Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oat Mountain



Our first hike since we moved to SoCal was Oat Mountain. Oat is the highest peak in the Santa Susanas, the mountain range that forms the northern boundary of the San Fernando Valley, where we live, and separates it from Santa Clarita.


click for larger map

The mountain can be seen from all over the valley. In fact, if you go up to the 3rd floor of our apartment building and look northwest, it's the prominent feature of the view.

Oat Mountain is 3,747 ft. high, rising about 3,000 ft. above the valley floor. The trailhead is located in the Michael D. Antonovich Regional Park, a little less than halfway up the mountain on Brown's Canyon road, an extension of De Soto Ave. Oddly, the road is full of "No Trespassing" and "Local Traffic Only" signs, even though it is the only route to this public space. We got freaked out enough to almost turn back before finally reaching the park and seeing other visitors.



The entire trip is fully exposed, as the mountain is too low and dry to be forested. The views of the valley expand quickly as elevation is gained. The hike passes by an LAPD training facility, complete with multiple helipads, one that was in use for a practice rescue mission while we walked by.




It's a steady 2.3 mile climb with 1800 ft. of elevation gain. There were several oil derricks along the path, some close enough to touch, which was an odd little distraction.




As the sun set, the temperature dropped. Eventually, I gave Kimberly my hoodie.

The views from the top were awesome. It was, however, more of a peak bagging experience than a nature walk. We've since visited a ton of other spots with a lot more natural beauty, but it was definitely worth the trip.


The San Fernando Valley from the top.


Santa Clarita, north of the Santa Susanas


Downtown LA, to the southeast. The US Bank Tower is clearly visible in the middle of the skyscrapers.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Moved to California


I have a cactus.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Update from the Road #2

We ended yesterday in Chicago, where we had some Chicago-style pizza for dinner and explored the downtown Michigan Ave. area. We definitely want to go back for a longer visit to Chicago.

Today we drove through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, ending just over the border in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Tomorrow it's 400 miles across South Dakota, stopping by Mt. Rushmore, and then across most of Wyoming. We'll end the day outside of Yellowstone so that we can travel through the park on Saturday.

Internet access is sparse on the road, so we've been communicating mostly with twitter. Our twitter usernames:

danpye
kimberlypye

Update from the Road #1

Written Yesterday:

Yesterday I finished up the rest of our errands, returning the cable modem to Comcast, shipping some packages to myself, canceling the gym membership, etc. and then we left Kimberly’s office at quarter of four. We drove through familiar territory, south on I-495 and then west on I-90, the Mass Pike.

The thing that first made me feel that this trip was different was the highest point sign in western Mass. It declares that the elevation is 1700 something feet and that it’s the highest point on I-90 east of South Dakota. I’ve passed the sign tons of times, but this time I passed it knowing that in a couple of days I would actually reach the point it mentions in South Dakota! It was kind of a crazy thought.

We’re on I-90 for a long time, from almost the start of the trip all the way to Wyoming. Last night we made it to Rochester, NY, or outside Rochester where I-90 passes closest. We stayed at a Days Inn and immediately encountered several people who were much friendlier than the New Englanders we’re used to.

The most exciting thing to happen on the road so far today was seeing Lake Erie while we drove through Pennsylvania. Just as they say, the Great Lakes are like a third coast. It was the first time I saw a lake that went all the way to the horizon.

We’re now driving through Ohio, pressing through all the way to Chicago, where we have a room reserved for the night on Michigan Ave.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Packing

We're all packing up in my office today. It's weird but the morale isn't at all down. And the atmosphere is very light and casual.

I feel like I can't get started with preparations for our trip. I guess it's because there's very little to actually prepare for. All we need is clothing for a week, something to do when we're in the passenger seat, and stuff for our furry friends.

It'll all come together as the date approaches.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Post

I'm so busy today that taking the time to post something defies all logic, but I want to get back in the habit of submitting something daily so I'm going to do it anyway.

I think the reality of the move finally started to hit me on Wednesday when I had my last ever mid-week practice with the worship band at Harbor of Hope. Now the coming events seem very weird and I'm starting to feel sad about leaving my friends and family.

At the same time, the reality of the good things is starting to hit me too. An amazing road trip, a new, bigger apartment with a pool and fitness room, an exciting new job, and most of all, a totally new world to explore and get to know. 

I've always known, rationally, that this experience should be bittersweet. It's finally beginning to feel that way.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Life Alive and the road trip plan.

I met Steve at Life Alive for lunch yesterday in what will probably be the second to last time I go there. Kimberly and I have a lunch date there planned for this coming Saturday. That place is truly a gem for vegetarians or anyone who can appreciate real food (as opposed to the food-like substances) we (modern people of the developed world) usually consume.

Here is the plan for our road trip from Chelmsford to Northridge.


Click to enlarge

We're heading out Tuesday afternoon. I hope to reach at least to Syracuse before we call it a night. Then I want to get to Chicago by Wednesday night. From there, it's a whole lot of flat nothing until we stop at Mt. Rushmore and drive through Yellowstone. It's then on to Salt Lake City, down through Nevada, and to our final destination via roads with no agro checkpoints.

If we drive 12-14 hours a day, we'll arrive on Saturday. Making room for some exploring of interesting places or a break here and there, I'm planning on us getting in sometime Sunday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oops

I'm going to make an effort to start posting here again, since I'm moving across the country in two weeks. I've been very busy at work and elsewhere, but I think I can manage a quick post here and there.

We're down to the wire now, seeing friends as often as possible, checking things off of our "to do one more time" list, and mentally preparing for the biggest change we've had since we got married (maybe the biggest change ever). We're both really excited. I'm particularly excited about settling into my new office and being able to focus on my new responsibilities. It'll be very nice to finish up all of the work here in Bedford.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Google Earth Pictures!

The pictures I took of Chelmsford Center back in June and uploaded to Panaramio have finally hit Google Earth! I take quite a bit of nerdy pleasure in this for some reason...




New Blog

I'm going to shift gears in this blog away from talk about Chiari. I decided to create a separate blog to record my progress there, so that I can get back to normal updates here. The new blog (which so far only has copied text from previous entries here) is Dan's Chiari Log.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why I think that doctor is wrong.

I thought I'd lay out the details, for my own benefit, of how I disagree with the surgeon's assessment that Chiari isn't my problem:

1) The two main determinants he used for his conclusion were the fact that my cerebellar tonsils are only herniated 6 mm, and that to him it looked as though my CSF (Cerebrospinal fluid) wasn't being impeded by the herniation.

a) Herniation on its own has been shown in recent years to be a poor determining factor for the diagnosis of Chiari. It is a symptom rather than the cause. Many people have severe symptoms occurring with a much smaller herniation that 6 mm (the radiologist who analyzed my MRI actually reported 6-8 mm for me), and some have much larger herniation with no symptoms at all.

b) Specialized tests, such as Doppler ultrasound and Cine MRI are used to determine impedance of CSF, and even these tests are not conclusive. This doctor spent perhaps 3 minutes (or less) reviewing the still images of my standard MRI when coming to the conclusion that CSF wasn't blocked.

2) My symptoms. There are many diseases and disorders that cause the symptoms I have, but it seems that holistically, they are a near perfect confluence of Chiari evidence. These telltale symptoms include:

-daily (sometimes constant as today) pain in the back of my head

-frequent headaches in my entire head, at one point occurring nearly 24 hours a day for 3 weeks (this was the initial impetus for my CT scan that revealed the malformation)

-a host of eye problems that have not subsided for many months, such as frequent reduced and blurred vision, and disturbing flashes or slow moving streaks of light

-ringing in my ears

-moderate insomnia over a prolonged period

-profound fatigue and pain in the muscles and joints

-numbing in my fingers (and tongue! That happened for the first time yesterday.)

-stiffness in my throat and obstruction of my airways at that point--this was my first symptom and it remains a constant problem, every moment of every day. Recently I've noticed that when I try to run, once I get up to an aerobic breathing pattern, I believe I have what is called a "stridor," which is sort of like wheezing, but is a single high-pitched tone that occurs in turbulent airflow as I inhale.

The list goes on and on. The important thing is that imaging concluded that I have Chiari I Malformation and before I ever knew what Chiari was I had daily pain in the back of my head. It's basically a slam dunk diagnosis. Now all I need is a doctor who agrees.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quick Update

No posts in a while. I've been (and continue to be) quite busy at work, finishing up all of the outstanding projects here in MA and concurrently planning for the move to CA.

I went to see a surgeon on Monday. It seems that the guy was not up on the latest research into Chiari Malformations. He deemed (after looking at my MRI results for much less than 5 minutes) my case "borderline" and gave his opinion that I should not operate. I personally disagree with his assessment for several reasons and I remain very convinced that Chiari is the source of my medical problems, which still persist after 8 long months. Every symptom I've suffered is readily explained by Chiari, and both radiologists who have seen my imaging (one for the CT scan, the other for the MRI) concluded that I had the malformation. There was no reporting about a "borderline" case. I've read plenty of sad stories online of people in a similar situation, with persistent symptoms and misinformed doctors. Fortunately these stories usually end in the person finding a qualified physician and getting the help they need.

My next step is to get my imaging forwarded to The Chiari Institute on Long Island, who agreed to give me a preliminary diagnosis. The frustrating thing about these latest developments is that I had some hope of surgery and resolution before the move out west, but given the lead time on finding a new doctor, meeting with him or her, and scheduling a surgery date, a pre-move procedure seems completely implausible.

I'm managing the problem okay. I've been running almost every day lately, though the shortness of breath severely limits my former capacity for distance. I attempted a 4.6 mile run yesterday and simply could not make the last quarter mile. I ended up walking the rest of the way. All I can do is continue fighting to stay healthy and continue searching for the right doctor.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Confirmation!

I just spoke with my doctor and the MRI I had last week confirmed that I have a Chiari I Malformation:

Wikipedia
Helpful FAQ

Basically, my cerebellum extends beyond my skull very slightly, pressing against my spinal cord, disrupting the flow of spinal fluid and causing pressure in the area. It easily and completely explains my wide range of symptoms (that haven't gone away for 8 months and counting).

I should expect to hear from a neurosurgeon soon to discuss my options, but there is a very good chance that I'll be having surgery to correct the problem.

I'm feeling overwhelming relief that there is a definite explanation for my symptoms, that it's not life-threatening, and that there is a good possibility of correcting the problem and going back to 100% normal life. I've already decided that if I have major surgery this fall, my goal will be to run my first marathon within a year after the start of my recovery. Exciting times.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Excerpts from my California Trip Report

I thought I would share my trip report from our recent trip to L.A. (company-sensitive info removed, of course). There's a lot in there that's only relevant for people considering relocation to our office out there, but it gives a pretty good idea of how we spent our time. We decided to take the job, by the way.


Northridge Trip Report

Dan Pye

Initial Impressions

Kimberly and I flew into Los Angeles International Airport at a little after noon. The plane flew directly over much of the Los Angeles metro area. I was amazed at and overwhelmed by its enormity. Here’s a satellite comparison of the urbanization of Los Angeles versus Boston. The scale is the same for both images:

Boston metro is maybe as big as the San Fernando Valley, seen in the northern part of the L.A. image, to the west of center. The Valley, however, is a rather small part of the city at large.

We had an easy time renting a car and setting out on the 405 freeway, heading toward the San Fernando Valley. The 405 is one of several major highways crisscrossing Los Angeles county. Typical of an L.A. freeway, there were 5 or 6 lanes of traffic on either side, and even in the middle of the day (2:00PM at that point) there was heavy traffic volume.


The 405 cuts straight through the Santa Monica mountains (home of the famous Hollywood sign) on its way to the Valley.


We made our way through surface roads to our hotel in Northridge. The San Fernando Valley is one of the best laid out urban areas I have ever seen. There are major roads cutting north to south as well as east to west, in a grid, all about one mile apart, and all generally three lanes wide in each direction. It would be almost inconceivable for the kind of traffic queue seen here on the Middlesex Turnpike every afternoon to develop very often in the Valley. This also means that finding your way is as easy as going straight on any road until you see the right street sign.

That being said, our real initial feelings for the valley were, fueled mainly by the sensory overload of so many new and different sights and the vastness of the urbanity, lukewarm at best.

The Office

This is the only shot of the office I took. It’s at the northern corner of the main building.

The Northridge office (campus) is rather large. Though Harman doesn’t occupy all of the buildings on the lot, the campus is roughly 0.3 by 0.2 miles. Walking from the north entrance of the main building to the far reaches of the adjacent automotive building takes several minutes.


I had a very positive impression of the working atmosphere. Everyone I met was focused, friendly, articulate, and motivated.


Northridge

The office is in Northridge, near to the geographical center of the Valley. My rudimentary socioeconomic impression of the San Fernando Valley is that the poorer neighborhoods are concentrated east/northeast, and the affluent neighborhoods west/southwest. There are some exceptions to the rule, and as anyone who has visited would tell you, good and bad neighborhoods exist in bizarrely close proximity.

All of that said, Northridge, being in the center, seemed to be in the center of that economic spectrum as well. The northern part of the district is dominated by shopping and the California State University Northridge (CSUN) (the public orange grove on campus includes fresh and juicy fruit for the picking!), and the housing tended to be middle-income apartments and nice single family homes.

Toward the east and the south, the housing was less nice, but I found no part of Northridge to be scary or dirty.


Eastern Neighborhoods

We drove through many communities to the east of Northridge, including Mission Hills, San Fernando, Pacioma, Panorama City, Van Nuys, and North Hollywood. None of these places was very nice compared to the rest of the Valley, though I’m sure some safe but affordable housing could be found.

Van Nuys Blvd. in Panorama City. We saw my coworker (circled) who was also visiting to check out the area.

Northern Neighborhoods

To the north of the office (and west of Mission Hills) are the communities of Chatsworth, Porter Ranch, Northridge (the area of Northridge north of CSUN can be grouped with these other neighborhoods) and Granada Hills. These are more upper middle class to affluent areas, with many single family homes, gated communities, and pockets of retail shopping.

I was particularly impressed by Porter Ranch, which is the last area of Los Angeles to be developed. It consists almost exclusively of gorgeous gated communities, built on the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains, which separate the Valley from Santa Clarita. A commute to Harman from any of these communities would be fast.


A gate to single-family homes in Porter Ranch, Santa Susana foothills in the back.

Southern Neighborhoods

The only urbanized section of the Valley is to the south, concentrated around Ventura Blvd., the southernmost east to west major road. The communities in this section of the Valley include Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Encino, Sherman Oaks, and Studio City.

Toward the west, large financial and commercial property is common. It seems that many Valley residents commute to this area, including Woodland Hills and Tarzana, for work. Off of Ventura Blvd. to the south, along much of this corridor, are average to nice apartment buildings, followed by upscale single-family homes as the altitude rises into the Santa Monica mountains.

North of Ventura is more housing with a denser layout, more akin to the feel of Northridge or Van Nuys.


Sherman Oaks and Studio City seem like the closest one can come to a hip urban feel in the Valley. The impression I got was that young professionals inhabit the area, particularly Studio City. This is reinforced by the fact that several people have given me advice recommending this district as a potential option for my own housing.

Encino seemed to be a cross fade between the west and east sections of Ventura. All in all, this part of the Valley seemed safe, fun, and interesting.





Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, and Thousand Oaks

We stopped in Santa Clarita only briefly and simply drove through Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. My impression of all three is that they would be great places to raise a family but are of little interest to my wife and me, childless as we are. Santa Clarita and Thousand Oaks are both a long drive to the office no matter how you spin it. Simi Valley, especially the eastern section that abuts the San Fernando, would be a much more viable commuting option. It also appeared to be the winner in my very superficial survey of the relative beauty of these communities. Its valley is rather lush compared to Thousand Oaks, and Santa Clarita is desert country.

West Hollywood

Another potential habitat, I was told, is West Hollywood. I found this area pretty similar to its Studio City counterpart on the other side of the mountains. West Hollywood is surrounded by affluence, with Beverly Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, Hollywood, and Downtown at all sides. It’s obviously closer to the flashy night life, if one were into that sort of thing, but along with it would come more traffic congestion and added commute time. Northridge started to feel pretty remote to me once we were on the other side of the hills.

The Hiking

L.A. is a day-hiker’s dream come true. The Valley is surrounded by mountains on three sides, all with ample trails, all within the distance of a short car trip. We went on two morning hikes out of our three mornings in the city. The first was up Mt. Hollywood, which rises up due north of a main street in Hollywood, Vermont Ave. Mt. Hollywood is adjacent to Mt. Lee, home of the iconic Hollywood sign, and the sign can be seen all the way up the trail.

It was an easy hike (several people were running to the top for exercise) at 650 feet of gain over 1.5 miles. The view from the top was panoramic, though we didn’t make it until later in the morning, and the

smog was already omnipresent and obscuring the detail of all vistas more than a few miles out. To the right is downtown L.A., seen through the haze.

The hills really are vast. We were excited by the idea of returning and exploring a portion of the network of trails over the course of a long day.

Mt. Hollywood is part of Griffith Park, with its famous observatory. Griffith is of note for being the largest park completely within a major city.

Our second hike offered even more extreme contrast to the urban sprawl. We drove a mere 30 minutes from our hotel in Northridge, down into that same mountain range but further west, to the town of Topanga.

Topanga was horse country, with ranches all along the Old Topanga Canyon Rd. We turned off onto Red Rock Canyon Road (not to be confused with the more famous national conservancy area of the same name that is outside of Las Vegas). We set off on a short trail, perhaps a mile long, up to the top of a hill, completely surrounded by mountains. It was a fairly close facsimile to hiking in some of the great national parks of the southwest, and only minutes away!





The Beaches

We had the chance to drive on the Pacific Coast Highway through Santa Monica and Malibu, as well as a short trip down the 405 to Long Beach. It should be common knowledge for most people that the beaches are numerous and beautiful in southern California.

We drove through Malibu on Sunday afternoon, and the traffic was heavy. It seems to be a popular day trip area for people from all around. We saw some of the iconic dramatic bluffs rising steeply from the ocean, but unfortunately the build-up along the beach meant that we were afforded precious few views of the oceanfront from the highway.


Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach

I had the idea that Long Beach wasn’t going to be as nice of a place, and certainly the neighborhood from the highway to the oceanfront area that we drove through wasn’t pleasant, but the beach area itself was like paradise! We’re already looking forward to taking a weekend day trip down to explore and relax.

Final Impressions

We grew to love the area very quickly. After our initial tepid reaction to the Valley, we were able to get a little deeper into its culture and atmosphere really to feel the pulse and mechanics of the city, and that’s when we started to understand and appreciate it. We’re adventurous by nature and L.A. offers a limitless reserve of completely diverse experiences waiting to be exploited.

Life in southern California is very different from eastern Massachusetts. Obviously the flora and fauna are mostly unfamiliar, the terrain is a world apart (if you can’t imagine living without the cozy, tree-filled clime of New England, the wide open spaces of the southwest are most definitely not for you), but the real differences are more subtle. The quirkiness in the infrastructure seen in the northeast is totally absent. This was an area whose civil engineering began with the grid-based plaza mayor construction of Spanish settlers. Everything is more open. As a result, the pace is noticeably dialed back. This spirit permeates casual social interactions, too. We were repeatedly (without fail, even) surprised by the friendliness and attentiveness of every clerk or salesperson we encountered. We’re used to, and have always been fine with, the sharper, more indifferent attitude of such interactions in Boston, but it was a welcome and pleasant change of pace.


Also, very importantly, the atmosphere at Harman in Northridge is optimistic and enthusiastic. Kimberly and I are very excited and deeply honored by this opportunity to relocate to Los Angeles.


Monday, June 30, 2008

He cannot be stopped!

We decided that the old solution of keeping the ferrets out of the carpeted half of the apartment wasn't going to cut it anymore, so yesterday we went up to Babies 'R' Us and bought a new door with a smooth plastic face that Mr. Pink couldn't possibly climb.

It took him mere minutes to figure out how to make it over. I've tried a couple of different angles, but it's already clear that this is by no means the silver bullet it was originally hailed as.




Notice how he masterfully grabs the stopper on the left as he hoists himself up...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Life Alive

I wanna go back! The food at this place is beyond delicious. Unfortunately, it's also rather pricey (a little under $10 a head before drinks), but it's worth it! Totally fresh ingredients combine to make a generous helping of culinary delight.


This is happening over and over in my mind right now.

Let's go. I'll meet you there for lunch or something (whoever you are). Just say the word.

Disclaimer: Kimberly and I are doing a "raw fast" for two days where we only eat raw food (with the exception of boiled rice yesterday and boiled potatoes tonight), so my desire for good cooked foods might be somewhat inflated (seriously, Wendy's smelled really good when I drove by yesterday afternoon), but my above statements about Life Alive are 100% sincere.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hiking Highlights

We hiked Mt. Mansfield, the tallest mountain in Vermont, this weekend (read about it in Kimberly's blog here). Adding it to my growing number of hiking sets on Flickr prompted me to create a new set, with pictures that highlight some of our many hikes over the years:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dinosaurs! Golf!

Last Saturday afternoon Kimberly and I decided, spur of the moment, to go check out the mini-golf place down the street on Rt. 4 in Billerica: Jurassic Mini-Golf at Rangeway Golf.


Every hole had its own dinosaur. The mascot for the entire course, a purple tyrannosaurus holding a putter, is seen in the background.

It was a decent little 18 hole course at $7 a person. Not too bad considering the high mini-golf prices in these parts.



The competition was fierce, but Kimberly clinched a victory (by a single point, I think). We both came in 10+ over par, so it seems we need to start visiting the mini-course more often to brush up on our skills.


Album Cover

I copied Kimberly's post idea and made my own random album cover:



Just like Kimberly I only had a couple of minutes and MS Paint to flesh it out, but the emotional impact is all there, despite it being rough around the edges.

Find out how to make your own here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chelmsford Center Pictures

As advertised on my blog a couple of weeks ago, here are some pictures of downtown Chelmsford that I geotagged and submitted to Panoramio:




a couple of shots of the Episcopal Church adjacent to our condo complex

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Beaver Brook, first heading into downtown, then out of downtown

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The Library

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The park near the library. It's just begging for some bocce.

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The Forefathers Burying Ground

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The Congregational Church

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The monuments of Penham Park

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The main Fire Department

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A pond on the property of a bank on the corner of North and Fletcher

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Here are some interesting photos that didn't make the Panoramio cut, since they focus on subject rather than location.











That one is a red-winged blackbird. We tried in vain to get a good picture of him.