I’m An Adult Now – Steam Cleaners

dog_carpet

One of the important parts of adulting is knowing the how, when and why of keeping things clean. When I recently posted to Facebook about steam cleaning my sofa I got an incredulous reply from a friend exclaiming that they didn’t even know you could do such a thing, and please would I explain how.

So let’s start with the fact that all fabric things around your house get dirty. Or at least dusty. Here at House O’ Fits, things such as curtains, throw cushion covers, table runners and bed spreads get laundered on a quarterly basis. I use the change of season (solstices and equinoxes) as my calendar guide. Linens that are more delicate or harder to dry, especially if they don’t come in direct contact with skin/hair or pets (things such as pillows, feather duvets and feather or wool mattress pads) generally get washed annually. (Yes, I said washed… I totally wash my feather linens and put them in a dryer – they turn out fine.)

But what about carpets, rugs or fabric-covered furniture?

Dudes, these should also be cleaned. Not constantly, but at least somewhat regularly.

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A Little Squirt of Crazy

nasal sprayTo begin, an apology to anyone with an anxiety-related mental illness. I have no intention of implying that anyone with an anxiety disorder is “crazy” (which is considered an inappropriate usage) but really, crazy is the only reasonable term I can come up with to describe what I recently experienced. It was a really brief glimpse at what it might feel like to suffer from anxiety/panic attacks and to experience what people with mental illness must face when dealing with the medical system, but I don’t purport to speak for anybody else, to define anxiety-related mental illness, or to present myself as an expert in any way. Rather I want to share my experience of a very specific situation that was one of the most terrifying events of my life.

Early in February of 2015, I came down with a cold. It moved though fast and I was feeling remarkably better after only a few days. Then the second wave (or a second cold) hit. This time it was bad and I started taking a pile of cold medicines to try and make life a bit less miserable. Specifically I was taking one of those daytime/nighttime cold pills and making regular use (but still following the usage directions on the package) of a generic store-brand nasal decongestant spray.

I had started out with pills that included pseudoephedrine, and those worked reasonably okay. When they ran out I turned to another, similar product that replaced the pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine. For those not in the know, or who missed the early seasons of Breaking Bad, pseudoephedrine, despite its efficacy, is being phased out of cold medications because it is regularly used as an ingredient in the production of meth. (As a cold medicine it tends to make people fairly stoned, but it also works decently well at its intended purpose.) Phenylephrine, the drug now being used instead, does a pretty crap job of actually decongesting anything, which means that in all likelihood, more people will do what I did and will use  decongestant spray on top of that.

The problem with those decongestant sprays is that you can only use them for 3 to 5 days or you risk a rebound effect (it takes more of the medication to work, and it doesn’t last as long); addiction to this product is pretty rampant. So after 5 days (specifically, February 15th) I stopped using the spray.

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Lucky Dip – January 2, 2014

Yes, I’m trying this again. Shut up and enjoy the links.

octopus

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get this for Christmas, but I’m sure it was just an oversight. Hubby’s probably just saving up for it. Or trying to figure out where, at 4ft across, we’d put it. This one-of-a-kind piece by Mason Creations is sold, but there’s always next year.

vincentprice

If you didn’t already think Vincent Price was awesome, here’s another reason – he wrote a book about his dog! Illustrated by Hirshfield, of course.Via Dangerous Minds.

yearbook Olde Tyme high school yearbooks, just as boring as current ones, except for all that hair! Via Twisted Sifter

smashscale

Ditch that whole idea of standing on your bathroom scale and feeling bad about yourself this new year. Instead – get all “Office Space” on that tyrannical appliance and savour the freedom behind the idea that numbers are meaningless. Via The Militant Baker

martinet

Steampunk? We’ve got your steampunk right here, Buddy. The beautiful nature sculptures of Edouard Martinet, made from spare parts.  Via Dangerous Minds

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Perfum(ing) 2

perfume gas mask

If you watched CBC’s The National last night you might have caught my 15 seconds of fame as I was interviewed for a piece about perfume and perfume allergies.

Unfortunately due to a miscommunication on the specific topic and my own failure to research the correct issue, very little of what I said in the interview was used, and what did get used was out of context.

When the producer originally contacted me, I was told the piece was about a new law in the European Union that would force perfume companies to list the ingredients on the labels. In fact, the piece was about a move by the EU to ban certain (natural) ingredients that have been in perfume for decades and are thought to be the cause of an increased number of allergic reactions to perfume products.

So when Aaron Saltzman asked me if I though the ban was a good idea, and I near-shouted “Absolutely!”, I was wrong.

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Let Them Eat Cake – On Women and Their Relationships with Food and Body Image

cake

Dear women of the Western world, please have some cake. That’s right, get up right now, and go get yourself something frosted and gooey and decorated to within an inch of its life. I implore you to treat yourself, just because it’s a crappy, cold, grey Monday.

However, if you go have cake, there are rules. First, no hiding the cake. No sneaking it back to your desk, or hiding in a closet while you devour it. Eat that baby out in the open, and to hell with what anyone else thinks! Second, you must eat the cake and then forget about it. No making yourself feel guilty, no calculating how many extra crunches you need to do to work it off. Third, no remorse, after the fact, when a skinny girl walks past you on the street, and you start thinking about how much closer you’d be to that “ideal” figure if only you’d not eaten that stupid delicious bit of pastry and frosting.

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My New Year’s Non-Resolution – I Resolve to Never Run

January 2nd – the first day of 2013. (We don’t count January 1st, just to accommodate everyone with a killer hangover.) A brand-spanking new calendar, a good time to make a fresh start of things.

I have a weird relationship with new year’s resolutions. While I have done them in the past – quit smoking one year, became vegetarian another – part of me also really dislikes the idea that the entire Western world will get up today intent on fixing what is wrong with ourselves. It’s a nice marker, offering ease of calculation, in the same way that a small business might choose the calendar year as their business year, just to make things easier at tax time. But other than that, it’s essentially meaningless. Only the whims of the Gregorian calendar determine the “new year”. Logically, it would make more sense to tie the new year to the Solstice on December 21st.

In any case, we all get a little crazy for a few weeks in January, trying to become better people.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with self-improvement. Setting goals for the coming year, planning to cut out the bad habits and create new ones. But the motivation has to be meaningful, and it has to be personal. And ultimately, whether it’s the addition of a new habit or the subtraction of a bad one, it has to be something that makes you feel good about yourself.

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Hospital Food

This piece was written for my book, Kitchen Party, but somehow, in the transferring of 47 essays and images to the final manuscript, it got lost. I remembered/discovered it this past weekend and was very disappointed, because not only was it written specifically for the book, it is one of my favourite pieces. So I’m sharing it here instead. If you like it, please check out my book over at Stained Pages Press, which is full of similar pieces.

Donuts. Muffins. Trays upon trays of little bowls of pudding; today it’s vanilla. Pan after pan of brownies and carrot cake, both options on the regular menu for tomorrow. And, can it be? A three-layer birthday cake decorated with frosting roses and swags. “Happy Birthday Andrea”. I don’t know who Andrea is but she must be someone special to warrant a huge cake like that in a place like this.

So cold. I can’t stop shivering. The sleeves on my uniform are short, if someone doesn’t show up soon, I’m going to freeze to death. They’ll find me in the morning, asleep in a corner, discarded muffin wrappers around me, jam from the donuts in splurts down the front of my apron, my exposed skin slathered with the butter-cream from Andrea’s cake as an extra layer of insulation against the cold.

What time does the morning shift start anyway?

**

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Crazy Acorn Lady – Making Life Difficult for the Rest of Us

It read like an April Fool’s Day joke. Yesterday, the Toronto Star ran a story about a Woodbridge woman who wanted oak trees near her sons’ school cut down because her two boys are allergic to tree nuts.

The obvious rebuttals come to mind:

– acorns are not food, there’s no plausible reason for teenaged boys to be eating them
– they’re teenagers, not toddlers, and if allergic, should know enough to avoid oak trees during acorn season
– um… don’t roll around under oak trees?

On one hand, you’ve gotta feel really sorry for her kids who have enough stress dealing with real allergens (the article says they’re allergic to peanuts and their school – indoors – is nut-free), and now have to deal with being the spawn of crazy acorn lady.

But there’s also the risk now that the very real concerns regarding allergies – both of her kids and the rest of us – won’t be taken seriously because of the over-reaction and helicopter parenting of one woman who made the news.

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Your Fat Makes Me Crazy

If you live in the western world, no doubt you’ve seen or heard about this video, created by a Wisconsin news anchor after receiving a letter from a viewer who was ostensibly “concerned” about her health and her ability to be a role model to viewers.

As a fat woman, I am fully supportive of Jennifer Livingston and her decision to turn the tables on her critic by taking to the air to rebut his passive-aggressive comments (according to the Toronto Star, the two exchanged emails back and forth but when contacted by Associated Press, the man claims to have deleted the email conversation.)

What is disturbing about all of this is that there are people out there who think they have every right to tell a complete stranger what they think of their looks.

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Yogurt – Still Full of Lies

Am I beating a dead horse if I link to yet another article pointing out that health claims on packaged food are (intentionally) misleading?

This NY Times article doesn’t really reveal anything new if you’ve been following the whole story over the past few years, but it speaks to the stretches of truth advertisers will make and the overall gullibility of consumers when you consider that people are still buying these products.

It just feels like a battle food advocates can never win. Between advertisers and media willing to repeat any study that touts a “superfood”, or an ingredient with nutritional properties, the people standing up and saying, “hey now, wait a minute, do more research” are the ones made to look like kooks.

But how sad is it that we’re willing to buy yogurt, or juice or cereal because of false promises of restored health? I’m angry that people don’t take more time to inform themselves about what they’re buying and putting into their bodies, but I’m also a little shocked at the desperation of people willing to try anything that offers any kind of promise of improvement, be it weight loss, digestive health or, scariest of all, cancer prevention.

I don’t agree with everything said by author Michael Pollan, but “don’t buy food with health claims on the package” has to be one of the wisest things I’ve ever read.

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TV Chefs Need to Clean Up Their Acts

When I was a kid, my Mom had a plaque on the wall that said: “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.” Never one to be happy living in dirt, or even disorganization or clutter, I was never really fond of the damn thing.

Sure, there are times when a little dirt won’t hurt us. And yes, studies are all very clear on the fact that children exposed to dirt and germs end up being much healthier than kids brought up in sterile environments, particularly because all the cleaners used to make the environments so sterile are probably making them more sick than the dirt might.

In the kitchen though, poor sanitation habits can indeed make us sick.

The problem is that we have really poor role models.

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Moo Juice – Not the Magic Food You Think It Is

I’m kind of boggled to see this article about milk and calcium on a mainstream media website. For years, pretty much everyone has fallen in line with the dairy-industry-promoted tagline “milk does a body good”. But there has been lots of proof, for years, that milk, in fact, doesn’t do a body good at all and that the animal fat proteins in milk outweigh the good you get from the calcium.

I came across this same information years ago when I was diagnosed with a dairy allergy and started researching the dairy industry to maybe try and find out why (as I was also diagnosed with some chemical sensitivities, the doctor wasn’t sure if the allergy was the milk protein casein, or something else like antibiotics that might be in the milk). I came across lots of articles and studies touting the party line of milk being such a wonderful food. But in almost every case, the piece could be traced back to the dairy industry, which, it must be noted, have a HUGE vested interest in wanting people to equate their product with good health.

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Well, Now We’re Screwed

This is the letter I just sent to the Minister of State for Agriculture regarding the announcement that the Conservatives are considering loosening the restrictions on functional foods. If you care about the fact that food companies are allowed claim their foods are healthy because they’ve added extra vitamins, or “healthy bacteria”, please contact the Agriculture Minister and the Minister of State, as well as the shadow cabinet ministers from the opposition parties and your own member of parliament and let them know that you want these restrictions tightened, not loosened.

The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of State (Agriculture)

cc: Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture,
Wayne Easter, Liberal Agriculture Critic,
Alex Atamanenko, NDP Agriculture Critic,
Olivia Chow, Member of Parliament, Trinity-Spadina

Dear Mr. Blackburn,

I am writing to you regarding the announcement that the government is considering easing federal restrictions on “functional foods”, as detailed in today’s Toronto Sun: <http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2011/01/24/17017606.html>.

Given the overwhelming research indicating that function foods are merely advertising ploys; that the addition of vitamins and minerals serve only to help sell products; and that front of package nutritional claims are intentionally misleading, why would our government be so foolish and naive as to consider loosening these restrictions instead of tightening them?

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Backs Against the Wal

I would be surprised if anyone, let alone anyone in the “foodie bubble” hasn’t heard the news of Wal-Mart‘s new commitment to selling healthy food. I’ve got a list of links below, but some points to remember on the new program:

  • it will be officially rolled out in the US only – Wal-Mart Canada will be affected only in terms of house-brand products, and any influence to other corporately-produced foods
  • the goal is to reduce added sugars, salt and industrial trans fats in Wal-Mart’s own branded products and to pressure corporate food processors to do the same  – this is really just making unhealthy processed foods *slightly* less bad, it is NOT a concerted effort to add healthy foods, or brands with health as part of their MO to the shelves
  • junk food, particularly soda, will remain unaffected, leaving the “choice” up to consumers

However, we cannot overlook Wal-Mart’s huge buying power – it is the only corporation in the world that can get away with dictating to producers how their product must be made, right down to the packaging. (Wal-Mart is in the process of implementing sustainability ratings for all products it sells, which will include disposal of said product and its packaging.)

The new program also vows to bring food to food deserts, support smaller farms, bring back staple crops to areas that have been hard hit by competition from California and Florida, and shorten travel distances for the food it sells.

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Market Mondays – Pumpkin/Squash

It’s the week before Halloween, which means that many people will undoubtedly be carving up that Halloween Jack o’ lantern. But of course, in the food world, we’ve been eating pumpkins, and other types of hard winter squash, for weeks now. Indeed, if I see one more recipe for pumpkin cheese cake, I might… well, I’ve already screamed. That might just be because I’m more of a fan of pumpkin pie than cheesecake, but it seems to be ubiquitous this year.

In any case, pumpkins; members of the squash family. Related to softer summer squashes (zucchini), as well as gourds (the smaller inedible varieties of squash) and distantly related to melons. Squashes are native to North America, most likely Mexico, where they are traditionally grown alongside corn and beans in a symbiotic system known as The Three Sisters. Pumpkins and squash were introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus, and their cultivation was mostly due to Spanish and Portuguese explorers.

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Moldy Oldies

In 2002 or so, I was tested for allergies and started immunotherapy. Mold, dust and a few other things were the culprits, and I had been having problems for years, especially in the summer. Unlike many people, immunotherapy (aka, a weekly needle) worked great for me. Except the doctor I was dealing with didn’t really explain the whole process to me. Like the fact that you do the shots for about 3 to 5 years, and then after another 3 to 5 years, the allergies usually come back.

I stopped getting the shots in 2005. I had broken my arm and it was inconvenient. And the program had worked. I thought I was cured. A couple of years ago the allergies started coming back. The first time was when the lunchlady from the daycare directly below us thought it would be a good idea to start an open pit compost system in the garden below our window. If you’re allergic to mold, rotting moldy produce is not something you want under your apartment windows.

This spring, when every person who had ever been allergic to anything experienced symptoms because of the weather, so did I. And it was bad. That whole itchy watery eyes thing became burning eyes, as if someone had thrown cayenne pepper in my face.

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Should Taxpayers Have a Say in How Food Stamps Get Used?

I came across the following piece when compiling the weekday Food For Thought column, but I’ve got a bit more to say about this than I could fit into a typical line of snark.

In the US, where food stamp use has become prevalent because of the economy, there is much debate over what the stamps should be used for. Experts now want to ban junk food from qualifying for food stamp use. This currently applies to hot prepared food, household products, tobacco, dietary supplements and alcohol (note – this probably varies from state to state). The idea being that food stamps are to be used for healthy nutritious food. Which totally makes sense. Under a junk food ban, food stamps could not be used for pop, chips, chocolate, etc.

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All That and a Bag of Chips

Somewhere, Jamie Oliver is crying.

The new conservative government of England (hey, what happened to the balancing forces of a coalition?) has caved in to demands from the junk food industry and has scrapped the Food Standards Agency (the equivalent to the FDA). Which means that junk food companies are now free to self-regulate.

It seems that the junk food industry and its lobbyists weren’t terribly impressed with a motion to put stop-light style labels on the front of food packages indicating healthy and poor choices. The industry won that battle, arguing that consumers could use the existing nutrition labelling to calculate the percentage of each nutrient that the food item provided. This is similar to what we have in Canada and the US and let’s be honest – who sits down and calculates their daily intake of every nutrient?

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Not So Bright

There must be thousand of titles on bookstore shelves that deal with positive thinking. Achieve your goals, get your perfect mate, advance your career… all by simply being positive. Did you ever stop to wonder how many people that system actually works for?

Author Barbara Ehrenreich did, and wrote a book about it called Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. As evidenced by the title, Ehrenreich isn’t buying the positivity thing. Her own point of view comes from two separate situations, both of which she outlines in the book.

First, she recounts her experience with breast cancer and the seemingly constant mantra to always think positive thoughts. There is a whole industry surrounding cancer, particularly breast cancer, that hinges on people keeping positive and buying inspirational items (think of the pink ribbon campaign) to keep spirits up. When Ehrenreich admits on an online message board for cancer survivors that she sometimes feels grumpy or angry, people publicly admonish her. The belief that people are causing their own cancer, or are preventing their recovery by not being positive enough is quite prevalent.

Ehrenreich’s second experience with positive thinking – and the way in which people make money off of others’ desperation – comes when she writes a book about white collar workers who have been downsized and are trying to get back into the workforce. So much of the career counselling she writes about includes life coaches who help their clients learn positive thinking to achieve their career goals. But Ehrenreich isn’t buying it, noting that none of the positive thinking courses she took helped her to hone or improve workplace skills.

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