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July, 2010:

Life in a hospital for 7 days: not as glamorous as Grey’s Anatomy depicts

As I alluded to in my last post, I’ve been back from Mexico in Nebraska for the last week. Unfortunately it hasn’t just been all fun and games of monitoring crime in Omaha (though God knows it’s not for lack of news).

I’ve spent the several days at the University of Nebraska Medical Center here in Omaha, hanging out with my mom, Marcia. Marcia’s had a rough week, to say the least. After a couple months of having weird fevers/pneumonia/pains in her chest/zillions of tests, she came to UNMC for a biopsy to suss out what was going on with some suspicious lymph nodes in her chest. Just doing this biopsy involved collapsing one of her lungs, so it was no small task.

This lovely array of flowers & friendly animals certainly helped to speed Mom along the road to recovery!

To make a long story short, it turns out she has stage 3 squamous cell lung cancer. This was not the news we were hoping for, particularly since she has never smoked a cigarette in her life (p.s. God: not fair). But we are ready to wrestle it into submission!! And we are feeling optimistic– during the biopsy/surgery, they hacked out all of the evil cancery-bits that they observed. Of course, this included the two lower lobes of her right lung, some lymph nodes, and a little of the exterior of her esophagus… But like I have always said, two whole lungs are just taking up excess space that could better be used for storing things like jello. Or tapioca pudding (her current favorite item on the glamorous hospital food room service menu).

The doctors indicated the final margins were all clear, meaning that all the visible cancerous areas are gone. The top remaining concern is whether there are any additional evil secret lymph nodes lurking around. So, the current thought process is some chemo/radiation action for around 3-4 months. Luckily Mom should be able to do this back in our hometown of Grand Island, which will be a lot more convenient than driving the 2.5 hours to Omaha on a regular basis. She’ll wait another 3-4 weeks to start, however, because they want her to be healed up & strengthened from the super-invasive surgery as much as possible. She’s making great progress– down to one chest drainage tube & no IVs as of today!

Needless to say, we’ve been looking for humor wherever we can while hanging around the hospital. Here are my personal favorites thus far:

I saw this sign the day I arrived. I don't know exactly what happens at this event, but I am ok with not being invited.

Given my previous post, I was relieved to see that guns are *not allowed* in the hospital.

I have also been excited about the chance to work on my medical Spanish. (I brought my Dad to the "Bodies Revealed" exhibit in Mexico City the other week, where only upon arriving did it strike me how I should have reviewed body part names in Spanish before attending...)

I brought a wee Frida Kahlo mirror as a gift for mom, largely because it was one of the few gift-like things I had lying around the house when I decided to fly back to Nebraska the next morning. :)

The Frida mirror has come in handy as a tool for Mom to visually stalk her telemetry monitor, which the nurses turned away to try & get her to stop obsessing over the stats. (typical math teacher)

We were quite jealous of Mom's elegant meal options. She simply *insists* on sparkling laxatives, never still.

We have been pleasantly surprised by the tasty ethnic dining options around UNMC in Omaha-- Mother India and Gerda's German Restaurant were both awesome. I saw this Aug-toberfest announcement @ Gerda's and had to laugh at the 6:45-7:15PM timeline for dinner shown on the flyer. 30 minutes for dinner?? That would *NEVER* fly in Mexico!! :)

Also falling into the "panicked last-minute gift" category was this ear-of-corn thong. The corn thong seemed like an appropriate solution for Nebraskans, and a good way to spice things up once Mom & Dad get back home. 😉 My mother & I have been having an ongoing battle of me putting it on display & her hiding it from visiting surgeons each day.

I finally convinced my dad to model the corn thong, but he decided to go with a "Uni-corn" look... My mom had to hide her face in shame behind her new heart pillow. :)

Probably the scariest part of the week was when an elderly female clown stopped by. Luckily, Mom feigned sleep so the clown didn't stay to chat. She just dropped off this sticker instead. I felt like the clown might have missed the memo on which floor was pediatrics...

Marcia is hoping to escape the hospital this Saturday if she can get rid of this chest tube tomorrow.  If any readers are so inspired– any cards, witty commentary, and/or photos of cute dogs (Mom’s favorite) are welcomed & appreciated!! (Let me know if you need an address!) Mom will have a challenging few months ahead, but we have total confidence that she will get through it with the support of all our amazing friends & family.  Thanks to everyone for all thoughts & prayers sent our way. For more info or to leave a message for Marcia directly, visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/marciacarmann.

http://www.danielespinosa.com/

Now who’s more dangerous: Mexico City vs. Omaha, Nebraska

I flew from Mexico City back to Omaha, Nebraska rather unexpectedly on Thursday. One might reasonably assume that Omaha (epitome of the good ol’ Midwest with a population of around 830,000+ in the Omaha/Council Bluffs metro area) would be vastly safer than Mexico City (capital of narco-landia with a population of 23,000,000+).

Imagine my surprise when one of the top stories on Omaha’s evening news Thursday night was, “Two Bodies Found Outside Zoo”. What?!?  The zoo in question is the famed Henry Doorly Zoo, “nationally renowned for its leadership in conversation [**often know as ‘conservation’ when spelled correctly] and research”, according to Wikipedia, and also “Nebraska’s #1 paid attendance attraction”.

A quick Google search for “Omaha bodies zoo” will turn up a variety of news reports, but I will award the Prize for Informed Interviewees to WOWT.com.

WOWT.com’s current updated version of the story titled “Bodies Found Outside Zoo Identified”, includes the following statements, which start off as facts related enough to the issue:

  • The Omaha Police Homicide Unit is investigating the deaths of a man and woman whose bodies were found outside the Henry Doorly Zoo around 4 a.m. Thursday.
  • “Officers were in the area of 10th Street on patrol when they were flagged down by zoo personnel stating they had located two persons down to the side of the street,” said OPD Officer Jake Bettin.

Ok, I’m with you so far WOWT.com. Then continuing on, quotes include:

  • “We’re just excited and ready to get in and have fun,” said Steven Boldridge, …”
  • “The kids are psyched….”
  • Boldridge noticed the crime scene tape and police cruisers in the area, but didn’t think much of it.
  • The discovery didn’t stop Mindy Gibbs from fulfilling a promise made to her son Parker. This was going to be a zoo day no matter what, but Gibbs does feel for the victims. “I think that’s sad. I mean why here, there are a lot of families that visit every day. We’ll see what happens.”

Huh. An Omaha.com article offered similar citizen commentary, including:

  • Liz Cox of Omaha was among zoogoers who were rerouted to avoid the investigation scene. When her son asked about the detour, she kept her explanation short: parking problems. “That’s not what I’d explain to my 5-year-old,” she said. “He doesn’t need to know (about the bodies).”

True enough, Liz. Let’s get past the “Mommy what are those two elephants doing” hurdle first.

Admittedly I don’t really have a clear point here outside of shock/surprise, but nonetheless a few comments apropos Mexico City vs. Omaha:

  1. Unless I have missed an article amongst the (to be fair) heavy stream of news coverage in DF, not even the narcos in Mexico are dumping bodies around kid-frequented ZOOS. For the love. What kind of jerk criminals are operating here in Omaha?
  2. Slightly fascinating how blasé the Omaha zoo-goers seem about the whole dead bodies/crime scene thing. I’m not saying one should assume the killers are lurking around the zoo while there are 50 cop cars swarming the area, but still, they seem surprisingly unconcerned.
  3. Perhaps this is a sign that Americans are growing less concerned about tourism near areas of, shall we say, recent incidents of distress? Maybe this will bode well for northern Mexico.

Needless to say, I will be watching back during my remaining time here & hoping that Omaha avoids landing on any State Dept Travel Advisory lists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Doorly_Zoo

Mexican food I’ve not yet tried…

As seen at Bar La Estacion across the street from Arena Mexico (the lucha libre venue):

Note: chair is not strategically positioned to block any additional letters... rather, La Estacion just wasn't the kind of cantina where there are a lot of gringas taking photos so I was trying to play it cool from a distance.

You’ll see a few common Mexican snacks listed (in varying degrees of spelling accuracy) in the white lettering. But peruse on down to that 4th line of white text. Pene en su jugo. For any non-Spanish speakers, that means pene in its own juice. (Once you click on the word reference definition, you’ll see why I’m eschewing the specific translation in hopes of avoiding further weird Google searches arriving at this blog.)

La Estacion was not serving any food the Friday evening we stopped in prior to the lucha match, so I did not have the opportunity to sample this gem.

Can any Mexicans tell me– is this a popular dish? A common dish, even? Perhaps some jokester removed some letters before pene, though I can’t think what they would have been? Your insights are welcomed.

Fruit & Veg Wonderland

John and I have just under 3 months left in DF before moving back to the other distrito (DC, that is). As our time south of the border wanes, one thing you can expect over the coming weeks is some posts whining w/r/t what we will miss about Mexico.

Whiny Topic #1: Mexico’s beautiful, luscious, tasty, bargain-priced fruit and veg

If you’re in the habit of reading Mexico blogs, you’ve probably already seen 8,000 photos of the brightly colored stands overflowing with produce at the zillions of markets in this country. Of course we will miss the amazing selection of seemingly every citrus fruit under the sun (except lemons, that is). But to be specific, we will miss how their cheap prices allow us to buy as many gorgeous vegetables & fruit as strike your fancy with almost no regard for cost.

Just in case I haven't posted enough Mexico mercado photos, here's a fun one courtesy mi suegra Penny (John's mom).

I remember when shopping back in the US, I would always be careful to note *exactly* how many limes I needed for a recipe, lest I recklessly waste money on an excess of  the “2 limes for $1 USD”. Avocados on our grocery list always provoked a debate of whether we could get by with just the required number, or if we needed to spend an extra $2 USD on a backup avocado– in the event that one turned out to be hiding yucky brown flesh under its rough shell.

In Mexico, I buy a bag-full of limes every time I hit the grocery store or a market, because we’ve now adopted the standard practice of  “lime goes on everything”. :) If anything, I am more likely to be reprimanded for not buying enough limes since, as John likes to say, limes are basically free here.

We make smoothies constantly with bananas & gorgeous ripe mangoes or bananas and plump strawberries. And we make a big batch of guacamole on nearly a weekly basis.

Just to drive the point home, I decided to add up what I spent on produce today during my trip to Chedraui (one of the big grocery stores here). Take a look at the pic below:

All of these fresh items were $214.80 pesos. Yum.

Depending on the exchange rate, all of those cost about $16.60 USD. To be sure, that is still plenty of money for many people here in Mexico. But given that I think I would have spent about half that much on the 2 avocados and 7 limes alone in the US, I feel pretty happy about that. Now if I could just break my cheese/bread/bacon dependency & focus on eating all of that before it rots… :) Wish me luck!

Takenoya: Chinese Steamed Soup Dumplings in Mexico City!!

One of my favorite parts of my recent visit to China was the food. Particularly, the magical “soup dumplings” for which Shanghai is legendary, known more properly as xiaolongbao. I went to DinTaiFung in Shanghai, as per friend Todd’s recommendation, which is known world-wide for its excellence in these steamed dumplings.

Dudes furiously making xiaolongbao inside the zoo-window at DinTaiFung in Shanghai near Yu Yuan Garden.

Here they are in the flesh, authentic xiaolongbao, ready to be eaten in all their glory in Shanghai.

Why are these little nuggets so good? Well, they are filled with a pork meat mixture, but also an incredibly savory broth. You pick them up with your chopsticks (while carefully trying to avoid breakage) and deposit them into a big Chinese soup spoon, so that you can slurp out some of the broth before biting in (so as to avoid a hot broth explosion all over your clothing).

When I returned from China, I had a momentary burst of inspiration regarding dumplings & steamed buns in general. I had purchased a book of dim sum recipes in Hong Kong after having these amazing bbq pork-filled buns for breakfast 2 days in a row:

Luscious barbequed pork bits tucked inside a fluffy white bun: breakfast of champions, folks.

“I am totally going to learn how to make all of this stuff when I get back to Mexico City,” I told myself. The cookbook unsurprisingly did not have a recipe for the xiaolongbao, so I went off to the innerwebs in search of instruction. This fantastic blog post described in great detail how to make the magical soup dumplings, and cleared up the mystery of how hot broth ends up inside. Unfortunately (as the blog post freely admits), the recipe “is not fast and easy”. My burst of inspiration tempered momentarily, and I got a little sulky at the idea of further xiaolongbao encounters being restricted to a future visit to NYC’s Chinatown.

Yesterday, I was having a particular craving for some Chinese dumplings. Friends Brandi & Mike had tipped us off a while back to a great new Japanese restaurant just a few blocks away from our house in Polanco. It is called Takenoya, and it’s located at Moliere 313 (between Ejercito Nacional y Homero). We had been there prior to my China trip for sushi (which was great), and I vaguely recalled seeing several Chinese steamers in circulation. John acquiesced to my desire to go suss it out for dinner last night.

As we entered the restaurant for my 2nd visit, I once again observed numerous Asian people eating there (which is the classic uninformed American cue for “so this must be good Asian food then”). :) We flipped to the menu insert titled “Platillos Chinos Cocidos al Vapor” (aka Steamed Chinese dishes). With my new China-vocab, I quickly spotted my good friend: “Yes! They have xiaolongbao! These are the soup dumplings I had in Shanghai! We must get at least 10,” I barked.

Here's a partial shot of Takenoya's "steamed Chinese dishes" menu. To me, 10 pieces of xiaolongbao were totally worth $80 pesos since it meant me not having to spend two days making them.

We decided to go all-dumpling, ordering the 10-pack of xiaolongbao, 6 shaumai de camaron y carne de cerdo (shrimp & pork), and 6 gyoza al estilo taiwanes (these turned out to also be stuffed with pork).

John prepares to dive in for his first soupy-porky dumpling experience. Note the similarity between these dumplings & the original Shanghai dumplings shown above!

The xiaolongbao were first to arrive, and they met my high expectations. :) (happy day) I would say maybe they didn’t have *as* much broth inside as the ones I’d had in China, but I thought they were great.

Here I am with my shumai friends. Note trendy decor in background!

Next we had the shumai– these have pork filling in the base with a cooked shrimp nestled into the top. Also very good!  In fact, these were John’s favorite. (heresy, but I will let it go)

Finally, we had the taiwanese-style gyoza, which are first steamed & then briefly pan-fried on one side.

The gyoza was our last dish, which came with an interesting sauce I couldn’t quite pinpoint– maybe peanut-based? Hard to say. Anyway, these were filled with a mixture of pork, green onions & other stuff, and also very tasty. I will say by this point, we did both agree that perhaps we should have ordered something that *wasn’t* stuffed with pork… (Shock, I know.)  But despite the dishes having a lot of pork, they were all great.

Here is a shot of a slightly-melted mango-flavored mochi that I had in Beijing, from the aptly-named boutique store "Mochi Sweets".

We ended the meal with “tempura helado”, aka fried ice cream. This was the only disappointing part– the ice cream had clearly been fried at some earlier point in time, as the tempura exterior portion was chilled & a little soggy. Instead I might recommend the mochi for dessert, which are balls of ice cream covered in a thin, sticky-rice-based shell.

Overall, the two meals I’ve had at Takenoya have both been fantastic. This is one of the few restaurants I’ve visited here in Mexico City that seems to understand pacing– they brought out the dishes one-by-one (vs. all in one swoop, resulting in dumplings sitting on your table getting cold). The service is great & the prices, while not bargain basement, seem reasonable for authentic Asian food. They have a couple hibachi grill tables as well, where the chef cooks things up right in front of you, but we’ve not tried out those. Upstairs, there is a cute lounge area where I am already envisioning hosting a dumpling-fueled happy hour sometime in the future. :)

Perhaps this exterior view of Takenoya's street-facing kitchen should have clued me in to their dumpling offerings (as depicted in 3 large TV-sized photos near the ceiling)!!

For anyone living in Mexico City who’s been warily avoiding the numerous “Buffet de Comida China” offerings, I would definitely put this on your list for an interesting combo of Japanese food + steamed Chinese food options!  Hope to see you there during my next visit to sate my dumpling needs…

Alert! Lucha Libre Expo next weekend in Mexico City!

I would like to be the first to alert all you closet lucha libre fans out there that the 2010 Lucha Libre: La Experiencia will be taking place next weekend here in Mexico City! For anyone who missed this last year, you can get a full run-down of the excitement at my blog post from last August.

In a nutshell, Lucha Libre: La Experiencia is a 3-day expo of all-things-lucha. Naturally there’s a large lucha ring set up that has ongoing bouts all weekend. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! There are also loads of stands dedicated towards specific luchadores as well as lucha gear vendors, selling everything you could possibly think of that could have a lucha mask on it. Even if you are not a lucha die-hard, it is probably worth going for the people-watching alone. :)

Here are the relevant details:

Dates: July 23-24-25
Times: Friday & Saturday from 12PM to 9PM, Sunday from 11AM to 8PM
Cost: Tickets are $150 pesos, but you can get a 20% discount if you are old or a student and have valid ID proving such.
Location: Centro Banamex, Av. Conscripto 311, Colonia Lomas del Sotelo, Delegacion Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City
Where the heck is that: Find some directions on the Centro Banamex website, or check out a map here. Basically, it is just west of the Periferico, just west of Polanco.
Website: http://luchalibrelaexperiencia.com/

Why should you go? Well, check out the old blog post; hopefully that + the chance of meeting these guys will be enough to sway you:

This pic is a little blurry, but how exciting to meet this lovely gentleman!!

Of course, you really can't top Super Raton-- note actual rat casually perched on his head. Eeewwwwww.

Enjoy!!

http://www.centrobanamex.com/ubicacion/

Mexico City Airport- Terminal 1 Meeting Point

After 30 minutes spent on the innerwebs trying to find an answer to this question, I thought I would share it with any other impending Mexico City airport visitors. (Consider it a follow-up to my “Navigating the Mexico City Airport ” post from last year.)

If you are trying to either go pick someone up or meet another arriving friend at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport (AICM), Terminal 1, you will discover that there are two doors from which people arriving on international flights can leave the secured area. I am not 100% clear on how they differentiate who goes out which door (either E2 or E3, which are just on the other side of baggage claim & customs). If you get there early enough, the TV monitors outside the door should state which door people from a certain flight are exiting. However, if you get there after the flight’s arrival time, it probably won’t be on the TV monitor anymore.

So, you may be wondering, where is a good place to meet someone if you am not sure which door they are coming out of?? There is one restaurant on the lower level of the airport in Terminal 1 that is located BETWEEN the E2 and E3 departure doors. I thought I had this all figured out from the map on the AICM website, which is why I confidently directed my dad to come meet me at the name of a restaurant that I discovered no longer exists– it’s now called something different. :(

BUT NOW I know the name of this restaurant as well as location, so I can share with any inquisitive readers a definitive meeting point in Terminal 1!  And even if the name changes, you can at least describe with precision its location to any arriving friends and family.

So here's the map of the international arrivals section of Terminal 1 at the Mexico City airport. People will arrive through either E2 or E3 on the ground floor. You see the icon of the fork & knife, right next to the "You are Here" sign? That is where the restaurant is. At present, it is called Baron Rojo. Its entrance faces the E2 exit door.

The restaurant is Baron Rojo (at least as of July 2010). It has a bar, so you could go sit there & just order a soda if you don’t want to pay for food while you’re waiting. Or, you could meet right outside the restaurant. This would be basically right where the “You are Here” map is located (of which I took the above photo).

Here's one view of the restaurant, taken when I was standing in front of the E2 exit doors. You can see the restaurant is literally right next to where people come out of the E2 exit (those white glass doors on the right are in front of the secured baggage/customs area). If people end up arriving at E3, they just have to walk forward towards the long hallway & look for the overhead sign that says E2. It is a 1-minute walk.

And here's another dark shot of the inside of the Baron Rojo restaurant.

That’s my hot tip on an easy meeting place inside Terminal 1 of the Mexico City airport. Good luck & happy flying!

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