Currently living in Honolulu!!! Woohoo….about 3 blocks from Waikiki Beach. Here’s a sunset shot from the beach – it’s beautiful every day!
Headshots for actors, photos for fashion modeling, or pictures just for fun….I am available!
Currently living in Honolulu!!! Woohoo….about 3 blocks from Waikiki Beach. Here’s a sunset shot from the beach – it’s beautiful every day!
Headshots for actors, photos for fashion modeling, or pictures just for fun….I am available!
Just to update those of you who haven’t heard.
I switched insurance companies last Fall and decided to go get a base line checkup to make sure everything was OK. Turns out it wasn’t. They discovered my heart had a Mitral Valve Prolapse with severe regurgitation, and Atrial Fibrillation.
I went in for open heart surgery on Tuesday the 16th of January.
Hospital is a special kind of torture. I, of course, didn’t sleep the night before surgery, then although I did sleep DURING surgery I think my body knew there was some bad stuff happening. After waking up, the worst part was being unable to breathe deeply and in pain AND no sleep. Of course the usual, nurses coming in every 15 minutes or so to wake me if I happened to fall asleep to draw blood, check BP and heart rate, give me meds, check dressings, etc etc. AND there was a lunatic on the floor yelling,“NURSE….you’re trying to kill me!”
Nurse,”No…we’re trying to help you!”
This banter went on for hours.
My two days in ICU were the worst. Then I got transferred to another room and out of ICU to a private room, so I was pretty happy and hoping for some sleep but that didn’t happen. The fire alarm went off!!! I heard a nurse yelling, “You can’t smoke in there!!!”.
For some reason they weren’t clear on how to turn it off…so the alarm went on for at least 45 minutes. Finally they reset it and just as I thought I MIGHT get some sleep, a technician came in and took an X-ray and decided they might have to put in a chest tube because I had an air pocket under my right lung.
That was the last straw…. After they left, I just broke down from lack of sleep, pain, and inability to breathe deeply. I sobbed but Kaz is a rock. SO the good news is, she is unwavering in her support and strength….bad news is, if you need a bit of coddling….not gonna happen. She held me in her arms long enough to say,”You’ll be fine. I’m going back to the hotel to get some sleep.” Oddly, I am constantly amazed at her ability to know what I need more than I do.
Poor Kaz was amazing during all of this and hardly got any sleep either and ironically, the fire alarm went off at her hotel at 4AM that morning. What is it with us and fire alarms!?? Her biggest complaint was that there were all these hot young firemen running around and she hadn’t had time to put on her makeup.
I managed to get a tiny amount of sleep Thursday night, then the good news came. They decided against the chest tube because the air pocket had shrunk and they thought it would be reabsorbed.
So I got discharged on Friday evening just 4 days from entering the hospital. It’s hard to imagine that the technology is now available for open heart surgery to be so minimally invasive.
They repaired my mitral valve by reconstructing it, then sewed in a kevlar ring to make the valve slightly smaller, then added four gortex chords because the tendons to my mitral valve had broken off (which is, in part why they were floppy), they also did what’s called a “cryo maze” procedure where they literally burn (with a tool full of liquid nitrogen) a maze into your heart to create scar tissue so that your electrical signals will only go one way. It is a way to fix the atrial fibrillation. Then they trimmed off a “left atrial appendage” because it is apparently a part of the heart that can be problematic with A Fib. Last but not least, they did a cardiopulmonary bypass. I’m still not sure why they did that and there was no discussion of it beforehand other than to give Dr. Bethencourt (the surgeon) permission to do whatever he needed when he got in there. If you’d like to see the Mitral Valve repair procedure, it’s on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhhWu4JCrBw It’s animated – so no worries about it being too gory.
I’m fascinated by this stuff, so I was really glad I did my research and DIDN’T believe the first Doc I consulted with. He told me that the DaVinci machine (which is the robotic device Dr.Bethencourt used to perform my surgery) – look it up on line – so cool!) was good but “Not quite there, yet!”. What he should have said was that HE was not there yet or that his hospital couldn’t afford one, or whatever. I wanted to punch him. It was like going to a photographer today and saying,”How about digital!?” And the photographer saying,”Well…it’s good but just not there yet!”
I wonder how many people go through lengthy unnecessary pain because of his “advice”. Granted – there are some conditions that cannot be treated in a minimally invasive way….but if you ever have heart issues – be sure to do your research.
So I’m home. It’s only been two weeks and I walked about a mile today. I haven’t taken any pain meds since I was discharged, but I’m still sore and I try to pull my legs up against my chest to cough or sneeze to avoid the “hot knife to the groin” pain. That’s from the two 3” incisions that were made to put me on the heart/lung machine. Other than those two incisions, I have 5 incisions in the right side of my chest. I’m telling everyone I was in a knife fight!
I have a one week, two week, and one month, then a 3 month follow up visit. After 3 months I should be back to almost normal….or in my case better than my old normal! I have 30% more blood flow and NONE of it going backwards!
So – glad to be home with my little family. To see my little boys face…perfect.
I’ll be back to work next week! AMAZING!!
We checked out at 7:30 am in order to catch our train. It was chilly and wet and our mood was a bit somber because it was our last day in Japan.
In the station we bought our last bento box and took a bullet train to Shinagawa (Tokyo) then the Narita Express to the airport. We had reserved our seats on the train so we were in the “Green Car”. We overheard some idiot Americans complaining about there not being seats available when the truth was, they hadn’t reserved any. They were politely (and I mean VERY politely – almost apologetically – as is customary in Japan) to go to another car that was not reserved seating. Whenever I travel, I am often embarrassed by Americans. The entitlement, rudeness, and lack of respect for other cultures is such a shame.
I LOVE how clean Japan is. We traveled many many miles and I never saw as much as a tissue on the railroad tracks.
And while I am at it, the Japanese have a lot of tile roof houses. My favorite are these beautiful blue, almost iridescent, tiles. I want one!
Carol and Russell were on a different plane for the trip back, so we said our goodbyes and waved as they hauled luggage, some of it ours that we had dumped on them – thank you Carol and Russell.
At the Narita airport we made our final purchase…Royce Chocolate. There are some things the Japanese do better than anyone else. Sushi (obviously), sake (Obviously), beef (Matsusaka not Kobe), and chocolate. If you ever have Royce Chocolate, it will make the best chocolate you have ever had, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 6 or 7. If you ever have it, you will immediately go out and buy a ticket to Japan so you can go get some more.
In the Narita Airport we had our last meal in Japan.
Squi, with his eternally positive nature, had Cherry Blossom Cake!
Kaz had Japanese meatloaf and tempura shrimp.
I am embarrassed to say, I had a McDonald’s Cheeseburger. I think it was a “I’m unhappy to be leaving, guess I’ll go eat worms and pout” kind of thing.
Kaz just rolled her eyes and told our son, “You can’t take the white trash out of your Daddo!”
We were lucky and caught a great tailwind, so the flight only took 8 1/2 hours instead of the usual 10. We arrived at LAX and although it felt good to be home, we dreaded coming back to a society that doesn’t have a lot of the things we enjoyed so much in Japan…cleanliness, politeness, and the best food in the world.
The next day Mitsuru and Masataka picked us up again and took us to see a magnificent piece of engineering – a bridge in Sakaide. One strand of the cables that support the bridge could encircle the Earth 4 times! We were able to go up to a lookout point on a local hill and get a photo of the bridge.
From there, they took us to Kurahiki, which is a adorable town with a river running through the middle of it. On each side of the river are shops and if you feel compelled, there is a gondola in the river you can ride. It was interesting to me that the river going through the middle of town had no barriers along it’s edge and it’s about a 6 foot drop to the water. I wondered how many people had accidentally fallen in and also how different the Japanese culture is. In the USA, there would be barriers and people would STILL fall in and the sue the city. That doesn’t happen in Japan. I guess they have a concept of personal responsibility…what a great idea! We shopped and checked out yet another temple that was really lovely. Squi and Mitsuru enjoyed the koi ponds while we wandered the grounds.
When Mitsuru dropped us off at our hotel, he presented us with a bunch of sake that I was told I had ordered the evening before. Well, in spite of not remembering much about that – I’m glad I did….it’s delicious. There is a Muscat sake that takes 3 bunches of grapes to make ONE bottle…it’s astonishingly delicious!
That evening we “white trashed it”. We went to a HUGE mall, Aeon, and we ate at a food court!
We discussed all the food we had eaten in Japan and decided the best was in Okayama. But to quote Carol,”I wanna just eat my way through Japan!”
We were sad to leave Kyoto. So much to see and do there and lots more restaurants to check out! It was raining and chilly so we left our luggage at the hotel to do one last touristy thing before we headed for Okayama.
We visited Sanju Sangendo, a huge Buddhist Temple that houses 1001 statues made of Japanese Cypress and clad in gold leaf. I think it’s the longest temple in Japan but don’t quote me on that. Another of it’s claims to fame is the archery contest that has been held here every year since the Edo period. Pretty impressive.
We snagged our luggage from the hotel and dragged it all off to catch a train to Okayama. Squi made the mistake, again, of going to sleep, so our tradition of stacking stuff on his forehead while he naps, continues.
At the hotel in Okayama we got picked up by the President of the Muromachi Sake Company, Mitsuru Hanafusa and his son, Masataka . Kaz is almost like family to the owners, so we got the royal treatment. First thing on the list was to tour the Muromachi Sake factory, which of course, includes sampling just about everything!
The Japanese government gave Muromachi a grant to come up with different kinds of sake, so we sampled Tomato, White Peach, Golden Peach, Red Pepper, Plum, Grape, Ginger, and Yuzu sake! All crazy good but the White Peach was my favorite.
So, of course, what better endeavor to embark on than to take a family portrait of your host after drinking about 87 gallons of sake!? This was an evening I was happy to have an autofocus camera. The last time I tried to pull this trick off in Japan, I tripped over my tripod and crashed my camera through my hosts’ brand new shoji screen! Somehow I pulled it off this time without embarrassing myself too much. It was, of course, tricky to put the camera on a timer, push the button, then stagger over to get in the photo with them!
They then took us to dinner which was nothing short of spectacular…course after course of crazy wonderful Japanese cuisine and beer and more sake!
We slept well that night and because there are not preservatives in the sake – no hang over!!
Today Russell felt better and we’re off to be tourists again.We took the train to Uji to see a beautiful temple built in 1053. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byōdō-in
There is such a rich history here in Japan. Russell and I drive the girls crazy because we want to read all the signs and all about the history, whereas Kaz will take a look, grab a brochure, and check it off her list. Luckily, Squi can’t move quite that fast so we can easily compromise.
We jumped on another train and back to Kyoto we go. We hopped a taxi and got lucky because the driver was a pro tourist guide. He gave us lots of info and took us to our destination at Kiyozumi. There are about 67 gazillion steps up to the temple and they call them the “2 years steps” and another place called “3 years steps”. Basically, the legend has it that if you trip on these steps, you lose 2 or 3 years off your life. At my age, I was very careful.
We had a really nice dinner at Hashiba at a restaurant that didn’t usually open for dinner but we got lucky. They wereopen because, again by a stroke of luck, we happen to be there during “illumination time” which is a sort of celebration each year where they light up the streets.
As we descended the gazillion stairs, there were shops on each side so Carol and Kaz shopped while Squi begged for ice cream and Russell and I sat and people watched.
The girls got their shopping mojo satisfied, Squi got his ice cream, and off to yet another temple we went.
Kodaiji Temple has a really cool light show that is this crazy sort of 3D thing that they project onto the ground and into the trees.
So pretty and almost impossible to take a photo of….so sorry about that. There is also a wonderful bamboo forest there at Kodaiji Temple and the lights illuminating it were wonderful and magical.
After the light show we wandered around a bit on our way back to our hotel. One common thing to do in this area is look for all the Buddha statues and rub their bellies or pet them in some way. There is a map to where they all are but we just looked for the ones that were convenient to our path.
Carol and Russell were pretty worn out so they retired to their room but Kaz, Squi, and I headed back out to hit the town. We walked over to the Kyoto Tower http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3945.html. and up to the top floor to have a drink but it was packed and we couldn’t get in. We got a kick out of a sign that said,”Sign up for a sheet!” They meant to say “seat”.
We hit the streets again and found Yebisu Bar open and still serving. Squi chilled while Kaz and I had a drink, people watched, and munched on appetizers.
Another great day in Japan!
Little did we know what surprises THIS day had in store for us.
We decided to head out to Arashiyama and take what is LITERALLY called the “Romantic Train” for a lovely ride out through the country side and out into the boonies away from Kyoto. We arrived at the station with plenty of time to get our tickets for the Romantic Train that left from this same station an hour and a half later. We sat down to have a drink but I realized I’d left my backpack on the train!
Kaz dashed down and made some calls and inquiries and the bottom line was that she had to take another train to pick up my backpack and then try to get back before our “Romantic Train” left for the “peaceful and beautiful” ride.
Russell and Carol took a walk to a nearby temple, Squi and I visited the local miniature train set, while poor Kaz took off in a panicked dash to gather up my lost backpack, which, by the way had our passports and other stuff in it!
The miniature train set was incredible. It was about 1000 sq ft of miniature houses, trains, temples, Ferris wheels, and cityscapes. The room would even go dark and the whole set would light up in a night scene! Squi loved it.
Meanwhile, in the gift shop you could find crazy stuff like KitKat flavored sake, Romantic Train beer, and pizza flavored Pringles!
Much to all our amazement, Kaz made it back in time to make the Romantic Train and we boarded all happy and glad the ordeal was over….but it kinda wasn’t.
When we sat down, Russell said he didn’t feel well but that he thought he’d be OK till we got to our destination. He was kinda right but not totally. We had a lovely ride out through the country waving at rafters passing by below us in the river, checking out the mountains, and the occasional Cherry blossom.
We arrived at the teeny station at the end of the line out in the country side and we got up to leave the train…well…all of us except Russell. He was right about not feeling well. He stood up to get off the train but then sat back down and totally passed out!
Kaz ran to get someone while Carol and I sat with Russell not real sure what to do, but soon he came around and we helped him get up and off the train. We got him into the train station and after a bit of a visit to the restroom, he felt better. Turns out he’d had a sandwich that gave him a good dose of food poisoning. Still not sure what had happened, we took a cab back to our hotel in Kyoto and let Russell rest for the remainder of the day. I googled his symptoms and it was classic food poisoning, so assured as we were that he was out of the woods, we abandoned him and went sightseeing some more!
We walked a LOT. The Nishiki market was full of food, clothing, and souvenirs so Squi got some yummy ice cream while we just nosed about.
In the Gion district, which is famous as the birthplace of Geiko, we had some marvelous tempura while Squi was passed out on our laps.
A side note: the original name is Geiko (not Geisha). The origins of Geiko are rooted in Kyoto and the Geiko who work in Tokyo are called Geisha. In Japan, Geiko or Geisha are rock stars. They are highly educated and trained for YEARS before they are allowed to accept clients. A popular misconception in the States is that they are more or less high paid prostitutes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They are highly educated, politically and artistically aware, professional company. At $1000 – $5000 for an evening, it is usually wealthy business men who have Geiko as escorts to events and dinners. Their kimono alone can cost upwards of $20,000 or more, so it is not a profession taken lightly. We were VERY fortunate to have seen one Geiko as she left the House to meet with her client. More often than not, they will be picked up in front of the House or the business man will come to the House for dinner or an evening of entertainment. Three things to be aware of if you are in Gion in search of Geiko. One is that you will see LOTS of tourist girls dressed up as Geiko, so don’t get confused. Two, you will also occasionally see Maiko who are girls in training to become Geiko. Three – there are girls who dress up and parade around getting their photos taken with/by unsuspecting tourists and charging for the photos. These are NOT Geiko and as a matter of fact, it is fairly rare to see an actual Geiko.
Another thing that I find endlessly fascinating about Japanese history and culture is the architecture. The eaves of many old temples and shrines look like a crazy kind of Lincoln Log arrangement. We checked out Temple Kodaiji to make sure the light show we enjoyed the year before was still going on. It was.
I had a conversation with an American architect that I randomly ran into while we were there. He said the structures were interlocked so as to be stable but that the way they interlocked allowed them to move during and earthquake. It was so random to run into him while I was there staring at the structures and wondering, yet again, why and how they made these incredible structures. Strangley – we BOTH had just celebrated our birthdays the day before! What are the odds!
Back at the hotel Russell was recovering and we came home tired and ready to relax before getting up and doing it all again!
From Tokyo to Kyoto is about 320 miles, which translates to about 2 hours and a half bullet train ride. It’s a beautiful ride with, on a clear day, a lovely view of Mt. Fuji. While it was a wonderful ride, it was too cloudy and overcast to see Fuji.
While Squi took a nap, Carol, Russell, and I went to see the Fushimi Inari Gate.
There are supposedly 1000 tori gates here and as much as we’d love to ascribe deep spiritual meaning to them, the truth is they were donated by business men. Of course, there IS a bit of spiritual overtone to all tori gates but “spirituality” in Japan is much more secular than the implications in Western culture.
One very famous temple in Kyoto is Toji Temple. The 5 story (about 150 feet tall) wooden pagoda is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. How a structure like this can be built and continue to stand for HUNDREDS of years in such an earthquake prone country is mystifying.
Settling into our hotel rooms in Kyoto and having another great meal was perfect after a day of sightseeing and LOTS of walking.
But let me just say a little bit about Japanese toilets. They are…uh…interesting. While I like the nice warm heated seats, from there on, the choices are baffling.
The bidet…where it points, how strong, what temperature, what the spray looks like, etc etc…baffling. I dreaded going in to poop and having my toilet “crash” and having to reboot it! And of course, all the instructions are written in Japanese, so suffice to to say I got several surprises while in Japanese bathrooms.
Which brings me to one other thing. The Japanese do MOST things better than we do here in the States but one area where they fall behind is paper products. Napkins, paper towels, Kleenex, and the all important toilet paper. IF you get a napkin in a restaurant, it’s usually very thin and fragile as are the kleenex and TP. So I often bought extra thick kleenex to keep with me at all times for various purposes.
One last note to all who are considering a trip to Japan…there are very few public trash cans. You are expected to take your trash with you and dispose of it back at your hotel or home. It makes for a VERY clean society. I’ve looked out the window of many trains there and for miles and miles never seen as much as a kleenex or discarded paper on the railroad tracks! I admire that!
I LOVE the bullet train! The Hyabusa is the fastest of all the bullet trains in Japan and we decided to take it for a quick day trip up to Sendai, 300 miles north of Tokyo. The 300 mile trip takes an hour and a half and that’s with a couple of stops! It was a beautiful smooth ride and there was one area we traveled through where they had snow.
Russell, Carol and I explored a local temple near the train station in Matsushima and walked down to the ocean to see if we could find any signs of the tsunami’s destruction. At the temple there are limestone outcrops where the monks have carved “rooms” into the rock. The rooms were used as the final resting places for cremated remains and for occasional meditation areas.
We found nothing to indicate the area had recently been through an assault by a 60 foot wall of water. One thing that helped protect this area was all the islands that dot the offshore area there. It’s amazing how quickly the area has returned to business as usual. As a side note, when you see construction sites in Japan, the barriers erected are often these cute anime characters…again in the spirit of “Kawai” (cute). It’s seen throughout Japanese culture…funny to see a very dignified business man in a suit carrying a cell phone with a cute little charm dangling from it.
In the Sendai train station there were lots of places to eat and novelties to check out. One thing I admired greatly was a “dollar a shot” sake sampling vending machine! NOW we’re talking! Especially since I didn’t have to drive anywhere!
We enjoyed a wonderful bullet train back to Asakusa where we checked out yet another temple. I never get tired of admiring these structures. They are all a bit different and all have a unique history.
We went to dinner with Seri, Kaz’s old friend and Kaz’s bother, Takashi. We ate at Gonpachi restaurant and the good news is we had the best oysters EVER in my entire life! The bad news is, it’ll be hard to have oysters here in the States since they can’t compare. We did an oyster tasting… sampling them from all parts of the Japanese coast. Of course, along with tons of other food, there was the requisite over indulgence of sake and beer.
Great friends, great food, and a wonderful country make for a truly memorable experience!
One of the things about being in Tokyo, is getting used to spending a lot of time on trains. The thing about the subway system in Tokyo is that it is incredibly efficient. The trains are always on time and you can pretty much get anywhere in this huge city…that’s the good news. The bad news is most of the maps and legends are written in Japanese with occasional English. There are FOUR levels of subway underground and to get from point A to point B, you may have to go down to level 1, take a train for a couple stops, get off, go down to level 4 and take another train for 10 stops, then go back up to level 2 and take another train for 5 stops, then go down to level 3 and take a final train to your destination THEN try to find your way out. Each stop means you have to find the next train and when you come into an intersection, there may be 6 ways you can go….all of this underground. Not to mention there are entire shopping malls, sometimes 6-8 floors worth, all underground.
So Kaz went to see her Dad and took Squi along to hang out with Grandpa while Carol, Russell, and I explored. Our first goal was Harajuku. Part of being in Tokyo is just being OK with getting lost in the subway but after a relatively small amount of wandering, we made our way to Harajuku. Known for all things “Kawai” (cute), Harajuku is home to “Harajuku Girls” who dress up like dolls with a LOT of makeup and frilly dresses. Many of them are anime inspired costumes and are quite ornate.
Harajuku is pretty much one long street that is super crowded even on a rainy day like it was when we were there. Lots of touristy shops and places to eat and people watch. I have to say, one of the things I enjoy most in Japan is just sitting and people watching…but I can do that pretty much anywhere I go.
After her visit with her Dad, Kaz took Squi to Sanrio Land – home of “Hello Kitty” (which, by the way, did you know, is NOT a cat!?) Squi lost his mind there. It’s a HUGE facility with rides and entertainment for days. Even the cheeseburgers are “Hello Kitty”.
We all met up again in Shinjuku and got more of our shopping, exploring, and sightseeing mojo going.
The top two floors of Shinjuku Station are a food court. Maybe because of the rain, but the restaurants were packed and we ended up waiting a while to have some really delicious Thai food!
We wandered around a bit more then headed back underground to catch a couple of trains back to our rooms.
It was a long day with LOTS of walking so we were glad to sit on the train for a bit, then have a beer, relax, and have a little toast to my birthday.