Where to buy

Natural Attraction is sold at the Readers’ World Bookstore in Holland, Michigan, Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!), Prairie Lights in Iowa City,and  Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan (signed copies).To buy on-line use links here (the Penner site: click on icon for selected site to purchase) and here

Cleaner, Greener Labs is self-published and sold here

Mixed In, a comic dystopia set in the near future United States from City Owl Press. When passions are regulated, which laws will you break? 

Now on ibooks

 Amazon US




Mixed in is also available at Beaverdale Books (DSM) and The Central College Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa .

A Hoarder’s Guide to Sugars

Twenty grams of sucrose. This much sugar is found in a small box of raisins, a box of Milk Duds, a serving of yogurt, and a can of soda pop. But it’s not just the amount–the type of sugar will impact your health as well.

We all know that too much sugar is bad for us and most of us don’t need any reminders. But are all all sugars created equal? How can consumers evaluate products and make choices about sugars? There are a few things to keep track of with evaluating sugars–1) how much do they raise your blood sugar with an instant burst of glucose and 2) how bad are they for your heart and liver because they hoard energy in the form of fat.

High blood sugar or hyperglycemeia harms your blood vessels and nerves and can create high blood pressure as your body tries to dilute the sugar. Ever notice that sugar can make you thirsty? That’s a sign of sugar surge. In some countries, products are labeled as to their glycemic index–a measure of how fast sugar is released into the bloodstream as glucose–the simplest sugar. This can help consumers avoid blood sugar spikes.

GI in Australia is an example of this labeling

In the GI index, it’s taken into account that sugars first must be converted into glucose to be used for energy which means that glucose is the standard. To review some common sugars and their GI Index:

Glucose  GI=100. Glucose is the simplest of these sugars and is the one that the body uses for energy and even hormone regulation. It comes from starch breakdown. Your brain runs on glucose. Excess glucose is stored in the muscles and more presently in the liver as glycogen–a starchy big molecule.

Maltose  GI=105. Maltose is a double glucose which makes it have a high GI. It’s the sugar found in beer, cream soda, rice, and also “malts.”

Sucrose (table sugar) is commonly found in sugar beets and sugar cane but occurs in most fruits and vegetables. It has a glycemic index of 65. It’s a doublet of glucose and fructose. The glucose gives you an energy boost while the fructose is often stored.

Honey Honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose with minerals and fiber and other chemicals. It has a glycemic index of 55.

Maple syrup consists of glucose, fructose, and most of all sucrose in varying proportions. It has a glycemic index slightly below that of honey–usually 54 but it depends on the syrup. Like honey, it also contains minerals and a host of organic compounds, some of which are health promoting. In the end, it’s got a lot of fructose.

Lactose/galactose (milk sugar) milk sugar has a relatively low glycemic index of 46. It plays a  positive role in the immune system. However, some studies have associated it with aging. It’s much less sweet than other sugars.

Fructose GI=19 This is the sugar found naturally in fruits. It is metabolized differently than glucose and is more likely to be stored and to create fat.

HFCS, high fructose corn syrup, corn sugars  58-73.  ” HFCS is made by enzymatically isomerizing glucose from cornstarch to produce a 42% fructose syrup. The syrup is concentrated via an ion-exchange column to form a 90% fructose syrup, which is blended with 42% syrup to make a third syrup containing 55% fructose. The 55% and 42% syrups are used in food and beverages.” Here is a paper from 1989 warning against its use.

Fructose then, is the best sugar because of its low GI, right? Not exactly. In a society where people get plenty of food, fructose, corn sugar/high fructose corn syrup, sugar and even syrup and honey are more likely to make  you fat and deposit fat in your liver and around your organs. It can turn to cholesterol and prompt heart troubles.  eating fructose is like buying Hummel figures, Beanie Babies, and old magazines. In essence, you are hoarding so much energy that you are tripping over it and it’s falling on top of you. You’re not just collecting, not saving, but hoarding.

Let’s take a look at what chemists have to say about sweetness.  They are not known to beat around the bush.  Let me quote from the linked article:

Sugar is toxic. The fat and sodium we’ve spent so much time fretting over may in fact be the lesser of the evils in our diet. New evidence suggests that sugar—and possibly artificial sweeteners—might be the ultimate cause of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease.”

The three key dietary monosaccharides—glucose (starch sugar), fructose( fruit sugar), and galactose (milk sugar)—all have the same caloric count, 4 cal/g so in this respect they are equal.

However, it appears that fructose–as in fruits, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup–is much worse for your body.  This sugar deposits fat on your abs and makes your pancreas work overtime. It tastes much sweeter than glucose or galactose and this is why it is used in soft drinks. It’s not in there because it’s healthy. It would be the ideal sweetener for a hunter gatherer. For a modern human, it’s the equivalent of being a hoarder.

As shown by the GI Index, fructose doesn’t give an immediate sugar boost. So why is fructose and high fructose corn syrup terrible? It’s when a person takes in more than needed that it gets dangerous. “Fructose is converted to glycogen for immediate energy purposes…. As with ethanol in alcoholic beverages, any excess is converted to liver fat. This can eventually overwhelm the liver, leading to a condition known as insulin resistance.The long-term result is fatty liver disease…which leads to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. ..obesity does not cause diabetes—however, too much sugar does (PLOS One 2013, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057873).”

Does this mean that a person should never eat fruit? Of course not. Fruit is a rich source of phytochemicals. It contains fiber that keeps the sugar from releasing too quickly and fills you up.  Juice on the other hand, is a different story. It can deliver a wallop of sugar without the satisfying properties of starch. The same can be said for smoothies and nutrition drinks. Dried fruits are packed with sugars too so keeping a lid on the trail mix might be a good idea–especially if it contains candy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to sugars. A serving or two of whole fruit  should be plenty for anybody. who exercises a normal amount.  It would also be a good idea to consume your fruit earlier in the day when you have time to use its energy. Otherwise, your body will be renting a storage space at night.

How about artificial sweeteners as mentioned in the quote above? They might have the power to sabotage your appetite and make you less likely to regulate your food intake.Your body stays on the alert for calories and is never satisfied. Sounds terrible, unless you want to be Sisyphus. Personally, I get enough of that feeling just trying to clean my house.

In other words, glucose raises your blood sugar which is bad for you. Fructose raises your blood sugar more slowly but readily turns into fat which can deposit all over your body, To recap, sugar, especially fructose, is as bad for your liver as booze! Two cans of soda per day can give you high blood pressure.  Although scientists are working on better sugar substitutes, the best thing you can do is to monitor your own intake of the sweet stuff. Remember its biological purpose–to give you a burst of energy. This is why we crave it when we are tired and why its best consumed in moderation early in the day. With the most recent news about the terrible effects of the Western diet, a fresh look at the dangers of sugar is timely.  I for one am going to go off it–except for a daily serving of fruit–after the next birthday cake.

Do you really need dryer sheets?

Mixed In or a box of plastic dryer sheets? Which would you rather spend your money on?

Not long ago I was at a local establishment and people I didn’t know too well were complaining about clothes not treated with dryer sheets. I had to burst out and be a Chemistry Downer by saying, “Dryer sheets just cover your clothes in fat.”

That was the simplest way to put how dryer sheets work. But it wasn’t entirely true. They are much more complex than just fat for your fabrics. They contain clay and scent in addition to fat and are a marvel of consumer chemistry. And they vary in the the form of fat they deliver. Clean Day sheets are a mixture of vegetable fats and other materials, Snuggle sheets are made from stearic acid, while Bounce softer sheets have a modified charged versions of fats. 

To consider how dryer sheets work and why they didn’t come about until the 70s, let’s review the chemistry of washing things.

You might think that science is all about opposite attracting but in chemistry “like dissolves like” is an important concept. Salts and minerals will dissolve in water easily but oily substances  will avoid water. You have to trick them into dissolving so that they can be washed away. This means that detergents contain tails of fats which dissolve grease with a charged head that pulls the grease into water. They work well but can leave a charge on your clothes that makes them feel less soft than they could feel. Fabric softener was developed to counteract that charge. However, modern detergents contain a whole lot more than just this simple surfactant. Some even leave a film of stain resisting polymer that also keeps soap from sticking on your clothes. Laundry detergents have become so innovative that I don’t see a need to use more product on them.

Dryer sheets work by taking away static charge, coating your clothes and making them slippery–this is what we humans consider soft. According to the American Chemical Society,”During tumble drying, the coating containing the softener melts and the compounds get transferred onto the fabrics being dried. The newly attached fatty chains give the fabric’s surface a slippery feel, which people interpret as softness. The compounds also help dissipate static charge by lubricating and increasing the surface conductivity of the fabric fibers.”

Some people have adverse reactions to dryer sheet vapors. Indeed, the familiar scent can carry volatile organic compounds–some of which irritate and others are possibly carcinogenic. The chemicals released are sometimes different than those found on the label, indicating that a chemical reaction occurs during the dryer sheet action.

Dryer sheets can cause clothing to be more flammable and they can leave a residue in the dryer. They can also leave spots on clothes if you overload your dryer.

It goes without saying that fabrics meant to wick away moisture such as athletic clothes will not be effective if they are treated with softners or dryer sheets because they will become coated.

Some laundry enthusiasts say that a ball of aluminum foil works in the dryer as well as dryer sheets. Others say that these can catch delicate clothing and to use tennis balls.

How do I feel about dryer sheets? Personally, I don’t see them as dangerous. It’s more that I find them wasteful and the scent cheap. Their fabric is plastic and do we need any more toss away plastic in this world? Dryer sheet sales account for hundred of millions of dollars per year in the US. Is this worth the cost? I once had a European tell me that the US smells like a combination of dryer sheets and cheese. That’s how prevalent dryer sheets are here. If you want to smell like an American, use dryer sheets.

Do you need to have softer, smoother clothes? How important is it? Believe it or not, looking as if you are too busy to iron is trendy. I have a lot of respect for the US companies that make these sheets. However, I don’t feel any urge to soften my clothes or give them additional scent. I line dry when I can and if clothes are wrinkly or scratchy, I steam them. That’s my chemist’s take on dryer sheets.


Late Century Foods–colors and textures of the past

Oh the 20th century. It truly was a brave new world when it came to what people ate. No matter if you are writing about it, reminiscing, or learning about the past, there are some foods that are no more but stand as icons of the times. The late 20th century was anything but drab. Some even credit LSD for the love of color and novelty that marked this era of history. People not only wore color and texture, they ate and drank it.

What are some lost foods of the 20th Century? I’ve assembled a list.


Whip N Chill

This, along with Jello-1-2-3  was a gelatin that separated into layers like a mousse. Apparently it could be made into lots of things and is one of those products that just goes to show that in the 1960s, people would eat just about anything.

Space Food Sticks (click link for advertisements)

These snacks were made for astronauts in the 1960s and could be commonly found on shelves until the 1980s. These rubbery sticks of food evolved into energy, protein, and breakfast  bars. Since I’m never in the mood for breakfast, I’ve loved these sticks and their modern versions. However, the recipe and the nutrition label makes them seem less stellar than I remembered.

Team Flakes (even used as a chicken topping) I loved these and I’m sure they powered me through graduate school along with Space Food Sticks. I wrote a story in which the naughty protagonist and her pets, who later killed her boss, ate Team Flakes. The big deal about Team flakes was that they stayed crunchy in milk so that you didn’t have to eat quickly. Team Flakes, I miss you!



Jello 1-2-3

Again, a dessert that made shimmery layers of color and texture. This one came along on the 70s.

Ecto Cooler

I think that one of my daughters drank this instead of eating for many years. It’s from the 1987 so not too distant from everyone having the Internet which means  many recipes for it exist. (It’s basically tangerine lemonade.)


These were tablets like Alka seltzer only when dropped in water, they made a drink. People claim it wasn’t that tasty but in the 50s when they began, kids were not as highly sweetened as they can be today. In fact, these had no sugar. Too bad they had sodium cylamate.

If you are what you eat, people in the second half of the 20th Century were quirky, colorful, crunchy, and artificial. What lost foods do you remember?


Plastic by the numbers

I send the kids to eat outside with it. Then they jump in the pool with it or swing on it. We play with it, eat with it, carry water in it–our lives, our homes, and our bodies contain plastic. The ocean has a huge floating plastic pile. Firefighters must now wear respirators to keep safe from the toxic-by products of burning plastic.

This post is about plastic. I’m going to review the common types of plastic, compare it to paper, and focus in on plastic bags.

Both paper and plastic are polymers, or chains of chemicals. Paper is made from chains of sugars. Plastics are made from chains of various other chemicals–some natural and some not. Polymers are big flexible molecules. Your proteins and hair are polymers so just being a polymer isn’t in any way associated with being synthetic.

In the US, about 33 million tons of plastic is discarded each year, about 13% of the waste stream. By comparison, paper and cardboard make up 35% of our solid waste. However, over half of all paper and cardboard are recycled. In Europe over 70% of paper products are recycled. Making paper is a dirty process. Recycling paper is an easy process and if not heavily inked, paper can be composted. As for plastics, we have a ways to go before they are commonly recycled–less than 10% are recycled and about 8% are burned for energy. When recycled, plastic can be remade into everything from furniture to clothing but it is a dirty process often done in low income neighborhoods. However, it does save energy compared to making new plastic.

Here’s a by-the number run down of the most commonly used plastics:

#1 PETE (polyester, polyethelene terephthalate) is what water and other drink bottles and containers for take-out food items are usually made from. It can cause hormone disruption and bacteria like to grow on it. These bottles are not meant for re-use. They are the most recycled plastic item. About 31% of plastic bottles are recycled. 

#2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene). The most commonly used plastic, it is not particularly toxic but it is flammable. Seen in the photo below of a bag that comes from the local farmer’s market (along with my book that I’m trying to promote.) #2 is found in jugs and consumer product bottles and the light weight plastic bags that are a focus of this blog post.

This bag is an example of HDPE. And look for Book 2 in this series to contain plenty of information about plastic.

#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is found in pipes, plastic wrap, shower curtains, blood bags and medical tubing, siding, window frames, toys and a host of other things. Vinyl is made from a carginogenic material and releases toxic fumes when burned. In fact, every stage of the life of a vinyl product is toxic. 

#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) is the sturdier version of #1. It contains more branched areas and fewer long polyethylene chains so it is sturdier. A few studies have hinted that it might leach a chemical that is toxic.

Thicker bags from specialty stores are often #4. This one is from the Lego store. (Legos are made from a form of styrene known as ABS.) My book is in the photo for promotional purposes. Looking for a fast and fun summer read? “Haustein Mixed In” at your favorite store.

#5 Polypropylene is used for containers for things such as carpets, Playdough, yogurt, butter, margarine, and cottage cheese. It’s used to make sandwich bags and sand bags. It can leach chemicals but not to a large extent.

#6 Polystyrene such as found in foam cups, meat trays, and some plastic forks, knives, and spoons is one of the worst plastics. It leaches styrene and other harmful compounds such as benzene.  I can taste these things when I drink of out styrene. ABS styrene plastic as found in Legos, phone cases, and highchairs is considered safe.

#7 Polycarbonate makes up water bottles and baby bottles and some food storage containers. This plastic is controversial because of the bisphenol-A content. This plastic can release endocrine disruptors when headed and after many washings. Plastic additives such as BPA and DEHP can be toxic and cause behavior and prostate problems. Fast food containers–often made from #7–are a rich source of this unhealthy compound. Most plastic bags are free of these dangerous additives.

The rule for storage of chemicals is “glass for organics, plastics for inorganic.” Thus, things such as minerals are stored in plastic because minerals are attracted to glass. Things that are organic, as in our food, blood, etc, are stored in glass because tiny plastic molecules are found in substances stored in plastic. As a scientist, I won’t use a plastic pipet to dispense anything organic. I always use a syringe. I’m considered old school in this but I get better and more consistent results sticking with the no plastic for organics rule. Thus, at home, I store in glass as much as I can and don’t cook with carbon-baed plastics. I even have a stainless steel kettle to heat water and pour over my coffee into a glass carafe.

On to plastic bags:

We don’t curbside recycle plastic bags here in Pella. They must be brought back to retail stores for recycling. I called Midwest Sanitation and asked them why this is. The answer is simple: they get caught up in the machinery.

Most plastic bags are made from polyethylene. These plastics are chains made from a natural compound released by ripneding fruit–ethylene. As far as dangerous chemicals are concerned, plastic shopping bags are not as harmful as  vinyl and polystyrene and don’t contain the dangerous additives found in polycarbonate. However, they are  dangerous in other ways.

  1. They suffocate aquatic life and raise nitrate levels The bags smother the sediments of a water ecosystem and keep away  oxygen. Ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels double in a bag-infested river or lake bottom due to microbial imbalance. The bags change the microbiome. Some microbes now have developed the ability to eat the plastic but no one is sure that the by-prducts produced are healthy.
  2. Plastics can harbor bacteria. Bacteria sticks to plastic in what is called a biofilm. Plastics can harbor more bacteria than a cotton bag, although you should wash your cotton bag frequently as it will harbor bacteria and is more prone to mold.
  3. They create clutter!  One study said that the average household in Great  Britain had 40 plastic bags! Not to be outdone, the average American family will take home 1,500 bags per year.
  4. They create garbage–100 billion are thrown out every year in the United States. Ten percent of solid waste is plastic bags. The main problem with plastic bags is their sheer number. Most are used once, or perhaps twice when they are used to line a wastebasket.  Only 3-10% of these bags are recycled, making them one of the planet’s most prevalent and wasteful items. Within the next 30-40 years, plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean.
  5. They are a money drain. Some sources say that the world spends a trillion dollars a year on these bags, then we pay to have them cleaned up. In California, twenty-five million dollars a year is spent cleaning up plastic bags–LA spends 4 million alone. Plastic is the most common type of waste in our Great Lakes. Although the bags themselves cost pennies, each can cost up to 19 cents per bag to recycle, dispose of, and clean up. Most often, the taxpayer foots this bill.
  6. They kill wildlife. “Tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals and turtles are killed every year from plastic bag litter in the marine environment as they often mistake plastic bags for food.” Some estimates go as high as a million wildlife deaths per year. And since a plastic bag can last for up to 1000 years, one bag can kill, be released, and kill again.
  7. They use oil. The plastic bags used in the US require 12 million barrels of oil each year.
  8. They break down into tiny particles known as microplastics. These can be found on every shoreline and are so small that water filters don’t remove them!

In summary, plastic bags won’t poison you but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trouble. Plastic bags are cheaper to make and produce less energy than paper bags, making paper bags a difficult alternative. What’s the solution? Reusable bags. Each reusable bag can replace hundreds to 1,0000 of disposable plastic bags.  That’s more money in your pocket and less plastic in your drinking water. One source says that the “break-even” point for a reusable bag is 27 uses.

Meanwhile, I’ll not reuse PETE water bottles or containers, let the kids use plastic cups etc on occasion, and we’ll enjoy the vinyl pool–followed by a nice shower. And when fall comes, there will be a reason to drain the pool, put away the spandex swimsuits, and move on to other things. As for those old vinyl toys I had stored in the basement and attic: I threw most of them in the recycle bin after writing this. That’s less mess and less to catch on fire or leach hormone-like chemicals. If this post doesn’t inspire you to use cloth bags, perhaps it will prompt decluttering. As I am thinking about it, the best solution is simply consuming less.



Death Takes a Dog

beanie copySabrina came from the stray dog shed at the vet’s. She was next up to be put down and when my son bent down to look at her in her cage, she put her paw on the wire. He had to have her. He named her after a song.

She was not yet a year old but full grown, meek and anorexic. That soon changed. A new home and plenty of strokes on the couch transformed her into a joy machine filled with enthusiasm that never let up. She was reliably happy and hungry.

She adapted to my rhythm. She was a lark and my morning company. The cheerfulness of the dog kept me going many times. New studies have come out about how much emotional burden some family members–usually the alpha female–carry for the rest. This dog carried some of my burden by making sure that each day had some measure of spunk. She also worked–she caught mice and kept the squirrels and rabbits at bay.bina 2016loveyou

She was far from perfect. As one person observed, she wore her eyeliner thick and dark. For example, when my daughter baked a cake and put it in a cake stand on the table, this beagle sized dog somehow got it down and ate half of it. She also ate a pound of raw meat and got sick all over, requiring us to get new carpet in the spare bedroom. And when my mom was in the hospital at Christmas and I was trying to serve dinner for the rest of the family to keep tradition going, Sabrina snapped a turkey bone from a child’s generous hand and needed a doggy Heimlich. 

Her legs were strong and so are mine. A year ago she was walking miles with me, and six months ago, a mile, and then around the block, and then around the yard, In the end, I carried her. She couldn’t even walk.  At first, she struggled to be normal again, but then, we resigned ourselves and I took care of her.

A month ago, when she was sixteen,  I woke up to joy, for she was alive to greet me. We’d taken her to the vet the week before. She wasn’t walking, wasn’t eating. Her heart was still strong and we decided not to give up just yet. The vet thought it was something neurological, perhaps inner ear, and prescribed some steroids and antibiotics. They didn’t work. It was hopeless and so each new day when she was still with me, I celebrated. I’d come home from work and there she was, her eyes glistening as she looked up from her pillow. It was as it had been when she was a puppy, sprung from the pound, and each day she couldn’t believe that she had a family. Only now it was me in happy disbelief.

As time dictates, I lost her. This once vibrant creature so filled with joy was released to the universe. I still miss her and her crazy ways. I am trying to tell myself that things are on an even keel for me and the dog I have left. He’s over his mourning–she’d acted as a mother to him. I suspect he’s enjoying being the only dog. There’s far less dog poop to pick up, less expense, and I can sleep in–nobody is eager to start the day with me. I can travel more easily. I have one less thing to worry about. There will never be a beagle, mini pin, corgi mix to replace Sabrina. Why do I keep looking at puppies and telling myself that my next novel needs a puppy and I must get one for research?



18402608_10155102402081328_7590801167632526513_nOne last photo!


What to do with Swiss Chard


If you are in a CSA or, as I am, friends with an organic farmer, you might find yourself in possession of a large amount of Swiss Chard. There’s plenty of it at farmer’s markets, too. This bitter vegetable is packed with Vitamins A, C, and K and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. Vitamin A is associated with skin health. Vitamin C is touted as a preventative for maladies associated with aging and also for cancer. The minerals in Eating Swiss Chard contribute to bone health. Swiss Chard can lower blood pressure. It’s a great addition to your diet. But what can you do if you don’t really like it? My answer for this is: put it in a smoothie. Here’s how I “got rid of” a large sash of Swiss Chard.

Swiss Chard Smoothie

six-ten leaves of swiss chard

one sweet potato–cooked

one banana

2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

One half carton of oat milk

2 tablespoons protein powder–I used egg protein.

ice to fill the rest of the blender


This was amazingly good. Now I can’t wait to get more Swiss Chard.

A disclaimer–too much Vitamin K can excessively thin your blood and Vitamin A in huge doses can be toxic. As with anything, moderation is the key. This smoothie should keep you from reaching for your daily vitamin and add phytonutrients to your diet.

More recipes here.


An Interview with The Hexagon of Alpha Chi Sigma

Alpha Chi Sigma is a professional society for chemists. One thing that I like about them is that they honor chemistry’s alchemical roots. They even have a cool coat of arms.


Do I consider myself part alchemist? Of course I do! Alchemists developed many of the “wet” chemistry techniques we use today including precipitation, sublimation, and distillation. Yes they added prayers and chants to their formulas but I’m sure many students today do likewise. Possible the chants might include curse words. The truth about chemistry is that it is a discipline that requires some seasoning, some experiences, some sort of unmeasurable history with the techniques. Chemistry honors the ancients. The more time you spend with it, the easier it becomes.

I was recently interviewed for the AXE magazine, The Hexagon. I appreciated the opportunity to share my experiences as a scientist and an author. In fact, I thank everyone who has read my writing, everyone who has encouraged me, and all who have left positive reviews.

Here’s a transcript:



(1) Describe your projects. I have two novels published by small presses. Natural Attraction came out in 2015. It’s a comedy about Clementine, who longs to be a scientist in 1871. She drinks a tonic which helps her partially transform into a man and takes part in a prospecting expedition as a naturalist. Mixed In—a comic dystopia– just came out this month. It features Catrina, a chemist in the agricultural industry, who gets mixed up with a man on the wrong side of the law.

(2) Describe your motivations. Besides wanting to entertain people, I’m responding to a lack of interesting scientific characters in fiction. Must scientists always be anti-social side characters obsessed only with their work? Can’t the female scientist be adventurous, flawed, and get the guy now and then?

(3) Why do you think these topics are important? Science has enriched our lives and yet people have this fear of it and even a disregard of scientists, seeing them as walking brains and not as real people with normal wants and needs. I admit that my characters are quirky and maybe even nerdy at times but they have the same desires and the same problems at work as many people along with loads of passion and curiosity. They even have friends and care about humanity.

(4) What sort of distinctive twist do you bring to the discourse? I don’t shy away from having my protagonists deeply involved in plausible science. I also bring in social issues that scientists and women in particular face as they struggle to balance all of their desires. I must admit that the novels are also a little naughty. They’re not erotic but they are aimed at an adult audience. To add to the mix, I’ve made them comedies because science plus tragedy was done well-enough in 1816 with Frankenstein. Of course things go wrong in my novels but I’m hoping to demystify science, not make it dreadful.

(5) Any connections to your AXE experiences? In Natural Attraction Clementine gets her tonic from and later becomes close friends with chemist Theophrastus. Yes, there is a chemical basis for all that happens with that tonic but maybe a little romantic alchemy was involved as well.

(6) Other reflections on AXE to share. One of the first things I ever published was a monologue called I the Great Paracelsus based on the writings of Paracelsus. It was even performed at a conclave. I am a lot richer as a chemist due to my understanding of chemical history and I still have connections with Alpha Theta. My publishers are small and I’m not on the New York Times best seller list but if any brothers want more information on fiction writing or publishing I’d be happy to offer my advice. They can contact me at hausteinc@gmail.com or through my blog at catherinehaustein.com.






Sunscreens Exposed

You may think of the sun as a Goddess or a God or consider it just a ball of gas but it makes sense that humans have worshipped the sun as a giver of life. Summer is a time to boost Vitamin D levels through sun exposure. Reduced sun exposure and pollutants have resulted in a pandemic of vitamin D deficiency across the globe. Here is more information on Vitamin D and all the reasons you need it. The diagram below shows how it is made. See how it involves your liver? Drunk in the sun is not a good combination if you want to take advantage of the sun’s health boosting properties.

Diagram from Harvard Medical

But everyone knows that too much sun exposure can cause skin damage and even skin cancer. Thus, if you are out in the sun for more than fifteen minutes-an hour in the summer, using sunscreen is advised. Sunscreens can work by either absorbing or blocking ultraviolet radiation–which has an energy of less than x-rays but more than visible rays. Some of the molecules used in sunscreens are synthetic carbon-based compounds.Others, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxides are inorganic or “mineral.” I prefer these as being less stinging to my eyes.  Here is a nice overview of the chemistry of sunscreens.

Sunscreen is not benign. Side effects can include rashes, itching, and skin irritation.  Retinol based sunscreens can harm sun-exposed skin. In fact, retinol based skin products should only be used at night and even then, sparingly as they can build up and become toxic!  They might even contribute to bone loss.

Benzophenone containing sunscreens are associated with endometriosis.

Some forms of titanium oxide have been found to damage skin. Zinc oxide applied in excess could penetrate the skin and cause an overdose.  Nanoparticles provide better coverage but could be more toxic or harmful to the digestive system than regular sunscreens if they are eaten. They also pose a danger to aquatic life. 

Don’t depend on sunscreen too much. Some sunscreen manufactures cheat to get their high  SPF ratings and add anti-inflamatories and pain relievers such as benzocaine to their products. You might not feel or see a sunburn but the damage has still been done.

My tactic for sun blocking is to use a combination of zinc based sunscreen, make-up, clothing, and a hat. As with most anything, a variety of approaches is best. The good news is that the Vitamin D you create will be stored in your fat for later use. The bad news is, it probably isn’t stored more than a few months so you can’t just bank on that summer tan all year long. Also, once your body has produced its maximum, more Vitamin D won’t be made. In fact, some studies say that the best course of action is to alternate time in the sun with time away from it.

What’s up and coming in the sunscreen game? Soy based sunscreens, sunscreens made from fish slime and algae or coffee and papaya,  and a paper that changes color to signal when you should get out of the sun are all being developed. I’m looking forward to trying all of these new products and to enjoying some sun worship–in moderation.

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Life with Parkinson’s

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My Dad always said that when he was reduced to riding a three-wheeled bike, it would be time for him to throw in the towel. If he had been able to ride a three-wheel bike for the last seven years of his life, we would have rejoiced. Instead, he lived in a care facility. He was unable to walk or care for himself. You see, he’d had Parkinson’s disease for the past twenty-five plus years.

The cause of his Parkinson’s was unknown. Before that he’d been healthy and fit. He joined a genetic study on the disease and no genetic markers were found. It only confirmed what his mother had proudly declared as her heritage–British with a touch of Scandinavian and doses of Irish & French, and a big helping of Western European. He blamed his love affair with pesticides although it should be noted that he also played football. He’d been an athlete and even a coach.

He fought off his symptoms with exercise. Medications were able to control his tremors. Most of his life with Parkinson’s was happy and fairly normal. He even got a hole in one–his second–after his diagnosis. The most frustrating aspect of the disease progression was that his voice became barely audible and his handwriting unreadable.When my mother passed away three years ago, so did his ability to engage in conversation. Never a talkative man, he became someone who mostly listened.

He got weekly visits from his great-grandchildren. They ate ice cream together. They played with toy cars. We made sure visits were special by having a drawer of toys that included Silly Putty–something banned at home–in Dad’s room.IMG_4267.JPG

He died in his sleep at the age of 88. The months before had been happy ones. He had a lasagna party for his birthday. By Easter he was having trouble swallowing so we had a malted milk party. The first week in May brought a former student to visit and push him around town in his wheelchair.  (I always looked at wheelchair pushing as a great way to work out my arms, by the way and a RAV 4 is a great car for wheelchairs–kind of low and lots of room in the back.)

After his death I looked through photos of him. I noticed one thing–he looked happy in all of them even if he did have a bit of the Parkinson’s mask face. He was happy! The point of my post is this: you can be in a wheelchair, barely able to speak, and you can still find joy. You can still savor life. You can give and receive love.

I don’t just want to remember the man with the disease. That’s not fair to history. But damn, that guy was brave, persistent, and uncomplaining. And yes, even happy. The purpose of this post is to tell anyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s that it doesn’t have to steal your joy.