Did a Fasting Mimicking Diet Free Me From an Autoimmune Disorder?

A Disclaimer

This article is just my story. I am not offering any medical advice nor trying to tell you what to do if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder. I’m only explaining my journey of being afflicted with what is called Delayed Pressure Urticaria (DPU), the protocols I used to help alleviate the welts, swelling, hives, or “wheals” as the doctors call them, and my recent results following a fasting mimicking diet.

Welts Don’t Look Good on a Beach

The Jersey Shore. Long Beach Island, New JerseyI don’t remember the first time I noticed it, but it was at least over 20 years ago. The instance that always stays ingrained in my head was a trip to New Jersey. I had a shoulder bag that was rather heavy for lugging through an airport. The flight landed, all was well, but about six hours there it was, a giant welt in the spot the shoulder bag strap rested on my shoulder. This was not the look to go with when you are heading to the beach.

At the time I didn’t know what was going on and, in typical “guy” fashion, I completely ignored the signs. It also didn’t make sense. Why would I get swelling six hours after doing something physical?

As the years went on things seemed to get worse. I would notice, after doing manual labor, things like using a drill, screwdriver, or saw, always, after about six hours, things would swell. My hands would look like balloons, and to compound the discomfort I would develop a low-grade fever. One particular bad turn was walking on a beach in my bare feet. The day in the sun was great, and it didn’t occur to me the pressure that was on my feet while walking on the sand. Sure enough, six hours later, my feet swelled so much that my shoes wouldn’t fit, the pain to walk was nearly unbearable, and the fever chills hit me like never before.

Thankfully, by then, the internet information was becoming more widespread. After a boatload of searching, probably for something like “swelling and fever six hours after pressure,” there it was: Delayed Pressure Urticaria.

Why Don’t Men Like to See a Doctor?

As things stayed consistent, and I learned to plan for the flare-ups, sure, I could have checked with my doctor, but why would I want to do that? Secondarily, almost to a person commenting on the internet except a lowly few, their doctors, because of the wheals, went right to “allergy” and would prescribe every allergy medicine under the sun. Only a few realized it wasn’t really an allergy but what one might classify as an autoimmune disorder.

Finally, I brought it up to my doctor, and even after my mentioning my research into it being an autoimmune disorder, she completely dismissed me, and said I should try Claritin for three months.

She’s a doctor, and what did I know? I did try her advice, I mean, what the hell, but alas, no changes in any symptoms. There would be a change in my doctor. It was too bad because I really liked that doctor up until then.

I’ll Try Just About Anything

Cinnamon Bark PillsAs the years went on, every now and then, I would do internet searches to see if anything new was out there in the world of Delayed Pressure Urticaria. The general consensus, on what I considered the extreme front, mentioned that steroid shots or pills seemed to help, but a myriad of people were taking a more holistic approach. Someone mentioned cinnamon pills helped alleviate the symptoms. In my head I questioned, “They make cinnamon pills?” Sure enough, they there were on the shelf at the store.

Oil of Oregano PillsLow and behold, with the cinnamon pills things were a little less on the reaction front. I guess cinnamon is supposedly a natural remedy for inflammation. Still not satisfied, I kept looking for answers, and a few months later someone mentioned oregano pills. Again, “They make oregano pills?” Sure enough, there they were on the shelf in the store.

The holistic folks tout oregano for its anti-inflammatory benefits as well as pain relief, and yes, the addition of the oregano pills helped alleviate the debilitating effects of the welts and swelling even more.

What the Heck is a Gut Microbiome?

Still not the greatest of solutions, my DPU had become a little more manageable, and instead of a two day recovery period if I was overly aggressive in my working with tools and solid objects, things were down to about a 24-36 hour period. A few years go by and now tons of stories are starting to creep onto the internet about autoimmune disorders and the gut microbiome. Turns out there is a boatload of bacteria in the gut all trying to keep you healthy, but for many people their microbiome in the gut is completely out of whack.

Porterhouse - Before and AfterA lot of this out-of-whackness appears to be linked to diet, overuse of antibiotics, and even not being born vaginally, but, for me, I’m blaming popping antacids like candy back in college, mostly completely unnecessarily, but it was the “thing” to do as we were “stressed.” As I look back my DPU ills started shortly after my college career ended. The damage was done, I was doing nothing in my diet to help it recover, and low and behold my autoimmune system decided that pressure on my skin was a bad thing. Weird.

Safely on the cinnamon and the oregano, I had also found a new doctor and a dermatologist, both of whom knew of the condition, and both said there wasn’t any known “pill” that would solve the problem. My dermatologist said she would keep her eyes open for anything on the horizon, but mostly both were both curious when I would tell them the steps I take to alleviate the issue.

With no great ideas from my doctors, now what was I to do? I know, I’ll take a probiotic! Let’s try to get the gut microbiome back in whack!

I will admit that my diet didn’t change that much, but with the addition of the probiotic the severity of my DPU lessened even more. The recovery period was down to about 12 to 14 hours, and the swelling wasn’t such that I worried about taking off my wedding ring or watch, and if I took a couple of aspirin about 4 hours after I finished whatever manual labor I was doing, I could eliminate the fever and chills and function rather normally, albeit with some swelling and discomfort.

I pretty much accepted that things would be like this the rest of my life.

Podcasts Lead to a Possible DPU Breakthrough for Me?

I listen to a lot of podcasts, mostly in the car on the way to work, and that’s what eventually took me to something called a fasting mimicking diet from Dr. Valter Longo and Prolon. I believe the journey began in 2014 or 2015, hearing a different doctor, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, on TimTim TalkTalk, or rather The Tim Ferriss Show as it is commonly known. During the interview there was a lot of talk about longevity and diet, and my general interest was peaked. I didn’t do much follow-up, mostly just subscribing to her podcast, and as a follower of Tim’s I also found myself subscribed to The Kevin Rose Show as I enjoyed him on Tim’s “Random Show” episodes.

A couple of years of podcasts went by and there were a lot of episodes about the gut microbiome, but things also transitioned to more discussions of fasting. Mind you I tried a juice-only fast a few years earlier and made it to day two before, “I need something to chew!” blew that out of the water, but come mid-2017, Tim Ferriss had Dr. Patrick doing a Q&A episode for his show and some of the answers were about Dr. Longo and his research into fasting.

The Longevity DietThen 2018 came, and my interest in the fasting mimicking diet really started to solidify. Kevin Rose interviewed Dr. Longo on his podcast. The good doctor was promoting his book, “The Longevity Diet,” which was nice and swell, but when the talk turned from longevity to research into fasting and its effect on cancer treatment, and more important to me, autoimmune disorders, specifically Multiple Sclerosis (my dad had M.S.), I listened more intently. I ordered the book and in true “me” fashion, I didn’t read it.

Thankfully came a follow-up interview of Dr. Longo by Dr. Patrick on her “Found My Fitness” podcast, and with an episode title of “Dr. Valter Longo on Resetting Autoimmunity and Rejuvenating Systems with Prolonged Fasting & the FMD” it was time to take this seriously. I read the book, I studied the research, I found blog posts of people who had done the fasting mimicking diet, and I decided to try it. In my head I had no expectations of any profound effects on my DPU, especially after one cycle of the diet, but I figured in a worst case I would lose some weight.

Let’s Give the fasting mimicking diet a Shot

I had two choices to try the fasting mimicking diet. One choice was to follow the guide in “The Longevity Diet” and making my own meals. The other was to just purchase the food package from Prolon, a company that developed an all-in-one kit for diet. I knew the value of purchasing the meal plan would be in “here’s what to eat today,” limiting any temptation to cheat. My wife also decided to join me and give it a try. We ordered our food.

The Prolon Fasting Mimicking DietThe packages arrived and inside were five, small boxes labeled for days one through five, a giant water bottle, instructions, and other information. The diet, each day, varies ever so slightly, and looking at our calendar, my wife and I decided to begin on a Sunday and end on a Thursday. We set it this way so Friday could be the transition day working back to fuller meals on Saturday.

The days are set up with a breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and some side items you can use as an afternoon snack or eat with your meals. You also get some herbal tea, and for days two thru five there is an energy drink . You are instructed that you can mix up the meals during the day, but you should eat all of the food in the box on that day and not swap days, i.e, don’t eat the Day Two Meals on Day Three and Day Three on Day Two, for example.

As far as the food, each day you are given two soups. One soup is microwavable, the other you actually have to cook on a stove. The quinoa soup was rather tasty, the tomato and minestrone not too bad, but I could do with a different vegetable soup. Happily there was only one day with the vegetable soup! You also get meal bars where some days you are allowed two, and some days only one. You will probably really miss the Chocolate Crisp L-Bar so savor it on the days you get it if you try the Prolon route. Some days have some supplements, other days none, some days crackers and some days none, and some days olives and some days none.
Yup, I admit, it seems kind of wacky.

Wackiness aside, you might wonder, “Do you feel like you are starving?”

I have to say that there was only one day when I really felt hungry. Maybe it was the fact there was actually food to chew, or I had a greater curiosity with the end result, but getting through the five days wasn’t really that tough. The toughest day was actually day six, the “transition back to normal food” day, as there are lots of horror stories of blow-outs, if you get my drift, hiccups, or all around discomfort if you decide to just chow down coming off of a fast. You are instructed to ease back into food. For us we opted for lighter meals during the transition day, with a dinner of fish.

The Gloves Come Off

With the fasting mimicking diet behind me, as well as a few pounds, I was curious if there was actually a change in my DPU. Oh yea, I forgot to mention that during the diet I stopped taking the probiotic, oregano, and cinnamon supplements, only starting the probiotic again after the diet was over.

Back to results…

There was only one way to find if there was any effect of the diet on my DPU, but I didn’t want to go completely crazy by remodeling our basement. I started slow, just with mowing the lawn without gloves. That might sound silly, but for our lawn we have a riding lawnmower, and I found out, early on, that if I didn’t use gloves my hands would swell. It wouldn’t be horrible, but there was always swelling, so for the years we have lived in our home, whenever I mowed the lawn, gloves were on.

This time the gloves were off.

The lawn was mowed, and I waited for the swelling.

The Swelling Never Came.

I was shocked. Not even a bit of swelling occurred which I usually gauge by the ease with which I can take off my wedding ring. “This has got to be an anomaly, right. Maybe I was being as gentle as I could with my hands while mowing the lawn.”

I realized that while I had no swelling on this completely, unscientific test, I would need to do something more aggressive, something I couldn’t “fudge” by being gentle, and see the results.

Thankfully the following weekend presented the next opportunity. Yes, the lawn needed to be mowed again, but what the hell, let’s do a boatload of weed-wacking and edging around the house. I mowed the lawn, and when I was done with the lawn I grabbed the weed-wacker and proceeded to wack the weeds all around the house. Yay! Then I went even crazier and decided to edge around the sidewalk and driveway. Finally, about four hours later, my work was done, and it was all accomplished with no gloves.

It was now time to expect the worst. A little over a month earlier I had done some yard work, and even while wearing gloves there was swelling. This time the work was much more intense, much more stressful on my hands, and I did it without gloves. I showered and expected that, about five hours later, I would begin to get the chills with the low-grade fever, I would have to make sure I took off my wedding ring so the swelling wouldn’t grow around it, and my watch would have to come off as I wouldn’t be able to slip it over my balloon-looking hands.

The end of the afternoon came, and nothing was happening. The evening came and my hands were still normal and there was no sign of fever. I went to bed, and it was like I didn’t do any yard work at all.

“Holy crap, did this fasting mimicking diet cure my Delayed Pressure Urticaria?”

I still didn’t believe it.

The Testing Continues

The next weekend came, and I said to myself, “Self, the weather is crazy hot outside. Let’s tackle a boatload of inside, house projects!”

So I did.

There was an extra-vigorous bathroom cleaning (Not that I normally do a crappy bathroom cleaning, but this time there was some floor scrubbing on my hands and knees, and an extra-deep cleaning of the whirlpool tub), vacuuming, and the topper was some drywall repair. Again, any one of these had the ability to cause swelling of my hands, and this time also of my feet as there was a lot of bare feet walking around the house action going on, but put all three together and about five hours after I was done I should be decimated.

Nothing happened. Five hours, six hours, seven hours, eight hours later and there was no swelling of my hands nor feet, and no fever. I felt fine, albeit a little sore in some muscles from using them more than normal, but there were no DPU affects.

As I write this I am still shocked.

A Case Study of One Continues

I will say that I have no scientific confirmation it was the fasting mimicking diet that eliminated my DPU syndrome. Maybe I went into remission at the same time, maybe the years of probiotics finally cleaned up my guy at the same time I started the diet, or maybe there was a different diet change that affected me. I don’t know. What I do know is that prior to starting the FMD I had all of the classic symptoms of Delayed Pressure Urticaria, and after completing the FMD, in three “tests,” there was nothing. Not a swollen hand, not a welt, not a slight fever, no symptoms whatsoever.

Now what? Well, my intention is to complete another round of the FMD in the hopes of compounding the seeming healthy effects of the diet, and maybe follow that by remodeling the basement. Okay, maybe not remodel the basement, but at least continue testing my physical limits, doing the things that used to cause the discomfort. There will also be adjusting of my diet to be a little more healthy while keeping my gut microbiome intact.

My journey will continue, hopefully, with a wonderful healthspan without delayed pressure urticaria. Only time will tell.

Keep Searching

For those of you reading this who suffer from delayed pressure urticaria, wondering what might help, fasting mimicking diet testing aside, I will say that my protocol of daily supplements including oregano, cinnamon, and a probiotic, along with, on exertion days, taking aspirin about 4 hours of after I was done “beating up my body” helped immensely. The DPU was, for all intents and purposes, manageable, and recovery down to hours from days. The FMD, though, has given me hope that maybe, just maybe, my body has given me a reset to normalcy.

As a person who has suffered with Delayed Pressure Urticaria for nearly the majority of my life, I welcome every glimmer of hope in reducing the difficulties of the syndrome. Most of the things i have tried helped a little bit, and maybe it was the FMD, maybe it wasn’t, but only time will tell if there was something in my life that, at least temporarily, freed me from the debilitating effects of DPU. If you are a person with DPU reading this, and you have other health issues, you really need to check with your physician to see if you are healthy enough to try a fasting mimicking diet. Other than having Delayed Pressure Urticaria, I was a fairly healthy person, with decent blood tests, and not horribly over or under weight. With that I wasn’t that concerned about exacerbating any other conditions by doing the five day “fasting.” I would also say that if your doctor completely dismisses the thought of the diet as a joke, you may want to find a new doctor.

My last advice is this: If you suffer from a disorder that seems completely wacky and random keep searching for answers, and be open to wacky and random, within reason, all the while doing your own research because your doctor may not.

One search led me to cinnamon pills, another led me to realizing I needed a different doctor, while a different search had me realize you can take oregano as a supplement. Searching helped me find stories of the gut microbiome and its connection to autoimmune issues, and then searching helped me find Dr. Valter Longo and his fasting mimicking diet. For a month now, as I write this, I have been Delayed Pressure Urticaria free, and even if it stays away, or it someday comes back, I will always wonder about it, and maybe do another search.

Is it Wrong to Swear While Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica?

It began with wanting to see the fires from hell. It ended with God. It began Oct 14, 2017. It ended May 19, 2018. It began with feeling like a fat loser at age 50. It ended with swearing while visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, and feeling like, well, I swore while visiting the Vatican.

Italy or Hawaii? First up, Hawaii.

The beauty of Hawaii
The Beauty of Hawaii

Back in mid 2017 my wife and I wanted to take a vacation, and October seemed like a good time to work it into our schedule. Since we met there were two destinations on our immediate vacation list, Italy and Hawaii. She had been to Italy previously and knew October might not be the best of times to go, but it seemed like a great time for Hawaii. The flights were booked, Airbnbs were secured, and there were four months to get in better shape, especially for a vacation destination that exudes “cool things await those who hike, or at least walk a lot.”

Me, I had one goal, to see the lava flows of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island.

Kīlauea Volcano Crater
At Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Back then Kilauea Volcano was fairly quiet and lava flows were hit or miss. This is in contrast to the explosiveness of today, with the lava fissures in Leilani Estates and the action at Overlook crater at the Kīlauea summit. Thinking back, maybe things were too quiet at the volcano when we visited. In any case, as we arrived one thing was certain, I didn’t get in good enough shape to have any chance to make it to where lava might be flowing.

Warning signs if you want to see the lava flow at Volcano National Park in Hawaii.
“Andy, You will die if you pass!”

The signs that were posted, I joked, all read, “Andy, you will die if you pass.” It was about a 10 mile hike, you should take at least 3 quarts of water, and you should have food and even flashlights. It was also hot on the day we visited, about 85 degrees. As much as I wanted to get pictures of lava flowing I knew I wasn’t in shape to do it. I tried to make myself feel better as a ranger mentioned there didn’t appear to be any visible lava flow that day, but in my heart I knew I really couldn’t make that hike because, well, I was still a fat loser.

Hawaii was over, but the thought of that failure lived on in my head.

Then came Italy.

With Hawaii behind us, my wife was immediately in “Let’s go to Italy next year!” mode. I was in. I mean, Italian food and gelato everywhere. Sure, I’m Polish, but I love me some good pasta!

In the back of my head, though, was the Hawaii failure.

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome

Initially it wasn’t that big a deal. I knew there would be a lot of walking in Italy, but nothing seemed completely out of reach for my fat self, that was until I learned of the cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica is, simply put, the outside of the top of the big dome. From the cupola you can get the greatest views of Rome, but to get to the cupola you have to climb stairs, a lot of stairs, 551 stairs from the bottom to the top. As taking pictures is one of the things I do, I wanted the best pictures, and to possibly get them I knew where I had to be, I needed to be at the cupo, St. Peter’s cupola, the hottest spot west of the Piazza.

Two choices to get to the cupola.

My wife is the one who mentioned the cupola to me, and the stairs. She also mentioned that there is an elevator to get to a terrace level that can give you a nice view, and a wonderful view inside the dome, but that elevator didn’t go all the way to the top. Sure, you can cut the stairs down to 320 by taking the elevator, but, if I was going to do this, I wanted the complete experience.

I now had a goal.

How, though, was I going to get this fat loser into any kind of shape to climb 551 stairs?

My “cupola climb” training tracker.

There was some preliminary weight loss as the year began, some extra time on a treadmill, but walking flat on a treadmill wouldn’t really be any preparation. Also, where was I going to find stairs to train on? Sure, I could join a gym with a stair-master, but I really don’t like going to the gym. It occurred to me, “We have stairs! Why don’t I train at home?”

At home we have two little flights of stairs, a total of 14 stairs. For shits and giggles I decided to see how many flights I could easily do, and there it was, four flights of stairs. “Crap, that’s only like 56 stairs.” I was curious, however, if it were possible to add one additional flight of stairs every day.

The most normal stairs on the trip to the cupola.

The plan was hatched. I even made a chart. I was going to use our stairs to train for the big day. I would start with four flights of stairs, and every day I would add one flight. By starting on March 14th, if I stuck with this plan of adding one flight of stairs a day, by the time we would leave for our trip I would be able to climb upwards of 896 stairs. I wanted to be over-trained, and I also didn’t know what the effect of walking up and down stairs did (I only counted the stairs going up), versus climbing stairs continually up as I would have to do at the cupola.

Every day I did my flights of stairs, at least for most of the days. I even decided, as my legs became stronger, to actually add two flights to the daily total, giving some extra training every day just in case there was a chance I couldn’t do the stairs for a day or two.

A clogged bathtub drain.

My training was going great, I was up to 602 stairs, and some bathroom cleaning was going on about 3 1/2 weeks before our trip. Our bathtub drain was getting a little slow, so hey, why not use one of those yellow “get the hair out” thingies. I’m leaning over the edge of the tub, pushing and pulling this “unclog your drain” gadget, when suddenly a sharp pain hit my right ribcage. The good news is I cleared the drain, but the bad news was that I was fairly certain I just gave myself a rib injury.

I didn’t think anything was broken, but my ribs were sore, sore enough to effect my ability to take full breaths, which in turn, I was certain, was going to effect my stamina to climb 551 stairs. I was not happy. Worse yet, I was worried that although I wouldn’t be as fat, I would be a loser again at another goal.

The line to pay to get to the cupola.

This was not good because I did not want to be a loser.

I took a few days off of my training, resting my ribs, but worried my legs would quickly lose their stamina. A training set was done a few days later, I made 47 flights at 658 stairs, but it was hard. There were a few more days off of training but, come the beginning of May, decided I needed to figure out a way to kick the training back in gear. I made it a couple of days, but my ribs were still sore. How the heck was I going to pull this off?

I tried a few days rest, a few days training, and yet my ribs still hurt, especially towards the end of my set when I was having to take larger breaths to supply my body with the oxygen it needed. This “adding one flight of stairs a day” seemed like a good idea early on, but with sore ribs it proved to be a chore.

One of the doorways on the stairway trip!

Then came a true test. It was one week before our visit to The Vatican, I was up to 854 stairs in my training at home, the up and down of the flights of stairs, and my ribs were still sore. Suddenly an opportunity came to climb to the eighth floor of a building, a total of about 300 stairs. Should be a piece of cake, right? Well, I made it, my ribs were killing me, I was totally out of breath because I couldn’t really breathe, and now I was simply thinking, “I can barely do 300 stairs with these ribs. How in the hell am I going to do 551?” I almost wanted to cry.

I decided my last course of training had to be lack of training. If I wanted to climb these stairs to the cupola I needed to be able to breathe, and even though my stair tracker had a few days left of training to go, I needed to rest my ribs. No more stairs, no more exertion, I decided I would try to limit things, get to Italy, and see what would happen.

Buongiorno!

I really didn’t need extra stairs while on the Vatican Museum tour.

The day arrived. It was a beautiful Saturday in Rome, and we made our way to The Vatican. I hadn’t really done any exercise for a week, my ribs were feeling pretty good, or at least not sore, but another test was first, our tour. Yes, before even attempting the stairs we booked a tour of The Vatican so we could beat the crowds. What was I thinking? I had 551 stairs to try to climb, and here I am on a three hour tour, walking around The Vatican Museum, standing in the Sistine Chapel, and walking, low and behold, up and down stairs.

I will say the tour was great, interesting, and informative, but with every step and every stair all I could think was how I was using up the energy I was going to need to climb to the cupola. Did I overtrain enough? Isn’t this tour over yet? Not another flight of stairs that aren’t part of my cupola stairs! Ugh!

This way to the 551 stairs!

Finally the tour was over. Holy crap, I had already walked about three miles according to my Apple Watch, but the time had come. My ribs felt fine, I made my way to the line to the cupola, and there was the sign, “Andy, you will die if you pass.” Okay, it was a warning that there were two ways up, all stairs or you can cheat with the elevator for part of the way. If you intended to try to get to the cupola there were still a lot of stairs, but another sign was a little more direct, “Warning! Individuals with serious heart or circulatory conditions or with major physical disabilities are not advised to walk up to the cupola (551 steps). The strain may have very dangerous consequences to your health.”

I had my ticket!

I have to admit there was part of me, with the decision between elevator or all stairs in front of me, to chicken out and take the elevator, but I said, “You can do this. This is what you trained for. Suck it up, save the two euros, and get walking!”

So I did. I paid my eight euros, got my ticket, and proceeded to begin the climb.

That’s Not So Bad

Normal stairs to the cupola.

The first batch of 231 stairs wasn’t that bad. While circular, they tended to be larger stairs, decent in width, with some ledge style stairs where you actually take a few steps between stairs at times. In fact this batch is kind of a tease. I’m all like, “La de da! This is a piece of cake!”

I emerge from the first batch at the terrace, some construction is going on, but there it is, the real entrance to the journey to the top of the dome. As you enter you are first treated to a view most never see because they either don’t want to pay for that first batch of stairs, or the elevator for that matter.

St. Peter’s dome selfie!

You get a view of the inside of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, from up high. It is a stunning perspective of the basilica, looking down on the vastness of the church, and looking around at the grandioseness of the dome itself. Beautiful mosaics adorn the walls, and for this the few euros is just about worth the expense, even if you don’t want the outside view that awaits up the rest of the stairs.

Welcome to the Funhouse

Me, though, I wanted that outside view, but you don’t get that view without what can almost be described as a funhouse of a climb to get you to the top.

Climbing is like a funhouse at times.
Wacky stairs at the cupola.

First off the stairs have now become narrow as you are essentially climbing in an area between the walls of the inside of the dome and the walls of the exterior of the dome. It’s also fun because the stairs will slope one direction while the walls are sloping in the opposite direction, giving you a walk that has you tilted in various angles.

More spiral stairs.

Then there are the spiral staircases. Spiral staircases seem to be here, there, and just when you think there aren’t any more, bam, more spiral staircases. I’m climbing, some young, punk kids, and I only call them “punk” because they are in shape and running up the stairs like it’s a jog in the park, catch up to me so I let them pass, I catch up to someone who looks in decent shape but is fairly winded, and we both stop for about 20-30 seconds in a little alcove out of the way of others who want to pass.

I have no concept of how many stairs are left because, well, I didn’t count them as I was climbing, but I hoped I was fairly close. You see, during my training, as I was getting to the end, whenever I had four flights of stairs left I said a mental “You were able to do four flights of stairs when you started this training. Finish this!”, and for most of the balance of the upper portion I kept telling myself, “There can’t be more than four flights left!”

You might like the rope on this spiral staircase.

Here’s the thing, as you are climbing the funhouse stairs in the actual dome, there is a spot towards the end where you suddenly get to some metal staircases. They are normal, you are happy, but ahead marks what you will think is the worst spiral staircase of them all. Climb, hold on to the rope, because there is one, and like me, you will emerge, and maybe you might say…

“Holy shit, I made it!”

Yes, I dropped the s-bomb at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I made it to the top, and I swore.

It was a feeling of complete elation! I did it! Should I see if Pope Francis would hear my confession? At least it wasn’t an f-bomb!

I was also overwhelmed, and I really wasn’t sure what to do next. Do I Snapchat my view, text my wife, take pictures, shoot video? So, at first, I just tried to soak it in, which was kind of tough because the cupola was packed. Sure, this 51 year old schlub made it, was ecstatic that he made it, but there were plenty of folks up at the top like,”What, that wasn’t so bad?” I didn’t care, though, because for me it was it was a little bit of redemption for not making it to the lava, or even trying, that day in Hawaii.

Here’s the thing, though, I enjoyed the view, took a selfie, took the proverbial pictures, I didn’t text my wife because I was saving money on our phone plan, but then it was time to go.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Going down the spiral stairs can be scary!

All of the stories I read, and videos I saw of climbing to the cupola mentioned the challenge of going up, but none of them talked about going down. I will say that as kind of freaky it was going up all of the spiral staircases, going down actually was worse. Why? Going up you can kind of see where you are placing your feet, but going down was more like lower foot, feel for the step, hope you are on enough of the step to hold you until the next step, and continue. Oh, and there are no handrails to hold, just a wall and the center post, both of which are there mostly to maintain your balance and lean against as opposed to grab.

You have to walk back down after the fabulous view.

After navigating the super-tight, spiral staircases, things get more weird as the trip down is also one of the best thigh workouts, or will put the most stress you have ever felt on your quads and knees ever, as most of the steps are pitched down. Picture walking down a giant hill, one step at a time if the hill were steps.

On the way down the stop on the terrace level is nice, and you can get a nice view of where you were at the top of the cupola. There is a gift shop, which sadly doesn’t have any t-shirts “I walked to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica!” There’s a little cafe and views of the backside of statues where, if you look closely enough, you will see how they keep the birds from landing on the statues.

The end of the cupola trip.

Finally, you are heading down the last batch of stairs, and there it is, the exit, depositing you into the basilica where you can head back to the altar, look up, and point, “I was way up there!”

I found my wife where she said she would meet me. I hugged her, and my eyes welled up with tears. I could tell she was proud of me because she hugged me back, even though I was a sweaty, stair climber.

I had done it. After tormenting myself since our vacation to Hawaii and feeling like a fat loser, there I was, a chubby winner at age 51. Now I just needed to find the Pope and confess my swearing, and plan a future trip for a new goal. I hear Australia has a big bridge you can climb!

The Front or The Back

I’ve been slowly working on editing my myriad of concert pictures that I put on my Flickr site. Some of my favorites are Green Day. It was a concert back in 2005 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. (I still need to clean up my old concert review pages – sorry for the bad formatting if you go there).

Two of my favorite pictures from that concert are of Billy Joe Armstrong.

One is his front:

Billy Joe Armstrong - Green Day

The other is his back:

Billy Joe Armstrong - Green Day

Leave me a comment of which you like better.

Drippy Goo – Heliconia bihai cv. Lobster Claw One

Looking through some of my Hawaii pictures on my Flickr pages recently, mostly because I’m freezing my behind off here in Chicago and would rather be there, I’m still fascinated by the goo cascading off this plant. It kind of looks like icicles, but definitely is not as the picture is from the Hawaii Botanic Tropical Gardens. I believe it might be a Heliconia bihai cv. Lobster Claw One, but don’t quote me on that.

Drippy Goo

When Is It Time to Stop with the Happy New Year?

I heard a cheerful “Happy New Year” said by someone, I’ll call them “Kate,” talking on the phone yesterday. As I’m typing this, “Yesterday” was January 9th, and I thought to myself “Isn’t it a little late to be wishing someone that their new year should be happy?”

It just seemed too late.

So many thoughts started running through my head. First there was, “I wonder how the person on the other side reacted?” Then I wondered, “Were they caught off-guard because we were almost ten days into the new year, and they no longer see happiness on the horizon?”  “Did they reply with the same giddiness as the person dispatching the happy wishes?”

Maybe I had it wrong and it wasn’t Kate sending the greeting, but it was the person on the other side of the line who perpetrated the good tidings for the new year. Maybe this actually perked up “Kate.”

I wondered how I might have responded. I think I would have been, “Oh, yea, Happy New Year.” Then I would have found it weird during the rest of our phone call that the person wished the new year be happy this late into the new year.

As my mind does, now I wondered how long “Kate” might continue her New Year’s greeting. Will it be a few more days, maybe a few weeks, maybe only to people she hasn’t talked to in the New Year yet, resulting in a “Happy New Year” sometime in February?

I also wondered how long into the year it was appropriate to say, “Happy New Year!”

I did what I always do when I need an answer, I headed to the internet. It was just as confusing, at least in the first few stories. Why? There was a lot of discussion that a few days into January is as long as you should say it, others gave you to the 14th, but the best was an article in Metro, some British internet magazine. It decided that a “party and wedding etiquette expert” was the supreme authority for the answer. This expert mentions that “Wishing someone Happy New Year after a week into January can be unwanted and insincere.” Damn, that seems harsh.

So there you have it. One week. That’s as long as you are allowed to say, “Happy New Year,” a party and wedding etiquette expert says so.

More Chances to Wish “Happy New Year!”

Here is the good news: If you just can’t help yourself from wishing people a year of glee, well, you do have few more chances where you can get away with confusing the crap out of people. You have “Happy Orthodox New Year!” coming up for you on January 14th. Be ready, though, to explain the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The big one, though, is “Happy Chinese New Year!”, coming February 16th, here in 2018. As an added bonus, instead of just a boring “Happy New Year!” you get to get all animal loving with a hardy, “Happy Year of the Dog!”

Hooray for dogs!

Lights and Ice

Lights and Ice

Barnard Griffin WineryWhile we were out in Washington state for a wedding, me, my wife, and her family had some time to kill. Sure, we were hoping for better weather, but coming from Chicago we weren’t going to let a little ol’ ice storm keep us down.

We were off to a winery!

My wife found a place, Barnard Griffin Winery, and they had a place to eat.

Pouring Samples at Barnard GriffinVenturing out into the icy wilderness, or at least the Tri-Cities, we made our way from Pasco to Richland.

Things might have been slippery, but the wine was great, our man did a wonderful job of explaining the various tastings on the history of the winery, and a good time was had by all.

Don’t forget to stop by the little restaurant. The food is worth the trip, even if they didn’t actually use linguini for their linguini in white clam sauce.

Wine Tasting TimeIf you ever find yourself in Richland, Washington, I suggest you visit. Hopefully you’ll have less ice, and more light. You will definitely have great wine.

So You’re Going to Hawaii

Words or Pictures? Why not both!

The beauty of Hawaii

So you’re going to Hawaii? Ever since we met my wife and I wanted to visit the Paradise of the Pacific, and in October we were finally able to pull off the trip. We asked people for things to do, things to see, read the Hawaii guidebooks (these were awesomely helpful), and for this blog I wanted to share many of the things we experienced, hopefully giving you ideas if you ever make it to the Big Island or Kauai.

I’m a little torn, though. Why? There is the part of me that wants to do a full-blown blog post about our vacation to Hawaii. The dilemma? A full-blown post would be pages, and pages, and pages, long. Okay, really not pages, unless you printed it out, but you would just keep scrolling, and scrolling, and probably give up around Day 3. We were there for 12 days. You would miss a lot.

So, the question came to me, “How do I shorten this thing? Would people rather read things, or see things?” Duh, seeing is easier, isn’t it?

My solution? A mostly picture blog post. Pictures are easy. You can look and keep on scrolling. Intermixed with the pictures will be interludes and links to all things Hawaii, or at least all things our Hawaii trip.

Ready? Let’s go! (P.S. There are even more pictures on my Flickr site!)

Day 1 – Let’s Fly!

It was  a travel day. We took off in daylight, arrived in the dark, and settled into our Airbnb place. I found it weird that the rental just uses a normal, manual lock-box, and I also wondered, but doubted, if they ever changed the code. Part of me wants to fly back just to see if the code is the same.

Day 2 – Let’s Drive!

We had one goal while in Hawaii and that was not to be like a monk seal and lay on the beach all day. Don’t get me wrong, we had beach time planned, but we wanted to see things, visit things, and eat fun food. We jumped right into it on Day 2 by planning a trip down the west coast of the Big Island down to South Point.

Day 3 – The Beach is Hard

Having traveled the highway and byway of the west side of the Big Island we needed a day of rest. What better way to rest than at one of the best ranked beaches in the world, Hapuna Beach. The weather was perfect at the beach, but this was also the beginning of learning that the beach is hard. Well, laying on the beach is easy, but it was a long walk from the parking lot to the beach, and worse yet, uphill going back to the car. Sadly our sunset at a different beach, Anaeho’onalu Beach, wasn’t that great, but dinner at Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill was a great way to wrap up our west side of the island trip!

Day 4 – Rain?

Kona, HI doesn’t get a lot of rain, but as the fates would allow our departure day saw the west and north side of the island get just about their month’s worth of the wet stuff on our travel day to the east side of the island. The rain hampered our hope of hiking down the trail at the Pololu Valley Lookout, but our travel around the north of the island, over to Hilo, and down to our “treehouse” in Volcano was just as adventure-filled as our Day 2 adventure along the west coast.

Day 5 – I Don’t Want to Die Today

It was time to see desolation, rebirth, and wonder all in one. It was volcano day and a trip to Volcanoes National Park. The Kilauea crater is mammoth, the Chain of Craters road takes you from lushness to desolation to ocean, and it was while at the ocean that the decision was made not to die on this day.

What do you want to see if you visit a volcano? Lava! The problem? Every sign on this day was saying, “Andy, if you try to go to see the lava you will die.” The hike to the lava was about five miles in and five miles back, in upper 80 degree heat. It was recommended that you take 3 quarts of water per person, snacks, and it would take at least 5 hours. Sure, there is all of that, and plenty of people make the journey, but plenty of people aren’t out of shape, with questionable knees, and did I mention out of shape?

There was the part of me that really wanted to give it a shot, I mean, there are worse ways to die, right? Thankfully, when asked, the ranger said there wasn’t any surface lava flow on this day. So, basically, we would just be taking a long-ass hike that might kill us.

I decided I didn’t want to die, my wife decided she didn’t want to die, so we just enjoyed the scenery on the way back up the crater.

Day 6 – I’m Not Scared Anymore

With safe adventure on our mind it was another day of seeing as much as possible. We finally got to see turtles at a truly weird site, the black sand beach of Panalu’u Black Sand Beach,  we didn’t get to see a rainbow at Rainbow Falls in Hilo, but we did get some yummy chocolate at Big Island Candies (Be sure to try the Macadamia Nut Shortbread).

It was also the day that I got over the fear of our rented “treehouse” sliding down the mountain, and we wouldn’t be killed by the Chupacabra who I feared was on vacation from his home in Mexico.

Day 7 – Our Anniversary Sunset at Hertz

Ah, our 7th wedding anniversary and it was “Goodbye, Big Island! Hello, Kauai!”

After a giant pancake and a couple of plane rides we found ourselves in Lihue on the island of Kauai. We were excited for a romantic dinner, a lovely sunset, and getting to our Kauai pad at a reasonable hour.

Little did we know that our experience at Hertz would be just like a Seinfeld episode where they were able to take our reservation, they just weren’t able to hold the reservation. There was that, and the fact that maybe if the one employee would have gotten off of Snapchat and Facebook on her cell phone, and did some work, we would have gotten our car in time to see the sunset at someplace more romantic than the Hertz parking lot.

Day 8 – Sites From the Sky

We had two goals on Day 8. One was to enjoy our helicopter ride, and the second was to see our first sunset at a romantic place on Kauai. One out of two wasn’t bad.

The helicopter ride was awesome and seeing things from the perspective of a helicopter is phenomenal. I had to keep reminding myself at times to stop taking pictures, put down the camera, and just enjoy the beauty.

This was also the day I learned I really like poke thanks to Pono Market, and shave ice (there is no “d” even though you really want to called it “shaved ice”) thanks to Hee Fat.

The helicopter ride filled our morning, wandering Kapaa filled our afternoon, and trying to get reservations at Bar Acuda kept me on my phone as they never answered the phone to take a dinner reservation. With some time to kill before the sunset we drove to the restaurant, I made the reservation for the wrong night, now couldn’t get through on the phone to change the reservation, and their email response mentioned they would get back to me in 1 to 4 days.

We ate somewhere else. I guess business is too good. Good for them.

Now it was time for a romantic sunset near our condo, at the St. Regis in Princeville. Another night on Kauai, another night of a non-sunset as it turns out the view from the St. Regis isn’t that great from fall through spring, with the sun setting behind the mountains. 😕

We would have to try again for our sunset.

Day 9 – Finally a Sunset, and Great Pie.

We didn’t intend to spend the entire day on the south side of Kauai, but dammit, we wanted a sunset! Our initial goal was just to see Waimea Canyon, aka The Grand Canyon of the Pacific, grab some more shave ice, and maybe drive through the Tree Tunnel.

We took the drive up the long road to Waimea Canyon, but the tricky part is the waiting because one minute it might be rainy and cloudy, but sit tight for five or ten minutes and suddenly everything is gorgeously lit by the the sun.

According to The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed (Ultimate Guidebooks), keep driving up Kokee Rd until it ain’t a road no more. You end up at Pu’u O Kila Lookout for the the best view outside of the canyon, which I admit was pretty awesome after the clouds cleared.

Back down the mountain it was time for Jo Jo’s shave ice, a tree tunnel, a blow hole, and the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center for their Farmer’s Market with a snack of pie, soup, enchilada, and margarita.

Finally it was time for our awesome, Kauai sunset, complete with monk seals and surfers.

Whew, what an awesome day!

Day 10 – The Beach is Hard, Part II

After the busy-ness of Waimea Canyon we needed a day of rest. It was time to find a spot on the beach. We started at Anina Beach. It stretches for a couple of miles, the water is wonderful, but we found a lot of the beach a little too rocky for our liking. Bummer.

Let’s head to Hanalei!

Sure, parking can be a bitch, but our Guardian Angel of Parking Spots, Aunt Geraldine, found us a good location and it was time to vegetate for the day. Hint: Don’t forget to put sun tan lotion on the tops of your feet! Ouch!

Yea, every now and then a rain cloud would show up, but any shower passed quickly allowing us to watch a completely enjoyable family enjoy the water all day.

We had one more shave ice stop, Wishing Well, which kind of disappointed us as we heard good things about it, but any shave ice is better than no shave ice! Then it was time for dinner and a final cocktail before our departure the next day. Luckily we were treated to a saxophone player, because nothing screams “Hawaiian music” like a saxophone player.

Day 11/12 – Take Me Home, Friendly Skies

Our trip was coming to a close, but we had some time to kill before getting to the airport. What to do? My friend Catherine, in her list of things that are cool on Kauai, mentioned the Himalayan Academy. We sneaked our way onto a tour which was cool as it allowed us to see the Iraivan Temple being constructed, a marvel of craftsmanship. A very peaceful place, and fascinating!

One flight was late, there was sprinting through Honolulu airport like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, sick people in front of us who brought their own smorgasbord of sub sandwiches, chips other snacks to eat, and then proceeding to fart them all out for the last two hours on our flight from Honolulu to Chicago, an Uber driver who left us standing on the curb,  another Uber driver who paid her tolls with actual cash instead of having an iPass, and one really, happy dog to greet us as we walked through the door back home! Phew and pee-yew!

Put the Camera Down

Hawaii is a phenomenal place. If you’re going there I have one recommendation: Get your ass off the resort and visit, hike, relax, and experience. Lastly, this was our experience. It includes most of the things my wife and I did while on the Big Island and Kauai. Oh yea, I have another recommendation, sometimes put the camera down, and just let your mind create memories for your lifetime. There are images a picture can never recreate.

It Might Be Bronchitis

What are four words you don’t want to hear from a person in front of you on an airplane? That’s right, “It might be bronchitis.” Those were the words that the companion of a man, in the row in front of me, said to the flight attendant.

A beautiful Hawaiian sunset courtesy of Kauai.A wonderful vacation to Hawaii had just taken place. Sure, there was a touch of sadness as my wife and I boarded the plane back to Chicago, but as we took our seats, one row behind the exit row, there were three, slightly elderly folks seated in the row in front of us. As one flight attendant questioned the trio if they would be capable of handling the exit door in an emergency, I had my doubts as none of them seemed they would rise to the occasion in well, an emergency. Happily I had my trust in the airplane transporting us safely back to the Windy City without the assistance of the fine folks being needed.

All was well, kind of. People were taking their seats, but then the man of the group in the row in front of us got up, grabbed a bag from the overhead bin, and took out a box of Kleenex. Seemed odd, however, one of the ladies in the group explained to a different flight attendant that the man had been sick, but it should be okay because he was on antibiotics. My ears opened quicker than a present on Christmas morning. “What?” And a look of horror came to my face.

“It might be bronchitis,” the woman continued, mentioning that she didn’t think it was contagious any longer because, well, he was on the antibiotics. I wanted to run to the internet and Google, “How long is bronchitis contagious?” but, by then, I figured if he still was, well, contagious, I, along with most of the plane, were screwed.

That look you get when you hear "It might be bronchitis."Why was everyone screwed? It turns out the folks in front of me liked to have their seating area fairly cold and breezy so by this time the little blower thingies above the seats were wide open and had probably blown enough of the bronchitis into my lungs. Now add the “airplane sickness” domino effect of the little blower things and the infected air flowed back, from row to row, to the rear of the plane. Living in my own shock and horror of my impending sickness, I believe the flight attendant was just as taken aback as she arrived with two masks, one for him, and one for one of the companions, to which I thought, “What about the other woman?” and “What about the rest of the passengers?”

As it turns out, Googling upon my return home, if the dude was still contagious, antibiotic or not, all he had to really do was breath to infect everyone, and breath, chow down, and I believe also fart he did.

So, now I, and all of my fellow passengers on the plane, wait for the sickness.

I hope that someday there will come a day when each airline passenger will have their own, hermetically sealed pod to travel in, but for now that dreaded “airplane sickness” lives on.

Maybe not the bronchitis, but I feel a cough and runny nose coming on. Hopefully it’s just a reaction to the crappy, Illinois air, but, please, future Mr. Bronchy Dudes and Dudettes, please put a mask on before you board the plane. And don’t eat a sub sandwich that will give you gas.

Watching the Sun Rise Together

Watching the Sun Rise Together

I caught a pair of doves the other morning, just sitting on the wires, watching the sun rise. Sure, they probably weren’t watching the sun rise, and just doing whatever it is that doves do together, but it was nice to think of them as a couple of lovebirds, enjoying the beauty of the start of a new day.