Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Mountain knight stars, part two

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The first part of this multifaceted story delineated our sally into the cool mountains while a storm was brewing back home where the San Diego Opera was fighting for its life, even as some were trying to bury it while its heart was still beating.  It was expected to begin closing down after the last performance of Don Quixote* on April 13, but now has a reprieve until May 19 while ways are explored to save the San Diego Opera.

I continued reading Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote,* seeing parallelisms, and appreciating the main character, the romantic dreamer who often faced crossroads and chose adventure over shelter.

DSC_0048 At the crossroads

We continued our Airstream Safari adventure into the mountains by hiking along the park roads and trails that permit dogs on a leash.  We had been disappointed with the scarce wildflowers seen in the Anza-Borrego Desert this spring due to the ongoing California historic drought.  Most of the late winter/early spring rain that moved through our county was intercepted by our local mountains, which resulted in some spectacular displays of flowers here, such as St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum, known by herbalists as a remedy for a variety of ills.

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Seen below is the Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, next to a wood fence where I had photographed jumping mule deer last fall.

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After hiking, we returned to our campsite, which was surrounded by blooming Palmer Lilac, Ceanothus palmeri.

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Larry prepared langostino/pork bean curd skin rolls for dinner that were cut up, steamed, and lifted out in a stainless steel bowl by a Chinese steamer plate holder.

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This was served with a delicious salad and dipping sauces (sriracha, hoisin, and sweet chili).

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We savored this and other dinners while watching beautiful sunsets and the many birds of this wooded park, such as the Western Bluebird (below) and enjoyed their songs and calls, such as those of the Spotted Towhee* and the Dusky-capped Flycatcher.*

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Each night after dinner, the mountain air quickly cooled as the stars began to shine* and my mind began to wander and dream of adventures and of the great stories and operas such as Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte (Don Quixote).*

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In the final act, La mort de Don Quichotte (Massenet)*, Don Quixote dies of a broken heart.  Hopefully Don Quixote will not be San Diego Opera’s swan song, but will mark the crossroads where San Diego Opera resurrected itself.  San Diego Opera makes music worth seeing and supporting!

*This is a YouTube video.

Shifting sands and disc

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Just a few days before our return to Agua Caliente County Park earlier this month where we encountered 5-inch deep loose sand in our campsite due to a flash flood here in August, we noticed that our tricolor Corgi, Tasha, was coming up the back deck stairs slower than usual.  I first thought that maybe it was a pulled muscle, because she seemed better after I gave her aspirin (following cautions such a these).  But while walking our Corgis at Agua Caliente, we could see that Tasha could not keep up with Mac, so on the last day we made an appointment with our local veterinarian, Dr. Helen Green, DVM, and promptly brought her in to the Mission Valley Pet Clinic upon returning to San Diego.  Her wobbly rear legs suggested a back problem and she was started on Tramadol and Methocarbamol for the weekend and was to return for further tests.  Over the weekend she lost control of her bladder and was not using her rear legs to support her weight.

We read about intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and knew we were about to face a very difficult decision when we brought Tasha back to the vet on Monday.  Dr. Green tested Tasha and found that she still had deep pain sensation in her rear legs and could benefit from surgery, but that window of opportunity was closing with every passing hour.* While we were in the exam room, Dr. Green called Dr. Robbin Levitski-Osgood,* Veterinary Neurologist and Neurosurgeon, at Veterinary Specialty Hospital, and conveyed to us the good news that there was a 95% chance of successful surgery if we acted now.  Even though we were originally leaning toward a conservative, medical approach, we were persuaded by the good prospects of our 6-year old Corgi walking again.  We immediately drove Tasha up to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital.

DSC_0157 Veterinary Specialty Hospital

“The Veterinary Specialty Hospital is a multi-specialty, state of the art, full service hospital.  We truly are the Mayo Clinic of veterinary medicine,”* says Dr. Steve Hill.  This 3-story hospital has 18 exam rooms, 6 operating rooms, specialty rooms, ICU, neurosurgery suite, radiography suites, a full service laboratory and much more, including a complete Oncology Center.

A caring and attentive staff quickly admitted Tasha.  Dr. Levitski examined Tahsa and ordered a MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)* that demonstrated a T13-L1 disc herniation.  That same evening, a left T13-L1 hemilaminectomy* was performed with fenestrations from T12-T13 to L2-L3 to remove large amounts of herniated disc material.  Immediately after the surgery, Dr. Levitsky called and said that the surgery went well and called again in the morning with the good news that Tasha was moving her legs!  She continued to do well and was discharged home on Wednesday where her activities are restricted as she continues her healing process and recovery.

DSC_0171 Tasha Post-Op Day 3

To facilitate the healing process, the detailed Discharge Instructions specified that she should remain in a crate or small area for the first two weeks, except when she is carried outside for short toileting breaks.  Howdy Doody came by to cheer her while showing off his new makeover done by Larry.

DSC_0199 Howdy Doody visits Tasha

Larry made a corset-like sling to help support her back while on potty breaks.

DSC_0217 Tasha in homemade sling

DSC_0233 Homemade sling materials

Mini drip irrigation tubing was used as boning in the medial part of the towel sling and bamboo sticks were used in the ends of both slings (an old blood pressure cuff was later adapted as a backup sling).  Boning prevented gathering of the fabric, allowing for even weight distribution.  On Post-op Day 3, Tasha was able to briefly and independently bear weight on all four legs.

A makeshift gate made from parts of a metal crate ensures that our Corgis only use the side dog ramp versus stairs when going outside.

DSC_0208 Mac using ramp

DSC_0276 Post-op Day 12

Tasha is now walking and taking time to appreciate the garden.  We are thankful for the wonderful doctors and staff, who have helped her on her way to recovery!  We are happy that she is able to walk again because something in the way she moves, moves us.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cool… and wireless

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Maintaining the right temperature* (33 to 39 °F) in our Airstream Safari’s 5.0 cu. ft. refrigerator is important to keep food from spoiling or freezing.  The cooling process of RV absorption refrigerators* is different than compression driven, household refrigerators.  Absorption refrigerators have a relatively low coefficient of performance, which makes it especially important to keep the RV refrigerator in peak operating condition.  To properly monitor our refrigerator, we need to know the temperature of the inside of the refrigerator at all times without opening the door, which would result in a temporary loss of cold air and decreased efficiency.  Our first refrigerator thermometer in 2007 had a thermistor probe on a wire that connected to a digital display panel mounted on the refrigerator door and served us well for 6 years.

When the thermometer’s probe failed to register temperatures accurately last spring, we did our research and selected the AcuRite Refrigerator/Freezer Wireless Digital Thermometer, #00986.

DSC_0095 AcuRite Wireless Thermometer

This thermometer comes with a digital LCD display on the main unit (receiver) and two remote sensors, labeled 1 and 2.  I chose to use sensor #1 to monitor the refrigerator temperature and sensor #2 to monitor the room or outside air temperature.  The image below shows the thermometer sensor on the middle shelf and the refrigerator’s thermistor probe on the right side, which I raise or lower to maintain the right temperature as noted above.

DSC_0004 Wireless sensor & thermistor

The main unit has a strong magnet on the back that firmly holds it on the side of our stove exhaust fan/light fixture.  The sensors send out a strong signal, and at home, I found that I could bring the main unit and sensor #2 into the house and monitor the house and trailer refrigerators at the same time!  The image below shows the temperature readings of the trailer refrigerator (34 °F) and the outside air (39 °F) during an evening last April while camping at William Heise County Park.

DSC_0010 Main unit receiver

Although we do not use the alarm feature, we do like the main unit’s display that shows the lowest and highest temperature since it was last cleared.  We have found that there are many variables that affect the refrigerator’s temperature, including the size, amount, placement and temperature of food going in.  Knowing the highest and lowest temperature since the display was last cleared helps me to position our refrigerator’s thermistor for the optimum temperature range.  See “Tips to Improve RV Refrigerator Efficiency“.*

We have solar panels that work best when we are in a campsite that gets full sun most of the day, which provides additional incentive to find ways to help the refrigerator work better,* such as propping the outside vented doors open with clothes hangers to increase heat dispersal.

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Our custom-built Airstream trailer came with with two factory-installed solar panels, and we were glad we also chose the Full Awning Package, which provides awnings on three sides…

DSC_0029 All awnings & vents open

And helps us with our goal of keeping cool, even in the desert.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Barefootin’ about

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

While we are marking time, awaiting the passing of the Dog Days of summer heat and the beginning of our fall camping season, we continue to step out with our dogs on a healthy exercise program of brisk walks and trots around our local tree-lined lake.  I do this wearing minimalist footwear.  Summer is a great time to go about barefoot or almost barefoot.

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As mentioned in my article, “Footnotes“, I enjoy going barefoot in our Airstream Safari travel trailer and about the house, and increasingly, out in the backyard, so last February I started wearing minimalist footwear, Vibram FiveFingers, on our walks around parks and campgrounds.

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Seen above is my favorite style of Vibram FiveFingers (VFF) footwear, the Sprint.  (See Barefoot Ted run in them here.)

On the advice of a commenter to my “Footnotes” posting, I read with fascination the national best seller, Born To Run – A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009).  I continue to be amazed at the growing interest in walking and running barefoot that was sparked by this book, such as this local San Diego article, “No socks, no shoes, no problem?“.  This article includes barefoot hiker and runner Glen Raines’ story and photo (read his article “Going Barefoot“).  See and listen to author Christopher McDougall and The New York Times’ The Roving Runner (and blogger) Brian Fidelman as they run barefoot in Central Park in this New York Times‘ video, “Health: Barefoot Running“.

For Christopher McDougall (hear his Authors@google talk on YouTube), “It all began with a simple question that no one could answer… ‘How come my foot hurts?’”  His book Born to Run takes us on a journey to the Barrancas del Cobre, the Copper Canyons of the Sierra Madre in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, home of the Tarahumara Indians, the Ráramuri – the Running People, the world’s greatest distance runners with uncanny health and serenity, who have few injuries wearing flat sandals cut from rubber tires compared to the sky-rocketing injuries of those who wear modern athletic shoes (invented in 1972).  There he learned their secrets and, with the help of Caballo Blanco (a.k.a. Micah True – see and hear him in the YouTube video, “Super Athletes Of The Sierra Madre“), Christopher participated in the first 47-mile Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon set up by Caballo Blanco.

For Ted McDonald (hear his Authors@google talk on YouTube), the problem was “Every time I ran for an hour, I had excruciating lower-back pain… It was so discouraging.”  His eureka moment occurred while reading Barefoot Ken Bob’s The Running Barefoot website.  He found by running barefoot, his form improved and he was able to run marathons.  He became one of the most famous barefoot runners in the world and is now known as Barefoot Ted.  He admits that there are some places that require some foot protection, so he brought along Vibram FiveFingers to run the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon.  While there, Manuel Luna taught him how to make Tarahumara sandals.  Barefoot Ted now has a company in Seattle that makes Luna Sandals inspired by the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

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I now have my own Luna Sandals from the first batch shipped in early July.  I tied mine using the Slip-On Tying Method #1.  I did not shorten the leather lace so that I have the option of tying my huarache running sandals in the Traditional Method.

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This week I walked and trotted 4.8 miles in these sandals, which kept my feet cool and comfortable.  Going mostly barefoot since last February, I feel my feet are becoming stronger and healthier, and seem to know just what to do when coming in contact with anything; everything just seems to fall into place naturally and comfortably.

Christopher McDougall tells in Born To Run how the human body evolved as an efficient and exquisite running machine and how modern shoes encase and weaken our feet.  Modern running shoes with cushioned heels entice runners to take longer strides and land on their heels, resulting in more injuries.  He incorporates the foot strike and treadmill studies of Harvard anthropology professor Daniel Lieberman (The Barefoot Professor), who published a new study on toes, which gives credence to the endurance running hypothesis (the Running Man theory) that humans evolved as long-distance runners, enabling them to be successful in persistence hunting and their own survival.

The bottom line for me is that going barefoot can be joyful and fun and healthy (especially since I do not have a medical condition or sensory impairment, such as diabetic neuropathy, which could preclude it).

Barefootin’…  Even a five-year old knows how to do this intuitively.

Sunscreen safety

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Two years ago my “Sun safety” article discussed the importance of protecting our skin from the harmful effects of the sun by using protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen.  I thought I had made a good choice in using a broad-spectrum UVA-UVB sunscreen, with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.  But now I am learning that there are many conflicting reports about the effectiveness and safety of sunscreen products.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its fourth annual “Sunscreen Guide” last month, which recommends only 39 out of 500 beach and sport sunscreens for this season.  According to EWG, many sunscreen products contain red-flag ingredients, like vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) and oxybenzone.  The sunscreen that I had been using contained oxybenzone 6% as an active ingredient, so I now use one ofEWG’s top rated sunscreens.

Of course, the best sunscreen is a hat, shirt and a good pair of sunglasses, which I wore while doing our annual big wash and wax job on our trailer, upon our return from the beach last month.

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The hat is Tilley’s broadest brim hat, the LTM2 Tilly Airflo Nylamtium Hat.  It is comfortable, lightweight, and comes with a tuck-away Wind Cord.  The white shirt is Silver Ridge II by Columbia Sportswear Company.  It is lightweight, comfortable and super-ventilated.  My extra-large SolarShield sunglasses are comfortable while providing Advanced UV Protection (and can fit over Rx glasses).  These items always travel with me when camping.

EWG points out that their “sunscreen database is dynamic, which means that the sunscreen ranking numbers may change based on evolving science, new information on UVA, UVB radiation and sunscreen ingredients, marketing conditions, or other factors.”  Light might be shed on the sunscreen controversy over the effectiveness and safety of sunscreen products if, and when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues sunscreen industry regulations, which they began drafting 32 years ago, according to The Huffington PostCongresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) has called upon the FDA to finalize sunscreen regulations.

One of the latest health concerns is the use of nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen products, as discussed in the AOL News article, “More Bad News About Sunscreens: Nanoparticles“.  This further underscores the importance and need for the FDA to develop and publish new sunscreen guidelines and regulations.

See this excellent YouTube video, “Go Green with Sunscreen“, for tips on staying safe in the sun.

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Now I think I’m ready for those bright, sunshiny days!

World Oceans Day 2010

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

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According to The Ocean Project, the concept for “World Ocean Day” was first proposed in 1992 by Canada at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.  Listen to a very moving speech by 12-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki given at this summit as she presented environmental issues from a youth perspective.

The Ocean Project, working with the World Ocean Network, has been promoting World Oceans Day since 2003.  World Oceans Day was officially declared by the United Nations as June 8th each year beginning in 2009.

The purpose of World Oceans Day is to raise awareness about the crucial role the ocean has in our lives, inform the public of the dangers threatening the ocean and of the impact of human activities, and to encourage everyone to take action to protect and preserve the ocean and its riches.

Wear Blue and Tell Two” is The Ocean Project’s slogan to encourage people to celebrate the worlds oceans by associating the color blue with the oceans and by taking personal action to help.

I was aware of this and of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as we camped above the beach at South Carlsbad State Beach, so I curiously descended the wooden stairway to the beach below with a new perspective.  Even before I got down to the beach, I could see something that did not belong there, a tire.

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Why was this vintage B.F. Goodrich Silvertown tire there?

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I looked up the beach and noticed that it is losing sand, and Carlsbad’s sand is like gold for the city.

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Signs on the bluff warn that the cliffs are unstable.  Cliff erosion can be seen below our campsite.

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As I walked the beach, more questions came to mind, such as why was this snack package here?

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Would the person who carelessly discarded it be strolling here if everyone else did the same and the beach was covered with litter?  More questions arose.  What comes out of the two large drainage pipes sticking out of the cliff?

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What killed the plants nearby the pipes?  “Think Blue” is the City of San Diego’s campaign to prevent pollution from entering the storm drains, which drain untreated water into our creeks, bays, lagoons, and ultimately, the ocean.

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What caused the death of this seagull?

So I am motivated to “Wear Blue and Tell Two” ways one can take personal action to help:  1. Make smart choices when eating seafood (see list).   2. Reduce our reliance on plastics, use a reusable shopping bag (See “Dr. Dre  – World Ocean Day – Project Kaisei“)

This year World Oceans Day falls on a Tuesday, so many events are taking place on the weekend before, June 5th – 6th, such as beach walks and cleanups, tidal pool explorations, aquarium festivities, and readings of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,  by Dr. Seuss.  Find an event near you here.

The health of our oceans is in our hands. (See “The Ocean in the Drop“)

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Footnotes and beyond

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

I arrived early for my colonoscopy so I looked around the waiting area for something interesting to read and spotted the February 1, 2010 issue of Time magazine.  I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at a magazine that has a website that was featured inSteve Jobs’ Apple iPad keynote presentation.  What caught my attention while browsing this magazine was the image of what the author, Bryan Walsh, called foot gloves.1  Bryan’s article on page 45, “Toe Huggers”, tells how going barefoot (or close to it) might be better for your body.

I have enjoyed going barefoot in the Airstream (and in the house for many years) and was fascinated to learn of the benefits of going barefoot.  The human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, ligaments, and sensory receptors.

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According to Vibram (maker of FiveFingers), to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised.  Stimulating the muscles in our feet and lower legs makes us stronger and healthier, while improving our balance, agility and proprioception. The wearing of shoes can impede proper alignment and movement within the ankle and foot.  “Shoes are bad”, says Adam Sternbergh in his article, “You Walk Wrong”, in the New York magazine.  He discusses the benefits of barefoot walking and presents a three-part guide on how to walk better.  He mentions that there are groups, such as the Society for Barefoot Living, which help people learn about barefoot walking and the “barefoot lifestyle.”

See the You Tube video, “The Barefoot Professor: by Nature Video“.*  Harvard professor and runner, Daniel Lieberman, shows that barefoot runners tend to land on their fore-foot and generate less impact shock than runners in sports shoes who land heel first.  Barefoot running can be more comfortable and could minimize running-related injuries.  Interest in barefoot running jumped recently with Christopher McDougall’s 2009 best seller, Born to Run, which follows Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians, who run long distances wearing thin rubber sandals or no shoes at all.  See Tarahumara: Pillars of the World.*

But running and walking barefoot outside can lead to infections and injuries.  We routinely check every campsite for glass, nails, screws, and anything else that could puncture a tire before we back in the trailer.  So I became very interested in Vibram’s FiveFingers.  See Bryan Walsh demonstrate wearing and running in FiveFingers in the Time video, “Is Running Barefoot Better for You?“.  All of this made sense to me so I found Vibram FiveFingers KSO in my size locally.2  They can be ordered online, but, if this is your first time trying these, it is better to try them on in the store to insure a proper fit.

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See Wired Science article, “To Run Better…” by Dylan Tweeney, which includes sidebar tips on “How to Run Barefoot”.

NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz tried on and reported on FiveFingers in NPR’s story, “A Shoe for Barefoot Runners“.

Even poet, author, and artist Marshal South preferred to go barefoot at Yaquitepec during his experiment in primitive living from 1930 to 1947.  He wrote in is article, “Desert Diary 11″, “Ordinarily, bare feet are the rule at Yaquitepec.  Wood gathering however calls often for the navigation of savage sections of rock and thorn where barefoot caution would consume too much time.  So we dig out our Yaqui sandals for the job.  Probably the oldest and simplest human device for foot protection, the sandal is still the most comfortable and healthiest thing man has ever fashioned in the way of footwear… Generations of abuse in ‘thoroughly scientific’ shoes have spoiled civilized feet to such an extent that they have to be entirely re-educated.  But once the sandal technique is learned the foot enters upon a new and better life of freedom.”3

However, there are times when going barefoot or in foot gloves or sandals just won’t do.  So I recently bought what may be the most comfortable shoes that I have ever worn: Merrell’s Encore Groove.  Merrell began in the Green Hills in Vermont* and has been providing outdoor enthusiasts with quality performance footwear for over 26 years.4

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I am now looking forward to taking my FiveFingers and ten toes out on our next camping trip and enjoying what should be a spectacular wildflower blooming season due to our recent rains.5  In the meantime, Larry and I have begun taking our FiveFingers (and two corgis) on walk/runs around our local Chollas Lake three times a week and are already experiencing the fun and health benefits.  See Ultra Marathon Running Movie – Indulgence* and Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon in Born to Run.*

Footnotes to Footnotes:

1.  Also known as shoe gloves, foot socks and barefoot shoes.

2.  REI in San Diego was temporarily out of stock in this model, so I found mine at Adventure 16. Model KSO, “Keep Stuff Out”.

3.  All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.

4.  “History of Merrell”, on their website

5.  See DesrtUSA’s Desert Wildflower Reports 2010 – Southern California

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert Holidays, Part 2

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Borrego Springs, California, is located in Borrego Valley, in an area once named San Gregorio by Juan Bautista de Anza, who led an expedition through here from Tubac, Arizona, in 1774, to find an overland route to bring supplies and reinforcements to the newly established Spanish presidios and missions in CaliforniaBorrego Springs is a small community that prides itself in not having traffic lights. Instead, it has a park-like hub called the Christmas Circle, possibly named because Salvador Ygnacio Linares was born on Christmas Eve in nearby Coyote Canyon on Anza’s second expedition through here in 1775, according to Diana Lindsay in her book, Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications.

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(Seen in the background of the above photo is Fonts Point, named after Pedro Font, a Spanish priest and diarist on the second Anza expedition, according to Diana Lindsay.  This bluff offers a spectacular view of the Borrego Badlands.)

Within the Christmas Circle is a pleasant, grassy community park that presents the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce Farmers’ Market every Friday, 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., November to June.

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Farmers’ markets, sometimes called greenmarkets, provide locally grown produce harvested at its peak flavor and nutritional content and, since this produce does not travel far, farmers’ markets help conserve fossil fuels.  The farmers’ market experience has been likened to outdoor markets traditionally held in villages and town squares throughout the world and provides a less rushed opportunity to chat with vendors and shoppers, while one samples local foods and learns about local culture.

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California is the largest producer of food for the country.  How food makes its way to the dinner plate is the subject of an excellent KPBS San Diego Envision 30 minute documentary, “Food”, seen here.

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This KPBS program (along with this one) points out that San Diego produces 95,000 tons of oranges each year, and most of them are shipped to foreign countries willing to pay premium rates for some of the tastiest oranges in the world.  Ironically, most of the oranges San Diegans buy come from Australia, South Africa and Peru because we like our oranges to be seedless, pretty and easy to peel.  Larry and I now prefer to buy our oranges at farmers’ markets because they are sweeter and tastier.

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We are lucky in San Diego to have 42 farmers’ markets.  Find your local farmers’ market here.

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Seen on our holiday dinner table are sweet Medjool dates, shards of Gouda cheese, Garlic and Fine Herbs Boursin Gournay cheese on crackers, sun-dried tomato-cilantro hummus, and strips of Larry’s homemade and very delicious sourdough bread, made following the “No Knead Bread Baking Method“.

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And after dinner, visions of sugar-plums danced in our heads.

Our National Parks

Friday, September 25th, 2009

A new film by Ken Burns, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea“, will be presented by PBS in six episodes starting Sunday, September 27, at 8 pm Eastern Time. Filmed over a course of more than six years, this series will show some of the most beautiful places in our country, at the best time of year, in the best light, along with the history of our national parks, people who made a difference, and park profiles.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is directed by Ken Burns and written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan.

See a behind the scenes tour of this new Ken Burns series, “The National Parks”, in this PBS Preview.

Ken Burns points out that the concept of a national park is an American idea and ideal, and that Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is arguably the world’s first truly national park.  Our national parks are living symbols of democracy, and are special places of discovery and inspiration, building human happiness, and should be preserved for all people to enjoy (not just for royalty or the rich).

Talking about national parks and monuments, President Theodore Roosevelt is quoted in the film as saying, “It is the preservation of the scenery, of the forests and the wilderness game for the people as a whole.  Instead of leaving the enjoyment thereof to be confined to the very rich, it is noteworthy in its essential democracy, one of the best bits of national achievement, which our people have to their credit.  And our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children, and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

On June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Antiquities Act of 1906, giving the President of the United States authority to restrict use of particular land owned by the federal government by executive order, bypassing Congressional oversight, and avoiding partisan gridlock.  The Antiquities Act resulted from concerns arising about protecting mostly prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts.  The intent is to allow the President to set aside and protect certain valuable public natural areas as park and conservation lands, which are given the title of “National Monuments“.

The first declared United States National Monument was Devils Tower, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Devils Tower is a monolithic igneous intrusion or volcanic rock in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming.  Native American tribes including the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone had cultural and geographical ties to the monolith long before European and early American immigrants reached Wyoming.  More than 48% of land in Wyoming is now owned by the United States Government (as noted in Wikipedia’s article, “Wyoming“).

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt (struggling against mining interests) proclaimed more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a National Monument (it was declared a National Park on February 26, 1919).  This is an example of an early success of the environmental conservation movement, which may have helped to thwart proposals to dam the Colorado River within its boundaries.

On October 14, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson created Cabrillo National Monument, which is located on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California, and commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542.

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At the highest point in the park stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which became operational in 1855.

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People come from all over the world to enjoy the views of the region’s mountains, San Diego harbor, Pacific Ocean, Mexico and the Coronado Islands.  Pacific gray whales can be seen migrating from late December to early February.  Cabrillo National Monument contains one of the finest (and protected) rocky intertidal areas (tide pools) on the southern California coast and is one of the last refuges of coastal sage scrub habitat.

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Ken Burns film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, also highlights other heroes who have made a difference in preserving our natural resources and wilderness areas, such as Stephen Mather (first director of the National Park Service, which was established by the National Park Service Organic Act signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916),  John Muir (naturalist, author, early advocate of the preservation of the wilderness, and founder and first president of the Sierra Club), President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Civilian Conservation Corps, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (friend of the Everglades), William Gladstone Steel (“father of Crater Lake”), and George Melendez Wright (National Park Service naturalist).

George Melendez Wright was noted as saying, “Our national heritage is richer than just scenic features… perhaps our greatest national heritage is nature itself, with all of its complexity and its abundance of life”.  See this wonderful video clip on George Melendez Wright.

The most recent national monument was designated by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009: The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.  The Marianas trench reefs and waters (95,216 square miles) are among the most biologically diverse in the Western Pacific and include the greatest diversity of seamount and hydrothermal vent life yet discovered.  The Mariana trench is the deepest point on Earth and five times longer than the Grand Canyon.

Our national parks and monuments are our national treasures that bring us happiness and a sense of well-being…  a sense of comfort, like going home… and like a home, they need to be protected, restored (including restoration of native species), maintained and kept functioning for all to enjoy for all time.

See one more video selection from this new, beautiful mini-series, along with a moving interview of documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, shown in this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show of September 24, 2009.

Mohs surgery

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

“Nose surgery?” I asked as the secretary was scheduling me for Head & Neck surgery.  “No, Mohs surgery,” she said, and she had to spell it several times before I got it right.  I jotted down the check-in appointment time of 4:30 p.m. for surgery at 5:00 p.m. and without delay I proceeded to Google “Mohs surgery“.  Google presented 162,000 hits (links) and of course, my reliable friend, Wikipedia, was on top.

Mohs Micrographic Surgery (MMS) was developed by Dr. Frederic E. Mohs (1910-2002) in 1936 to precisely remove skin cancer lesions while sparing healthy tissue and is the procedure of choice used by physicians today for anatomically important areas (eyelids, nose, ears, lips, etc.) where tissue sparing and low recurrence is important.

In my case about a year ago I started to notice a small, pin-point tenderness on the left side of the upper bridge of my nose near where the pads of my reading glasses rest and I noticed this most when I slipped on my sunglasses.  I could feel a dry raised tiny spot there that I attributed to wearing reading glasses.  Last spring my dermatologist finally got to see it and he treated it like my other precancerous skin lesions, called solar or actinic keratoses, with cryotherapy.  This initially worked, but after a few weeks I felt the tenderness again and I scheduled a return visit to my dermatologist, which had to be rescheduled after the completion of my summer jury duty on a murder case.  When I finally saw the dermatologist, he offered to freeze it again… or just cut it out.  “Well,” I said, “freezing didn’t work last time… maybe it would be better to just cut it out.”  And he did and sent it to the lab and I got the report back the next week that it was indeed squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common cancer of the skin, with more than 250,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the United States.  (Basal cell carcinoma is the most common.)

The image below shows the healed biopsy spot just before surgery.  The spot is the light circular area on the anatomically left side of the bridge of my nose, horizontally across from my pupils.

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So last Thursday, Larry drove me to the hospital where I checked into the fourth floor Head and Neck Surgery Department for this outpatient procedure, which I was told usually takes one to three hours.  It is performed using local anesthesia and the patient guidebook said it would be okay to listen to an iPod during the procedure, and to bring a companion to drive me home afterward.

Being a “writer”, I thought I ought to avail all of my senses to savor the full experience, so I left my iPod at home.  I felt the smooth coolness of the rectangular cauterizing grounding pad applied by the friendly nurse to my upper left arm.  I was draped and felt the wet coolness of liquid and smelled the chemical odor of antiseptic solution as it was applied over my closed eyes, forehead, nose and upper cheeks.  I felt the sharp skin-prick and brief pain as the surgeon injected anesthetic into the bridge of my nose.  The surgeon and nurse then left me alone with my thoughts for about fifteen minutes while the anesthetic took hold.  I could barely hear questions and answers of the patient having a similar procedure in the next room, which helped me know what to expect.  I also heard the high pitched sound of what sounded like cauterizing equipment.

The surgeon returned and applied a drape with a small opening over my head.  We chatted and I told him that I was a retired RN.  I was pleasantly surprised when he informed me that his wife works as an administrative RN in the medical center where I had worked for 28 years.  As he mentioned names of people whom I had known and worked with, I drifted down memory lane while he scraped, cut, snipped, sliced and cauterized away.

The removed tissue was sent to the pathologist on duty and Larry was invited in to chat with me (he read to me an article in the latest Camping World magazine) while we waited for the surgeon to return with the pathologist’s report.  Meanwhile, the pathologist flattened, dyed, froze and cut thin horizontal sections (see You Tube frozen section technique) of the tissue using a microtome-cryostat.  The sections were placed on microscope slides, fixed, stained and examined to determine if the tissue margins were clear of tumor cells.  After about thirty minutes, the surgeon returned with good news (no more tissue needed to be removed) and closed the wound with ten small sutures and applied steri-strips.  I was given postoperative instructions, prophylactic antibiotic, narcotic pain reliever, a return date for suture removal and an instant cold pack to apply to prevent swelling during the return trip home.

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One year ago in my “Sun safety” post, I documented my actinic keratosis on my left cheek and how it was treated with the antimetabolite Fluoroucil.  Development of actinic keratoses are associated with exposure to the sun.  As noted in this AOCD article on Actinic keratosis, sun damage to the skin accumulates over time and up to 80% of skin damage is thought to occur before the age of 18.  Left untreated, actinic keratoses can progress to squamous cell carcinomas.  Properly treated, the cure rate is 95% to 97%.

Having one squamous cell carcinoma is an indication that others may arise over time and it is important to be watchful and have dermatological examinations at least once a year.  Fortunately, my health care is provided by one of the largest and most respected health maintenance organizations (HMOs) in the United States.  I have affordable health care insurance, but some people are not so fortunate, which is one reason some believe that health care reform is the most important issue of our times.  It is also currently one of the most hotly debated national issues, as evidenced in this New York Times article of Sepember 18, 2009, “The Baucus Plan: A Winner’s Curse for Insurance Companies“, by Uwe E. Reinhardt.

Every day is a gift…

The recent death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose passion in life was noted to be health care reform, has sharpened this debate, as evidenced in the August 26, 2009 New York Times article, “Kennedy Death Adds Volatile Element to Health Fight“, by Carl Hulse and Katharine Q. Seelye.  Mr. Kennedy wrote that health care was the great cause of his life and that he hoped that his words would inspire readers to take up the cause (page 506 of his recently released memoir, True Compass, Edward M. Kennedy, Twelve, Hachette Book Group, September, 2009, which is one of my fall reading books).  “Every day is a gift,” he was quoted as saying in the August 26, 2009 New York Times article, “After Diagnosis, Determined to Make a ‘Good Ending’“, by Mark Leibovich.

Although we are faced with increasing health concerns as we age, we are also determined to make each day count and enjoy celebrating life.  For example, last Friday Larry made (from scratch, his first, and so delicious) honey-raisin round challah and I learned how to blow the shofar to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (see the You Tube videos) , one of three annual new year celebrations that we observe.

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Also seen on our table above are chopped Chinese roast duck and plum sauce, stir-fried Chinese broccoli (Gai lan) with oyster sauce, one fig (freshly picked from our Brown Turkey Fig tree) on a plate with three apples and nearby honey, peanuts, butter and baklava.

We continue to celebrate life and look forward to our fall and winter camping outings to the nearby mountains and desert.  So for us, and the “Snow Birds” beginning their seasonal migration to warmer, sunnier climes, this is a good time to review Sun Safety Action Steps

And contemplate autumn sounds and sights.

About the Author

BILL, along with partner, Larry, were first-time RV'ers when they purchased their custom-ordered 23' 2007 Airstream Safari SE. Bill (a retired RN) and Larry (a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist) enjoy bringing history alive in the area of San Diego, CA.