Robbie- A Little Winter Drama…

It was too early for Robbie so we went for our walk and on the way back went to the local “all toys water, snow and land” business and bought him some fresh meal worms. $5.98 and worth every penny.

Robbie arrived about 11:00 and sat in the planter, eating snow. We hurried to warm up the cutting board and get him 7 worms. Robbie sat and looked at them and then the worms froze…Robbie flew off. We were upset. Had he found other people with better food? He seemed energetic so we consoled ourselves with that.

Then about 12:40, Robbie was back. I heated his board well, held seven meal worms in my hand until they warmed up to squirm, and then I took them out to the robin. O, NO. I thought I was too clumsy or got too close. Robbie flew away into a tree.

Ha! Not to worry, by the time I’d walked around the house to come in the back, Robbie had consumed 4 of the worms. Then in a more leisurely manner, he ate the others. You can see the last worm in front of him in the picture. I think he knows where to come. It’s just a miserable wind again so if he has a warmer place to wait it out, I’m okay with that.

Robbie is tough. In another blog, I wrote about a prairie jack rabbit who visits our front yard late at night or very early in the morning, depending how you look at it. He came around last night. Alas, I wasn’t at the window to see him but he left tracks. He checks the yard and I hope sometimes finds something to eat.

And this is likely the last Robbie blog unless there is something to really talk about like he meets the rabbit. But how, when they come at intervals 12 hours apart? Stay warm.

Robbie 2.0 – Day 2

He made it! Low of -36C , that’s -33F, and the tough little guy appeared around 9:00 this morning. Robbie sat on the edge of the flower pot, feathers puffed out, and looking miserable. But he made it through the night.

As soon as I saw him, I got his food ready. It’s a bit of a production (which I figured out yesterday) and kind of gross. First warm up the cutting board so the worms don’t freeze immediately. Then get the earthworm, that although it’s only a segmented worm, doesn’t enjoy being sliced into segments. Whatever is in their medium, gave the victim actual red blood. Ugh. But I sacrificed him because Robbie, Robbie was hungry.

I took the worm pieces outside on the pre-heated board but alas, Robbie wasn’t ready to eat. He was just too cold. The worm bits froze solid. My husband said he had to warm up more (this in -30 temperatures with a wicked wind) so we left and so did Robbie, up into the big fir tree.

We went for our morning walk on the indoor track and when we got back, Robbie had been down and tried to eat the earthworm bits but the were frozen solid and stuck to the cutting board.

Gary warmed up himself and by the time he had Robbie’s meal worms and thawed earthworm bits ready, the robin had flown back into the fir tree. When Gary whisteled for Robbie, there was no answer, (Already, my husband thinks they have a special relationship.) And maybe they do because by the time Gary had his coat off, the robin was back. He gobbled a meal worm or two, and then turned to the earthworm pieces. Robbie ate most of them, too. Now he’s back in the fir tree, trying to keep warm.

Admiration for you, Robbie. You’re back and a survivor. We’ll see you though this frigid cold.

Robin? In winter?

It’s -34 or -35 today without considering wind chill. The sun is bright but it’s cold and in our front yard, there’s a robin, in winter, in Alberta. The poor little guy pecked a bit from an ornamental plum, frozen and desiccated, the only available food. Whether it’s climate change or an odd anomaly, he won’t survive without help. Robins like protein- bugs, grubs and more bugs.

We’ve fed wayward robins before. They like hamburger mixed with a little fruit and one winter Robbie and my husband, Gary, became good friends. He’d come to Gary’s whistle and was fairly tame. A female (who was more cautious) also took advantage of the food we’d set out, too.

This new outlier has just eaten 7 meal worms. Who has meal worms on hand, in case of robin emergencies? An ice fisherman. Meal worms last a very long time before pupating when they are kept in refrigeration. Yes, my downstairs beer fridge has harboured various types of legal, live bait. Gary had almost forgotten the meal worms but they were there and alive.

The robin looked at the apple and tiny bits of raw chicken I set out in the sun on my cutting board. He was interested (as were the sparrows) but too suspicious of something new to come down and investigate. Then Gary set out the meal worms that wiggled, catching the robin’s eye. Down he came and you can see him in the picture after eating the first three worms. Gary got four more and they disappeared in very short order. Mr. Robin sat on the cutting board in the sun, full and hopefully warming up.

The real test is later and then tonight. Meal worms will have been a huge change to whatever he’s been eating. We have fingers crossed that the switch isn’t too much of a shock to his digestive system. Even in this short time, we’re kind of attached to Robbie 2.0 and if he survives, we know where to get him live worms.

Hang in there, Alberta Robin. We’ll help you through winter and the temperatures in the minus thirties.

It’s cold…old time cold

here on the prairies and this week it’s set to get even colder. It’ll be like an old-time winter where your eyelashes, nose hairs, and then nostrils freeze together. It is nasty cold and there’s a wind chill to boot. I hope that the pine beetles can’t stand it.

I have been whining but then I remembered. Australia is on fire and people there have been killed, had to leave their homes, and have seen their countryside destroyed. Animals have fared even worse and though there are well meant attempts to save them, the majority have perished. Indonesia is flooding and people have been driven from their homes, lost everything, and died. In the Philippines, the Taal volcano is threatening with furious lightning in its towering ash column. Within hours or days, there will be a major eruption; people have been evacuated, the sky is full of ash, and there may be a tsunami. Manila’s airport has been shut down until it is safer.

In the United State, tornados, snow, sleet, and freezing rain have all been part of a nasty storm. Eleven people have lost their lives.

These are just the major on-going “natural” disasters and they make a system of cold Arctic air seem tame. This morning, it was -37 C or colder, depending on the source of the information. It is cold but we are lucky enough that with some caution, it isn’t life threatening.

Kudos to the workers who keep things more or less normal for the rest of us. The police, the electrical workers, the first responders, the firefighters, the oil and gas workers, the farmers (their livestock need more care than ever.) They make this stretch of real cold just an inconvenience.

By Monday, it’s warmer again. It has been just a week but it’s been a long one. I’m not whining, just observing…stay warm.

There Are Always Glitches.

I recently treated myself to a new iPad, planning to use it, I confess, for scrolling, for writing, and viewing cute dog videos. Because it was expensive, (Apple products are), I thought I would get it set up by a professional at an Apple Store.

When I approached the technician, I made the mistake of saying I had purchased the iPad from Best Buy.

“O,” he said. “We don’t do that for products not purchased at an Apple Store.”

My first impulse was to “go off” on him but then I realized he was busy and an employee at the bottom of the food chain who didn’t make policies.

Instead, I said, ‘What??!! I’m going to phone Steve Jobs…”

“On her ouija board,” interrupted my son who was with me.

With his help and my own iPhone, setting the new device up was easy, although it did involve a little of the obsessive-compulsive, on my part.

My daughter gave me the keyboard I requested for Christmas. Today I wanted to send the Pages document I had written to my PC to print. The old version of the word processing program used to convert the document to Word, no issues. (I should mention I’m cheap and didn’t buy a wifi enabled printer.) Not so, the new Pages.

Particular frustration ensued when the pop-up message announcing the end of support for my Word 2010 in October 2020. Now I will have to buy an subscription (to the tune of $79 annually) if I want to used Word. Gah. I have a lot of my “treasured” writing in Word so I have to open the mothy wallet.

I’m waiting to see what other “surprises” are in store. I do like the iPad and I like Word. I just didn’t expect to do things myself or to buy Office 365. It’s a new Year.

That One Resolution

              Break bad habits, start new routines, evolve a new, improved you. For some reason, the turn of the calendar to a New Year inspires change; an inspiration which soon proves burdensome in its realization. I have made too many resolutions to count and I was determined to keep them but did I?

               The answer is yes, I kept one. Forty-three years ago, I decided to give up smoking. Cigarettes and I had developed a strange relationship and an expensive one. I was married for a year and my husband didn’t smoke and never had. His brief experiments with tobacco were laughable; he didn’t even know how to hold a cigarette. I had been a smoker for about nine years, starting when I couldn’t even blame adolescent curiosity for trying it out. The thing was, I lit a lot of cigarettes, took a couple of puffs and then snubbed them out. Not all, of course, but there were enough barely started smokes sitting in ashtrays to let me know it was time. Time to quit.

               I grew up with smokers. Mum and Dad both smoked in the house, the car, and for my Dad, on the tractor. It was normal and there were warnings about lung cancer seemed bogus. No one we knew was afflicted so the enjoyable habit continued. It was normal.

               December 31st, 1974 arrived and when the clock struck midnight I was done with cigarettes. It wasn’t easy and my ‘withdrawal’ was exacerbated by the supportive husband strolling by, cigarette in hand, blowing smoke in my direction. He claims it was to make me angry enough to keep my resolution. I have my doubts.

               I didn’t smoke again. At first, I not only missed the nicotine hit, but the social aspect of the habit. One girlfriend and I, in particular, shared cigarettes and smoked together. It was like a part of relationship was gone…how ridiculous.

               In 1975, my daughter was born. She developed asthma and when we first consulted a specialist, his questions were, “Was she breast-fed and who in the house smokes?” When I answered, yes and no one, 50% of his treatment was gone. The doctor was almost dejected that he couldn’t deliver the rest of his speech which would have added guilt to the stress. How glad I was that I no longer smoked.

               Years later the health effects of smoking were revealed. Big tobacco’s campaign of false science was debunked and independent research revealed the use of tobacco in its various forms was implicated not just in lung cancer but in a variety of illnesses. Heart disease and stroke, hypertension, bladder cancer, emphysema (now known as COPD), and more chronic conditions were linked to tobacco.  Birth weights were lower in the babies of smokers and there could be further complications, after all, the nicotine and other components of tobacco smoke entered the blood stream and crossed into the placenta.

               My brother, a type one diabetic, smoked. The tightening of blood vessels, in part caused by smoking, contributed to the peripheral artery disease that led to amputations of both his l9egs. A heavy price for cigarettes. He once said, “You’d think the choice, a leg or smokes would be easy.” It wasn’t and like millions of others, he couldn’t quit.

               I am so glad I kept my one New Year’s Resolution and it did break a bad habit, start a different routine and did improve my health. For these reasons, I just might make resolutions, again this year. Maybe this will be the year I keep another one. Happy New Year.

When Antibiotics Fail

Modern medicine is losing its battle against bacteria. The original penicillin is ineffective. In hospitals and around the world superbugs have developed that are not touched by any of our antibiotics. When this happens, patients are left to fight off the invaders with only their own immune systems. Often, they succumb. The appearance of superbugs is a huge threat to our health and the days of popping an antibiotic and feeling better in a couple of days are numbered. How did we get to this point? Antibiotics are over-prescribed, patients demand them, and when they feel better, don’t finish the course. Any resistant bacteria are left to reproduce and pass along their resistance.

An old therapy which was abandoned when antibiotics proved so effective may provide a new weapon in our fight against bacteria. Bacteriophages, shown below, are viruses with a protein head and in the case of the ones shown, a “landing” tail which is specific to a species of bacteria and is used by the phage to inject its genetic material (DNA or RNA) into the cell. Once in the bacteria, its machinery is taken over and it produces more and more phages, until it bursts, is destroyed, and releases new phages. The new phages seek out more bacteria cells, inject, infect, and kill them. Cells of a human or animal are not harmed by the phages.

The purple “lunar landers” are phages on the surface of a bacterial cell.

It sounds wonderful. The best part is that phages are everywhere, the ocean, in sewage, soil; wherever bacteria are found, phages are, too. It’s not so wonderful when the actual problem of identifying a phage to attack a specific multi-drug resistant superbug, isolating it, and preparing it for human use is involved. Research is ongoing and this forgotten therapy may hold the key for the next advance against bacteria. Without a new treatment, infections will be our next health menace and millions of us may die. Before antibiotics, a simple infection was life threatening provides it.

I have included a short Youtube video that explains how bacteriophages kill bacteria. If you are interested further, ABC’s 2020 and CTV’s W5 have documentaries exploring the future of phage therapy. In the meantime, we should all limit our antibiotic use as much as we can.