Friday, March 05, 2010


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    Thursday, March 04, 2010

    On our initial scouting trip to Houston, we got a little lost while driving around looking at neighborhoods downtown. When we eventually found the place we were looking for, and I can only describe the block as "up and coming" or "transitional". You know the type streetscape that I'm referring to: empty lot, crack house, $500k townhouse, quickie-mart type place, run down looking bar-b-que place that might actually serve good food. I'm not a snob, I mean our neighborhood in Chicago is literally at the intersection of ghetto and tony - but I wasn't moving to this particular property. The only worthwhile aspect of the expedition was bumping into Fannin Flowers (4803 Fannin St) on the way there. Driving down the street the following words escaped my mouth, "are those...moss monkey topiaries???" And indeed they were.

    Of course, as soon as we moved here I knew we'd be headed back to purchase the primate plant. Ironically, I passed the place a few weeks ago while driving myself to the emergency room :) (I didn't stop then, we went back last weekend)

    In addition to monkeys, they have small elephants, giraffes, and bears.

    Small, you say? Well, they are small when compared to the topiaries at River Oaks Plant House, whose topiaries are actually visible on Google Earth Street View.

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    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    The Mexican Pottery Store

    Before we can register our car in Texas, we have to get a state vehicle inspection. I was told that this can be taken care of at any oil change place, but of course the first one that I went to did not provide this type of service. The helpful worker said that there were a few places nearby, and pointed us in the general direction.

    We found the place with no problem (yes, we're navigating places without the GPS now), and decided to take a walk around the neighborhood during the 15-20 minutes the process would take. We looked a little out of place - Houston ain't really a walkin city :) A block away we stumbled upon Mercado Mexico (2206 Richmond Avenue), which features every imaginable shape and size of painted pottery imported from Guanajuato, Mexico.

    I'm not exaggerating - platters, bowls, pots, urns, vases, bird baths, birds, squirrels, dogs, cats, monkeys, iguanas, you name it, it is in the yard or inside the house.

    Our to-do list that day included finding a pot for a gardenia on our terrace, so luckily we were focused and escaped with only one purchase. Something tells me we will be back.

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    Monday, March 01, 2010

    "Rain, becoming more intermittent by 11am. High 54."

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    Saturday, February 27, 2010

    Biting the Hand that Feeds You - Literally

    So why has the blog been so quiet? Do I have less to say now that I am in Houston? Or have I been otherwise detained...

    The saga began the night of Monday the 15th. Andy was packing for a quick trip to Germany and I was sitting on the sofa watching tv with Morgan, who was obsessed with a string from one of the plethora of moving boxes. Long story short, he went for the string and instead got my hand: his fang pierced deep into the base of my right index finger and his lower tooth gripped the other side.

    It was pretty painful, and I ran it under water for a long time, put pressure on it to stop the light bleeding, and then put polysporin and a bandage on it. The next morning it was swollen and I could barely bend it. I called my insurance company because 1) I just switched insurance companies because of the move so I don't have a card and 2) because of the move I don't yet have a local doctor. I spoke with one of the 24 hour nurses who said I needed to go to the urgent care right away, and located one about 4 miles away. Welcome to Houston :)

    So Andy headed off to Germany and I headed off to find the urgent care using the navigation system in the new car because I don't know my way around yet. The doc takes one look at my swollen pointer and says, "oh yeah, that's infected" and then orders x-rays to make sure there is no "foreign material" inside. The x-rays looked normal so he cleaned up the wound and gave me a prescription for Augmentin (heavy duty antibiotics). He drew a little line around the current swelling and said that if it got any worse I needed IV antibiotics. I then used the navigation system to find a pharmacy, and of course they had all kinds of problems processing the prescription because I am brand spanking new in the insurance system. Welcome to Houston :)

    Wednesday morning it wasn't looking good. I had a two hour conference call that I spent staring at my hand in different light conditions with the following going through my head, "is it more swollen? maybe just more red? It sure feels worse, I've had three of those horse pills - it should be getting better not worse, aw crap I should just go to the hospital and get it checked out, I'm sure they'll just hook me up to an iv for a few hours and then send me on my way, I wonder what hospitals are good here, should I check Yelp or something?"

    Luckily, I had also been looking for a primary care doctor and had been told that Memorial Hermann was a good hospital, so off I went (with the navigation system of course). I checked in, went through triage, and was taken back within about 15 minutes. Memorial Hermann is the Level 1 trauma center for Houston, so they are - um - busy. They didn't have a bed for me in the emergency room, so I was in an uncomfy chair in a hallway when they informed me that I was being admitted. HUH?? For a cat bite?? "Oh yes - very serious"

    Meanwhile, Andy was trying to reach me from Germany and wondering why I am not answering the home or my mobile phone, not responding to e-mail, and not responding to text messages. I had no signal in the emergency room, and when I left in the morning only thought that I would be gone for a few hours. I had spoken to my mom the previous day and mentioned that if it wasn't better I needed to go to the hospital, so when Andy called my mom in a complete panic, she googled "houston hospital" and actually found me! Go Mom !

    I finally got a bed in the "clinical observation unit" around 5. It was a private room with a Jack and Jill type bath shared with a room on the other side. I don't know who was over there because I never saw them. It reminded me a little of the Japanese communal toilet etiquette, except unlike Japan, the rules here worked.

    The first resident that saw me said that I should plan to be there for 1-3 days. Supposedly 80% of cat bites get infected, and deep puncture wounds that don't bleed a lot have a higher risk of infection. The words "three days" were still lingering out there when the next whammy hit me - I might need surgery! And not the "we'll numb up your hand and dig around" kind, the "full anesthesia tube down your throat for an hour" kind. NOW I'm unhappy. How could 9-year-old, 9 pound Morgan do this to me? He eats diabetic cat food and has two arthritic hind legs !! A few hand surgeons came to see me and there was lots of head nodding. They drew a new line to document the current swelling (down to about my wrist), showed me some surgery forms that I refused to sign :), and said they would be by first thing in the morning to see how the IV antibiotics were working.

    Andy called around 8pm (he did not receive the messages that my mom and I left him) and as soon as he found out what was going on, he got the first flight out of Deutschland. They kept me on IV antibiotics, restricted food and water (in case of surgery), and instructed me to keep my hand elevated to reduce the swelling. Thinking this might reduce the chance of surgery, you can be damn sure my arm was pretty much sticking straight up until the surgeon came back in the next morning. It isn't like I had any hope of sleeping anyway, with people coming in pretty much every hour to give various medications, take vital signs, or draw more blood. OH - and they also put me in compression socks hooked up to this annoying pneumatic pressure thing. According to the nurse, EVERYONE gets them to avoid clots due to inactivity. They were so freaking annoying that I finally told her that I needed them disconnected so I could go to the bathroom hoping that she would forget to hook them back up !

    Thursday morning the hand surgeon returned and said that it did not look worse, but I wasn't out of the woods yet. He agreed to hold off on the surgery and watch it some more (and let me eat). Unfortunately this meant a tray of egg substitute, some bowl of mushy stuff, and an english muffin (you can guess what part of the meal I ate). One of the few people I know in Houston stopped by to see me in the morning, which totally lifted my spirits and kept the steady stream of anxious medical students out of my room for a while :)

    Around noon I was transferred to a room in the Cullen pavilion. This room was also private, and it had a private bath with a garbage can that took up 60% of the free floor space. The decor was kind of 60's motel, but as long as I wasn't being prepped for surgery I could care less. The tv had cable so when people weren't messing with me, or I wasn't feeling totally lousy, I watched plenty of food network and HGTV. Andy arrived around 4 - completely drained after 1) not knowing what was going on and 2) flying to Germany on Tuesday and flying back on Wednesday. After a quick visit and talking to a few of my doctors, he went back to the apartment to feed the cats and pick up a list of things for me (remember, when I left Wednesday I thought I would be gone for a few hours :).

    That night the nurse brought him a fold out chair so he could stay over and experience the bi-hourly annoyances. At one point, a tech woke me up by trying to take my blood pressure on the arm with the swollen hand, and then asked me about my poop. ENOUGH. The hand surgeon returned at 5am on Friday and said that I was continuing to improve, but he wasn't ready to send me home just yet - one more day. ARGH. I was beginning to go a little nutty.

    So another day of HGTV, food network, and hospital food. They give you a menu and you can order what you want when you want, and you can even order a meal for your "caregiver". The only catch was that my meal had to meet dietary requirements (i.e. heart healthy) whereas Andy could have whatever he liked. I wasn't that hungry anyway (painkillers made me kind of nauseous), and if I really wanted something Andy could go get it (like a cupcake from Starbuck's or bacon from the cafeteria).

    When the doctors came to see me on Saturday morning (day FOUR), I was going to stage a revolt if they didn't discharge me, but luckily they brought good news. It took several hours to complete all of the paperwork and it wasn't until after noon that they disconnected my IV and wheeled me down to the lobby. SHEESH.

    And now I have 10 days of three different heavy duty antibiotics three times a day. But I can move it more each day, and the black area surrounding the main puncture wound (necrosis) is getting smaller and smaller.

    Morgan, of course, has no idea what he did and is needier than ever because he was left alone for four days :)

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    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    After a week in Houston, we're still buried in boxes but things are settling down to normal. Morgan and Bailey were amazing little travelers and have already adapted to their new surroundings (many more sun spots here so they're happy). Our new place (which is temporary until the condo sells) is in a fabulous neighborhood, and we overlook a wooded area and the Buffalo Bayou. So far so good.

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    Friday, January 29, 2010

    After ten years in Chicago, we're packing up and heading South.

    Total box count:
    33 Small
    23 Medium
    4 Large
    4 Wardrobe
    Many Other Random Things

    Of course, that doesn't include everything because our furniture and other miscellanea are staying until our condo sells. The theory is that it will show better furnished, and once our place sells we'll have everything shipped. That's the plan at least :)

    The boys are not at all excited about the upcoming extended road trip. In fact, they positively freaked out when we took them to the common room to hang out during an open house a few weekends ago. Despite my pleas, our vet denied my request for valium or xanax (for them !) and instead recommended Rescue Remedy. While it does seem to mellow Bailey out a bit, let's just say that Morgan does not look as peaceful as the puppy in the advertisement.

    Stay tuned for updates from the road...

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    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Awake before 4am today, so I might as well post some monkey pictures :)

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    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Friday Monkeys

    I also tried a few shots with the fisheye lens on this trip, forgetting how ridiculously close you have to be to a subject when taking a portrait. While trying to get a shot of a few monkeys soaking close to the edge, this one ran past so I held the camera out and fired away. Not entirely in focus, and I think I got splashed a bit, but I kind of like the result.

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    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Tuesday Monkeys of the Day

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    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Monday monkeys

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    Friday, January 08, 2010

    Most of the monkeys were remarkably well groomed, with ample fluffy, soft-looking fur. Others, like this one, sported an almost frizzy coat.

    And here's the daily baby picture...

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    Thursday, January 07, 2010

    As I mentioned before, the snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) were a photographers dream. Often times they would literally sit motionless, and as much as I hate to project human emotions on animals, I swear they were enjoying the warmth of the volcanic bath.

    At one point it began to snow, big fluffy flakes (the kind of snow I actually like), and the mother pictured below sat and nursed her baby about five feet from me. Needless to say, they drew a lot of photographic attention.

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    Wednesday, January 06, 2010

    The final numbers are in, and we shot just over 3,000 images (not including pictures with our point and shoot cameras, or video...).

    AND I still have pictures to go through from South Africa, and Botswana, and the Bahamas - good thing we have nothing planned in the immediate future!

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    Friday, January 01, 2010

    We just arrived to Tokyo, after two nights in Kushiro. The flight in provided us with a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji at sunset, and then a phenominal full moon rising over Tokyo, none of which we have pictures of in case you are wondering :)

    We were a bit worried after the first day in Kushiro, as the only Japanese cranes that we saw were either stuffed or in photographs, but things turned around on the second day and the sightings were what we expected.

    We seemed to be the only foreign tourists in Kushiro, though definitely not the only photographers. While waiting at baggage claim, we saw a 500mm Nikon 1.2 lens in a crate come off the carousel, and at each of the popular spots there was some serious camera power. Some folks even had camper-van type set-ups where their family would hang out in warm comfort while they stood out in the cold (most outfitted in full snowsuits). While wandering on some backroads following what we thoughts was a flight path, we happened upon a few local viewpoints. These guys are hard core and very protective of their view spots (at least that was the vibe that I got when we drove slowly past and got the evil eye). One had a full snow bunker-hide that positioned the photographers low to the ground and the other was a series of roadside folding chairs. And these guys were out there ALL day, both days that we were here... As I said, hard core.

    So now we're at the Excel hotel at Haneda airport, coincidentally in the exact same room that we had three nights ago. Tomorrow morning we head over to Narita for the flight back to Chicago.

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A picture every few days or so...


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