June 26, 2012

A Rebirth of Mobility

For the last month, I've been limping through my days with severe gout in my right toe. I was lucky to be able to work through the pain for the most part without much disruption to my schedule (no one had any idea that I was actually in acute pain at the Avant Garden opening), but it has been annoying. At first, I though that this was just another bout of sciatica (which is something that I get about once per year). That usually starts out with a sharp pain in the lower back that runs down my leg and into my foot. A session with the chiropractor always clears it up right away, however, this time was different. This time, the pain increased. I went back to him for a second visit, but he told me that it didn't seem like just a normal case of sciatica. It sounded more like gout.

I immediately began to research everything that I could find out about gout. It's basically a result of uric acid crystallizing in the joints from too many purines in the diet. A week later, I hobbled into my regular family doctor. He drew some blood, sent me for an X-ray, and gave me a prescription for a steroid-based medicine for gout. The pills took off a little bit of the edge, but the discomfort lingered. The doctor's office called the following Monday -- both the blood work and the X-ray came back negative for gout, but the results did show a Plantar Calcaneal Heel Spur on my foot.

The next week, I was off to my third doctor for the same ache; this time, it was a podiatrist. Once again, I did some research on heel spurs and found out that the remedy is usually a shoe insert or surgery, though it seemed odd to me that my big toe would be hurting from a problem in the back of the foot. Thankfully, the podiatrist had the right answers -- I actually did have gout, which doesn't always show up in tests. He informed me he was going to clear it up for me with a Cortisone shot. So, there I was with my bare feet up on a table and the doctor coming at me with a two-inch syringe. He asked if I was ready and I said that I was. I've never had a problem with needles and I thought this would be easy. Whenever I have to give blood, I always watch and I rarely feel any pain. I sat calmly as the half of the needle disappeared into the meat of my big toe. It didn't hurt, until... Oh, the moment the doctor pressed the plunger and the milky liquid started going in, it was as if someone was injecting hot magma into my flesh. I sat bolt bolt upright and cried out, "Whoa, what is that?!?"

After the shot was done, a cool feeling started to course through my foot. The doctor said that it was normal and he told me to go home and take it easy. What he didn't tell me was how angry the gout was going to get from the injection. About twenty minutes later, a war was going on in my toe between the uric acid crystals and the Cortisone and I was taking the brunt of it. My toe was throbbing unbearably and all I could do was lay in my bed and moan. The pain persisted for about two hours before it finally began to ebb. I can't remember too much about the evening after that.

The next morning, I woke up in relief. While there was still a little bit of stiffness in my toe, the pain was finally gone. The thing about gout is that once you have it, you always have it. I may never have another attack or I could have one next week. There's no way to predict. It's going to require me to change my diet -- no shellfish, no beef, no alcohol. There will be a few things that I will miss, though this is probably a blessing in disguise. I will definitely have to make healthier choices from now on to avoid being hobbled with pain.

Anyway, this Sunday was the first day that I was able to walk normally again. It was a beautiful day, so to celebrate the rebirth of my mobility, I laced up my Timberlands and drove to a local nature preserve where I hiked deep into the woods with my djembe slung on my shoulder. By a lake, I found a log to sit on and I spent the morning filling the air with rhythm. The beats echoing through the trees and over the placid waters sounded magnificent. Beautiful atmosphere. Later, as I was walking out of the woods, I encountered several other hikers who said, "We thought we were hearing the sound of drums. Love it!" I captured this series of photographs, do enjoy:

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me
beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake."

~Psalm 23:1-3


June 23, 2012

Northport Artwalk 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012: At 1:00, hundreds of people converged on the tiny harbor town of Northport Village for the Northport Artwalk 2012. The event stretched from the pier and waterside park (with its grand white gazebo) up through Main Street. It's kind of funny -- I've visited Northport Village countless times in my life, but I still manage to see new things every time I go there. This time it was the pineapples that adorn the tops of many of the buildings. I would later learn that these pineapples are a symbol of hospitality and are placed up high to welcome ships into port.

For the Artwalk, I followed a map that led to many of the shops along Main Street. These businesses had opened their doors for the day to display the works of some local artists. Along with the map, a checklist was given out that was to be stamped by the artist at each stop. At the end of the tour, the checklist became a raffle entry for a free pair of tickets to a show at the John W. Engeman Theater for the Performing Arts. Although mine didn't get picked, I still thought the tour was great. As I walked the street, the route was dotted with plenty of street musicians and vendors. Balloons floated at the entrances of the participating places which included popular local landmarks such as the Caffe Portofino, LaMantia Gallery, and Copenhagen Bakery. I enjoyed looking at the artwork and it was cool that all of the artists were on hand to meet the people and talk about their pieces. I liked a lot of what I saw.

"Only by pride cometh contention:
but with the well advised
is wisdom."

~Proverbs 13:10


June 21, 2012

Custom Grills & Revolutionary Quills

Last Saturday morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise on what would turn out to be a magnificent day, I did an online search for something different to do. Any kind of local festival or performance in the park would have sufficed. After scrolling through the calendar of events, I came up with AutoMat Customizing and Restoration's 56th Anniversary Car Show. While I have never had the urge to be the owner of a muscle car myself (I once had a Corvette offered to me for free, but I passed on it), I do enjoy the sight of fancy fenders, so I packed a brown bag lunch and headed out to the site in Hicksville, Long Island. When I arrived on the scene, I found hundreds of people browsing around among the rows and rows of impressive automobiles -- antiques, customs and classics, sports cars, monster trucks, all kinds. There were numerous eye-catching paint jobs done in some very hot colors. Hoods stood open to show souped-up engines. Spotless chrome glistened in the morning sun. The PA system added to the malt shop setting as it piped loud 50's Rock and Roll songs into the air. It was a cool atmosphere and I definitely liked it. I saw several vehicles that became my instant favorites.

After eating lunch at the car show, it was only a 15-minute drive to Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay. I had gotten a pamphlet about the museum while visiting Sagamore Hill over the winter and I had been wanting to pay it a visit ever since. The house (dating back to 1738) boasts two distinct design styles -- the front half is a Revolutionary War homestead; the rear and upper level a Victorian Manor. To stroll through its rooms is definitely a romp into the distant past. There are many furnishings and textiles from the period, though probably the best artifact that the museum has on hand would be a letter from George Washington. I was amazed to see the signature of America's first president in front of me. As is the case with pretty much every piece of very old correspondence that I've ever seen, Mr. Washington had beautiful penmanship. Every sentence is etched with dignity and care. By appearance alone, these words exuded an air of importance. It's sad how the art of handwriting has all but completely faded in recent years. Seeing such fine hand and graceful language scribed on this yellowed piece of parchment really pointed out to me the lazy crudeness of today's cyber lingo. I myself have been guilty of using the occasional "LOL" or the colon/close parenthesis smiley face in texts and emails. Well, no more. From now on, I'm going to make the effort to always show the same respect for language that George Washington possessed over two-hundred years ago. I'm very serious, so if I should happen to slip on this at any time, please point it out to me. Thank you. Cheers!!!

"Have nothing to do
with the fruitless deeds of darkness,
but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention
what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light
becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
This is why it is said: 'Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead,  
and Christ will shine on you.'"

Ephesians 5:11-14


June 15, 2012

A Good Likeness

Today, I received what I consider to be a huge compliment. One that certainly means the world to me. Let me begin with some of the back story. For the last year, I've become quite involved with functions at the elementary school. I've chaperoned field trips, given magic shows, read books, made gingerbread houses at Christmastime, and attended various other events. Just last week, I went to the 3rd Grade recorder concert. I must say, the sound of about 100 kids playing "Hot Cross Buns" in unison is definitely an experience worthy of a big grin. After the recital, everyone was invited back to the classroom for a poetry reading. I enjoyed listening to the words of these young poets, many of which were very good. The teacher asked if I would like to perform something to close out the reading. I decided that I would do a Shel Silverstein poem called "Smart." Luckily, I had my camcorder with me and I caught it on video. You can watch it HERE. Seeing this clip always makes me smile. Kids are so funny.

This morning, I went to the school again for a Rainforest Tour. The kids had put in a lot of effort to transform their classroom into an ecological experience. As I walked around beneath the canopy of Kapok Trees, I learned about Spectacled Bears and Capuchin Monkeys, Keel-Billed Toucans, Poison Dart Frogs, Jaguars, Three-Toed Sloths, and Green Anacondas. I really enjoyed the kids' presentation and their enthusiasm was boundless.

Anyway, as I was entering the school this morning, the attendant at the door (a lady I've met many times) said excitedly to me, "There's a picture of you hanging up in the office window." She proceeded to lead me down the hallway to the office where a drawing of a bald weightlifter with a handle bar mustache was hanging in the window. "The kids were inspired by you to make that," the attendant informed me. Above his head, the caption: Exercise your ability to be the best you.

To have a group of kids use their artistic skills to put up a likeness of me in their school and with the words that they selected to go with it -- I take it as a great honor. While the thought of me lifting a 100-pound dumbbell with one arm might be a bit of a stretch, the sentiment is completely honest and fun. This is one compliment that I will never forget. :)

"Do not pervert
justice or show partiality.
Do not accept a bribe,
for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise
and twists the words of the innocent. 
Follow justice and justice alone,
so that you may live and possess the land
the Lord your God is giving you."

~Deuteronomy 16:19-20


June 10, 2012

Opening Night!

Saturday, June 9, 2012: After almost two years of hard work, the time of the Avant Garden Poetry Amphitheatre had finally arrived. I knew that at 6:00pm, people would start showing up for the BBQ celebrations, however, the weather forecasts were calling for all-day severe thunderstorms. The sky had looked very gray and threatening all morning and, by 1:00, the clouds opened up in to a steady shower. The weather reports showed no break in the precipitation and I knew that more rain would saturate the ground making an outdoor party impossible. I thought about how unfortunate it would be to have to postpone the event; I had paid close attention to the poetry calendar and chose the date carefully so as not to conflict with other goings-on. I could find no other rain date in the near future that looked quite as auspicious. I was getting kinda bummed when it suddenly occurred to me -- God had called upon me to bring this into existence. This night belonged to Him. As I sat in the yard with the drizzle beading on my face and in my eyelashes, I prayed to God, asking for His will to be done. By 2:00, the sun was out and the skies were clear blue. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky for the rest of the day.

Opening Night at the Avant Garden Poetry Amphitheatre was absolutely phenomenal! From the first hamburger, through the open mic and the "Whitman Sampler," and right down to the last toasted marshmallow at the fire pit, this was an evening of beautiful poetic energy and good vibrations. I have lots of video footage to edit and I will post some of the excerpts as soon as I can. For a little taste, click HERE. And now, here is the my first photograph of the Avant Garden Poetry Amphitheatre. Cheers!

"Be ye strong therefore,
and let not your hands be weak:
for your work shall be rewarded."

~2 Chronicles 15:7


June 2, 2012

Discovering Atlantis

On Thursday, I chaperoned a field trip with the elementary school to the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center (formerly known as Atlantis Marine World). At 8:15, I flung my bag over my shoulder and climbed aboard a yellow school bus for the bumpy ride out to Riverhead. It's kind of funny -- my second job every afternoon is to drive school buses; while I've driven the yellows countless times, I myself am rarely a passenger on one. It was a different perspective, to be sure.

By 9:15, the bus pulled into the circular driveway in front of the aquarium. The group stepped off of the bus and was immediately directed to a boat called the Atlantis Explorer for an ecological tour. Under the bright morning sun, the boat left the pier and glided through the brackish waters of the Peconic Estuary (passing nesting osprey, cormorants, and swans) and emerged in Flanders Bay. Soon, the boat landed at a small island covered with Spartina Grass and Reeds. I was given a check list and told to search the island for as many items as I could find. It was here that I learned about creatures such as Channeled Whelks, Mud Snails, and Bay Scallops. I really enjoyed exploring the island; it was such a beautiful and free setting that I just wanted to stay there all day.

After the boat tour, the group was taken back to the pier for lunch and then set loose to roam the aquarium grounds. The place's decor intimates a mythical atmosphere with exhibits stretching both indoors and out. I strolled wide-eyed through a labyrinth of vivid tanks housing many fascinating creatures of the deep. The surroundings sort of lent a feeling like I was on an Indiana Jones adventure.

The building even features two rooms dedicated to butterflies and birds. As I stepped into the latter, several tropical birds swooped down from the ceiling and perched on my backpack. One of them even tried to nibble on my mustache. The butterfly area is quite humid, but with a cooling mist that sprinkles down every few minutes. As with the rest of the grounds, the setting is magical and my eyes met with flitting butterflies everywhere I turned.

The field trip ended with a show in the aquarium's Sea Lion Coliseum. It had been a very entertaining day and I was glad that I had gone along with the school. Love & light...

"But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

~Amos 5:24