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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Save yourself: swim in a lake

Like a good child of the early 80’s, about once a week my mom loaded up her woody station wagon
with baby oil and Kool-Aid and all the neighborhood kids and drove us to the local public pool.   We got there early and set up our blanket and cooler and my mom talked with her friend for hours while we swam happily in what I have recently learned is a vat of toxic fumes.
I feel lucky to be alive even reminisce the days of when we found a candy bar floating in the shallow end and went and told the lifeguard to fish it out with that super long scoping net because when it came right down to it, we weren’t 100% sure it was a candy bar at all.
Public pools have been around for a long time, and I fully trust the years of science that have gone into keeping the yucky germs at bay.  I trust the strength of the chemicals in a well-maintained pool to kill the bad things without burning my skin.
We don't care if it's pee-free or not!  (??)
I don’t, however, trust the other patrons of the public pool.  Because for every sign hung that reads  “Welcome to our OOL.  Notice there is no “P” in it.  Let’s keep it that way” there is at least a few dozen that actually do decide to use the pool as a convenient place to relieve themselves.  I, for one, know what a pain it is to try to race to the bathroom with a wet bathing suit, wait in line, and then struggle with straps before feeling reprieve.  But I hold true to my beliefs that pools should indeed be “ools” so I make it my business to take my business elsewhere.
And it’s a good thing I do.
A chemist and his buddies at Purdue University have spent some time thinking about how all this stuff works together and have come up with some pretty interesting results.  They learned that when uric acid and chlorine interact, small amounts of cyanogen chloride and trichloramine are produced.
I, like you, don’t really know what these things are.  But what the article says is that when large amounts of these chemicals are inhaled, it can actually damage internal organs.  Where is uric acid found?  It’s frequently found floating around mysterious warm spots and near suddenly silent children and distracted adults.
Granted, the amounts of these chemicals released when people don’t follow the rules are too low to cause imminent danger, I still think I prefer a good ol’ fashioned lake or even the ocean.  For as many fish and other critters tinkle there, it’s chlorine free and I will be able to breath happy in every warm spot.

6/15/14

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pay no attention to your smoking mother

"Bye Bye Birdie" was an amazing production to be a part of!  If you haven't yet checked out Orrville Community Theater, please do.  It's good people, doing good things, for good reasons.  I love them dearly.

I was a good kid.  I rarely got in trouble.  I never broke the rules.  I wasn’t a rebellious teenager in the least.   And though I admit to trying a few of my college roommate’s cigarettes, I can honestly say that I have never smoked.
So why my son asked me the other day if I ever smoked, even when I was younger, I could honestly say, “no, I didn’t,” although I’m not sure he could take me seriously because I had a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.  
“No way I smoked.  That stuff will kill you.  Literally.  Like I’m not even joking, it’s really insane.  Now how does it look when hold it like this?” I asked, moving the thing from the between-the-fingers position to the thumb and index finger hold.
“You look ridiculous, mom.”
And I knew I did, which is exactly the problem.  A role in an upcoming theater production finds me on stage, at a bar, smoking a cigarette while my doofus boyfriend sings a song to me which is all good except that I feel like incredible fool trying to pull off smoking a fake cigarette.  It’s as unnatural as trying to stick my toes in my ears and flying through the air while singing Carmina Burana, which would be more likely than me actually taking up the habit of smoking cigarettes.
But a girl has to practice because there’s a long span of time when I’m there, center stage, not doing anything but listening to him and puffing away on a stage prop.  So that’s exactly what I do. 
There are fake cigarettes all over my house.  I make coffee, I practice smoking.  I work on my computer, I do it with a smoke in my hand.  I fix my hair, there’s a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.  I watch myself in the mirror from the front, from the side.  I’d probably be up to three packs a day if I wasn’t just using the same ones over and over.   

And yet, I’m horrible.  It’s got to be one of the nerdiest, most pathetic things I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m really okay with it.  Being able to truthfully tell my children that I have never smoked (as evident by my consistent, terrible practicing) is not such a bad thing.  The CDC reports that at least 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking cigarettes, and the American Lung Association states that 90% of all lung cancer is directly caused by smoking.  I like breathing way too much to play with any of those statistics.

I think I’ll stick to the stage cigarettes, and hope my children follow my lead and keep the smoking to bar scenes.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My number one summer

It was my fault because I had just said, “nothing crazy has happened to me lately.”  I wish I could take
I wear gloves now.  And goggles.  I swear.
it back because now I find myself kicking off this summer season with my hand held high in the air, sporting a perpetual symbol for number one.  It’s like I’m cheering on an invisible sports team or constantly asking a question to whomever I pass by, while being wrapped like a mummy.
Most readers won’t know, but I also have a small homemade soap company that runs under the same name, “dirt don’t hurt.”  I make soap from scratch using fats and lye and give it natural smells and color and most of the time, it’s a hobby turned side job that I absolutely love.  The artistry of fragrance, the chemistry of the soap, and the mission to tell people to love nature and play in the outdoors because, as I remember hearing often when I was younger, “dirt don’t hurt.”
The problem is that lye does.
There are moments in one’s life that should not be replayed, either out of misery, fear, general stupidity, or in this case, all of the above.  Normally I use extreme caution when dealing with sodium hydroxide.  I wear protective gear, have a safe procedure.  But when alone and in a hurry, I did something that will forever haunt me: I only wore one glove.
You can imagine where this story is going.  
While holding a container of liquid that was around 200 degrees, a chemical reaction went awry and the whole mixture bubbled over like a volcano, covering my hand in burning liquid and speckling my body as I threw the container on the counter.  Immediately following I said a few dozen choice words, danced around in pain, held my hand under cold water and stripped down to reveal the rest of the burns before dumping all of the vinegar I own over myself.  (The vinegar neutralizes the sodium hydroxide.  So glad I paid attention in chemistry class.  Also really glad I don’t have close neighbors.)  
I’m also really glad for the world’s best mother-in-law, who drove me to the ER in my pajamas with my hand in a bucket of ice water.  
Thankfully, the small burns from the splashing are nearly gone, and there was no damage done to my kitchen.  The doctors say it will take about a month for my hand to heal, and while I know I’ll be surrounded by cookouts where the grilled hot dogs remind me of my fingers, I’m thankful that the injury was only what it was because it could have been much worse.  Not the best way to start off a summer, but once things heal and the bandages come off, I’ll be sure to make this summer definitely a number one.
With two gloves.

5/25/14

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Card carrying member of the clean plate club

It was not an easy club to be in, but through the forceful voice of my father and my mother’s excellent cooking magic, I was a proud member of the Clean Plate Club for most of my life.
And for most of my life, I honestly thought this was something my dad made up so that I would finish my food and make me feel like I had been inducted into a secret society that was full of healthy people who had eaten copious amounts of vegetables and pot roast.  And eggs, in their entirety.
It was the morning of the fifth grade science fair.  My father had requested fried eggs and as I joined the breakfast table, I did my usual thing and dipped my toast into the yellow yolk and left the white part on the plate.
He wasn’t so happy.  Growing up in a family that barely got by, every ounce of food was precious.  “Eat the white,” he said.
“But daddy, I don’t like the white,” I replied which was pretty stupid because there was no way I was going to win this battle.
“Look,” he said, taunting philosophy, “when you are served a hard boiled egg, you only eat the white and not the yellow.  Now you’ve got a fried egg and eat the yellow and leave the white.  It doesn’t make sense and it’s wasteful.  Eat it.”
My future as a scientist hung in the balance.  The countless hours I spent drawing a poster on the magnetism of the Earth was pretty important stuff…but was it more important than forcing myself to eat the rubbery white part of a fried egg???
Mostly because I didn’t want to fail the fifth grade and I knew for certain that I would be sitting at that table until I ate the egg, even if it took three days.  Eventually I got it down (turns out it wasn’t that bad) and went on my way, having cleaned my plate like a good little girl and kept my club membership.
Turns out my dad didn’t make it up at all.  The Clean Plate Club was actually a concept that started in 1917, went by the wayside, and then was reintroduced in 1947 when food was in short supply after World War II.   The campaign encouraged children to leave no scraps behind, to not be wasteful, and to take only what they could eat.  Sound reasonable?
Today, some people think that the concept of the Clean Plate Club is leading to childhood obesity due to our ever-increasing portion sizes and psychological eating disorders.  I understand what they’re saying, but as a parent I find myself gently persuading my children to join the high ranks of this esteemed organization because I have learned that I just don’t appreciate wastefulness. 
I couldn’t imagine how full the landfills would be, overflowing with half-eaten eggs, if I had chosen my stubbornness over the science fair.


Published 6/19/14

The Days of our Yards

There was a short spurt in my life when my first child was an infant that I became hopelessly addicted to a soap opera.  Once when the show was cut out due to dangerous storm coverage, I actually wrote the station a nasty letter complaining that I missed my program because of their overprotective forecasting.  (I am still fairly ashamed of this.)
Thankfully my addiction didn’t last long and besides that bit of time, I have never been much of a person to enjoy watching the drama in someone else’s life.  I love a good storyline, but can’t stand to spend my spare time wrapped up in the problems of someone else when I have plenty of my own.
So I don’t watch soaps.  On television, that is.
Every spring when days get warmer and brighter, I get much better at keeping my bird feeders full.  “You spend more on those birds than you do me,” chirps my husband.   I can’t help myself, though.  Those birds become the soap opera that I never thought I’d ever watch, but I do.
I stand at my kitchen sink, occasionally washing a dish or two, and scan for the latest backyard drama.  And it’s getting juicy.
There’s a robin that was just crazy enough to build her nest right on the platform of our swing set next to the slide.  She sits there constantly until the kids get home from school and run screaming into the yard, but always keeps watch, which is really smart because there are also cowbirds and bluejays in the area.  (Both of those are potential bad guys who might harm those eggs.)  That mom is always on guard, and if you’re a bird, don’t even try to get close.  She’ll dive bomb you and flap you right on out of there.
She’s got neighbors, too.  Messy house sparrows have moved into one nesting box, but the sweetest little Carolina wrens are setting up shop in another one.  So much comedy as they gather twigs longer than the entry hole and have to figure out how to get them in there.
More neighbors are expected, too, or at least visitors.  The hummingbird feeders are set and ready alongside the regular feeders that often serve as the main stage for the backyard drama.  In the spring, you never know who will show up.  A rose-breasted grosbeak might make a cameo appearance.  And then everything is peaceful until a squirrel shows up, or a quirky chipmunk miraculously makes it way up the post. 

If you’re not a backyard bird watcher, chances are you think I’m a little nuttier than those aforementioned squirrels.  Maybe I am.  But a promise that nothing is an unpredictable as the nature out your backdoor.  And I’ll even venture further to say that birdseed is probably cheaper than cable.  At least that’s what I tell my husband.

Published 5/11/14

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