which simply couldn’t have been any better. We then did a little shopping, including picking up a Blue Ray DVD of Tropic Thunder to watch later on.

We relaxed back at David’s the rest of the afternoon and finished up watching The Pinecone Priority, and then David, Wes and Lois headed to an evening church service. I stayed at the apartment and played (and lost) in my weekly big poker tournamet (I already reported about the crushing loss I took in November…). They brought back pizza for dinner. I called the order in to Dave’s Pizza while they were still in church. The timing worked out perfectly.

We then watched Tropic Thunder. This movie is way over the top, and was definitely not a hit with the entire crowd. That said, it had some pretty funny scenes and lines in it, and the concept was quite clever, if overdone in the delivery. It seems that no one associated with this movie ever heard of the word subtlety. Given that I am a sucker for most forms of comedy (even reasonably bad ones), I likely enjoyed it more than the rest of them, but honestly, even I don’t recommend this one to anyone. 😉

After coffee and one last slice of the heavenly cheesecake, Lois and I headed back for one last night at the Embassy Suites. In the morning, we headed over for one last hug from David, and headed on the long trek back to Fredericksburg (and Zope). We dropped Wes at Durham, after stopping in the Hampton Inn where we stayed a week ago. I had accidentaly left my Treo charger in the room, and they were kind enough to hold it for me. We had to drive back through Durham anyway, so it wasn’t as inconvenient as it could have been.

We made it back to the hotel at 8:30pm, which was almost exactly 12 hours after we left Birmingham. We had essentially zero traffic the entire way, which was extraordinary, and another thing we give thanks for on this weekend.

We couldn’t be more thankful for this wonderful visit, regardless of whether it was Thanksgiving proper or not. We’re already counting the days until we find our way back to Birmingham (and Atlanta). 🙂

And, just because Lois loves this one… 😉

Ernie Tea Cup

Ernie's Tea Cup

Puppet Masters

Send to Kindle

We’re spending the long weekend in Birmingham, AL with our godson. We picked up a mutual friend of ours (Wes) in Durham on our way down here on Wednesday. Yesterday was one of our godson’s typical on call days, where he is in the hospital for 30+ hours in a row. As sad as we were to miss time with him, the three of us decided to turn lemons into lemonade and create an adventure for ourselves.

We drove to Atlanta mid-morning. We headed straight to a friend’s house and arrived at around 1pm (Atlanta and Birmingham are not in the same time zone). We had an amazing lunch in a local eatery, Ria’s Bluebird. Wes did something I have never seen before, and it was really cool. After the waitress described two incredible specials (the omelet of the day and a chicken special), Wes asked her to surprise him with one of them. I was impressed that she didn’t hem and haw, and just said “OK”.

I ordered the chicken special (stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and topped with a blackberry sauce!) and Wes ended up with that as well. We both couldn’t stop talking about how good it was, after not being able to stop enjoying it in the moment… As you can see, it looks as good as it tasted!

Rias Bluebird

Rias Bluebird

We then headed over to the main attraction of the day, seeing a Puppet Show! Yes folks, we were really looking forward to it. The show was performed at The Center for Puppetry Arts. It’s called Sam the Lovesick Snowman. Our tickets were waiting for us, as one of the puppeteers is a friend of the person we were visiting in Atanta.

If you are paying too much attention, then you will have noticed that I tagged this post (and categorized it) with Broadway. Obviously, this puppet show wasn’t on Broadway. That said, Broadway signifies the epitome of live performances (or at least they want to convey that), and this show qualifies as an incredible live performance.

Even a normal puppet show is filled with real acting. In this case, in addition to the puppet acting, the two puppeteers had a fair amount of time on stage as themselves. But even when a puppeteer is behind the scenes, they are voice acting (don’t laugh, Angelina Jolie doesn’t get the big bucks for doing a voice in Kung Fu Panda because she’s beautiful!), manipulating the puppets in a manner that is acting in the sense of transporting the audience somewhere, etc. In this show, they sang a bit too (reasonably well), including harmony.

There was a very good-sized audience yesterday. While there were many kids (no, really?), the kids didn’t get themselves there, so there were many adults (probably more than the number of kids. In addition, there were also people like us (four adults) who were there without kids, unabashedly. If you are an adult who isn’t comfortable going without a kid, do your friends or family a favor, and take their kids so that you can enjoy the show. 😉

The best kids entertainment has enough in it to entertain an adult. If it doesn’t, the adults won’t want to take the kids. Sometimes, it’s on a different level, where the kids have no idea why the adults are laughing. Sometimes it’s on the same level that the kids get. Sam the Lovesick Snowman has both. Everything that the kids loved we loved, for the same reasons the kids did. Yet, quite a number of times, there was a line that was just for adults (and no, I don’t mean adult content, but rather adult context for a particularly funny line).

The show is clever, heartwarming, funny, moves along at a good clip, etc. Everything you could want in 45 minutes of entertainment. When the show was over, the two puppeteers (Dolph Amick and Amy Rush) came out and explained how much of the show is performed. They show how some of the puppets work (rod puppets, hand puppets, etc.) and show how they use carts to move around the stage very quickly and be able to spin, etc.

I can only imagine the wonder in the kids’ eyes, because they were in our eyes as well. Not only doesn’t telling us how they did it spoil it in any way, it enhances the experience materially, as your mind boggles at how talented these puppeteers are to choreograph such a dance with so many characters in it, and only two of them working the magic.

If you don’t believe me, you can read an equally glowing review by a professional, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, written the same day we were enjoying the show! See, I’m not exaggerating about how good the show is. 🙂

Since Amy Rush is our friend’s friend, we were invited to hang around until the theater cleared, and we got a more detailed look at the behind the scenes happenings (Dolph was kind enough to come out and say hi to us as well, and to explain the magic). It’s not that we saw anything much more mysterious than everyone else did, but we got to ask questions, hold a few of the puppets (some are significantly heavier than you would think!), and we got to look at the actual staging from behind.

Wannabe Puppeteers

Wannabe Puppeteers

After that, Amy gave us a personal tour of the puppet museum (which is open to everyone, and well worth visiting). Having a passionate puppeteer give you a tour is an extra special treat, because you can get insight and details that would otherwise escape you. Thanks Amy!

Fraggle Rock Puppets

Fraggle Rock Puppets

We topped off a wonderful day with an amazing meal at Watershed. We’ve heard about Watershed a number of times from our friend, so we were really looking forward to the experience. Not only didn’t it disappoint, it exceeded our expectations! Starting with the drinks, it was obvious that this restaurant doesn’t aim to duplicate any other, but rather looks to blaze its own trail. I had a fig martini (I love figs, but have never seen a fig martini before). The ladies had beet martinis (I took a taste, it was fantastic).

All three appetizers were terrific, but the Shrimp Grits were so heavenly that Lois ordered an extra one to go, and she served it as a side to our godson this afternoon when he came home from a 30+ hour on call shift at the hospital. I was a little nervous as to whether it would taste even 1/2 as good reheated the next day, but he said it was awesome, so we now know the grits travel well! 🙂

We were warned that the Georgia Pecan Tart with Shortbread Crust was indescribably delicious. After getting assurance from Wes that he would share some of his, I ordered the Carrot Cake. We each took 1/4 of the others dessert. The Carrot Cake was very good, but my oh my, the Pecan Tart was indeed indescribably delicious, so I won’t try. 😉

The service at both Ria’s Bluebird and Watershed was exceptional. In fact, everyone we interacted with in Atlanta was very nice and warm. Not to put anyone else down, but it’s possible that our waitress at Watershed is just moonlighting from her normal job, which is likely an Angel! 🙂

After excellent hugs all around, we trekked the 2.5 hours back to Birmingham in the rain the whole way, but the high never wore off. It was a fantastic day, with fantastic people. We are all very thankful (on this weekend in particular) to get to call Amy Rush a friend as well, giving us another reason for getting back to Atlanta sooner rather than later!