Thursday, December 29, 2011

Of Record Radishes and Pink Peach Tomatoes

I was thrilled to get the mail yesterday, which normally I'm not. Not only was there a birthday card from my folks (thanks Mom and Dad!), but a seed catalogue I had sent away for arrived!
This is not just any seed catalogue...this is from Heritage Harvest Seed. Even just to look at the cover is a treat with it's 1800-ish style black and white illustrations of flowers and a horn of plenty. These folks from Manitoba, out here in Canada, specialize in rare and endangered heirloom species of vegetables, flowers and herbs, but even better there are no GMO's (genetically modified organisms), no hybrids and it's all natural and untreated! What a treat to stroll leisurely through their catalogue last night while snugged down in my warm bed! It's not often I'd like to have business owners over for tea, but Tanya Stefanec, Jessy Friesen and Iris Stefanec would certainly be welcome at my table! Listen to these descriptions...
"Arikara Yellow Bean: A very historic yellow bean that helped the Lewis & Clark  expedition through the winter of 1805 at Fort Mandan! Lewis obtained seeds from the Arikara Indians and brought seeds to Thomas Jefferson and in 1809 Jefferson planted the Arikara bean at Monticello. Bernard McMahon also offered it for sale in his 1815 catalogue. The pods can be harvested very young as snaps but this bean is at it's best used in the dry state for soups, stews or baking. Oscar H. Will carried the Arikara bean in his catalogue in the early 1900's. Productive, very early and an excellent baker. 80-85 days. Bush"
I feel like I've just sat in on a short but fascinating history class!

11 pages later we leave the beans and head into beets for a couple of pages, and the descriptions there are no less captivating. Including the Mangel Colossal
long Red, from the 1800's. "An heirloom Mangel that can reach up to 15 lbs and 2 feet long. Can be eaten when young." Can you imagine the pickled beets!

I've just been handed a bulletin...the record for the largest radish is held by Israeli gardener Nissan Tamir, Ripley's Believe It Or Not says that "Nissan has been growing organic vegetables for years, In 2006 he was amazed to discover two radishes that have been growing non-stop-each one weighed a staggering 22 lbs, or 10 kg)"!!

Turning our attention back to the catalogue, these folks offer beans, barley, beets, corn, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, celery, cauliflower and wait...RED celery?
"Red Stalk - (1700's) Red Stalk Celery has been grown since the 1700's. It has more of a robust flavor than regular celery and is excellent for soups and stews. the stalks are thinner than modern celery but the red color of the stalks is very eye catching."
Cool, have to get some of that!
There is also 9 different types of heirloom corn, 2 pages of cucumbers, eggplants, garlic, gourds, ground cherries,  Jerusalem Artichoke, kale, and kohlrabi, which I am completely unfamiliar with. Anyone have experience with this one? What's it like? What could I do with it? They also offer leeks, 2 pages of lettuce varieties, muskmelons, mustard greens, onions (including Welsh onions), parsnips, peas, peppers, and radishes that will make your head spin.

"Round Black Spanish - 1600's - One of the oldest heirlooms still available, dating from the 1600's. The 3-4" roots are black with a white interior. this old variety is a winter radish so it can be stored in sand during the winter with good results. It must be planted in the summer or early fall since it will bolt if planted in the spring."
Alas, there is no info to tell me how many days to maturation, but Google soon resolved that. (55 days to maturation) A quick trip over to the Milkweed Diaries  reveals this,
"I've been growing Black Spanish Round radishes for three years now, with both Spring and Fall plantings. I love them. They are reliable, they last forever in the garden and in storage, and are one of the easiest things I've ever grown.

The Black Spanish Round is a very old heirloom radish, grown in Spain since at least the 16th Century and probably long before. It was brought to the new world by conquistadors and grown by early white settlers in North America.

The skin of the Black Spanish Round is so rough and thick that the black root almost seems inedible at first glance. But that craggy, tough exterior is what protects the tender, spicy, crisp, and pure-white flesh of the Black Spanish Round. The thick, tough skin protects the Black Spanish Round for months of storage in the ground, in the root cellar, in the fridge, and apparently even in the holds of ships crossing the Atlantic."

The catalogue goes on to list spinach, 4 pages of squash varieties, swiss chard, tomatillos, and a mind-blowing 21.5 pages of different tomato types! So many of those were impressive, some I'd heard about before (I have a thing for heirloom veggies) but one above all the rest screamed 'PLANT ME!', the Pink Peach.
"Pink Peach (aka Landreth's Peach, the Wonderful Peach, Red Peach) Introduced into the seed trade by D. Landreth and Sons of Philadelphia in 1885. the 2 1/2 oz pink red fruit have a fuzzy skin like a peach and the flesh is quite sweet. 75 days from transplant."

Even after the turnip and rutabaga, after the watermelon and herbs, after the annuals and perennial flower offerings, after all the charming history tidbits and exquisite black & white illustrations...I want more! I'm not ready to put this little 74 page catalogue I turn back to page one and start again.
If you garden or know someone who does, it is a wonderful way to pass a grey winter day by meandering leisurely through this impressive catalogue.
Pop on over to Heritage Harvest Seeds and order a catalogue. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Resolutions Masquerading As Goals and Cheesecake

On a knitting and crochet oriented social network that I am a member of, someone recently commented on her resolutions for the new year. Unconsciously I started thinking about resolutions. I don't normally make them, and even when I did, I never kept them. But now I understand why. The motivation, on my part, wasn't high enough to persuade me to stick to it.
So now, I see them not as resolutions, but self-improvement goals.

Here on my blog, I have a list of things I want to learn. Bike maintenance, sewing, making bagels from scratch and so on. I have already quit smoking long ago, I have already radically reduced my frivolous spending, I don't spend a lot of money on myself. So, instead of resolutions, I have decided to examine and expand upon my list. My "bucket list" if you will. Many of the items on that list to the right are self-sufficiency skills, some are there for fun, and still the list is incomplete. I see that list as a challenge, a way to keep my mind sharp, a way to keep the days from melding into one another and becoming boring. On my skills bucket list, the one in my head, is baking; I want to learn how to make bagels and English muffins from scratch, potato bacon soup, cream of broccoli soup, cheesecake and so on. These, if done correctly, will be tasty and appreciated by others (I hope). It will also mean that I will no longer need to rely on others for my bagels and english muffins. A little more self-reliance.

I would like to be able to to maintain our bikes so that I will not be scammed umpteen dollars for a basic tune-up. So that I can customize if I choose, for long rides along the highways up north. Then I will have the choice to ride my bike and visit friends, rather than require a drive. More self reliance.

I need to learn more about herbs and infusions and tonics and the like in order to keep my family healthy. This will mean less visits to the doctor, and less of a drain on our already frail medical system. Not to mention that soon we'll be an hour away from a doctor or health clinic. Besides, there's nothing wrong with more health, right?

I'd like to learn more about building with earth, clay and the like simply because those techniques have always fascinated me. There is an odd and depressing beauty in an old barn falling down from lack of use or age, and as interesting a picture as that makes, natural building has a beauty all it's own. I'd like to learn how to build with earth for it's ability to warm, cool and insulate from the harsh elements; and to learn something fascinating and brand new and yet an old knowledge too.

There are so many other things I want to learn more about. So it has become my goal (my resolution?) to learn how to do one of the things off my "bucket list" at least every two months. I'll be writing about those goals, the learning and the journey along the way here.
I hope you'll join me.
What would you like to learn in the coming year?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why We're Unemployed and How We Can Fix It

I am not an activist, in fact, I like to joke that my partner is the activist in the family; but I think perhaps I was stuck in a perception that one could only be a political activist in the classic sense. I was short sighting myself to the other forms of activism. If you've been reading this blog for any time, you know I get quite peeved about the chemical cocktails in our food, drinks, personal care products, the things we commonly use every day...right down to the grocery receipts we're handed at the register! (Which is why I frequently don't take my receipt, but more about that later)

I firmly believe that it's up to us to change the world as we can. For some, that means writing letters to our various elected officials, for others it means spending our money politically. Shopping at companies and stores that share our ideals, or shopping at stores that support the same causes we do (fair trade coffee and tea, no animal testing, natural resource protection, etc). But it all has to start with research, which I'm  learning never ends. For everything I learn about, the more questions. Consider the recent move by meat product producers to offer "natural" meats, free of preservatives, sodium and the like. Just last night, my wife and I were watching a commercial for such a product, and I commented to her that it would be interesting to compare two hams, one a new and improved "natural" selection and the other a standard ham.  I would like to compare the ingredient list, note what's missing from the "natural" ham, and then do the research to see what those ingredients did to our bodies. In this way, we could get an accurate picture of what was removed and what we were putting in our bodies. Are we truly getting less sodium, less preservatives, less chemicals that are spelled with half the alphabet? But if there is truly less in these "natural" products, why are the stores and manufacturers charging more at the register? More importantly, why the hell are we forking over (pun intended) our hard earned  cash for something they should have been offering anyway?

Humanely raised meat, with less antibiotics, less preservatives and no growth hormones are becoming more readily available, even to those in the city. Sometimes all that's needed is a stroll through the yellow pages, or a visit to your local natural foods store can often point you in the right direction. If they don't carry the meat you're looking for, they might very well know where such meat can be found. The same goes for milk. Organic milk, either from cows or goats can be more easily found and purchased than you might think. But the first step is research. Get out there and start asking if these are available in your area. If not, ask why. Make it clear that you would support the producers and retailers of such products. The same methodology can be applied to not just beef and milk, but also chicken, pork, cheeses and the like. Even coffee, tea and..well, you get the idea.

To cary this thought one step further, why not apply the theory of the 100 mile diet to our other shopping as well? Stop buying from far off countries that have shameful human rights practices. Yes, I know socks are cheaper at Wal-Mart, but while my own country has a nearly non-existant textile industry, it's hard to shop for Canadian made clothing. I understand this all too well. So, I challenge you to find clothing made closer to your own country, wether that's the U.S.A, Canada, Mexico, Iran, Ireland, Scotland...where ever YOU live, go out this week and find clothing made closer to your country. My own country has a nearly non existent textile industry because the clothing manufacturers have all outsourced jobs to other countries that do not have to pay their workers a fair wage. This point came to light when we hosted summer Olympics recently and all the athletes clothing was revealed to be made in a far off country! A lot of folks, myself included started asking why. The bottom line was money. As a result, Canada does not have the clothing industry we once did. Our designers are hidden in the shadows, our textiles are made outside our borders and as a result, pretty much the only thing we can find that's Canadian made is winter boots. This is wrong.

We wonder why our unemployment numbers are so high...THAT'S the reason folks! We (both the U.S and Canada) have outsourced so many jobs because of monetary savings, that we have put our own people out of work so our rich can be a little richer. Our governments need to start taxing even more the companies that want to outsource their labor. Penalize them for furthering our country's unemployment! If they take initiative to create jobs here, or use raw materials from our own country, or start programs in-house to treat employees better, or more fairly, or increase efficiency without lay-offs, reward them with lower taxes for the next fiscal year. Yes, this will require "minders" for branches of industry, or by region. If you need "minders", then you'd better hire some. More jobs! Those minders will need staff of assistants, clerks and people to keep track of the numbers. More jobs! They'll need supplies, computers and various other tools to get the job done. They'll need to order those tools from suppliers. The more local the suppliers, the better. More orders at the suppliers means more bodies needed to fill the orders right? More jobs!
This is a simplified solution, and a small one, but it's somewhere to start. The unemployment numbers will not drop overnight, and it will take work, but it's a start. At least it's something. It is one way our governments can put their money where their mouth(s) is/are when they start going on about fixing unemployment. Until they start doing something, it's all hollow words. Why would we vote for so-called leaders who blow smoke up our collective orifices?

Do something. Spend your money politically. Spend it wisely. Support businesses closer to home. Write to your elected officials. Suggest ways they can start supporting local business so that our family, friends and neighbors remain employed. If they don't listen, don't vote for them next election.

If we don't do something to fix the mess we're in, no one else will.
Time to get off our butts!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Apple Cider To Keep The Doctor Away, And The Vet!

Recently, we've had reason to try an old remedy for a couple of common ailments, one being the common cold and the other being a bladder infection. Now before you start telling me that a bladder infection is nothing to mess with, let me agree with you and tell you the whole story.
First the common cold. We've all had it, we'll probably all get it again. It sucks. But, I'm here to offer you inexpensive relief. Because we here in our small apartment do not drive, any trip to the drugstore involves buses. Sometimes 2 one way, totally four and time away from home. I'm a homebody, I don't often want to go out, so if I can avoid a trip out, I'll do it. On top of that, we all know how expensive cold relief can be. The last time I had a cold, I had to work, I had no choice. So I had to suck it up, medicate and move on. Except my go-to cold relief wasn't working. WTH? When I got home, I googled and discovered I was not alone. Lots of people were finding their cold meds just weren't working. Then I came across a suggestion that rocked my world. The suggestion was to drink half a glass of diluted apple cider vinegar at the first sign of a cold, and the sufferer would be better the next day. Well, for me it was too late at that point; I thought. But when my better half started feeling a scratchy throat soon after, she tried the tip. She braved the half glass diluted apple cider, well, as much as she could swallow anyway, and the next morning, felt 100% better! No expensive boxes or bottles, no runny nose, no coughing, no trips to the drug store full of other cold sufferers! Just like that, BAM!

Late one night, we came across a small doggy-accident in the hall. We knew who the guilty party was just by the size of the puddle, and that in itself was rare. But rarer still was the streak of pink in it. Our little Chihuahua seemed to be peeing blood! We knew it was a bladder infection, but it was late and no vet's office in our neighborhood was open. Back to Google.
Guess what we found? Apple cider vinegar! Another Chi owner said her little guy had the same symptoms and suggested a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar multiple times a day. The next morning, only 5 hours later, there was no blood! A couple of days after that, he was back to his usual self! No expensive vet bills, no meds, no bus ride!

There is a growing "no 'poo" movement that is mind boggling. Folks all over the world are not reaching for shampoo and conditioner, but instead for baking soda and apple cider vinegar. Why? Here is an excerpt from Nature Mom's blog that talks about just a few of the chemicals found in your shampoo...

Alcohol, isopropyl (SD-40) is a very drying and irritating solvent and dehydrator that strips your skin’s moisture and natural immune barrier, making you more vulnerable to bacteria, molds and viruses. It is made from propylene, a petroleum derivative, and is found in many skin and hair products, fragrances, antibacterial hand washes as well as shellac and antifreeze. It can act as a “carrier,” accelerating the penetration of other harmful chemicals into your skin.
It may promote brown spots and premature aging of skin. A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients says isopropyl alcohol may cause headaches, flushing, dizziness, mental depression, nausea, vomiting, narcosis, anesthesia and coma. A fatal ingested dose is one ounce or less.
FD&C color pigments are synthetic colors made from coal tar, containing heavy metal salts that deposit toxins onto the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Absorption of certain colors can cause depletion of oxygen in the body and death. Animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic.
Mineral oil is a petroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic, clogging the pores. It interferes with skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders.
Propylene glycol (PG) and butylene glycol are petroleum plastics which act as surfactants (wetting agents and solvents). They easily penetrate the skin and can weaken protein and cellular structure. Commonly used to make extracts from herbs, PG is strong enough to remove barnacles from boats!
So, it really is in our best interest to look into using apple cider vinegar for our conditioner. I'm willing to try it. No matter how it turns out, I'll post the results here. After all, in this day and age, if we can save all kinds of money on personal care and reduce the chemicals we allow into our bodies, all the better!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shifting Agriculture Could Change Everything

My partner and I were talking about our future one day when she made a statement that still has me thinking weeks later. I was telling her about my plans for the not-quite-an-acre property, and how I plan to eke as much food from it as possible. She nodded and said, "Your job will be growing the food and mine will be preserving and cooking it" Now, obviously there will be more to it, but she has the essence of it right. With the core of our new roles put like that, I realized I can't take a break from learning all I can about agriculture.

John Michael Greer talks about two agricultures in his blog entry, Two Agricultures, Not One dated August 18th of last year. He talks about how the mega-farming as we know it today is an industrialized and chemicalized version of the intensive farming that fed our ancestors, and he also shares the opinion that intensive gardening is going to help us pad our food shortfall,
"A team of researchers at pioneering organic-gardening group Ecology Action found, on the basis of extensive tests, that it’s possible to feed one person year round on a spare but adequate vegetarian diet off less than 1000 square feet of intensively gardened soil... In the more troubled parts of the future ahead of us, some of us may have to do just that; a great many more of us will need to be able to garden in order to pad out potential irregularities in a food supply that’s desperately vulnerable, over the short term, to fluctuations in the price and availability of fertilizer feedstocks and fossil fuels. The victory gardens of past wars are likely to be a useful template for the survival gardens of the deindustrial future." 

I completely agree, and I've begun to see it already. All of that only frustrates me on another level, because here, I can hardly grow anything, facing north and being in shade. So on one hand, I could sit and whine about it, or I could shut up and DO something. Months ago, I chose the latter. So it has become my secondary job, if you will, to learn everything I can about growing as much as I can on very small acreage. Starting with the soil. I already knew that compost is better than any chemical fertilizer we can manufacture. It's better all round, for the plants and for the environment, and it goes hand-in-glove with the various micro-environments in one's garden. I've been learning exactly how earthworms break down plant matter, how plants use the nitrogen from the air and how the no-till method is better than churning up our soil every spring and fall. I've also learned quite a bit about why seaweed is a better fertilizer than one that relies on ever diminishing oil supplies. Did you know that plants require not only the big three (nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium), but also micro-nutrients? Without those micro-nutrients, the plant cannot grow to it's true potential, and the resulting food lacks in nutrients also. Hence the mystery of the tomato with less Vitamin C.

So, the answer then I think, is to go back to farming, or at least gardening, the way we used to. Those that can need to turn away from chemical fertilizers, away from row gardening, away from the way 90% of all gardening books tell us it should be done. We need to learn all we can about organic gardening, intensive gardening, square-foot gardening, composting, vermi-culture, soil tilth, extending the growing season no matter where we live, and the value of the old-style farmsteads. The inter-relations of soil, air, food, animals, trash and what our culture has done to our planet cannot be over stated. But in the end, we will all come to a point where we must put down the books, turn away from the computers and do something about it. More of us need to focus on food production in a way that will not poison ourselves and our environment. We need to get back to basics, we need to take that first step.

Once we take control back over our food, we can begin to take more control over our lives and hand less of ourselves to the government. Once we get back to basics, many of us will need less and be happier with less and realize the folly of our culture's demand for the latest, best and fastest gizmo of the week. (I write this while admitting I spend more time on my computer than I probably should) I also admit that getting back to basics will inevitably improve our health, give us clearer vision when we look at what's going on around us, and in many cases, shift our priorities.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, it's true. We all need to start thinking about what's coming and how we might each be responsible for changing our corner of the world.
What do you think?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

An Edible Walk In The 'Hood

Occasionally, I'll talk about foraging for wild food, this can be done in the city as well as the country, one just needs to be a little more choosy. You want to first be 100% sure that what your harvesting is edible, and NOT in someone's garden or on their lawn. I used to see elderly Italian ladies harvesting dandelions from lawns, and I always wondered why they would break their backs for a weed. Of course, NOW I know differently! So if you see a yard full of dandelions in the spring, it's to your benefit to knock on the door, introduce yourself and find out if your neighbor will let you take care of their dandelion "problem". This assumes, of course, that they don't spray their lawn with a chemical cocktail.

Here's some more flowers that you might find in your neighborhood that are edible:
Clover: good in tea or salad (I have a dog who would eat white clover heads by the handful as a puppy!)
Rose: syrups and waters
Dill: salads, eggs, potatoes
Viola/Pansy: this one is a good garnish, or frozen into ice cubes for a little bit of summer
Daylily/Tigerlily: Chop into salads, fry or pickle
Rosemary: infusion for the face, put in salads and Italian dishes.

This is one skill that's worth a trip to the library, or maybe take in an evening class if you can find one.
Happy foraging!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It

"Do your best to change the world, Do your best to be ready for changes in the world"
~Chinese proverb~

When was the last time you had a power outage that lasted for more than three hours? Has your neighborhood ever flooded or come through a landslide? Have you ever been laid off and unsure where grocery money was going to come from? Has wildfire ever threatened your home? Have you ever been suddenly thrust into an unsafe situation?

The world as we know it is different for everyone. The many ways our world can, and is, changing is staggering. So a radical change to our world as we know it can be anything to suddenly being without power for days (which happens to more people than you may realize), to a massive flood (been there, done that), to an unforeseen job loss, nearby chemical spill (which yours truly has lived through) ... you get the idea. Even in a minor power outage, we cannot pump gas, pay for anything electronically, and eating out if there's no power at home is likely not an option either. You will not be able to cool your home by either A/C or fan in a power outage, you won't want to be looking in the fridge every 15 min, and what about flushing the toilet? Let's not forget food shortages brought on by a massive snowstorm, or being cut off without transportation after a flood or snowstorm (been there, done that too). So, the number of ways our world can change radically is staggering. But we don't have to wring our hands and moan, we can do something, lots in fact.

I am well known for having back-up plans on top of back-up plans. Once, it was only for childcare, but as the kids grew, having a Plan B, and Plan C, and so on, spread throughout my life. In these challenging times, we can plan for many life surprises, and not only end up in control of our lives but also change our mindset. Think about it, if you can plan for a sudden lay-off, your attitude changes. Let's say one day, you and 150 of your co-workers are informed your factory is closing next month. This has happened to so many people, I can't count that high. So, how do you plan for this BEFORE it actually happens to you? Times are hard financially and you're only living two paychecks ahead of panic, so investing $200 in stocks isn't going to happen anytime soon. But let's set aside the investing, money security for a minute. Let's think about something more basic. Food.

If you're laid off and you have some food put by, your attitude towards this crisis will be different than the outlook of someone who has not planned for just such an occasion. It will still be a huge upset, but you won't have to wonder how you'll feed the spouse, two kids and the family dog. I've been there, and I can tell you that visiting a pawn shop to trade in jewelry so I can feed the kids isn't fun. So, when you go grocery shopping, make a list. If your grocery list calls for three cans of kernel corn, buy four cans. If you were going to get two pounds of ground beef, and you can afford it, get three. I know you might not be able to do this all the time, very few people can. Every time you go shopping, look realistically at your list. One week get a couple extra cans of vegetables, the next shopping trip, get a bit of extra meat. The next shopping trip, consider getting a home first-aid kit, or improving on one you may already have.

The next thing you need to do is keep track of these extras. I work in retail, and we have a system of rotation that is summarized by FIFO. "First In, First Out". If it's easier for your family, get a permanent black magic marker and write on the can or box the date you bought it. Meat can be wrapped and sealed in a freezer bag. Be sure and write the date purchased on the bag before the meat goes in. If someone in your house bakes, consider buying an extra bag of flour. (TIP: if you can, freeze it for a few days before putting it in a storage container. That way you won't be unpleasantly surprised by small, black, wriggling things. We found this out the hard way)

Using this method of buying a few extras as we could, we've been able to set aside large tubs of coffee, drink crystals, peanut butter, meats of all kinds, yeast for baked goods, pasta, a variety of sauces, and the list goes on. Now, I'm employed, but it's been less than a decade since I had to visit the pawn shop before the grocery store. I remember all too well that feeling of fear, depression and hopelessness. I also remember living in Northern Ontario and being snowed in with my spouse-at-the-time being gone already for a few days. I didn't drive, but I had a toddler to feed. Again, having food stores made all the difference in my attitude and outlook.

The wisdom of food storage cannot be overstated. Everyone, regardless of income level, tax bracket, location or age should consider doing what they can to put some food by. The more, the better. Give careful thought to storage, record keeping and how all that can be achieved cheaply. Next post, we'll look at some creative ways to store food supplies, and discuss how to cook with that stored food of yours.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Food Lies and Assumptions

We've all heard that homemade is better. Especially when food is the topic. But what if we're home tired from a long day, or too sick to do more than microwave a can of chicken soup? We grab the nearest can. I know there is a growing movement of soup enthusiasts who consume more soup than anything else, believing this diet to be better for their bodies than a traditional dinner. All that is well and good, but now there is growing evidence that says homemade soup, of any kind, is better than anything from a can.

Recently, the Harvard School of Public Health studied participants in a trial of people who consumed canned soup products
Participants who consumed one can a day for five days in a row showed an increase of more than 1,221% in urine BPA (bisphenol-A), versus participants who consumed the same amount of freshly made soup. BPA is mainly found in the lining material of cans, certain hard plastics, some types of baby-bottles, some children's toys and even register receipts! So why is BPA bad? Because it's linked to neurological disorders, birth defects, ADD and even certain types of cancer.
It's bad enough that our vegetables aren't the nutrient vehicles we've been told they are, and it's even worse that we support international farmers before our own, but now this? So why are there alarming levels of BPA in the things we trust to not make us sick? It all comes down to the mighty dollar. The lining in cans and other types of food packaging are supposed to increase the shelf life of our food. The longer we can, in theory, keep food without spoilage, the more trust we're supposed to have in food manufacturers. But if that very food we're eating or drinking is slowly poisoning us, then what?
Then it is up to us to find out what's in our food, in the packages, where the food has come from, and to do something about it. But not everyone can. A large part of a population cannot afford to speak with their dollar when it comes to their food. The poor of any country, Canada, the U.S or Mexico, cannot afford to drive to a produce stand, pay a fair price for organic squash, tomatoes or apples and then preserve these in a way that the family is not dependant on a grocery store.

Not fair, but an uncomfortable fact.

In the meantime, food manufacturers are processing away nutrients, adding all kinds of nasty additives that are changing us on a molecular level and poisoning our kids with chemicals we can't even pronounce. And many of us are none the wiser.

But don't give up hope. We can make a difference. The first step is education. We need to find out what is in our food, and why it's there. What purpose does it serve? Then we need to make a stand and demand the removal of these compounds that are poisoning us, opening us up to cancer and food allergies and changing our bodies against our will.
Today, tomorrow, this week, make a pledge to feed your family more homecooked meals. The more vegetables you fit in there, the better. Yes, they may not be packed with nutrients like we've assumed all these years, but a homemade vegetable soup or stew will still be healthier than the canned version. Start there, one step at a time. Go to your local library, go to the internet, to the bookstore, however you get information...start researching food additives, food security, read as much as you can on corporate farming, find out how our modern food is preserved before it hits your local grocery store, find out how a can of corn can have a year long shelf life.

Read, learn, and start changing what you can in your own life, as you can.
Even if it all starts with replacing one can of soup with a steaming pot of homemade.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hair...Flow It...Show It....Shampoo It

I'm working on an article concerning chemicals in our hair products and the "no-poo" movement, as well as shampoo alternatives. Because I'm not sure if posting such a thing on one's blog is considered "pre-published", I won't post it here, since some publishers don't want something that everyone might have already seen. (Such is the way of freelance writing) So instead, I'll offer you a tidbit of knowledge that I did not know before I started on this article.

Did you know:

The word "shampoo" originated from the Hindi word "champo" and originally involved head massage with scented oils? The first commercial maker of shampoo as we understand it was British-born Kesey Hebert.

Now we've both learned something today!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Who Killed My Tomato?

Consider the lowly tomato, historically accused of being poisonous, eventually revered for it's red goodness, the darling of home gardeners...and from a grocery store hard, tasteless and most commonly not even sun-ripened!

The USDA tests the nutritional components of a variety of food, not the least of which is the tomato. In 1963, they published a study of those components and called it the USDA Agriculture Handbook No 8:Composition of Foods. In 2002 they published their more recent findings in another study entitled USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
In that 39 year span, 100 grams of the common field tomato, before processing was found to be lacking. It had LOST;
22.7% protein
30.7% Vitamin A
16.9% Vitamin C
61.5% calcium
9% potassium
10% iron
1% thiamin

But wait! A couple of things had increased. The same 100 grams of tomato had increased in 2 substances since 1963. It had 65% more fat in the form of lipids and 200% more sodium.

So, to break this down, we need Vitamin A to maintain good eyesight, to grow normally and normal sexual reproductive health. Calcium gives us strong bones and teeth, you may remember from health class. But did you know that if you consume too much sodium, it can hinder your body from absorbing calcium? Hmm, so too much sodium can contribute to brittle bones...and my tomato now has over 200% more sodium than it did in the sixties. Vitamin C helps us battle everything from the common cold to scurvy and a host of nasty bugs in between, and that same tomato is now lacking over 16%. Phosphorus helps calcium build those bones and teeth we talked about earlier, but it's also a key player in releasing fat, protein and carbohydrates during metabolism. Potassium is needed for keeping bodily fluids in balance, managing our PH levels, maintaining blood pressure, brain function, development of the nervous system and muscle growth. But if we add too much sodium to our diets, we throw the potassium to sodium ratio out of balance and our bodies tend to do funky things. Niacin, iron and thiamine, you may know, is commonly added to our bread as a matter of course these days.
So, to sum it all up, all of the good things in tomatoes are dropping fast while the bad things that our doctors tell us to avoid are skyrocketing in our humble tomato! I'd remind you these numbers only span from 1963-2002.

So where did all of our nutrients go? Is this the result of our quest for more tomatoes from the same soil year after year without feeding the soil? Perhaps. Is this the result of allowing scientists to play God with the development of hybrid fruit? I'm sure that plays into it too since a quick scan of a couple of my seed catalogues rarely mention flavour. (For that, I have to shop from the heritage seed company) Don't even get me started on Monsanto! Supermarket buyers want tomatoes that are a uniform size, colour, weight, and unblemished as well, since consumers shy away from anything that looks less than perfect. So to fill that need commercial growers grow the types that fit the bill, and flavour and nutrients be damned. Because we, as consumers, have not paid attention to the diminishing health value of the food we eat, choosing instead to concentrate on easy meals that are fast and require as little work as possible...we have allowed the murder of the tomato as we once knew it.

Be assured that the tomato is not our only victim. Our food industry is appalling, manipulative, horrific and abusive. I worked in a factory that produced a variety of food, and none of that kind of food has passed my lips since. I always say that if people knew what they were eating, and how their food was produced, there would be far more outcry and many of us would be far healthier. I know I am not the only one alarmed by this. I know my voice is not the only one raised in protest. In future blog entries I'll be taking a closer look at what we put in our mouths, how it gets there and how we can change it all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Of Dragons, Food and Tiny Stitches

Be warned, ramblings ahead!

It is with sadness that I see Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011) passed away on Monday, November 21, 2011, at her home in Ireland. A stroke felled the literary giant that many of us thought would live forever. She was the first woman to win a Hugo award for fiction, the first woman to win a Nebula award, and the first author to make the New York Times Bestseller list with a science fiction title (The White Dragon). She influenced many writers, her words offered escape for many of us and gave our imagination wings. The fantasy world, and we, will never be the same. I raise my cup to you Ms. McCaffrey... May the white dragon carry you to green fields.

Normally, I have a few books on the go, and these past few months have been no different. Usually the subject matter changes, but there are some constants. Homesteading, soil and farming are always in my stack somewhere. This week's stack is only marginally different.
"Codex Alimentarius: Global Food Imperialism"
"Lords of the Harvest:Biotech, Big Money, And The Future of Food"
"There Is A Cure For Diabetes"
"The End of Food: How The Food Industry is Destroying Our Food Supply And What You Can Do About It"
"Reversing Diabetes"
"The Body Toxic: How The Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being"
"Slow Death By Rubber Duck: How The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health"
And a couple of coffee table books on custom motorcycles.
(Wow, now that I look at the list, I wonder if I left the library any books...?)

On the knitting front, I've been working on a black knitted skull-cap style hat for S, on request, and a yellow scarf that is intended to go to a local homeless youth shelter. An acquaintance has ordered a knitted hat and scarf in "baby green", and I have an order from Jacqueline, which I'm not sure I can reveal the details of just yet. (I don't want the blog to self destruct if I reveal too much)

My mother always said the way to intelligence was to keep the mind busy. If that's so, my I.Q should be up there!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Toxic Shame

Imagine my shock and horror yesterday when I read about toxic chemicals in baby shampoo, from Johnson & Johnson! You know, the company that is forever advertising that they are "a family company"? Allow me to quote CTV News...

"Amid pressure from activists, Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday that it is continuing efforts to remove traces of two harmful chemicals from its baby products around the world.

An international coalition of consumer and environmental groups has been pressing J&J since May 2009 to remove two potentially cancer-causing chemicals from products including its signature Johnson's Baby Shampoo, long advertised under the slogan "No More Tears."

Read more:

Wait...cancer-causing chemicals in 'No More Tears'? Apparently the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics found that J&J had removed the two chemicals, 1, 4-dioxane and quaternium-15. This got me wondering...what did the chemicals do that warranted all this attention in the news? Quaternium-15 is a chemical that releases formaldehyde as a preservative. So it's inclusion in shampoo would potentially allow the product a longer shelf life. 1,4-dioxane has been tested on animals (shame on them!) and has been found to be a potential carcinogen. This chemical is a byproduct of ethyoxylation. Various chemicals are processed with ethylene oxide to make them more soluble and in this case, gentler on the skin that's meant to absorb said chemicals. 1,4-dioxane is the result of that process, and it's potentially cancer-causing.
Okay, so we have these two horrible chemicals that were in the most famous baby shampoo in all of North America, and they've been removed, right?
This, from the report from The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics, entitled "Baby's Tub is Still Toxic",
"In countries around the world, including Japan, South Africa and
the Netherlands, whether required by law or not, Johnson &
Johnson has moved away from formaldehyde releasers, while the
company continues to use these problematic preservatives in the
U.S., Canada, China and other markets. . .there's no reason it
can't make this shift globally."

Ok, Johnson&Johnson took these chemicals out of their baby shampoo in those other countries, but NOT North America?
Why should we in North America not be treated the same as those other countries? Money. The wonderful world of lobbyists, special interest groups and their money influence the governments of Canada and the United States far more than most people realize. Again, from the report "Baby's Tub is Still Toxic",
"The European Union has banned more than 1,100 chemicals from cosmetics because they are known or highly suspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation or reproductive harm. In contrast, the United States bans or restricts only 11 chemicals from cosmetics."
Let me assure you, Canada is never very far behind the States in these kinds of things.

Why are the companies that produce cosmetics and personal care products not required to list the ingredients? We have a right to know what we're putting on our heads, faces and bodies, and even more so with our children! How dare Johnson & Johnson continue to include these chemicals in the baby care products! Generations of consumers have trusted them with our children's skin and hair, and it's bad enough they test these products on animals, but to remove those aforementioned chemicals in just some countries, and not all of the countries that their products are sold is shameful, irresponsible and morally wrong!

At first, I thought, well, maybe another product then? Did you know J&J also produces Aveeno and Neutrogena? Johnson's "Naturals Baby" shampoo does not include 1,4-dioxane, but costs twice as much as their original "No More Tears" shampoo.

But what about the other side of this story? What does J&J have to say in their defence? Susan Nettesheim, Vice President of Product Development and Toxicology says this in an open letter to the director of the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics,
"...the level of exposure to formaldehyde, released in tiny amounts by certain preservatives to keep the products safe from contamination by bacteria, is about the same in an entire bottle of baby shampoo as a person would be exposed to by eating an apple or pear, in which it occurs naturally."

Okay, but what if we were to consider the amount of shampoo we use on our babies and toddlers until they're old enough to use adult shampoo? And what if we consider the amount of chemicals we're exposed to in all other aspects of our lives, through food, plastics covering our food and in our cookware and eating utensils, and so on. A company as large as Johnson & Johnson's should take a proactive and leading role now to get rid of harmful chemicals from all their baby products. Think of the potential advertising possibilities when they can one day claim no harmful chemicals, for a reasonable price and a true concern for their loyal customers. Brand loyalty is everything in today's market, and if a company does not have consumer loyalty, they're in trouble.

My advice for you, do your research and start learning what you're putting on your hair, under your arms, on your faces and in your mouths. Want to know why our kids are suffering from a wider range of allergies? Why the number of cases of all kinds of cancer are on the rise? Why more and more of us suffer with environmental allergies? Why more of us than ever have breathing ailments? Learn what is in the products you eat, clean with, use on our bodies and live with. (Once you find out what's in your carpets, you'll want to tear it all up)
Take a stand against chemicals that these companies are shoving at us.
Take a proactive role, but be warned, you're in for a nasty shock when you start educating yourself.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Anari Effect, Chapter 2

Chapter Two

"Thanks again for seeing me on such short notice." Miss Morriseau turned at the elevator and shook Dakota's hand.

"Thanks for coming in. I'll be contacting you one way or another to let you know my decision."

Just then the elevator doors opened and Shanis stepped in. She had enough time to smile, and the doors closed. On the way back to the office, Dakota took a side trip into the dining room and picked up two bottles of water and two salads. Teresa was stretching as Dakota left the corridor.

"Feel like a working lunch?"

"Be right there." Teresa gathered her notes, the file folder and a notebook and joined her boss in the inner office.

Once everything had been laid out, and the two of them had gotten comfortable, Dakota asked, "So, did you manage to find anything new for me this morning?"
Teresa opened the file folder that she'd already stuffed with notes, print outs and articles. "Well, coming from a lay-person's viewpoint, I had a pretty limited knowledge of insulation; so I had to start at the beginning."

"Which is exactly where most people are going to start. Good."

"Okay, Insulation falls into four categories: loose-fill, blankets, rigid foam and liquid foam. Each of these has traditionally been used in different areas of a building. The pink batts that we all think of as typical insulation is made from fiberglass, which, as you know is dangerous to handle and hazardous when inhaled. There have been numerous cases of reduced and hampered lung capacity caused by fibrous tissue build up. But there have been advances in manufacturing." Teresa paused to flip a sheet over and take a sip from her water bottle. "All three of the major fiberglass makers wrap their batts now, which results in providing a vapor barrier as well as making the product safer to handle. It isn't safe enough though. Fiberglass is held together by a formaldehyde-based binding agent, which outgases vapors that can, and have caused, eye and skin irritants, and have been linked to cancer as well. Major companies like Owens-Corning have developed formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation, but it's still pricey. Some have also made higher density batts common in your average hardware store. I had to do some research to understand and compare R-values. If I understand it correctly, the less air circulation space between the fibers of the insulation material, the better the resistance to heat flow and loss. The higher the R value, the better the efficiency."

"Right, so we've traditionally had this pink stuff that most people can't install and makes us and the installer sick! What's the alternative?" Dakota speared a forkful of salad.

"Well, cellulose insulation is environmentally friendly, inexpensive and has a pretty high R value. We seem to be creating a never-ending supply because it can be made from recycled paper and cardboard. It is more resistant to mold, rot and insects and thanks to new developments, now adheres better, reducing settling and improving R-value. In fact, it actually provides more insulation per inch than low-density fiberglass and can be twenty-five percent less in cost than the pink stuff. Assuming of course, that it hasn't been dry-blown and the installer knows what they're doing."

"But what if I'm Average Joe who wants to do what's best for the both the environment, and his family? I need to know all my options." Dakota said as she stabbed a tomato.

"Okay, something else that's making waves is your denim manufacturing waste. It's softer, has an R-3.4 rating and doesn't carry safety concerns to either the installer or the occupant."

"Downside?" asked Dakota.

Teresa chewed before answering. "Cost. It can be as high as 15 to 20 % higher than fiberglass."

"I've seen a type of foam board up on the outside of homes under construction, were you able to learn anything about that?"

Teresa nodded and pushed her glasses farther up on her nose. "It's called expanded polystyrene, or bead-board. It went through a period of disfavor for a while, because a lot of people saw it as a pollutant, but it's actually the least environment-damaging product of all rigid board insulation. It's made of the same material that coffee cups are, liquid styrene beads mixed with pentane or steam. It has an R-value of about 3.8 to 4.4 per inch. There are other types of foam board as well. Extruded polystyrene has a higher R-value, R-5 I believe. It's made with hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which are somewhat safer than the CFC's that we've now banned, but it still releases chlorine atoms when exposed to sunlight."

"But chlorine atoms still destroy ozone." Dakota pointed out.

"Where one CFC molecule will destroy 100,000 ozone atoms, an HFC atom will only destroy 20,000 ozone atoms." Teresa shook her head slightly.

"Not good enough." Dakota stood and stretched.

"I figured you might say as much, so I kept looking." Teresa paused to eat a little more of her lunch and find a specific page in her notes. "Natural builders have been using straw bales as insulation in both attic and walls. To provide fire protection, the bales are coated with clay. An 18-inch thick straw bale wall has an R-value of 42. Sheep's wool has also been used for insulation. Once boric acid as a flame retardant is added, it finds increased acceptance in the market. I wasn't able to find any R-value estimates for it though."

"What if there were a product made of cotton, straw and sheep's wool, mixed with an environmentally safe binder that was also fire resistant?" Dakota mused as she looked out the window.

"There have been some others who thought along those lines too..." Teresa began looking through her notes. "I thought I must be...Let me just go look on my desk." Teresa said as she left the inner office.

A minute later, she came back with the missing notes and a large, brown manila envelope. "Dakota, someone left this for you," she said as she crossed the room.

Expecting schematics, Dakota shook the contents out of the envelope and a photo fell face up. It was an enlarged black and white of a woman holding a little girl of about six, seemingly taken in the 70's. "What a cute little girl! Do you know who it is?" Teresa turned to ask.

Dakota didn't answer at first.

Teresa was shocked to see her boss staring at the photo with tears streaming down her face.

"I want to know who brought this into the building; I'll need that information by end of business. That will be all for the rest of the day. Hold all my calls until then. Thank you." Dakota whispered.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

From Preston Agricultural Works to Shantz Foundry

This is a piece of one of the old stone buildings that housed Shantz Foundry, at Fountain St. & Shantz Hill Rd. in Preston, Ontario Canada.

In 1883, the frame buildings of the Preston Agricultural Works were destroyed by fire. P.E. Shantz bought out Abram Detweiler and continued to operate as P.E. Shantz Preston Agricultural Works. New stone buildings were built to house the business. The name Preston Agricultural Works was discontinued, probably by the mid-1890s and the business carried on under the name P.E. Shantz Manufacturer.

By 1909, P.E. Shantz letterhead claimed "Our Specialty is Trucks". P.E. Shantz catalogues featured a variety of trucks (heavy duty warehouse wagons) manufactured for the factory and other commercial trade. Around 1913, P.E. Shantz further diversified into the manufacture of the Howard warm air furnace, company letterhead now stating "Our Specialty is Trucks [and] Warm Air Furnaces. The Howard furnace was another American product for which P.E. Shantz had Canadian manufacturing rights. The company continued to manufacture warm air furnaces for many years. The last dated piece in the P.E. Shantz fonds regarding the Howard furnace is 1941. In addition to trucks and furnaces, P.E. Shantz also made children's hand sleighs, garden benches, garden vases and lawn swings in the years after 1900. These were probably made from waste by-products of agricultural machinery construction. A price list issued by the Shantz Foundry in 1966 gave prices for its line of industrial and commercial trucks, by which time the only product line left.

In the twentieth century, the company name evolved to P.E. Shantz Foundry and finally to Shantz Foundry Ltd. In 1969 Shantz Foundry Ltd. went out of business. The property was purchased by a developer, with plans to build a large apartment unit on the site. The stone buildings were demolished, but the developer's plans did not materialize and in 2002 the site is an overgrown empty lot.

(Information comes courtesy of Robin Shantz, grandson of P.E. Shantz, via Waterloo Regional Museum)

This site is five minutes from my home. I used to wonder what it was when I would avoid all the slag down a hill coming out of a local ravine. Last night, I scoured the internet for the answer. Now that I have it, and I've seen historical photos, I wonder how the "end" of our ravine became so pitched when in the Foundry's day, it was flat.

Nothing as intriguing as local history.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Anari Effect, The Rest of Chapter One

The preceding part of The Anari Effect can be found here

The Anari Effect, The Rest of Chapter One

“Good morning, Len.”

“Morning, Miss Anari. You’re here early.” Len smiled as he pushed the elevator button.

“I couldn’t sleep, and as much as I enjoy working at home, I needed a change of scenery, you know?”


“I’ll be driving myself to and from work by tomorrow I hope, do I need a parking pass?”

“Yes M’am. I’ll arrange for one and have it sent up. We’ll need the vehicle description, license number and model when it arrives.”

“As soon as the leasing company contacts me with the info, I’ll pass it on to you.”

“Very good.”

The elevator doors opened on the executive floor. “Have a good day, Len.”

“You too, Miss Anari.”

The floor was quiet. She suspected she was one of the few, if not the only one, working at this early hour.

Dakota grinned as she placed a small package on Teresa’s desk, then went into the inner office. The office was peaceful in the half-light. Her little green dragon studied her with calm black eyes, and she winked at him as she gave her mouse a nudge. Dakota’s phone began to play ‘Ode to Joy’ and she knew a text message had come in. It was from Stanton Wells.

‘You have my go-ahead to interview and hire as you see fit. Just let me know your final decision.


Her email was already filling quickly. One from the leasing company caught her eye and she opened it quickly. The car she had requested would be delivered that very afternoon, in red, as per her wishes.

Dakota grinned with anticipation. She ignored the other emails after scanning through the list of senders.

She opened Mozilla and went straight to the website she had been looking at just hours before. She found a contact link and eagerly typed an introductory email to Shanis Morriseau.

‘Miss Morriseau,

I understand that you are currently seeking employment within your field. I work with a company that is interested in speaking with you. There are benefits and substantial perks, and the pay is competitive. If your curiosity is aroused, please contact me as soon as possible.

Dakota Anari, Director of Development & Sustainability.’

A knock at her door shook her concentration.


Teresa came into the office smiling. “Good morning. I wanted to thank you for the gift.”

“It’s nothing.” Dakota smiled. “I saw it and thought of you. It won’t do 120, but it screamed your name when I saw it.”

“My son was envious when I called and told him. He was teasing me that I’m probably the only mother who has a mini Honda Shadow, but I think I heard him say it was cool.”

“Well, like I said, it’s not much, but I’m glad you like it. I think I may have found a replacement for Tukis.”

“Already?” Teresa said.

“Come and take a look at this woman’s qualifications.” Dakota invited Teresa to sit behind the desk. “Did you get coffee yet this morning?”

“No, I just came straight in.” Teresa answered in a slightly distracted voice.

Dakota poured coffee for them both at the credenza and set up a tray with sugar and muffins on the coffee table. She knew Teresa might be reading for a bit, so she settled in on the sofa with a file on insulation.

After a few minutes, Teresa joined her on the sofa and asked, “What are you reading?”

“I’ve been thinking; the cost of building homes has gone up as technology improves, right?”

“Tell me about it. I’m still saving for my first home. My parents paid a third, in cash no less, than what I have in the bank. And it’s nowhere near what I need!”

“My point exactly. And while we’re busy working ourselves to death for the opportunity to own a home, we’re poisoning ourselves too! Do you have any idea how toxic most buildings are? New carpeting, for example. Immunotoxicologists are finding that hundreds of people are reporting feeling sick when exposed to new carpeting for long periods of time. Those people are feeling sick because their bodies are releasing anti-myelin antibodies. Their brains are being damaged in both the frontal lobes and temporal lobes, as well as the base ganglia, resulting in tremors, loss of concentration, loss of motor skills, absentmindedness, interruption of vision, and in some cases of children, epileptic seizures.”

Teresa eyed the broadloom beneath their feet suspiciously. “Okay, so no new carpeting in my house. So I use linoleum and throw rugs.”

“What I’m researching at the moment is alternative insulation. The pink stuff has a reputation for being hard to install, itchy and a respiratory irritant.

“What’s the alternative, though?” Teresa asked as she took a bite from a muffin

“I’m reading about a product that is made from blue jean manufacturing waste.”


“Exactly. This stuff is a combination of denim scrap, and microscopic olefin fibers.”

“Wait a minute, what’s olefin?”

“It’s made of polypropylene and polyethylene. And I wondered about the environmental impact in production, too.” Dakota held up a hand as Teresa opened her mouth to ask a question. “According to available research, olefin is the lesser of environmental evils right now, and it has applications in all kinds of products. But here, it provides both loft and insulation value.”

“You’ve learned all that this morning?” Teresa asked as she grinned impishly.

Dakota chuckled. “No, I’ve been trying to find alternatives to conventional housing since I went to university. So, what’s your impression of Miss Morriseau’s website?”

“If the woman is half as impressive as her site, she should really be something.”

“Wells gave me the go ahead early this morning to interview and hire as I see fit, so I’ve written her an email. Hopefully, she’ll reply soon.”

“When you say ‘early this morning’, how early is your early?”

“Not too long ago. I actually text messaged him at five thirty.” Dakota sipped at her coffee after answering.

“If I may be so forward,” Teresa asked, “Why would anyone be up at that hour? Do you jog?”

“I had a nightmare at four, so I was already up.”

Teresa’s eyes widened. “What an unholy hour for the horse to visit.”

“I’m sorry…the horse?”

Teresa chuckled. “Sorry, I assume everyone uses the same expressions my family does. A popular sci-fi author wrote a novel in which mares deliver bad dreams, hence the term, night mare.”

“Ah. Very unique. It would have been nice if it had been a horse.” Dakota tossed the file on the sofa between them. “Here’s a project for you; between all the other things you do, if you could find some solid research on alternative forms of insulation, along with their comparative R values, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

Teresa rose from the sofa and smoothed her slacks. “Cookies tomorrow morning?”

“Sounds good to me.”

At eleven that morning, Teresa knocked on the inner door and heard the now familiar, “Come.”

Dakota had removed her jacket and rolled up her sleeves, and was resting her chin in her hand as she read something on the monitor.

“It’s getting on lunchtime for me. I thought you might like something from the dining room?”

“Thanks, but I’m not hungry just yet.”

“Okay. Did you hear anything from your prospect?”

“I got an email saying she would call us this afternoon.” Dakota squinted and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “I don’t suppose there’s anything in the building for a headache?”

“I have some Ibuprofen…” Teresa gestured at the door.

Dakota nodded at the implied offer and followed her assistant.

“Are you sure something in your stomach wouldn’t help?” Teresa removed the bottle from her desk drawer and shook two out.

“No, I’m not sure, but I hate leaving research when it’s getting interesting. I’ll live. Thanks.”

She smiled and went back to her office, but left her door slightly ajar.

‘Maybe if I close my eyes for a couple of minutes, the pounding will subside.’ she thought. After practising some deep breathing, the pain did indeed lessen, and when Teresa poked her head in an hour later, she found the Director of Development & Sustainability asleep.

Dakota might have napped for hours if the smell of coffee hadn’t woken her. Yawning, she sat up and found a mug of black coffee and a sandwich on the coffee table.

“Taking care of me already?” Dakota murmured to the empty room.

Teresa knew Dakota was back at work when she heard typing from the inner office, so when the call from Shanis Morriseau came in, she patched it right through to her boss. Of course, right after that, Len called up to announce that he was escorting someone up that needed documents signed.

Teresa greeted them both, and explained that since Miss Anari was on the phone, she would take the papers in, get them signed and be right out.

“Yes, I can accommodate your schedule this afternoon, Miss Morriseau. I’ll let security know to expect you. I look forward to meeting you.” Dakota hung up and took the papers.

“You have a car?”

“I do. Want to come see it with me?” Dakota grinned.

The two women left with silly grins and anticipation written all over their faces.

“Very sporty.” Teresa nodded. “Very cool.”

Dakota circled the cherry red car, nodded and signed the paperwork before handing it over to the leasing rep. “Thank you very much for bringing these over. Len..”

“Yes M’am?”

“Teresa and I will be stepping out for a few while I test drive my new car.”

“I thought you might, M’am.” Len smiled widely. “I’ll have your spot ready for you, as well as your parking pass.”

“Thank you. Oh, in about an hour, there will be a young Native woman coming for an interview. When she arrives, please bring her straight up.”

“Yes M’am.”

Dakota got in the driver’s seat and put the window down. “Do you like ice cream, Len?”

“Pralines and Cream is my favourite.”

“My kind of man.”

“You know, you keep this kind of thing up, and you’ll have a reputation in no time.” Teresa said as she buckled her seat belt.

Dakota handed her the tray with three cones and replied, “I’m quite sure Mr. Tukis might have a few things to say about that.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“He’s not the first to have issues with me.” Dakota put the car in gear and eased out of the driveway. “I’m sure he won’t be the last.”

“Just for clarification, I don’t care if you’re purple, sleep with three headed aliens and live on Saturn’s third ring.”

“Thanks…I think.”

“Seriously, given enough time, I think the noise will die down and folks will forget. I don’t think the majority of upper management will care as long as they can see you’re doing your job.”

“Let’s hope that’s true. I’m not all chuckles and ice cream though, Teresa. I have to warn you, there will be days I’ll be a bitch on wheels.”

“Like you were with Tukis?”

“Something like that. There are days I go without sleep, without food, and then I suffer for days until my body gets back on track. I’m grouchy and rather…unlikeable.”

“Can I ask a personal question?” Teresa asked between licks of her ice cream.


“Are you manic in your work habits?”

“Not usually.” Dakota signaled to turn. “But I have times when the crap from my past comes back to bite me in the ass, and it affects my work for a short period of time.” She paused to gather her thoughts. “My childhood was … character building.” Dakota turned into the Wells Corp. parking lot. “So enjoy the good days.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Down Time

I think that what a person chooses to do in their "down time" says a lot about them. I hadn't really given much thought to my hobbies until last week, during a conversation with Betty. Any of you who have been with me awhile, or read back into the archives of this blog may remember Second Life, the virtual world that we like to build in. Lately, we've been spending more time in Inworldz. It is very much like Second Life, only cheaper and newer, so it's still in it's infancy. But still lots of fun. In Inworldz, I build custom motorcycles. Theme choppers mostly. It's inexpensive fun, when you compare the price of an internet connection to my neighbor's clubbing and drinking fun.

As some of you know, I also enjoy knitting. Lately my needles have been kept busy between knitting for the boys, my pregnant co-workers and friends and now knitting for a homeless youth shelter. The newest thing for the boys lately have been "flame hats". My first one was for S, who wanted his in shades of blue. It's not my best work ever, but he likes it enough that he is rarely seen without it.

Now B has asked for one similar with red & orange flames, with a black top. That one isn't even done yet and now S has requested another skull cap (the style that covers the top part of the ear but does not fold up), only this one in all black. I'm thrilled my boys like hats so much, but I think I need more fingers!

In addition to all this, as you know, I've been writing "The Anari Effect" and researching natural antibiotics, as well as natural breathing aids. There are three of us here with asthma, and Betty's breathing isn't 100% either, so I'd like to give us every edge I can.
Did I say "down time" at the beginning of this post?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Summer Lessons Learned

The growing season here is done and I can honestly say I learned a few things this summer.

This apartment is too dark, too shaded to grow anything here. Anything that needs light anyway. Sage is doing fine, the peas got too cold I think, because they got enough water. Our green peppers are actually growing, and are about an inch long, much to my surprise! My apple seedling died. I'm not sure why. It was watered, brought in at night, and seemed to be doing fine. One day it was green, the next it was dead. My tobacco is still growing, but very, very small. Because the seed is so small, I ended up planting more than I thought I had. Note to self: Next time, be more careful and plant fewer! If there are fewer per pot, it's more likely they'll get bigger.

I was finally able to get some mung beans for sprouting. Now that summer is over, sprouting will probably be my "gardening" for the winter. I'm going to do my best to get a proper light table so that I can start seedlings earlier next spring. I'd like to be able to get lettuce going. Even small homegrown lettuce is better than none!

The compost bucket turned out better than I had hoped, but it needs bigger air holes. I have been trying to borrow a drill from co-workers, but clearly, this is a bigger priority for me than them. So if you are going to make a compost bucket, remember to allow for air circulation!

I never did get those potatoes in a bucket going. I'll plan this for the spring and see if I can't get some grown for the summer. As with the lettuce, even small, homegrown potatoes are better than nothing.

So this summer was not a total waste. The plan was to learn a few things, and I did. My rain bucket got a late start because of our summer-long-drought, but the past month I have been able to water the greenery with rainwater, and I'm sure they're healthier for it.

Never be afraid to try, there is always something to learn from every experience!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Anari Effect, More of Chap One

The preceding part of The Anari Effect can be found here
and now for the continuation,

“Welcome home, Dakota Mackenzie Anari.”

“Just Dakota, okay? Thanks, Hanna. It’s been a long day.” Dakota shut the door behind her and locked it as she pulled off her boots. “My first day and I shook up the nerds, fired a sexist pig and got to yell my head off. I think I made an impression, Hanna.”


The bedroom was warm and inviting. It didn’t take Dakota long to change into flannel pyjama bottoms and a black sleeveless t-shirt with a pink ‘Whose Yo…?’ blazoned across the chest. The feather bed seemed to absorb Dakota, who sighed heavily in contentment. “I’ll say this for Wells Corp., they’ve got great movers. I wonder… Hanna, did anyone bring groceries today?”

“The refrigerator is full.”

“Good.” Dakota padded barefoot into the kitchen where she began pulling pots and pans from the cupboards. In the fridge she found the bottle of wine she’d requested, and wasted no time in pouring herself a glass. “Hanna, some music please. Something soft and classical, I think.”

While she waited for the pasta to cook, she strolled through the rest of the house. She felt a little like a visitor opening doors and peering into rooms. She found the office easily enough, and even as she stepped into the room, she was surprised again at how welcoming the room seemed. The floor was covered in thick, dark green broadloom, the walls were covered in a honey-toned pine and all of her books were on shelves that lined the walls. Even her computer was already set up on the desk.

“Dakota, may I ask a question?”

“Of course, Hanna.” Dakota was studying the placement of her photos on a wall.

“What are you creating in the kitchen?”

“I’m making linguini with a white clam sauce.”

“Do you enjoy cooking for yourself?”

“It depends on my mood. I’m no chef, but I can cook fairly well. Why do you ask?”

“I am attempting to learn your tastes and desires.”

“Ah yes, you were programmed to learn and adapt, weren’t you?”

“That is correct. You have no others coming to live with you?”

“No, Hanna, there’s just me.” Dakota played with the drape and tried not to let the melancholy show in her voice. “Only me.”

“I do not wish to downplay your distress, but your water is boiling.”

“Time to check on the clams anyway.” Dakota left her wine on the desk. “Leave the light on please; I’ll be coming back in here to eat.”

“Very well, Dakota.”

Setting aside her fork, Dakota clicked the mouse again, intent on finding some way to make her idea even remotely possible. For years, she had pursued the idea of inexpensive, environmentally safe housing. The only buildings that seemed to meet her criteria were those created by so-called alternative building methods. Although rammed earth and cob homes were inexpensive, they were still labour intensive and not easily acquired. Dakota wasn’t sure that scraping away soil that was needed for farmland was an ecologically sound method of housing people. The housing was cheap, but at the cost of feeding hungry mouths…

She kept searching.

She read pages on formaldehyde and paint fumes, sick building syndrome and NASA’s living wall experiments, but when she came to an article on arsenic in children’s playground equipment she stopped.

“Hanna,” Dakota rubbed her eyes as she spoke. “What information do your files contain on arsenic in outdoor structures?”

“The most common wood preservative and pesticide used in outdoor structures is chromated copper arsenate, which is 22% arsenic. Arsenic is banned in all agriculture and food uses, but has been exempted for use in wood. One twelve foot long treated piece of wood contains one ounce of arsenic.”

“All of which is alarming enough, but we can’t go on poisoning ourselves. We need to find an inexpensive, non-toxic replacement.” Dakota’s thoughts were interrupted by a jaw-cracking yawn. “But not tonight. I’m off to bed. Set security alarms, please Hanna.”

In no time at all, she was back in the bedroom and snuggled between the sheets.

“Enjoy good rest, Dakota.”

“Goodnight, Hanna.”

Dakota dreamed she was surrounded by tall, golden grasses, whispering secrets in the wind, with the endless blue sky above her. She was all alone, and yet she felt safe and protected. She began to walk among the grasses with her hands held out beside her, feeling the feathery heads of the wheat stalks as they bobbed and bowed at her passing. She heard birds call out to each other, and answer in thin, reedy voices. She heard the wind blow through the grasses, and it struck her that she had not been this alone for many, many years. She heard someone call out to her then, the sound sharp in the silence, and she turned to see a woman carrying a small child away. The only sound was still the wind in the wheat. The child did not reach out, nor cry, and for a moment, Dakota wasn’t sure she had heard anything at all. But the image of the woman and the child striding away tore at her and choked her with unshed, raw emotion. She heard her name called again and she sobbed for a reason too deep to understand while she stood in the wheat field. But the doors had opened a crack, and no matter how hard she struggled, they would not close again, and she could not get her emotions under control. She wept harder, watching the woman walk away with the girl looking back over her shoulder, and Dakota sank onto the ground, and beat at the earth with balled up fists until the dirt was damp with her tears.


“Dakota. It is time to rise.”

“I’m up, Hanna.”

“Are you ill, Dakota?”

“No, just a bad dream.”

“You were…weeping.”

Dakota rolled over and stretched, with her throat feeling raw and ravaged. “I know.” She lay still for a minute, her arm thrown across her eyes, as if this act could shut out the images. After a while, she threw the sheet back and rose, already setting her mind on the day that stretched out in front of her. “Shower on, please, Hanna.”

Even the hot water could not wash away the pain the dream had left behind, time and time again; Dakota had to force her thoughts back to work. Work had been her salvation before, and it would be again.

“Hanna, what time is it?”

“It is four a.m.”

“Cripes, that’s practically the crack of dawn. Better get the coffee perking, Hanna.”

“Do you wish to share the dream that upset you?”

“Not right now. Let’s just get to work, okay?”

Even as she washed her hair, Dakota was saying, “Can you tell me if there are any female engineers currently in our area who specialize in environmental engineering?”

There was only the sound of falling water as Hanna searched the internet for an answer. “The media has reported often on Joan Roebling. She has won numerous accolades for her work in toxic substance removal from water. There is also Shanis Morriseau, who according to her website, is currently looking for work.”

“She has a website?”


“My desktop is on; can you rouse it from sleep mode and bring up the website while I get dressed?”

“I can.”

Knowing she had a few hours before her driver came to collect her, Dakota threw on a grey sweat suit, her mind miles away from the prairie and already wondering if she could find someone to fill Mr. Tukis’ place.

A quick glance at Miss Morriseau’s website gave Dakota the pertinent details.

“Well. She has a wide range of scientific experience.” she said aloud, “She’s 37 and unemployed. I wonder why? Oh, here it is. Contract buyout. Experience with engineering, chemistry and engineering management…as well as environmental engineering.”

Dakota looked at every page of the compact website, wanting to get a rounder picture of the woman behind the scientist. Eventually, she found a photo that depicted a Native woman who looked neither old nor young. Her eyes reminded Dakota of a phrase. “Wise beyond her years.” She had listed her interests as reading mystery novels, painting, music, walks in the woods and collecting. Dakota navigated to another page and began to read about Shanis’s professional accomplishments. By the time five thirty rolled around, Dakota wanted this woman on her team so badly, she text-messaged the President of the company.

‘I have someone in mind to fill Tuckis’ empty chair. Seems like a perfect fit. Need your opinion and go-ahead.’

After including the link to Morriseau’s website, Dakota sent the message and began to search for a local phonebook.

“Dakota, is there something I can help you find?”

Dakota stopped and put her hands on her hips. “Actually, there is, Hanna.” Hanna’s image appeared on the wall.

“As nice as it is, I don’t want to be driven everywhere. I want to be the one in control, but I have a very specific desire. I need to know if there are car-leasing companies in the area that have hybrids.”

“Searching.” After only a minute, Hanna’s image blinked. “I have located an organization nearby that may suit your requirement.”

“Very good. Do they have a website?”

Hanna’s pseudo-face was replaced by the company’s website. Dakota’s finger trailed down the text, through the pictures and through more text until finally she said as she touched one image, “What about that one?”

“The Honda Insight?”

“In red, I think.” Dakota rattled off an email to the company on her computer, and just as she clicked on the “send” button, Hanna again appeared on the wall.

“Dakota, you have not eaten. What are your wishes for breakfast?”

“Flapjacks, real maple syrup, orange juice and fruit salad.”

“There is no maple syrup, real or synthetic, in the pantry.”

“So you do have limitations.” Dakota grinned as she headed for the kitchen.

“And you have an odd sense of humor, Dakota Anari.”

More coming soon!