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.

After Midnight

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I get up, pour a small glass of milk and sit in the chair by the front room window. It gives me a fine view of the street, the flashing lights at the railway crossing and occasionally, a vehicle heading home. I like to imagine they’ve been somewhere having fun. On rare nights, I even see a pedestrian, head down, and hurrying home, away from the dark.

Last night, I went to bed as usual and as can happen, I tossed and turned for an hour before getting up. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine, or the After Eight mints, or the butter tart and it’s likely the baked beans for supper weren’t the best choice. I got my milk and went to stare out at the night. Nothing stirred. People must have been tired from Christmas festivities or stresses. Not even a train showed up.

Then, the best surprise. The prairie hare, aka a jackrabbit, hopped across the street and onto the lawn. We’d seen his tracks earlier but here he was, in the flesh. It was too dark for me to attempt a picture, but he was startling white except for his ears and despite his earlier visits was skittish. I don’t think he could see me sitting, looking out at him, but several times he stared in my direction. He stopped under the ornamental plum tree we planted in memory of my mum. Perhaps some of the plums were a snack, although I didn’t see him eat and soon he moved over to sit in the shelter of an old mogul pine. He, too, sat and peered into the night. After a few minutes, he hopped across the snow and onto the street where he sat and sniffed the car tracks. Headlights from the avenue frightened him and he bounded away. The last I saw of him was his tail as he disappeared under trees across the street.

Insomnia, even mild insomnia, is an annoyance. No one enjoys tossing and turning as sleep evades them even when they’re tired. Last night, though, I almost enjoyed it. If I had been snoring snugly in my bed, I’d never have seen my visiting hare. Tonight- no wine and no snacks. Who knows what I’ll miss?

"tis the Season of Giving…

but what to give? The perennial problem. This year I broke it to my adult kids that once again, there would be no new car, no mortgage paid in full, and no yacht. I just want to get them a concrete expression of what they mean to me.

It’s no different for friends EXCEPT that the budget restraint is even greater. I guess I’ll have to find efficiencies. I want something that expresses how I appreciate their support and friendship.

Google knows everything, right? So I thought I’d look for inexpensive, thoughtful gift suggestions for women. What is the first suggestion? An Instapot. Who are they kidding? That’s not a gift. It might be something that makes meal preparation a little easier. You know what makes it really easy? A gift card to a restaurant. I didn’t go much farther on the list before I came to an Airfryer. Really? I hoped we’d advanced past the little woman in the 50s who looked great, cooked great, and was plain great for her man. Ugh.

Tasteful red for the Holiday giving.

Google stuff for men? Guess what socks and shorts aren’t on the list. Fun stuff is. Collectibles for movie and gaming fans. A Water-proof Build a Fire Kit for the outdoorsmen. I didn’t notice hedge clippers or snow shovels as likely to be popular. Before I sound misandristic, I like most men but for gift sugestions, they come out ahead.

I wasn’t kiddiing about the Fire Building Kit

So what will my friends get as tokens of my appreciation? I’m not sure. I guess I’ll need to get a little creative and hope that they feel a little of the value I place on our relationship. O, and laughs. I’ll try to provide more laughs.

May your Christmas Season be one of joy.

Remembrance Day, 2019

When my mother died, I inherited her pictures and other treasures. Yesterday as I was reorganizing some of her things, I took a closer look at the pamphlet The Battle of Britain. Its subtitle is An Air Ministry Account of the Great Days from 8th August -31st October 1940. Inside the front page is a quote from Prime Minister Winston Churchill which includes the famous line, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

The Battle of Britain included four phases, The Beginning, Attack on Inland Aerodromes, London vs. Goring, and finally Luftwaffe in Retreat. My mother’s experience was in the third stage. By this time, she had moved to live with her sister in the greater London area. They didn’t move into shelters during raids, but had been provided with a table-like bit of ‘furniture’ that could be unfolded to hide under. I very much doubt there was much protection.

Overhead, sometimes more than six miles up, the battle raged. It was so far up that ‘only a pattern of white vapour trails leisurely changing form and shape, traced by a number of tiny specks scintillating like diamonds in the splendid sunlight. From very far away there broke out from time to time a chatter against the duller sound of engines. Yet had not that chatter broken out, that remote sound would have changed first to a roar and then a fierce shriek, punctuated by the crash of heavy bombs, as bomber after bomber unloaded its cargo.”

The Battle of Britain was fought in the daytime skies, not by night. Escorted by Messerschmitt fighters, bombers by the hundred approached the English coastline. Defense depended on coastal watchers spotting the high flying groups of attackers. Once seen, squadrons of Spitfires scrambled to meet the hundreds of incoming bombers. Pilots were young and acted without fear. A single British pilot coming upon a German squadron would challenge and attack , no matter how outnumbered.

It was Hitler’s chance to win the war. Only Britain stood to stop the German war machine which had already overrun Poland, France, and countries in between. Goring could taste victory.

Yet, October 31st, the daytime bombing runs were abandoned. 2,375 German aircraft were known to have been destroyed in daylight. The Royal Air Force had prevailed against superior numbers and many attacks. The bombing continued but by night only.

I think the night raids were more frightening for Mum. They did hear the shrieks and the crash of bombs. At night there was no way for the feisty Spitfire squadrons to intercept the bombers.

Mum, after the Battle of Britain when Dad was in England on leave.

Dad enlisted in the Army the 15th of September, 1939. He served in North Africa and I believe that’s where he was during the Battle of Britain. Later he fought through Italy France and Belgium. I am not sure of the details or even broad outlines of his service. He didn’t talk about his war years although they had a profound influence on his life. I can’t help but remember how he sent a telegram to Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau during the FLQ crisis. Part of it, as I recall, was a offer to come and fight if necessary. “There are still some of us WW11 veterans around.”

Here he is in Italy. Mum’s handwriting identifies the ountry.

Dad was discharged from the Army on the 14th of September, 1945 in Calgary.

Mum and Dad were married July 11, 1945 and she became one of the estimated 48,000 Canadian war brides. They settled to farm back in Hope Valley, Alberta where Dad was from. I was born April 8, 1947.

Dad’s Statement of Service in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Thanksgiving 2019

It’s not October 14th, yet, but it’s not too early to consider all of the things that I have to be thankful for. The family that gets together for the turkey is small and can at times emulate the Conners, yet in the end, things work out. The food is always delicious and made from scratch down to the pie and dessert. I don’t make it so I’m not bragging; my son does it all.

Apart from the actual day, these are things I’m thankful for all year round. Good friends, supportive friends who had put up with my rants, my fears, and my sometimes strange humour. There’s nothing more therapeutic than a visit with a lunch or coffee and laughs.

I live in small town Alberta and it’s safe with wonderful walking trails. Only yesterday, I saw a downy woodpecker, robins, chickadees and more in the Nature Centre. Gophers took advantage of the warmer day and sunned themselves by their dens. Tamarack turned golden; there are still red-orange leaves clinging to shrubs among the bare poplars.

Driving home from a supper out last night, combines worked to bring in the harvest now that it’s drier. I am hopeful that the weather holds so the grain will be in the bins without further disruption. Farming is risky business.

My house, though old, is warm and familiar. My kids are grown and successful; my grandkids a delight. I can say this with complete objectivity. We live a 2 hour drive apart which makes visits special but not something that happens rarely.

My husband and I are getting old (truthfully we are old) but are lucky to have the health to pursue most activities. He still hunts, fishes, gardens and plays his guitar. I have my fur-children (Scruffy and Taz) who I walk every day. I write and have the support of a local group of like-minded people. I have begun some art with a group meeting twice a week. I help with the local arts festival and am going to teach an introduction to memoir through Adult Learning. We still enjoy camping. AND I quit substitute teaching so I have even more time.

It’s a simple life but a very good one. I try to keep abreast of current events. When I see or read about the Kurds in Turkey, the Syrians, and the Iraquis, it hammers home my good fortune. The upheaval in the United States and the UK doesn’t have an easy fix. I hope we are smart enough to avoid their mistakes. I am lucky, thankful and very grateful to live where I do with the advantages I have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now that I’m Bolder…It isn’t what you think…

Looking in the mirror is always a bit of a shock but then my brain smoothes out the image and I look more as I did at 25. From inside, I am 25, just a bit past my prime. Pictures are worse. Caught at the wrong angle, every wrinkle, line, and age blotch is emphasized. Who is that old woman?

I’m not here yet, but it looks like fun.

I do have wrinkles, a lot of them. These days I like to think they match the wrinkles in my cerebral cortex, where they are an advantage. There the more wrinkles, the more intelligence. I can still fire on all cylinders.

Ageism is an issue and I don’t like to tell people how old I am. My hope is that they’re bad at math and my sparkling wit make me a young person with pre-mature lines. I have no idea if this “ruse” works but reading “Bolder-making the most of our longer lives” has given me hope.

Across Europe and in major corporations (tech among them), the expertise and experience of older people is appreciated. Oldsters are participating in sports, intellectual pursuits, and entrepreneurship. It turns out the aging brain and body is capable of a lot more that they are given credit for. The image of the grannie knitting in the corner and the doddering grampa with bad jokes, is being replaced by an entirely different concept. There are DJs in their 80’s hosting rap dances to audiences where people, 60, 70, and 80 cavort with the younger crowd. People continue to work past the usual retirement age because they want to. Some of them start entirely new endeavors.

All of this is encouraging to someone like me who has passed certain chronological mileposts. I feel more positive about taking part in my voluntary positions and can be more vocal. My ideas are still good. I continue to walk and exercise. Doing my own housework, yard work, and other chores are things to keep me in shape. I have to be thankful for good health.

This is me-warts and all.

Attitudes to the “aged” are changing so that the only options for older people are NOT leaders of the “free world” or dictators of third world regimes. Slowly we are gaining respect and stereotypes are proven wrong.

The bonuses of getting old remain. One of my great joys is my two grandkids who are becoming more interesting as time passes. So far, they are good individuals with their own interests and skills. I have the time to pursue interests without concern about what other people think. The blog? Is it a waste of time? Maybe but I like it. I do some watercolour painting. The pursuit of ladies? Could be but it’s fun and there’s a group of like-minded people who meet in my small town. I’ve always been a reader; with more time I can read more challenging books, if I want. I can write letters to editors, MLAs, MPs. I have to time to make Telus more honest in its dealings with me.

It turns out the golden years are so far, so good. Statistics show older people are happy with their lot unless they have serious health or financial issues. Settling of your place in family and community have a lot to do with it. I can sit and smell the flowers if that’s what I want.