Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

I’m at a point where I’m about ready to surrender to the circumstances that be and leave my growing menagerie of houseplants to their fate (which is to say, to an aggressive white mold, swarming fungus gnats, and possibly some type of mite). If it were up to me, I might just scrap it, toss everything and maybe eventually think about getting something new. Of course, it really isn’t up to me, because they aren’t solely my plants, and people who care about me have been generous to support my habit to its current point. Which leaves me with the option of dealing with it.

I first decided I wanted a plant in my dorm room (or I think this is why I wanted the first one) because I had enjoyed growing things in an outdoor garden, I had heard that certain types of plants could purify the air, and I liked the idea of adding some life to my dorm room (beside my roommate).

While I was at school, I’d say this remained the general idea, and it was relatively healthy. When I came home for the summer, though, the space available to me exploded, and my mom provided just enough tentative encouragement to push me to doing it more.

Buying plants, though, has become a replacement for buying stuff, which is not such a healthy habit. I’ve been doing my best to ignore the occasional bouts of gadget envy in the hope of saving money. However, because I had a plausible excuse – plants are beneficial, after all, right? – I was okay with buying more plants. If there’s any doubt that I’ve switched into a consuming mode, I needed only stop and actually listen to my thoughts. “If I could just have this plant and this one, I’ll be happy with my little collection.” And after I bought those plants, “If I could just get that new plant, then I will be happy.”

I recognize this line of thinking; it’s the reason I have an iPod I don’t use.

Now, the problem has been compounded (since otherwise, I could simply reign in my new habit and do my best to enjoy the plants I have) by the health problems of the plants themselves. The mold is, I’m fairly sure, not healthy for us to be around any more then it can be healthy for the plants. But there it is, on the surface of all the soil and now even on the terracotta pots after every watering.

So, fungicides are used, and I try to get the plants on some sort of watering schedule that lets them dry out more between waterings.

The fungus gnats, wherever they came from, buzz around our house, never in a swarm, but gnats will be gnats, and they are annoying as hell. Not to mention the list of potential damage they (or their larva) can do to the plants themselves (including, but not limited to, eating new roots or delaying the creation of roots in young plants).

Pesticide naturally follows, in increasing doses that correlate to just how frustrated I am feeling (and how many gnats I saw) the day I apply it.

Which leaves me, where, exactly? With a number of moldy, bug infested, and now also highly toxic plants (did I mention one of our oldest plants is a trusty basil plant, now soundly rendered inedible) and still the nagging feeling that a Fisiulera would make it all better.

You can see why I am frustrated.

However, as I said, surrender is no option. So what is? Well, for the time being, more fungicide and pesticide, plus any and all other semi-mythical cures we can concoct. Also, accepting the abandonment of any side projects (like our silent avocado pits), and the salvage of any of those project’s materials as possible (meaning, if the pots, but probably not the soil, can be considered anything but hazardous waste), all on the premise that less dirt should mean less problems.

I think the plants can probably pull through. I hope they can, because I am starting to get back to my original mindset, plants as pets, and (when I’m done feeling bad for myself) I feel awful for what I’ve let happen to them. Make no mistake, there is a decent chance still that we’ll lose more plants. I’ll have to hope thats not the case and look forward to the day (say in about three or four months) when the various toxic chemicals have been sufficiently flushed from the soil that I can once again play in the dirt, which was the whole point in the first place.


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“You Walk Wrong”

A while back I came across an article from New York Magazine called You Walk Wrong. It’s an interesting piece about the many ways that shoes (perhaps especially those that promise not to) mess up our feet. Not only painful shoes, either, but all shoes, inherently, because they are shoes.

I was thinking about the article one day while on a walk, and I decided to slip off my sandals and try out the barefoot option. It was an interesting experience, occasionally interrupted, of course, by painful pebbles and such. It’s a completely different experience walking when you can feel details of the ground underneath you. The asphalt was surprisingly smooth, the sand very fine and slightly cool, and the grass soft, with big clumps of cold. In short, it’s like walking on your hands.

The most interesting thing, though, was something the article warned me about. Walking in shoes immobilizes the foot, forcing the leg to do more work. We typically aren’t aware of how bad this is for us because all the padding in our shoes masks the discomfort. I noticed, while barefoot, that my feet and toes were tired. Not sore, tired. They were actually doing work, instead of serving as big blocks of flesh.

I ordered a pair of Vibram Five Fingers after this little experiment, hopeful of a positive (if unusual) solution. When they arrived, my feelings were mixed. They looked cool (at least to me) and did feel a lot like going barefoot. However, my feet are an odd shape (do many people with perfectly normal feet go searching for a shoe solution?) and my longish toes vary too much in length for the folks at Vibram. As it was, some of my toes were a little cramped, while others didn’t reach the end of the shoe. Since a size larger or smaller would have solved one problem by exacerbating the other, a trade-in was out of the question. I returned them (and can tell you that Vibram is a fine company to deal with in this regard).

What’s the perfect solution? I don’t know. I am still looking for a new pair of shoes. My inclination is to go to a reputable store where I can ask a knowledgeable person to find shoes which fit my feet and leave it at that. In the meantime, my same old sandals and bargain bin sneakers do the trick when I am not comfortable walking au natural.

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I’d say I fall squarely in the Global-Climate-Change-is-real-and-we-need-to-do-something-about-it camp. I’m probably more of a pragmatic environmentalist, but I worry over wasting water, drive a tiny, gas-sipping Aveo, and want to make my garden bigger every year. I support renewable power, conservation, etc. I’m also smart enough to realize I could be wrong.

The climate change we’re experiencing (I do believe it’s real, but could be wrong there too) could be caused by any number of factors. Some might be beyond our control, some might reverse themselves shortly.

Who knows? Maybe its the end times, in which case I have bigger problems then my carbon footprint.

So what if I’m wrong?

The truth is, I wouldn’t feel too horrible about the things I’m changing.

Using less energy, or renewable energy, lessens our dependence on foreign oil and saves me money. Both, i think, are pretty well good without qualification.

Eating locally, or growing my own food, in addition to saving the use of tons of pesticide and lots of fuel to bring me bananas from Chile, means I eat better tasting and more nutritious food. Besides, gardening is just fun. Have you ever grown your own tomato and eaten it fresh off the vine, warmed by the sun? Try it, and trust me, you’ll come out of it not only with a more enlightened relationship to life and food, but seriously considering tearing up part of your lawn to plant a garden.

Walking or biking more (which is actually a necessity on my campus for non-environmental reasons) makes me more fit. I know everyone says that, but it’s true, at least anecdotally. I lose a solid ten-fifteen pounds every fall when i get back to school and put away my car keys.

Protecting wild lands has plenty of benefits besides any related to climate change. For starters, there are alternatives to oil. Biodiversity is a one off product, and I for one don’t want to have to wait for the millions of years it would take new species to evolve (disregard that if you must, in respect of your religious beliefs – if anything, not believing in evolution makes biodiversity that much more significant, since once we lose one of God’s creations, it never comes back). Many of the plant and animal species potentially hold new medicines or other scientific discoveries; again, once they’re gone, they’re gone. Besides, I feel a rich natural world, and more of it, makes the world a more beautiful and interesting place. (Then again, I love the Rewilding Project, which once suggested releasing wild African elephants into the southwestern US to replace the recently [10,000 years before present, give or take] lost large herbivores and solve some invasive species problems. Is that not awesome? Okay, almost no one agrees with me.)

If nothing else, most things people tell you to do to help the planet also help our communities. They create (sustainable) jobs, encourage community, and foster learning.

Is any of that so bad? And what is there to lose?

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It seems to be that all the most mature people I know have something in common: their parents treated them like adults even as children. (Exact details vary, and the changes show in the person, but this general theme holds.) This sort of trust is hard, no doubt. The world can be a dangerous place, though probably not as dangerous as the nightly news would have you think, and children are, well, children after all. However, a big part of growing up is making mistakes, and maybe getting hurt. The important thing to remember, though, is that these mistakes are typically more frightening then they are damaging.

Take the recently posted (and very controversial) story of Lenore Skenazy, who left her 9-year old son at Bloomingdale’s (in Manhattan) with a bus/subway map, twenty bucks, and a few quarters in case he needed to call home. People have been calling for her head, or at least for child abuse charges, but for nothing. Her son made it back fine, proud of himself and better prepared for life. I’ve made a similar trip before a bunch of times, and it is significantly less difficult then most things we ask young children to do. If you remember a few numbers and follow signs (both very useful things to teach children, especially in New York), it’s a piece of cake. From what I can gather in the story, here are a few key take-away lessons.

Prepare your child. Lenore didn’t just dump her child in the middle of nowhere. She gave him a reference point, a map, and more then enough cash to make the trip. I’m sure, as well, that she’s taught him a million little lessons on subway and bus navigation while they’ve traveled around New York. So he wasn’t really doing anything new, he was just doing it independently.

Realize you can’t always prepare your child. The world is simple too novel a place to account for every possibility. (Fun fact: linguists suggest that most sentences you ever utter are unique to your experience, and will probably not be uttered again.) At some point, you have to trust that, even if your children reach a point where they don’t know exactly what to do, they’ll be able to fake their way through it. After all, you probably do the same thing every day (who taught you how to deal with that customer service rep?).

You can’t always protect your child. As stated in the article, “The statistics show that [child abduction] is an incredibly rare event, and you can’t protect people from very rare events. It would be like trying to create a shield against being struck by lightning.” In fact, I would argue that being overly protective of children does more harm than good. It’s impossible to protect your children from everything, and odds are if someone really wants to hurt your child, they can and will. Instead, if something happens to your child, you should hope that they are independent enough to take car of themselves. Take little Ashlie Chumley, one of several amazing your children I’ve heard (but not very much) about recently.

Last year, 11-year-old Ashlie Chumley of Houston was abducted from the hallway of her church. Having seen Escape School on television a year earlier, she escaped from her abductor by waiting until his car slowed down, and then jumping out. She found her way back to the church by running more than a mile in the dark, following the glow of a steeple on a church that she remembered was next to her own. Within 45 minutes, she was back with her family.

True, it would be a traumatic experience for a child. Odds are, though, that law enforcement couldn’t have helped, at least not immediately. Instead, she got herself home, and is safely with family.

You don’t always need to protect your children. My favorite line in Lenore’s column is this:

I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, “Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”

Most important of all, recognize that being too protective is harmful to your child. Your child is not you, is not a pet, and sooner or later your child will be an independent person. Without letting them learn how to be that, you’re hurting their chances at being successful. So join Lenore’s new Free Range Kids movement, and give your kids the sort of childhood you probably remember having.

“Here’s your MetroCard, kid. Go.”

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50 Easy Ways To Lose Weight

I recently came across a Readers Digest article on 50 Easy Ways To Lose Weight. (Actually, they gave us almost sixty.) Some are a little out there, some a little mundane, but a few were really interesting. Here are some of my favorites.

4. Carry a palm-size notebook everywhere you go for one week. Write down every single morsel that enters your lips — even water. (Ed- I actually plan on doing this soon.)

12. Downsize your dinner plates. Studies find that the less food put in front of you, the less food you’ll eat.

17. Eat one less cookie a day.

22. Pare your portions. Whether you eat at home or in a restaurant, immediately remove one-third of the food on your plate. (Ed- This is to counter-act the trend towards larger servings. For fast food, step down a size.)

26. Eat only when you hear your stomach growling.

35. Wash something thoroughly once a week — a 150-pound person who dons rubber gloves and exerts some elbow grease will burn about four calories for every minute spent cleaning, says Blake.

52. Serve individual courses rather than piling everything on one plate. Make the first two courses soup or vegetables (such as a green salad). By the time you get to the more calorie-dense foods, like meat and dessert, you’ll be eating less or may already be full.

What other easy ways do you have to help lose the weight?

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On Advertising

The short story, of course, is that advertising sucks: it is a carefully crafted way to separate you from your money. It makes you feel uncool, afraid, or in need when you aren’t, and then tells you what you can consume to make it better.

The long story is a little more complicated. Not because advertising has great redeeming virtues (I don’t think it’s even as funny as it used to be anymore), but because I would be doing you an injustice without mentioning some ways to avoid advertising’s influence.

The most obvious, of course, is to cut yourself off from it. If you don’t see it, it can’t effect you. Unfortunately, that usually isn’t an option. I know I am not willing to make the sacrifices I would need to make. So what can you do?

One way is to become a savvy consumer. I didn’t realize it until I recently read this article on Get Rich Slowly, but I think my parents did a fairly good job of preparing me. Learn a little about economics and advertising. Think critically about commercials, at least occasionally. What are they selling? How are they selling it? Quite often, thinking about it is enough to break the control. You’ll question, and usually advertising’s arguments can’t stand up to questioning (unless it’s a genuinely good product). I know I feel good every time I notice what the advertiser didn’t say about a product. One guess why that car commercial didn’t mention fuel mileage? Or safety features?

Viewing them as humor works too. Frankly, a lot of the commercials out there are funny, but not for the reasons the advertisers intended. One recent car commercial, for example, explains that recent research showed that cup holders are the top priority when most women choose a new car. The commercial then goes on to deny that as silly and explain how big the engine is. I’ve got to hand it to them, they are apparently experts at alienating their demographic.

Perhaps the best way to fight advertising, though, is to keep personal goals in mind. If you know what you want, and how to get there, you wont be as easy to sway. Before you buy another new TV, remember your financial goals. Before the Oreos, remember your diet. Advertisers typically don’t sell you on a product, but on what the product will do for you. Not cars and diet pills, but popularity and a sexy body. If you already know what you need and how to get there, you wont even hear those commercials.

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On Hereditary Disease

(It feels like it’s been too long at Step Lightly without me posting something that got my friends and family sending me worried e-mails. Thats a shame, because that’s half the fun of blogging. So here goes.)

My mom has been diagnosed with depression. She’s been fighting with it for years and has done incredibly well in my estimation.

I’ve been thinking about it lately. Though the evidence is mixed, it seems that depression is at least somewhat hereditary. Whether this is due to a biological cause or just the strong influence parents have on a child’s development is unclear, and probably some mixture of both is responsible. I’ve known that for a while, but somehow it never sunk in until recently that, like the big noses and receding hairlines that run on my father’s side, it might be down the road. This is a bizarre feeling.

Don’t get me wrong. I by no means think it is a forgone conclusion. The hereditary link with depression is not very clear; more like a gentle push in that direction. Nor do I feel particularly inclined to it. I’m one of the more chill people I know (I think thats a fair assessment), and I think a lot about how to make myself happier (you probably guessed that from the blog). Still, thats a bit like someone exercising and eating a low cholesterol diet to avoid their family’s heart disease, isn’t it?

The funny thing is, I haven’t been worrying about it so much as just contemplating it. It’s sort of like seeing a train way off in the distance and thinking, “hmm, I might just need to move.” I suppose this post isn’t so much about giving you all advice as wondering, how do other people deal with this sort of thing? If you’re in a similar situation, how do you feel about it? Would you rather know something like this was in your future, or live worry free?

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