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.

Image from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/97/ca/86/97ca866611bfb929c0d4fd6c20170c7a.jpg

Life with Parkinson’s

dad ahppy

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.


2017 Iowa Legislature Saves Plastic Bags

This past session, the Iowa Legislature banned banning plastic bags in the state.  Yes, Iowa is now a pro-plastic bag state and cities are not allowed to ban them. I am not sure  why a state would forbid banning plastic bags. I wrote to my state representative and asked him for some explanation. So far, no answer.

Plastic bags came about in the 1960s and their use skyrocketed in the 80s and 90s.  The ANS Plastics company claims that they make a good proportion of these bags in the US. AEP Industries is another player in the bag market.  Are these companies in Iowa? No. New Jersey. So we can’t say that we are protecting our state’s economy with this ban. Or can we? I dug a little further. We have prisoners make plastic bags here in Iowa. There’s a small company that makes them as well. However, the pesky things are expensive. The average grocery store spends between $1,500-$6,000 per month on them and passes the costs on to us.

A group called ALEC was allegedly behind the bag ban ban. They say it is anti-consumer to ban plastic bags. VP Mike Pence is in favor of forbidding plastic bag bans. ALEC has not gotten its way in all places–cities such as Los Angeles and Dublin, Ireland have done away with plastic bags. In fact, they have recently been banned in all of California. Some countries such as England tax the bags.

So why do places wish to ban them? Many who ban them cite their ugliness. Iowa is filled with them flying on fences as if they are the state flag. They can strangle wildlife. They plug sewers. They release toxins into our water.

baby otter trapped in a bag

A recent study even says that they diminish oxygen in marshes, harming the aquatic animals by suffocating them even if they don’t become ensnared. They keep algae from producing chlorophyll. It doesn’t matter if the bags are pure plastic or biodegradable. They kill the life of the pond. They are then, anti-fishing.

Arlington,Massachusetts just voted to ban plastic bags. Journalist and writer Laura Kiesel –who has a Master’s degree in natural resources and environmental policy–explains the vote this way:

“Plastic bags are the single most common item on the planet and we use and dispose of 100 billion every year in the United States (to put that in perspective, that’s double the amount of plastic bottles). Here in Arlington, we use and throw out 1 million monthly. Plastic bags devastate marine ecosystems, killing well over 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles annually, while plastic waste is responsible for the endangerment of nearly 300 species. For those animals plastic bags don’t kill, their toxins enter their bloodstream and become part of the food chain, where they enter our own bodies and that of our children. Plastic bags have an extremely low recycling rate (<5%), while recycling the bags is actually an environmentally hazardous process that often takes place in low income communities here and abroad where they shoulder the health burden of our consumer choices. This is why we need to phase out these harmful bags in favor of more sustainable, equitable and humane options. The ban would cover plastic bags offered at points of purchase (checkout) only and has a long phase in period (well over a year) for small businesses. Paper bags would not be regulated.”

However, here in Iowa, it’s bags away! As things look now, global demand for plastic bags is increasing. Like them or not,  a lot more of these flags will be flying world-wide.

What I learned from the March For Science

I’ve always been torn in so many directions but inevitably find myself drawn back to science. You might ask why. The answer is–scientists themselves. Why do I love them–other than the fact that I don’t need to dress to impress? As this article states, they believe deep down that they are here to serve the people.I love that and I love to write about scientists…because they are kind-hearted and yet misunderstood. The perfect protagonists.

Here’s what the March for Science told me about them:

  1. They get to the point. Six speakers with evidence and data can deliver their messages in a half an hour, even when juggling their kids.
  2.  They don’t panic or run on raw emotion. They ned evidence. (Raw emotion makes me suspicious.)
  3. They ask big questions. They are curious and curious people are happy. Scientists believe in a better future.
  4.  They have solutions. And they want to help. and work towards the common good.  Not that they aren’t without their spats.
  5. Rejection of their logical solutions and misrepresentation of their data frustrates them.
  6. But they have a quirky sense of humor about it.
  7. And they persist.
  8. Lots are women.
  9. They are global thinkers-seeing the big picture first. This means that they are less likely than most to be nationalistic.
  10. They love kids and dogs.
  11.  They appreciate the arts.

It’s time to put an end to that mad scientist stereotype–unless the person is humorously angry about being misunderstood.

Hitting the road with dandelions

images-1Last week I walked to see a friend who was in the hospital. As I got closer to the place, the air had a sting to it and the sidewalks were covered with weed-killer infused pellets. Joggers dashed by me, kicking up pellets as they went.  The trail of pesticides went right to the front of the hospital. It looked as if some pellets had even been tracked in on the carpet. Lawn chemicals are associated with breast cancer and erectile disfunction. You thought I was making it all up in Mixed In. No, it’s all plausible. My unhealthy path to the hospital was Pella’s toxic push to get rid of dandelions. But the hospital is not the only place with killer values. Today I walked across a campus dedicated to sustainability.  A worker was apply lawn care products. He was wearing a mask and rubber boots but I wasn’t as I crunched across the sidewalk covered with materials that any chemist would call hazards. This green lawn look is way too costly health wise and financially. As one blogger points out, as a nation, we spend more on lawn care than we do many aspects of the national budget.  Face it, even Crayola doesn’t like dandelions. But they’re wrong, so wrong.

I’ve already written about the joys of dandelions. Now there’s more to love about these sunny flowers. They may be a sustainable source of rubber. Rubber that we use today comes from a tree Hevea brasiliensis-the rubber tree  -that grows exclusively in the hottest parts of the globe. Rubber plantations are forcing out native trees. Plantations use arsenic to control pests. Rubber production is nasty and we can’t grow rubber trees here. Bringing raw rubber to North American manufacturing plants is costly and contributes to global warming. Dandelions fit in perfectly with our climate. They are an exciting new possibility for agriculture. Tire manufacturers are already experimenting with dandelion rubber–particularly Continental Tires of Germany which has issued the following statement:

“In agricultural terms, dandelions are an undemanding plant, growing in moderate climates, even in the northern hemisphere, and can be cultivated on land not suitable for food production. This means that rubber production is conceivable near our tire factories, for instance, and the significantly shorter transport routes would also reduce CO2 emissions.”

Furthermore, we need to change our mindset about what our lawns should look like. We don’t want poison ivy or brambles, but a diverse lawn is a healthy one. As with most things sustainable and ecological, dandelions are an opportunity, not a threat. Within ten years, you could be riding the roads on dandelion tires and perhaps we will look at a beautiful lawn and see the diversity that belongs there.

Products that aren’t coming back

Lone Ranger - Atom Bomb ring
The Atomic Bomb Ring was given away free in Kix Cereal.

One would hope that we no longer celebrate nuclear warfare with a ring for children.


These conical hennin hats were worn after plucking out any forehead hairs to make the forehead look very high. I don’t see this trend returning although the thinning of eyebrows comes and goes. Here is a fascinating read about hennins.

Likewise, powdered wigs were worn by the nobility because some of them were bald and bald was considered bad.

It’s been 200 years. Powdered wigs probably aren’t coming back.

Dangerous public playgrounds will probably not make a comeback but in this climate of deregulation, perhaps…

You can buy this Witch’s Hat at Second Life Marketplace, but if you value your digits, you might not want to.
I loved teeter totters but kids flew off or banged their tailbone if their partners left when they were aloft.
I’m a chemist and it amazes me what people aren’t cautious about but I don’t know if family walks through a fog of DDT will ever be popular again.


Mercurochrome and other weird medical treatments are probably not coming back–especially the ones containing mercury. Leeches on the other hand, still have their champions.

Radium water anyone?

What other products do you think shouldn’t come back?

Novel Preferences

I’m developing the second book in the Unstable States series. Please take a moment to let me know what you like in a novel.