Un-happy trails

I live in a house soon to be 100 years old. I’m on a mission to fix her up for her birthday. I’ll tell you all her dirty secrets and how I dealt with them. Here is the first problem that I solved–more easily than you think–although it left me a bit traumatized. I hadn’t been vigilant and this easily solved crisis gave me activation energy to go on and do more to my house.

One thing that bothered me about this house was this wall in the basement. It had a seepy spot that looked as if poison was dripping in. I hated it. Here it is:

IMG_3382
Perhaps I was morose and staring at the walls, but I vowed to end this “drip” this summer. Little did I know what was causing it.

And it turned out to be much more than I thought it was. Dear readers, you know that I don’t keep the truth from you. The truth sent me into a tailspin. That’s not seepage; it’s a termite track. Yes indeed. A huge one, too. Where did these dirty  monsters go in my house? They went here, into my home office:IMG_3640

The good news is, I now knew both what had caused the “seepage” but also what had caused the “dryness” in the floor. The “dryness” popped up recently and was another “I vow to solve this immediately” mystery. Two problems identified in one conclusion! See the two gnawed away boards? Ugly isn’t it? The buggers ate right through the wood. But they stopped when they reached the other side of the wall–which is not oak but fir. Apparently, they love oak. Fir is less popular with them. Fir was used in kitchens because it is more water resistant. These were gourmet termites, thank goodness, and they went no further into the house but probably moved on to the closest woodpile outside.

Fortunately, at least here in the north, termites don’t eat a lot, are pretty easy to get rid of, and the chemicals used to eliminate them work in a fascinating way. No, there is no fumigation or tenting. The killer is contained in some bait that the termites drag back to their nest. They eat it and then you wait. The way that it kills them is that it makes them unable to molt. Then they die. This takes a while–four to six weeks. Mine took about a month to kill but the instructions that go with the bait says not to spray for bugs or disturb the home for 90 days to make sure they take the bait back to the nest. The bait is not toxic to things that don’t have exoskeletons. I had morbid fascination with checking it which isn’t good. It should be left undisturbed and in the dark–termites love the dark and damp. The bags were placed in the path of the termites. They make a little mud trail from the ground to your house. Once I knew what the mud trail looked like I watched it. Yes, I could see termites at times. Not that many but before the colony collapsed they looked as if they were crawling crazily. I was sure they weren’t dying out but had renewed vigor. I was wrong. The next day I didn’t see them and they have not returned.

The next step was to put out more bait around the house in case a new batch of the critters found my house as tasty as the last ones did.

Why am I confessing this? Because the pest control guy said that termites were all over in Pella and in Iowa. Yes. We are not as perfect here in Pella as it might seem. So if you see a brown trail in your basement or foundation, it’s not a happy trail. Believe me. It’s not. The good news is, it is less costly to get rid of termites than it is to replace a whole basement wall. Getting the tracks off of the wall took some elbow grease and a wire brush with TSP–just as if I was preparing the wall for painting. I then painted the wall for good measure. We have bait stations around the house and garage to fend of future termites. It looks as if there wasn’t much termite damage. Fortunately, this was a case where negative thinking got results. And if there is an invasion of outer-space aliens with eco-skeletons, I’m covered.

id4

Advertisements

Your Thoughts on Dystopias

I’m working away on a sequel to Mixed In.  The protagonist has made some choices that will get her into trouble. The society is absurd, unfair, comical, and dangerous if you don’t keep your nose clean.  There’s a crazy cast of characters. It will need to make a turn soon and I want your opinions. What do you like in your dystopias?

Opinion Needed

Natural Attraction is two years old and the cover is getting a make-over.  Here are three possible covers. Which one would tempt you to take a read?

Natural Attraction - High Resolution - Version 2bNatural Attraction - High Resolution - Version 2aNatural Attraction - High Resolution - Version 1

Feel strongly? Here is the link to the publisher’s site. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WM3YSRW

The Black Diary-a 60s childhood revisited

I found my diary from when I was twelve. It was written in a black day planner from an insurance company. Apparently I played outside a lot with my dog, cuddled my cat, and taught my parakeet to say “Here, Kitty Kitty.” I was the oldest of four kids–three girls and then a boy. I had to babysit and do all sorts of errands for my Mom, and I would buy plastic toys with the money I earned. My parents even had me babysit when they went to church. In one entry, my sister Lynn filled an empty aspirin bottle with water and we gave it to little brother Tom and talked him into drinking it. Then we told him it was poison and I got in trouble.

One thing I notice in my diary is that I was a little scientist even back then. I looked at things under my microscope and drew them. I studied the moon with my telescope, and I read comic books. Even now I think that my novels have a comic book feel to them. I was always making models. I made a mastodon model and the cat, Inky, could not stop batting at it and breaking it. I didn’t get too mad at her but went on to build a rudimentary computer and also a “visible pigeon.” What if society hadn’t let me be a scientist! My heart would have been broken.

But here is another little brother story that shows early on how my mind was working and thinking about chemicals and what they might do to people. He had/has three older sisters who would gang up on him. One time we put face cream on him. We–this has me written all over it–told him that it turned him into a girl. Then someone-probably not me–put a slip on him. He cried so I came up with a cream to turn him back into a boy. We got in trouble anyway. But later he got his revenge. Lynn had a favorite doll and Tom put a desk lamp on its head and melted it. This makes me think that it was Lynn who put the slip on him.

My grandparents had a horse farm and we visited every summer. Those were glorious times riding Jodi the quarter horse mare and playing in the barn unsupervised. There was a hired stable boy named Carl. One day we decided to play a prank on Carl and my cousin. We wrote a note to Carl saying that Bob had to help him clean the sables. It backfired because the cousin loved cleaning the stables and was really good at it. However, we did spend time spying on Carl and found his stash of Playboy magazines in the hayloft, which we read and discussed with zeal. No further mention of Carl after that but in retrospect, a few years later my sisters later wore jeans so tight that they pulled up the zippers with pliers. Here we are on the swing at the farm.farm swing

granny and hinga kids
The next year at the farm, granny, Penny, and the kids.

We had just moved to Pella, Iowa from Washington D.C. Pella had an abundance of crepe paper and the neighborhood kids decorated wagons with it and had parades–until the parents became annoyed and ordered us to stop. (I think it was the next summer where this turned into a penny carnival.)

I began to develop modestly and my mom bought me two bras. One was decorated with a strawberry and the other a butterfly. My sisters crept into my room when I was sleeping and tried to strip off my clothes to get a look at what was happening. They got in trouble.

When 7th grade started I walked home with a new friend. One day after we’d parted ways, someone, a kid, known only as John in my history, followed me and tried to touch me. According to the diary, I beat him up for trying. Undeterred, he tried it again the very next day and once again I “beat him up.” I have no memory on who this John was or what this touching was. He garnered no further mention. 7th grade was pretty wonderful. During health class the teacher tried to talk about “emotions” we would later have. There was absolutely no discussion of anything physical back in the day. Another girl and I kissed each other and said dirty things to get a laugh to break the confusion and tension we were all experiencing at this heavy moment. Somehow I still got an A in that class. But the very best and most telling of all was that I wrote a short story and read it in front of English class. Everyone laughed. Even Mrs. Wagamon. Following this, I was forever linked to and chasing that low art of comedy. Reading this diary reveals my deadpan humor. My fates were sealing at this tender age of twelve. Thank the stars it was all good for a laugh.

I never liked to be anything sweet for Halloween. My go-to consume was a ghost. But I was a big 7th grader now so I changed my style and dressed up as a demonstrator in a mini-skirt and white Go-go boots with black soles. I carried a sign that said “Hurray for the Great Pumpkin.” I wanted to change the world for the better but I wanted to be sexy and laugh too. Some people in Pella found Halloween demonic and scary.  They would turn off their lights and refuse to go to the door or open it and shout “I don’t believe in Halloween.”  This was a huge change from Washington DC (Rockville) where it was a big secular event and parents dressed up to give out candy. (I still live in Pella but there are things I don’t “get” about it as if I’ll never be truly from here. Halloween is not celebrated in the schools. There is a “fall festival” that involves no dressing up instead.)

That week-end, the neighborhood kids all decide that we weren’t done with Halloween yet. We made costumes by covering our faces with kerchiefs and pulling hooded sweatshirts over our eyes. We went door to door. My Mom gave us some peanuts but not all neighbors were so inclined. One Pella neighbor –weary of giving handouts–even told us to “Drop Dead.”

The next week I wore my Go-Go boots to school and got my first love letter from a boy named Larry. It said “Dear Gril, I like you. I hope you like me.” We all know that I am not the best speller or proof-reader in the world but the “gril” part overshadowed his good looks and I decided that I wasn’t old enough for a boyfriend.

In the diary I mentioned that I wasn’t old enough to wear nylons but did anyway because “who wants to be a weird-o?” These were not panty hose. They required a girdle to hold them on. I found fishnet stockings more to my liking and fishnets and Go-go boots were super cool. It sure was cold walking to and from school in that mini skirt and fishnets. (The diary notes that the temperature varied between -23 F in the winter to 101 F in the summer that year.) We had a dress code that said girls had to wear skirts and skirts had to cover the knee. When out of sight of the school I rolled mine up. My mom saw me walking like this and I got in trouble because I looked “too sure of myself.” I’m still processing that one.  Today I do all I can to avoid nylons. And dress codes.

The black diary ends “I will never forget you for you were my first diary.” The black diary is a window to the twelve-year old mind and since the sequel to Mixed In contains a roaming band of twelve-year old girls, it’s a bonanza. There’s a poignancy to it as twelve year old me navigates that world between being a kid and trying on grownup clothes and fearing those grown up emotions. My heart goes out to twelve year old me and to twelve year olds everywhere. I wish them all the best of life and hope I’ve done all I can to make the path ahead easier.

Sixteen Sweet Writing Tips from Madeleine L’Engle

Many readers are eagerly awaiting the release of the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time this coming March. When the novel was first released in 1963, the story of awkward Meg Murry who traverses time and space to rescue her scientist father wasn’t expected to be a big seller. It was in author Madeleine L’Engle’s words “peculiar” with its female protagonist in a dark science fiction novel for children. In the 1950s and early 1960s it wasn’t common for books for children to deal with things such as death and social conformity. Yet A Wrinkle in Time has sold continuously since its publication and won The Newberry Award despite mixed reviews when it was released. Madeleine L’Engle struggled to make a living writing and garnered thirty rejections for A Wrinkle in Time before it was published. She offers many tips for aspiring writers in her book Reflections on a Writer’s Life. Here are my sixteen favorites:

  1. Be disciplined. “The writer cannot write just when he feels like it or he won’t have anything to write with. Like the violin, he has to be constantly tuned and practiced.”
  2. On the other hand, when inspiration strikes, you must drop everything. “I not only burn dinner when I dash to the typewriter to set down just one more sentence. I’m also given excitement and enthusiasms far beyond the dignity of my position of somebody who’s past the half-century mark.”
  3. Expand your vocabulary. “The more limited our language is, the more limited we are…The more our vocabulary is controlled, the less we will be able to think for ourselves…the fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts. As our vocabulary expands, so does our power to think.”
  4. Study theater to learn about human nature. L’Engle’s husband was actor Hugh Franklin. (L’Engle was her mother’s maiden name.)
  5. Food is a great way to add sense detail to your fiction. In A Wrinkle in Time this takes the form of a liverwurst sandwich—one of her favorites.
  6. Don’t fall into the temptation of doing housework when you are alone. Write. Your family members can help you with the housework. They can’t write your fiction for you. Also, keep in mind that “the time our children are at home is a very short part of our lives” so plan for the long haul—you can write more when they and you are older.
  7. Don’t quit your day job. “For most writers it takes many manuscripts before enough royalties are coming in to pay for a roof over the head and bread on the table.” She said that she wrote at best at night and when she got up in the morning.
  8. We write best when we are in pain. “It is interesting to note how many artists have had physical problems to overcome, deformities, lameness, terrible loneliness…Those who have no physical flaw…seldom become artists.” (One of her legs was shorter than the other due to a childhood illness.) To writers she warns “if you feel you are called, then I can promise you great joy as well as conflict and pain.”
  9. You’ll be let down when you finish a novel. She compared the time after writing a book to post partum depression. “The great art of creativity is always followed by a sadness.”
  10. On the danger of being an artist: “The first people that a dictator puts in jail are the writers and the teachers because these are the people who have vocabulary, who can see injustice and can express what they feel about it.”
  11. On rejection: “Every rejection slip—and you could paper the walls with my rejection slips—was like the rejection of me, myself, and certainly of my amour-propre.” “I started writing A Wrinkle in Time at the end of a decade of nothing but rejections.” Writing opens yourself to criticism. If you write a book that says something, you will be criticized. Yet a book with nothing to say is meaningless. “If you write a book that pleases everybody, you’ve failed.”
  12. Your protagonist must have a choice to make. “A protagonist must not simply be acted upon, he must act, by making a choice, a decision to do this rather than that.”
  13. L’Engle warns that too much description of the protagonist will alienate the reader. In order to allow the reader to see the protagonist as an icon, don’t create a photographic reproduction in words.
  14. Stories must be believable. This doesn’t mean writing what exactly happened but by putting down “the truth I see.” Truth is more than a list of facts. Truth reflects the “human endeavor.” A good story helps answer the question “Who am I?”
  15. Keep a journal. Not only can you organize your thoughts this way, you can return to it to see how you felt at a certain age and in particular situations.
  16. Writing is not all about you. Writing is a “participatory event” between the author and the reader. “The one who reads…is equally creator with the person who sets down the words.”

 

A Wrinkle in Time inspired me to be a scientist-mom like Mrs. Murry and gave me the courage to buck society’s expectations for women. I’ve nevermore been able to accept lifeless female characters. For more thoughts on writing, read Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writer’s Life. (2001)IMG_3567

 

 

A Hoarder’s Guide to Sugars

IMG_3524-2
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. It’s even been linked to Alzheimer’s.  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?

IMG_3517
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.

 

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.

IMG_3415
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.

IMG_3417
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?

.

DSCF0319IMG_0496unnamed

18402608_10155102402081328_7590801167632526513_nOne last photo!

 

What to do with Swiss Chard

IMG_3402

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.