Archive for May 2010

UV Protection from Glass   Leave a comment

Today in the newspaper there was an article about skin cancer from sun exposure while driving. A recent study soon to be published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found a statistically significant percentage of skin cancers (especially malignant melanoma in situ) are on the left (driver) side of the body. Apparently windshields are typically made from laminated glass that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, but ordinary glass used in the side and rear windows only blocks UVB rays. Regular glass and low emissivity coatings used in homes to reduce heat loss or gain through the windows also don’t block UVA rays. Apparently UVA exposure contributes to risk of melanoma and UVB exposure contributes to risk of basal and squamous cell carcinoma.

I did know that UV rays could get through glass since they cause fading of anything placed in front of the window. But I had thought that low-e coatings reduced UV radiation through the window. As far as car windows, I have long had questions but had never followed up on them regarding the amount of UV radiation through a car window. I guess now I’ll be putting the sun screen on before I start a trip. I will also never again tease my husband for covering up his arms to protect his tattoos when he is in the sunny side of the car. As for daily driving, probably no changes, since I want to get my vitamin D and most of my daily driving is outside of the 10-4 window for dangerous sun exposure.

Posted May 31, 2010 by mayakey in health

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Making Scones   4 comments

I am embarking on a new journey today: regular scone making. I hope “regular” anyway. I used to buy a muffin at the farmer’s market every Saturday to eat before Mass on Sunday morning, but about a month ago I stopped getting the muffin as part of my pre-pre-pregnancy diet changes. The muffins were wrapped in basic food service PVC plastic wrap, so they had to go. (Plus it was $2 a week for something that was passable but not great or healthy.) I love scones, and they are easy to make, so they seemed like to best option when trying to start a new baking routine. (I hope the routine sticks, and I can eventually add bread, too.)

PVC is something to avoid for a multitude of reasons along the entire life cycle. It is made from vinyl choride, a known carcinogen, which means there is an elevated health risk to workers and residents near manufacturing plants. The manufacture of PVC also creates highly toxic dioxins, which deposit on plants including feed crops and food crops, and then enter into our food chain where they bioaccumulate. PVC often contains plasticizers like phthalates to make them soft and pliable (like clingy food wraps). Research on phthalates is not conclusive yet, but there are strong indications that phthalates contribute to birth defects in boys. And PVC is not recyclable. So PVC is a bad actor cradle-to-grave, and yet has become so pervasive in our society that it is pretty much impossible to avoid exposure. For years I have tried to avoid PVC, but as we prepare to start our family, that effort takes on a whole new urgency.

I know that reducing my exposure to phthalates now isn’t going to reduce my body burden significantly, which means that my baby will be born with a body burden. I figure that I can at least not make it any worse, though, hence the personal restrictions.

The send-off on this new scone making journey was successful. I made 50/50 whole wheat flour/white flour scones with chopped fresh apricots. They came out well (I had to test one while still warm from the oven of course), although at one point during the making I was a little worried. I have a tendency to make changes to recipes before I actually know what I am doing, and that’s really not a good idea. In this case I was using whole wheat flour in a white flour recipe and adding fresh fruit, but I didn’t know how to adjust the liquid amount accordingly. I look forward to more scone experiments; and maybe eventually I’ll figure out what I’m doing.

Posted May 29, 2010 by mayakey in food, frugal living, simple living

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Oil Drilling as an Environmental Justice Issue   1 comment

I suppose as an environmentalist I should be happy that the reaction to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico includes halting new drilling permits and plans to open new coastal areas to drilling. But on some level I’m a bit disturbed.

I am hopeful that a better and stronger regulatory structure will come of this disaster (it’s sad how loose regulation is on those pumping the oil considering how tight regulation is on those of us who clean up leaking gas tank sites). I am all for protection of sensitive habitats like coastlines. I have never supported drilling in Alaska, nor have I supported opening up new areas (like the California coast) to drilling. But a part of me worries that there is a NIMBY or environmental justice issue in the response to the spill.

Is it really OK for us in California to consume oil drilled off the coast of some of the poorest states in the US (Mississippi and Louisiana) but not drill on our coastline, which is relatively wealthy? Globally, what percentage of our oil supplies come from areas of the world that are less “developed”? To what degree do we consume petroleum-derived products while at the same time fighting against oil production that might impact our own lives?

These are questions that I’ve never considered before; and that disturbs me, too.

Posted May 28, 2010 by mayakey in environment

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Frustration in the Cereal Aisle   3 comments

One thing to know about being an organic/”natural” foods consumer, is that there is no room for brand loyalty, and you can never sit on your laurels. The problem is the fact that as the small organic/”natural” companies become popular within the niche market they become attractive to big conventional companies. The LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) market segment is one of the fastest growing in our economy (or at least it was, I don’t regularly keep track of market analyses), and of course established companies looking to increase their profits want to get in on fast growing markets. One way to do that is to buy up the popular brands in the market segment. Cascadian Farms, Toms of Maine, Ben and Jerry’s, Burt’s Bees, Barbaras, Santa Cruz Organic, Stoneyfield Farm, and Annie’s are examples of companies that have been bought by other entities. The way I see it, this is not always a bad thing. Colgate-Palmolive didn’t buy Toms of Maine because it was an unsuccessful company in a rinky-dink market but because it is a successful company in a growing market. It is a great way to expand the brand, and increase consumer exposure. The problem is if the company doing the acquiring also changes the mission or products of the small company, which is rarely if ever for the better. Consumers who buy a product because it contains no synthetic additives, or is organic, or whatever, may not even know at first when things change because they trust the brand. Hence why there is no room for brand loyalty in this market. The loyalty needs to be to the values that caused you to pick up that brand’s original product in the first place.

I’m on this rant because I’ve had it with the cereal aisle at Whole Foods. This may be the tipping point for me to start writing letters to companies rather than just not buying their products (or shopping at their stores) and being done with it.

The problem is sugar. I’ve been fairly successful over time at reducing my sweet tooth, and  a couple of years ago cereal became a problem because it was just too sweet. I was starting to be disgusted by cereal even as it was one of my favorite breakfasts. I decided to take a year off and not eat any cold cereal for a while. This year I was looking forward to having cold cereal breakfasts again when the weather warmed up because I really do love them. Unfortunately I’m not actually enjoying shopping for my breakfast cereal because I can no longer find my unsweetened cereals. They are all sweetened or flavored and disgusting.

Back in January on Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog I learned that Cascadian Farms had changed the recipe on their Organic Purely O’s to include sweeteners and other additives. At the time I just thought that it was an example of a brand being corrupted and just decided not to buy any more Cascadian Farms products (Cascadian Farms is currently owned by General Mills). But now that I’m actually shopping the cereal aisle again I am shocked by the changes. Barbaras has introduced some stupid flavored cereal, Annie’s Bunny Love (their version of O’s) is also sweetened, Kashi only has sweetened and/or flavored cereals, and I’ve realized that almost every single flake in the aisle is coated in sugar. The topper was yesterday when I wanted to buy Arrowhead Mills’ Shredded Wheat cereal and thankfully noticed that the picture on the box showed frosting. WHOLE FOODS ONLY HAD THE SWEETENED SHREDDED WHEATS!

I don’t want to just give up on cold cereal, but I can’t handle all that sugar in the morning. I find it disgusting. I need to take the time to do a detailed survey of the cereal aisle at Whole Foods to find all of my options there.  Am I going to have to start shopping for cereal at the regular grocery store (as opposed to Whole Foods) to get unsweetened cereals? That would be a wierd turn of events. (We already did that for milk when Whole Foods started selling the Organic Valley milk only as their 365 brand and we protested by buying our milk at Raley’s where it is still the real label.) I do think it is time to start writing complaint letters. I just hope it is not too late.

Posted May 24, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, conscious living, food, shopping

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Gargling Away A Sore Throat   2 comments

I’ve been down for the count the last couple of days with a cold. Well, technically I worked from home yesterday; and I had to go into the office today to receive a delivery (which I think set my recovery back by a day). This cold did provide me with an opportunity to try a new sore throat remedy and I am quite happy with it: a salt-honey-lavender gargle.

We’ve probably all grown up with the salt water gargle, it’s kind of one of those treatments that everyone knows. I found that sometimes it worked for a few minutes, but that was it. A few years ago I tried adding essential oils to the salt water gargle per my aromatherapy book. I didn’t really enjoy the taste of tea tree oil in my mouth and it didn’t seem to make a difference. The lavender oil did seem to make a difference and I didn’t mind the taste at all. It’s kind of a nice difference to have perfumy breath for a while. Also a few years ago I tried adding honey to the salt water gargle and I did find it soothing, but it was more work to create (opening up the honey jar, getting out a spoon, stirring until it dissolved) and went through spoons like crazy. But as of my birthday this year I have a honey pot so I no longer need to dirty a spoon to get a half teaspoon of honey, and I can easily add honey to anything.

I am now in love with the salt-lavender-honey gargle. While I still had nasal drip it would soothe the throat irritation until the next time I ate or drank tea, but after getting rid of the nasal drip one gargle took my throat from being very red and very painful to being almost normal again. Oh, one thing to note is that I did swallow some of the gargle on purpose so the lavender and honey could get maximum contact with throat tissue.

So today when my fingers didn’t hurt too much to sit at the computer, I decided to do some research.

Salt water gargle: Just seems to go under the category of “commonly accepted treatment” with no explanation of why it works. I did find a few theories for why it works, but apparently no one has confirmed anything (well I guess there’s no money in figuring out why it works). The first is that it cleans out the mucus coating the throat, and the second is that when using really salty water it removes water from the tissues through osmosis and thereby reduces the inflammation.

Honey: Most of the time when you see honey listed as a remedy for cold or sore throat it is in a tea because of it’s soothing properties. Again, I didn’t really find any confirmation on why honey is soothing. Maybe because of the beeswax? I have seen sources that say that honey does have some antibacterial properties, but most sore throats are viral.

Lavender oil: Lavender oil is an antiseptic and pain reliever and has anti-inflamatory properties. So no wonder it helps with a sore throat.

Posted May 20, 2010 by mayakey in health

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I Just Can’t Cut the Cord   4 comments

One of my goals for the first half of 2010 is to stop eating in front of the TV. It is part of a bigger goal of gradually cutting out most TV watching, so that when we have a baby I can go a couple of years without TV. The problem is, I’m failing; I’m failing badly. When our DVD/VCR broke months ago we had to give up our ability to record TV and that was actually a relief because it meant that I could start disengaging from CSI (my choir practice once a month is during CSI). I thought I was making progress weaning myself off the idiot box. However, I didn’t continue my progress by cutting out TV while stretching after my runs and eating, so I got myself hooked on NCIS instead (thanks to USA and three hours of reruns almost daily). And then Comcast forced us to get a digital cable box and now the VCR can record TV again. I am anguished to admit that I recorded a show today and I’ll do it again next week since my prayer group moved to Tuesday and NCIS is currently doing a very riveting story line.

Usually progress on my goals is kind of a “two steps forward, one step back” thing. I know that and I plan for that. I am not happy with two steps forward and two steps back. That’s not progress at all.

Posted May 18, 2010 by mayakey in goals

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Lawn Meadow   Leave a comment

I realized this weekend when I glanced out the front door that right now we have the kind of lawn that I could really love, the meadow lawn. Even better, the house immediately across the street also has a meadow lawn, so when I look out our front door I see these two areas of lush green with lacy grass seed heads and bright yellow flowers that are just so beautiful.

Meadowy lawns in fore and background

I’m not really a lawn person. I like functional expanses of grass, things like playing fields, and I don’t care for non-functional expanses of mowed near-monocultures of grass. All of the benefits of a lawn that just sits there can be provided by other vegetation, and the other vegetation have the added benefit of looking nice. I just do not see the aesthetic attraction of large expanses of non-functional grass.

Closeup of front lawn with flowers

This is the end of my sixth year renting here, and I’ve had to put up with a conventional lawn the entire time. Our original landlady had a lawn service who cut the grass way too short, and if I didn’t water it enough to keep it green all summer, she would (and she would waste a lot more water doing so). This spring our third landlord apparently didn’t realize that we have not been doing our lawn care and at first I didn’t care to enlighten them since I liked the lush growth. Eventually it got too much and there were woody stemmed weeds growing. I pulled out the woody weeds and shortly after that the property manager mowed (not too short, yay!) when they put the other half of the duplex up for rent. It’s now been several weeks and the lawn has fully recovered from that drastic mowing.

Lawns with flowers in fore and background

I confess that I was feeling kind of bad about the lawn before this weekend. Looking at it from the perspective of the commuter I was comparing it to some of the “well-groomed” lawns on the block and thinking it was starting to look raggedy. I didn’t see the beauty from my car. I didn’t see the beauty until I enjoyed a moment of relaxed quiet on a weekend, hearing birds chirping all around me and seeing the seed heads and flowers waving gently in the breeze. Then I realized that I had been missing a gem, probably the only gem I’ve experienced in this house since the side yard was devastated (a whole new story).

Posted May 16, 2010 by mayakey in home, simple living

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Conscious Driving   Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a little while, and I think I’ll do it now to assuage my guilt. Early this past week I accidentally ran a red light. It was one of those mid-block pedestrian cross walk lights that is never red, and unfortunately I was just scanning the road within my headlights and not looking ahead so by the time I realized the light was red it was too late for me to stop. Since I was scanning the road I know that there were no cars pulling out of parking lots or pedestrians crossing, so it’s kind of a “no harm, no foul” situation. But I’m a good girl and I feel horrible about it. So a reminder to myself and all of us follows. (Warning: long post)

Conscious driving starts with not taking it for granted. So many of us have driven every day for years and we have long ago taken it for granted. We forget that we are in a machine that weighs hundreds of pounds moving at inhuman speeds with blind spots all around us. We get into our cars in a hurry, backing up while still buckling our seat belts, and then we proceed to use cell phones or eat or talk or read or daydream while driving. We stare blankly at the car in front of us and play Simon Says with its break lights. We speed and change lanes in front of people without signaling or even making sure that there is actually room in the lane. Stop. Remember what it felt like the first time you got behind the wheel of a car. I doubt I was the only person intimidated by the power and danger inherent in the machine. Remember diligently applying the lessons learned in driver’s ed? Use your blinkers to signal a turn or lane change. Drive the speed limit. Watch your mirrors and the road out in front of you. Don’t tailgate; leave a couple car lengths out in front of you. Check your mirrors and dashboard before you put the car in drive (or reverse). Follow all traffic laws.

Conscious driving goes beyond the lessons from driver’s ed. It requires actually devoting your attention on the task of driving. Be Conscious. When I drive I try to focus on driving and being conscious of myself, my car, and the road and traffic around me. For me that means: Not daydreaming or spacing out (especially difficult in evening rush hour). Sitting straight in my seat with good posture. Keeping my body relaxed (or at least not tensed up). Loosely gripping the steering wheel at the 10&2 position (although I understand that because of airbags it’s supposed to be 9&3 now; which is really uncomfortable for me). Driving shoeless so that I can really feel the pedal and the car’s vibrations under my foot. Regularly checking my speedometer and fuel efficiency screen. Thinking about speed and drag and adjusting my windows accordingly as my speed changes. Keeping my eyes scanning the road right in front of me, the car in front of me, the car in front of it, the road out as far as I can see in front of me, the cars to my sides, my rear view mirror, and my driver’s side mirror (I don’t use the passenger side mirror much unless I’m changing lanes or backing up because I feel like my eyes are off the road for too long). Watching the brake lights and traffic signals up ahead and reading traffic to predict what is going to happen next. Not riding my pedals but coasting up to a stop, taking my foot of the gas as soon as the car two cars (plus or minus) in front of me starts to break. Driving my comfortable speed for the conditions (yes, sometimes that is even slower than the posted speed limit). Paying attention to light levels and precipitation. Remembering when rain just starts that the road is especially slippery since the residual oils on the asphalt slick on top of the water. Turning on my headlights (not parking lights) when the light is dim or there is “weather”. (Living in Sacramento I am astounded by the number of people who drive at high speeds in fog with no lights. Really?! Remember that the headlights aren’t necessarily to help you see, but to help you be seen from the front and rear.) Etcetera…

Obviously I’m not perfect, not even close, when it comes to conscious driving. I think I’m around 50%, but it’s really hard to be objective.

Some things that are, in my experience, antithetical to conscious driving include hurrying, eating or carrying food, and sometimes having passengers. When I am in a hurry my focus is on getting to my destination quickly, which means that I am driving for speed not for safety, and I am not adjusting my driving for the conditions around me with the same skill. As for food, I would never eat something that is not finger food while driving, but even finger food can be distracting. I have a hard time not looking down if I drop a cracker or french fry, for example. And when I have food traces on my fingers I am hesitant to grip the steering wheel to turn properly. Also, if I have some open item, even a casserole dish for the potluck at work, or any other fragile item in the car I tend to have it on my mind at all times and if affects my ability to break or take turns properly because I become concerned about the item flying around in the car. The problem with passengers is that passengers generally mean conversation. Now, I talk to myself in the car all the time and I don’t think that it affects my concentration. Same with listening to the radio. I find that listening to the radio actually helps me to focus on driving because it is background noise the occupies the back of my mind, reducing the chances of drifting off on a daydream. It is easy to tune the radio out in a heartbeat if needed. Talking to myself is a way to let thoughts come and then go without grabbing my attention (I ramble when I talk to myself). And when something happens that grabs my focus, the self-conversation is over and forgotten. When I am talking to someone else, though, it is embarrassing to drop a sentence mid-word and I find myself focusing after the incident on trying to recapture the thought.

Posted May 14, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living

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Life is either a daring adventure or nothing   Leave a comment

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.

Helen Keller

Posted May 13, 2010 by mayakey in quotes

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Safe Chemicals Act Announced   1 comment

I’ve been remiss in not publicizing the announcement of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, which would work to close the loopholes in TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) that allow thousands of new chemicals to be developed and put into use by the public without safety testing. I haven’t read the full text of the new bill yet, but considering how strongly I feel that the Precautionary Principle needs to be codified to reduce our exposures to thousands of chemicals that contribute to health problems, and the initial support that the bill is receiving from organizations that I trust like Environmental Working Group, I think that this is probably something worth supporting. When I find the time I’ll be reading the text and trying to stay up-to-date on its progress through both House and Senate. For now if you want to read the text, go to Senator Lautenberg’s press announcement for the summary and links.

Posted May 11, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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