Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anti-bacterial Alert

I hate to be right all the time about these things, but I just read recently that the FDA is reviewing the safety of Triclosan which is an ingredient in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers and things like that for safety. I have been anti-antibacterial for years. I remember my first job after getting out of school, all the deli/bakery ladies were all abuzz about this controversial expose on 20/20 about how antibacterial soaps don’t clean any more than regular soaps, and at that point I was already saying “to thanks” to antibacterial. It’s common sense, really that if you spread around all that stuff, it just makes stronger bugs.

There is another aspect to antibacterial agents that doesn’t get addressed very often, and it, of course, is way scarier than creating superbugs. A lot of these chemicals, including the preservative Methylchloroisothiazolinone which I have found in some pretty expensive shampoos that were also touted as natural, are in products that are designed to be flushed and washed down the drain. All this stuff bioaccumulates, and most of it has been found to create mutation in developing cells. Usually non-mammalian cells but still not so much fun for fans of the food chain as the first things that will get hit with concentrations of disinfectants and preservatives in the water will be frogs and fish and that good stuff.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone first came to my attention about five years ago when I read an article about research that was being done at the University of Pittsburgh about possible fetal deformities in actual human beings who were coming in contact with the chemical. I was not able to find a link to this article, but I assure you the research exists.

At my “new” job that I’ve had since December, I just had the safety tour and also a lecture about how to be safe walking out to my car since that girl got kidnapped on her way out of the building. I was not impressed. I have my own safety plan in every situation: know where the exits are and take off if things start sounding funny, looking funny, or smelling funny. If you can't get out, hide, preferably in something that will stop a bullet. I know there are evacuation plans, etc. and rules for these things, but I seriously believe that in a crisis situation no one is actually going to follow those plans, and I am not willing ot put my personal safety in the hands of other people’s evacuation plans.

I feel the exact same way about the ingredients in products I buy. I never go in with the idea that the FDA or some chemist or corporate executive is going to step in and protect the public. Look at the microwave popcorn thing. Look at the horrifying scary stuff that is in processed food and also the horrifying scary side effects of supposedly safe food like obesity and pop sucking the calcium and phosphorus out of your bones and kids getting rickets from eating too much fast food and never going outside. Really, in matters like this, you need to be on your own side. (And also on the side of the fish.)

There are a lot of products that you can buy that are not that terrible, and there are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself. The range of products available on the market is mindboggling, and that is before you look to small cottage industries and do-it-yourself things. It’s all about how much time you are willing to put into defending yourself and your life from people who just don’t care about you and who are neglecting what is in the best interest of the people to the detriment of everyone.

I’m going to get all technical, but Marxist theory says that in a post industrial society, there is a point where there is so much specialization and brand diversity demanded by the population that mass production bascially gets rolled back in favor of craftspeople and small manufacturing. If the major companies are poisoning us (and the frogs) maybe that day needs to come a little sooner. The major companies and the government are not going to change things until there is irrefutable proof that these ingredients are harmful, and by that point it will be too late: everything is going to be contaminated and mutated. I’m going to stay on the side of the fish. I think they would be on my side, too!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Two women and three dogs looking for a tree to drill -- It's Spring!

Hello, all.

The snow is still deep on the ground here in NW PA, but you can feel that things are starting change. the air is still cold, down into the low teens each night, but up into the 30’s and even the 40’s during the day. The sun feels hot, and the roads are losing the coating of ice and snow and patches of bare ground are starting to spread. We have two. One right by the house and one near the pond where a tree broke up the wind and didn’t let a drift form. It’s exciting.

The other week, we made soup for lunch, and I dug last year’s bolero carrots out of the mulch and used them for the soup and also for a snack. It worked really well. Note to self: a flag or a stake to mark the carrots still in the ground would help a lot, especially as we have a bout two and a half feet of snow on the ground still, and the garden was difficult to locate!

Also, it is seed time again. I am working a different silly job now which pays a lot more than my previous silly job, even though with this silly job I’m going to be laid off soon. My previous silly job was in a call center, and this is in an office, but definitely the lowest man on the totem pole type stuff where I literally spend about eight hours a day pulling the staples out of packets of paper, scanning them into a computer, and stapling them back up again. Needless to say, I have been spending inordinate amounts of time thinking up seeds. Unfortunately, my mom who was supposed to be my voice of reason, is not my partner in crime and has been requesting that I add certain seeds to the list. I have a lot of things to plant.

So far, it is a little too early to start many things. I did start a flat of lemon grass the other day, and there are always things that need cold treated. I have hellebore, santolina, inula elcampine (which the dye worthiness of I have never yet been able to determine, as the natural plant dye lady had never heard of it and it was not in any dying books at all, though supposedly the flowers will yield yellow dye and the roots blue) and angelica. There are a few things I am excited to try, but will hold off until they actually sprout.

Started a new venture today! Maple syrup. I may or may not have mentioned that my sister took a family visit to Vermont over the fall and returned with a sap bucket as a present. Last fall, I combed the hillside for a likely sugar maple, and found exactly one within easy walking distance of the house. All our back area has been planted with evergreens, and the majority of the rest of the area is overgrown cow pasture. There is one wooded stand, though, with older trees. There is a fantastic oak, a majestic ash, and a mostly dead sugar maple. So, this morning, my mom, the dog, and I took a little hike and I hopped the barbed wire fence to hand the sap bucket.

I have made maple syrup one time before. My grandfather made a spile out of an elderberry stick split halfways up and hollowed out, and we boiled down the sap, but I remember it being a big pain in the butt and also kind of sugared. Hopefully this time, I will have more patience and do a better job!

I just read an article in the paper about collecting sap. and the gentleman in the article said the hold does not have to be more than an inch to an inch and a half deep. The sap bucket that we have comes in four pieces: a little metal spile, a hook, the bucket and a lid. The spile goes in the hole, the hook fits around it, the bucket hangs and leans against the tree and the lid makes a little tent on top. To make the hole I also followed the cue of the article in the paper and brought along one of the my cordless drills and a fat drill bit.

After almost getting barbed wire in a place that barbed wire should not be, losing (and finding) the hook, and getting the rubber mallet away from the dogs, the hole was drilled, the spile was pounded, the hook was on backwards, the spile was removed, the hook corrected, the spile replaced, the bucket hung, and the lid installed. Now, all we do is wait and check back in a day or so to see if any sap is running.

By the way, this is the perfect weather for maple tree tapping. The temperatures during the day need to be about freezing but it needs to get below freezing at night. This makes the sap run faster due tot eh fact that sap, like water, expands when it freezes. As the upper parts of the tree thaw, the moister within the tree contracts, creating almost alike a vacuum within the tree which brings more sap up into the tree. Then that freezes and thaws and the sap runs more and more. Eventually, they trees bud, and the sap is not good for syrup any longer. According to the newspaper, there will be a short season this year because it took so long for the temperatures to get above freezing.

Over the next few weeks, as the snow melts off, I’ll get a chance ot assess how the gardens did for the winter. I put in a variety of bulbs, and also my mom added perennials to the “hitching post” area and made a new rock garden near the pond that we’ll need to do some more work on. Then there was the new raised bed we added last year. The rock siding on the house will be finished, which will allow the herb gardens to get a little better back there. It’s so hard to wait, but at least seed starting's just around the corner!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010



It's hard to believe but this is about the easiest winter that we have had in a few years. We've had a lot of show since Christmas, but up until then , there was just about nothing and we're getting into a patch of clear weather that should make things a lot easier. Needless to say, our house a smidge buried right now under about three and a half feet of snow, and some of the places down in Crawford County had between four and five feet of snow just since New Years.

It's seed catalog time again, and I am looking to get back on the horse and get a good garden growing. One of the only bright spots from last year was that I had a patch that I grew melons and pumpkins that I used black plastic mulch, and the ground is actually now weed free, which will create a new vegetable garden up closer to the house. I anticipate fewer bunny problems this year, however, because of lots of cats, young energetic dogs and my dad gave me a gun that belonged to my grandmother for my birthday if all else fails. Is that too northwest PA that I got a gun for my birthday or is it the fact that is not the first time I have gotten a gun for my birthday?

Got a different job which is horrifyingly boring, but still better than my job in the call center. At least now while I am doing mindless office tasks, I don't have to actually deal with the public and I can listen to music, which just highlights how little new music I have purchased in the last few years. I went looking for some CD's to throw on my ipod. and I found out the '90's are not gone, they are still alive and well and in the bottom of my closet!

Speaking of music, I caught a few songs from the "War of the Worlds -- Live!" on PBS the other night. I'm a borderline PBS hater anyway, mostly because the PBS station in Erie sucks, and now I'm totally against it. People are so passionate about PBS, both pro and con, and it's such a political football, and people write letters and give money and campaign and fight for PBS, and what do we get: The prog rock extravaganza "War of the Worlds -- Live!" I mean, who is the target market for this? People who think that Transiberian Orchestra was a little too modern but that Lawrence Welk could be edgier? I'm thinking of flying a decent antenna and giving up on American TV altogether. Except for Glee.