TYOLD Day 100(!): Food Frenzy

To celebrate my 100th day of Differently, I decided to to go all in on a food frenzy.

I started with a little restaurant not far from work called Boulevard Burgers.  I had been by it a million times but never stopped and so today I did.  Weird little place run by incredibly unhappy people, but the bacon cheeseburger was darned good.  Not the best I have ever tasted but certainly better than most – good grilled flavor, fantastic bacon.  I was happy (once I didn’t have to deal with the people serving the food).

burger

 

The for dinner, me and my friend Maureen decided to do “Old Hollywood” with a visit to Musso & Franks.  This is a classic LA eatery that has been in business since 1919 (!!).  Located on Hollywood Boulevard, it has been a legendary hangout for movie stars and famous writers from Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Raymond Chandler.  It has that classic old-school vibe, with worn leather booths, a staff that is almost as old as the restaurant (and very formal about everything), and a weirdly fun Hollywood atmosphere.

And we even got a celebrity sighting out of it… Penn, the tall talkative half of magic duo Penn & Teller… was having dinner with a big, boisterous group nearby.

I had classic onion soup, a filet, a baked potato, and their amazing garlic bread and although, as usual, I couldn’t eat very much of anything, everything was fantastic.  The dessert was sick – the Musso & Frank Torten, which is basically a pastry-like cake shaped thing made out of whipped cream and strawberries.  Insane.

All in all, a very “filling” 100th day.

mussoandfrank

TYOLD Day 99: Je m’appelle Ricque

Hello
Bonjour

Goodbye
Adieu

Yes
Oui

No
Non

Please
S’il vous plait

Thank you
Merci

You’re welcome
Je vous en prie

Excuse me
Excusez-moi

Do you speak English?
Parlez vous anglais?

I don’t speak <insert language>
Je ne parle pas français

I don’t understand
Je ne comprends pas

My name is…
Je m’appelle Ricque

Where is…?
Ou est

Where is the bathroom?
Où se les toilettes

At what time…?
À quelle heure

When…?
Quand

How much is this?
combien est-ce

Help
aider

Police
Police

Numbers 1-10
Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix

TYOLD Day 98: Mi Chiamo Rico

Hello
Ciao

Goodbye
Arrivederci

Yes
si

No
No

Please
per favore

Thank you
grazie

You’re welcome
Prego

Excuse me
Mi scusi

Do you speak English?
Parla Inglese?

I don’t speak <insert language>
Non parlo Italiano.

I don’t understand
Non capisco

My name is…
Mi chiamo Rico,

Where is the bathroom?
Dov’e il bagno

At what time…?
A che ora?

When…?
Quando…?

Where is…?
Dov’e…?

How much is this?
Quanto costa?

Help
Aiuto

Police
Polizia

Numbers 1-10
uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto, nove, dieci

TYOLD Day 97: Me Llamo Ricardo

I took several years of German in high school and remember exactly one phrase: die fernsehenapperat ist kaput.  It means the TV set is broken.  I also studied sign language in college but pretty much the only thing I can remember from that are the curse words.  I know some Spanish but only if it’s on the menu at Del Taco.

I am under no illusion that I can become fluent in a new language quickly, but I have decided that I can learn what one website calls the 20 basic phrases needed for every language.  So I’m going to pick a new language every day this week and learn them, starting with Spanish.

Here are the phrases and their Spanish translations:

Hello
hola
Yes
si
No
No
Please
por favor
Thank you
gracias
You’re welcome
de nada
Excuse me
Disculpe
Do you speak English?
hablas ingles?
I don’t speak <insert language>
No hablo espanol
I don’t understand
No entiendo
My name is…
Me llamo Ricardo
Where is the bathroom?
¿Donde esta el bano?
At what time…?
¿A que hora?
When…?
¿Cuando
Where is…?
¿Donde esta…?
Could you write it down please?
¿Lo podría escribir, por favor? 
How much is this?
¿Cuánto cuesta esto…? 
Help
socorro
Police
policia
Numbers 1-10
uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez
bumblebee

TYOLD Day 96: My Hood

I have lived in or around the NoHo Arts District for most of the time I have lived in Los Angeles, going on 30 years now.  I lived in this neighborhood back when it was just called North Hollywood, before it got all artsy.  It has had its ups and downs – it was getting really nice in the early 1990s and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake damaged so many buildings and businesses that it took years for it to recover.

For the record, the epicenter of the district (not the earthquake) is around Lankershim & Magnolia, about 2 miles up the street from Universal City.  Here you will find about a couple of dozen small theaters, a bunch of dance studios, a few art galleries, some small indy boutique stores, a couple of restaurants, and a bar or three.  You’ll also find a lot of Thai massage places, medical marijuana dispensaries, and an adult book store just because what good neighborhood doesn’t have one of those?

I have been to many businesses in my neighborhood but usually as destinations – I needed something specific and so I went there and didn’t bother looking around much beyond that.

So today, as we are enjoying insanely beautiful weather (low 80s, light breeze, not a cloud in the sky, I decided to take a walk and really explore.

I headed up Lankershim and first stopped to snap a picture of the god-awful sign they installed a few years back to mark the boundary of the district.  When they first put it up, it was right in between me and work and for about a week I drove several blocks out of my way just so I wouldn’t have to drive underneath it.  I thought it was hideous then and I think it’s hideous now, but you decide:

noho_signIt’s worth noting that the column on the left side of this picture is more or less right in front of the Romantix adult book store.  Stay Klassy NoHo.

My first stop was at Larry’s Levis & Gym Wear, Boots & Collectibles.

noho_antique

 

This used to be a sewing machine repair shop and there are still dozens of them left inside but mostly it’s a bunch of stuff – furniture, suitcases, bric a brac, movies, typewriters, pictures and paintings, and on and on.  Some of it was actually really cool and if I designing a room and was looking for some fun conversation pieces, I’d come here.  Problem is that most of it was kind of crazy expensive, although my guess is that Larry would probably be amenable to haggling.

I picked up a simple cigar box that I thought was kind of cool:

noho_cigarI don’t know what I’m going to put in it, but I like it.

Next I stopped at the Gallery 800, a small art gallery that was installing a show of watercolors.  Not exactly my favorite genre of art, but some of them were nice.  I primarily just wanted to get a look inside the building, which I have always coveted.

noho_800

It was built in 1939 as the Department of Water and Power building and has this really cool art deco flair to it.  I used to dream about buying this building some day and turning it into a cool work space, but I’m happy that it has a good use these days as the gallery and a theater.

Next I went on up to the Republic of Pie, a small restaurant/coffee shop on Magnolia.  I had eaten here once before and didn’t like it much, however it was not too long after my big surgery – I remember I was still walking with a cane – and pretty much all food tasted like sawdust at the time.  So I gave it another try and I was very pleased with the slice of apple pie I got.  Maybe not the best I have ever eaten, but darned good.noho_pie

Of course as the neighborhood continues to get nicer, so do the residences around it.  I stopped at a new apartment complex that opened recently just off of Lankershim, just for grins since they were having an open house.  They even had a guy on Lankershim twirling one of those arrow signs to lure people to stop by.

All around the place were signs that had photos of young, gorgeous, hipster twenty-somethings apparently enjoying life inside this new apartment complex.  The promise seemed to be that if you lived here, you would be as fulfilled and cool as these people and if you didn’t, you were an old, fat, loser.  I went inside and there were individual concierge desks and behind one was a guy wearing a finely tailored suit who looked like he was probably on a soap opera during the week.  He looked at me in my ratty khaki shorts and t-shirt and ball cap with a bit of disdain and said, “May I help you?”

“Sure,” I said.  “I’d like to take a look at the apartments.”

“Oh, I’d like to,” he said, sounding a bit like that receptionist character David Spade used to play on SNL, “But I’ve got somebody coming in shortly and I’m pretty booked up for the rest of the day.  Maybe I could squeeze you in sometime next week?”

I often have to review nightclubs in Las Vegas and they almost always have people like this at the door – officious pricks whose job it is to find the hottest people in line and to leave everyone else waiting behind the velvet ropes.  It makes me mad there and it made me mad here, because while I can’t prove it, I’d be willing to bet you that if I was in this apartment building’s desired demographic, I would’ve been on a tour in no time.

“If you can’t show the apartments, why do you have a guy out on the street with a big sign trying to get people to stop?” I asked.  “And why do you have balloons and signs that say ‘Open House’ outside?”

“Oh we always have that,” the guy said, as if that made it make any sense.

I was going to take out my aggression on him but my apple pie was calling to me so I just left instead.

BTW, I looked up the building online… they have an onsite recording studio, a “writer’s cafe” with an espresso bar, a lounge with pool tables and 3-D TVs, and an infinity pool.  The cheapest apartment they have is a 545 square-foot studio going for $2,220.

The thing that makes me laugh about that is that most of the young, hot, hipster types they are trying to get in this building couldn’t possibly afford it, whereas me, with my ratty khakis and baseball cap, totally could.

I wouldn’t, but I could.

So that’s my neighborhood.  Welcome to it.

 

 

 

 

 

TYOLD Day 95: Following Through

Back on Day 73, a flat tire wound up sending me on a different route to work.  I spotted a place that I put on my to-do list and today I to-did.  Or something like that.

Harvest Moon is a cute little restaurant and marketplace with lots of fresh looking salads, sandwiches, and more plus pastries, fresh lemonade, ice cream, and all sorts of stuff.  Everything looked yummy but I decided to get a big-ass brownie, a chocolate cupcake, and a chicken pot pie to go.

Took that sucker home, popped it in the oven for 20 minutes, and damn it was good.  The brownie was a little disappointing – I like mine really gooey and moist.  I haven’t gotten to the cupcake yet – I’ll let you know.

I definitely want to go back here and have a full meal sometime.  In case you are curious, it’s at 12456 Magnolia Blvd, Valley Village, CA 91607 – www.harvestmoonco.com.

harvestmoon

TYOLD Day 94: So You Think You Can Dance?

I’ve been working on this for awhile but today I’m finally ready to admit it… I’m trying to learn a hip-hop dance routine.

I used to be really good at choreography.  I did musicals, I was in show choir, and was even professionally trained when I went to acting school (my dance teacher said I had perfect feet).

Now, I’m fairly convinced that my legs, my torso, and my arms are not actually in any way connected.  I am such a spaz.  But I’m going to keep working on it.  At some point I am hoping it will look at least a little bit like this:

TYOLD Day 93: The Book of Morm…

I’ve been wanting to see “The Book of Mormon” musical for a long time.  Finally had an opportunity tonight.  Me and my friend Maureen had a nice dinner at Delphine at the W in Hollywood and across the street to the beautiful Pantages theater.

Very funny first act – the lead is a little pitchy (dawg) at times – but a solid cast and a great set up.

5 minutes into the second act my phone rings (well, vibrates) and it’s work and they would only call me if something really bad has happened, so I step out and sure enough, our UK site has gone down.

I spend the next hour attempting to find people who can fix it.  It finally gets fixed.  All is right with the world.

Maureen says Act 2 was funny.  Sounded funny from the lobby.

bom

TYOLD Day 92: A New Site (or 3)

I have been working in the Internet world for about 16 years now and have been a part of many website launches in my time.  But the ones that launched today for the company I work for, Viking River Cruises, qualify for the Differently pile in that I drove the bulk of the development, design, and implementation.

To be clear, it took a huge team of people many months to actually build the new sites and they did the bulk of the actual heavy lifting.  But I did the wireframes, oversaw the design (and in some cases actually did the design), worked on the UX and content, and, most critically, did presentation after presentation after revision after presentation to get it all approved, and more.

The sites are not perfect – there are some things that I would’ve done differently if all the decisions were up to me – but they are such a vast improvement over what was there before that I’m pretty proud of them.

Feel free to check it out – www.vikingrivercruises.com

PS – kudos to Jessica Page Ivy who designed the cool in-page, push-down video interaction.

hp

 

TYOLD Day 91: Sharing My Story

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month and so for my Differently today, I’m going to give you a recap of my story in dealing with the disease.  I’m hoping that you will share it, forward it, like it, Tweet it, Pinterest it, Instagram it, or whatever the hell else you social media types are doing these days.  It isn’t going too far to say that in doing so, it might save someone’s life.

To start, let’s start with numbers.  The following chart shows the relative rates of occurrence of various types of cancer since 1975.

ec_graph

 

Shocking, huh?  Esophageal cancer is the fastest growing type of cancer in the United States, with a more than 600% increase over the last three decades.  This is mainly because of our diets, as our society has gotten less healthy in its eating habits and more obese.  It will affect 1 in every 125 men and 1 in every 435 women and while there are still relatively low overall numbers (less than 1 for every 10 cases of breast cancer),  if this keeps growing at this rate, it will be one of the most prevalent forms of cancer within a generation.

It is also one of the deadliest forms.  According to the National Cancer Institute, 18,000 people will be diagnosed this year and 15,000 of them will die from the disease.  Fewer than 1 in 5 survive more than 5 years.

Before we go any further, let’s answer a burning question… what the hell is an esophagus?  I’m glad you asked.  The esophagus is a long tube that extends from the back of the mouth to the stomach.  It is about 9 inches long and is made up mostly of flexible muscle tissue.  It contracts and expands to move food from the mouth to the stomach and helps to start to process it on the way down.  The esophagus passes through a hole in the diaphragm known as the “esophageal sphincter” (go ahead and giggle, you know you want to), and then connects to the stomach at the “gastric junction.”  Here’s a diagram:

ec_body

 

There are two different types of esophageal cancer, each caused by different things.

Squamous cell carcinoma used to be the primary type of EC.  It occurs mainly in the upper part of the esophagus and is usually caused by smoking and heavy drinking.

Adenocarcinoma is now the most common type.  It occurs mainly in the lower part of the esophagus and is caused by GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease – aka acid reflux.

Stomach acid and the enzymes the body uses to break down food are kept out of the esophagus by the esophageal sphincter.  But sometimes that can become damaged and doesn’t close properly.  This allows acid to splash up into the esophagus and when that happens, the feeling is what we describe as “heartburn.”

So that’s where I come into the story.

I was a cute kid… I have pictures to prove it.  But I was fat adolescent and I have pictures to prove that as well.  Here…

From left to right, my grandpa Dewey, my brother Mike, me on my mother Pauline's lap, and my grandmother Viola

From left to right, my grandpa Dewey, my brother Mike, me on my mother Pauline’s lap, and my grandmother Viola

 

You see the fat girl in the back with the big hair and the brocade jeans jacket giving the thumbs up?  Yeah, that's me.

You see the fat girl in the back with the big hair and the brocade jeans jacket giving the thumbs up? Yeah, that’s me.

You know how every school has “the” fat kid?  Well, I wasn’t that kid.  I was the second fattest kid.  But the fattest kid could get you weed, which made him cool, and I was in choir, which adds 15 pounds, so by default I was the fattest kid.

I was what you would call an emotional eater.  I ate when I was happy, I eat when I was sad, I ate when I was angry, I ate when I bored.  (BTW, I still do this, I just can’t eat as much. )  I gained and lost weight more times that Oprah and by my mid-20s, after I had done one crash diet after another, I had developed severe, recurring, persistent heartburn.  It was bad… I often had to sleep sitting up in chairs because it was too painful to lay down.

But this was before acid reflux was a “thing.”  Back then if you had heartburn you took a Tums or a swig of Maalox.  The problem is that antacids are only temporary relief and they don’t actually stop the reflux from occurring.

In 2005, when I was approaching my 40th birthday, I noticed that my heartburn had stopped.  The acid reflux hadn’t stopped – I could still feel it boiling up at times, but it didn’t hurt anymore – I didn’t experience “heartburn.”

I did a bunch of research online and diagnosed myself with a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus. This is an example of how amazing the human body can be.  The esophagus is undergoing what can be almost literally described as an acid attack – acid is being thrown on it frequently.  So it fights back.  The interior lining starts to undergo a cellular change that turns it into tissue that is more like the lining of the intestine, which can handle stomach acid.

The trouble is that sometimes the cells don’t know when to stop changing and it can become uncontrolled.  Uncontrolled cellular growth is what we call cancer.

A gastroenterologist confirmed my self-diagnosis with an upper endoscopy.  This where they put you under and then stick a tube with a camera and some snipping tools down your throat.  It sounds scary but I swear it’s really just a day off work and really good drugs that your insurance pays for.

My Barrett’s was 4-5 centimeters going up from the gastric junction, circumferential (meaning it went around the entire tube).   They took biopsies – 1 per centimeter in 4 quandrants, meaning that I had 16-20 little chunks taken out every time I had to do this.  I always pictured my esophagus as a water wiggle afterwards.

There are several stages on the way to cancer – regular Barrett’s, Barrett’s with low-grade dysplasia (cells that are trending toward cancer), Barrett’s with high-grade dysplasia (cells that are almost cancer), and then cancer.  Just because you have Barrett’s, doesn’t mean you will absolutely get cancer – it just makes it more likely.

When I was first diagnosed I had some high-grade but mostly low-grade dysplasia.  In 2005, there were some treatments for Barrett’s, but most of them were very new (especially in the United States) and insurance companies usually only paid for them when the Barrett’s had progressed further into the high-grade territory.  This, of course, is ridiculous, but there it is.

So the prescribed treatment was “watchful waiting.”  I had to go every 6 months and then later, every year for an endoscopy to monitor the progress.  I got 2 in 2005, 2 in 2006, and then 1 each in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

In 2011, I got laid off from my job and while I still had COBRA insurance, the out of pocket was simply too much for me to afford with no income.  My gastro-guy said that my last endoscopy in 2010 showed good results and not to worry about it… “Call me when you get a job.”

Well, it took almost a year to get a job.  In 2012 I went back for an endoscopy and that’s when they found that my Barrett’s had flipped to cancer.

Below is a fun (and by fun I mean not fun at all) chart.  It shows is the various stages of EC, how far the cancer has to have spread to be in that stage, what percentage of cases are of that type, and what the 5-year survival rate is for each of those types:

ec_stages

 

Stages 1 and 2 are relatively rare and relatively survivable.  But unfortunately, most symptoms don’t occur until stages 3 and 4 and by then it is usually too late to do anything about it.  

It is worth noting that these statistics vary by source – some studies put stage 1B at 50% five-year survival.  I choose to believe the 80% one.  Why?  Because that’s what I was diagnosed with.

The cancer had made it through the inner lining and first muscle layer but hadn’t made it through the outer wall or into my lymph nodes.  My tumor was small – about 1.5 cm at the gastric junction.

Treatment for stage 1A is what’s called endoscopic mucosal resection, where they use an endoscopy to snip out the cancerous parts.  It can be done outpatient and is no big deal.  Stage 1B can often be treated only with surgery while stage 2 cancers require chemo and radiation followed by surgery.  Stage 3 requires chemo and radiation both before and after surgery.  Stage 4 is palliative care.

The surgery is tough.  It was described to me both as “medieval” (one doctor said “In 20 years we’ll look back and say, ‘We really used to do that?’”) and as the most traumatic surgery that the human body can endure other than open-heart varieties.  First, a general surgeon cuts 8 small incisions in the abdomen and does an exploratory laparoscopy – basically looking around with cameras.  This is to verify the position of the tumor and to double check that there is no other evidence of cancer that had not been detected by diagnostic tests.  If there is cancer spread, they usually stop because putting the patient through the rest of the surgery isn’t worth it.

Then a cardiothoracic surgeon makes a 4 inch incision on the right side of the chest, sometimes removes a rib (as they did with me), and then cuts out the tumor by removing a portion of the esophagus and/or stomach.  My surgery took 5 cm of my esophagus and 4 cm of my stomach.  The remaining stomach is then pulled up and reattached to the what is left of the esophagus.  It looks something like this (in concept – I’m not really a middle-aged woman, no matter what people say):

ec_body2

 

The normal recovery time is about 7 days in the hospital and another 3-4 weeks before you can return to something resembling a regular schedule.

I had a bunch of complications after the surgery, mostly brought on by the fact that I tugged on a feeding tube that had been inserted surgically and tore a hole in my intestine.  By the time they figured out what had happened I was septic and almost died.  I wound up being in the hospital for 2 weeks and it took 4-5 months for me to be something like normal again.

Over those months I lost a lot of weight – nearly 70 pounds – about 25% of my body mass.   Food continues to be a problem for me and maintaining weight is a constant challenge.  I had to have 2 more follow up surgeries and have to go in for tests every 3-4 months to make sure that the cancer has not returned.  I have racked up more than $2 million in medical bills (I don’t have to pay that much, but that’s how much was charged).  This will keep going until we get to the 5-year mark in 2017.

But despite how hard (and expensive) it has been, I still count myself as lucky. I keep remembering this statistic – 18,000 people diagnosed; 15,000 die.

So here are your key takeways… Esophageal cancer is the fastest growing type of cancer in the United States.  It has a high mortality rate but it is survivable if it is diagnosed and treated early.

And this is the big one… if you or someone you know has persistent heartburn (2 or more times per week), go see a doctor.

I really hope you will like, forward, share, Tweet, etc. because I really believe that someday someone who has read this will be at a party or at work or somewhere and someone will say to them, “Man, I have terrible heartburn” and the reply will be “You know, I read this thing about how heartburn is related to cancer…” and it just might save someone’s life.

To learn more about Esophageal Cancer and to find out how you can help, please visit the Esophageal Cancer Action Network at ecan.org.