Monthly Archives: October 2008

New York in October

New York in October. Always a solid trip. How much has been written about this city? It is the most famous in the world. There’s probably more content in cyber space about New York than any other city.

I am always excited about about travel, especially to New York. My grandfather got out there every time he could according to my dad. So much happened there.

So much is happening there.

Whether it’s your first time or your tenth time, there’s always something to do, see, eat and spend your money on. The thing that I like about New York more than anything…is how easy it is to get around. Metro, cab, by foot…it doesn’t matter.

It’s an easy town to get around in. However you do it, just bring good shoes.

We stayed in Mid Town at a fairly decent hotel and took in as much as you can in 3 days.

  • Times Square
  • Grand Central Station
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Liberty Helicopter Tour
  • Central Park
  • Soho
  • Canal Street
  • Mid Town

For admission to over 40 of New York City’s best attractions (including the Empire State Building) I always check out New York Pass for the best deals.

We also went up to Hauppauge by train to visit a new friend whose art we’ve been buying – Maria Noma Bliss.  Maria picked us up at the train station and opened her home to us.  Hauppauge is a beautiful two hour train ride north of New York.

While up there, we drove down to Terrytown – another small suburb of the Big Apple – and also did some shopping at one of the best outlet malls I’ve ever seen – Woodbury Common.  In fact, I would suggest you skip shopping altogether downtown and make a day trip to this outlet mall call.

The deals here defy description ON EVERY BRAND NAME GOOD YOU CAN THINK of.

Just get yourselves up there and do it.  You’ll thank me.

While just outside of NYC, near Terrytown, I couldn’t believe that I actually saw Sleepy Hollow cemetary.  Yes, it DOES exist!

…it reminded me of that whole Halloween story about Icabod Crane and the headless horseman. I think I will watch the movie again soon. 10 days before Halloween.  How fitting.

While up in Hauppauge, we went out for dinner and dined next to Paul Teutul Jr. from Orange County Choppers. I didn’t get the chance to talk with him, however on the next day while driving, we drove past their original shop and also saw the new one, which is quite a production.

Here are just a few shots.  (Click on any of them to view them larger, in a slide show)

new york sleepy hollow cemetery

new york sleepy hollow cemetery

new york october building

new york october building

Amazing culinary ability for sale at Dean and Deluca

Amazing culinary ability for sale at Dean and Deluca

new york mid town outdoor market

new york mid town outdoor market

new york empire state building

new york empire state building

new york canal street

new york canal street

new york ruby foos times square

Ruby Foos restaurant in Times Square -  good food when your feet are tired

2

Boston in October

If you asked me to name one of my favorite places to visit – it HAS to be Boston. We had never been there before and this place is fantastic!

History, culture, great food, architecture and lots to do. It’s a good thing we walked a lot, because we ate and drank a lot.

We stayed at the Westin Copley place (after so many years of business travel I have accumulated tons of Starwood Points – so the Westin was a logical option).

The hotel is well situated right downtown and was terrific in every way.It’s a business hotel, but I DO love the heavenly beds and the Westin level of service. So you would be pleased with the Westin Copley if you were having trouble deciding where to stay.

The thing that I liked the most about Boston…was the history.I had no idea just how much stuff happened there…and how many influential people lived there.

Being a shutterbug, camera-geek, photo freak…I found Boston a dream to shoot at all hours of the day.

There’s just so much history to learn about in Boston and it’s fun to consume. It seemed that every time we turned around, there was something to learn about or see.

  • The first Post Office
  • The Boston Public Library
  • The Freedom Mile
  • Beautiful old Brownstone Walk-Ups
  • Street lamps still burning gas
  • Harvard University
  • REAL brick buildings
  • Beacon Hill
  • The home of Robert Frost
  • Faneuil Hall
  • The Old State House
  • A cemetary where Benjamin Franklin’s PARENTS, James Otis, John Hancock and Paul Revere are buried.
  • The fattest squirrels I have ever seen (they are in Boston Public Garden in case you’re into that sort of thing)

Newbury Street is Boston’s Rodeo Drive – but a thousand times better and totally authentic. Go there.

Walk it end to end and shop.

Traci and I took a day trip up to Salem, MA because we were getting into the spirit of Halloween.

We didn’t see any witches, but did find the coolest black cat named (are you ready for this?) Boo and got to learn about and eat a candy called Gibraltars – America’s first commercial candy.

The stuff never goes bad, is guaranteed to destroy your fillings, teeth and only comes in two flavours: lemon and peppermint. You’ll try it once and then use the rest as paper weights.

While in Salem, we also stumbled into the coziest restaurant EVER – a place called the Lyceum Bar and Grill, which happened to be the same building where Alexander Graham Bell made his first demonstration of the telephone in 1877.

I felt SO COOL whipping out my Blackberry.

Not.

A visit to Harvard was on the agenda and boy did I feel smart just walking around out there. Now I can tell everyone that I went to Harvard – and when they ask “what for?”…I’ll just change the subject quickly and hopefully leave ’em THINKING that I’m really educated.

Harvard is cool and serious at the same time. It’s an awesome place in so many ways. I could write a post just on the experience of being there.

REAL wrought iron and some amazing architecture that I remember studying in University were in every corner of the old campus. Seeing the Widener library (Harvard’s most photographed and published building) in the flesh (or in the ‘brick’, I should say) was awesome.

My most favorite building however, had to be the Boston Public library. It is breath taking. Even if you don’t like architecture, you will still be impressed. The building is downtown, and you cant miss it.

Go to Boston in the fall. The weather is perfect for being a tourista.

Here are just a few of the shots we took:

The Boston Skyline

The Boston Skyline

The Boston Westin Copley Place

The Boston Westin Copley Place. Gotta love the Heavenly Beds!

Boston has done a good  (not great) job of mixing urban and commercail

Boston has done a good (not great) job of mixing urban and commercial

The Boston Publc Library at night.  Stunning.

The Boston Publc Library at night. Stunning.

Inside the Boston Public Library.  No cameras allowed.

Inside the Boston Public Library. No cameras allowed.

An alley in old Boston. Something about this shot compelled me to take it...

An alley in old Boston. Something about this shot compelled me to take it...

Old World Lantern and New World Architecture

Old World Lantern and New World Architecture

Boston the Old State House

Boston the Old State House

The Paramount in Beacon Hill. A great, casual spot for breakfast or lunch

The Paramount in Beacon Hill. A great, casual spot for breakfast or lunch

John Hancock's Head Stone. I wonder if mine will be this grand...

John Hancock's Head Stone. I wonder if mine will be this fancy?

Harvard Architecture and Wrought Iron. Are you feeling smarter yet?

Harvard Architecture and Wrought Iron. Are you feeling smarter yet?

The Widener Library

The Widener Library

Boston Beacon Hill Post Office  -  America's First

Boston Beacon Hill Post Office - America's First

The Lyceum Bar and Grill Restaurant. What a lovely receipt.

The Lyceum Bar and Grill Restaurant. What a lovely receipt.

Gibraltar Candies in Salem, MA

Gibraltar Candies in Salem, MA

Boston Sunset. Looking West (does the sun set any other way?)

Boston Sunset. Looking West (does the sun set any other way?)

1

How I Dealt with a Massive Pain the Neck

The information in this post is something I wish I’d read ten years ago…when my neck really started to bother me.  And I mean – REALLY BOTHER ME.

This is a post about how I dealt with the pain of a long term sports injury in my neck through exercise, stretching, strengthening and supplementation.

It all started in high school.  I was playing rugby on the high school rugby team.  Normally, I played wing because at six foot one in height, I was a much better runner than a scrum player.

However, during this one particular game, we’d lost two scrum team mates to injury (that should’ve been a sign of what was to come!) and the coach asked me to sub in for the prop position.  The prop is the name given to one of two players in the rugby scrum who support either side of another player in the middle called the ‘hooker’.

The prop is a very demanding position which puts an incredible amount of stress on your entire body and is best suited to body types that are low, wide and very strong.

If you’ve never seen how the scrum in rugby works – think of it this way, it’s a bunch men tightly gripping each other, bent over in a sort of battling ram position, which is intended to push against the same thing on the opposing team to take control of the rugby ball.

How is that for a visual?  In case that doesn’t work for you – here’s what a scrum looks like and where the props go:

The Rugby Scrum - Can you spot the neck injury?

The Rugby Scrum - Can you spot the neck injury?

The rugby scrum is no place for tall slim guys like me. I still have nightmares about scrums!

Anyway, the other team was way stronger and bigger than ours and my neck and head were pushed hard down onto my rib cage and held there for about 10 seconds – enough to permanently damage my spine.

I knew something bad happened immediately.  The pain was unbelievable. It was lucky that I didn’t break my neck.  I was the third player out of that game because of injury.  The pain took months to go away.  I went to chiropractors, who kept adjusting me, over and over.  Not realizing that I had actually crushed the ends of a few vertebrae.

Which vertebrae?  Specifically cervical vertebrae 5, 6 and 7. Often referred to as C5, C6 and C7.

About 5 years later, in university, (no longer playing any contact sports, except with girls) I noticed that my neck was always bothering me.  5 years after that (when I met my wife) …I began to notice tingling in my right hand…which eventually became numbness in parts of my hand.

Couple those symptoms with massive, chronic pain in my neck and you have the ingredients for a debilitating, distracting pain that I used to live with EVERY day.

Here’s what a recent x-ray of my neck looks like, taken from the right side of my head with my head tilted back:

Nice Filings!  Note the deformation of the vertebrae in the circle - they have developed bone spurs pointing forward and are collapsing. Also note the immobility of that area compared to the upper vertebrae during an anterior head tilt

Nice Filings! Note the deformation of the vertebrae in the circle - they have developed bone spurs pointing forward and are collapsing. Also note the immobility of that area compared to the upper vertebrae during an anterior head tilt.

There is NOTHING LIKE CHRONIC SPINE PAIN. Trust me. I know.   For years I ate 400 -1,200 mg of Ibuprofen (Advil) to deal with the pain.  Eventually that did little to help.

So I went to my doctor.  He recommended I see a neurosurgeon.  We took x-rays and did an MRI.  The results were very telling.

The medical terminology for my spine condition is called Cervical Spondylosis – better known as neck osteoarthritis.  This is where the bones in the neck try to fuse themselves together to prevent further injury.

This is another xRay, but with my head held during normal, forward looking posture.  Note the massive difference between the lower three vertebrae and the upper three vertebrae.  The uppers are normal in shape and space, the lowers are quite deformed with very little space in between

This is another xRay of my from the right, but with my head held straight during normal, forward looking posture. Note the massive difference between the lower three vertebrae and the upper three vertebrae. The uppers normal in shape and space, the lower are quite deformed with very little space in between. Those bone spurs push forward into the back of my esophagus and downward onto my brachial nerves.

The neurosurgeon said that surgery is an option if the pain and numbness increase.  This would mean a complete disectomy where the offending vertebrae are fused together.

No thanks.

However, in the meantime, he recommended a couple of very simple actions, which I take almost daily.

The result of these simple actions has been literally miraculous for me.  I no longer need to take any over the counter pain killers. I very rarely feel any pain in my neck – maybe once or twice a month.

And the numbness in my hand has been gone for years.

The reason that I had numbness in my hand was because the facet joints in my neck were compressing the brachial nerves to the point where sensation and strength was diminishing in my entire right arm and hand.  This is commonly known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

He told me that my injury is very similar to what happens to people who are in car crashes and sustain a whiplash injury.

The neurosurgeon recommended some physiotherapy and to stay away from chiropractic treatments because stretching and strengthening the muscles in my neck is more important that having it adjusted.

I took my x-rays to physio, who had seen many of this type of neck injury.  My physio showed me one exercise, which I do almost daily, that has been very helpful.

Very simply, I lay on my back with a bath towel rolled up and placed under my neck.  Then I perform what I call my ‘chin tucks’.  I then perform ten to twenty repetitions of tucking my chin down firmly towards my chest.

The difference for me between the chin tuck that you might do say, at Pilates, or in posture classes, is the TOWEL UNDER my neck.

The KEY with this exercise is NOT to lift your head by engaging the sternocleidomastoid muscles;

sternocleidomastoideus -  - I call these the "model muscle" because you always see this muscle prominently in photos of models when their heads are turned to the side.  It is NOT what you want to use for the "chin tuck" execise.

sternocleidomastoideus

but rather to use the core muscles of your neck, such as the Longus Colli to do the pulling;

longus colli

longus colli

This one exercise helps to keep the natural curve in my neck, which Cervical Spondylosis will eventually eliminate.  If you look at my X-Ray, you will see that my neck does not have a natural curve to it.  In fact, it is actually quite straight up and down.

This is NOT how the neck is supposed to look.

Because of my injury, I have lost the natural ‘lordosis’, or curve.  This exercise, helps to both strengthen my neck muscles and fight the effects of neck osteoarthritis.

Here is what a normal spine should look like:

Normal Cervical Spine

Normal Cervical Spine - Note the Curve and the Square Vertebrae

I have also invested in a neck traction device, which I will admit is very Draconian in its application.  It looks like one of those Medieval torture devices that was used to stretch people until their head pops off.

You fill up a weight with water…I usually use the whole back, about twenty five pounds.  This goes over a pulley, which attaches to a rope on a door, which attaches to a brace that straps around your head and chin.

You then sit in a chair with this pulling your head up (and thus releasing pressure on your spinal column) for as long as you want.

Great horror movie stuff.

Click here to see what this bizarre thing looks like.

I use it when I feel my neck getting a little stiff, which is very rarely now.

In terms of supplements, I find that Fish Oil does a terrific job of taking my pain away. There is something in fish oil, so my doctor tells me, that does a very good job of managing inflammation in the body.  I use the Ascenta brand here in Canada.

I also wrote about this product in my post about managing depression.

Lastly, I find that cardio exercise does a great job of eliminating the pain.  Hiking, biking or stationary equipment all do the trick for me.  I need about 35 minutes or more with my heart rate at 120 beats per minutes for the duration.

The effects of cardio exercise alone I’ve found can eliminate my pain for up to 4 hours… .

Of all the injuries that one can sustain, I’d have to imagine that anything to do with the spine is one of the worst and I think that I’m managing mine very well.

So, what’s the moral of this story?

Keep yourself and your kids out of contact sports, especially where very strong men, bent over, are involved!