Monday, March 30, 2009

Jam Packed Weekend

We had an exceedingly busy weekend, including two very long hikes. the first one was along a still snow and ice covered trail I bike often and where I saw my first insect of the season. It's just one of those little millers and I actually saw three of them.

Sunday saw us trek around my neighbourhood a couple of times and I took pictures of the old Moirs Mill building I mentioned previously. You can see the remains of the big water intake pipe on the right hand side.

Looking through the intake pipe you can kind of make out the inside of the building, and on the right is a window in the floor which allows you to see the river rushing by underneath.

Walking upriver are the cement pylons that supported the water pipe that came from the river which is fed by Paper Mill Lake. I'm standing on one to take the picture and each one is about 4 feet tall.

And along one of the ponds connected to Paper Mill Lake is a muskrat lodge. Close examination along the shore revealed footprints of something and an access hole in the ice. I'm not sure if the prints are of a muskrat or racoon; I did take a closer shot of the tracks but after searching the internet am unable to discern their source.

We covered about 12 k on the weekend as the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Of course we're paying for it now. The rain began late last night and continued in flood like proportions until this evening when it changed to snow. Halifax got off luckier than northern and eastern parts of the province though as they're getting much more snow. It is spring in Nova Scotia though, so it's to be expected.

We also went to the symphony Saturday night - they were joined by a rock band and the night was The Music of Queen. It was a spectacular show. Sunday afternoon we went to the last game of the season of the Halifax Rainmen and the guys were hot. The team they were playing really were no match so there was a lot of crowd pleasing show-off plays. Of course last night I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.

And today was my annual physical check up with my family doc. If it weren't for my brain degenerating as I type I'd be perfectly healthy. Them's the breaks I guess.


Friday, March 27, 2009

A Beautiful Walk

Last Sunday the Wookie and I went for a hike in Shubenacadie Park, a beautiful system of wooded trails we often bike in the warmer seasons. It is built around the Shubenacadie Canal, a waterway that stretches the width of the province. There was still quite a bit of snow and ice in more exposed areas and we had to turn back from one part of the trail that was too treacherous, so we walked by the system of locks. The Wookie told me I should take some pics of the locks, but I declined. I will take pics the next time. Instead I took some shots of the ducks on the ice covered canal.

On the way back we were driving through an industrial park and had to stop to allow a porcupine to cross the road. I have seen a few live porcupines in my life, but not many. They pepper the side of highways from spring to fall after having been hit by cars. Another car came along beside me and stopped as well as they realized I must be at a standstill for a reason. The occupants also got a chuckle from the animal lumbering across the road. The Wookie says if you're ever lost in the woods in Canada, find a porcupine and follow it. They always end up somewhere on the Trans Canada highway.

Braincheese wanted to know about my camera. It's a Fuji Fine Pix Z digital camera. The reason all the pics are so clear is that I don't post the blurry ones (heh).

The weather for the most part this week ranged from blinding snowstorm to extreme sunshine with high winds so walking and hiking have been curtailed. Haven't even got the bike out yet and I'm beginning to get frustrated. I will play in the snow, hike in the cold, and bike in the rain, but the wind has been too brutal. The weather is improving for today and tomorrow though so I anticipate a little physical activity in the very near future. The Bike Tour is a mere 4 months away and I have to get moving again!

Maybe we'll go hunting rabbits....I did find tracks a couple of weeks ago:


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace is considered to be the first computer programmer. She is a beacon for women scientists everywhere and Tuesday was un-officially Ada Lovelace Day, whereby bloggers publish a post to draw attention to women excelling in technology. I am not familiar with the tech world on any level, so I am writing about a teacher I had who excelled in introducing science to first graders.

My Grade One teacher was Mrs. Martin at Eastview Elementary School in North Vancouver. She reminded me more of a grandmother than a teacher.

I have written before of how angry I was when on my first day of school I wasn't taught to read. I had waited for so long and wanted to read more than anything that when I came home that first day I told my mother I wasn't going back. She talked me into going back and assured me I would learn to read.

Mrs. Martin taught my class to read. And she taught us a lot more than that. My first biology class was in grade one as well. We had an incubator filled with chicken eggs and for two weeks we cracked one open every day to watch the progression of the developing embryo chick. Of course we had several left over at 3 weeks which hatched, some during class. Mrs. Martin also arranged for a woman to bring in a momma skunk with her kittens so we could get an up close look at them (the momma had been descented).

And then there was the day we made applesauce. Watching the apples cook down and putting them through a ginormous strainer and then eating the finished product. What fun!

We also had another class come in once a week for arts and crafts type activities. It was a developmentally delayed class, mostly children with Down's Syndrome, who would come in and do things with us.

And we put on a play as well, The Bremen Town Musicians. I played the part of one of the robbers and got the biggest laughs with my "acting" fearful and falling down from the noise of the animals. My first taste of slapstick, and fame.

And though not my first taste of biology or science, it was my first structured teaching of those subjects. To Mrs. Martin, I am grateful, as it wasn't until I was in Grade 10 that I had such a "sciency" and hands on teacher. Mrs. Martin is my Ada Lovelace.

Not to take away from any of the other teachers I had, in science or other subjects, but Mrs. Martin left such a lasting impression. As did my first "boyfriend", redheaded and freckled Scott, who would let me win at marbles, much to the disgust of his best friend George. But that's a whole other post...


Sunday, March 22, 2009

9 Mile River

Last week I went for a walk along 9 Mile River in Bedford, so called because it's 9 miles from Halifax. There are a dozen such named rivers in Nova Scotia though only this one is actually 9 miles from Halifax. What's interesting about this one is that it comes from Paper Mill Lake. The lake and river water was used to run the Moirs Mill on the edge of the Bedford Basin. They made the paper for the boxes for Moirs chocolates, long since out of production here. There are still concrete supports in the river for the pipes that fed the mill. The building that is left is now a tourist bureau, not open until May 15th so I can't show you any pics from inside, but come May I'll get some shots from inside the building. In the meantime enjoy these:

In previous posts I have talked about Jack's Lake, which feeds into Paper Mill Lake. Paper Mill Lake is the source of the sound of loons I hear early in the morning or late at night. We would swim there as kids and nowadays it is supervised. I haven't been swimming there for 30 years.

We're off on another hike today before the bad weather hits again. Not sure where but I'll keep you posted.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thoughts on Brains

This is Brain Awareness Week, an internationally recognized week of celebrating the human body's sexiest organ. The final frontier is how I refer to it, as we still know so very little about how it works and how it evolves as we age. It's a 3 pound factory of chemicals and electricity changing with every thought and action, every breath and bite of food ingested to nourish it.

It's a solid jelly protected by a hard shell and a layer of liquid which accommodates for limited movement and cushions from sudden jarring. It detects no pain inflicted upon itself - how ironic that this mass of neurons has no pain receptors - but can signal changes in blood pressure within its shell, indicating a simple headache or deadly aneurism.

Two events over the past week have given me reason to really think about life and my brain. Last Friday morning, a helicopter with 18 people aboard was flying from St. John's, Newfoundland to an oil rig in the North Atlantic. About half way to its destination, the pilot radioed that he was returning to base because of mechanical problems. 20 minutes later, the chopper crashed and sank, killing all but one passenger.

In 20 minutes 17 people lost their lives, 17 families have to cope with the loss, and countless friends and co-workers have to deal with the aftermath.

On Monday, actress Natasha Richardson suffered a fall and subsequent head injury at a ski hill north of Montreal. An hour later she wasn't feeling well, lapsed into a coma, and two days after that was taken off life support. The world is still waiting to find out exactly what caused a seemingly benign injury to become fatal.
In both cases, the outcome was sudden loss of life.

In the chopper incident, all the people on board had been through extensive training on surviving a helicopter crash in the ocean. I've been through it myself, though the one day course I took was just to give me a taste of it after having met the guy who owns the training school in town. It was the single most terrifying experience of my life. But what a rush! To know I cold hold my breath, push out a window, undo my seat belt, and escape to the surface, while upside down and under water. Most of the bodies recovered from the chopper showed the victims didn't have a chance to undo their belts, it was that fast and hard an impact, so no matter how much training they had received or how experienced they were, the outcome was not going to be good.

In the ski incident, Ms. Richardson, who was not wearing a helmet, was attended to by ski patrol medics and advised to go to the hospital. Even if she had gone straight to the hospital via a life flight, there's a pretty good chance she would not have made it. Would she have had a better chance had she worn a helmet? We don't know. (For what it's worth, I'm not pointing fingers or blaming the victim in this case. Very few people wear a helmet when they're skiing recreationally. More should.)
We can prepare for emergencies and still be unable to survive. We can say "See ya' later" to our loved ones in the morning and not make it back home that evening. These two accidents will hopefully improve the safety of helicopter travel and bring awareness to the benefits of wearing a helmet.

In my 3 pounds of jelly is a network of cells trying to make sense of horrific things.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'm Still Here

We went out for a 5 k hike on Sunday and on the way back I had to stop to climb a cliff, sit in an office chair that had been left there, and pretend to do some work on a thrown away laptop. Besides almost giving the Wookie a heart attack, we came across lots of deer tracks and one set of rabbit tracks, plus we got to see Jack's lake completely (and still) frozen over.

I have been remiss of late with my blog reading and writing, but I really have been busy. Work is a little on the crazy side and weekends seem to be spent catching up on sleep, baking and preparing stuff for lunches, and all the miscellany of life. But I am still here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


"Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even."

Yesterday morning I met a man, Jason, who had this quote from Muhammad Ali tattooed on his forearm. Jason is a friend of a friend and is also an accomplished boxer, though with the scars, bruised knuckles, and broken nose of someone who suffered for his art. I readily admit that I don’t watch boxing, unless it’s the Olympics, though I did enjoy the movies Rocky (the first one) and Ali. I had noticed the tattoo on Jason’s arm and asked to take a closer look to be able to read it. Jason said the quote can apply to many things, not just boxing. Wise words, both Ali’s and Jason’s.
In the 15 minutes I spent with Jason I could tell a number of things about him. He’s not an academic, by any stretch, but he knows the importance of an education, as evidenced by his concern about his 12 year old son’s school performance and “teenage” attitude. He told us what he told his son: school work is the priority and if it’s not, the son can’t box. Whether or not Jason finished school, I don’t know, but I do know that it’s extremely important to him that his son be educated. Oh, yeah, and enough with the back talk - respect others.

During the conversation, the subject of caffeine in tea was brought up. Caffeine in tea was news to Jason. He also asked my name a couple of times, like he was trying to commit it to memory, and when told by my friend where I worked and what I did, he asked the frequency of the station a couple of times as well. I gave him one of my cards to help him out.

When I was leaving, Jason again confirmed my name, station name and frequency, and when I’d be on so he could listen while he was training at the gym. He also said he was glad he had learned something new (about tea).

My heart broke as I left. He is a sweet sweet man who loves his child and is worried that he can’t help him with homework. Academically he’s not very smart, but he appears to have some street sense. And he knows what he doesn't know. I really felt like I was watching a real life Rocky struggling outside the ring. And the tattoo and his comment about it told me that this man has had a number of defeats in his life.

MS knocks us down from time to time with those one-two punches, leaving us bloody and broken. We struggle with the symptoms, the worry, and the fear. We will suffer defeat many times, but we continue on. If we go the whole 15 rounds like Rocky, we can come out on top, but it may not be pretty.

My encounter with Jason stayed with me all day. He has no idea how much he impressed me with his attitude and his openness. I know that I sometimes appear arrogant. Hell, I am arrogant sometimes. Maybe my spring resolution will be to be less arrogant, be more open and honest, admit what I don't know. No need to wait for the new year.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who Needs Summer

This is my new friend. She won't last the night.

We're toasting the weather.

I went outside tonight with the superintendent to shovel the walkways and after I made my new friend. As I finished up it started to rain (Of course. This is Nova Scotia after all.)

The Wookie and I had a couple of walks this week. I'm itching to get hiking again and the bike has been whispering to me every night. It's the same mantra : I want to go out. I want to go out. I may get studs for my mountain bike tires for next winter. I chatted with a guy at a local bike shop about them. But I think if I'm to go mountain biking in the winter and I need studs, I should also get a full cage helmet and mask for my face and paint stitches on it to mark the bumps and bangs I get, because I will get them. Just like Gerry Cheevers. Heh.....


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eating Worms

As MSers we're all aware of T-cells. They are the immune cells believed to be responsible for an autoimmune response in our bodies that results in MS. But we also have B-cells. They are also immune cells responsible for identifying foreign invaders and marking them for destruction by creating antibodies.. They do this with the help of T-cells.

A recent study has come out that indicates the B-cells may also be responsible for more action than previously thought. The B-cells must be present for the T-cells to mature and operate the right way. Chemicals the B-cells produce are necessary for the immune system.
B cells' effects on T cells may open a new window on such diseases as lupus, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes, where doctors know that T cells are active. Maybe manipulating B cells offers a new way to affect the activity and survival of the T cells that cause disease.

The study I'm speaking of is one conducted on mice. Researchers exposed the mice to a certain type of parasitic worm that plays havoc on the immune system and watched how the immune system fought off the parasites. This is how they discovered the different roles of the B-cells. Researchers have been speculating that the presence of parasites triggers some sort of immune response that in some people helps reduce the symptoms of MS. This research is another step towards figuring out how and why.

Just before this study was released, was the announcement of a major study of MSers who willingly are exposed to certain parasitic worms to determine the value of them as a treatment. It's not so much the worms that could prevent MS relapses or worsening symptoms, but what those worms cause our bodies to do to protect ourselves from MS. I've written about this before. I don't have a problem with eating worms. I'm quite sure I have a veritable cornucopia of bugs and other creatures in my system as it is. What's a few more?


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More Bits

I was wondering about this machine last year. Unbeknown to me, they were working on one in my city, right under my nose. I'm always the last to know until I open up the paper and read about it. But it's very cool. I'm not sure when there will be practical applications for MS, but that can't be too far away. I must phone around and see if I know anyone connected with the machine that I can cajole into giving me a tour......though I suppose I'll have to promise not to try and take it apart no matter how badly I want to see the little parts.

I drive by a sign on the highway outside the local food bank office. They always have some interesting little sayings up there and the one that's been there for the past couple of days really made me think and I meant to incorporate it into yesterday's post :"He who limps is still walking." That reminds me of the scene in the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail with the knight whose arms and legs are cut off and he shouts to his fleeing assailant, "Come back and I'll bite you to death!" As long as there is life, there is will. And as they say, where there's a will there's a way. We should all take a page from Herrad and remember to acknowledge the difficulties while celebrating the victories, even if it means hanging on by our teeth.

I am pleased to report on the first flowers of spring. OK, so they aren't actually sprouting from my garden. A beautiful pot of crocus was left in front of my door the other night by a secret admirer. I suspected one person but she insists it wasn't her. Anyway, it turns out that the flowers are part of a fundraising campaign by the CNIB, Canadian National Institute for the Blind. So I phoned the CNIB and became their corporate contact for my workplace. I do it for the MS Carnation and Cancer Society Daffodil campaigns. So what's one more? I'm no closer to discovering who left them for me but I do have some gorgeous flowers. And I'll plant the bulds later so they'll come up in the spring.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Bits and bites

This is what the Wookie saw this morning outside his front widow. We had a little bit of freezing rain last night and this morning, and now it's coming down in buckets. The temps are going up, fog is forming, and the deer will be hitting the highway, too.

Over the weekend I Mced the Movie Night for MS, which was postponed because of weather a couple of weeks ago. Here's what I had to say:

As a person with MS and someone with a very strange sense of humour, I can and do see the funny side of MS. Like the most recent headlines in the news about how breast feeding may reduce relapses. Breast Feeding May Reduce Relapses. Hmmmm....first of all, I'm lactose intolerant. So I can't be drinking any kind of milk. Even if I could drink milk, am I supposed to cozy up to a pregnant or nursing mom and ask for a snack? Oh, wait.....I should breastfeed my child to reduce relapses. A little difficult at the age of 45. Any eggs I have left are probably a little on the stale side so I'm not going to start having children now.

The thing with MS, as with most illnesses, we have to dig behind the headlines to get the pertinent information. Researchers are studying the chemicals and hormones involved in pregnancy and breast feeding that lead to reduced relapse numbers. They are studying the effect of Vitamin D at the genetic level. They are studying the addition of fatty acids to diets to improve repair of damaged myelin.

The MS Society of Canada is supporting this type of research. They have to. It's their mandate as they strive towards their goal of being a leader in finding the cause and cure of MS. The world is looking towards Canada for a solution. We're an itty bitty player on the world political stage, but we've got one of the largest roles in research for MS. People are expecting us to come up with the answers. I'm really looking forward to the day when we can announce to the world we've accomplished that mission. Your presence here today is helping us to reach our goal. Thank you.

On Friday morning I was having my weekly coffee at a local coffee shop before I went to work. I sit with the same fellas at least once a week and catch up with them about what's happening in the business world, at least from their perspective. I also get a few good stories out of them. We sometimes discuss what we have coming up on the weekend. One of the things I was looking forward to was a nap on Saturday afternoon and I mentioned that. One of the guys said, "I'll sleep when I'm dead". That used to be my mantra. Before MS. I never napped. Never needed it. Never wanted it. I recall as a kid how much I hated having that down time every day.

As an adult with MS, though, I really enjoy my naps. I don't like that I need them so much, but I have to admit to liking the warm fuzzy sheets and flannel jammies for two hours on Saturday.

But I thought about what he said all day and I started to get angry. Really pissed off. Not at him or myself, but at how MS has stolen some of my "awake" time. Time when I could be doing something really fun. Like chasing dust bunnies around the apartment before they attacked me in the night. Like cleaning the bathroom. Like washing dishes.

Hmmmm. What would I really do with the extra two hours on Saturday? Would I really do chores? Doubt it. Go shopping for stuff I don't need, spending money that could be put to better use? Or would I surf the net?

I suspect that I wouldn't really put the extra time to good use. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that those two hours on Saturday really saved me energy and money. And the nap gives me a boost emotionally. Just ask the Wookie. I get grumpy and weepy when I'm tired.

So, yeah, I could do other stuff if I wasn't napping, but I wouldn't be the charming person I am.