Thursday, July 05, 2007

Unexpected horticultural emergency...

The sounds of dump trucks banging and excavators digging were vivid last night when I arrived home from work. As I troddled out to retrieve the mail, I discovered a road crew digging out the ditches (!). Part of my trees-for-privacy-and-beauty plan was to dig up the trees from the ditch and transplant them in a safe place. The crew stopped for the evening only metres from my property incredibly close call. I dashed up for my shovel, and gear and "saved" many, many trees. About half of the spruce, cedar and tamarack are seedlings, but close to 50 are solid two to four year old trees. I successfully replanted about half of them last night until my poor back throbbed. Fortunately, the next few days are calling for rain, so they have a chance at survival. Transplanting spruce and cedar (or anything for that matter) is not the brightest idea in July. I was planning to do it in late August once we were heading for cooler, more moist weather (and finished plastering!).

And I wonder why progress on the house goes so slowly...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

No longer in denial in suburbia

OK, so we built in the 'burbs. But, the land for many acres around us was all treed and resident free, so it didn't feel like suburbia. Not so much now. The lot to our South sold this spring and a two story colonial is already up. The lot to our north sold last week, and the chainsaw began last night. Thankfully, most folks leave lots of trees standing, but it still reduces our privacy and the feeling that we own more land than we actually do.

At Canada Day, we were fortunate enough to be the high bidder on a number of two and three year-old spruce trees in the annual silent auction. On Sunday, Mom and Dad helped us plant the spruces, plus a maple (yet to be identified properly), and about 50 white pine seedlings! We've already planted more than 100 trees including oak, sugar maple, white and yellow birches, spruce and cedar, so we're making good progress. It's the kind of work we wanted to do *after* construction is complete, but when the opportunity arises with trees, one can't turn them down. Now, if we can just keep deer and rabbits from feasting on our tasty little seedlings...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Is Dirt the New Prozac? Another reason to go straw bale...

From Discover Magazine:

Is Dirt the New Prozac?
Injections of soil bacteria produce serotonin—and happiness—in mice.
by Josie Glausiusz

THE STUDY “Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28 in Neuroscience.

THE MOTIVE Some researchers have proposed that the sharp rise in asthma and allergy cases over the past century stems, unexpectedly, from living too clean. The idea is that routine exposure to harmless microorganisms in the environment—soil bacteria, for instance—trains our immune systems to ignore benign molecules like pollen or the dandruff on a neighbor’s dog. Taking this “hygiene hypothesis” in an even more surprising direction, recent studies indicate that treatment with a specific soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, may be able to alleviate depression. For example, lung cancer patients who were injected with killed M. vaccae reported better quality of life and less nausea and pain. Now a team of neuroscientists and immunologists may have figured out why this works. The bacteria, when injected into mice, activate a set of serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain—the same nerves targeted by Prozac.

THE METHODS Some studies have found that treatment with M. vaccae, the inoffensive soil bacterium, eases skin allergies, and other reports—such as the cancer study—show that it can improve mood. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England, had a hunch about how this process might work. “What we think happens is that the bacteria activate immune cells, which release chemicals called cytokines that then act on receptors on the sensory nerves to increase their activity,” he says.

To verify this hypothesis, he and his colleagues carried out a series of experiments on mice. First, Lowry killed and broke up M. vaccae with sound waves. He then anesthetized six mice and injected the pulverized bacteria directly into their windpipes. After killing the mice, he indirectly measured the levels of cytokines in the animals’ bodies and found an increased production of these proteins in their lung tissue.

The team also looked at the mouse brains to see which neurons, if any, were activated after the bacterial injection. They found that serotonin-producing neurons in a specific region of the brain—the dorsal raphe nucleus—were more active in the treated mice. “That’s important,” Lowry says, “because cells in that part of the raphe project to parts of the brain that regulate mood, including the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, which is also involved in mood regulation and cognitive function.” They also found increases in serotonin itself in the prefrontal cortex.

Finally, Lowry and his colleagues studied another set of mice, who were subjected to a stress-response test. They dropped each mouse into water for five minutes and timed how long it would take the animal to switch from active swimming to passive floating. Control mice swam for an average of two and a half minutes, while the M. vaccae–injected animals paddled for four. Researchers already know that antidepressants increase active swimming and decrease immobility. The bacteria “had the exact same effect as antidepressant drugs,” Lowry explains.

THE MEANING The results so far suggest that simply inhaling M. vaccae—you get a dose just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden—could help elicit a jolly state of mind. “You can also ingest mycobacteria either through water sources or through eating plants—lettuce that you pick from the garden, or carrots,” Lowry says.

Graham Rook, an immunologist at University College London and a coauthor of the paper, adds that depression itself may be in part an inflammatory disorder. By triggering the production of immune cells that curb the inflammatory reaction typical of allergies, M. vaccae may ease that inflammation and hence depression. Therapy with M. vaccae—or with drugs based on the bacterium’s molecular components—might someday be used to treat depression. “It’s not clear to me whether the way ahead will be drugs that circumvent the use of these bugs,” Rook says, “or whether it will be easier to say, ‘The hell with it, let’s use the bugs.’”

Monday, July 02, 2007

Back to business

OK, so our main goal is to get things moving at a slightly faster pace. The bank (play ominous music), who continues to mess up our paperwork and payments, would like us to finish the house within 90 days. It's no surprise - we've gained a more indepth understanding than we'd ever wanted about the big banks. It's just a reality we have to deal with. However, we're not finding ourselves with a lot of free time to speed the plaster up, so we've decided to bring back some of our friends from Straw Bale Projects in NS. They're coming in two weeks time to give us a boost(!!). At the same time, Mom & Dad Stonehouse will be visiting from Thunder Bay, so it will be a very busy little spot. I love cooking for a crowd, and I'm going to love seeing major progress on the straw shanty.

My Canada Day

No, that's not me, that's a young lady who rides in the Canada Day parade every year with the same colourful enthusiasism. She's a ball of energy.

My Canada Day looks a lot like this. Each year, Dave & I go to my hometown and join in the festivities at our local park. Dave's the main volunteer photographer (ahem, I make a great assistant), so we always have lots of images.

Amidst the kids running, the band playing, the food circulating and people chatting, here's Dad. Unable to sit still. Ever the active volunteer.

And the horses ride on every year under a brilliant puffy-cloud blue sky.

My nephew Ethan waving from a float in the parade.

My nephew Nevan waving from another float (in the hockey helmut and white shirt). The theme of the parade is "A Portrait of Canada", can you tell?

My Mom presenting awards for various achievements.

Dave receiving recognition for this work as the volunteer photographer from our friend Marsha. Ha ha! He wasn't expecting it!

One of the Happy-Go-Lucky Fiddlers deep into performance mode.

And, our friend Joe. Deep in conversation with some other good folk.

And our friend Sadie, who wins the award for oldest citizen of the day again at 94 or 95 years of age! Sadie has more energy than Dave & I have combined.

Phew! A long, fun day that ended at 1am. It was a nice break from our usual Sunday plastering. We're still amazed by this tightly-knit community. We feel fortunate to be a part of it, because we know a lot of people have never experienced anything like it.

Happy Canada Day Weekend!

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