Goodbye Branson

We’ve come to the end of our time in Branson. It was relaxing and I’m ready for the final push home. Our visit included great food, a multiple-day Yellowstone episode binge, constant cold rain and a nice visit with the in-laws. We managed to stay 100% away from political topics, a good and mature move – we’re very much on opposite sides of the candidates, the political parties and almost every issue. So avoiding all that was key to enjoying our time. Just goes to show that as much as I like debate, sometimes it’s better left behind. It’s more productive to focus on the things you have in common than the things you don’t.

One highlight of our visit was getting to see a cool little bluegrass band live, inside a nicely-socially-distanted venue. The band, Bluegrass Remedy, covered everyone from Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley to Alison Krauss. They did a nice job, primarily on the backs of a stellar banjo picker and a hot-shit guitarist. We had a great time and I got a few decent pictures (to be included later).

All in, this was a nice stop and I was happy to get to know the in-laws a bit better. Win-win.

Unnatural disasters

2020 is still churning out chaos like no other year. Big snowstorms (OK, TX and NM, all along our route home), the Nth hurricane of the year hitting NOLA (where my friend Jon lives), fires in densely-populated OC (where my friend Andrew lives), new all-time highs for US COVID infections, and of course the constant background of the Election of the Century. I think the word “shitstorm” was coined for just this moment.

And yet I’m fairly calm and sanguine about it all. I think knowing that this crew (above and below) is safe and sound has much to do with that. Plus I’m getting better all the time at not stressing about the things I can’t change.

Queen for a day

Louisville food tour part two

Thinking back on our final week in Louisville, there are a few other notable meals we had at great Louisville restaurants. Here they are, in no particular order:

We had a late lunch with in-law nephew Alex at Mussel and Burger Bar. (Pro tip – to avoid crowds and have max social distance between your table and others, indoor or out, slide lunch to 130-ish. Works every time.) MBB always delivers for us, and I had an absolutely great Argentine Burger. One MBB burger is pretty much the only meal you’ll need for the day, and this was no exception. Well, that and a pile of truffle fries.

Tacos Luchador – we ordered a massive takeout dinner from Luchador. This was a first for me, and I really liked their tacos. Very satisfying, creative and tasty take on tacos. But not cheap – this was a pricey takeout meal for five. I’ll admit that the two pitchers of margaritas might have something to do with that.

One evening SIL Greg decided he wanted some more exotic fare, so we ordered take-out meals from Queen of Sheba, featuring authentic Ethiopian food. This was a first for me, so we ordered pretty much blind. Everything was delicious, so we’ll be back for more Ethiopian.

We had a nice outdoor lunch at The Cafe, sitting outdoors at the new location. I can see why it’s Louisville’s #1 lunch venue – everything we saw served was hunger-worthy. I had a Rueben and two nice glasses of chilled Rose, so I was 100% ready for a nap afterward. The Cafe is highly recommended.

On our last day there Emily ordered a batch of Chip’s Cookies for us. I’d heard great things, but these cookies were…spectacular. Simply the best I’ve had in 60+ years, and that takes in a lot of cookie territory. The sea salt treatment on them is their secret sauce. I’m going to see if I can get them shipped to Socal.

All in, Louisville continued to live up to its foodie city reputation. I don’t lose weight when I’m there.

Luck ran out

We’ve had great luck with weather over the last 17 days, but our luck has run out. We made it to the in-laws’ estate in Branson (“estate” not said in jest, the place is huge) where we plan to stay for a couple of days. We’ve got thunderstorms here – not terrible luck, but somewhat constraining.

The really bad luck starts Wednesday, wherein we intended to drive to NM. We planned to cross OK, the TX panhandle and eastern NM on Wednesday, but an early winter storm will deposit lots of snow and ice on that exact route on Tuesday and Wednesday. So that seems ill-advised.

We’ll wait a day and decide whether to wait a day and keep our route or depart on Wednesday as planned and drop way south to avoid the snow.

Meanwhile, even with the rainy weather I’m going to make a pilgrimage to the new Payne’s Valley course that was featured a month ago. It’ll be sad not to jump right in and play it, but at least I can do some recon.

COVID – not going away anytime soon

Wow. I’ve been watching the US daily case rate rise the last couple of weeks, and the acceleration in new cases is now scary. We just hit the all-time daily high for new cases (approx. 85K yesterday!), and experts are predicting >100K cases/day rates soon. This disease is really rolling over America. And of course the rise in deaths will follow the new cases by 2-4 weeks.

At the same time a new epidemic model was published in Nature, a first-tier prestigious science publication. Its conclusions are chilling:

Projections of current non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies by state—with social distancing mandates reinstated when a threshold of 8 deaths per million population is exceeded (reference scenario)—suggest that, cumulatively, 511,373 (469,578–578,347) lives could be lost to COVID-19 across the United States by 28 February 2021.

Biden was correct – this is going to be one dark winter. After we return to CA, looks like it will be time to hunker down hard once again. Personal silver lining – I can finish rewriting my novel.

But there can’t really be a silver lining when so many people close to me are still vulnerable to a disease with unknown and often deadly results. My dad and stepmom in the assisted living facility, Em and Greg and the kids, my brothers, my close friends…the disease hasn’t touched them yet, as least that we know. So I dread this huge wave of infectiousness that now looks inevitable.

Given this context, I feel relieved that we made the hard decision to cancel the Dionne family Christmas gathering at our place this year. It would have been 19-ish people coming in from all over the country, all inevitably gathered in the kitchen, eating, drinking and laughing. That sounds wonderful, other than the infectious risk of such an event. We made the decision to cancel about six weeks ago. Now, given the huge wave of new infections, it looks like a very good decision. Sometimes you get it right.

Big week

It’s a big week. We’re killing time right now getting ready to watch the Presidential debate. That should be interesting.

Barack Obama gave a blistering speech calling out Trump’s many flaws this week. He’s broken with tradition – ex-Presidents seldom weigh in on a sitting President – and I’m grateful he has. We need his clear, logical appeal to Americans. And these are extreme circumstances.

We’ve also had a mysterious announcement from NASA that they have some exciting news to share about the Moon, but they’re not saying anything until Monday. Weird. I hope it’s actually something significant.

And in the biggest news of the week, Olivier Sarr AND Jacob Toppin are approved by the NCAA and SEC to play for the Cats this season! That makes the Cats a much stronger team – Sarr is one of the premier big men in the country. So if COVID doesn’t screw up the 20-21 season like it did for 19-20, we’ll have a great run. I can’t wait.

Also in our big week, we visited the Falls of the Ohio River (featured picture above) and a pumpkin farm / kids fair in Shelbyville (below). Very Octobery and lots of fun.

Around the world in 80 meals

This entry is a small Louisville culinary journal – we’ve had some great meals since arriving in Louisville. That’s been much appreciated after eating only road snacks (stuff we can carry in a cooler) and fast food along the way.

Our second night here we dined at Barn8. Even on a rainy evening, the place was beautiful – a great visual and culinary experience. Picture of the bar area above. First time there and I definitely want to return. We ate in a converted horse stall, a definite first. We started the meal with a rich, creamy sweet potato bisque. Our entrees were their heritage pork chop and a fennel bucattini. I picked up a nice bottle of small batch bourbon at their extensive bottle shop on the way out.

The very next morning we had brunch at Con Huevos on Frankfort Ave. The food at Con Huevos never disappoints, starting with the perfectly-done soft boiled eggs. I had the chilaquiles con huevos, with chorizo. An extremely tasty gut bomb – I love it at the time, and regret it a bit hours later. Very filling.

Later that day we picked up some pecan-chocolate-chip cookies at Blue Dog Bakery. Can’t go wrong with Blue Dog.

Yesterday was rainy, so we declared a movie afternoon. We brought in salads and a monster pizza from The Post. The Post’s NY-style pizza is about as good as it gets, and their 20-inch pie is really something.

Today we had an excellent Plan B lunch at Ciao, over on Payne Street (Plan A was Logan St Market, but they were unexpectedly closed – a gas leak.) I had a mimosa, monkey bread (!) and a pesto pasta with amazingly tender chicken chunks. My lunchmates had the lasagna, big portions baked perfectly.

And we’re only halfway through our visit. Louisville is a foodie town, even with the pandemic putting a damper on things.

Giants

Took advantage of a gloomy day today to visit Bernheim Forest and see the giants. It was a great walk and was nice to be out in the woods. Grandson Hudson loved it, and we enjoyed seeing the natural world through his eyes. He scrambled around some rocks and I called him a goat – he took great offense to that, and declared “I not goat, I Hudson!”. Can’t argue with that.

There’s a lot to do around Louisville. I’m glad we’re taking advantage of our time here to get out and about, COVID be damned.

More pictures later. I moved my entire Photos library to an external drive – it freed up lots of room on the Mac, but it adds an extra step or two to importing and using pictures.

Forest Giants and Fam
One happy dude

“The difference is entirely one of setting.”

I sure miss Ian Banks. And Ian M. Banks even more.

Simon Stephenson has written a beautiful piece about Banks, published on Tor.com. It starts like this:

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

That might just be the greatest opening line ever written, and I am allowed to say that because I did not write it. It is the opening salvo to Iain Banks’ 1992 novel The Crow Road.”

Every time I read a Banks book I’m inspired to be writer and intimidated that I’ll never be as good as him. As soon as I get home I’m going to grab my paper copy of The Crow Road and read it again.

Uh oh…

It seems that 2020 is not quite finished with us. The Rona is surging in the US and across northern Europe. US daily new cases have moved from 30,000 only a few weeks ago to over 70,000 yesterday! The seven-day moving average of new cases is tilted sharply upward (below), and the deaths will inevitably follow in 2-3 weeks. The University of Washington COVID-19 model, by now pretty well calibrated with reality, is predicting 390K US deaths by February 1st. 390K! President Biden will inherit a broken economy and an out of control pandemic. He’s got his work cut out for him.

Closer to home, there’s an outbreak in my Dad’s assisted living facility. Four residents and three staff have tested positive. Bad, real bad. At least we’re in KY and can respond quickly if either Dad or Phyllis get sick. It’s a helpless feeling, nonetheless.

One bright spot. Biden’s predictive polling lead seems to be holding up, and here in Louisville there are Biden/Harris signs everywhere. Everywhere. And I haven’t seen a single Trump sign, unlike what we saw in the vastness of the Great Plains, covered with MAGA manure. So, good for Louisville, a progressive town in a sadly-still-backward state.

Landed in KY and Novid

We made it to our destination today and are getting comfortable in the Airbnb. Have already seen the grandkids and it’s already worth the trip. But we’re beat.

We made a decision to get a COVID test in Columbia MO yesterday, the day before arriving in KY, hoping that we’d get our negative result quickly and could visit the grandkids with no risk and no mask. That actually worked, but not due to any cooperation from the Missouri health systems.

We saw a drive-up test facility in a parking lot very near our Columbia MO hotel and tried there. It was run by the University of MO, and when we pulled up they informed us that they would only test if we had symptoms or if we had a doctor’s referral (?!). I tried reasoning with the gatekeepers there, but they were adamant. I don’t know who made that decision, but it felt like they were trying to reduce testing, not make it more available.

We were informed that we could get a test at any urgent care clinic. So after checking in, we found the closest urgent care, a strip-mall facility run by NextEra. We checked in, inside a small windowless, ventilation-free room with 7-8 other people already in it. We filled out the forms and got the hell out of that room ASAP.

We waited outside and watched as they serviced about one person every 20 minutes. Already road weary, we decided to wait back at the hotel and they could call us if/when they got to our place in the queue. At that point I thought our plan to get an early test was down the drain.

Two hours later, when we had already given up and were getting settled in, they called. It was a hard decision, but we got re-dressed and drove over t NextEra for our tests. We didn’t have to stay in the still overcrowded waiting room and were ushered directly into the treatment areas.

Two sets of vital signs, a few questions and a double swab later we were done. This was the rapid Abbott test, so we expected our results within 24 hours. We got them about three hours later; both negative as expected. Novid!

I’m glad we went to the trouble of establishing that we’re Novid. It made our first visit with the kids much nicer. But call me very, very unimpressed with Missouri’s dedication to testing. That might explain their overall recent positivity rate of 11%.

Day 2 in Junction

Today we decided to get back out into nature, though this time with a real hike instead of a car trip. We chose the hike to the Mica mines south of the Monument area we visited yesterday. Alltrails has a good summary of the hike here. Definitely worth a visit.

It was 2.6 miles with gradual ups and downs except for the steeper staircase section below. I’m happy to say that the new knee held up perfectly – not a twinge. My actual cardio stamina, though…that still needs work. But a 2+ miles hike was a real milestone, so to speak.

There’s a LOT of beautiful outdoor activity here in Grand Junction. The National Park, the Colorado River, hundreds of miles of bike and hiking trails. I’m impressed.