Stormy weather

Rain falling on a juniper branch

I love storms.

After my previous post about hurricanes and earthquakes, you might be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at that statement, but I grew up with storms, and I’ve always enjoyed both the drama and the feeling of being safely tucked inside my house.

As I write this post, there’s a fabulous summer thunderstorm raging around our community. The skies are dark, the rain is sheeting across the streets, and thunder is rattling the windows of our house.

Tornado warnings have been posted for parts of Ontario, and even though there isn’t one where I live, our area is prone to them and I have my Red Cross Alerts app updated to my current location.

The week that I’m writing this has been brutally hot and humid. I don’t do well under those conditions, and even though I’ve been hiding inside with the air conditioning, watching the televised drama of the Open Golf Championship, I’ve had a pounding migraine for three days. Today has been the worst – although my medications have blanketed the pain for now, I can feel it lurking like a monster waiting to pounce.

Since the storm hit, though, the pain has eased and the nausea has dissipated, which is often the case for migraine people – see, another reason to love storms!

Thunderstorms give me an excuse to light candles – just in case the power should go out, you understand. I’m sipping some light Keemun tea while I eat a few crackers with goat cheese and tomato slices to keep my stomach settled.

(On a side note, did you know that acidic or tart food is one of the best things to combat nausea? I learned this in Egypt from one of the staff in our hotel in Cairo, and while I wouldn’t recommend eating one of their very bitter lemons as I was told to do at the time, whenever I fly I always have a glass of tomato juice to ward off airplane sickness.)

We actually have a transformer on our street, and it has blown impressively a few times, plunging our entire neighbourhood into darkness until the city crews can fix it, so I do have reasonable cause to take lighting precautions.

My early childhood took place in Windsor, Ontario, which at the time had some deep (for a child) storm gutters, and after a good rain my mother would let me take my shoes off and wade in them. I could spend hours splashing about happily – cheap entertainment, and my mom had only to look out the door from time to time to see that I was okay.

When I was five we moved to northern Ontario, where the weather is extreme and spectacular. I can recall my dad having to pull the truck over to the side of the road many times when either fog blanketed the car or rain was falling so heavily that we quite literally couldn’t see anything beyond the front bumper. Our farm included a hill where the passing gravel road curved up and around, and the road surface could turn into a river of muck in minutes – we would see truckers try to make it up that hill, lose traction and slide backward to the flat part. My parents would invite them in for some hot coffee while they waited out the storm.

Winters meant several feet of snow on the ground consistently from November to March or April. Plows would come by from time to time, but all that snow had to be pushed aside somewhere, usually into ten-foot high drifts at the end of our long driveway. Temperatures could plummet far below zero – I remember a record-setting -42oF on one day, when no one went outside if at all possible (fortunately we didn’t have any farm animals to be concerned about, but I’m not sure what friends of ours did with their cows, horses and chickens).

Spring thaw was a relief, but it could be treacherous as all of that deep snow melted. A trip to town to buy groceries could be fine on the way in but impassable a couple of hours later if one of the small lakes along the roadside flooded over. I remember our parents taking my brother and me out into the bush for maple sugaring one weekend. The path through the woods crossed a fresh, cold rivulet of water on our way to the site. We spent several hours there watching the trees being tapped and the sap being boiled down in huge vats. By the time we decided to call it a day, though, the rivulet had turned into a rushing stream and my dad had to carry me safely to the other side.

By the time we moved back to southern Ontario the year I turned eight, my love of dramatic weather had become ingrained, which has turned out to be a good thing in light of the strange relationship my hubby and I have with it.

We almost got hit by lightning on a golf course once while we were still dating – we were being careful, waiting for the stormy weather to recede by the time we set out on the back nine. Thunder was rumbling faintly far in the distance when a lightning flash out of nowhere speared the stand of trees on the fringe of the hole we were playing. We instantly flattened ourselves on the ground for at least a minute and then grabbed our carts and fled back to the clubhouse as fast as we could.

Our first dating anniversary was celebrated during an unexpected blizzard. We’d just been seated at the restaurant when the power went out. A bottle of champagne held the fort while the management fired up an old wood-burning stove to cook everyone’s meals. Probably the most entertaining parts were visiting the bathrooms by the light of kerosene lamps as all that champagne got metabolized. The power came back on two hours later just as we were finishing our meal.

The list of our weather events is long and distinguished, so perhaps the universe is giving me treats from time to time.

lit candles on a fireplace mantle

The storm has ended. It’s still comfortably overcast outside, though – glaring sun and a migraine don’t go well together – and the heat has let up a little, with a nice breeze riffling through the trees. My headache is gone, at least for the time being, and I’m enjoying the respite however long it lasts.

I think I might go and make some dinner. Meanwhile, the candles are still flickering away in their holders around the house, because, well, you just never know…

My prescription for jet lag

Early-morning landing at Heathrow
Early-morning landing at Heathrow

A new article on the BBC website, ‘Molecular basis’ for jet lag found, caught my eye today: researchers believe they’ve finally found the mechanism in our bodies that triggers jet lag in some people when we cross numerous time zones. There’s a protein they’ve called SIK1 which prevents us from responding to light cues in a new location, stalling our ability to adjust our body’s internal clock to the new time zone.

Why would such a protein exist in the first place, if it’s detrimental in our modern jet-set world? Researchers speculate that it was originally designed, genetically speaking, to keep our internal clocks from being reset in error, by things like moonlight.

Studies like this are worthwhile if they either offer insight into a possible treatment, or a route for prevention. Another article on BBC mentioned a study on insomnia that deduced that, among other things, insomniacs’ brains function differently during the day than those who have sleep — no duh!

The medical community responded to the jet lag study in a typical way to the results of this study: “it is a very drugable target and I would suspect there are lots of potential  drugs already developed”.

Why is it that Western medicine immediately wants to give us a pill? Because it’s an easy fix for them, and most humans tend to like easy fixes, so that makes it a ‘win-win’ for both sides, theoretically. But putting a lot of artificially-created substances in our bodies catches up with us eventually, so we need to think twice about what we’re willing to take.

Don’t get me wrong — there are many medications that save our lives. I worked as a pharmacy assistant for many years and have seen firsthand the value of quite a few prescription drugs. I’ve also seen medications that are over-prescribed either because the doctor has been lazy or the patient demanding, medications that have been abused because the physician wasn’t being diligent, and a growing number of new medications that have such a complex artificial production process that they cause an increasing amount of strange side effects.

Western medicine has a history of treating symptoms instead of looking for the underlying cause. I suffered from chronic migraines when I was in my 30s, to the point where I was getting them every single day. I saw every conceivable type of doctor — neurologists, occupational physicians, allergists… After several years of going through this route with no success, I was frustrated and depressed. In the midst of this, Mike and I went on a 15th-anniversary trip to Southeast Asia. We spent 3 weeks in very hot, humid weather — in Thailand, we had to wash our clothes every day — and by the time we got to Singapore Mike’s tooth abscess had flared up out of control and I had a fever. Singapore was our last good ‘medical outpost’, so we made a beeline for a doctor there. Dr. Lee was a delightful man who teased my hubby for not having had a root canal done sooner, but he gave him a specific antibiotic that cleared up the infection for the balance of the trip.

My fever luckily turned out to be nothing more than the result of a cold from going between sweltering heat outside and air-conditioning inside, but in the process Dr. Lee discovered my chronic migraine problem and asked if I’d ever tried Gingko. At that time this simple plant-based remedy wasn’t available at all back home, but in Asia it had been in use for over 20 years on prescription to treat all types of circulation-related problems, from strokes to migraines, with no side effects. He gave me 30 of them to try out, which I did after we returned home, and they worked! Unfortunately I couldn’t get such a pure source here for many years afterwards.

In the meantime, though, after having some mild improvement with homeopathic treatments, I bought a book on how to do an Elimination Diet. I’d very carefully eliminated all the standard migraine triggers that every resource listed, so I reasoned that I had to be eating something so common that I didn’t even think twice about it. All the doctors told me to keep a food diary, but that’s such an imprecise way to find out what a trigger is — in even a basic meal, you might consume 20+ different ingredients!

The elimination diet took 28 days, and it wasn’t an easy process to go through, but the results were more than worth it: my biggest triggers were wheat (which I was eating multiple times every day), flax (so much for the 12-grain cereals that were supposed to be good for me) and food additives. After over 1,000 days straight of throbbing migraines, the first day that I didn’t have one felt like a miracle! I was eventually able to cut back the migraines by about 60%, substantially reduce the number of strong medications I’d had to take, and return to work.

So, back to the jet lag. I’ll tell you right off the bat that Mike and I don’t get jet lag — ever. Neither have the friends and family we’ve taken on trips with us. How do we manage it? We immediately immerse ourselves in the new time zone and don’t look back — literally. It’s a mindset: you set your watch to the new time zone, and once you arrive you behave as the new time dictates — you don’t have a nap as soon as you land, you DON’T try and figure out what time it is back home.

This works really well with night flights — get as much sleep as possible on the flight (I use long-acting dimenhydrinate that helps prevent airsickness and makes me drowsy enough to nod off, but if that doesn’t work for you, you might try an all-natural herbal product I really like called Relax & Sleep by Jamieson), have the breakfast they serve on the plane, ditch your luggage at your hotel and go out exploring all day. By the end of the first day you’re ready for a good night’s sleep, and you wake up the next morning refreshed and acclimatized.

Good luck, fellow travellers — let me know how you make out!