Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spanish Fork River Walk

But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” (Stephen King, Salem's Lot)

We've been seeing the trees turn leaves for about a month now, on the mountains. And in the past week, the mountains have gotten some snow, too. Actually, a lot of it. You know that joke people tell: “summer lasted for three months and fall fell on a Thursday”. Pretty much how it went, this time.

You all know that I it takes me a while to admit that summer is over. Summer is not my favorite season, but I don't want to store my flip flops away easily. I don't want to say the “f” word way too soon. But this morning, when I woke up to a clear blue, so crisp a sky it hurt the eyes, and mountain tops free of fog and clad in white, while the banks were dressed in red and yellow leaves, I knew. Fall is here.

So, we went out to a nearby walking trail to meet it.

I had to wear a wool sweater and a scarf, so you know it was not summer anymore. When we got there, in the mountains, we could clearly see that the autumnal lady has taken over the hills, but she was still shy in the valley. The colors were just whispers where we were, not shouts, as you could tell they were in the higher elevations.

These are some of the things we saw, fall related and not. A world of mysteries, and hidden gems. A world of back roads, heavy with secrets, life and just the last breath of summer in The Rockies. A world we cannot quit. Nor do we strongly want to … 

I started in the backyard, where my mums are glorious, as usual, and the pears almost ready.

Our trail, book-ended by snow covered peaks. 

Oh, the various layers of beauty: between the spotless sky, and the snow, the rock, the fire-y maples and the golden aspen - everything is a tango of color with texture.

Some bees and butterflies did not get the memo, in the valley, yet. They were still savoring the last bit of sweetness from the last summer blooms. 

Not quite spent beauties of summer.

When the maple leaves start bleeding ...

 We spotted this guy on a farm. He was skittish, though.

Man, hoppers were everywhere!! They were jumping in front of us like someone shook a picnic blanket full of them. They looked slow and dizzy, ready to tuck away...
The world through a spider web on an old, rusty bridge. 
Wouldn't you love to know the stories behind those upside down cars in the river, or behind those wooden doors on that ghost storage building?! My mind hurts just making them up.  
A leaf hanging from an invisible thread was dancing in the wind.

Fall on the river.
You cannot tell it's fall in this picture, except for the sweet, soft sunlight through the leaves.  

Just a whisper of fall above the water. And inside it ...

These guys were friendly and hungry. And gorgeous! 
The valley leaves are starting to turn, on a backdrop of autumnal colors. Time for blankets and knitting needles to come out. Time for long books and even longer naps. Another year almost in the books. A year I never thought I would see the fall of ... But it's here, and I lived to tell its tale, one more time. Bigger, longer, more heartfelt prayers of thanks have never been spoken. Life's good! 

Friday, September 23, 2016

In Honor of FH Awareness Day. And Because Media Lies.

Tomorrow is 2016 FH Awareness Day and in honor of this, I have a confession to make. To some folks this won't be any kind of news, but to others it might. I have not previously mentioned this on this blog: I have FH. That is short for 'familial hypercholesterolemia' and a lot easier (and faster) to spell. You can google it and choose your own source to find out what exactly it means, and I encourage you to do just that.

In short, it's a genetic disease that causes very high levels of cholesterol in your body. It does not matter what you eat or what lifestyle you lead; because of this genetic mutation, your body (your liver, most precisely) produces more cholesterol that needed. And there is no mechanism (as in normal people) for your body to get rid of the extra fat, so instead, it stays in your blood stream, and over time, it deposits inside arteries, or your organs' surface (like your liver and pancreas, or even inside your eye), or sometimes on your skin, in big, white lypomas. Whatever it deposits on, it causes havoc and malfunctioning.

This disease is not as rare as you'd think – it affects about one in every 250 people worldwide. Now, I have 270+ friends on Facebook, and some of you have triple that number, so you do the math. It's a genetically transmitted disease, so if you have it your kids and grandkids will likely inherit it. Even if they don't manifest it, they are carriers, and their kids might have it, too.

I decided to share this with you all, my extended network of friends, as I have not done so in the past, just to create awareness, and not to panic you or to cause you to run screaming for the doctor. I wanted to do this for your own knowledge, which I firmly believe is power, and for your lives and the lives of the ones you love.

Why now? Because a lot of things (good and bad) have happened recently. But let's not jump to it. I'll explain it all.

I have lived with this disease since I was born, but I didn't know about it till I was 8. Knowing about it that early in my life has helped me get to the right doctors and to the right medicine and has helped me be alive today, really.

Just to give you an idea – your normal total cholesterol maxes out around 200 mg/dl. Mine was 790 mg/ dl when I was 8. If your cholesterol is high (and if you don't have FH it can never be this high!) your doctor will tell you things like: lose weight, stay active, quit smoking, eat low fat, or “good” fat. This are all good things for all of us. Unfortunately, none of these things apply to an FH patient. Even eliminating all fats, not ever being overweight, not ever smoking, and being active would not help an FH patient at all.

One of the main reasons I want to speak about this is because of the bad rep that cholesterol has gotten in the media recently. I have come across uncountable articles, some of them from reputable sources where alleged medical spokespersons say that cholesterol is not bad for you, that carbs and sugar are bad for you, that it's all an invention of the food companies alongside pharmaceutical companies to sell us more sugary stuff and more Lipitor (one of the more popular cholesterol drug).

I agree that if you do have a normal cholesterol metabolism and you keep an active, nutritionally diversified and balanced diet and a 'clean' life, then cholesterol in the foods we eat is not intrinsically bad for you.
I have also read articles that try to convince people that cholesterol is not, in fact, one of the major causes for the number one killer in the nation (bigger than cancer), heart attacks, and of strokes. This is actually severely flawed. And I wanted to make sure you all know better than this.

I can only tell you what happened to me and my family, and that is: cholesterol kills. And before it kills, it messes you up! My grandfather on my dad's side died after 12 years of being paralyzed as a result of multiple strokes, all caused by cholesterol and plaque deposits. He died at 62. All his brothers and sisters died in their 60's or younger of either strokes or heart attacks caused by blocked arteries. My dad's sister has had stent surgery to open up blocked arteries in her legs in her early 60's. My dad needs to have the same surgery and has had coronary artery disease for many years now. He is 64.

As most of you know, I have had an overhaul of a surgery this year, that replaced my aortic valve, my ascending aorta with man-made devices and repaired four blocked vessels in my heart (that is a quadruple by-bass surgery, y'all). I also had a heart attack this year, after this surgery. I am only 41. My surgical team was floored at the state of my ascending aorta. Your aorta (and any artery, really) should be flexible and fibrous, like a soft cotton tube. Mine was like a PVC pipe – rock solid, and if they knocked on it, it would shatter. Two of my three leaflets in my aortic valve were calcified shut and the valve was narrowed. All because of cholesterol.

I have been on medication for most of my adult life, but with a genetic disease, they only can help so much. There is no cure for this. All you can do is hope, live your life to the fullest from one appointment to the next and follow doctors' orders, to help your body live with this. And stay informed on what is next. This is what I follow in my 'other' blog which I am sharing with you below.

What you should know if you have this disease, or if you're curious about finding out more:
There are some resources I'll share with you here, that will explain more, but basically:
if you have unusually high cholesterol that will not go down with regular diet and exercise, start getting suspicious and order a cholesterol check at your next physical appointment. Also, interview your relatives and find out if they have something similar going on. If you already have a factor that predisposes you for heart attacks and strokes, be doubly aware of your cholesterol level and intake of it in your foods.

I am not saying this now to panic anyone, I just want you guys to be aware, because you're all important to me.
And now, for the full disclosure:

I have written this blog, called “Living with FH (and Heart Disease)” for about 5 years now: . You're welcome to follow it, or if it's easier to follow on Facebook, you can “like” the page and follow it there: . It's not terribly riveting, but it is a pretty accurate documentary of my 'medical' life, if you will.

Starting this year, my blog has been a feature feed for the FH Foundation's website, which is a huge honor for me. I encourage you to start your research on their site – they are doing an amazing job to raise awareness in our communities about this disease, and to save lives.
Their site is: . If you navigate to their News & Blog section, you'll see my blog linked there, as well: .

I wanted to share all this with you, to celebrate FH Awareness Day tomorrow and to celebrate the new lease on life I have been given time and again only because I knew. I hope you will read but most importantly share this with people you know this information might help.

If you do have questions or don't know where to start, I hope you email me and keep me posted.

Happy FH Awareness Day, y'all! And happy health!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Book Review: "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara

I read a fair amount, but I rarely write book reviews. But there is this “little” book of 800+ pages that I just finished, and let me tell you: it will probably stop you in your tracks in some ways. 


I've always believed that if a book wants to stand the test of time, it must be relatable, and universally so. Whether a man from 17th century China or a woman from 21st century Australia were to read it, they would both find something that speaks to their unique hearts in those pages. This is done by telling a universal story, as well as through masterful story telling. Yanagihara does both beautifully.

Another dimension that makes a book eternal, I think, is how real it is – and this book is very much that. Anything in any of its many pages can happen, and I am sure does happen, right now, as I type this, in many corners of the world, irregardless of boundaries and constraints of culture. One reason I prefer reading non-fiction is exactly this – the sheer reality of it keeps it visceral for me, and that's where my mind and heart live.

Reading this massive book reminded me about what Bill Clinton said about his autobiography: “Well, I don't know if it's a good book. But I know it's a heck of a story!”. “A Little Life” is a heck of a story. The book is just as little as the life of the main character, meaning not at all. In the depths where the writer takes us, the life is larger than any mind can comprehend. But in the scheme of New York, and life on this planet and in the universe, I suppose you can see it as a small speck. How much do we, or our our lives, or our suffering make a difference in the grand scheme of things, anyway?! Are we but a blip on the massive canvas of the world?!

There are few books which make you look inside your soul, in its most hidden, darkest corners and make you ask yourself: are you kind? Are you helpful? Could you do more? Could you help more? Do you judge? Are you cruel? Are you selfish? If you got another shot at your life, would you change anything or would you repeat the same story?! This books asks these questions and more.

If you're not ready for a deep dive into this kind of soul searching, then it's maybe better that you don't read it. I must say it took me about 200 pages to really get it, to really get what the writer was trying to present to us. But I never fully got the why behind it. I just enjoyed the ride, in the end, for the sake of the journey.

One thing my mind did refuse to understand and that was the amount of pain depicted in this book. Was it always really necessary to put our protagonist through so much pain and humiliation and desperation?! Was it really?! We did get the point at about page 400, I think, and yet it kept coming, more and more cruel, and hopeless and strange, well into the very last pages. I guess, it was all necessary to over-stress the amount and the intensity of evil that exists in the world. It was also necessary to counterbalance that evil with and to let shine even louder his unshaken grace and reverence. The effect achieved is beautifully poignant, I'd have to admit, but I did find myself skipping some pages and paragraphs where I found that too much was simply just too much.

I'd recommend this book for many reasons, some of them stated above, but I'd also recommend it for the sheer literary experience, if nothing else – kind of why you read “Ulysses”, you know. No, this book is not that cryptic. But the detail, the careful characterizations of all the 'round' characters, the minute attention to every trait is hardly found in today's writing. The patience! They are gems in today's world of tweets and snapchats.  

As a whole, in the end, the book is a worthy time commitment and an eye opener to say the very least. I thank my co-worker who recommended it so strongly that he bought my own copy himself, to make sure I'd read it. I hope some of you will seek it, as well. I am just passing on the baton and giving it my nod, for what it's worth.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A Grand View Indeed!

People look at clouds to figure out their shapes and see their resemblances with other life forms. I look at rocks and do the same thing.

Especially since I moved to Utah and I started visiting all the National Parks, you learn that every rock has a shape, a name and a story.

This past weekend, we drove through Canyonlands, one of Utah's five National Parks. It was our first time there. We're veterans of Zion and Arches, and I personally go back and forth between which one is my favorite. And then you see Bryce and then you see Canyonlands, and every one of them trumps the other for various and different reasons.

I do not have the literary genius of someone like Charles Bowden (“Blue Desert”, among other things) to describe the beauty, the peace, the miracle of deserts. I do not know how to evoke and retell the story of every canyon I saw, every bend in the flow of the Colorado and of the Green River and every story they wrote on every wall of the rocks they carved through. But I will try to record this trip, in my modest writing way, if at all.

All I have to tell you is that I felt as small as a pebble, and as humble as a monk in front of such eerie and outer worldly symmetry, elegance and grace.

Canyonlands is a rocky red desert, in the South-Eastern part of Utah, shaped by the erosion done by the Colorado and the Green River, alongside wind and precipitation. All these forces patiently, like a stone carver with a chisel, carve out shapes in the rock, over time. You drive into the park on paved roads, which guide you to many overlooks, from where you can see an ever changing view of the canyons below.

Although you can 'get an idea' about what makes the park unique with every overlook, to truly take in the whole park you'll have to either four wheel, hike an incredible amount of miles, or boat across the two rivers, to access the more hidden places and see it in its entirety. Just like they say that you cannot see The Louvre in one trip – you cannot see Canyonlands in one trip, or even ten, either. At over 500 square miles, the surface of land feels truly endless.

We just explored one of several main roads, the one cutting through the “Island in the Sky” area of the park and stopped at the overlooks available on it, on this trip. And how fitting the name of this area is! The park looks like either Mars or the Moon, pretty much void of vegetation, bright red, rugged and unforgivingly hot, floating in the sky, up above, where the overlooks are. There is no way anything or anyone can live in the rock which looks like poison. And yet, as barren, lonely, remote and dark as it looks, it also tells a story and has a life running right through its veins.

With each area we stopped at, another scene from some frozen-in-time play would enchant the eyes and entice the imagination.

Buck Canyon looked like a giant V shaped crevice in the crust of the Earth, with taller buttes scattered on the flat surface. 

The huge "V" shaped Buck Canyon

Although not part of the Canyonlands State Park, but its own State Park, Dead Horse Point looked like a winding maze: the Colorado river keeps changing course up and down and up and down this plane, creating these huge swan necks 200 or so feet deep into the Earth. You keep wondering to yourself if the Colorado is tired (or drunk) from so much winding about … 

The Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park

Green River Point is a mix between Dead Horse Point (the Green River winding, this time) and Buck Canyon (the many V shape cuts into the Earth). 

Green River Overlook

The winner of all the splendid views is the Grand View Point Overlook: here, God is surely showing off, just for kicks! The scene looks and feels as if peeled from a medieval play, where all courtmen and women are standing around in the Grand Hall, waiting for the ball to begin. Some of the standing rocks clearly depict heads of people, complete with hairdos and hats. It looks as if some volcano erupted just as they were having a get-together and it clad them all in hot lava, cooled over time, which rendered them eternal. They're still waiting to be unfrozen, or un-earthed from the fondant hot spill that killed them. They look full of life, under there. 

Bringing into focus the insane perfection and beauty of the Grand View Point Overlook. 
The shapes in the rocks are definitely a breathtaking spectacle. But what is more overwhelming and impressive than that is the sheer size of the spread of the land. The vastness and massiveness of the never ending plane, the amount of the sheets of rocks standing tall, unmoved for millions of years, for as long as the eyes can see. And you – a small dot on this land, trying to take it all in, you poor devil, and your brain and your retina not able to process this all!

The buttes and the sheets of rock, massive, standing on the flatter than flat red sheet of land reminded me of Monument Valley. The totem pole looking rocks at the Grand Point Overview and The Needles brought back memories of Bryce. But despite all these resemblances, Canyonlands is a park all in its own right – unique and deserving of equal fame of its other sister parks. 

The Monitor and Merrimac Buttes 

The Needles

The paved roads that bring you to the overlooks are flanked by green trees (surprisingly) and pastures. But the overlooks are hot looking craters, of nothing but rock and emptiness. Gaping, gouged, desert massive eye sockets, dead from staring into the sun for millions of years. Along the two rivers, you can see some green trying to survive. The whole area feels dead, however. No creatures, not even birds, other than crows. And who can announce death better than crows?!

We got lost for a day in this earthen, if barely, wonder. This is one of those trips where you know for sure one has to be seriously mixed up if they're not believing in something better and more powerful and creative than we will ever be. So much art; so much care; so much gusto and so much talent – how can anyone in the right mind deny the existence of something bigger than we might comprehend?! It dwarfs you and renders you helpless! This all cannot be a mistake, or happened by chance!

What is the purpose of our lives, a mere second in the millennia whose testament is written in front of us? It swallows you and your identity whole. What else is there left for us to do, to contribute to this planet, if something this sublime already exists?! Nothing but humility and reverence.

No answers. Just speechless and breathing, and taking it all in. And that would be enough for this one, small life. 
Vladimir Nabokov: The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”
 - click on the picture to see the full album from this amazing tour and more beautiful places in Moab