Monday, December 28, 2015

Bog Rainstorm by Kevin Shea - Giclee on Canvas

Bog Rainstorm, 16" x16" Giclée canvas mounted on frame. Signed and numbered limited edition (of 50)

Bog Rainstorm by Kevin Shea
Species included are:
Bearded grasspink, Calopogon barbatus;
Manyflowered grasspink, Calopogon multiflorus;
Pale grasspink, Calopogon pallidus;
Tuberous grasspink, Calopogon tuberosus;
Xyris, Xyris spp.;
Candy root, Polygala nana;
Largeflower Rosegentian, Sabatia grandiflora;
Rose of Plymouth, Sabatia stellaris;
Bartram's Rosegentian, Sabatia decandra;

$250.00 plus shipping and tax

Community Sustainability through Art and Nature

After four years of recovering from a massive aortic dissection I am beginning a new life.

Red Mangrove Estuary by Kevin Songer
Exploring and discovering the beauty of our earth is my obsession now.  I want to share earth's magnificent colors, textures and life sustaining wonders with others.

My hope is we can all learn and appreciate nature even more through ecological art and that our communities reflect love and appreciation of mother nature.

Through education we will learn to cherish and protect our natural surroundings.  Through art this education can become reality.

From common wildflowers growing on a roof, wall or planted in a garden to rare and endangered species struggling to survive within critical habitat, nature calls to us all.

Come here often for more nature.  Share, learn, love and prosper.  This is what mother nature desires for us all.

Todays art piece is my illustration of a red mangrove estuary, one similar to those found here along Sanibel Island's shoreline just west of Fort Myers, Florida.

The nature features found inn the illustration include:

  • Red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle and propagules;
  • Railroad vine, Ipomoea pes-caprae;
  • Blue-eyed darner, Aeshna multicolor;
  • Fiddler crabs, Uca pugnax;
  • Barnacles, Crustacea; and
  • the constellation of Cancer (the crab) the second most biologically diverse ecosystem in the world - the mangrove estuary.
If you wish to purchase a signed and numbered copy of the Red Mangrove Estuary glicee print on canvas for $375 plus tax and shipping, click on the Paypal button below.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Search for Meaning (Outdoors)

My dissection has given me pause to consider many questions.

What should I do to better my physical and mental health?  Why do we suffer pain and disease?  What is the meaning of life?

I still do not really know the answers.  Doctors have told and continue to tell me 'do this', while others say 'do that'.  Preachers and politicians alike say the same; a 'do this' or 'do that' depending on their perspective.

Books and articles and blogs like this one are full of words, too.  'Do this' or 'do that' the words say.

In addition to the 'do thises' and 'do thats', the books, articles, doctors and preachers and politicians also often say 'don't do this' and 'don't do that'.

Sound confusing?  Yes, few of the words really make any sense to me.  Each time I go down one path or I adopt one particular approach I can see there are other approaches offering what I am seeking also. Which one is right?  Even though there may be glimpses of a partial answer in one book or one preacher or one politician's words of wisdom, individually all the 'do this' - 'do that' advice falls short of answering my persistent questions.

Should I do a paleo, vegetarian, or vegan diet? Can I eat beans?  What about coffee?  Should I cover up with long sleeves or catch the rays and vitamin D?  Which 'holy book' is really true?  Should I be a democrat, republican or independent?  Why does one doctor say 'no way you can drive a car' while another says 'no reason you can't drive a car'?  What church, if any should I pick?  Will my aorta heal itself eventually or am I destined to, as I somedays fear, drop dead soon in the middle of some unlucky day?  Who should I vote for? Why do I have so many questions?

Its hard to make a connection between all the words of wisdom offered by politicians, preachers, doctors, books, and the blah, blah and blah internet.

I'm confused and don't really know the answers to anything anymore.

Of course, there is the heart-lung-machine-pumphead-excuse for me not getting 'it'.

But the questions continue to bug me.  The fact that I can walk around with a ripped aorta is amazing.  The world around me is amazing.  The people around me are amazing.  The fact I am a human is amazing.  I really want to know why life is happening and what I can do to maximize my human experience despite health challenges.

Lately I've been spending more time outdoors.  The Gulf of Mexico's gentle waves rolling in across jingle shells or ridged and colorful scallop shells relaxes me.  I've been faithfully using sunscreen and wearing long sleeve shirts in the sun.  Salt air, colorful sunsets, gentle breezes and turquoise blue waters bring peace to my anxious heart and pique my artist eyes.
Relaxing sunset at Bunche Beach.  Sanibel is in the background.

To the east of the beach, ancient slow-flowing, dark water swamps overgrown with bromeliads, orchids, giant cypress, strangler figs, wading birds and alligators create another positive respite for my body and mind.  Quiet jungle calls floating on the thick, warm humidity relax and reset my body too.

In between the sugar sands of gulf shorelines and cypress strands lie the mangrove swamps, a place so full of life the salty estuaries rival mighty rain forests for plant and animal biodiversity.   Within these backwater ebbs and flows our kayak expeditions do more good for my blood pressure, sanity and spirituality than all the books ever written, sermons ever preached or prescriptions ever scribbled out.

These close encounters with wildlife and wildflowers inspire me to draw.  I like colored pencils, paper and vector art on the iMac.

For the last year I've been drawing; first, Florida wildflowers and native plants, then important urban ethnobotanical plants and finally most of the plants mentioned in the Bible.

My last drawing was a cypress dome.  I've been working on it for about a week now.  The vector art begins with me drawing each cypress needle-like leaves, then adding the leaves to small branches and small branches to larger branches then to the grooved lichen covered trunk.  These domes are an amazing community of cypress trees, each one contributing to the overall dome-shape and wildlife rich ecosystem.
A Cypress Dome in the Everglades (the group of cypress in the back of the photo that resembles a dome)

My iMac is equipped with a maximum amount of RAM memory and high speed processor.  The computer can handle making large videos and complicated presentations, an amazing creation of high technology.  Unfortunately, after about twenty cypress trees (each one containing a couple thousand needle-like leaves), the iMac begins slowing down.  The cypress dome vector art drawing quickly became unbearably slow, trying my patience.  I never had this problem before when drawing single wildflowers, even the complex species.

There is so much information in the illustration of fifteen accurately drawn and detailed cypress trees that my iMac bogs down.  'That's crazy', I told myself, 'its just a drawing of a cypress dome' and I put the iMac to sleep.  Today was Saturday, my son's eighteenth birthday and Judy, Sesha, Ruairi and I were heading out to Sanibel for a birthday kayaking adventure.

Sanibel offered both the beach and mangrove estuary therapy I discussed above.  The slight frustration of information overload in a cypress dome drawing did disappear into the dark backwaters of the red mangrove stands.  There was hope!  Maybe as we walked in the sunset surf more answers would avail themselves to my poor confused mind.
The Gulf of Mexico washes up new shells each day on Southwest Florida's beaches.

That Saturday most of my age old questions were answered.  And the answers were simple.

A small shrimp.  A palmetto leaf.  A scallop shell.

Somewhere along the kayak trail the cypress drawing question was answered.  Surrounded by mangroves, our small paddling trail meandered through estuarial blackwater muck below and a dense mangrove canopy above.
Red mangrove stands in Sanibel estuaries are full of life

'Pop pop, pop', the tiny mangrove snapping shrimp fishes for its prey by creating a bubble of air by moving their larger claw so quickly that the resulting bubble burst is so loud prey are then stunned, caught and devoured.  In fact, the tiny mangrove snapping shrimp's bubble explosion is thought to be one of the loudest noises in all our seas and oceans.

Only dolphins and some whales create louder marine noises.  Moreover, the surface temperature of the small cavation bubble is calculated to be around 10,000 degrees F.  That's not a misprint.

How a tiny shrimp can do things we find hard to describe with words much less understand is amazing.  What mechanism facilitates these wonders?  There must be so much data store in just a shrimp-sized amount of DNA.

Then I thought about my cypress dome drawing.  The iMac's memory in itself is amazing.  The computer could store most every word ever written, sang, spoke, preached or prescribed.  If I was looking for answers in the words of humanity I could surely find a clue to those answers on my computer.  Or in a book.  Or written on a blog or in a movie. Or in a sermon or on a bottle of medicine.  All those words of wisdom neatly fit in my computer's memory.

Problem is, there are never any comprehensive answers to my questions in all those words of people.

Yet in a cypress tree or small mangrove snapping shrimp there is more information than what my computer could ever handle.  Nature is a grand collection of an infinite amount of information and answers.  All that data is compressed into forms invisible to the naked eye, chains of amino-acids.  The amount of information in the snapping shrimp's DNA could fill countless thumb flash drives, probably many more than I could ever order off Amazon.

I've been looking for answers in a relatively small library before, the library of human words, human thoughts and human philosophy.

The snappy shrimp showed me there were so many more answers and information around me outdoors, waiting to be touched, smelled, heard or tasted.

Two more encounters ended the day with gifts of new awareness and more answers for me.  I limped back to the car with my cane, exhausted from the kayak expedition.  The vehicle was parked in front of a group of palmettos on a bed of compacted shell.  A scallop shell lay beside my foot and I reached down to pick up the mollusk.
Scallop shells.  Note the many different grooves and ridges all connect at one central point.  Such is life.

The tiny scallop shell's design radiated from the center bottom out to the upper edges like rays of a rising sun.  I placed the shell on the frond of an adjacent outstretched palmetto leaf.
Saw palmetto fronds exhibit the same pattern of radiating differences with connectiveness, just as with the scallop.

Both shell and frond appeared similar in so many ways.  Strikingly, the scallop had many grooves and ridges, each individual and each coming together at one point.  The frond too possessed many individual, radiating leaf parts all joining in the center.  'Learn this', the shell and frond spoke to me in a figurative manner.  There are many paths in many different directions.  But they all lead to one common ground.  Separate differences coming together make the whole.  Alone they are isolated.  Coming together they make a whole.

And so the answer to my questions of why, what and how was answered then by objects appearing to be so simple but in reality so complex.  Like the cypress trees or snapping shrimp the shell and frond at first glance looked common and insignificant. Yet they spoke volumes to me, for in each separate, outwardly radiating shell groove or plant frond was a story of how there are many paths, many answers, many traditions and they all lead to one point.

The meaning of life for me is not about adhering to the 'do this' or 'do that' or 'don't do this or that'.  I never could find life's answers in a prescription or a book or some person's ramblings.  The words of one doctor or preacher or politician or philosopher do not hold answers for me.

Rather all the different - sometimes small, very small - things and people and paths and traditions and experiences in life coming together make the complete whole.  Just like the many grooves and ridges in the scallop shell.  Just like the fronds pointing in different directions but originating from one central source in the palmetto leaf.  Just like the seemingly insignificantly tiny snapping shrimp that creates temperatures that almost surpass the surface heat of the sun on a bubble pop so loud that marine vessel sonar is stymied.

All the small and large life forms around us are so full of information and answers.  And they all coexist and inter-relate to form the perfect whole.

Life's answers don't lie in a well worn script in a book or on a computer or delivered from a pulpit.  The answers lie in the complex web of varying and different flows and forms of life and cosmos around us.  Each differing but coming together in a group sustaining whole.

Some information can never be gleaned from words or books.  Some times you need to spend time in nature taking in the infinite amount of answers bundled up in the simplest wildflower or shrimp or fossilized shell.

Looking for answers?  Spend time in the great outdoors!
Hammock therapy is better for me than couch therapy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Back to Blogging about Aortic Dissection Life

I've been quiet for a long time now.  Mostly because I get into writers funk brought on by depression from take your pick:

  • myriad of medications
  • fatigue
  • life gets in the way
  • blah blah blah
Aorta Dissection Life - Bandaids and Compression Socks

But in the interim I've had a lot of post ideas develop in my mind.

Try as hard as I do to forget them- which is actually quite easy to do - they keep surfacing in the back of my mind during 2 A.M. insomnia episodes.

So I thought I'd start trying to bring this blog site back up to date.

And just writing this little bit is a way to jump start the whole blogging process once more.

Look for some of my thoughts later this weekend.

But for now, today has been the typical Dissection Life morning.  I wake up and my thumb is still bleeding a little from the small knife nick I gave it in the kitchen day before yesterday.

Stumble to the bathroom to find bandaids.  Cant get the bandaid cover paper off the bandaid.  Finally get the paper cover off now the entire bandaid is bloody.  Rinse off the bandaid now the bandaid won't stick.

Repeat the above paragraph until I get a clean, non-bloody bandaid on.

In the kitchen fix a cup of Starbucks Via Instant Columbian.  So good to smell the aroma.

Carry compression socks to living room to put on.  Sit on floor because I've made a commitment to sit on the floor each time I put on socks or shoes so I can always stay in enough shape to get up off the floor.  If I sit on the floor and then stand back up ten times a day then this is equivalent to 3,650 squats a year.  Ten a day is much easier.

Bummer!  Compression socks are inside out!  It is hard enough to put them on right side out.  Oh feck!

Reach my thumb into the inside out part of the compression socks, which is really the right side out part and try to pull them back out to the appropriate side out but them won't budge.  Double feck!!

Yank on the inside out sock tip and the bandaid rips off.

Back to the band aids in the bathroom.

Lol!  Just another Dissection Life day!

More tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Urban Agriculture DIY Low Cost Raised Vegetable Bed for Urban Core Sustainability

Our yard soil is well drained sand.  Gardening in Florida sand is difficult to say the least.  It does little good to water with a hose because the moisture disappears almost immediately.

Even our native horsemint, Monada pnctata wilts on a daily basis here in the dry, hot sandy soil.
Here in Palm Coast the Atlantic winds are constantly blowing hot, dry air across our yard.  Even the native plants such as spotted horsemint, Monarda punctata and black eye Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, are all wilting by the time four o'clock in the afternoon arrives.

I wanted to do some serious gardening this year without spending hundreds of dollars each month trying to keep the impossible to irrigate sandy garden patch, irrigated.

The idea of a raised bed filled with organic matter to hold the moisture stayed in my thoughts as I considered different gardening bed design options.

But raised beds can be expensive.  After totaling my first materials list for a 8' long by 4' wide by 3' deep bed, I was shocked at the price tag. No way will I build this.  I'd be better off financially by buying organic veggies from Publix, I told myself.

The affordability component of sustainability and urban agriculture is crucial for long term success.  So rather than spend the four hundred dollars it would cost to buy nice straight cedar boards and stainless hardware, I spent the morning looking at what few scrap materials were stacked neatly (lol) in the backyard.

I soon found out constructing a raised growing bed for pennies can be easily accomplished.

After gathering about thirty metal stakes and laying them out in the shape of a rectangle, I retrieved the big hammer from the garage and enlisted my tall teenager into tapping them into the sandy ground about one meter apart.

Soon the rough outline of the garden bed appeared above the sand.

Recycled stakes and old chicken wire form the perimeter of the urban agriculture raised planting bed
Once the stakes were in place, reused chicken wire was stretched and attached to the stakes with ties fashioned out of copper strands from an old, worn out extension cord.

With the 'frame' in place the next step was to line the interior of the bed with saw palmetto.  Our back backyard is filled with saw palmetto.
Urban agriculture raised bed lined with saw palmetto fronds

Saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, grows broad and fibrous fan shaped leaves approximately two to three feet in diameter.  Saw palmetto, besides being a Florida native plant, provides a variety of ethnobotanical benefits from fiber from the leaves, nectar from the flowers and medicine from the berries.
Urban agriculture planting bed uses saw palmetto fronds as an organic bed liner.

We placed three layers of fresh cut, green saw palmetto fronds inside the chicken wire and over the bare soil.   The fronds served two main purposes of; A. keeping the dirt from spilling out of the chicken wire, and B. slowing down any vertical drainage of water from the bed into the thirsty sand below.
Urban agriculture planting bed layered with leaves and sandy soil

Urban agriculture planting bed layered with leaves and sandy soil
 Once the saw palmetto fronds were in place, sandy soil from our old garden beds was added over the fronds.

With four inches of soil over several inches of fronds in the raised bed, we then added a foot of decomposing oak leaves, another four inch layer of sand-dirt and them more leaves, then more dirt.

Soon our bed was a full three feet full of sand and decomposed leaf compost.  We watered in the bed and allowed the organic planting mass of leaves and dirt to settle for a week.

Urban agriculture planting bed, scatter seeds and water.
Judy always keeps a chest full of seeds in the house, so when it came time to plant I had fun selecting a variety of summer vegetables.  Seed packets are usually so pretty and jump-start a gardener's imagination.

I simply scattered the seeds across the top of the raised bed and watered them in.

The enormous amount of organic matter in the bed holds moisture, keeping the planting area from drying out like the sand in our backyard.
Urban agriculture raised bed, seeds soon sprout and vegetables grow
Earth worms have already made their way to the raised bed and in turn the robins and mockingbirds frequent the area daily in search of any raised bed bugs.

One of the most important keys to a successful urban core agriculture project are pollinators.  The native Rudbeckia hirta, best known as 'black-eyed Susans' grow around the perimeter of the bed, loudly calling the pollinators, attracting them en masse and in turn facilitating the development of many yummy veggies.
Urban agriculture raised bed with pollinator plants, Rudbeckia hirta
The bed is the perfect compost pile.  The raised growing area also keeps the plump, furry saw palmetto rabbits from grazing on our veggies.

Growing plants in the rich, deep leaf humus is so much easier than in our well-drained sand.  Water tends to stay inside the frond lined bed instead of draining away quickly down into the surgical aquifer.
Urban agriculture raised bed easily grows organic vegetables

Urban agriculture raised planting bed with three week old squash plants and lots of baby squash

Urban agriculture raised bed plant roots and saw palmetto fronds hold soil in place, eliminating need for side boards.
Though I first considered lining the outside of the planting bed with boards, I can see now that an outside covering is not necessary.  The root architecture of the plants weaves into the chicken wire forming an impenetrable vertical wall.  In fact, flowers and veggies are growing out of the side, forming an edible and blooming living wall of sorts.

Urban agriculture can be effective without becoming expensive.

Recycling, reuse and use of locally available materials are key.  As is a little imagination.  Just hold a packet of veggie or wildflower seeds in your hand and look out back and think - 'in just three weeks'....

Friday, May 22, 2015

Genius Design. Creating Smart Stormwater and Landscape Ecology.

Land is usually expensive in the urban core and that is why it is so important for the site designer to try and maximize buildable space while incorporating green space, stormwater and parking.
Genius design - combining stormwater and landscape (& using native plants!)
Historically the trend has been to specify the square or rectangular stormwater pond and the linear, parallel strips of landscape separately.

Really, the only reason I can think this practice was started was because many civil designers grew up playing with square Legos.

Or maybe neatly compartmentalized site design components on the blueprints were easier to get approved by the planning department.

People get into a mindset.  Most do not like change.  So once the square stormwater pond and parallel strips of landscape islands and no trees and lots of black asphalt became the norm, well... who were civil designers to rock the boat with natural complicated curves?  After all, most schools teach - square stormwater pond plus parallel strips of landscape islands plus sprawl equals quick governmental approval for the project.

But occasionally I see a really successful genius design where the smart engineer foregoes the separate stormwater and landscape components.  Instead they maximize space and create urban ecology by using natural curves and native plants integrated together into a sustainable and cost efficient functioning part of the site layout.
The above photo is an example of how to perfectly combine landscape buffer requirements with stormwater obligations and create a wonderful native fern living wall too!

Native wetland trees, cypress, Taxodium spp., were planted in a depression and act as visual barriers to the adjacent highway while also serving as stormwater siphons, transpiring several hundred gallons of water each day into the atmosphere - assisting in water attenuation and flood control.

Instead of a gaping, unsightly, litter filled stormwater pond that requires extra real estate, this designer has created vital urban ecology all the while satisfying stormwater and landscape requirements with the jurisdictional permitting agency.

I can hear the square designers howling now.  Yes, I know that there are many factors in creating adequate stormwater facilities.  But it just makes sense to maximize site density with respect to the environment, the community and the economy.

Think outside the box (square)!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Urban Sustainability Requires Pedestrian Legitimacy

Urban sustainability must be centered around adequate pedestrian infrastructure.
Sidewalks need maintenance just as roads require upkeep.  Many times with pedestrian infrastructure the prevailing attitude is 'out of sight, out of mind'.

Building sidewalks and leaving them to become unusable through neglect and lack of landscape maintenance does nothing to perpetuate the legitimacy of sustainability.

Our cities must become pedestrian friendly.  Our public works department must take pedestrian life seriously with respect to budgets and upkeep.

Here in America we have such a long way to go to recognize the legitimacy of pedestrian life.  WE are too embedded in our seat belts.

Urban Landscape and Stormwater Integration

I always recommend integrating landscape and stormwater.  
Small SWMF feature incorporated into a landscape buffer.

Never could I understand why a developer or engineer would design a site with separate landscape and stormwater facilities, especially with the dire lack of urban vacant land.  

Such a waste.  

However some designers have their thinking caps on correctly and come up with some really awesome stormwater-landscape designs!  

Here is a photo of a small attenuation and treatment stormwater facility designed into the landscape buffer! 

The concept is quite simple and straightforward:
  • select a wetland tree or shrubs
  • build a berm around a small perimeter to receive rooftop of parking lot runoff
  • incorporate into the landscape design
  • achieve stormwater credit and landscape credit in the same amount of space.
Love to see more of this type design.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

True Urban Sustainability Must Be Foot Traffic Based

Motorized vehicles have put us on a non-sustainable path towards societal failure.

True sustainability incorporates complete integrated pedestrian design - not just sidewalks
We no longer walk like our ancestors.  Instead the obesity epidemic exponentially blossoms and life expectancy may be declining.

Peak oil has come and gone.  Price instability associated with petroleum products is here to stay and impact pocketbooks.

One significant incident of oil or gas supply disruption would rock the markets and ultimately our existence.  We are walking a fine line and possibly unprepared for what could happen.

The answer is simple.  Relearn the foot-centric community design of our grandparents generation.

We should be planing future development around the brilliant pedestrian concept of parks, shops, food and communities interconnected by sidewalks and bikeways instead of blueprinting our cities around roads.

Unfortunately our modern day automobile centered towns are ripe for catastrophic collapse because even in the best of pedestrian focused communities the infrastructure for functional bike and foot transportation is woefully inadequate.

For walking to catch on, the facilities to encourage safe, beautiful and efficient pedestrian movement must be built.

Design and build communities correctly around foot and bicycle traffic with efficient mass transit and the future will be amazingly prosperous.

Yet giving lip service through poor design gets us all nowhere quick.  That is where most of our cities are today.

For instance, Palm Coast has built many miles of bikeways and sidewalks.  You would think the area here is a pedestrian dream city.

We have all fooled ourselves into thinking our cities are eco-friendly because we build sidewalks.  Truth is though that most of these sidewalks are constructed as an after thought to roadways.

We will never approach credible sustainability with the thinking - design for automobiles first - and then design for foot traffic and bicycles as an afterthought.

Each day I walk to Public for our daily food.  The entire walk is about three miles give or take.  Every day I chuckle or curse, depending upon my mood, the weather and how heavy the groceries are when I come to this really nice crosswalk across Belle Terre Blvd.

The wide, nice sidewalk ends two meters away from the crosswalk button.

Yes, I am grateful for the button and crosswalk light.  But for a disabled person - or that matter any pedestrian - stepping across huge mounds of fire ants and sliding down a steep hill above a stormwater ditch to reach the cross walk button is more than a little absurd - and certainly sends the wrong message to would-be-pedestrians.

And this one example is just the tip of the huge, unseen by most, sustainability iceberg.

Few but the dedicated pedestrian really understand.

The planning or civil designer and plans reviewer drives a car home.  They have only limited understanding of anything foot traffic centric.  Many think sidewalks are the solution to community sustainability when sidewalks are only a piece to the overall sustainability puzzle.

Walking has opened my eyes to so much.  Give me a city or municipality that really wants to become eco-sustainable from an environmental, economic and social perspective and with pedestrian perspective and the right opportunity, and amazing prosperity could be created.

But few are willing to give up the automobile approach.

And so the cars will burn oil and our cities will sprawl outwards.

Until a petroleum supply event.

And then we will wonder why we didn't take pedestrian design seriously, sooner, while we are sliding into the stormwater ditch after attempting to press the crosswalk button.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Time to Focus on Sustainability

I have learned a lot being on death's doorstep with my dissected aorta.  My transportation is solely by walking now.  In becoming a pedestrian for the past three years I have had my eyes opened to urban green design issues.

I want to share those.

They may come slow as I am truly physically limited.  But I will share as I can.

Sustainability from a disabled person's perspective is wild!

Can't wait to share some of what I've learned walking along the roadside for the past three years.

Living in a world without a car, in a world designed for automobile life, is a trip.  I now do not think a automobile-centric lifestyle is a sustainable approach.

So over the next while - while I am still alive - I want to share some new ideas on how we can create real sustainable, urban green.

Hope you join me.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Step by Step We Overcome Our Challenges

This short note is about walking through challenges, one step at a time.

So far in 2015, each new dawn brings new daily blessings and new challenges.  The blessings are appreciated and the challenges, well, having been forced to become a pedestrain has taught me that we all get through our issues, one step at a time.

One step at a time is also how I get around.
Walking Gives Me a New Perspective on Facing Challenges
In part it sucks, especially living in a place with no public transportation.  We do have plenty of sidewalks here in Palm Coast and they go everywhere and even go nowhere.  You see, when the city was planned big developers were hoping for a megatropolis.  Sidewalks were built to allow for senior citizens to ride big Schwinn tricycles two abreast.  But the crash came.

So we have lots of very wide sidewalks and lots of woods.  I like both.

Lately my walking has been curtailed a little because of encounters with unexpected health issues.

I know I should never expect issues to stop arising.  They always will, that is just part of life.

But sometimes, after a long time of dealing with one body part malfunctioning it seems like there might be light at the end of the tunnel.  Then another body part issues manifests itself and does so usually in a most unpleasant way.

Last week my heart (the thing is already filled with artificial parts) decided to begin mimicking my brain's erratic electrical patterns.  My heart forgot what proper rhythm was all about.

I know now that arrhythmia is much more common than I  thought.  But when it hit me it hurt bad.  I thought the end was closer or near or around the corner somewhere.

So that morning I asked Ruairi to take me to the emergency room in St. Augustine.

The Bigeminy they diagnosed me with hurts.  I feel like someone is squeezing my heart while the organ is dancing around trying to remember how to beat.

Honestly, I could have probably dealt with the Bigeminy better if my aorta valve weren't so clingy loud.

Over the past three years I have come to rely on my metronome-like heart valve to keep all my life in perfect sync.  One loud click each second and a half.  I even half like that steady, audible noise, sometimes now.

So when the heart started jumping and hurting the steady metronome rhythm did something unusual.  The clicking noises switched beats.

The steady click click was gone.  Instead my heart was beating two and three times in the space where one beat should have been.  The doctors explained this to me with the EKG graph as an illustraton.   Actually the second and third beats are not full heartbeats but they originate when the top part of the heart known as the atria contracts again out of sync or the bottom part of the heart, known as the ventricular portion does the same.
Bigeminy (irregular heartbeats) show up on an EKG
Oversimplified, a Bigeminy PAC would be a heartbeat with one good beat and one half beat coming from the top of the heart.  A Bigeminy PVC would be the same except the extra contraction arises from the bottom of the heart.  A Trigeminy PAC of PVC manifests itself as three beats, one full beat and two half beats.

What causes these Bigeminies?  Extra stimulation including; caffeine, sugar, stress or previous open heart surgeries.  Treatments can include a procedure called ablation or a pacemaker, bypass and importantly, adoption of a centered, calm lifestyle - one I find through prayer and meditation.

Yet sometimes I feel like this falling apart mode is never going to end with a dark cloud of worry and depression always just around the corner.

At least the diagnosis has a cool name.  Jiminy Cricket would have been proud.

Discharged with instructions to see my cardiologist asap (my appointment with the electrophysiologist is this week) I spent the weekend thinking, 'how am I going to get through this new challenge?  I want my old heart rhythm back. Back at home I immediately dumped the French roast coffee beans into the garbage.   Judy says hot water is just as good and I am beginning to agree.

Sitting made my loud erratic beat even louder and more obnoxious.

'Just make up your mind, dammit!', I yelled.

After three years I was finally used to and even happy with the plain-jane click, click, steady beat.   Now instead I have this wild, band like drumming going on, producing barbaric rhythms that evoke memories of the most annoying jingles I've ever heard.

'Chili's Baby Back Ribs' and the jingle to one of my teen's favorite television shows, 'The Office' immediately started playing with the aortic beat.  Arrrrgh!   'Who Let The Dogs Out!' and 'YMCA' then started playing.  Finally there was 'Whoomp!  There It Is' and the 'I Wish I Were An Oscar Mayer Weiner' and 'SpongeBob Squarepants'.  Would the nightmare end?

Out the door with my cane.  Time for a walk.  Fresh air and being outdoors always helps me work through issues.  Halfway to Publix I realized, 'I can do this'.  The solution to any new challenge is just like walking.  Step by step you will eventually get there.
Step by Step and before you know it the journey is complete
Sometimes a journey looks impossible to complete.  Surgeries can take forever it seems to recover from.  Life events seem as though they are impossibly permanent.  My mile walk to Publix seems forever to me as I start out.

Yet from having walked just about everywhere here for the past couple years I have learned a maxim.  And that maxim is 'before you know it, the journey will be complete'.

Don't worry about how far you have to go.  Just take the first step and then the second.

Importantly, new perspectives may open up along the way.  I have learned so much about urban planning through my walks, especially with respect to just how our cities and living spaces are not planned with disabled or pedestrians or even cyclists in mind.  Our metropolia are planned around the automobile.  So I've learned how best not to get hit by a car when I am walking.  That is where bright orange and lime green socks and show laces come in.

Too, I have learned that the most common sidewalk litter include; previously scratched off lottery tickets, cigarette butts and dog droppings the size of which I am sometimes flabbergasted.  Another good reason to not look too far into the distance but rather focus on what is immediately in front of you.

I've always admired wildflowers.  Florida has some awesome weeds with beautiful blooms.  Florida also has some terribly aggravating (though ecologically important) weeds like Spanish needles aka Bidens alba but that is another story.  Walking has provided me with an opportunity to stop when I need to rest and truly observe nature.

The complexity in simple things, like weed-wildflowers amazes me.  Sometimes, when I see a weed-flower I stop, set my bag and cane down, sit down and just be. I hadn't held a dandelion-like seed head in the wind in decades, but I do so now.  Carrying home blooms I've been trying to create illustrations of these blooms.
When it seems as though I may die, I draw wildflowers.  My best medicine.

Those jingles are slowly fading away.  Acceptance of the regular irregular click is happening.  Something new, yes.  Step by step I will get through this.

Honestly it amazes me just how fast journeys, even hard ones, fly by.

Yep, there will always be new and unexpected journeys we are required to take along the way but step by step will get us there.

It is so much easier for me to focus on a step rather than think about a long path ahead.   One step turns to two and two to three.  Before you know it we are home.

I suppose there is a spiritual lesson here for me too.  Don't focus on the reward at the end.  If you do you will miss out on the journey here and now.  Live life with each step.

Sometimes many or most steps will be so hard.  Other steps will be good, fun and easy.

Pffff….. this morning my heart valve rhythm decided on the 'Meow Mix' jingle.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I am so Over all the Optimism and Heart Health Articles

I just know something is wrong with this study, bad wrong.  But when I try and analyze the findings and results, my reaction is one of confusion and anger.
Yes, I am smiling like the person in the study photo!  I am optimistic! (Fooled you :) )

Confusion is a dissection symptom confronting me daily.  My confusion is not normal, but the fact that I stay confused on a daily basis is a normal daily issue I am used to.

But anger is not one of my normal responses.  So when I got really irritated after reading about the study described below I knew something was up.  I just had to figure out what was wrong.  Why was I so mad?

First of all the study seemed to be positive, good news rather than bad.  The title. "Optimism and Cardiovascular Health.  Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis" even had a 'feel good catchy' ring to it but cost thirty seven dollars to buy.  I stayed content with reading the many third party reviews of the study.  Thirty seven dollars will be better off spent on my numerous medications.

So in all fairness I am not qualified to review the actual study.

But I can give you my thoughts on the way numerous national publications such as, TIME magazine's review of the study in their recent article entitled, "How Optimism Might Be Good For Your Heart"; and U.S. News and World Report's "Study Suggest Correlation Between Heart Health and Optimism".

The U.S. News and World Report's write up offers a by-line  under the title that says: "Smile.  It'll make your heart happy."  The article lead photo features a smiling young person holding a cup of coffee with the caption, "A new study suggest optimism could be linked to cardiovascular health."

The write up quotes the study's author, Rosalba Hernandez, as stating, "individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts."

Apparently, abundant optimism is more often than not a companion to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, higher levels of physical activities, healthier body mass index measurements and lower rates of smoking.   The article did not really specify if optimism produced the healthier attributes or if optimism was a collateral product of possessing these healthy attributes.

My immediate take away impression though was one of guilt and anger.  I felt guilty because even though I try to stay optimistic, I am also realistically pessimistic too.  I say realistically pessimistic because I struggle with physical and mental issues each day.  I am not always 'happy go lucky' or all 'smiles' like the photo of the young woman in the article.

I asked myself, 'am I doing something wrong?'  Ouch!  It hurt to smile like that.

What about all my friends who struggle with Marfan Syndrome issues or those living, like me, with aortic aneurysms and dissections?

I think of their ongoing surgeries and pain and daily struggles.  The line from the OneRepublic song "Counting Stars', "everything that kills me makes me feel alive" is so true for many, including myself.

"O.K. Kevin, take the article in context," I told myself.  Perhaps the article was written about the average person, you know, the one without Marfan Syndrome or a dissected aorta or cancer or other serious health issues.  Perhaps the article was written about a 'normal' person.

But many studies show Americans are really less healthy and die sooner than others in the world.

The Huffington Post states that only one in three Americans are truly happy.  Yet Huffington also tells us that 92% of Americans are actually optimistic.

So we are optimistic, unhappy and a third of us are truly healthy.

Is the take away from the articles about optimism supposed to be 'if I smile and act perkily bubbly, then I will be healthy?"  I don't think so.

Thankfully, the last line in the U.S. News and World Report actually helped me make sense of the entire issue of optimism, happiness and cardiovascular health.

The last sentence mentioned a study entitled "Heart Health When Life is Satisfying".  This study proposed that heart health is really promoted when the basics of life - one's job or purpose, one's family, one's sex life and one's self all exist in a stable, satisfactory state.

One's love relationship, leisure activities or standard of living actually had little or no measurable positive impact on cardiovascular health.

I can grasp this concept of a 'stable, satisfactory state' affording a positive benefit to cardiovascular health.

Walking miles for daily water can be a satisfactory state when one returns with water to a loved family, weary but fulfilled after the hard work.

I cannot relate to the more optimism - more heart health line of reasoning when the  whole 'optimism' premiss is based around the ostrich concept.

In fact, I would label this more optimism approach as one of denial.  Deny the fact that our diets do not contain outrageous amounts of sugar, salt and inflammatory substances and our bodies will be deceived into rushing forward, fueled by adrenaline, until we collapse.   Deny that our hectic, out of touch with nature lifestyles contribute to hypertension.

We exist in a state of optimistic denial.

Today I am alive.  I am momentarily stable and I am in a satisfactory state with respect to life's fundamentals.  That is good enough for me.  I can't be the young person with the big gleeful smile in the article's main photo. It'd be a contrived smile.  I can grin a little though.

I am just so over people and media telling me that an optimistic attitude and heart health go hand in hand.

So let's be realistic.  I am alive.  I woke up this morning despite all the hurt and heart-aorta worry and bet that if truth be known, my sometimes pessimistic, dire outlook and attitude, combined with my daily walks, spirituality seeking moments, non-processed food diet and medications make me just as heart healthy as most others - even if it is my own perception.  Yes, "everything that kills me makes me feel alive."  It does.  It really does.  I acknowledge that despite the hurt and pain and struggles, despite the dour smirk, I am complete.

In my old age I have decided that there really are no answers, just questions.

After reading all the optimistic health articles and writing this post I am even more confused about everything heart health related.

I think I'll go take a walk and listen to the birds sing in the drizzling rain outside.  They sound happy and look healthy.  Are birds optimistic?

And it always pays to listen to the little birdies.  When I walked out in the drizzle, one whispered in my ear something astounding!

So I went back into the house and did a little research and the bird was right!

The Huffington Post actually reports that university studies show that pessimists live longer!  It is right here in this link! Yes!

I am vindicated.

And I am even more convinced there are no answers in life.  Only questions and my dour smirk or perky grin, depending on how bad I really hurt.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seeking and Arrival. Aortic Dissection and Marfan Life Challenges 2015.

2015 is here!  Wow.  I dissected back in 2011, having my last open heart surgery in 2012.  Honestly, the thought of living this long never entered my mind and I remember weeping silently one day at thought of not seeing the two teens up and grown.
Staying warm to keep Raynauds at bay in the hot Florida sun.
But Jincy is off at the university and well on her way to becoming self sufficient.  Ruairi took his first big overnight road trip all by himself last week.  His grades and scores are high enough to get him through college on scholarships and grants.

I still need to finish my what to do when I die notebook, but for the most part all the paperwork is in order.  When this last effort is complete another worry will disappear.

For the most part the 'now I lay me down to sleep' panic attacks are still there.  But now I am able to accept mortality possibility with a 'thank you for another day' and a 'frankly my dear, I don't give a damn', shrug.

No, I am not giving up.  Judy and I have a lots to do together.  I would like to see the kids finish university and enjoy the grandchildren!  But I am wore down from the stress of worrying about living each hour like it is my last.

Time flies by so fast.  Best spend time not worrying so much.

2014 was hard and I was hoping 2015 wold be a fresh start.

And 2015 has already taught me a lot.  But I was hoping for a stress free, better than last year twelve months, season in life.

Yesterday Ruairi said, 'Dad, the butter is soft'.  

We use real butter, I told myself.  Real butter is always soft, right?

'Is the refrigerator OK?', Ruairi asked.

Real butter is always soft, I told myself again.  If I say that enough the refrigerator will be ok.

But something was really wrong with the refrigerator.  I knew it.  The unit had been making funny noises lately, kind of like someone throwing the small cast iron skillet around the kitchen sound.  I thought the problem would go away if I played Carlos Santana long and loud enough.

It Never ends, I thought and shrugged.  I never arrive.  I will never get there.  New roadblocks pop up every day!  Heck and throw in some '#$%&(2@$XXX' for good measure.  It never ends.

Don't they realize… 2014 is over!!!

Lets see.  Last year we repaired or replaced every appliance in the house, except for the garbage disposal and it is next on my list because it too, like me, is dysfunctional.  

In addition to the garbage disposal, the outside air conditioner compressor electronics went out.  We fixed them.  

The inside air handler furnace in the garage caught on fire and burned out the entire unit.  We fixed it.  Thankfully the house did not burn down.

The washing machine died, dead in the water.  We fixed it by ordering and replacing the water pump.  Try disassembling one.  

The clothes dryer stopped drying clothes.  Believe it or not repairing the clothes dryer was more difficult for the family to fix than the washing machine.  

The refrigerator went out in early spring.  We fixed it.

The dishwasher died.  We replaced the dishwasher.

The microwave door fell off.  Turns out it is more expensive to replace the door than buy a new microwave.  We replaced the microwave.

The swimming pool pump caught on fire and burned out.  We replaced the swimming pool pump.

The stove quit working. We found a used stove.  It does not matter to me that it is white while all the other appliances are black or stainless.  The stove works.  Well, all except one eye.

The fiberglass shower stall cracked.  We fixed it.

And that's just the house.  The front end of the car had to be completely rebuilt.  We installed a new windshield as the old one's crack just kept getting bigger.  The stupid under sized spare tire got tossed and new rims and five new tires were purchased along with a ton of new engine parts.

I feel so much better having a full size spare in the trunk, especially since Ruairi is driving so much.  We actually put the small spare on one day and it wouldn't even keep the car frame up off the asphalt.  But I can say unequivocally, Ruairi has learned so much about being tool handy.  Learning about replacing skate board wheel bearings opened many handyman doors for him.

Speaking of automobiles, the State of Florida permanently revoked my drivers license based on my medical condition.  Not a suspension mind you, I am now a permanent 'driver-non-grata'.  

Yes, I have figured out how to bike around town and I walk everywhere and feel better physically for it.  Actually if I don't walk fluid accumulates around my ankles so I must walk every day as far as I can.  

Collaterally, the loss of my drivers license after forty years of being a safe driver, affects my self worth much more than being any inconvenience to getting around.  

Don't get me wrong though.  Pedestrian life is definitely hard.  Even with all the sidewalks around town, this city as well as most others I suspect, are not designed for accommodating pedestrians or bicyclists, especially disabled ones.   

Cities are designed around the automobile.  No wonder we have such a hard time transitioning to sustainable city life.  

One is supposed to be in the prime of their life career during their 50's.  Now if I have someone express interest in my expertise they disappear as soon as my 'no driver's license' issue comes up.

In all reality though I think I may be in more danger of dying from being hit by a car than my imminent aorta rupture.

But the wise medical review board for drivers thinks my existing aorta condition is best kept from behind the steering wheel.   

And 2014 did bring a couple of significant bleed outs.  One was so bad I had Ruairi drive me to the ER in St. Augustine.  I honestly thought my dissected renal artery had popped.  Turns out I lost about a quart of blood from an internal connective tissue tear.  The blood sloshed around my waist for about a month.
Last Bleed Out Episode.

And talk about aneurysms, our second eldest daughter is still recovering from a brain aneurysm that left her almost blind.  We took care of her two teens for half a year which was a true blessing, affording us the opportunity to really spend some quality time with two of our grandchildren.

My cardiologist says, 'we don't want to open a can of worms' when I ask him about what we should do for my large descending aorta and renal artery dissection.  Then there is the carotid dissection that we haven't really started analyzing yet.  Probably because my brain can not even wrap itself around that concept.

I AM so glad I've finally figured out all this is the result of a connective tissue challenge but I still have so many, add another 'so many; for emphasis, unanswered questions.

I just knew 2015 would be the year I could arrive at the answers to my health questions.  

Last year I was able to at least label many of the questions I had about what was wrong with me.

My biggest challenges are (in order of severity): 

1. a paper thin aorta that I can't do anything other than have the entire descending section replaced with a Dacron tube - I don't think I can do this.  The Dacron graft on the ascending portion almost killed me while saving me; 

2. vertigo to the point of having to sit down numerous times on my daily walks.  Interestingly, I think it is a combination of being on the heart-lung machine for so long (pump head symptoms) and a eye-ear-brain short circuit.

Not only does my pulse of 40 beats per minute and low blood pressure make me dizzy, but anything complex sends me reeling. 

For instance, walking on plain white concrete sidewalks is usually OK.  But if I walk across intricately laid pavers I typically spin out and end up on the ground, sitting still with my eyes closed until the vertigo stops (hopefully).  As a passenger in the car at any stop light I have to look away from the whizzing cars in the intersection or the vertigo starts again and BOOM my head is against the door.  

Others have told me how the radio or even the telephone can be a trigger for vertigo.

So I've had to learn to look up when walking across pavers, praying the clouds shapes are not too complex.

Facebook and Twitter are gone from my phone now.  The other day I opened up Facebook and had numerous notifications, somewhere around fifty or so.  My brain instantly painted a picture of fifty small, smiling avatars each calling to me at the same time and BOOM BOOM I was on the floor again. 

Facebook has allowed me to find seriously good, helpful support groups and I've made internet friends around the world.  But I open the app and a cross between the feeling of laughing gas, a walk through the carnival's moving funny house wheel and an out of control ferris wheel kicks in.  I have to find the floor fast and never go anywhere without my cane or crutch.  Surprisingly, I have learned to do some cool baton type twirling with my cane. 

Complexity of any type - visual, audio or motion based brings on instant immobility and a way too intimate relationship with the floor below.

3. immobilizing Raynauds Syndrome - once the temperature drops below 60 F my fingers and toes turn blue, I loose feeling and my pulse jumps into overdrive to try to pump blood into the constricted periphery vessels - there is not much I can do about this other than stay warm or get a job as an icicle (if no drivers license is required);

4. memory loss is so difficult for someone who loves words.  At first the fear of Alzheimer's plagued me constantly.  But now I recognize the inability to recall short term memory as one of the results of surviving those nights in the ER with a disconnected heart.  The neurologist says 'cognitively challenged' as a result of embolistic events.   I hear you Vincent.

5. depression. ugh.  Depression really is a bad thing.  Walking helps.

Thankfully there are those close to me who have gone through similar operations and cannot find the words for their thoughts sometimes and the vertigo and the other issues also.  I am not alone with this challenge.

But I just KNEW 2015 was going to be better.  2015 was going to be the year I arrived.  2015 was the year of the destination.

Then on January 2nd the refrigerator broke.  This was a sign of what was to come!  I was floored (not literally this time but I did have to sit down).

I've got to get to a point in my life where I can focus on what my primary care physician says - 'your number one job is to stay alive, Kevin'.  I need to focus on health, not on machines.

People look at me and see a tall, fit man.  I've managed to control the beta-blocking result of weight gain because I walk so much.  I look healthy.  Because I look healthy people think I am healthy.

If I try to explain what I face daily most scratch their heads and think one word - 'hypochondriac'.

Or the evangelicals sometimes say - 'I am glad I did not buy into believing what my doctors told me'.  I am tempted to ask 'then why are you dealing with those horrible hemorrhoids?'  But instead I just smile and shrug.

So the world expects me to keep going at breakneck speed, machines and people both.

And to start the new year off right, the refrigerator broke.  Not an auspicious start to an arrival year.

Today I placed a chair in front of the stainless doors and sat down, staring alternatively at the closed door, the bright fluorescent light inside and then the outside of the closed door once more.

I know nothing about refrigerators.  I waited for the machine to speak to me and tell me what was wrong.  My cocktail of heart and other such medications sometimes provides unique visions and I hoped for spontaneous enlightenment about freon and condensation and such.  Where are you John Gorrie?

I can't buy a new refrigerator and would not even if I could.

Sitting in the chair I could vaguely see my reflection in the smudgy but pretty clean stainless door.  I felt sorry for the man I watched in the door's reflection.  Pity party time.  But the more I stared the louder  my artificial heart parts clanged (is there such a word?).

Sheez.  I'll never get to where I need to be. I muttered.  Stupid refrigerator.  I need to be exercising my rotator cuff, not probing around inside a dead refrigerator's innards.

Then, as I opened the door once more the fluorescent light inside almost knocked me over - this brilliant, bright light - road to Damascus bright, light popped on and shown deep into my head.  Thankfully it did not blind me.  More thankfully it was not so complex so as to cause me to fall over out of the chair onto the floor.

It was one of those really plain, simple pure white concrete sidewalk moments.

I had already arrived.

All that broken appliance stuff from last year really was meaningless in the big picture.  Happiness, wealth and fortune is not really found in possessing fine appliances and a driver's license.

I may be poor but I am really rich.  I am a rich pauper.  I am truly blessed.

As I sat there staring at that piece of stainless junk….. wait, let me re-phrase….

I had just been gifted over 36,000 heart beats and it still just a little after noon.  Add to the 36 grand heart beats another 5,000 or so breaths.

As Jesus says, 'Peace, be still'.

Thats all that matters.  I am alive.  I have family who are healthy and happy even though they too are struggling with their challenges.

The steel will rust and plastic melt.  If I wait until the machines and people are perfect then I am 'SOL'.

I really have got there.  I found the end of the rainbow in 2015.  

So for the rest of the day I said 'thank you' after each breath.  I tried saying 'thank you' after each heart beat but found myself on the floor again.  Keep it simple.  The destination was never really that far away. In fact the destination I was searching for was always near by.  Dorothy's face floated by.

Yes, my depression won't go away and neither will my dissected aorta or my Raynauds or that horrible vertigo or my friend's hemorrhoids; and the appliances and car will keep breaking.  

But all that I asked for - the space to work on my challenges - is already here.  I just had to accept it.

I have arrived.  I am rich beyond imagination too.

What an awesome 2015!