Saturday, February 27, 2016

Blogging - why do I do it?

Definition of a blog - absolutely agree.
I love this definition from The Urban Dictionary
Just as I didn't write my book with the intention of publishing, in fact I didn't originally intend it to be a book, I wrote is as a form of therapy, I write my blog entirely for my own benefit - if you stumble across it and find somet of it interesting, then great, but I really don't much care if you don't. It amuses me, but more than that, on those occasions with I get frustrated or irritated by situations and people (mostly people), instead of lashing out, or worse, stewing quietly and getting stressed, I write about it.

When I left Ireland I also left my wonderful therapist behind. I had been seeing him twice a week for well over a year and the positive influence that he, and the therapy, had on my life is almost impossible to describe (it is chronicled in my book). But I wasn't finished with therapy. The traumas from my childhood and my first marriage were almost all spread out before me, and mostly dealt with, just not completely. So I started writing it all down. I very quickly noticed the benefits and continued to do so. Eventually I gave into pressure from family and friends who had read it, and published the book - more to get them off my back than for any other reason (I wrote about that here). But once it was published, it was finished so I turned to blogging because now writing was a habit.

As with my book, I never expected to make money or become famous and that is just as well because neither have happened. My book continues to sell a few copies every month and usually I don't even think about it. Sometimes my blog gets an unusually high number of hits, but mostly it just chugs along with sufficient number of regular readers so as not to be embarrassing. Not that I really care, seriously!

Interesting data from Jeff Bullas' web site
Of course, some people do make a lot of money - The Huffington Post is a good example. And here is an interesting article on eZaroorat - '10 Interesting Facts About Blogging' -which supports Jeff Bullas' information.

Here is an article that list the negatives of blogging. None of which particularly bother me. On the opposite side of the argument this article lists 20 of the biggest blogging benefits, but only list one of the reasons I blog, which is as a writing exercise, the others are:
  • To relieve frustration and irritation
  • To share information that I find interesting and maybe someone else will too 
  • It amuses me, 
  • To store information I, or my children, may need in the future, mainly my recipes which I have now moved to a separate blog here.
An added benefit is that I am constantly learning, because when I start writing I have to research the details, and while I am harvesting this information from the Internet, with no guarantee it is all correct, I find all sorts of articles which fascinate and enlighten me, not just on the subject currently under scrutiny, but many other subjects along the way, often giving me even more ideas to write about.

When I started blogging I knew that blogs are supposed to have a specific theme, but I have never been one to march to someone else's drum, I have my own which may be somewhat out of step with the rest of the world, but I like the beat. I started with a selection of miscellaneous essays I had already written, they were totally irrelevant to my book - you might argue that everything in my book was irrelevant, and you are entitled to your opinion - but these were less so and excluded from it for that reason. After that I meandered a bit, eventually I moved the recipes and restaurant reviews to AllAboutThePlate, as mentioned previously but I continue to write to suit myself.

Now an idea pops into my head and I start a blog entry with just few URLs found googling the subject. That sits waiting until I have time or sufficient interest to expand on it - or, as is currently the case with one article, waiting for some final piece of information before I can finish it. However, I don't put pressure on myself to write unless I want to and I continue to get great satisfaction from my hobby and I still do not expect to ever make money from my blogs,

Finally, The Authority Hacker has a fascinating article on those bloggers who do make a lot of money blogging.

 Source: Authority Hacker



Thursday, February 25, 2016

Relocating

This is something people who live in the US tend to do a lot, however, they mostly relocate between States, not countries. While there can be huge differences in everyday life between States, given how enormous the US is, varying climates and cuisine (I wrote about some of the differences in cuisine here) and a variety of imported influences, there are still less unexpected differences than experienced when moving between continents.

As I mentioned in my book, Peeling the Onion, I had not expected to encounter a language barrier when I moved to the US from Ireland, where English is the first language  - but I was surprised (read my blog here about that).

Almost 22 years later I still get caught out by language occasionally, when I use an expression and see blank faces, I realize I have used an 'Irishism' and it has not been understood, so I then have to explain myself.

But there are other things that are also unexpected and can be difficult, particularly if you are past your prime when you relocate, as I was - habits of a lifetime are hard to change, and that is always assuming that you are aware that they are considered 'wrong' in your new location, or just not understood, or worse, misunderstood.

Take for instance date formats (this from W3)



Weights  - luckily there are many calculators online, (this is one), as in Ireland weight is expressed in ounces and pounds up to 14 pounds, which is 1 stone. In France, for instance, they are fully metric.


Measures - just about everything you care to measure is different
Distance and Speed Limits:
Pints - there is no way that I could have figured all this out without Google:
Here is another site I use (Check Your Math)

Clothing - I still have to google these conversions, particularly shoe sizes when I am buying shoes to send to my grandchildren in Europe - and even then, it depends of whether I am sending to France or Ireland - because they are not even the same. Here is another cool website for this information.

Shoes
Clothing

Driving

In order to work, I had to get my US driver's license, so I had to quickly learn the rules of the road differences - all way stops were the most scary. Turning right on a red light - that just felt wrong and still does. School zones and School buses, all rules that don't exist in Ireland and all needed to be mastered before I could take the driving test.

Even more significant is the fact that in Ireland we drive on the left, therefore the driver's seat (and associated controls) are on the right. In Ireland, particularly when I was learning to drive, but even today automatic transmission is extremely rare. Everyone who owns a car, drives a manual shift - and not everyone owns a car as public transport is extremely good (see this blog) and cheap, plus it is almost impossible to find free parking anywhere in major cities. When I first arrived in the US, I bought a car with manual transmission - sat on what I considered the wrong side of the car, and it took me weeks to stop clutching at the door handle in search of the gear shift, which of course is on the left of the driver in Ireland, but on the right in the US. At the same time I had to concentrate very hard to remain on the correct side of the road, multi lane junctions and U-turns were the most difficult as I got somewhat disorientated while negotiating these. I still have to think before I get into a car, in case I climb into the wrong side. What is kind of pathetic is that I also have to do that in Ireland now.

Once again, weights & measures come in - in Ireland gas (which is called petrol) is purchased by the liter (spelt litre), here it is gallons.  Consumption is kilometers per litre in Ireland, miles per gallon here. And if all that is not confusing enough, speed limits are posted in Ireland as Kilometers, here it is normally miles, however, in South Dakota there are signs displaying both.

Irish speed limit sign
Regular US sign

South Dakota Sign


Spelling

Then you have the problem of spelling. I used to be quite good at spelling, but since I came to the US my spelling has gone to pot, both in UK and US English. I found this website to help me.

Pronunciation

There are also differences in pronunciation of some words on either side of the Atlantic, quite separate from accents. I will give you a few examples:

Vitamin, Aluminium, Privacy, Schedule, Ate, Garage, Water, Mobile, Advertisement, Herb, Tomato - and there are many more.

And what is worse I still get jeered for what Americans consider my mispronunciation, not just teased, seriously - jeered. There was the occasion (and I may have written about this one before - because it still annoys me when I think about it) when helping out at a Haunted House set up I was asked to get some Duct Tape from the supplies. I waited in line while a geeky type dealt with each person's request. When my turn came, I asked for duct tape - my Irish accent apparently made it sound like I said 'duc' tape' and he pretended to not understand what I was saying and made me repeat myself multiple times, then said in an extremely condescending tone 'In America we call it duct tape' and gave me a roll of tape.

Finally, while I love my life here, there is still that feeling of having left a part of me behind - which of course I have done, and I don't just mean family, I mean a part of my life, my past - the familiarity of places where I grew up that trigger memories and emotions. There is no place in the US that was ever part of my childhood, or part of my teenage years. It is hard to explain, but I think this sculpture does it better than any words :


A beautiful sculpture by Bruno Catalano demonstrating that piece an immigrant leaves behind

And of course, the Irish have been emigrants for centuries, here is another sculpture that I particularly like - depicting the famine emigrants.


Customs House Dublin. Painfully thin sculptural figures, by artist Rowan Gillespie, stand as if walking towards the emigration ships on the Dublin Quayside.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Planning for the future

.. the only thing you can be absolutely sure of, death.


I know, morbid. But avoiding being morbid will not make a damn bit of difference to the outcome. It is so much more sensible, and considerate of those who will be left behind, to deal with the details well in advance.  Mind you, who is to say how far in advance you are actually planning? My point is, take care of everything while you have all your faculties.




What if you ...
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
 - Dylan Thomas 1914 - 1953
What if you descend into dementia, or wind up in a coma?

Things to think about:
  1. Last Will & Testament - most especially if you have children (who do you want to care for them?)
  2. Financial Power of Attorney - so that your next of kin can access your funds and handle your financial matters.
  3. Medical Power of Attorney - so that your next of kin can make medical decisions on your behalf, and be kept informed of all your medical details, otherwise the medical confidentiality law could prevent this.
  4. Living Will - do you want to be kept alive under any circumstances, or have the plug pulled when you are clearly not going to recover and your next of kin cannot make those decisions for you.
  5. Long Term Care Insurance - the sooner you get this, the cheaper it is, and if you leave it too long you just might not qualify - if you show any signs of cognitive impairment, you will be refused. 
  6. Named Beneficiaries for all of your assets - this avoids the long and costly probate procedure.
  7. Life Insurance of course - everyone knows that.
  8. And finally - most finally - funeral arrangements.
And naturally, do make sure your next of kin are aware of your wishes and plans and where to find the documents when the time comes - because we all know, it will come.


My husband and I had taken care of 1 - 7 some time ago, # 8 was delayed but finally got around to it this week. It wasn't that we didn't want to do it, it wasn't that we were procrastinating. We actually made one failed attempt a number of years ago - failed because the 'gentleman' we met with at our local funeral parlor was not only a total gouger, he was also extremely obnoxious - I did not want my children to have to deal with such a creature while also dealing with grief. He tried to convince us that the average cost was 300% greater than we already knew it to be (my husband is very frugal and always does detailed research before buying anything). As we walked out he followed us bringing the price down with every step.

We finally did get around to it. I took the day off work and we met up with an extremely nice lady at Austin Cremations. I feel very comfortable letting her deal with my children when the time comes, I know she will take good care of them.



Because what we were actually paying for was Funeral Insurance, we had to go through the legal rigmarole of signing a contract. We paid in full for a cremation, one for each of us, and also added extra to cover the cost of the large number of death certificates that are required to make many of the items in the list above useful. The time it took to go through this process for each of us, allowed us to peruse the 'goodies' on display. Jewelry and art that can either hold ashes or fingerprints of the dearly departed. See below for photos.


Obviously the jewelry and what my husband irreverently referred to as salt-shakers, only hold a very small portion of the ashes. The large traditional urns and the interesting books which turned out to be a container for ashes, apparently hold what is left after the fire and the grinder. Yes, I looked it up, after a body is cremated, the chunks of bone are ground up and that is what you get in your urn.


If cremation sounds a bit gory to you, surely being buried in the ground to rot and be devoured by insects is no less so? Plus cremation is cheaper, and on balance, I believe it is more Eco friendly.

Austin Cremations worked perfectly for our needs. We do not want any funeral ceremony or services, we want the absolute least fuss. just whip the body away, turn it into ashes and let that be the end. My husband wants his ashes to go into the ocean, the gulf will do fine, the tides will keep him moving in the element he loves most. Personally, I really do not care. I want them not to mourn my passing but celebrate my life!

I would love to think that my ashes could be scattered on some site relevant to my love of the history of the West. The Alamo, or some of the most beautiful place on earth - Sedona Valley in Arizona, Zion Park in Utah. But ultimately, I want my children to have no extra expense, and the minimum of grief. I wasn't sure about the legality of such a thing so I asked Google, and amazingly, it is possible to scatter ashes in National Parks under Federal Jurisdiction.

Naturally there are rules and regulations but it is possible! That includes Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, The Grand Canyon. Who would have thought?  Here is a link to National Park Service Search Results for ashes.

Here is a wiki on cremation



and some articles on End of Life Planning:

New York Times
National Hospice & Palliative Care Org







Art


Jewelry and table decorations


mini urns - for sharing. What Larry referred to as salt shakers

assorted urns

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Year Resolutions



It is that time of year again. If you think it is too late to start talking about New Year Resolutions in mid February, don't forget that this is the Chinese New Year. Besides, resolutions should be an all year thing. There is no good reason to only make an effort to achieve a personal goal or two at the beginning of a new year.


Almost everyone resolves to get healthier, lose weight, exercise, drink more water. How long does it last? I think that depends on how much money you invest and how much you really want it. If you join a gym and pay a big fat membership fee, it is very difficult to let that resolution slide, at least for about 6 weeks.

Here are some interesting statistics, from StatisticBrain.com:

  • Resolution maintained through first week: 75%
  • Past two weeks 71%
  • Past one month 64%
  • Past six months 46%

And what is the number one resolution? Yes, Lose Weight. And, according to wikipedia, the most common reason for participants failing their New Year's Resolutions was setting themselves unrealistic goals (35%), 33% didn't keep track of their progress and 23% forgot about it.




Of course, if you want it badly enough you will make it happen. The trick is not to make resolutions just for the sake of it, give the matter thought and only resolve to make changes that are realistic and achievable.

This year I joined the masses and resolved to lose that weight, again. Yes, I have tried and failed many times, and tried and succeeded just a few times.


The one thing I learnt from my attempts futile and effective, I need to be held accountable, not just to myself. I need someone else to look at the scales with me at least once a week.

Other things that keep me on track are:

  • If it costs money - I absolutely hate waste of any kind, and wasting money is just not acceptable. 
  • I need the support of those with whom I live - that is very important, if I feel that I am inconveniencing my husband it makes it much harder.
  • Not only do I need to know that I am not inconveniencing him, I need a cheer leader, someone to keep me motivated as the ounces very slowly drop off. Because that is the hardest, half a pound at a time for all that struggle.
  • I need to get into the right state of mind, be mentally prepared.
However, I think I have found a diet that will not only work, but will continue to work after I have finally achieved my goal weight, that is, will keep me there and prevent me from piling it all back on again.

The Ideal Protein Diet - it covers many of the requirements. It definitely costs money, my husband recommended it, so his support is already there. I get to weigh in every week and it is convenient as I pass the door of the clinic I attend on my why home from work.


Now that I have made my resolution public, I absolutely cannot abandon it - I will post more information after I have made some progress, but so far, so good.






Thursday, February 4, 2016

Got an embarrassing itch?

Or worse? Next question, do you use wet wipes? If so, you might reconsider. In fact, I strongly urge you to check out the ingredients in any baby wipes or wet wipes you use on children. I used EWG's Skin Deep to do just that.

I mentioned before that I am not a germaphobe, but I don't like germs, yet here I am back in the toilet region again, for a very good reason. I didn't know that wet wipes could contain ingredients that were skin irritants. Not only wet wipes but also baby wipes.

To clarify, I am talking about the US here, that is not so much the case in Europe and Japan where formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in cosmetics or personal care products are either banned or very limited. This article expands on that and other ingredients, not only in personal care products, but many other products including foods,that have proved to be harmful.

I decided to blog about this, despite the fact that it is a somewhat embarrassing topic, in the hopes of preventing others from the same pain. And I do believe there is benefit in pushing yourself outside your comfort zone once in a while.

It did amaze, and disturb me to discover that I was using formaldehyde to clean my private, and quite sensitive areas. Unfortunately for me, I discovered this fact after, long after, I developed an allergy to the ingredients that should never have been wiped on the skin of a living creature. I now worry about all my makeup and soaps - and just about anything else I am likely to apply to my skin and leave for any period of time.

I think I was suffering for about a year - at first low level discomfort, and I was self medicating for what I was convinced was hemorrhoids - they didn't get better, in fact they got worse, until one day the discomfort suddenly became horrendous pain. I could scarcely walk. The allergic reaction I was experiencing was raw blistered skin - like a very bad burn. I have seen it compared to poison ivy which I have been lucky enough to avoid, if it feels like that I will continue to do all in my power to avoid it.

As soon as it was suggested to me that the wet wipes were the probably cause, I stopped using them. It took a full three weeks before I was pain free. Three weeks of carefully cleansing with warm water and Vaseline, and then applying a zinc oxide cream - yes, diaper rash cream.

A google search turned up a lot of people who had suffered the same appalling reaction. And a number of interesting articles on the subject. On top of that, there is a class action lawsuit for false advertising and misrepresentation regarding the flushability of these wipes (read about it here).

Science Daily , CBS, even Reuters and also, many very negative reviews on Amazon.com

Here are some excerpts from some of the web sites I googled.


I looked up the ingredients used in my wet wipes, and also one brand of baby wipes. Below is a description of each ingredient, some are non toxic and some are most definitely not. I included all of them for completeness. I suspect if I did this for all my make up, shampoo, conditioner and soaps, I might never use these items again.

Baby wipes:

Propylene Glycol
The FDA has categorized propylene glycol as "Generally Recognized as Safe."
Even with prolonged direct exposure, there is little to no skin irritation or sensitization. It subsides quickly once the area is flushed.

Aloe Barbadensis leaf juice
Use of topical aloe vera is not associated with significant side effects. Oral ingestion of aloe vera, however, may cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea which in turn can decrease the absorption of drugs. IARC studies have found aloe vera to be carcinogenic in animals, and state that it is a possible carcinogenic in humans as well.

Tocopheryl Acetate
Tocopheryl acetate is a form of vitamin E, a natural skin-conditioning agent and antioxidant. It is the ester of acetic acid andtocopherol and is often used as an alternative to pure tocopherol (or undiluted vitamin E) because it is considered more stable and less acidic.

Peg-75 Lanolin:
This ingredient is a chemically-modified form of lanolin, a fat-like sebaceous secretion of sheep. Lanolin is listed in the PETA's Caring Consumer guide as an animal-sourced product.
Function(s): Surfactant - Cleansing Agent

DISODIUM COCOAMPHODIACETATE:
This ingredient is a synthetic surfactant produced on the basis of fatty acids derived from coconut oil.
Function(s): Hair Conditioning Agent; Surfactant - Cleansing Agent; Surfactant - Foam Booster;Surfactant - Hydrotrope; FOAM BOOSTING; SKIN CONDITIONING

POLYSORBATE-20:
Polysorbate 20 (Tween 20) is a surfactant and emulsifier used in cleaners and personal care products.
Function(s): Fragrance Ingredient; Surfactant - Emulsifying Agent; Surfactant - Solubilizing Agent

Citric acid
is an excellent chelating agent, binding metals. It is used to remove limescale from boilers and evaporators. It can be used to soften water, which makes it useful in soaps and laundry detergents. By chelating the metals in hard water, it lets these cleaners produce foam and work better without need for water softening. Citric acid is the active ingredient in some bathroom and kitchen cleaning solutions. A solution with a 6% concentration of citric acid will remove hard water stains from glass without scrubbing. In the industry, it is used to dissolve rust from steel. Citric acid can be used in shampoo to wash out wax and coloring from the hair.

Disodium Phosphate
It is used in conjunction with trisodium phosphate in foods and water treatment. In foods, it is used to adjust pH. Its presence prevents coagulation in the preparation of condensed milk. Similarly, it is used as an anti-caking additive in powdered products. It is used in desserts and puddings, e.g. Cream of Wheat to quicken cook time, and Jell-O Instant Pudding for thickening. In water treatment, it retards calcium scale formation. It is also found in some detergents and cleaning agents.

Disodium Edta
The FDA permits this ingredient to be used as a food preservative, and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has assessed it as safe to use in OTC personal care products. Clinical tests have shown that standard concentrations of the ingredient do not irritate, sensitize or penetrate the skin. Though clinical data indicates that disodium EDTA is not well absorbed by the skin, it has been shown to enhance the dermal penetration of other ingredients contained in a product. Thus, cosmetic formulators must exercise caution when combining it with other ingredients potentially harmful if absorbed by the skin.

ETHYLENE BRASSYLATE:
Ethylene brassylate is a synthetic fragrance ingredient in the artificial musk family; also known as Musk T.
Function(s): Fragrance Ingredient; MASKING; TONIC

2-BROMO-2-NITROPROPAN-1

This one scared me so much I took a screen shot from EWG's search results, remember this is Baby Wipes, would you wipe this on any part of your baby's body? (Link here to the website page in case you can't read the screen shot.)



Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate
Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate is used as a preservative in cosmetic formulations; it is acutely toxic by inhalation and should not be used in products that can be aerosolized or inhaled.


Cottonelle wipes


Sodium Chloride
table salt

Sodium Benzoate
Sodium benzoate is a sodium salt that is present at extremely low levels in berries, apples, plums, cinnamon, and several other natural foods. There’s nothing scary about the chemical in these items. But lab-synthesized sodium benzoate (and its close relative, benzoic acid) are a different story. When these preservatives are added to foods and to the interior of metal cans that contain beverages or liquid foods, they can have a detrimental effect on your health.
For example, a small percentage of people are hypersensitive to sodium benzoate and can experience asthmatic attacks, hives, or other allergic reactions when they consume the preservative. A more common problem, however, is the combination of sodium benzoate and citric acid and/or ascorbic acid (vitamin C). When these ingredients get together, they form benzene, a cancer-causing chemical associated with leukemia and other blood cancers.

AMODIMETHICONE:
Amodimethicone is a silicon-based polymer.
Function(s): Hair Conditioning Agent

Phenoxyethanol,
Other HIGH concerns: Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Occupational hazards; Other MODERATE concerns: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive); Other LOW concerns: Data gaps
Phenoxyethanol is a preservative used in cosmetics and personal care products.
Function(s): Fragrance Ingredient; Preservative

Malic Acid
Malic acid is an organic compound with the molecular formula C4H6O5. It is a dicarboxylic acid that is made by all living organisms, contributes to the pleasantly sour taste of fruits, and is used as a food additive. Malic acid has two stereoisomeric forms (L- and D-enantiomers), though only the L-isomer exists naturally. The salts and esters of malic acid are known as malates. The malate anion is an intermediate in the citric acid cycle.

Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate
Very little information is available regarding Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate, although according toTriNature.com, it is a foaming agent that is derived from glucoside from coconut and corn. It is also used as a natural replacement for the ingredient known as sodium laureth sulfate, or SLES. It is seen in cosmetics and personal care products as a surfactant, most often in cleansing formulas such as mild facial washes and special sulfate-free shampoos (FaceProducts-Online).

Safety Measures/Side Effects:

No studies were found that reported any negative side effects regarding the use of Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate, although it is not reviewed by the Cosmetics Database or EWG. It is considered a milder form or alternative to sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. (Sodium lauryl sulfate has been linked to cases of contact dermatitis and other irritation, in part because of its ability change the structure of proteins, while sodium laureth sulfate does not cause this reaction but can still be irritating.)

Polysorbate 20
Polysorbate 20 is a polysorbate surfactant whose stability and relative nontoxicity allows it to be used as a detergent and emulsifier in a number of domestic, scientific, and pharmacological applications.

Lauryl Glucoside
Lauryl glucoside is a surfactant used in cosmetics. It is a glycoside produced from glucose and lauryl alcohol.
Fragrance/Parfum

Sorbic Acid

About SORBIC ACID: Sorbic acid is a naturally occuring and synthetically produced compound used as a preservative.
Function(s): Fragrance Ingredient; Preservative