Saturday, August 1, 2015

Depression meds - why they are scary and why they are necessary

I know someone who is going through a particularly rough time with anxiety and depression right now.  She has, with the help of a friend, taken the huge step of seeking medical help.  That is a really, really big step for anyone.  No one wants to admit they are having these problems or that they need help, so when they go to a doctor, that's HUGE!!

But she doesn't want to take any medication.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  NO ONE wants to take depression medication.  It feels like failure - like you just don't have the strength to deal with it yourself.  And it's scary - because this is a medication that affects your mood and potentially your personality.

Well, let me make this clear - with the new medications out there, they don't change your personality. Except for the good (make you less depressed, less mean, less anxious, less clingy).  But they don't change who you are.  There can be side effects, but they tend to be minor - each one is different and affects each person differently - so if you do go on medication you need to be monitored and make sure that it is working for you.  You might have to try a couple to find the one that works best for you.

The side effects from the medications are generally well worth the benefits.  Odds are if you are going through a life event that is triggering the depression, that you won't be on the medication for long - maybe 6 months or a year (which, from the perspective of someone who has been off and on medication for 20 years seems like a short time).  It just helps you get over the hump - to get to a point where you can deal with it on your own.  If you have a chemical imbalance, then you may have to be on them long term like I am.  But from personal experience, I can tell you that taking the right medication is life-altering in a very good way.

Depression is a life-threatening disease - like heart disease or diabetes.  Although you can add exercise and a good diet to your routine to help mitigate the problems, if the disease is too far advanced you need meds - and no one would question someone taking medication after a heart attack or taking insulin if they have severe diabetes.  Same with depression.  If not treated, it can be a fatal disease.  

So, please, if you need medication, take it - even for a short time.  Until you do, you won't realize how bad it has been for you and everyone around you dealing with this illness.

And if you need to reach out to family and friends, do that, too.  It can also save your life.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Home Made Wagon Wheels turned S'Mores - back to reducing plastic

So I've been working a lot more than usual lately.  I didn't start my own tomatoes this year (which I've done for the past 7), and because we then decided to move to a larger house, I didn't plant a garden (a few potatoes are all we have - and a whole lot of weeds).  We've been buying snacks wrapped in plastic for school and home use.  I've also bought single-serving yogurts and pudding.  I haven't been thinking about the amount of plastic we are throwing out.

And seriously - I noticed the extra in our garbage and recycling.  There's lots more waste.

And then I saw this:

Now, this little 2-minute clip didn't send me back into nature-loving plastic-hating mode.  A lot of things had been building up and the recycling basket was bothering me.  I had noticed that we were getting lax, but this short film was the proverbial straw.

The box of 40 Wagon Wheels that we bought at Costco was the second-to-last straw.  So when I was at the grocery store yesterday I bought the ingredients to try making my own Wagon Wheels as school snacks.  Although loaded with sugar, if you look at the ingredients, the home-made variety shouldn't be as bad as the pre-packaged ones.  And my husband and son like their sweets - as do I.  I've tried to steer us away from them, but it doesn't really work.

Anyhow, I bought Graham crackers, marshmallows and a big bag of chocolate chips.  To the latter, my husband thought "Oh ... Honey ... NO!" - I hadn't told him my plans yet (I have a rather pushy chocolate addiction).

I started off the adventure melting some of the chocolate chips.  Melting chocolate can be tricky.  Melt in a double boiler (I use a bowl inside a pot).  If any moisture gets into it, it can turn clumpy and dry.  If that happens, add a little coconut oil or butter - something with an oil content - and add small amounts until it becomes liquid again.

Then I broke the Graham crackers into 4 rectangles (the Honey Maid ones are scored that way), put 3/4 of a marshmallow on top (I put a half a marshmallow - cut in half length-wise - and then a half of a half to mostly cover the cracker 1/4), placed the marshmallows on the crackers under a 400 degree broiler and watched closely until the marshmallows had a lovely golden hue - be careful if you try it, it really doesn't take long - maybe 30 or 60 seconds.

After that, I tried coating in chocolate to get the whole Wagon Wheel effect.  Well, that was tasty, but it added too much chocolate and made a huge mess.  So I decided to go for the S'More effect instead. After all - same ingredients, really.

And that worked very well:

Making these I have a tiny bit more control over what my family eats - and although it's not a plastic free snack (the graham crackers have plastic sleeves, the marshmallows come in a bag and so do the chocolate chips), it is less plastic and less packaging in general (I hope - although I have some doubts) - and the plastic bags this stuff comes in will go to recycling where the individual wrappers on the Wagon Wheels end up in the garbage.  I've wrapped them in parchment paper.  Some are in the freezer and some in the fridge.  I don't know how long they will last before they are gone, but I'm going to try to save them as school snacks.

Now, if I get organized, I could probably find all of these ingredients at a bulk store and could take my own containers.  Which I might start to do again.  It won't be more convenient, but are my convenience and my child's consumption of sugar more important then our planet?  I think that's a rhetorical question (or at least I hope it is).

We've been told for years that convenience is the way to go.  What it does is allows us to make more money so we can buy more stuff that makes life convenient so we can make more money and buy more stuff.  Believe me ... I'm part of that cycle.  I enjoy my work, I like buying stuff, and I appreciate things that are easy.  And doing the easy, convenient things is really easy and convenient.  But not for our planet - not for the ecosystem we rely on for our existence.  So ... back to doing the more labour-intensive stuff that maybe takes a bit of a load off the planet.  I hope.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Postcards #47 - Dick's journey across Canada Continued.

We already know that Dick (Richard Grant) got killed at Vimy Ridge, but I still have three more postcards that he wrote (and that, obviously, pre-date his death).  The first one listed here really should have been shared in the last post about him, as it is from the Rocky Mountains.  It is a "General View of New Grade Reduction Loops and Spiral Tunnels, Field, Canadian Rockies."

Oddly enough, I just drove through Field on Sunday with my family, and I mentioned the Spiral Tunnels in this past post.  But to re-cap, the spiral tunnels are train tunnels that loop around inside a mountain.  That way the grade could be lower than it would be on the surface, and it wouldn't be as dangerous for the trains and their crews.  In the first 6 km west of the Kicking Horse Pass summit, the Kicking Horse River drops 350m (1,150 ft), creating a 7 km long stretch of track with a 4.5% gradient called the Big Hill (a good 2.5% steeper than most modern railways).  The Big Hill was used (temporarily) from the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 for nearly 25 years until the Spiral Tunnels were completed in 1909 (only 6 years before Dick went through them on the train).  When dealing with the topography of the Rocky Mountains, sometimes you have to get creative - and these designers certainly did.  The tunnels still garner a lot of attention and have their own official stop with information panels explaining them.  You can read all about them here.

On the back of this postcard, Dick writes what is possibly the most poignant of all the messages to date.  Not because of what he wrote, but of what he was facing afterward:

"9th (or 8th) Nov 1915 On the train.  We are on our way to Berlin every one happy  Dick"

The second-to-last postcard from Dick to Jack is from the R.M.S. Missanabie, the ship he sailed the Atlantic on.  She was 520 feet long, 64 feet wide, had a depth of 41 feet and a gross tonnage of 13,000 (as noted on the front of the postcard - although another site stated 12,469 gt).  Built in 1914, the Missanabie was conscripted into use by the army and was torpedoed and sunk in 1918 off the coast of Kinsale, Ireland - in the same general area as the Lusitania 3 years before.

This one is post-marked Quebec City, but was posted from the ship.  The back reads:  "this is our boat we have got started all right.  started ___ on the 13th with a black crow on board.  we had the crow on our train so we are all right give my love to everyone and kiss Gladys for me  Dick."  Gladys was my then one-year-old grandmother.

It makes me rather sad to read these postcards now - knowing that Dick never came home, that he died in a nasty battle, that my grandmother never knew him, that he was lost to his family.  Just sad.  And that this hero was nearly lost to history's ravages (as were so, so many of them) is sad as well.

Read Next Postcard Post

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Postcards #46 - the awesome power of the Internet

I had an amazing history day Monday.

Two complete strangers contacted me through this blog to share information!  How cool is that?  Thanks to those two men I now have more pieces to fit into my puzzle!

One of them, out of the blue, sent a photograph of the Woodpark Asylum.  If you remember, my great-great-grandmother (Helen Steele, nee McKenzie) worked there as I mentioned in this earlier blog post.

Thank you to Neil Gray (who contacted me and shared the picture) and to Russell at Turriff Printing Services whose pamphlet the photo was in and who got back to me when I asked if he knew where it came from (he did not).  The source of the photo is unknown at this time.  As it turns out, Neil works for the company responsible for The Ladysbridge Village development.  They now own the property and the buildings and are converting them into housing - nice looking housing.

In this photo (which is of the same series as the one I shared in that previous post) you'll see Ladysbridge Asylum, and I've circled the Woodpark building here (sorry it's black and hard to see - top centre):

In this photo, it is the building to the right of the picture in the little patch of woods:

What I had read was that it was about a mile distant.  I think it's closer.  

The other person who contacted me is a long lost relative.  He is the grandson of the child my great-grandmother stayed in Scotland to care for before coming to Canada (read about it here).  His grandmother, Peggy Black, is the reason I exist at all.  If she hadn't been in need of motherly care, my great-grandmother would have died on the Titanic.  

To my knowledge, our family had lost touch with her - apparently after she was married, because they knew her married name.  But here is her grandson (with all the research in hand, I might say) passing along photos and information to me.  Bless him.  Here's a photo of Peggy and her husband Bill Black.

I certainly see a family resemblance.

So not only am I learning about my family history, I feel like the family is being slowly brought back together as well.  How blessed am I?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Irene - the Glamazon meets Mickey on her 90th birthday

I've been doing some research for the Royal Alberta Museum.  They are in the process of building a brand new museum and populating it with new displays.  I've been doing some of the research for the displays, looking for the photographs that will help illustrate some of them.  I've been totally blessed to do something that I LOVE to do, and to get paid for it as well.  How lucky am I?

In the process of doing this research, I learned about and got to talk to a fascinating woman, Irene Jewell.  I wrote about her very briefly in this earlier blog post.  When I started the research, I only knew that Irene was a burlesque dancer who was born in Alberta and who performed at the 1959 Calgary Stampede.  She was rather famous due to her height of 6 feet 8 inches.  But I've learned more ...

Irene Jewell was born Irene Siewert on February 26, 1925 in Alberta - on a homestead north of Edmonton.  She graduated high school in Sangudo.  Her parents were not short, but she far outgrew them, continuing to grow well into her 20s.  As a girl she wanted to be a singer and dancer, but didn't have access to the training she would require.  So she became Ricki Covette - "The Glamazon" - the world's tallest burlesque dancer:

Throughout the 50s, 60s (and maybe the 70s?) she wowed them with her performances.  She was always very professional and in charge of her own career.  She made herself the success she was.  She  performed on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and was even on the Gypsy Rose Lee show!

In 1959, she was hired by Royal American Shows - a travelling show out of Tampa, Florida, that brought the Midway to the Calgary Stampede from the 1930s to the 1970s.  So that year she was a performer on the Stampede midway.

She even worked Bourbon Street in New Orleans:

After the world's first sex-change operation happened in 1957, people started to accuse Irene of being a man - this was too much for her and she left burlesque to become a real estate agent.  After some time, she told me, she also worked as a bookkeeper to a man named Chuck Mitchell - who played the title role in the movie "Porky's".  She worked for him, I believe, until he died - she mentioned having to put him into several retirement homes before he found one that would stand for his unique crassness.

At some point (I'm not quite sure when), she met Stuart Jewell.  Stuart was a cinematographer who worked for 7 years for Walt Disney.  He worked several Disney films including the Oscar-winner "The Living Desert" (1953).  He also worked on creating time-lapse photography - being at least one of the cinematographers responsible for the time-lapse footage of Disneyland being built.  They travelled around the world continuing with his photography, but he was no longer working for Disney and nature movies were going out of favour.

When I started doing this research, I told a friend of mine (who happens to do Burlesque in Calgary currently) about Ricki Covette.  She was fascinated and wanted to know more.  The following day, she told me about this article she had found about Irene - and that she was still alive.  The article was talking generally about her life, but also about the fact that she had donated some of her possessions to the Smithsonian Museum.

So I Googled and found an address I thought might work and I sent Irene a letter explaining the research I was doing.  I thought nothing more of it.  These things don't always work, and I'd done my part of contact her, if she didn't get back to me, that would be the end of it.  But a couple of weeks later I got a phone call from Irene.  And we chatted for quite a while.  She told me about Stuart and her life, burlesque, real estate, Chuck ... and how she is still concerned about keeping her weight down (!).  And then I asked her where Costa Mesa, CA (where she lives) is located.  And she mentioned it was in Orange County.

Well, my family has a bit of an addiction to Disneyland, and it's in Orange County, so as a point of reference, I mentioned it and asked if she liked Disneyland.  Well, she had never been there!!  She said she had an opening day ticket from Disneyland (not really sure if it's quite that old, but maybe) and that she was going to take it there on her 90th birthday (about a month later) and see if they would let her in.

Our conversation ended and I mulled over all of the information I had just received.  What a fascinating woman - and what an adventure she had lived.  Even at almost 90 years old, she was still as lively as ever.  She had a nurse and a "wonderful boyfriend" and seemed to still be living a very full life.  Someone to aspire to - if I live that long, I hope I am in the shape she is in!

Later that day, a bolt of lightning hit me (you know those thoughts that are just too brilliant to have come from your own mind? - yeah, one of those).  My husband had recently hired Doug Lipp of G. Douglas Lipp and Associates to come to Edmonton and do some training with some employees here.  My hubby had also been to the Disney Institute to take similar training a few years ago.  He knew people associated with Disney!!  So I asked him to send out an e-mail to a couple of people and see if anyone would be interested in asking if Irene could get in and maybe they could use it for some publicity.

Well, Doug Lipp's wife, Pam, took the bull by the horns and got in touch with the people she knows at Disneyland.  Nothing happened for a couple of weeks.  I sent her several e-mails pestering to see if Irene was going to get to go to Disneyland.  I was a little obsessed - but so was Pam.  And Pam came through - she arranged for a friend of hers, Joanne, who was the 1982 Disneyland Ambassador and who has a silver pass to the park to take Irene!  It was going to happen.

About a week away from Irene's 90th birthday, The Disneyland Public Relations and Fan Club Departments got involved, set up tickets for everyone (so Joanne didn't have to use hers) and an interview (with Erin Glover) and photo shoot.

So on Thursday, February 26th, Irene Jewell's 90th birthday, Pam Lipp (who bought a plane ticket to get down there), Joanne Duner, Irene, and her wonderful boyfriend (I think - still haven't confirmed that -it's either her beau or her nurse, but it looks like her beau) spent a beautiful sunny day at Disneyland.  They enjoyed Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion attractions.  The Dapper Dans even sang her Happy Birthday:


Strangers from Canada and the U.S., all Disney fans, fell in love with Irene's story and pulled together (some at personal expense) to make her 90th birthday a very special one.

Irene ... I hope you had a wonderful day with some great memories.  And I hope you get to go back again sometime.

Pam sent me these photos that night - I know she took at least one of them, but the rest were taken by a photographer - you can see him and an interviewer in two of the photos. She really was a Disney Princess for the day.

Irene getting her "1st Visit" and "Happy Birthday" buttons at the same time - wonder if this is the first time it's happened on someone's 90th birthday?  Probably not, but maybe for an ex-burlesque dancer!

In front of the Candy Store.

The Dapper Dans sang Happy Birthday to her.

Irene handing over her vintage ticket.

Irene loving Goofy!  (from left to right are Pam, the beau (nurse?), Irene, Goofy and Joanne.

Irene being interviewed by Erin Glover.

Irene in the shade out front.

The photographer grabbing one of her in the sun with her shades.

Riding "It's a Small World" (I haven't found out what other attractions they went on).

The gang watching the Tea Cups - this one they didn't ride.


Please check out my postcard series starting here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Postcards #45 - S.N. Leek and Elk!

When I wrote an earlier post about Atlin and the gold rush, I had this particular postcard in the pile to include with the others in that post.  But then I took a closer look at it ....

The postcard is (obviously) of a herd of elk.  And I assumed it was a herd of Elk from Atlin, because, well, that's where my head was.  But when you are doing history, you have to be a little more on the ball than that.  If you take a look, printed on the front of the card is: "COPYRIGHT 1911 BY S. N. LEEK," and on the back is printed:  "Copyright 1911 by S. N. Leek, Jackson, Wyo." as well as: "Portland, Oregon July, 1912."

Now, just because it is copyrighted by someone in Wyoming and has Oregon printed on the back does not mean that it wasn't bought in Atlin - and it may well have been - but I doubt it.  When I looked into S. N. Leek, I expected to find little if no information on a photographer over 100 years ago - the kind of stuff I normally find.  But this time I got a surprise.

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was established in 1912 - in large part due to the actions of S. N. Leek.  I'll summarize, but if you are interested, the whole story can be read here in the is article by Shannon Sullivan:

S. N. Leek homesteaded in South Park, Wyoming, in 1891.  At that time there were around 30,000 elk in the region - no longer migrating through the area because of human development, the herd stayed in the region for the winters.  Leek became a hunting guide with one of his clients being George Eastman (of Eastman Kodak fame) who gave him a camera.  

Three harsh winters put the herd in danger from 1909-1911 when numbers decreased to less than 10,000.  Local residents started to feed the Elk hay as they were dying in such numbers.  Leek took pictures of the problem, publishing them in magazine and newspaper articles and giving lectures around the country - leading to the establishment of the Elk Refuge.

If you take a look at his book found at this link, you'll see the photo that is also this postcard along with many other photos of elk and hunters and such.

(Personally, I find it strange that the people who want to help preserve animals are often the ones who also want to kill them - I mean, I understand it, but they seem like different goals.  They aren't, but it feels like it, you know.)

Anyhow, why is this postcard in this collection??  Well,  I don't know.  Maybe someone went to Wyoming.  

The fact that Portland, Oregon is printed on the back makes me think that someone went to Oregon - which is probably more like it since family members do live in Oregon - and they've been there since 1908.  The fact that 1912 is printed on the back makes me think that perhaps Nellie and Jack headed to Oregon when they got married - or perhaps the summer after.  Why they would have bought a postcard of Elk, I don't know - unless perhaps it was part of a fundraiser for the Elk Refuge.

When I was a kid, several times we went down to Yamhill Oregon to visit Uncle George and Aunty Gladys - two unmarried children of Uncle Alec - an incredibly old, deaf man who scared me (he died in 1973 at the age of 89 when I was 4, so when I knew him I was really little and not used to the elderly - and, well, he was grouchy!).  Alec had come to Oregon from Scotland and was one of my Great-Grandmother's brothers.  He and his wife, Helen (ore Ellen or Nella - depending on which census you are looking at - I bet she had a thick accent and the recorders couldn't understand her) had 7 children, I believe.

I have some wonderful memories of the visits we made to Oregon to see Uncle George and Aunty Gladys.  They had a farm and we got to collect eggs and play on the hay bales.  But the barn is what I remember the most - George had dairy cows and I remember that old, dilapidated barn (you can just barely see it in the photo below).  One year, a distant "cousin" of mine (don't ask his name, I don't know it) were plopped on the back of a rather sedate bull of George's.  Here's proof (and an image of me as a grubby farm kid):

Funny where one old, unused postcard can lead - from Atlin to Wyoming to bull riding in Oregon.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The H.M.C.S. Swansea's mascot, "Townie"

I'm doing some fascinating research right now, and some of it has me trying to find images of H.M.C.S. Swansea (a River Class frigate in WWII).

In looking for these photographs, I've come across a side story that touches my heart - the ship, for some time at least, had a mascot named "Townie."  From the pictures (found here: a story emerges.  I know nothing beyond the photos, so probably best just to show them to you here with their captions:

"Townie - the best mascot any ship ever had." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Robert (Bob) Pearson with Townie on HMCS Swansea K328." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Townie (left) the ship's mascot and Herman, the stowaway on HMCS Swansea K328." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Albert Tomlinson on left.  Unknown sailor holding ship's mascot Herman."  From the Albert Tomlinson collection.

"Townie's pups on HMCS Swansea K328." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Feeding time for Townie's pups."  From the Bob Pearson collection.

Drawing from a sketchbook by Ken Gray.

And, sadly ... "Burial at sea of Swansea's mascot 'Townie'"
Photographer/Credit: J. McFerran