Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Goal for 2009

It's that time of year when many folks turn to thoughts of self improvement, usually in the form of exercise or losing a few pounds. And that includes me. I recently lost about 17 pounds and I need to keep it off so....

I've been fairly active for the past few years with regular biking, then taking up hiking as well. The lack of enough daylight hours and the overabundance of iffy weather makes the biking and hiking difficult to achieve, except for the weekends, which, of late, have been filled with work or family related activities. So that leaves indoor exercise.


I don't like to exercise. There. I've said it aloud, or at least on the internet. My attempts at going to the gym last for a short time and then I'm outta there. Swimming would be fun except that I seem to be susceptible to any number of microscopic organisms that seem to thrive in a chlorinated environment and on the floors of the change rooms. I had taken to wearing those little surfer bootie thingies when I went to the pool, but those don't really offer much protection. I may give the pool another chance in the new year, but don't hold your breath.
So what to do?

When I was a kid, I remember my folks doing an exercise program at home. It was designed by the Royal Canadian Air Force and can be completed in just 12 minutes a day. It greatly improves flexibility and aids in weight loss. There are two different programs, one for women and one for men and they are available online absolutely free of charge to download. Years ago, I bought a copy of the program (in the days before this here interweeb thing) and dug it out of the bookcase the other day. After taking another look at it, I realized my biggest problem with it was the format of the exercise charts. I need a spreadsheet made up. I'm sure it would be faster if I just physically drew up a chart that indicated the exercises and number of times I'm supposed to do them, but there's a young gal at work (filling in for an admin assistant) who is working on a spreadsheet for me. And that will be one of my attempts to stay nimble and ready for biking and hiking in better weather. 12 minutes a day? I can do that easily. And as soon as I have a spreadsheet done I'll post it.

I also have a yoga DVD (I can hear Denver Refashionista cheering) that I hope to get into soon.

After having been to 4 exhibition basketball games in the past 4 days I have an additional goal for 2009. I want to be able to touch the bottom of my feet with my hands while keeping my legs straight. The ball players all do it while warming up before the game so I have been inspired to do the same. 25 years ago after taking an aerobics class for two months I was able to touch the bottom of my feet. I want to be able to do that again. For some reason The Rubberband Man by The Spinners is running through my head....


Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Bug Close-ups

This is the eye of a butterfly, a specimen I found at the side of the road one day coming back from a bike ride to Jack's Lake:

And a close-up of its antenna:

It was rather coincidental that I found a live ladybug in the hallway of my building the other morning. They are usually snug under a layer of snow waiting for the spring this time of year. Sometimes they find their way inside, like this one. It kept moving around so was a little hard to take a still photo. Must work on taking movies next.

And a close-up of its head:

After the exam was over I let the ladybug go in my living room.

The Wookie and I and two friends went to a basketball game last night, an exhibition match up between the Halifax Rainmen and the Chicago Throwbacks. A woman was sitting behind us with 3 small kids, and the youngest kept saying Dada. The mom would say "Daddy's working honey. He can't see you right now". Then we'd hear "Dada" again. And the mom said "Daddy's guarding someone, honey". That's when we clued in that Dada was one of the players. Too funny.

Back to work tomorrow. I've rather enjoyed the past 4 and a half days off.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Best Christmas Gift Ever

We had a wonderful Christmas with friends and family and the next couple of days will see more merry making, food, and company. I am looking forward to those things but I have to admit I am also ecstatic about one of my Christmas gifts.

When I was 10 I received a microscope as a gift. Whether it was for my birthday or another occassion I don't recall. But I was taking samples of everything and putting them under the lens for close-up views. A few months ago, I pulled out the scope again and the Wookie and I were contemplating a camera for it to take pictures of stuff REALLY up close. He had given me a digital camera last year because of my blog and I've gotten a lot of use out of it; the natural progression would be to a microscope camera.

So the Wookie managed to find the niftiest, coolest, most amazing thing EVER for me this year. A microscope with a camera for stills and video that connects to your computer. You hook it up and whatever you put under the lens appears on your computer monitor at 10, 60 or 200 times magnification.'....God!!!

Last night after we came back from Mom and Dad's, the Wookie set it up and I began to look at stuff. Butterfly wings, a beetle, paper, and my still living warehouse beetle larva. I do have to experiment with light settings, but it's an absolutely thrilling experience. I feel like Sir Alexander Flemming, Marie Curie, and Einstein all rolled into one.

Pictures of Bee Wear, my warehouse beetle larva:

To put these shots into perspective, the larva itself is less than a centimetre long...maybe 8 millimetres (10 mm to a cm, 2.5 cm to an inch) so to see the actual individual hairs or specks of dust on this creature is nothing short of a miracle in my book.

The other exciting thing is that I'll be able to examine living creatures. Instead of putting them in the freezer to put them to sleep permanently, I can put them in the fridge (for about 15 minutes) to put them to sleep for a nap, look at them under the microscope and take pictures, then let them go. For this, the Wookie gets a Superhero Bug Saving Award.

Back to the lab!


Coincidentally, the larva was on a piece of paper with the End MS logo on it. Even insects are getting into the campaign.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chocolate, Wine, and Tea

Picture taken from the BBC.

Ya' gotta love those Norwegians. The land that gave us Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Grieg, gravlaks and pickled herring, Jarlsberg cheese and akvavit, has now produced a study that shows the intake of chocolate, wine and tea to have a beneficial effect on cognitive performance. Yay!

We know that these food items contain flavanoids. According to Wikipedia, flavanoids themselves aren't particularly helpful to the human body, but actually provoke a response by the body that aids in the elimination of harmful agents (and the flavanoids themselves).

Whatever. Just pass the dark chocolate, pour me a glass a wine, and we'll have a cuppa (as the Brits say).


Sunday, December 21, 2008

1000 Kilometres

Picture from the Science Education Resource Centre at Carleton college

While reading another blog the other day, the author was quite pleased that she had reached the goal of running 1000 kilometres in 2008. It was a goal that Maria had set for herself back in January and she did it, in segments of course, about 5 k at a time.

I could do that on my bike. So I am hearby declaring my intention now for all the blog world to read. There are some road warriors out there who ride in the winter and through snow and wind. Not me. I'll be back outside on the bike by March (I did get out a couple of times in February last year) with the goal of biking 1000k by the end of September.

A few years ago I made a goal for the new year to give Brussels sprouts another try. I love cabbage, but the little green balls named for a European city have tortured my taste buds since I was a kid. About a month into the year I had the opportunity to try a Dutch dish of stuffed Brussels sprouts. I can only imagine the hours it took to stuff all those little things. The filling had walnuts which was delicious, but the Brussels sprouts just didn't cut the mustard (so to speak). At least I gave 'em another try. (My folks love this vegetable. I was going to a farm market one summer and Dad asked me to get some, so I did. I brought home a stalk of them and he didn't know what they were, never having seen them like that before. "What is that?" he asked me. "Brussels sprouts" I said. "No they're not" was his reply.)

The thing about resolutions or goals is that they have to be attainable (realistic) and the desire to achieve them has to be strong. In Canada in the 70s there was a public health push to get people more active. The national campaign was called Participaction and it lasted for years. In schools there was a program for phys ed that involved doing a set of tests, like the 50 yard dash, a chin up for 60 seconds, a certain amount of sit ups in a certain time and by the end of the year we were supposed to be able to do certain things according to our age and degree of physical fitness. At the end of the timed tests, our results were tallied and you received a cloth patch indicating your level of fitness: bronze. silver, gold, or the highly coveted Award of Excellence. Two years in a row I got silver, so by Grade 7 I was bound and determined to get the Award of Excellence. In gym class I practiced my sit ups and chin ups, trying to do as many as I could. I ran all over the place to begin with so wasn't too concerned with that. When it came time for the testing, I did really well. The last test was to hold a chin up for 60 seconds. If I did that I'd get my Award of Excellence. After 30 seconds my little arms were burning, but the class was cheering me on. At 40 seconds they started counting the time aloud. I got to 60 seconds and thought I was going to die, but held on. I lasted 10 more seconds to cheers and shouts and was finally able to claim my Award of Excellence.

Over the years I have tried my hand at different sports and failed miserably with most of them. In grade 8, I was always selected to be the goalie while playing soccer because I was flat chested and the other girls didn't want to risk stopping the ball with their chest. I ran track and field for a couple of years but was only in the middle of the pack as far as performance went and I really didn't enjoy it. I tried jogging for a while, but never enjoyed that. I played Little League baseball for a summer but that was because people told me girls couldn't play baseball and I wanted to prove them wrong.

Until I was 16, the whole purpose (in my mind) of going to school was with the goal of becoming a doctor, a brain surgeon actually. At 16 I realized there was an enormous world out there with so many other things I dropped the idea of medicine and decided not to decide on what I wanted to be until university.

An Ironman Triathlon is out of the question for me. As is neurosurgery as a career. So I will attempt 1000k on my bike this year instead. As Maria told me, totally doable. And fun, too.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Halifax Injector

I get excited about ordinary things sometimes. An unexpected cup of coffee from a listener on his way to work, an unexpected e-mail from a high school friend, a pleasant note left under my apartment door from a neighbour.

And I get excited when I hear about innovations and developments that occur in my city. This week, the Halifax Injector was finally revealed to the public. A surgical tool, the "device can be programmed by a touch screen to deliver precise quantities of stem cells to very specific areas deep inside the brain".

Over the years, the use of stem cells in the treatment of Parkinson's Disease has increased. Remember when Muhammad Ali had a fetal cell transplant to try and control his PD? We've come a long way since then and the Halifax Injector is another positive step.

You may be wondering about the mention of PD on what is basically an MS blog. First, there is PD on my dad's side of the family, two aunts having suffered and died from it, and a grandfather and an uncle with PD like symptoms (though to the best of my knowledge, they were never diagnosed with it). My mother and I have watched my father over the years for any tell tale symptoms (and I'm happy to say we haven't observed any).

Secondly, this instrument will have applications for drug delivery. Imagine being able to put a drug precisely where it is needed instead of injecting into a leg muscle and waiting for the body's systems to process the drug, losing some efficacy to metabolism.

Thirdly, the Injector was developed by a team of students, doctors, and researchers in fields of engineering, physics, medicine, and computer science. What a combination of minds! One of the students was just beginning his education in a local Community College when he joined the team and I can only imagine the impact his involvement will have on his future job prospects as an electrical engineering technologist.

I know one of the doctors on the team and hope to talk to him in the new year about the implications of this device on other neurological conditions.

Stay tuned!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pleading the Fifth

Today is the anniversary of the birth of one of my heroes; December 16th, 1770 marks the day Ludwig van Beethoven was born.

Growing up I was surrounded by classical music. My father had taken piano lessons as a child and I began when I was 8 or 9. Dad then took up the piano again. If we weren't on the piano, classical music was usually playing on the turntable or 8 track. Dad watched Bugs Bunny with me every Saturday at 5, though in later years I discovered it was because of the music soundtrack.

I didn't care for lessons too much, like most children, but I did enjoy playing. I learned studies by Bach, stupid little kids' type tunes, and sometimes Debussy. Dad took me to the music store so I could buy the sheet music to The Entertainer. I learned the Moonlight Sonata. My favourite Muppet Show episode is the one with Victor Borge, playing the Moonlight Sonata in his dressing room with an animated bust of Beethoven looking on. The two of them try to remain awake as he plays.

I recall trying to teach myself Beethoven's Fifth Symphony when I was 10 (no one told me I was too young to try it or that my hands were too small). I loved the opening of that piece so much (who doesn't, really) I was bound and determined to play it. I loved the power (of the opening) that it brought to my small body. I felt big and strong, able to take on anything.

There are scores (pun intended) of beautiful pieces that I enjoy and some composers who I usually like, though not always. But Beethoven has stuck with me through thick and thin. If I was feeling particularly romantic or sad, there was a piece to match my mood. And when I was feeling weak, I always had the Fifth to pick me up. And we often shared the same hairstyle.

Over the years, I have thought often of the man's life, his trials and tribulations, his illnesses, and of course his deafness. What a challenge to a musician! But even though his hearing worsened he continued to compose music. (In a bizarre way, it reminds me of the bit in the Monty Python movie where the knight has his arms and legs hacked off and he shouts to his attacker "Come back and I'll bite you to death!" That's determination.)

From wikipedia:

His Middle (Heroic) period began shortly after Beethoven's personal crisis brought on by his recognition of encroaching deafness. It is noted for large-scale works that express heroism and struggle, many of which have become very famous. Middle-period works include six symphonies (Nos. 3–8), the fourth and fifth piano concertos, the triple concerto and violin concerto, five string quartets (Nos. 7–11), the next seven piano sonatas (including the Waldstein and the Appassionata), the Kreutzer Violin Sonata and Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio.

I'm sure Beethoven would have agreed that his music expressed heroism and struggle, though I doubt he would have admitted that it was his own struggle and heroism that inspired other people.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

In and On the Air

I mentioned in an early post that I was doing an interview as part of a report on local news for the End MS campaign. It aired this past Wednesday night and as soon as I have a copy that I can download I will post it. In the meantime, I can say that it the whole segment was done very well and I've had lots of positive feedback about it. Now newspaper wants in on the action. So I'll be doing that interview next week. I also know for sure I'll be able to post that on the blog.

One of the things that always concerns me when doing these interviews is that I don't look like I have anything wrong with me and that people may not get the message about how devastating MS can be. I always stress that I am one of the lucky ones and I am a best case scenario. I did receive an e-mail at work yesterday from someone I met a couple of years ago at a talk I was giving to other MSers. (And she's a listener, too, so that was nice.) She said it was good to see someone with MS in a positive light. So she saw me as I hoped people would see me.

One of the reasons I am a volunteer interviewee for the cause is that I work in the industry. I know the ins and outs of the media, sometimes I know the person on the other side of the camera or the microphone, and I am a public persona myself anyway. So if people can look at me and say "I recognize her. And she's got MS!" that stays with them. And I'm all about keeping MS in the public eye. Actually, at a station related appearance Thursday night, two people approached me and said they saw me on the TV interview.

The day after I was diagnosed a co-worker came to see me in the hospital. He told me he was hosting a fundraiser for the MS Society and did I want to come along. I said sure and at the dinner was introduced to the crowd. I told them I had been diagnosed 6 weeks earlier. So began my public campaign for MS awareness and education.

It's also a bonus for the company I work for in the form of good PR. They've gotta like that. I know I do.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Share the Joy

In a small town in Eastern Pensylvannia is a group of Italian -Americans who by all appearances should have a rate of heart attacks equal to or greater than the general population. They don't. They don't have heart attacks.

How is this possible? In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he tells you a theory of why they don't have heart attacks. And it has to do with their social networks and support systems. In this particular community, everyone knows everyone else and are heavily involved in service and business groups. They would appear to have a very large and productive social support. This "mental" support system seems to offer some protection from a physical ailment.

The Wookie was telling me about this the other night as he's become a huge fan of Gladwell. He said a revelation occurred when he realized that everywhere we go, I end up stopping to talk with people, whether they are good friends or on the fringe of my network. I have been known to stop complete strangers and say, "You look familiar. Do I know you?" and I'm almost always greeted with "Yes, we met at such and such a place, or I used to work at the local coffee shop so I probably served you coffee". The Wookie is amazed at the number of people I know.

Admittedly, part of my huge network is because of my job as a radio announcer. Although more people know me than the other way around, I talk individually with a number of people every day on the phone. And I ask questions of them, too, even if they've called a wrong number and got me. (The wrong number callers usually turn out to be really funny) So in a way, I am deliberately expanding my network as I work. I have a list of names and phone numbers of various people I've talked to over the years in my capacity as an announcer, but who may be a future source of information about something in which I am interested. Or who may provide a service I know I will need in the future, like oil changes or the guy who works in the records department for the city, or the woman who works at Statistics Canada, or the woman who works for Parks and Conservation.

I have been chatting with a fellow about twice a week for the past couple of months now who is a driver for a business in town. He calls with traffic tips and sometimes a request for a song. He and I are now Facecrack friends, too, and over the course of our chats he knows about my involvement with the MS Society and will be supporting my fund raising in the new year and hopefully so will his employer. Cool, eh?

The point of all this writing about networking is that I have a huge network. And I'm really a happy person. Does my happiness lead to a larger network? Or does my network lead to my happiness? I don't care. They feed each other.

Speaking with an acquaintance the other day who has some health issues of her own, she said the first time we chatted she was terrified of speaking with me. !! She finds public speaking and meeting new people really difficult. I would never have known this unless she had told me as she came off as smart and funny and someone I'd like to get to know better. She is currently in a difficult legal situation that is exacerbating her physical health and one of the things I suggested she do is expand her social network. And that's exactly what she's been doing recently. When friends invite her out she goes. She's forcing herself to go outside of her comfort zone in order to assist her health and recovery.

A recent study came out about happiness. The more people you know who are happy, the more likely it is that you are happy. And if your friends' friends are happy, that works, too.

Positive social connections seem to have a positive impact on your health by reducing stress or perhaps enabling you to deal with it in a better way. And happiness is contagious.

All this information is important because when we become disabled, from MS or any other chronic illness, we are sometimes shut off socially from our friends or co-workers. It can become a chore to get dressed, cleaned up, and onto a handicapped accessible bus to get to a destination, when before we just jumped in the car. Places we used to go to may not be as easy to maneuver through. Because of financial demands, dinner out with friends may not be feasible. Some folks have to retire early or quit work because of disability and immediately lose that particular social network. So it is vital to maintain what social networks we have already built, as well as encourage others to be formed. Our mental health and sometimes our physical health may depend on it.

In previous posts I have written about the neural connections we make in our brains. Those are actual physical connections from one nerve cell to another, and they are necessary to learn, for memory, and for our physical health. Just as we must work at continuing to make these physical connections through mental and physical exercises, so to must we continue to make and maintain our social connections for mental and physical health.

Or, as I like to say, Share the joy!


Pretty as a Picture

Last night we had our staff Christmas party. It was quite pleasant, with most people dressed to the nines. I don't wear dresses or skirts very often and even when doing a public appearance on behalf of the station I am wearing a t-shirt or tailored shirt with the station logo on it. On my feet I usually have sneakers or my kind-of cowboy boots (kind of but not quite cowboy boots). In the summer I am even more casual with shorts and sometimes sandals.

So to say I gave everyone a shock last night is an understatement. And I loved every moment.


And of course, the Wookie was gorgeous, too.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Busy as a....

It's been an incredibly busy week. It started Monday morning with a talk for the Occupational Therapy students at Dalhousie Univerity. I've been doing this talk for a few years now and thoroughly enjoy sharing my experiences with MS with these kids. (OK, they're not kids)

Monday evening I did some voice work for a video to introduce folks to a new kind of insulin pump. I managed to get in some Christmas shopping and a few chores over the next couple of days, attend a wake for a friend's mother, and yesterday did a TV interview for a feature (about End MS) to run on the regional supper hour news program. It'll air next week.

The EndMS campaign has been under way in Canada since September, but only recently launched in Nova Scotia. So, as the EndMS spokesperson for Halifax (actually, the person-with-MS spokesperson), media are directed to me for interviews. The journalist who interviewed me was actually an intern at my station a few years ago.

The next few weeks will see us in high gear for public appearances and work related events; this time of year is busy for us. And the Wookie is still traveling for work, but next week will be going further afield.

The weekend will be busy as well with a couple of work related events tomorrow and then our staff Christmas party on Sunday. Posting will no doubt be light for the next few weeks, though I hope to have pictures to show off my new dress for the party.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sunday Morning Coming Down

During the two World Wars supply and fighting ships had safety in numbers as they headed east across the Atlantic. The gathered in the Bedford Basin (the northen most part of the Halifax Harbour) and then sailed east. These convoys filled basin, as observed in the picture above from the Archives of Canada. The picture was taken looking south. The narrowest part of the harbour is visible in the picture, the site of the Halifax Explosion. And in the top of the picture is MacNab's Island.

Admiral Harry DeWolfe was born in Bedford and went on to become one of Canada's greatest naval officers for his role during World War 2. There is a park on the Bedford waterfront named after him. I often walk along the waterfront, including this past Sunday morning as the sun was coming up. It was cool and calm.

I walked up the hill from the park (I hate hills) and was rewarded with a spectacular view of the basin and harbour, the bridges in the distance, and absolute peace.