Friday, January 30, 2015

Soak it Up While it Lasts

This was supposed to post yesterday, but Blogger did not cooperate.  Add computers to same list that cars and trucks go on.


It warmed all the way up to 18 degrees today.  At least the sun was very bright.  The cold really takes a lot of energy to deal with and all the donkeys wanted to do today was set the coat to maximum poof and soak up the as much sun as possible.

At 1:00.....

At 2:00, the ears moved.....

...for a minute anyway.

At 3:00, maybe time for a snooze in the barn....

Nearly 4:00, just enough time for one more sun bath, life sure is rough...

"HOW long till Spring???"

"Too long kid.  Snow with really arctic temps coming in tomorrow, better soak it up while you can, it doesn't look like we'll see again anytime soon."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Jinx Lives On

Looks like my jinx on all things mechanical is still intact.  I needed to get to the shop to pick up my car after it being in for repairs for two days and making me miss a day of work.  I had FBs old Chevy truck and was going to swap the two since it is in dire need of work.  It took me all day to get the blasted thing to start.  FB hates it when I swear at her damn truck, like I'm going to hurt its feelings somehow.  I find it is the only way to deal with machines that won't do what they are supposed to.

Good thing she wasn't around to hear the cursing when I finally got to the repair shop (after they had closed and left for the day) only to find that MY car wouldn't start.  Imagine trying to jump start one dead car off a nearly dead truck.  What else is there to do BUT swear at the stupid, miserable, $@!?/& things?  

Is it any wonder that I prefer the company of donkeys?

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Evolution of a Blog

From Sue S.: Did you start a blog to have some place for your wonderful photos or did writing the blog motivate you to get out and take pictures and find stories? You do a lot of research so was the blog a natural outlet for all that information? This blog reader thanks you for that info as it has helped me many times. 

I started the blog on a whim after bringing Emma home to be a safe, easy companion for Tessa.  Just goes to show, you never can tell how things are gonna turn out:)

I had no real plan or goal in mind for the blog.  Mostly, it was a way to play around with a different, less formal, less boring writing style than the dry scientific stuff I had always had to adhere to.  It was an easy creative outlet that I had few expectations of. 

While I have always had a mild interest in photography, it wasn’t until a friend gave me a digital camera as a gift that I really paid much attention to it.  I really love the immediacy and guilt-free ease of digital photography.  Still, it was the blog that actually got me out taking pictures.  Up to that point, I kept the camera in its little padded case and only got it out for special occasions.  The few pictures I took with it were crap.  The blog motivated me to get out and really use the thing.   

I’ve learned a tremendous amount about photography by carrying the camera with me in my pocket all the time and taking several thousand pictures, most of which were also crap.  I think I have taken at least a hundred bad shots for every decent one, although I like to think that ratio is improving.  The blog and the photography have evolved together and seem inseparable in my mind.  It’s hard to say where one begins and the other ends and I am not sure one would survive without the other.

I never intended for the blog to be an outlet for any of the research that I do, but that too has evolved.  I am, by nature and training, a researcher, an observer and a scientist.  There is a lot of stuff crammed into my head that I think others might be interested in.  However, I also have a hard time knowing how much people really want to hear.  Being one of those socially inept geeks who can go on and on about the mineral content of hay and how it’s linked to soil quality and hoof health, I am all too familiar with the glassy-eyed, glazed stare of people who desperately wish they’d never asked.  I try to share some of the info that I think might be useful without boring everyone to tears.  I would be happy to share more of my observations if anyone is interested, but I am wary of that glazed stare:)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How I got here...

Thank you all for your encouraging words and for your interest and questions. I will try to answer all of them over the next few days.  A couple of these questions are sort of tied together so I am going to try to answer them as one. 

From Michaele:  I"d like to know if you work or are retired and if you did or do have a job - what is it? You would have made a fantastic large animal vet.

From Rebecca2:  What "inspired" you to live on a farm in upstate, snowy New York?

From anonymous: How did you end up in New York doing the job you do?  Why do you stay?


How I wish I could retire.  However, I do work, in fact, I have been gainfully employed since I was eleven.  My single mother told me she would do what she could to support my horse obsession, but if I really wanted one, I had to come up with a way to pay the horse bills on my ownAnd I have.  I have always wholly supported my animals and I have supported myself and my animals entirely since I was sixteen.  

Ironically, my dream always was to be a vet, I think I would have been good at it too:).  However,  my mother was very suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was a senior in high school.  At the time, we lived in northern California and I had plans to go to UC Davis.  She wanted to spend her last days lying on the beach, but her family wouldn't hear of it and bullied her into moving to New York for treatment at Roswell Cancer Institute.  They pushed her into it with threats to disown me and my two siblings.  We ended up selling everything and coming to New York.  She passed away nine months later and her funeral was the last time I ever saw or heard from my grandparents.   

The move to NY took my college plans with it as well.  In a last minute scurry, I ended up going through the Equine Science program at a NY state school with the goal of going to Cornell.  However, my own health also took a major hit at the time and I ended up having pneumonia 6 times in two years.  Not to mention being penniless and homeless.  When I met a guy who wanted to build a house and make a home, I gave in to the lure of stability and bad lungs and decided to try to finish my degree as an Earth Science major instead of vet school.  My lungs have never recovered from the damage they suffered and are not up to being in dusty barns all day long, which is why I finally gave up on the idea of vet school altogether. 

As for why I stay in NY....that is a question I struggle with all the time.  I never wanted to be here and still don't.  However, the very few people who really matter to me are here and aren't leaving so I stay.  I think of NY as a kind of black hole.  I came here under duress in 1990 and have never managed to escape its gravity well. 

Needing a better way to make a living than working in an animal shelter for minimum wage and in retail, I went back to school in 1999 for another AAS degree in Histotechnology.  And if you've never heard of this, don't feel bad, I hadn't either before stumbling on the program at a nearby college.  I finished my histology degree along with a Bachelors of Technology in Agricultural Science and went to work for a local hospital where I still am.

I work as a histotechnician in the histology lab.  It is the part of the pathology department that deals with tissue samples.  Every bit of tissue removed from the body during any kind of procedure, from biopsies to amputations, comes into this lab and is processed there. The primary function of a clinical lab is diagnostic.  For example, if you go into your doctor's office and have a skin lesion biopsied, that little bit of tissue goes to a histology lab where it undergoes a long series of procedures to preserve, stabilize, cut and stain the tissue so that it can be examined microscopically by a pathologist, who will make a diagnosis.  

Below are some photo-micrographs of the finished product that I stole off the web.  These are photos taken through a microscope of a piece of tissue mounted and stained on a glass slide.  The colors come from the staining procedures and are necessary in order to see the tissue structures.  The tissue would be nearly transparent without the stain. There are hundreds of different stains that can be done to show a variety of structural changes.  Every tissue gets a basic stain called H&E, which shows up as various shades of pink and purple.  The other stains are special ordered by the pathologists when they need to see different things.

To give you an idea of how this works, this first photo is of normal small intestine.  Those finger like projections are called villi.  They are where 90% of nutrient absorption takes place.
This second photo is also small intestine, but it has been damaged by celiac disease.  You can see that all those villi are gone, leaving the surface looking like it has been mowed down.  If celiac goes undiagnosed long enough, those villi may never grow back.

Some other things you might find interesting to see....

Transitional Bone - this is the end of a bone, near where it will meet the joint:

Osteon - these are the structural units of bone stained black using silver nitrate: 

 Colon - high magnification

colon - lower magnification

Liver with a special tri-colored stain

 Liver with basic stain at higher magnification

 Kidney - that circular structure is the glomerulus where all the work gets done.

Loose Connective tissue

Taste bud

Hair follicle with another tri-color special stain

I also do a great deal of very specialized staining called immunohistochemistry (or IHC).  The primary purpose of IHC is cancer diagnosis.  It is used to pinpoint exactly what kind of disease process is going on and in isolating the origin of tumor cells.  It works by detecting the presence or absence of specific antibodies in the tissue.  There are over a hundred of these stains that I do routinely.  Basically, if the persons body has a disease, it will make antibodies against it.  If those antibodies are there, they will stain brown while the blue is just background color.  Without background stain, the tissue is transparent and can't be seen well.  If the slide is negative, everything will be blue.  Just to confuse things though, many normal structures will show positive staining.  Like the above slides, it is up to the pathologist to interpret these.  That's why they get paid the big bucks, I just create them.



Histology is an ancient science.  We still routinely use staining procedures that were developed hundreds of years ago.  At the same time, the IHC stains are cutting edge technology that is evolving constantly.  The science of it all is fascinating.  The day-to-day routine...not so much.  It is very repetitive and requires almost no thought on my part anymore.  Much of what is done in the lab is now automated and a great deal of my job consists of babysitting and troubleshooting machines.  Lucky for them, I am very good at making things work.

This job requires extremely fine motor skills and strong attention to minute detail.  Each of these tissue sections are cut by hand using a machine called microtome which shaves off super thin slices of tissue that has been permanently embedded in wax.  It is a bit like shaving a candle with a super, super sharp razor.  Each section is 4-5 microns thick, which is about 1/10 the thickness of a piece of paper.  The goal is to get a tissue section that is just one cell layer thick so the true morphology can be seen.  There is a real art to it.

Unfortunately, like so many places, the lab is plagued with politics, back biting and toxic personalities.  I have very little patience for all of that and prefer to just go in and do my job, which is why I work by myself on an odd shift from 5:00pm to 1:00am.  The commute is a killer, especially in the winter as the small towns around here quit plowing the roads after dark.  The drive home can sure be interesting.  I am a die-hard believer in studded snow tires, never leave home without them. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Deep in the Doldrums

The winter doldrums have settled upon us.  My mind is overfull, but nothing makes it onto the keyboard.  It all just flows away and freezes in the cold, leaving even more blank whiteness.  Am I the only one?

Help me out here there something you would like to hear about?  Questions you are dying to ask?  I am in dire need of a little inspiration.

Even the donkeys have been quiet lately.