Trimming away the dead wood.

September 1, 2009

In preparation for our move to Tennessee, we are clearing out a lot of dead wood—material things that we’ve collected over the years and allowed to accrue to the point that we have been nearly immobilized in a thicket of “stuff.”

Disposing of these things has been painful and yet also liberating—even exhilarating—like a fresh spring breeze rushing in through the open window after the long stuffy indoor winter.

I suddenly remembered this quote. Long a favorite of mine (in principle) it seems so apt.

 “When we don’t prune in the garden, Nature does it for us through wind, ice, hail, fire, and flood. One way or another, the boughs will be shaped or strengthened. If we don’t prune away the stress and plow under the useless in our lives, pain will do it for us. Make no mistake; I think pain is a wretched gardener. Her cuts stun and sting. But after pruning, and preferably voluntary, we’re able to discern what’s real, what’s important, and what’s essential for our happiness.”~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

We are blessed to have this opportunity at this time. We could—and, no doubt, would—have gone on as we were, “stuffed” and stuck, indefinitely.

Hoorah for fresh air…and a light load!


August 21, 2009

Suddenly we are moving to Johnson City, Tennessee! Totally unexpected two months ago.

We made our first visit last week and discovered a lovely little community with gorgeous terrain and friendly people.

I enjoyed the wares of a vendor at a local farmer’s market selling homemade biscuit sandwiches kept warm in a turkey roaster. Since I had arrived late the sausage biscuits were sold out. But she did still have some delicious country ham biscuits (wonderful!) and something entirely new to me: a homefried potato biscuit sandwich. That’s right, a fried potato biscuit sandwich. It was interesting to try but I am not in a hurry to have one again. Perhaps over time I will acquire a taste for them–but I doubt it.

Our first day in town we ate a late breakfast at the local Perkins Pancake House. Haven’t eaten at one since we were in Florida last. The soft spoken young man who waited on us was easygoing, pleasant and casual in his manner. He was very respectful but wandered from table to table with his hands in his pockets–almost a shambling gait–just kind of checking on everything as he went. We liked him.

As we sat waiting for our order to be delivered, I realized suddenly that I had forgotten to order grits with our breakfast–a staple for us to share when we are in the South. I actually fancied that I had picked up the delicate fragrance of the corn-based side dish wafting through the restaurant and that that was what reminded me, since we had not seen any or noticed them on the menu.

As our waiter (I wish I could remember his name) delivered our order, I asked him, “…are those grits that I am smelling…?” He gave me a somewhat startled look and then, almost immediately his eyes sparkling with amusement and he said, “Awww, you didn’t smell no grits!”

It was very funny because the truth was I actually did think I had smelled them. But his reaction was so charming and funny, I didn’t insist. It was more fun pretending that it was just a silly joke. We all had a good laugh and..soon…we had our grits (cheese, butter, salt and pepper). Heaven!

I’ll probably be writing more about this move. I hope you will join me here.

Friday night, coupons in hand, Claire and I headed for Hound Dog’s Pizza for one of their killer veggie pies. We forgot it was date night for EVERYBODY! Campus and near campus night spots are no place for the Tundra so after several circles of the block and one shot through the HDP parking lot and w-a-a-a-a-y narrow back alley (WHEW!) we escaped northbound onto High Street.

Claire remembered Bruce and Kerri Mehollin’s son Jason was the chef at a new operation next to Aladdin’s and across from Gatto’s Pizza—at the south end of the parking lot where Talita’s used to be—got it?

We saw Jason in the kitchen when we walked in and said, “Hi!.”

Giorgio is a small place—fronted with a modest but adequate bar that included a few tables. Passing the bar area we went left into the dining room. Flush with Tuscan colors and finishes, it is modest in size but not too small (would handle maybe 60 diners) with large mirrors on the far wall that made the room seem larger. The décor was spare but pleasant.

Service was attentive and friendly although they missed a few small cues. One example: the bread arrived without butter which had to be asked for (very good herbed butter it was too). The bread arrived warm, tasty and toothsome—4 inch square pieces that looked at first glance like slightly flattened buns. A crusty top and nice raised interior with enough coarseness to know it was baked recently in house quickly dispelled any lingering comparison to the hundred-to-a-bag restaurant supply crowd-fodder one often encounters.

It would have been better to serve the table several of these breads in a small basket rather than having them doled out one by one to each diner as if by ration. Maybe they were going for the sense of drama by having each one delicately tweezed onto your plate. Friendly suggestion: more bread, less drama.

(In all honesty, I only complain because I ended up asking for two more and felt increasingly embarrassed by having my gluttony exposed.)

We started with the tomato bisque soup. With creamy, tomato-y color and smooth texture (augmented by chunks of ripe tomato), rich herby flavor—it was excellent. (Halfway through I was regretting not ordering the bowl instead of the cup!)

Next was the main entrée. We both ordered from the “Specials” menu: lamb chops (called rack of lamb on the menu) with cubes of squash and polenta for Claire and (wild?) mushroom lasagna for me. Let me start by saying they were both delish!

Mine was creamy cheesy white sauce over meaty noodles and meatier mushrooms. These were mushrooms you could taste and smile! Healthy (= generous) portion too. Good enough to cut small bites so that it didn’t disappear so quickly.

The chops were in thick and lovely—done exactly as ordered. They arrived dramatically standing upright on of a bed of very finely ground polenta. Firm but tender cubes of squash assembled at the base of this small monument to dining pleasure.

We enjoyed our dinners. Even shared, grudgingly, with one another.

After our main course was complete—how can I say this without sounding, well, piggish?—I wanted more. So I ordered the antipasti misto “salad.” Apparently this dish is known in the kitchen as the “meat plate” and appropriately so for it was rich in meaty choices (3). The prosciutto was wafer-thin with a wonderful color and ethereal flavor. There were also sopressata and a flavorful dry-cured sausage of some kind—both also very thinly sliced—and delicious!

The centerpiece of the plate was a tender (non-pickled) artichoke heart positioned upright, splayed and sprinkled with delicate flakes of parmesan. Surrounding were a variety of small briny olives, slices of mozzarella cheese and plum tomatoes garnished with a bit of lettuce. The plate was drizzled with a sweet but tangy balsamic vinegar reduction. A very satisfactory plate of goodies indeed!

Claire, being the generous devoted wife that she is (even with her arms held behind her back until she assented) agreed to split her tiramisu with me. It was creamy, rich, and light as a feather—full of the flavors and textures we expected. (We’ve had Jason’s tiramisu before.) It was the perfect end to a marvelous date night dinner.

We recommend Giorgio. Check it out and tell us what you think, won’t you?

Giorgio Italian Restaurant

2941 N. High Street

Columbus, Ohio 43214


This essay could not have been produced without the invaluable editing and proofreading assistance of Claire. (But, then, you knew that, didn’t you?)

I apologize that there are no pictures. I didn’t expect that I would be doing a review when we left home so (alas!)no camera.


Why no one ever asks for copies of Toad and Mrs. Toad’s vacation snaps…


July 31, 2008

No, Toad has not morphed from amphibian to canine. 

WWOOF is an acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Founded in 1971 in the UK, WWOOF facilitates the exchange of volunteer labor for room and board on organic farms all over the world. 

Stays of as little as a week can apparently be accommodated. The “wwoof-er” stays as a member of the host family and “…help[s] their hosts with daily tasks for an agreed number of hours.” 

 Here’s a nifty illustration of how it works from New York Times “Frugal Traveler” correspondent Matt Gross.

Mrs. Toad, always thirsty for a new travel experience, found this so exciting that she was instantly ready to “drop out” and head for France.

Toad had to put his webbed foot down, though. First back surgery, THEN hard-scrabble soil grubbing!

Mr. Toad says Bonjour!

July 31, 2008

What’s Going On Here?

With this blog post Mr. Toad inaugurates an indefinite series of postings about travel and other stuff that interests him—and he thinks may interest his Euro 2004/2007 travel friends and possibly a few others.

The opinions expressed in this space are like, you know, totally Toad, man! Mr. Toad takes full responsibility for them while reserving the right to revise them at the drop of a hat.

Toad Speaks to His Euro 2004/2007 Travel Buddies

“First let me say that it was great fun! We shared so many wonderful, inspiring and delightful sights and experiences—almost too much to take in sometimes. I want you all to know that despite the odd rough patch, my experience of traveling with each of you has made me a better person (amphibian?). It has made me more aware and appreciative of the world we have visited together—as well as your particular depth of individuality. Thank you for allowing me to share in your insights and talents; it has unquestionably made me a better person. I shudder to think what a self-centered and callow fellow I was before traveling with you. Now, I’m just self-centered.”

‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

Ah! Paris!

The scene below finds Toad and some of his hoodlum friends enjoying a refreshing beverage outside a café in Montmartre. A few minutes before the picture was taken, and before the arrival of Johnny Photo, the afternoon was enlivened by an interaction with a street-photo-entrepreneur who, upon seeing Toad and Brudog having a drink together, brazenly assumed (this being Paris and all, one supposes) that they were a “couple” and offered—in a slightly snarky manner—to take their picture as a keepsake. He was rebuffed!

That was the last time they left their lodgings wearing similar outfits.

Mr. Toad, Brudog and Johnny Photo

Toad, Brudog and Johnny Photo

The hard-working and resourceful members of this travel consortium conducted extensive research as much as a year or more in advance of these extraordinary excursions. Numerous meetings were held to hammer out the myriad details. Some of the industrious, wonderfully skilled and brainy trip planners may be seen in this photo enjoying a breezy but all-too-brief respite from their onerous spouse organizing activities.

Mrs. Dog, Mrs. Photo and Mrs. Toad

Mrs. Dog, Mrs. Photo and Mrs. Toad

Others bore equal if not greater burdens of planning effort. Most of them may be seen in the picture below. Toad has not forgotten you, Debbie, Lynn, Rosemary, Chuck, and Bob. More about you anon.

The Group sans Chuck and Rosemary

The Group sans Chuck and Rosemary

Toad was noticeably absent from most of these activities as his giftedness inclines more naturally toward big-picture, visionary, ethereal contemplations such as expansive mental speculations on the experience of place. Besides he prefers eating and driving fast to planning. Planning is boring! Ick!

Rest From Work [Van Gogh, 1890]



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