Friday, November 21, 2014

An Hour of Sunshine!

The morning started out with an almost cloudless blue sky, and the sun rose to shed it's brilliant light across the white world outside.  I hurried outside to snap a few shots before the clouds blew back in.

The sunrise was promising, but not much to see with no clouds - just a refreshing difference from the past two days!

Soon the sun was up and pouring across the yard, catching the snow laden trees across the road.

Stepping outside the birch tree was outlined against a blue sky for a change!

I'm always impressed with how the snow accumulates on the spruce and pine trees.

And that view out back that some of you may start to recognize, with the big elm tree across the road.  The snow in the foreground is 2 feet deep on the level, and the lumps on the left are where the big snowblower piled some of it.

Headed  the other direction down to the garden, I liked how the light was shining in on my favourite summer lunch and reading spot under the big old apple tree.

As always, Roxie was enjoying the snow, but we didn't go far, slogging through the snow up over my knees.

And for interest, compare this shot to the same shot I posted on Tuesday, the boxwood hedge in front now completely buried in snow.  How do you refer readers to a particular photo in an earlier post anyway?  Is that possible?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stuck Under the Snow Streamers

The snow continues to accumulate here.  We're stuck under those snow streamers bringing 'lake effect snow' straight east from Lake Huron.  It's been snowing extremely heavily at times, reducing visibility to near zero.  Another good day to just settle down inside.  Our road and drive didn't get plowed until mid-afternoon.

The snow is now up just above my knees on the level, and it's pretty slow going to walk a loop with the dog in the back yard - but she has to get out!

Snow has accumulated over everything.  I think this is the most snow we've seen arrive in a single 48 hour period since we moved here.  The snow storm of mid-November '14 is going to be memorable.  (Much moreso if you live in Buffalo!)

What was an interesting stone fencerow just days ago is now just big lumps of white.

The spruce tree in the garden looked like this Tuesday...

like this on Wednesday ... and today it's just a big lump of white.

I do like how the snow accumulates on even the tiniest branches of the old hawthorn, wild apple trees and the dogwoods - an interesting black and white pattern on the mostly horizontal branches.

Looking out back around the corner of the house you can see the snow falling.  I edited this picture so at least a shadow of the little greenhouse and the shed would show up.  No trees in the background though!  They've vanished in the snow.

Meanwhile, Roxie loves it.  It's up well above the height of her legs now, and she has to leap through the snow to get anywhere, which she does with wild abandon, burying her whole head in the snow to chase smells all along the way.  Rozie is a Grey County mutt, about the size and style of a thin German Shepherd, but with a lot of white markings like an Australian Shepherd.  Neither of her parents looked like this!

Linking to:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

After the Storm!

We woke to about a foot of fresh snow from yesterday's storm, and a world that's been transformed to white.  Real winter has arrived.

Since I'm not supposed to be doing a lot of snow-blowing yet,  I called our local farmer friend, and he was here by 8 a.m. - cleared the driveway in about 6 minutes!

The usual winter boots wouldn't do in this snow, so out came the old mukluks,  good enough for the foot deep snow without getting snow down your sox!

The dog and I wandered the yard and I snapped a few pix.  It's a challenge to keep a garden looking interesting in the winter, but this short bit of fence I built provides a really nice background all year.

This is a large rusted steel flower sculpture in summer, with a dense Clematis vine now entangled around it.  It now adds an interesting winter feature to the garden as well as all year.

This fence really does divide the 'cultivated' or 'manicured' part of the garden from the work area and shed, and the 'wilderness' of the meadow out behind.  As you can see, the snow was pretty heavy.

Once of our benches nestled among the lilacs, deep in snow.

And these old Coneflower seedheads with their caps of snow really appealed to me, especially when I was able to manoeuvre myself to position them in front of those dark pine trees for a picture.

Recovery continues to go well; hit 10,000 steps a day twice now.  But I'm really enjoying the enforced idleness too.  Normally I"m almost too active, always on the move doing something, and what gets left out is the time to sit and think, and to write.  So I'm sitting daydreaming and finding it very constructive - if only I can translate that into some serious writing!

Linking to:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Snow Squall Descends

We've had our first serious winter storm here, with roads closed due to poor visibility and nearly a foot of blowing snow.  We're sitting under those lake effect snow streamers blowing east off Lake Huron, a bit like Buffalo at the east end of Lake Ontario - though they've been hit far worse!

It wasn't really snowing when I took this picture out back this morning - but watch that big elm tree disappear!

Around noon the snow started moving in, though still just a gentle snowfall of fine white flakes clouding the atmosphere.

But then the snow squall descended on us, blowing the whites in this picture right out of sight, along with that big elm tree.  By the time it abated slightly 4 hours later, we had a foot of snow on the deck!

This is the same view as that sunrise I posted earlier this week, a little snowier now.

The apple tree and the old stone fencerow are beginning to look white.

And this is our main flower garden, with all its interesting winter textures - rather interesting really.  Notice that big old elm faintly in the centre background.

Linking to:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mid-November in the Garden

The garden takes on a sepia tone these days, covered in a bit of snow, and all the former flowers dried and brown.  But I got out my macro lens to see what I could find.  A very different look to the garden than the many colours I posted over the summer!

The beautiful feathery seed heads of one of our clematis.

 Snow capping a Sedum.

Dried seed pods of a Ninebark shrub.

 Remnants of the bright yellow Ligularia.

The tough stem of the Bear's Breeches still standing tall.

And one of the Sugar Maples I planted 15 years ago that's determined not to lose it's leaves!

Linking to:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Diary of a Heart Patient – Part 1

It’s day 14 after my open heart surgery to repair my faulty mitral valve, and I thought I would share my story in the hopes of helping others who may be facing similar medical challenges.  As for me, I’m recovering remarkably well, pain essentially gone, walking regularly, keeping up my breathing exercises and enjoying life – even if I can’t drive yet.  So don’t worry about me!

My own heart issues started when I was born apparently, though I didn’t learn this until now.  I was born with this faulty mitral valve, even though it didn’t start to leak and work poorly for 66 years!  I don’t have ‘heart disease’; I’ve always been very active, and the arteries around my heart are fine – no need for by-pass surgery, and no danger of a heart attack for me!   But…

The first related incident was in 2007 when I suffered an aortic dissection, a tear in the inner lining of the aorta, with symptoms very like a heart attack, especially that excruciating chest pain.  The blood tears the lining and establishes an extra channel between the inner lining and the outer wall of the aorta – that’s what the pain comes from.

But although it feels like a heart attack, actually it’s sort of the opposite.  The heart is pumping too strongly, not too weakly.  If you treat it like a heart attack (trying to boost the heart), it would kill you.  Fortunately I had a doctor in emerg who took his time and diagnosed it properly, and I was successfully treated medically – that is, medicated to slow my heart rate and decrease my blood pressure for awhile.  That one was a long slow recovery!

Every year thereafter I’ve been going for annual check-ups and monitoring of my aorta (through a catscan) to be sure there were no further problems.  Along the way I learned I had a ‘heart murmur’, but it was at my check-up this spring I learned it was getting worse.  I go to a teaching hospital in London, so I’m seen by an Intern first, who then explains my case to the doctor.  That Intern listened to my heartbeat and greeted me with the words: “That’s the loudest heart murmur I’ve ever heard!!”

Things have moved fast since then.  I was referred to a cardiologist, who ordered an echocardiogram (essentially an ultrasound of the heart).  They could see the faulty mitral valve, which was not successfully pushing all the blood through my system with each heartbeat.  In fact I was told that less than 50% of the blood was getting through, and that means less than 50% of the oxygen was getting through – no wonder I was out of breath.

In fact being out of breath was the main symptom along the way.  I rarely got out of breath, but I did find walking uphill, or going on fast hikes, left me stopping for breath.  You’d think it was your lungs, but it’s not, it’s your heart.  In any case, it left me largely unable to participate in organized Bruce Trail hikes, which are too fast for me.  In response I invented ‘Slowpoke Walks’, which suit me just fine.

As the doctor explained it, you’re just getting 50% less oxygen to those big leg muscles especially, but also to the brain.  It made sense to me.  Ever since the first illness in 2007 I’ve felt I just wasn’t as mentally sharp as before.  As Chair of a big university department I used to multi-task constantly, and be assertive where needed to manage the place and the people effectively.  Today I can barely remember one project at a time, and simply have no desire to be assertive at all.  Life is to be enjoyed!

My wife has latched onto this as the excuse for all my foibles – ‘You’re obviously not getting enough oxygen to your brain!’  What am I ever going to do when it’s fixed?  I’ll have no excuse left!

We moved from the cardiologist to testing at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener quickly, having both an angiogram and a transesophogeal echocardiogram (they put the sensor down your esophagus).  The former told me that my arteries are in great shape (a good thing), and the latter gave the surgeon a more detailed look at that faulty mitral valve so he could decide exactly what to do.  Surgery was scheduled two weeks later.

I have to say that I decided not to worry about the risk of surgery right from the start.  I have faith in our modern medical system, and I have some sort of spiritual faith myself.  I was convinced that it simply would not help me recover well to be worrying.  My dear wife on the other hand has done enough worrying for both of us!

We arrived at the hospital at 5.45 a.m. just two weeks ago, and it was less than an hour and a half until I was out cold, the first surgery on Monday morning (a good time slot).  I don’t think about exactly what they did, but I woke very groggily what seemed like two days later, with numerous tubes sticking out of my body and a brain that was seeing some pretty strange things, presumably because of the narcotics in the pain killers.  The vision I remembered was those large blue furry rabbits!  Today’s philosophy is to keep pain under control to help you recover, and I can honestly say that I have felt no serious pain throughout.  Now I’m down to just two Tylenol at night.

The week in hospital seems now like a brief visit to another world.  Two days in Cardiac ICU, with round-the-clock personal nursing, followed by 4+ days in the Cardiac Care Unit.  Sitting up in a chair for meals from day one.  Starting to walk with help on day 4, and walking on my own by day 5 and 6, along with a welcome shower.  There was a beautiful chapel at St. Mary’s, just around the corner from my room, so I made it a regular stop on my walks.  The worst discomfort was simply having to sleep lying flat on my back, which drove me crazy.

They give you a small pillow to hold across your chest when getting up or lying down, or when coughing, and it works like magic.  That means too of course that you need to learn to sit up, lie down, and rise from lying on the bed without using your arms – a lot more difficult that you’d think.

In spite of this, I think the week in Kitchener was harder on my wife than on me.  It’s two hours from home, so she stayed in a hotel which was a convenient location, but didn’t have a very comfortable bed!  And I’m sure she was bored stiff sometimes.  Luckily our daughter (and her husband and our grandson) came over to visit and keep her company a bit.  She was reassured by the surgeon that the operation went well, and they were able to repair the mitral valve, not replace it.  We both felt good about that.

The wires and tubes started coming out on day 4, and then suddenly on day 7, the Nurse Practitioner came in to say I could go home.  The last wires and staples came out, and we were out the door.  I had to sit in the back seat (away from airbags), while my wife drove home.  But I felt remarkably good!

In the week we’ve been home I’ve settled into a good routine I think.  It took all of one day to get my medications sorted out and organized, knowing what to take when.  We’ve also got used to visiting our little local hospital for blood tests, as I’m on blood thinners for several months, and that has to be regulated closely.  There’s two walks a day, arm and neck exercises, breathing exercises and two rest periods to be had. 

In between it’s not much more than reading and writing.  I’ve started on the first of some ‘Blurb’ books I want to do this winter, and started re-organizing the lectures for a Life Long Learning Series I’m giving on ‘The Landscape and History of Scotland’ this winter in Owen Sound.  And so far, I’m keeping up with my blog again – though little new photography.

So what can I say about this whole experience to date?  First, enormous thanks to all the medical personnel who helped along the way.  My surgeon is central of course, but I think I counted 4 other doctors and nearly 25 other medical staff along the way if you consider the pre-op testing as well as the week in hospital.  Not a single person did less than their best, and every single person was pleasant and caring.

Secondly, it’s harder on the caregiver than the patient.  As patient, I’m doing less than normal, and I’m supposed to rest.  I have a great excuse to just take it easy, once I’ve done my exercises.  My poor caregiver is having to do more than normal, and worrying to boot.  I’m surprised that the system doesn’t do more to support the caregivers.  That being said, I couldn’t get through this without the loving support of my wife.

Third, I’m recovering much faster than I expected.  Apart from being slowed down, somewhat restricted in outdoor activities, to allow the sternum to heal, and needing to rest, I’m doing fine after only two weeks.  Perhaps the fact I was basically healthy and active beforehand is helping.

Fourth, I’ve recognized the vital need to take charge of your own health.  We’ve dealt with five different primary doctors over this period, both specialists and my GP.  They all have their roles.  In the hospital there were nurses, other doctors, physiotherapists, and nurse practitioners.  Here at home there is the local hospital for blood work, and the local pharmacy for medications. 

Who puts this all together?  You do.  You need to proactively make sure that you see the doctors as needed, and follow instructions yourself.  You need to do the rehab activities, and organize your life to promote your own health.  I’ve learned that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ patients, but what’s the point of being a ‘bad’ patient if it’s your own health that loses out.  I think managing your own attitude is a big part of it.

Overall, I’d say this has been a remarkably more positive experience than I expected, and I’m recovering more quickly.  Here’s to the future!

I don’t know if there will ever be a ‘Part 2’ of this post; we’ll see how the coming months unfold.  In the meantime, thanks for all your support.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


I totally missed Donna's 'Personal Photo Challenge' on trees this month, even though I was really looking forward to it.  Turned out I was flat on my back in the hospital at the time; I figure that's a good excuse.  But I'd already been digging out a few photos from the past to show how I try to capture photos of trees, so here they are anyway.

A very tall, very straight Butternut in a friend's woodlot.

A huge old spreading Sugar Maple in a fencerow, now surrounded by planted white pine.

A few of the redder Sugar Maples from this fall.

Yellow Sugar Maples along the Bruce Trail, just a month ago.

My favourite friendly Sugar Maple giant in late fall.

A many trunked Basswood - or is it 11 Basswoods growing in a cluster, late fall.

Another giant old Sugar Maple growing along a little-used sideroad.

And a soaring American Elm covered in hoarfrost.  This is the Elm just west of Ceylon for anyone local.

In spite of the fact I totally missed the 'Personal Photo Challenge', I did enjoy all the posts of those who participated, and especially enjoyed Donna's references.  I have lots of new ideas now for taking pictures of trees!