Thursday, October 25, 2007

Damn the Drugs,Pass the Carrots!

I was more than surprised. Pleasantly shocked better describes it.

I have an appointment with a cardiologist in January -- the same cardiologist who wanted to prescribe a statin to lower cholesterol. My goal -- not his -- has been to lower my LDL from 123 to less than 100 without resorting to drugs. Honestly, I don't know what's motivating me most -- a desire to improve my health or a desire to one-up the doctor and the drug companites. Since July I've been making life style changes. I decided to get a test in mid-October and, based on the results, make more changes to isure I'm below 100 LDL in January.

I got the the results today:
  • Total Cholesterol: 110 - down from 182
  • HDL: 37 - down from 44
  • Triglycerides: 73 - down from 88
  • LDL: 61 - down from 123
  • HDL Percentage: 34 - up from 24
  • Weight: 188 - down from 207
  • BMI: 23.5 - down from 25.9
This calls for a celebration! I wanted to buy a half-gallon of ice cream but Julie objected -- even when I offered to buy her one also.

How did I do it? I didn't do it myself; we did it.

Julie and I changed our eating habits. We read books, did research on the web, scheduled an appointment with a nutritionist, removed all processed foods from the pantry, made a commitment to read nutrition labels and became borderline vegetarians.

I haven't dieted. I haven't been hungry. It was simply a matter of avoiding foods from animals with the exception of Salmon and other cold-water fish, eliminate processed foods, increase foods high in Omega-3s, limit saturated fat to 12 grams per day, add foods that lower LDL such as flax seed, almonds, walnuts. Just the stuff we all know -- fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Trying new foods and new recipes with Julie has been enjoyable. Eating out has been a little challenging but not impossible.

I phoned a doctor today and asked about the low HDL figure of 37. HDL should be over 45. I don't think the level is as important as the ratio and wanted confirmation. He said there are drugs that can raise HDL! Drugs!!??

Tomorrow, I'll start researching natural life style changes that improve HDL levels.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Olé is a Spanish word used to express approval. Tonight I'm shouting "Olé!"

I have two sisters -- one two years younger and one eight years younger. Last spring at my mother's funeral, the six of us (siblings and spouses) decided to plan a trip to Ireland next June but it appears we'll see one another before then. Thursday evening I learned one of my nieces is getting married in a small town near Cuernavaca, Mexico on December 29. This morning Julie bought tickets to Mexico City.

In a post a few days ago I spoke about seeing my son and that we discussed Christmas. Julie suggested he meet us in Mexico. I doubt that will happen so I'm brainstorming other ideas.

Cuernavaca is about an hour and a half from Mexico City and the town where the wedding will be held is about 30 minutes from Cuernavaca. We going to fly south on December 20 and return on December 31. Initial thoughts are a couple days in Mexico City, a few days in Cuernavaca and a few days exploring the country side.

I had never heard of Cuernavaca before last night. A web search turned up these references:
  • Cuernavaca is a charming colonial city. It's year-round temperate climate makes it known locally as the 'land of the eternal spring'.

  • Cuernavaca is known these days as much for its rejuvenating spas and spiritual sites as it is for its perfect climate and flowering landscapes."

  • Cuernavaca is appreciated for its historical richness, striking scenery, vibrant life, and delightful climate. Surrounded by undulating hills and cut by narrow, cobbled streets, Cuernavaca is a quaint colonial remnant.
Julie and I put together a "to-do" list a few years ago. One item on the list was "Spend an Entire Winter in Mexico". Everyone with whom I've spoken concerning their experiences living in a small town in Mexico has talked about the graciousness of the people, the safety of the communities and their wonderful experiences. This trip will give us an opportunity to begin thinking more about that goal.

In 1967 I enrolled in a Latin American History class. I needed a history class for an undergraduate degree and, as I looked through the catalog, it dawned on me that I knew nothing about the history of Asia, Africa, and South America. High school classes had focused on the history of Europe and the United States. I never finished that class due to four years in the military but what I did learn caused me to want to know more.

This is going to be a fantastic trip.


Thursday, October 18, 2007


As I walked to the car to meet Julie, I saw her talking with a woman. Julie came over and explained the woman couldn’t find Prochnow Auditorium and had been driving around campus for two hours trying to locate it. She had a ticket to a concert that was scheduled to start in 20 minutes.

Due to construction, road barricades, limited parking and the woman’s difficulty understanding and retaining directions Julie volunteered to escort her to the correct building. By road it was approximately a mile around the barricades. By foot, it was a three minutes walk -- at most five minutes. Because it was after dark, I decided to pull the car into an adjacent parking lot and walk with Julie. As I parked the car, I wondered why someone would arrange to arrive two hours early.

When I was introduced to the woman an un-kind label popped into my head – “space cadet”. She appeared to be in her fifties, had bleached blond hair and was dressed in an outfit that reminded me of Cher during the time she and Sonny had a TV program. Definitely the wrong outfit for an aging woman who is no longer slim. It was the wrong outfit for any woman on a cool October evening.

She parked her car, fumbled with keys and purse and suddenly asked “What is that red light?” I replied that it was just the door ajar indicator and that it would turn off when she closed the door. After she locked her car, she asked “Why is that light on?” Julie questioned whether the dome light turned off after a few seconds. The woman unlocked the car and flipped the switch on the light and then asked “Why is that red light on?” Rather than explaining again the purpose of a door ajar indicator I said “Don’t worry. It will go off when you close the door.”

We walked slowly to the auditorium. It was late, I was hungry and wanted to get home but she had one speed – very slow. As we arrived at the correct building I began to get suspicious. The building was dark. We found the door locked. Julie had an immediate solution. “May I see your ticket” she asked. The woman had trouble locating it and thought perhaps she had left it at home. After some searching, she found it. The date was the 10th. Julie told the woman, “The concert is next week on the 17th.”

We walked back to the cars – very slowly once again. Given our experience and some of the things she said, I began to think “dementia”.

When we got back to the car Julie asked if she needed directions to find her way but she assured us she knew the way. She started south toward her home, took a wrong turn and drove out of sight.

I looked at our windshield and saw a piece of a paper. Julie’s Good Samaritan effort resulted in a $30 parking ticket. I knew we didn’t have a parking permit for that lot but assumed it wasn’t patrolled after dark. Oh, well. That’s life.


Julie appealed the ticket. She wrote a polite, non-aggressive request explaining what had happened. She included a note about the concert and explained that the woman’s white car may have been ticketed at the same time.

I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars the University collects each year in parking fines but it’s profitable. I don’t know how many appeals are submitted each year but I’m confident very, very few are approved. To my surprise, the charge was removed from her account. I didn’t expect that!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In This Moment

On Monday evening as I passed his house I thought about inviting him, his wife and another couple to supper in a couple weeks. Yesterday morning Julie received an email that he had drowned off Catalina Island while snorkeling for lobster in 25 feet of water. He was young -- about 30.

This past summer he and his wife walked to our house and were caught by a heavy rain. We pulled out towels, hot tea and coffee. We sat on the deck talking, watching the rain and the birds visiting the feeders during breaks in the showers. After the rain ended we drove them home and he gave me a Prayer Plant and a Crown of Thorns that he had rooted.

The plants were important to me. Now, they are more valuable reminders to live in the present moment.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Making Opportunities

A clatter of breaking ice caused me to look across the street. Wow! He was good.

It was about 1958 or 59. I was 12 or 13 and had my first regular job delivering the morning paper seven days each week. My father was helping me deliver the Sunday morning paper on a late winter morning with gray skies, cold temperatures and lots of brittle ice. He took one side of a street on a fairly steep hill as I took the other side. After he put a paper behind a storm door and turned to walk down the four steps leading to the walk, the entire sheet of ice on the porch began to move. I heard the beginning of the ice avalanche and turned in time to see him ride the sheet down the four steps. Arms outstretched, one foot in front, flawless balance – he rode the disintegrating sheet to the ground and walked away casually! Any surfer on any beach would have been impressed. I certainly was.

For some unknown reason, this memory came from nowhere today as I walked the mile-plus from my office to Julie’s. It got me wondering if I told him long before his death how much I respected him – not for his physical ability but for being the man he was. I know I tried but I can’t remember the details of that conversation. Most likely I tried more than once to express it. Still, I have some regrets about the quantity and quality of our contact during his last years. Given the opportunity, there’s more I would say.

I always respected my father but can remember some less-than-loving words on my part in my late teens. It was just the normal experiences that, I assume, most fathers and sons experience. Looking back now, I regret some of the things I said and some of my attitudes. I hope I expressed my regret some years after the fact.

My son phoned last night for the first time in a few weeks. Normally he phones every Friday morning or on the weekend. Occasionally he will miss a week. If he misses more than two then I know he’s going through a rough time and it concerns me. I try to give him time and space. He’s an alcoholic who hit bottom several years ago. It’s been amazing – and painful -- to watch his struggles and successes. Seven to ten years ago I was prepared for a call announcing his death. A fortunate minor accident marked the turning point. Now, he’s not the person he was. He’s come so far and has the drinking curbed.

I pushed the line with my father but my son clearly crossed it about 12 years ago during a really bad time. I listened to his angry words and made the best response I could at the time. I had forgotten my brief response until he reminded me this past summer. He brought up the experience and my words which were “Remember this. I want you to remember what you said today”. That was all I said. He told me those words “haunted” him for years and he thought about the exchange often.

I think it’s important to make amends for my mistakes. I think it’s important to express my gratitude and respect for people important to me. I think it’s important to express my love and forgiveness for those that have wronged me.

I wonder if I’ve done a decent job of letting him know how I feel about him. I don’t want him wondering or living with regrets – not now or after my death.

Before we ended the call last night he asked if Julie and I had plans for Christmas. We see one another about once a year for two or three days. He said he’d like to “cross paths” with me. I’d like that. I hope we can make it happen.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Trip Home

The doctor came and the news was better than expected. During the surgery it appeared the cancer had spread beyond the colon but the biopsy revealed no abnormalities in the lymph nodes. During the last two days Julie had taken a 24 hour shift caring for her mother, had a few hours at home without sleep and then returned for another 14 hour night shift. I stayed with her but she did most of the work and got less time to sleep due to her mother’s hallucinations, increased dementia, restlessness and attempts to remove the IV and get out of bed.

It was in the afternoon but we decided to drive to Albuquerque (about 5 hours), spend the night and finish the remaining 5 hours on Sunday morning. I began driving as she slept in spite of the fact that I was listening to a CD by the Flatlanders – not her type of music.

We stopped in Santa Rosa for gas. In the men’s room a truck driver suddenly asked “Are you going west?” To my affirmative reply he said “You might as well stay here. There’s an accident, a head-on collision, about six miles west that has both westbound lanes closed. It will be hours before it’s open.” We checked a map and found a detour that took us less than 10 miles out of our way. It was a beautiful drive along a secondary New Mexico road through desolate rolling land filled with Junipers and Fall flowers.

As we got close to Albuquerque I remembered it was the beginning of the annual balloon festival which would make it challenging to find a room for the night. In the cooler we had salmon, rice and the makings of a fine supper – if we could find a room with a microwave. After several tries we lost hope of finding any room and decided to drive another 77 miles to Grants, New Mexico.

Arriving in Grants the first motel was full as was the second. Full rooms in Albuquerque pushed others west and it appeared we may have to continue another hour west to Gallup. We learned the only rooms left were at a motel that looked anything but inviting. Even the dark couldn’t mask its scars, age and impending death. As we waited in line we looked at the dingy carpet, pealing paint, obvious signs of leaks on the ceiling and dirty windows. We checked into one of the few remaining rooms.

The door to our room wouldn’t lock unless we slammed it hard. Julie went to get hot water for tea and it’s uncertain whether she slammed the door hard enough after returning. She got up about 2 AM for a few moments and, on impulse as she passed the door, fastened the chain. A few minutes later someone opened the door and would have come into the room had the chain not prevented entrance. “Did you get another room?” someone asked. I got up, answered him, pushed the door shut and engaged the deadbolt.

You might think it was an unpleasant stay but it wasn’t. The young girl who checked us in was smiling, efficient and pleasant. We had a bowl of soup in the restaurant and the young man who waited on us was extremely outgoing and polite. He spilled soup on the arm of my chair but missed me and was genuine in his apology. On Sunday morning we had oatmeal which was excellent in comparison to the hospital’s oatmeal. The two women working that morning were real people who made eye contact and seemed to enjoy life. It turned out to be a good experience.

Sunday morning we stopped at the Painted Desert / Petrified Forest visitor center to get a drink and stretch our legs. Our National Parks Pass expired two days after we entered the Grand Canyon for our backpacking adventure in June so we took the opportunity to buy a new pass. Continuing west we stopped in Winslow (yes, Winslow as in the Eagles’s “standing on the corner in Winslow”) to get milk and a few perishable foods.

We have two choices when traveling west toward home. The first is to continue to the Winona exit and arrive home from the west side. The other is to take an exit farther east which crosses the Navajo Reservation. I prefer this route. It takes us over lonely roads with broad views of the cinder hills in the distance. As we drove, by coincidence, Julie began reading aloud a magazine article about a man who bought a trading post built in 1903 that is still in operation. He had bought and sold Native American rugs in Santa Fe and wanted to do something to encourage the art and the weavers. For the last 10 years he’s operated the trading post located on a dirt road in a remote corner of the Reservation in New Mexico. He always buys the first rug woven by Navajo children. We’ve visited historic trading posts but decided to take a day trip this winter to visit this and two or three other historic posts.

Leupp is the last community before home. It’s situated on the Reservation and isn’t large enough to be considered a town. Across from the store is a parking lot that becomes a swap meet on weekends. The weather was crisp and sunny and the lot was full. During World War II, for a few days, a small group of men – Americans, Mormons if my memory is correct but I don’t trust it -- where moved from a prison camp in Utah to Leupp. They were moved by wagon over unpaved roads. The account I read indicated the rough, jarring, bumpy ride was intended to improve their attitudes, as were the horrible accomodations provided them.

I don’t feel a sense of roots. I’ve lived six other states, in the mountains, on the plains, on the shores of Lake Erie and among the knobs of Kentucky. However, I am beginning to put down roots. Some people may drive across the desert and see barrenness but I see beauty, mystery and adventure. I see home. I can recognize and call the names of the hills from the East. Not so from the West. They look different and unrecognizable. It’s always a pleasant game to try to get my orientation and learn to recognize them by their new profiles.

One of my goals in life is to learn and know the place in which I live. I want to know the names of every flower, every type of bunch grass and each species of animal. I want to know the history of the land and the people who have lived here before me. I want to know the locations of Native American ruins. I want the thrill of finding pottery shards – but not the greed of taking and possessing them. I want to be able to predict more accurately the migrations of birds, the start of the monsoons, the first frost and the flowers that will bloom depending on the times the rains fall.

The more I age and the more I see people coming to the end of their lives, the more I'm determined to fill my remaining years with experiences, adventures, beauty, mystery, enthusiasm and love mixed with a little melancholy, sorrow, hardship and pain. I'm content to do my living here.

It's good to be home with Julie.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

An Opinion

I'm in a hospital room in Amarillo, Texas. Julie is caring for her mother who had surgery yesterday to remove a tumorous section of colon. Her confusion is compounded by Alzheimer's, drugs and a strange environment.

In the last year I've had more experiences with the medical system than I've had in the last 25 years combined. Permit me to voice an opinion.

The American lifestyle is highly detrimental to good health. The food supply is structured toward maximizing corporate profit without regard to good nutrition. Elevators, escalators, autos, remote controls, power appliances and other "coveniences" minimize physical activity. Mobility and quest for the American dream have combined to eliminate a sense of community and social support system. Stress levels have been inflated by the government's implementation of a policy of paranoia as a means of control.

Some statistics call for attention. The populations of 37 countries (43 according to some sources) have a longer life expectancy than Americans. The median height of children has begun decreasing. The US leads the developed world in the percent of population that is obese.

It is ironic. Our children are admonished to "just say no" to non-prescription drugs but we encourage them to take massive quantities of drugs to treat hyperactivity, attention deficit syndrome and health problems directly attributable to lifestyle.

"Just say no!" Perhaps that's good advice.

My bias is to turn negatives into positives. I say yes to learning and adopting good nutrition. I say yes to walking, exercising and staying active. I say yes to friends, family and community. I say yes to entertainment that's uplifting. I say yes to turning off exploitative news media. I say yes to being content with enough and not wanting more.

The American lifestyle is unhealthy but it's not mandatory. I choose something better.