May Day

(warning: this story is not for the feint of skin conditions)

So for good luck, on May Day, one is supposed to go out and frolic and wash your face with the May morning dew. This is supposed to ensure beautiful, radiant skin all year.

I figure if getting up early enough to take a dewy frolic is enough to make for happy skin, I’ll try it. (My acne-prone skin will take all the help it can get.) Also, the garden needed watering, so I went and did that too. This meant that I was up and about around 7:30, which isn’t all that early, plus hey – naps rock.

Now, I live in a subdivision – an older one, but with many houses nonetheless. So even though I have a large-ish lot (just over 1/3 acre), there are neighbors in view. As such, my pyjamas just weren’t going to cut it as outdoor wear. Instead, I threw on a cute flower-print sundress.

It is important to the story that I mention I was ONLY wearing the cute flower-print sundress.

I went out and turned on the sprinkler in the front yard, properly clothed in my cute sundress, my hair looking as though I’d combed it with an eggbeater (curly hair + mornings = awesome). And then I went back through the house to water in the back.

As I passed by the garden cabinet on the porch I thought “Hmmm… You know, it’s Mosquito season, I might want some bug spray, and I’ve not showered yet, so I won’t stink of DEET at work.” I hosed down my arms and legs with the stuff and went out for the appropriate frolic/dew bath/garden tending. It wasn’t very sunny, but it was warm and breezy and quite nice.

(If you’ve not frolicked recently, I highly recommend it. I felt rather silly at first, twirling around like a top… but also felt very giggly and rather happy by the end of it. Plus, nobody could see me anyway, except the neighbor’s dog, who was completely uninterested in the batshit hippie next door.)

Having returned to the house with dewy feet, satisfied that the garden wouldn’t wilt, I discovered the one, utter, uncomfortable flaw in my plan.

I now have no less than four mosquito bites on my left butt cheek, plus one on the right for good measure.

And I have to go to work this evening.



*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

Forty-ish years ago, a senator by the name of Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) organized a nationwide environmental teach-in to help educate children and the population about environmental concerns. This was called Earth Day, and the first year saw about 20 million people participating.

Now, around 500 million people will “participate” in Earth Day (or Earth Week) around the globe.

It’s an interesting holiday, and one that has sparked a bit of back-and-forth within the environmental community, for a few reasons.

My own criticism of the holiday stems largely from the idea that we can learn about all kinds of things in one day, but UNLESS we actually make a change that matters, it won’t make any difference. Giving people a token action (say, giving money once to a local environmental charity) is not that useful if it is a one time token action. The money will be well spent, but one donation does not an environmentalist make.

Also, a lot of the things pushed for Earth Day are trivial.

Yes, choosing to use a reusable bag is a worthwhile investment, as it chooses to use a reusable thing rather than a disposable one… except that many reusable bags are made of plastic (more petroleum) or cotton (a crop that requires HUGE amounts of chemicals in most growing operations). And that paper bag comes from trees, and requires a lot of processing.

In short, most of the advice – like these stamps supposedly rolling out from the USPS this week – is insipid and silly in a culture that already KNOWS that there is shit going down with the environment. Maybe it’s because I had the luxury of being in grade school after the onset of Earth Day celebrations, but I’ve heard “turn off the water when you brush your teeth” since I was old enough to brush my teeth.

Most people have already chosen where they will or will not make changes. Right now, human wants are going to trump proposed “environmental changes”, especially when they’re inconvenient, or painted as inconvenient by industries that would be harmed by the change. And really, many “good” changes cost money – even so called “simple” ones like adding insulation to your house. Plus, some people think that anyone asking them to take care of the environment is just taking away their God Given Freedom To Do Whatever The Hell They Want as they throw still lit cigarette butts from their neon orange Humvees.

But then, if I look back at what I just wrote, there was a level of success there. Learning about the environment and taking care of it was just part of the April curriculum at school. It gave us a chance to plant trees and learn about sprouting beans in the classroom window.

If Earth Day can make little knowledge accessible to little kids, then I’m all for it. Much like Earth Hour, though, it’s only useful if we take it beyond one day. Knowing that you should do something is different than doing it.

Planting a tree is no use if all you do is plant it, and then leave the poor little sapling to shrivel up and die in the summer heat with no water. You did little for the environment UNLESS you kept up with caring for it.

Earth day works if Earth Day is a seed, not the full extent of the education.

As with any project, though, we have to start somewhere.

The used bookstore where I work spends a lot of time and resources on recycling and other small community education programs, as well as chain wide “competitions” (where stores work to use fewer bags for purchases, and then the Corporation donates a certain amount of money for each declined bag to a nation wide charity). Plus, a used bookstore is, at heart, a recycling operation. Our receipts for sold merchandise say “Thanks for giving a new life to your stuff.”

So today, as part of our store’s celebrations of Earth Day, I’ll be reading The Lorax aloud to whatever children I can find to listen. This will happen (in some form or another) in all the Half-Price Books stores in the country.

And I will emphasize to them the great UNLESS that Dr. Seuss poses to all of his readers. The challenge of UNLESS that is central to the message of The Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.

-The Lorax, Dr Seuss

Storytime with Anna

As I was practicing for my performance of The Lorax at work, I recorded myself reading it. I figure if I post that on the internet, I’ll have a HUGE audience, and that’ll be a little less nervous than reading for my coworkers and customers.

So here you go: The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

(And yes, it’s better with pictures)

The Best Soap Ever

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

Back when I was in college, I decided to start growing out my hair. On a long hair care board, I ran across a discussion of something called a “shampoo bar”. My hair is somewhere between wavy and curly, extremely fine, and relatively thin, so I have to be pretty careful with what I wash it with – curly hair likes lots of moisture, and regular shampoos give me the bad aquanet frizz look. Not very attractive.

After a lot of forum reading, I started looking into shampoo bars, since I figured it was worth at least experimenting. I learned that some of them are essentially just solid state shampoo – a detergent with sulfates that had the exact same effect on my hair as regular bottled shampoo. Others, however, were made with super-fatted soaps and not detergents at all.

Brief Intro to Soap:

Soap happens when you mix oil/fat/butter with lye. The chemical reaction is called saponification, and when it’s completed and the soap has cured, you’re not actually left with any lye, just soap, glycerine, and water. People can make soap with animal fats (tallow) or vegetable oils and butters.

Tallow soaps are very hard and can be harsh – my grandmother made some tallow soap and while nobody uses it to clean their skin on a regular basis, it will get engine grease off your hands or pretty much any stain out of clothing. (It also smells vaguely like sausage.) Soap for your skin is usually made with vegetable fats and is much gentler. Super-fatted soap is soap made with more oils/fats/butters than the added lye can saponify into soap, leaving delicious skin conditioning oils and butters behind in the soap.

Natural and handmade soaps also still have all the glycerine – a saponification byproduct that draws and holds moisture (humectant). Most commercial soaps remove the glycerine because they can then sell it to you in more expensive stuff, resulting in a harsher soap for you and more money for them, when you buy their glycerine lotions.


After a bit of highly unfortunate experimenting, I saw a recommendation for shampoo bars made by a lady named Ida. Ida runs an online (and in person, if you live in Ohio) shop called Chagrin Valley Soap and Craft. Most of the reviews were highly favorable about her handmade soap as well.

I bought some samples – both of her shampoo bars and of her myriad soap offerings. It didn’t take long for me to get totally hooked. While my hair only needs to be scrubbed with shampoo about once a week (otherwise I just wash it with water and light conditioner), I use her soaps every day.

My skin is weird – my face is oily and acne prone, but also very sensitive to cleansers and most face washes will leave me with horrible pizza-like patches of acne after just a few days. The rest of my body, especially my arms and legs, gets dry, bumpy itchy patches all year long, worse in winter (even here in the swamp, where we only get quasi-winter-ish weather for a few short months).

I’ve tried going Soap Free, and had about as much failure as Haemonic has had success – I wouldn’t necessarily say I stunk, but my skin was VERY UNHAPPY, even if I did drastically cut down on how often I wash the not-dirty skin (like my upper arms). Also, I do a lot of gardening. At the end of a good afternoon of work in the garden, not only are my hands and feet dirty, my legs are dirty, my hair is dirty, my ears are dirty, I probably have dirt up my nose, and depending on the wind and how sweaty I get? I probably have dirt in my bra too.

Such occasions actually require soap.

Changing over to super-fatted natural soap instead of detergent-based cleansers (or bars! many “bar soaps” at the big box store are actually detergent) got rid of all but the worst winter itchies and calmed my skin so that I only use one acne related product and a light moisturizer all year long. Which is good, because if you’re used to buying a 12 pack of Big Box Brand Antibacterial Body Soap for $3, paying for individual bars of handcrafted soap will make you a little dizzy. Being able to cut down on all the other gunk I was using helped offset the price, and I was supporting an awesome small business at the same time.

Now, I’m not going to say that only Ida makes really great handmade soaps. In fact, I know she’s one of many awesome crafters who make amazing skincare products. But if you’ve never tried a handmade, super-fatted soap before, I highly recommend you try one. And if you don’t know which one to try, maybe try a sample bar or three from Ida.

Not sure where to start? Try the Chamomile and Calendula, Cucumber Lime Yogurt, or Lemon Lavender – they’re all wonderful. If you’ve got acne prone skin, the Neem and Tea Tree is good, and extremely sensitive skin will do well with the Aloe soap and the Olive and Shea.

My favorite shampoo bars are the Carrot Milk and Honey and the Butter Bar.

I put in my first order to Ida in 2004, back before she had a checkout cart and processed all her orders just by email. These days things are more automated, and Ida has a full checkout system on her site, but the soaps are still just as awesome.

And the best part of mail ordering your soap?

Your mailbox (and your bathroom cabinet) will smell AMAZING.

To get the most use out of your handmade soaps (of ANY variety), you should store them out of direct contact with water on a tray of some kind so that they can dry. Because of the glycerine in natural soap, it tends to absorb water and “melt” more easily than detergent soaps. I also cut my soap and shampoo bars into thirds, since that gives me a good hand-sized chunk to work with and keeps the rest of the bar out of the humid shower air until I need it.

The Hidden Costs

(This is kind of a rant. Apologies. I don’t really offer a lot of solutions here, because I just … well, I don’t have them. But knowing about them is a start, even if the only thing I can do this week is choose to have hummous and tabbouleh for dinner (homemade and, as much as possible, home grown – and yes, I can post recipes!) one night instead of burgers. There are no “good” answers, only slightly better ones. I really dislike being all DOOM about this, because that doesn’t solve anything. At the same time, not saying anything … doesn’t solve anything either. So anyway, a rant about my frustration with food.)

I wouldn’t marry a farmer,
He’s always in the dirt.
I’d rather marry a railroad man
Who wears a striped shirt!
– From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s By the Shores of Silver Lake

There’s a bit of a discussion happening over at Seven Deadly Divas about where ethical choices begin and how any of us can have fun knowing where “stuff” comes from. It’s worth reading the original post, since this is as much a reply as anything. (It started as a comment and got WAY out of hand. My tedious verbosity knows few bounds.)

So anyway.

It pretty much sucks to be a farmer right now. The seeds, processing, shipping, and grocery stores are all controlled by a handful of companies (literally – there are about 5) who own almost the entire market share of food production in the US – as well as a large portion of that same market abroad. Seeds are being designed to self-destruct after one year, and it’s illegal for farmers to save seeds anyway, they have to buy new seeds every year – from the same companies who then lowball them on prices to sell to supermarkets and whose budgets allow the supermarkets to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a product on the shelf, making it impossible for the farmers to afford it themselves.

So these men and women end up “contracted” by various large companies, and go so far into debt that they often can’t even sell the farm to get out of it. Selling the farm incurrs capital gains tax, and they’ll often end up in MORE debt by trying to leave.

The average farmer makes about $0.15 per dollar of consumer cash spent on food. The rest? Goes to the companies in between – and that’s gross, not profit. Prices go up due to gas shortages? Farmers don’t get any of that increase, even though their equipment and a large percent of the farm pesticides, antibiotics, and fertilizers are derived from petroleum or rely on the petroleum industry (that’s another post).

It’s a little like serf-dom, really.

And then you get to the processing part.

A lot of people talk about what it’s like for the poor animals who live in factory farms. They’re absolutely right, of course. It SUCKS. Pigs and cows and chickens living in feed lots are not really living – unless you count standing on a grated floor eating other ground up animals and wallowing in your own shit all day as “quality of life”.

But there’s a human toll to this as well. The people who work in fields as farm labor are exposed to really nasty pesticides. It’s not much better for people who work in animal feed lots (who are required by the big companies who own their contracts to do exactly as the big companies say, including the feed lot housing and animal numbers, as well as then eat the cost when the animals get sick from the process).

And when things go wrong, at say, a pig farm, and the “Lagoon” of pig excrement busts a dam, and you have TWENTY FIVE MILLION GALLONS of pig shit that flood the countryside? Well, that’s pretty shitty for the wildlife AND the other people who live there – pun absolutely intended.

So it sucks to be a farmer. Back in the day, it was less sucky to be a meat packer, because the pay was better. So people leave the farms to get jobs in the meat packing industry.

Except that’s… well, worse. Repetitive stress injuries, huge lawsuits, no worker’s organization for any kind of bargaining rights, 13 hour days followed by cramped, insufficient, vermin-ridden company housing that’s deducted from your minimum-wage paycheck.

Ok… stepping off the soapbox. If you want articles for any of this, I’ll be happy to give references.

The other side of the problem, and where this intersects with the Divas post?

Everyone has to eat.

Everyone. If you don’t eat, you will die. It’s not exactly an arguable fact of nature. Same goes with water. If you don’t drink water, you’ll die too, and much faster. (And the amount of water pollution caused by 25 million gallons of pig shit is… well, ew.)

So when you go to the grocery store, all you see is a pre-packaged, neatly wrapped tray of pork chops, chicken breasts, or ground beef. (Another facet of the industry recently taken over by the processing companies – they used to ship whole animal sections to grocers for butchering, now it’s pre-packaged and boxed.) That shrink wrapped package on sale for $2.48/lb doesn’t say what happened to the animal or the people who produced it – those costs are hidden by the system of production and packaging.

Food prices are unquestionably rising, even as the US continues to ship about 30% of its crop overseas every year due to surplus. So we’re all paying more for food that comes from pretty terrible places, shrink wrapped into sterility. Which means our food dollars go less far, leaving less room to buy organic and locally produced food that just might offer a halfway decent quality of life to the people and/or animals involved.

Stephanie’s comment at the Divas is probably the most pertinent here – we all have to know our sphere of influence. Know what we CAN affect, and what we can’t. And, really, to pick our battles. If I allowed myself to get involved in all the things that bother me in environmentalism and human rights, I’d go crazy. And so, I’ve picked food and water. I figure that’s about as basic as they get, unless you’re in South Dakota in January, and then shelter is probably more important.

But even after choosing my battles, I can’t take on Monsanto, Cargill, ConAgra, Tyson, or Premium Standard Farms.

I can grow some of my own vegetables – a prospect that seems less and less like just a “hobby” skill. I can eat less meat, and try to eat the best meat I can afford (even though I know there are problems on that front too). I can shop at a local farmer’s market and be thankful that I have one available.

Except that it takes me 40 minutes to drive there, in my gasoline powered car.

Intersectionality kind of sucks.

Cultivating Kindness

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

There are a few posts flying around the interwebs about kindness lately (the one that first got me thinking is on the same site as was part of the notable Dickwolves Brouhaha).

I like words. Specifically, I like how words can be very precise even when we don’t really think about their meanings or use them interchangeably. For example:

Kindness vs. Niceness


  • having or showing a tender and considerate and helpful nature; used especially of persons and their behavior; “kind to sick patients”; “a kind master”; “kind words showing understanding and sympathy”; “thanked her for her kind letter”
  • charitable: showing or motivated by sympathy, understanding, and generosity


  • pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance; “what a nice fellow you are and we all thought you so nasty”- George Meredith; “nice manners”; “a nice dress”; “a nice face”; “a nice day”; “had a nice time at the party”; “the corn and tomatoes are nice today”
  • decent: socially or conventionally correct; refined or virtuous; “from a decent family”; “a nice girl”
  • courteous: exhibiting courtesy and politeness; “a nice gesture”

In relation to people, those are two very different concepts, and I think our society over stresses “niceness” to the point that “kindness” is often forgotten.

Which makes sense because niceness is about social compliance.

Someone who is socially or conventionally correct, who doesn’t “make waves”, inconvenience others, or act disagreeably, is a “nice” person. You can have nice dogs – they’re dogs that don’t impose on you, who behave appropriately and not intrusively or in an objectionable manner. It’s essentially… well… a social nicety. (Go figure on that phrase, right?)

Acting “un-nice” gets an immediate social reaction of disapproval and (sometimes) shame. We are expected to be nice – to value and serve the social structure as more important than the people in it.

Kindness, on the other hand, is more about awareness of others as well as self. It takes paying attention to others, and an active attempt to understand where they’re coming from and what’s happening. A nice response might be the same as a kind one sometimes, but ultimately niceness serves society where kindness serves people.

I’d even go so far as to say that kindness is more akin to compassion than it is to niceness. Kindness isn’t really something you can expect, and forced kindness starts to look a lot like being “nice” instead.

For example: as a child, I was told to write thank you notes to everyone who gave me gifts – to the point of not being able to use those gifts until I had written and mailed the thank you for it. That’s niceness.

As an adult, however, I know how much I love getting mail and hearing from friends in a physical way (especially the friends who live far away). I have intentionally kept up with writing thank you notes, not because I know it’s expected of me (it’s really not, at least not in this internet age) but as a way to do something unexpected and catch up with a friend. Do I gain some benefit from it? Of course. But that benefit is more from knowing that I have the ability to make a mailbox full of bills less depressing than it is from any expectation of a return note or even an acknowledgment. Writing a note has gone from socially expected niceness to a choice I make to do a little kind thing with 5 minutes of my day.

(I admit, however, that I did not particularly relish writing wedding thank you notes, because THOSE were expected social niceness. Even if I did have fun playing with stamps.)

The internet tends to value niceness over kindness – much like society as a whole. In large groups of people, those social niceties are what keep things flowing in a way that everyone is comfortable and familiar with.

Kindness stands out, where niceness is expected, and in our happy little intertube world, kindness is harder. It’s much easier to be compassionate to the friend sitting next to you than it is to think about a pixellated icon as a person to whom you might choose to be kind.

Of course, it’s easily as important to be kind to yourself as it is to be kind to others. Some would say (if you are one to believe in the golden rule) that being kind to yourself is the first step in being kind to others. To treat others as you’d like to be treated is to first value yourself and others equally and to know how you wish to be treated and what your personal and emotional state is

Sometimes the ultimate act of self-kindness is to allow yourself to look inward and rest, to step away from niceness and realize that putting others above yourself is as disproportionate as putting others below yourself. Forcing yourself to be kind to others in a way that depletes your energy and makes you miserable isn’t kind to you.

There’s a balance to be had there, and I’m the first to admit that I’m pretty bad at it. But I am trying, and slowly getting better at knowing when I need to be kind to myself and when I can choose to be kind to others (and reminding myself to apologize when I am decidedly unkind).

Niceness doesn’t really mean being good to yourself or to others, it’s simply social compliance. Not that social compliance is inherently bad (cutting in line is kind of asshatish), but it’s not the most important of our interactions with others. Niceness doesn’t improve friendships or create connections the way kindness can – and it certainly doesn’t recharge our batteries and allow us to rest and take care of ourselves. Kindness is one of the seven virtues precisely because it DOES do those things. I’d go so far as to argue that kindness (both to self and to others) can really improve the quality of our relationships.

And maybe that’s a little too kum-ba-ya for a Monday morning, but I think it’s important to think about.