Greener Gift Review: A (Delish) Fungus Among Us

IMG_5976When my brother (aka, “the brotherman,” as he likes to say) delivered a mushroom farm as a Christmas gift, I was suitably intrigued. It’s a completely easy winter gardening project for the kitchen counter, and Maya was fascinated. It practically grows while you watch! Best of all, the results are delicious.

It’s also a fairly eco-friendly gift and uses recycled coffee grounds, although some plastic is involved. The bag for the mycelium is plastic, there is a plastic “humidity tent,” and they include a handy small plastic spray bottle, which could be used to mist plants around the house when the toadstools are all gone. It would not really be difficult to imagine a paper-based version of both the bag and tent, at least.

IMG_5876Specifically, the kit grew elm oyster mushrooms, and was from the whimsically named 100th Monkey Mushroom farm, sold at an Austin farmer’s market (they promise their on-line store is coming soon). They are also available from a number of other places, such as these for portabellos and pearl oysters (those are also sold here). Prices are in the low 20-dollar range per “farm.”

The process is simple. You cut a plus sign into the bag, and keep it misted under the humidity tent for 7-10 days.

We made a mushroom risotto, which, we later decided, was not the best use of such delicately flavored ivory shrooms. Portabellos, which I’ve used often, would be instead the stand-by choice for that sort of heavier dish.

I made a basic risotto with thyme and oregano, and added a generous splash of vodka to the base in lieu of wine. A trick learned long ago is to pay real attention to the quality of the stock and to keep it simmering nearby on the stove, so it’s at temperature when added. For even more wholesome fare, you might want to try Marc Bittman’s recently published brown rice risotto recipe.

IMG_5986 IMG_5989 IMG_5997Because I can’t get enough of fungiculture (a real word), now I’m trying for a second “flush” of mushrooms, by drying and then soaking the bag. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you have risotto recipes or others that would work well for the second batch of elm oysters, please let me know!

 

Merry Christmas! And a Winter Wonderland of Crafts

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It almost snowed today! At least, we got a few half-hearted flurries. Which fit wonderfully with our latest crafty ventures — winter wonderland painted creations. The supplies are simple, the options endless, and — most important — the toddler happy.

We whipped up three crafty projects using more-or-less the same materials: a few pieces of holiday-colored construction paper, some white tempera paint, and silver glitter. Life is just better with glitter, despite the fact I couldn’t really figure out what the sparkle is made of …anyway, even I sometimes think you just have to go for it.

For all these little adventures, the first step is to decorate four construction paper pages (2 pages of red, and 2 of green) with patterns in thick white paint. I did spots and stripes; Maya preferred a more abstract appearance. No matter, it all looks like snowy loveliness.

The “beads” for the garlands are excellent, easy lacing beads for a toddler — especially one, like Maya, who still needs help with regular lacing beads and their smaller holes.

Of course, no holiday theme needed. If you’re feeling like doing less, no reason not to just snip the cardboard rolls into pieces (covered with construction paper or not, as you like) and let the toddler draw on them with crayon, and them lace them onto whatever’s handy for a ribbon.

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What you’ll need for the basic supplies:

  • 2 pieces of red and 2 pieces of green construction paper
  • White tempera paint (I did not use “eco” paint, as the consistency is critical, but did use Crayola “non-toxic” paint)
  • Brushes (small ones — like those in a watercolor set — are fine)
  • Craft glue (I like this one, which claims to be less toxic and safer than most)
  • Decently sharp scissors

Project 1:  Garlands and ornaments

In addition to the above, to make a “garland” you’ll need:

  • Paper towel or toilet paper rolls
  • Ribbon for lacing

To make the garland, paint on the 4 pieces of construction paper with the white paint and let dry.

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Cut to size and glue the paintings onto the cardboard rolls, then let dry.

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Once dry, using the pointed end of sharp scissors, cut through to make “beads” of about an inch each. Cut your ribbon and let the toddler string ’em up! (See image at top.)
To make the “ornaments,” you’ll need:
  • A steady hand for cutting shapes or cookie cutters in holiday shapes
  • Silver glitter

To make the ornaments, trace and cut out — or just freehand — the shapes as you like.

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Paint with white paint and decorate with glue and glitter.

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Cut a small hole and hang from a ribbon, tied with a bow. String onto your garland, if you or your tiny artistic visionary would like.

Project 2: Easy holiday cards

In addition to the basic supplies above, to make these you’ll need:
  • Glue pen (I used this one, from my pal Martha Stewart, which was just ok)
  • Silver or gold glitter
  • White cardstock or all-blank cards from a craft store

To make the cards, paint on the 4 pieces of construction paper with the white paint and let dry. (Note: our 4 pieces were enough to make all of these projects.)

Next, cut a simple holiday shape from the painted paper and fold the white cardstock into a “card.” I used a very basic Christmas tree, cut to fit nicely onto the “card.”

Arrange and glue onto front of card. Using the glue pen, decorate with messages and glitter as you like.

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Project 3:  Holiday door or wall hanging

In addition to the basic supplies above, to make these you’ll need:
  • Ivory felt (we used a piece about 1 1/2 feet square)
  • Silver or gold glitter
  • Glue pen or small-tipped glue bottle
  • Narrow ivory silk ribbon
  • Square piece of white cardstock
  • If adding fringe, a ruler is useful
  • Double slit hole punch — but only if you have it handy

Again, paint and let dry your construction paper. Cut out simple holiday shapes — I used a Christmas tree again, and arrange your designs on the white cardstock square.

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Using the sharpest scissors you have (and fabric scissors if you have them). cut the felt to match the square, leaving 2 1/2 to 3 inches at the bottom for a fringe if desired. Glue the cardstock to the felt, matching the top edge.

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Lay the ruler on the felt just at the white paper, and cut a fringe at about every 1/2 inch, all the way across the bottom.

Lay out and glue on your painted shapes. Using the glue pen or glue dots, add glitter as you like.

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With a hole punch if you have one, or the scissors, punch or cut a pair of slits in the top corners. Cut two two-foot lengths of ribbon. Using the scissor blade as you need, thread the first ribbon through the hole. Then thread the second ribbon through the other hole and repeat on the other side.
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Tie a bow on one side, and then the second side, keeping the ribbons an even length and straight.
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Hang and enjoy! It’s a charming and not too cheesy way to allow your child to make something for display. I’m sure that years from now, taking this out at Christmas will make me smile.

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Sitting here tonight, I do have a Christmas eve feeling of being blessed. The craft supplies are tidied up, and there are an abundance of trinkets under the tree.

The flurries evaporated, but for Maya, it’s the first Christmas that she will notice, and today we made our own snow! She’s been talking about Santa all week, with a kind of wistful curiosity. And demanding we play Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, over and over again.

After what we have all been through in the past few weeks, we should all take comfort — and joy — whenever and wherever we can. I deeply appreciate the readers of this wee blog, and hope your blessings are as ample this year as ours do feel to me, just now.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Reasonable Gun Laws: An Opportunity for the Return of the Moderate Republican

Forgotten Future

Forgotten Future (Photo credit: much0)

“Everything is hard before it is easy.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was 2005. I was sitting in the Senate Commerce Committee room at a hearing, and Senator John McCain was a little teed off. What set him off was a little speech by then-Senator George Allen of Virginia (yes, the “macaca” fellow) about how seat belt laws were evidence of the “nanny state.”

Senator McCain took a very different view, pointing to their role in saving lives and talking about his support for the automotive safety measures in the bill then being considered. The proposal — which included new safety rules on vehicle rollover (which at the time claimed 9,000 lives per year) and roof strength (critical to surviving a rollover crash), and required safety test results to be put on dealer’s window stickers at the point of sale — were common-sense advances for public safety, in Senator McCain’s enlightened view. The measures also received critical support from Senator Mike DeWine, a socially conservative Republican from Ohio, whose young family member tragically had died in an auto crash.

After five years of our work with a group of allies — and with the laudable assistance of the current head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), David Strickland, who was a Senate staffer for the Committee at the time — the safety rules became law. The auto industry predictably opposed them, and did manage, even after they were enacted, to persuade NHTSA under President Bush to gut a few of them in practice. But in the main, the rules stuck, and when President Obama came to office, it became possible to restore the law’s intent.

It is clear, given the events of the past week and the intense public response to the Sandy Hook shootings, that there is now, for the first time in a long while, an opening for new and more sensible rules to both require and encourage responsible gun ownership. What’s less clear is how new measures could pass in the current climate of polarization in the Congress and in many state-houses.

A sustained campaign to ensure that voters and lawmakers understand the issues in terms of a public safety problem that must be addressed with competent government action and oversight would be a game-changer, and opens the possibility that more reasonable Republicans will vote for needed reforms, or even lead, as Mayor Bloomberg has done. The power of Sandy Hook to change minds has already been shown in statements by conservative commentator Joe Scarborough, and by former gun-rights Democrats like Senators Reid, Manchin and Casey, all of whom have indicated their change of heart on the issue of restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

George Lakoff, in his landmark book on political frameworks, Don’t Think of an Elephant, describes how progressives and conservatives use different family models to understand the proper role for government. While progressives use a “nurturing” model, conservatives have in mind the “strict father” who sets out the rules for the family. Although Lakoff doesn’t spend much time meditating on the multiple dimensions of this father figure in his book, what I have observed in pushing for public safety reforms and trying to work on a bi-partisan basis is this: embedded in the conservative vision of this “strict father” is a strong duty to protect the family from harm.

When no one can ensure safety and public health without government action, “nanny state”-type objections become irrelevant for most reasonable people, many of whom are independent or Republican voters. Over time, the new standards for public safety become habit for both industry and individuals — a benefit that saves lives without anyone even noticing. Seat belt laws — which were so controversial that their enactment required a state-by-state strategy focused first on laws requiring children to be buckled up — are now ho-hum stuff, Senator Allen’s knee-jerk speech notwithstanding.

Fixing our nation’s gun problem should also, someday off in the foreseeable future, be nothing more than a rather boring set of rules overseen by a decently funded, well-run federal agency with state-level support and assistance. Adequately trained hunters and sportsmen should be able to license a gun when they want to, suitable for those purposes, while criminals and people deemed mentally incompetent should not.

The paranoia that is driving up gun purchases — and profits for gun manufacturers and dealers — over the past week (and the years since Obama was elected) is unwarranted. And no one should even have to think about whether a bullet-proof backpack for a six-year-old (!) is a good use of $200 when basically almost anything else would be a better Christmas present.

Sadly, we are now far from that day. The federal regulator in charge of guns works part-time, and lobbying by the National Rifle Association has blocked all attempts to confirm a permanent executive to the post, holding up Senate confirmations under two Administrations. As I wrote in my last post, and as further explained here, the NRA’s efforts have also meant that the agency is poorly funded and equipped for its assignment, legally unable to even collect basic data on the number and type of guns sold, to keep them out of the hands of people deemed mentally incompetent by another government agency, or to evolve new and better monitoring systems.

Sensible safety measures regarding gun sales will save the lives of children in all of our communities. A recent Children’s Defense Fund report dedicated to Trayvon Martin that examined gun-related deaths in 2008 and 2009 found the following shocking facts:

  • The total number of preschool-age children killed by guns during those years — 173 — was nearly double the number of law-enforcement officers — 89 — killed in the line of duty.
  • African-American children and teens represented 45 percent of all guns deaths in their age group in 2008 and 2009, but only 15 percent of the total U.S. population of children.
  • The top cause of death for black teens ages 15 to 19 was gun homicide, while for white teens it was motor vehicle accidents followed by gun homicides.
  • More children and teens died from gunfire in 2008 and 2009 — 5,750 — than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Among 23 high-income countries in the world scholars have studied, the United States is home to 80 percent of all gun deaths, and 87 percent of all gun deaths of children younger than 15.

The risks to our children and their safety from our virtually unrestricted trade in guns is indisputable, and the chance to act is now. Despite how it seems after the fact, no safety or public health advance is easy or lacking in controversy at the time. Yet such moments present an opportunity to speak to people in a compelling way about how communities — and families — must come together to save lives and protect our children from harm.

With a record-high 53 percent of American voters saying in a new poll that the Republican party is now “too extreme” and public polls showing widespread support for restrictions, it’s also an opportunity for more reasonable lawmakers to lead by showing that they are willing to put public safety ahead of their political backers and the profits of the gun industry. Caring for our children is a bi-partisan activity: it’s about time it looked like one.

Newtown: Crying for Change

Bushmaster AR15

Bushmaster AR15 (Photo credit: aconaway1)

Today, the funerals began.

A friend with two young children told me today that she still can’t look at any of the news without losing it. I’ve been intermittently crying over my keyboard as well, clicking through article after article, looking for answers.

The two of us are not alone, of course. It’s been another day of sadness for the country. As one small indicator, my neighborhood’s parenting list serv — which includes thousands of people — is in an uproar, with people debating the gun control and mental health issues, inviting each other to rallies and vigils, and then this, just today:

I have utter contempt for anyone not screaming bloody murder for gun control. Utter, total contempt. I despise you.

Disrespectfully and at war with you,

[her actual name]

People are obviously upset. On the list serv, there has also been a predictable, though less heated, conversation about whether a parenting listserv is an appropriate place for a debate over gun control. On that one, it seems to me, those who see the lack of sensible gun control measures in the U.S. as a public health and safety problem — and, more pointedly, as a threat to our children — have the better argument.

Is gun control a parenting issue? In a word, yes. Though I would never use the bellicose words of the angry parent from the list-serv — let’s not invent another “war,” please — as Lisa Belkin wrote for Huffington Post, enacting reasonable measures to limit access to guns is a common-sense way to better protect our children from harm. In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof compared the need for better gun control laws to the steps we take to ensure driving safety, like measures such as graduated driving programs for teens.

But it was actually the President who saw and felt the impact of the tragedy as a parent, first and foremost, in his emotionally laden initial response to the news. He said:

“Each time I learn the news I react not as a president, but as anyone else would — as a parent. And that was especially true today,” Obama said. “I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”

He’s right, of course. The grief is overwhelming. And while parents are certainly not the only ones heartbroken by the incredible loss in Newtown, they have also been at the center of the coverage — from the amazing grace of Robbie Parker, the grief-stricken father who, while mourning his 6-year-old, mentioned the suffering of the Lanza family, to the pressing and urgent questions about Adam Lanza’s relationship with his mother, her enthusiasm for guns, and what events could have led to such violence.

Indeed, parenting is a powerful metaphor. A parent carries both duty and responsibility, and wields love in the form of judgment and compassion. A parent is fundamentally vulnerable to the world and its risks for his or her child, and must do what they can to protect their child from harm. With schools, we say that they are, legally speaking, in loco parentis, or, quite literally, local parents.

The goal of good parenting is to balance freedoms with an accurate assessment of the possibility for harm, and to make sound decisions that allow children to assume responsibility if and when they are ready. There are limits to the power of this love, obviously, as we cannot protect our children from everything, or sometimes, even from the threats they pose to themselves. And sometimes we are too exhausted to do the smaller tasks well. But we all understand that we must try, and must try to get it right, as our first moral calling.

It is self-evident that children should be able to go to school without a risk that they will encounter an armed gunman. Or to the mall. Or to the movies. Yet each of these public spaces have been invaded by murderous madmen just this year. This is unacceptable, and we should no longer accept it with passivity, excusing inaction by politicians and regulators. In fact, to do so would for us be to fail a basic obligation of parenting: to do all we can to keep our children — and the children of other people — safe.

Good parenting decisions require sound information. We ask: what are the risks? How many guns are there in the country? In my state? Who owns them and what kind? What assurances do we have — in the form of background checks or training — that they will not be used against our children, intentionally or by accident? What legal restrictions keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill?

Yet none of these fundamental questions can be answered today. This is the first problem we have to solve, together. The federal government has no way of knowing even how many guns are produced and sold each year — because the gun manufacturing lobby long ago made it impossible, under federal law, to collect this information. In Virginia, the gun lobby got all of the historical gun ownership records destroyed.

The federal ban and related state bans actually prevent authorities from centralizing gun sales records in order to effectively keep them out of the hands of criminals or those deemed mentally incompetent. This federal bar on obtaining clear information must be addressed by Congress, which re-enacts this ridiculous law as part of an annual appropriations bill each year.

The government’s hands are elaborately tied in other ways as well. Back in 1986, the National Rifle Association and gun lobby won a substantial victory over public safety when it was able to enact the “Firearm Owner’s Protection Act,” or FOPA. As chronicled in this disturbing report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the FOPA “seriously undermined law enforcement’s ability to curb gun trafficking and crack down on rogue gun dealers who supply the criminal market.”

The FOPA does several extraordinary things — tying the hands of federal authorities and removing existing protections. As described in the report:

On May 19, 1986, President Reagan signed the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act into law. The FOPA repealed important components of federal gun laws, making it easier for criminals to buy weapons and more difficult for law enforcement to prosecute gun sellers who supply the criminal market. Three major changes severely handcuffed federal gun law enforcement.

The FOPA:

1. Set an extraordinarily high burden of proof to prosecute violations of federal gun laws and revoke federal firearm licenses, requiring the government to show that a defendant “willfully” violated federal law;

2. Severely restricted the ability of ATF to conduct inspections of the business premises of federally licensed firearms dealers; and

3. Allowed unlicensed individuals to sell their firearms as a “hobby” without a federal firearms license, thus avoiding meaningful regulations.

Due to the FOPA and the information collection bans, the NRA’s lobbying successes cast a cloud over the government’s enforcement of existing laws and obscure their ability to create new and sounder systems to track the flow of guns and dangerous ammunition, and to keep them out of the hands of criminals and those with serious mental health problems.

Even with all of the absurd handicaps, there is still an agenda for the Justice Department, independent of the need for Congressional action. Notably, it was drawn up after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and included:

a detailed list of steps the government could take to expand the background-check system in order to reduce the risk of guns falling into the hands of mentally ill people and criminals.

Sadly, it was then summarily shelved as the Department came under fire for the Fast and Furious debacle and electoral politics took over. But the ideas made sense, focusing on:

… ways to bolster the database the F.B.I. uses for background checks on gun purchasers, including using information on file at other federal agencies. Certain people are barred from buying guns, including felons, drug users, those adjudicated mentally “defective,” illegal immigrants and people convicted of misdemeanor offenses related to domestic violence.

For example, the study recommended that all agencies that give out benefits, like the Social Security Administration, tell the F.B.I. background-check system whenever they have made arrangements to send a check to a trustee for a person deemed mentally incompetent to handle his own finances, or when federal employees or job applicants fail a drug test. It also proposed setting up a system to appeal such determinations….

The study also proposed that Congress set up grants for states that submit state law enforcement information, expand the list of gun-related transactions that require background checks to private sellers, and increase the penalties for people who “act as “straw” buyers for others who would have been blocked by a background check.”

All these seem like a no-brainer to me. And the best part is that at least the first one requires no Congressional action. The kicker? The article notes that the one federal department — the Department of Veterans Affairs — that does currently share information is under threat from a Congressional bill to block it:

In 2008, Congress called upon federal agencies that might know whether someone is mentally ill to make sure the F.B.I. database had that information. But most agencies that have such information — as varied as Social Security and the Railroad Retirement Board — have yet to comply.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, by contrast, does share its data about instances in which benefit checks are sent to a trustee because a recipient has been deemed mentally incompetent. Republicans in Congress have introduced a bill, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, that would end the practice.

All this makes clear, parents can’t do it alone. No family is an island. Parents need the government to do its job — proper security measures in schools, sufficient tracking and training and registration for safe gun ownership, and a far more robust system of support for parents whose children are affected by mental illness. My heart was broken all over again by this mom’s desperate plea for assistance with her frightening child, and by her description of the impossibility of getting real help for him outside a prison term. Mental health parity is still more concept than reality, and figuring out effective supports for families and children in trouble must be part of a compassionate, responsible approach that both cares for these individuals and keeps us all safe.

If parents band together, the NRA is a political bully that can be stopped. 
Few now recall that the NRA’s transformation from a hunter’s advocacy group into a merciless, unreasonable political machine was as recent as 1977, when hardliners accomplished a coup in the “Cincinnati Revolt” at the organization’s annual meeting.Yet even today, the membership is not aligned with the organization’s political posturing and lobbying goals, which are a better fit for shady gun dealers and manufacturers than a typical gunowner. When you delve a little, it turns out that even NRA members support reasonable constraints on gun ownership, contrary to the NRA’s assertions. As Daniel Webster explains:

Recent poll numbers from Gallup suggesting that fewer Americans want to strengthen our gun laws should be taken with a grain of salt, particularly with respect to policies designed to keep guns from dangerous people. A Frank Luntz survey found, for example, that 3 out of every 4 N.R.A. members favored a system that required all prospective gun buyers to pass a criminal background check.

In addition, large majorities of N.R.A. members support employee screenings at gun stores, mandating reporting of stolen firearms, prohibiting people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms and prohibiting violent misdemeanants from receiving permits to carry concealed guns. These measures are not in place in most states and are vigorously opposed by N.R.A. leaders and lobbyists.

The NRA and gun rights supporters were notably absent over the weekend from the television talk shows, despite multiple invitations, and most appear to be keeping a very low profile. Even the NRA’s social media outreach has virtually “gone dark.” Fox News evidently had to suppress talk of gun control, and did so despite Rupert Murdoch’s apparent support for restrictions.

This all makes sense.  When conservative commentator and NRA supporter Joe Scarborough suddenly saw the threat to his own children — thinking as a parent — everything changed.

Could that be because the assertions about “Second Amendment” freedoms won’t stand up to scrutiny from an angry, despairing public? Despite its rhetorical power even in places like Newtown before this incident, the gun lobby’s central narrative about an armed citizenry’s essential role in securing our freedoms is historically fradulent, as Josh Marshall argues in his column mocking it as a “unicorn.”

And the much bally-hooed political strength of the NRA in influencing election outcomes — the stuff of mid-90s Beltway mythology — is also demonstrably false, according to political scientists and common sense analysis of electoral results. Next time, we should look past the NRA’s own self-serving braggadocio to the facts. In the most recent election, as Paul Waldman explains, their efforts were a bust:

This year, the N.R.A. spent over $13 million in a failed attempt to defeat President Obama. In the Senate, the group spent over $100,000 in eight races trying to elect their favored candidates. Seven of the eight lost, most by comfortable margins.

Yet the myth itself may be the greatest impediment to Democratic leadership — and actually may feed the poll results, which show signs of neglect from the gun control side, as Nate Silver’s graphs depict here. Waldman continues:

Gun advocates note that when surveys ask broad questions on gun control, more Americans say they are against it than for it. But that can’t be a result of our national debate. The last time we really debated the issue – in the 1990s – support for restrictions rose. But after the N.R.A. successfully convinced Democrats that they lost Congress in 1994 and the White House in 2000 because of the gun issue (contentions contradicted by the evidence), Democrats retreated from the issue in fear. So in recent years, the debate has sounded like this: Gun advocates say Democrats are sending jackbooted thugs to take away everyone’s guns, and Democrats assure everyone they have no plans to do anything of the sort. So it’s not surprising that support for “gun control” has fallen.

Which is not to say that the NRA is not a bully. Just ask Debra Maggert, a Republican state lawmaker from Tennessee who was viciously attacked for her actions in support of a modest amendment on a gun bill, despite her lifelong membership in the NRA. As she put it:

Because of N.R.A. bully tactics, legislators are not free to openly discuss the merits of gun-related legislation. …

The N.R.A.’s agenda is more about raising money from their members by creating phantom issues instead of promoting safe, responsible gun ownership.

Luckily, parents are experts at standing up to bullies. As I’ve seen many times in my career in Congress, when compelling issues of public safety are framed appropriately as sensible protections, even some dyed-in-the-wool conservatives will see the issue correctly.

In that vein, I’ll give the last word to our newly enlightened friend, Joe Scarborough, who, noting that his children were around the same ages as the Sandy Hook victims, said it well earlier today:

I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. We all must begin anew and demand that Washington’s old way of doing business is no longer acceptable. Entertainment moguls don’t have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America. And our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.

It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It’s time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our schoolyards than putting together their next fundraiser.

Amen, my brother, amen. I’ll see you at the vigil.

Credit: Riley Skidmore

DIY Gift: Photo or Holiday Card Wine Corkboards

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It cost two dollars and 42 cents, which is cheaper than a cup of coffee these days. When I saw this shabby chic porcelain frame (with emphasis on the shabby) at our local Value Village last week, I just knew it was destined for grander things.

I pondered for a while, then happened across these fun, modern handmade corkboards, and knew what had to happen. I collected our few corks, and petitioned the list serv for more. They came through for me, as always, offering up 40 or so corks from several families. (One woman also mentioned this very cool art supply recycling place in Washington, DC, which is now on my list for a near-future visit.)

The advantage of corks for hanging a photo, besides their nifty visual appeal, is the ease of changing the images. You could use a large-format version of this project for holiday cards or children’s artwork, while smaller ones work well for family snaps that you want to switch with frequency. They also look great in multiples, as shown here.

This project is fast and easy once the supplies are rounded up, and is a great way to up-cycle well-used frames and get more life out of wine corks. Any size frame will work, though I’ll note that 5X7 was a good fit for the corks, including a sideways row. You’ll also need about twice as many corks as you think, given their variance in thickness and length. The trick is to play around until they fit neatly, and to make subtle trims with a very sharp paring knife in any corks that are too long or wide, in places where the cuts won’t show.

I removed the glass so that if I decided later on I would rather have a picture frame without the corks, I could pop them out with the paper and reinstall the glass.

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What you’ll need:

  • Picture frame (there are always tons at thrift stores!)
  • Background paper to fill the opening in the frame in a complimentary color (cardstock works well for this)
  • Wine corks sufficient to fill the opening in the frame, plus some
  • Hot glue gun (a small one works fine) and glue sticks
  • Thumbtacks for photos
  • Paring knife

Directions:

Tinker with the corks you have on hand, trimming as needed with a paring knife, until they fit neatly in the frame without popping up or putting too much pressure on each other. Remove them carefully to maintain your design.

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Cut the background paper cardstock to fit the opening and put it into the frame. Restore the corks. One at a time, glue to the paper with the most interesting part of each cork’s design facing outward, using a thick strip of glue, and press each for a moment.

Once finished, let it dry for a few minutes, then use the thumbtacks to add a photo or two. Hang and enjoy!

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Of course, picture frames make a lovely gift, particularly when filled with a nice photo. I love these unique frames from Scrappin’ Sassy on Etsy, which add a whimsical touch (and she takes custom orders if you have a paper design you love, as I did for Maya’s nursery). And here’s a nice idea for a framed, fabric earring holder from a fellow blogger that looks simple enough to make for a gift.

One more idea: you can also frame chalkboard paper for a simple home-made chalkboard. The contact paper sticks onto anything and can be easily trimmed to size, as I did below for our kitchen using a simple drugstore frame just after Maya was born.

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Chalkboard paper also looks great cut into shapes like circles for the wall of a playroom! And here’s some fun (and safer) veggie-based chalk for use indoors by the kiddos.

So.Incredibly.Sad.

Postcard

Postcard (Photo credit: Marita Cosma)

About the shootings in Connecticut at an elementary school that killed at least 18 children and 9 adults. How many times does this have to happen before we get some sensible laws on assault weapons????

This happens so often that we actually have guides from media organizations and psychologists about how to talk to our kids about school shootings, like this one from MSNBC. There’s also a general one from PBS that covers disturbing news. They may be useful to those with older kids than Maya, though I don’t envy any parent that tries to explain how and why this can happen.

While everyone else has basically given up on bringing sensible gun policy to the U.S., the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has kept on going. If you’re as mad and upset as I am, you might think about sending them some love.

For my part, words fail me, for once. Just watching the news and crying…

Must Read: Flame Retardant Chemicals in my Gatorade??

Gatorade Vending Machine

Gatorade Vending Machine (Photo credit: revtango)

The New York Times ran a great piece today detailing one 15-year-old’s battle to remove brominated vegetable oil — “BVO” — from soft drinks in the U.S. market.

Sarah Kavanaugh, an observant teen in Mississippi, noticed the ingredient on the label of a Gatorade bottle, and started asking questions about what BVO was. When she learned about the “long list of possible side effects, including neurological disorders and altered thyroid hormones,” she started an online petition on the citizen action site, Change.org, asking Gatorade to drop BVO as an ingredient: Gatorade: Don’t put flame retardant chemicals in sports drinks!

The Times reports that:

[A}bout 10 percent of drinks sold in the United States contain brominated vegetable oil, including Mountain Dew, also made by PepsiCo; Powerade, Fanta Orange and Fresca from Coca-Cola; and Squirt and Sunkist Peach Soda, made by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

The ingredient is added often to citrus drinks to help keep the fruit flavoring evenly distributed; without it, the flavoring would separate.

The Europeans and Japanese know better, so clearly there’s another way to solve the separation problem (I would bet it just costs a little more):

[T]he European Union has long banned the substance from foods, requiring use of other ingredients. Japan recently moved to do the same.

You may recall that one class of chemicals used as flame retardants are referred to broadly as “brominated” — this BVO additive is related, as the name suggests:

Brominated vegetable oil contains bromine, the element found in brominated flame retardants, used in things like upholstered furniture and children’s products. Research has found brominate[d] flame retardants building up in the body and breast milk, and animal and some human studies have linked them to neurological impairment, reduced fertility, changes in thyroid hormones and puberty at an earlier age.

Limited studies of the effects of brominated vegetable oil in animals and in humans found buildups of bromine in fatty tissues. Rats that ingested large quantities of the substance in their diets developed heart lesions.

The article further explains that food additive regulation is basically a joke. If a manufacturer can find an “independent” lab to certify that a chemical is safe for consumption, the company can use the chemical without even notifying the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

A company can create a new additive, publish safety data about it on its Web site and pay a law firm or consulting firm to vet it to establish it as “generally recognized as safe” — without ever notifying the F.D.A.

The last time the specific issue of the safety and risks of BVO was studied was back in the 1970s, and the data remain extremely thin — and cover periods of up to four months only, while the current standard is that additives must be studied for two years.

A private association, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, which conducts studies on food safety that are then evaluated by the FDA, revoked the designation of BVO as “generally” safe in 1970. After a few more (inadequate) studies of the additive by the Association, the FDA permitted the additive to be used in food:

[FDA] asked the association to do studies on brominated vegetable oil in mice, rats, dogs and pigs. She said that the organization made “several submissions of safety data” to the F.D.A. while those studies were going on, roughly from 1971 to 1974.

“F.D.A. determined that the totality of evidence supported the safe use of B.V.O. in fruit-flavored beverages up to 15 parts per million,” Ms. El-Hinnawy wrote.

That ruling, made in 1977, was supposed to be interim, pending more studies, but 35 years later it is unchanged. “Any change in the interim status of B.V.O. would require an expenditure of F.D.A.’s limited resources, which is not a public health protection priority for the agency at this time,” Ms. El-Hinnawy wrote.

Meanwhile, no further testing has been done. While most people have limited exposure to brominated vegetable oil, an extensive article about it by Environmental Health News that ran in Scientific American last year found that video gamers and others who binge on sodas and other drinks containing the ingredient experience skin lesions, nerve disorders and memory loss.

We know a lot more about the health effects of brominated chemicals (pdf) now than we did in the 1970s, and a lot of what we know is not good, linking them to harms like lowered IQ and fertility that were unlikely to be measured by these studies.

Moreover, I would wonder about the safety of offspring of pregnant women who drink these chemicals in beverages — given the links found by a recent study between levels of a different brominated chemical, PBDE, in pregnant women and learning delays and attention problems in their children at the age of 7. Those kinds of impacts simply can’t be seen in studies that last months, rather than years.

And what about Gatorade or sports drinks consumption by children after sporting events? Thanks to a blistering investigation by the British Medical Journal earlier this year, we now know that the whole “sports drinks” argument about replenishing fluids is a corporate-sponsored myth, at least as pertains to everyone but the Olympic athlete-in-training.

Yet these companies aggressively market these products to children, as a summary of that study in The Atlantic explains:

Both GSK [GlaxoSmithKline, which sells a UK sports drink] and Gatorade have developed school outreach programs that further the case for sports drink consumption during exercise. Though the Institute of Medicine says that, in children, “Thirst and consumption of beverages at meals are adequate to maintain hydration,” studies either directly funded by or involving authors with financial ties to Gatorade make a major case for the need to promote hydration, claiming, for example, that “children are particularly likely to forget to drink unless reminded to do so.”

All this makes it particularly appropriate that a bright 15-year-old is leading the charge, though it’s upsetting to learn that the FDA is evidently not even monitoring the evidence.

Go sign her petition! I did. You might also join me in pondering why the FDA is allowing a harmful chemical to be 15-parts-per-million in our beverages, and how the whole food additive system needs a serious overhaul in the name of public safety.

And now that you know what bunk it all is, you can save both money and your health by drinking water (perhaps with a spritz of fresh, organic lime or lemon) in lieu of all those sugary sodas and “sports drinks.” Now that’s refreshing.

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Update:
Gatorade has agreed to drop BVO from its sports drinks! Score one for Ms. Kavanaugh and Change.org:
PepsiCo announced January 25 that it would reformulate Gatorade. It was responding to a petition circulated on Change.org by 15-year-old Sarah Kavanagh of Hattiesburg, Miss., and signed by more than 200,000 people. “I thought [the petition] might get a lot of support because no one wants to gulp down flame retardant, especially from a drink they associate with being healthy,” Kavanagh told the Hattiesburg American. “But with Gatorade being as big as they are, sometimes it was hard to know if we’d ever win. This is so, so awesome.”
Awesome, indeed.

Have Yourself a Merry (and Non-Toxic!) Christmas

IMG_5821Just like the folks at Fox News say, at my house every year there is a War on Christmas. A War on Christmas hazards, that is.

I actually get all ooey gooey over Christmas. I love bedecking the mantel with snowmen (where are all the snow ladies, anyway?), reciting the Night before Christmas until even Maya is rolling her eyes, and I’ve already festooned our house iPod with overly cheerful holiday tunes.

But I’ll skip the excessive materialism, toxic chemicals, and baubles made by enslaved children, thank you very much. Or at least give it the old elfin try.

I’ve been making my list, and checking it twice. So here’s a few things to think about this holiday season as you contemplate the true meaning of Christmas:

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O Christmas Tree

If you can find a source for organic trees — or find the time to go get your own — this is worth doing. Ours comes conveniently from a lovely neighbor in Takoma Park, who runs a CSA farm and also cultivates sustainable, organic trees.

Why go organic? Keep in mind that trees are brought into your house in the middle of winter, when you are least likely to open the windows, and the needles tend to get everywhere. While no one appears to have measured pesticide exposure in the home from bringing in a Christmas tree, this is an utterly avoidable risk, and we do know that trees are sprayed liberally with nasty pesticides and fungicides. In places like Oregon, the pesticide atrazine is sprayed from the trees aerially on Christmas tree farms, and such indicriminate spraying harms both animals and water quality.

Need more convincing? Here’s two well done articles, one from the New York Times, and another recent piece that notes:

No independent, comprehensive studies are widely available on how much pesticide residue is released once a tree is set up in a warm home environment. However, atrazine and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals are nonmonotonic, meaning even at extremely low exposure levels, damage can occur.

While you’re at it, be aware that conventional liquid tree food is full of toxins, and are in a bowl which can be lapped up by the dog or splashed in by a toddler. There’s no point in going organic halfway, particularly when it’s so easy to make tree food with sugar, lemons and water (or with store-bought lemonade if you like). I use half a lemon, fresh squeezed and a tablespoon of sugar in as much water as needed (the proportions aren’t picky).

Although natural is best, keep in mind that many holiday decorating plants are quite toxic if eaten. Both holly and mistletoe berries are very poisonous, and can even be fatal if consumed by children. Bittersweet, boxwood, and even pine can also cause problems if eaten. So hang those wreaths high!

Allergies can be an issue too. And if you live someplace like South Texas, as the allergist Dr. Claudia Miller wrote to me today, be very wary of the evergreens like the Texas Mountain Cedar, which have, as she wrote, “some of the highest pollen counts known to mankind.” They pollinate right in time for Christmas, and unsuspecting folks have been known to develop allergies overnight from bringing them indoors.

Even with all this, the natural options are preferable, because artificial trees and fake greenery are typically made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a terrible plastic that off-gasses, mixed with lead, a potent and notorious neuro-toxin. Again, the heath risks are not clear. As one study concluded:

Results from these experiments show that, while the average artificial Christmas tree does not present a significant exposure risk, in the worst-case scenarios a substantial health risk to young children is quite possible.

Another article debunks the notion that fake trees are somehow “greener” (after all, PVC is not a biodegradable material), and describes a troubling federal study on exposures:

In a 2008 report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a multi-agency review panel on U.S. children’s exposure to lead noted, “Artificial Christmas trees made of PVC also degrade under normal conditions. About 50 million U.S. households have artificial Christmas trees, of which about 20 million are at least nine years old, the point at which dangerous lead exposures can occur.”

Smith explained, “Recent studies have found that as plastic trees age, they can start to release a kind of lead dust into your home. That alone could have a real impact on how long we want to keep an artificial tree before replacing it – perhaps with a live tree.”

Why bring these risks into your home? There are so many other ways to decorate, as well as more natural options for greenery! I heartily recommend tchotchkes as one way to go.

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The Stars Are Brightly Shining

Sadly, Christmas lights are also a problem: most commercial lights (like most appliance cords, btw) are made of a mix of PVC and lead as well. Here’s what one lightmaker says:

The lead in holiday string lights is used as an additive to the Polyvinyl Chloride wire covering. The lead acts as a heat resistant insulator and is also used to help stabilize the coloring of the wire. All PVC contains some sort of metal stabilizer including lead, cadmium or tin. Christmas lights have contained lead since they have used PVC as an insulating coating and pose no danger with normal use. Lead containing PVC is used in many common household applications including the PVC piping used to deliver our drinking water, other electrical cords which are insulated with PVC, and even car keys.

You should wear gloves, ideally, when sorting them out from their inevitable spaghetti tangle, and/or wash your hands well after hanging them up. Do not let kids touch or play with them either, obviously. She does not cite a source, but toxics expert Debra Lynn Dadd does say “they are fine when hanging. They don’t outgas lead, you just don’t want to touch them.”

For better options, some LED lights — allegedly such as those sold by Ikea or this Environmental Lighting site — meet the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), which requires them to be virtually lead-free. I did schlepp to Ikea last year to look at the LED options, which was a special kind of awful given the amount of off-gassing particle-board in any Ikea, but I did not like the LED lights at all. They were faint, tiny and gave off a cold white light without enough twinkle to be Christmas-y.

I also checked out the Environmental Lighting site, but you need to buy a controller and power source for the lights, which makes changing to LED a significant investment of around $100 or so.

When I think of the amount of PVC and lead involved in traditional lights, it makes me sad. At least some places have recycling programs for them (and some LED sellers offer discounts in exchange)! And perhaps the LED types will improve over time. If folks are aware of nicer LED options, please do let me know.

Candles are also a common holiday touch, and a nice one at that! Unfortunately, conventional candles are made of paraffin wax, and many wicks contain lead. From Healthy Child, Healthy World:

Though the US Consumer Product Safety Commission asked candle manufacturers to replace lead wicks with zinc, compliance is voluntary and imported candles are not checked; in addition, commercial-grade zinc and zinc alloys used in wicks contain lead.

Aside from the wick, the candle wax can also be a respiratory irritant. Wax can be made of petroleum paraffin, which emits toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde when burned (these are carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins).

And the now-ubiquitous scented ones use chemical scents that typically contain pthalates, a chemical used in fragrances for many household items that has been linked to diabetes and heart disease, among other health problems. At our house, we do have some regular unscented candles to use as decorations, but we only burn the ones that are natural beeswax.

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Deck the Halls 

Those lovely ornaments on the tree are a source of additional concern. They’ve been known to contain lead paint or mercury (some are even called “mercury glass” ornaments!), so be sure that they do not get handled or mouthed by children.

And speaking of children, you may be interested to know that on December 5th, 14 children in India were freed from enslavement in a sweatshop where they were working to make Christmas ornaments for Western customers. Where you can, it’s always best to buy Fair Trade, to buy them from craftspeople, or make your own decorations. Ten Thousand Villages, Serrv, and Fair Indigo are great resources for these, which also make wonderful gifts!

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Joy to the World

I’ll be posting soon with a round of gift options on the greener side and some DIY ideas for presents. In the meantime, I’ll try to resurrect the real spirit of Christmas (and shake off the toxic bah-humbugs) by commending to you some of my favorite, more off-beat, holiday tunes.

First, what could possibly be a better deal than Sufjan Steven’s wonderful 4-disc Christmas music set for a cool $15? Simply called “Songs for Christmas,” these are ethereal takes on familiar songs, alongside his own eclectic synth-folk signature songwriting. (Just order the actual box-set, because it comes with some extras and a cute little book.) Along similar lines, I adore the un-done beauty of Low’s album, “Christmas,” and especially am grateful for “Just Like Christmas,” which is Low at it’s pop-highest.

Because nothing says the holidays like a nostalgic political anthem, I’ll also throw in a plea for you to give Steve Earle’s earnestly progressive “Christmastime in Washington” a listen, if only just to recall what the early aughts felt like ’round these parts. And then, last but not least, kick up your heels and stoke your indignation about why the GOP won’t bend to reason on tax rates for the wealthy by indulging in The Kinks’ completely awesome, rockin’ ode to Xmas equality: “Father Christmas.”

Have a safe and happy holiday!

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A World of Geegaws: Making Discovery Jars

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Tchotchke (/ˈɒkə/CHOCH-ka) is a small bauble, doodad, doohickey, gewgaw, gismo, goolya, kitsch, knickknack, lagniappe, swag, thingamabob, thingamajig, toy, trinket, whatchamacallit, whosie-whatsit, widget, etc.

— Wikipedia

I thought about calling these “low-rent snow globes,” but…

When I saw jars like these at my crafty friend Beth’s house, I knew that they were destined to be my next easy project with Maya. If you have a toddler hanging around, and you are anything like me, you also have a drawer somewhere with stuff too small for playtime. Ours includes dominoes, game pieces, dollhouse doodads, coins, buttons, beads, pine cones, seashells, a busted kazoo and other flotsam.

This easy project transforms these hitherto hazards into a safe toy, without even needing a run to the craft store. The materials are all re-purposed and the time it takes to put together more or less corresponds to a two-year-old’s attention span, so that this is actually a toddler-friendly crafting adventure. They do notice such things: Maya periodically will pick our jars up and proudly pronounce, “We made it!” — which is payback plenty for me.

Snicker as you like, but I actually had to request plastic jars from our local list serv, which came through for me as it always does, because I’ve so habituated myself to buying food in glass. My pal Laura also helped by saving some nice-sized jars, so we had enough.

IMG_5747 IMG_5748What you’ll need:

  • 1-2 well-sized plastic food jars (we used a peanut butter and an apple sauce jar), cleaned, with labels and gummy stuff removed
  • Household jetsam: small objects, such as dice, coins, pom-poms, cut pieces of felt in shapes like stars or hearts, beads, thimbles, craft supplies, game pieces, dollhouse items, feathers, erasers, party favors, seashells, stones, pine cones, paper clips, etc. (You could also make a holiday themed version if you have that sort of stuff on hand.)
  • Glue: I used a small hot glue gun, but Superglue would also likely work.
  • Rice: Short-grained cheap white rice would likely work best, though we used what we had in the pantry.
  • Optional: ribbons or paper for decorating the jar and lid.
  • Toddler with 20 minutes of focus and attention

IMG_5749Directions:

Lay down newspaper or a cloth to catch the stray rice and objects. Put the objects in a large bowl and let the toddler sort them for a bit.

IMG_5751Divide them up among your jars and add the rice, leaving room at the top for the rice and objects to be able to move around. Most toddlers can help pour the rice, which is great fine motor practice.

IMG_5758IMG_5760Glue the lid and make sure it’s secure. If desired, decorate the jar with paper on the lid (I used origami paper) and/or ribbon. Et voila, geegaws! Enjoy turning the jar to reveal the shifting contents.

There’s really no limit on what small objects can be included — I even finally found an appropriate location for an hilariously hideous little framed school photo of me circa 1985. Shudder. Happy to have that disappear under the “snow.”

IMG_5808 Here are some other related holiday crafts you may want to check out:

Are You a Modern Canary?

Canary blue

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is cross-posted from Dr. Claudia Miller’s excellent blog, here, where she writes about her fascinating work on intolerance to chemicals and their impact on health. Thanks so much to Dr. Miller and her team!

When I recently filled out a helpful questionnaire on chemical intolerance, the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI), or “Queasy” as I like to call it among friends, a screw-shaped light bulb went off. (Compact fluorescent, of course.)

According to the results of this scientifically validated tool for measuring sensitivities to toxins in our environment, I am on the “high” end for both exposures and symptoms, meaning that I don’t tolerate smells like gasoline and off-gassing furniture well.

The survey powerfully showed why I obsess about such things, while other people may shrug them off. Seeing how I scored was important to me because it identified some common sources for the headaches and other discomfort I often experience following exposure to an unpleasant chemical-laden odor.

Most of the things listed on the QEESI, which is a quick inventory, as the name implies, including bleach-based cleaning supplies or a “new car” smell, can make me feel a bit off, even in small doses. I still remember being newly pregnant in a Washington, D.C., wintertime and driving with the windows way down, the cold wind in my face, because freezing was far preferable to the vinyl smell emanating from my brand-new Nissan, especially given my bionic nose from the pregnancy!

But that sensitivity hasn’t gone away since I had my daughter, either. And I’m not the only one who’s bothered by the fragrances crowding our environment. A recent article in a UK newspaper notes that: “One leading expert suggests nearly a third of people suffer adverse health effects from being exposed to scents.”

The article explains:

“Allergies are on the increase, and the amount of perfumed products is also on the rise,” says Dr. Susannah Baron, consultant dermatologist at Kent & Canterbury hospital, and BMI Chaucer Hospital. “Fragrance allergy can show up as contact dermatitis in the site a perfumed product is applied, or as a flare-up of existing eczema. It can be a real problem.” …

Often it may not be immediately obvious that you’ve developed a fragrance allergy, says Dr. Baron. “You don’t react immediately; the body notes that it does not like the chemical and develops ‘memory cells,’ which cause inflammation when the body is next exposed to this chemical. Gradually, as you are exposed more and more, the body ramps up its reaction, until it becomes more noticeable to you.”

As the designer of the QEESI tool, Dr. Claudia Miller, an immunologist and allergist, explains based on her many years of research, that biological response is to the chemicals being used to produce the fragrances. Her pioneering work shows that exposures to chemicals of all kinds – not just the smelly ones – can and do trigger a loss of tolerance in some people, causing ill health.

And the simplest things can lead to new exposures, such as our recent utterly ridiculous adventures with installing a generator for our home. We often lose power, and so the prospect of Hurricane Sandy barreling down on us caused a run to the store and triggered a panicky purchase of a generator to help see us through.

Turned out we didn’t need to use it, and instead bought ourselves a world of trouble. In fact, what I didn’t know about it can be counted on all my fingers and toes in the dark, including the substantial extra costs of having an electrician hook it up properly, and the excruciating task of filling tanks up with gasoline, poised over the wafting fumes to ensure that I didn’t overfill the tanks and spill it all over my shoes.

To complete the misadventure, a small amount of gasoline did get inside my car, rendering it nastily smelly once more. To get the odor out, I tried everything – wiping it down with baby oil, auto cleaners, and baking soda. Repeatedly.

Then I finally took it to a detail shop, and paid them a small fortune to use completely toxic cleaning supplies on the floor and seats. The smell has diminished, but it’s not gone, and it’s mingling with all the cleaners for a soupier feel. I still drive with the windows open and leave them all cracked while parked, at least when there’s no rain coming.

Contrary to what most folks think when they imagine what we are doing to “the environment,” indoor air is far more polluted than that outdoors. Given the number of people whose symptoms have been identified by the QEESI, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that something is very wrong when the places we build – to live in, no less – are not particularly safe or comfortable for at least some living things.

So if you are like me, and these kinds of odors bother you as you go about your day-to-day, you may want to take the QEESI (which is free) and see how and why they may be impacting you. And to learn what may be “masking” their effects, so that you don’t know where the headaches are coming from.

Even more pointedly, suppose you go on vacation and get a break from these exposures and feel suddenly better, which happened to a friend of mine, then you may want to start clearing your house of odoriferous chemicals and plastics to see if it makes a difference. It certainly did for her.

On the other hand, if you’re one of the lucky ones who feels just fine in this man-made world of olfactory offenders, well, then, you can snicker at us anti-chemical folk if you’d like to. But you may also want to think about whether those of us with the higher QEESI scores – and the concomitant fascination with “greening” our homes – are actually canaries in a mineshaft.

Tweet, tweet, I say, a bit sadly.

And because I’m a modern bird: Retweet? Are you a canary too?