When Did A Roll of Toilet Paper Gain Such Prominence?

A Friends of the Earth newsletter arrived at my home the other day. The bold headline, “Flushing Our Future” stared me in the face. It stated that Canada’s boreal forest was being destroyed . . . for toilet paper.

Proctor and Gamble and Costco harvest old-growth trees to manufacture toilet paper products. (Charmin and Kirkland brands)

Boreal trees provide virgin tissue pulp for the production of quality toilet paper. When will Big Corporations stop putting profit before their impact on our planet?

 A forest can take a millennium to recover. Consider the repercussion on plants and animals when their habitat disappears. 

Then I remembered a Natural Resources Defense Council statement . . . “Forests are the lungs of the earth. A boreal forest is a massive storehouse for carbon. Clearcutting reduces its capacity to absorb and store man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

Canada’s boreal forest. Source: NRDC

Trader Joe’s and 365 Bath Tissue are using recycled material for their toilet tissue. I’m glad some companies value our relationship to Mother Earth. 

Those articles got me thinking, “I hadn’t paid much attention to the production of toilet paper before.” So I searched the internet for historical reference on this home necessity.

When Did Man Start Using Toilet Paper?

The earliest reference to its use comes from China.  Elsewhere, wealthy people wiped their behinds with wool or hemp. The common man used rags, leaves, grass or moss. The method varied due to country, weather conditions or social customs. The Romans used a sponge on a stick. Afterwards they placed it in a pail of vinegar for later use.

In many parts of the world toilet paper isn’t available or there is no plumbing. Those people feel water is much cleaner and sanitary over using paper. Europe has a bidet in their bathrooms for this purpose. Countries with poor sanitary practices consider squatting to be more hygienic.

Americans were the biggest users but China is surpassing us today.

Joseph Gayetty invented it. Stores sold them as individual sheets in 1857. Seth Wheeler of Albany, NY received a patent for toilet paper and its dispensers. The Scott Paper Company introduced rolls in1890.

A working flush toilet was in use during Queen Elizabeth’s reign in1596. It took several centuries to become popular. The Industrial Revolution made significant improvements to waste disposal. Houses built after WWII included a bathroom and indoor toilet. Thomas Crapper invented a ballcock to aid in toilet tank refill, still in use today.

What Did People Do Before Toilet Paper?

People used an outhouse, chamber pots, and a hole in the ground before toilets became widespread. A crescent moon on an outhouse denoted its use for women. A full moon indicated it was for men. Mankind used lime to hide odors and reduce flies. There are still some outhouses in use today.

As late as 1940 many houses lacked hot piped water, a bathtub or shower, or a flush toilet. 

Pioneers used corncobs in the 1700s. Newspapers and magazines were popular items also. Cowboys used soft leaves of Mullein and Thimbleberry or those of Wooly lambs ears. Lumberjacks favored the large leaf aster plant. The Corn lily found at high elevations in California and the West is a good choice in a pinch.

Civil war soldiers used books, leaves, grass, twigs and corncobs. Pirates squatted over a hole at the bow, called the head.

During Times of Worldwide Panic and Fear, People Hoard Toilet Paper

It becomes almost more valuable than gold. Isn’t that hilarious? I remember the panic at the end of 1999. People were afraid our world would change forever when 2000 rolled into being. They stampeded stores to stock up on everything. Toilet paper definitely topped their list. 

Y2K was the reason for the panic state. Those of us who worked in grocery stores couldn’t believe it. Cardboard boxes of canned goods crowded the aisles to meet the demand. We left work with these parting words, “It’s been great working with you. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.” As we left for home.

Then along came the Covid 19 lockdown. There was another rush to hoard toilet paper. As if we couldn’t get along without it. Toilet paper jokes flooded social media. Humans are a crazy species. Mankind survived without toilet paper in the past. We can also, if necessary. 

Some Enlightening Facts

Some 75% of the world’s people don’t use toilet paper.
Part of this is due to a lack of trees.
Others can’t afford the luxury of it.
Still others are too cheap to spend the money to wipe their behinds.
Water is the universal solvent, not paper.
Toilet paper has other uses — nose care, removing makeup, covering toilet seats, packing material, cleaning mirrors and glasses, etc.
Don’t forget its use as a prank in TPing favored by adolescents.
Children and cats love to unroll it and dogs will tear it to shreds.

Some Truths to Give You Pause When About to Use Toilet Paper

  1. One tree produces @ 800 rolls of toilet paper. 
  2. Global production requires 27,000 trees per day. 
  3. Millions of trees are harvested in the US, Canada, and South America. Most are from tree farms, the rest from second-generation, old growth forests. 

Consider Using Other Materials

There are alternatives currently in use, such as recycled paper. 

Bamboo grows faster than trees on less land and water.

Bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane, is already grown for sugar production.   

The most earth-friendly method relies on soap and water for hygiene. 

Cut an old towel into squares. Use them as wipes and wash for reuse.

Should America follow Europe’s example and install bidets in our bathrooms? What do you think?

Air Quality of Pulp Factories to Our Atmosphere

The pulp process uses sulfur compounds to break wood down into pulp. Some molecules escape into the air. Sulfides and ammonia are very pungent. Most plants don’t have odor control devices.

Controlling emissions is the responsibility of industrial companies.There are EPA guidelines but no adequate enforcement to make them comply. 

Odorous chemical pollution from pulp plants affects air quality in surrounding communities. I have driven past a pulp plant and had to roll up my car windows to dampen the smell. 

Big corporations will do what is best for their profit margin. Often they fail to follow best moral and social practices.

Southern yellow pine & Douglas firs make toilet paper strong. Oaks & maples give it a soft texture. Virginia pine pulp produces the most softness.

There are no reports of increased risk of lung cancer with pulp and paper workers or residents living nearby.  

What Does This Mean For the Future?

Americans haven’t embraced the bidet out of habit. Our bathrooms don’t have the  space or plumbing setup for the fixtures either. 

Bare shelves are present again. The media blames it on:

  • omicron,
  • the labor shortage,
  • climate change,
  • supply chain problems,
  • port congestion,
  • And lack of shipping containers.

In the end, we may have to embrace the hygiene habits of the majority of the world’s populace. Don’t forget nature’s plants revealed within this article. We are a resilient species. We can adapt and ensure the health of our planet for years to come.

The Lowly Sparrow, Such a Common Bird

birdsandblooms.com

8 attributes we can learn from the sparrow

You’re all familiar with sparrows. Many of us don’t pay much attention to them. Some may even consider them to be pests. They’re not colorful like other birds. They have drab brown feathers with variation in their individual markings. They are common and widespread in every state. A brilliant male cardinal stands out when it appears in your yard. You notice its spectacular plumage at once. The effect is like the feeling you get when you notice a famous person in your vicinity. 

1. The sparrow is a symbol of hard work and cooperation.

Most of us don’t particularly stand out in our communities. We tend to blend in with fellow coworkers and our neighborhoods. We accept that we must go to work. We raise families, live an active life, and look forward to retirement. These are the things we strive to achieve.

Sparrows don’t waste time. They’re always productive. You won’t find procrastinators among them. This describes most contributing citizens in America. All accomplishments in this world result from the steadfastness of the common man. Many don’t crave adulation and publicity embarrasses them.

2.  Sparrows show devotion to their young.

I’ve seen adult sparrows continuing to offer insects and seeds to grown children, who are the same size. I admit, I used to judge them for this behavior. I felt they should let their juveniles go and make their own way in the world. 

But then I reflect, “There are lots of kids who are taller than their parents. The juvenile sparrows may still be quite young. They don’t fit in a nest anymore but they need more training in survival. I’ve decided that the parents know best after all. Things aren’t always what they seem.

Imagine my chagrin when I learned this is normal behavior for the sparrow. They continue to feed the hatchlings for two weeks after they are able to fly. When will I learn to stop making snap judgements?

3. Sparrows project joy and protection, simplicity and community.

You can hear them singing as soon as the sun rises. They find protection in a group with other sparrows. There is safety in numbers. Even humans crave company. You’re not alone if you live within a society. Most of us wouldn’t thrive living in isolation.

4. The sparrow is a symbol of self-worth.

All humans matter and are worthy to be here. Unfortunately, many don’t believe this. We seek praise and love from others to justify our existence. We become stuck in past childhood issues that hold us captive. Learn from the sparrow. Love yourself more. Don’t put your needs last if you are a parent. We are all precious to our creator. 

5. The sparrow doesn’t hide.

The sparrow fights for its place at a feeder. It is no shrinking violet. Love yourself or you’ll never be happy. Acknowledge the fact that you are a unique individual. Don’t underestimate your reason for being on this planet. Be proud of yourself. Hold your head high.

6. The sparrow is quite content. 

Sparrows build a modest nest. They are satisfied with their plumage. They don’t display a need to stand out in a crowd. They are confident in their place in life. 

Our society feels that the accumulation of things will bring joy and satisfaction. But happiness comes from inside us, not outside in the type of car or house we own.

7. The sparrow is a symbol of creativity,

Sparrows are adaptable birds. They’re attracted to feeders that provide millet and sunflower seeds. They adjust to civilization even though their usual diet is small insects and seeds. In this respect they’ve chosen the easy route to depend on us for some of its food.

Most of us have this desire to be creative in something. Expression helps us feel good. When problems arise, the sparrow reminds us that we have the ability to solve them. 

Oh, how many of us want life to be easy and carefree like the sparrow. We forget that overcoming struggles gives us character.

8.  Small things keep the sparrow happy.

The sparrow doesn’t squawk or complain like the raucous crow. Follow its example and be grateful for the blessings you have. Accept all situations that come your way as opportunities for growth. Make time for relaxation for none of us knows if this will be our final moment on earth.

There are 31 recognized species in the sparrow family. This reminds me of the different ethnic origins of citizens in our fifty states. We represent many races, ages, colors, and languages. Yet, we’re all Americans. 

After a two year sojourn in New Zealand, I embarked on a journey of discovery. Many American visitors expressed concern over the state of our country. This was during the early stage of drive-by shootings and litter along the highways.

I had a high school dream of biking across America. What a perfect way to sense the pulse of my fellow man for myself. Four of us cycled the Bikecentennial Route across our country. One was a New Zealand friend.

We camped along the way, riding beside clear streams on backroads. We cycled up many mountain passes where motorists honked encouragement. We saw wildlife every day. We never felt threatened for our safety. Kansas proved to be the friendliest state. Loose farm dogs would challenge us. Finally I yelled, “Sit! Sit!” The crazy animals obeyed and sat long enough for us to spin our wheels faster out of reach. 

Passersby would come up to us and ask questions.

       “Why are you doing this?”

       “Wish I could join you, but my spouse wouldn’t go for it.”

       “If you ride through our town, we’d be glad to put you up for the night.”

By the time we dipped our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean, I felt good about our country. I learned that most people are pleasant and friendly and want to help if there is a need. I learned to disregard the negativity of the media.   

We tend to forget the generosity and good will of the common man. They go about their business and don’t make a loud noise. When you see a sparrow in the future, remember that they are a reflection of most people in America. 

Nature is recognized as green therapy

Ecotherapy is the practice of using Nature to boost healing, especially in the mental health field. Studies prove the healing powers of Mother Nature.

  • Our body can handle stress better 
  • We have a more positive outlook on life
  • It boosts our immune system
  • Improves short term memory and concentration
  • Reduces inflammation and increases our pain threshold
  • Decreases depression, anger, anxiety, and hostility
  • Improves sleep
  • Enhances recovery from surgery or illness
  • Promotes better vision

5 Benefits of Being In Nature

1. Plant some flowers or a vegetable garden

 Bury your fingers in dirt to sow seeds or plant flowers. Your mind will stop its chatter. Feel that connection with the microbes and  nutrients in soil. You become ONE with the vital energy of Mother Earth. A sense of peace, calm, and hope infuses your body. Negative attitudes no longer exist.

Enjoy your flower arrangements at stressful times. Revel in the beauty of your creation

 Tasting vegetables you harvest from your own garden is a delight to the palate. You can pick them just before serving to retain the natural vitamins. They simply beat the produce available in a grocery store. There is comfort in knowing your food is free of harmful substances. Your body will reward you with vibrant energy and health.

 Another option to find solace for your soul, is to stroll around a Botanical Garden. There are shade trees and spaces devoted to specific flowers. Often artistic sculptures are interspersed throughout. And you find seasonal displays such as tulips or daffodils in spring, annuals and perennials in summer and fall colors. Master gardeners do the work for your enjoyment. Butterflies and local birds add to the spectacle. You can’t stay depressed for long.

2.  Be in close proximity to animals

We can’t satisfy all human beings or control the drama of daily living at work or home. At the end of our day, we often have frazzled nerves. How quickly our mood can change when we walk into our home. An excited dog wagging its tail and whining with joy at our return melts your heart. Or a cat wrapping its tail around your leg, purring loudly in welcome. Our human family doesn’t greet us with such enthusiasm. The exception being a tiny child or baby.

All animals seem to raise and uplift our spirits. They have this capacity to alleviate  sadness. Don’t you thrill to see horses cavorting and kicking up their heels? Consider the popularity of zoos where all species manage to captivate us. Or do you dream of going on safari to see wild animals in their natural habitat. Even a trip to a farm or State Fair will draw attendees like magnets to the livestock barns.

The rare glimpse of a woodland creature along a roadside or in a forest makes our day. Most of us live in populated areas. It’s a special treat to see wild animals unexpectedly. Some of my memorable sightings have been: deer dancing in a meadow after a rain. A male moose with huge rack standing guard at the edge of a wilderness lake. Lake otters crawling from a hole in the ice to play like kids on a frozen lake. A young bear cub leaping over deadfall, surprised by my  presence on a trail. A fox trotting beside a highway carrying a rabbit home to its kits for dinner. A beaver slapping its tail in warning at dusk while canoeing past it. A loon revving its wings prior to takeoff from a lake, its cry echoing during flight. These are just a few of my precious moments. I’m sure you have some of your own.

3. Take a hike in a forest setting

 One of the best ways to achieve serenity and calm is pack a knapsack and escape the world’s insanity  by hiking in the woods. 

As soon as you set foot on a forest path, all five senses seem to perk up. Mental stress vanishes. You see nuances in trees and plants that you weren’t aware of before. Your ears detect bird songs and insect noises anew. You notice the play of light from the sun through the tree canopy. You feel subtle warmth and coolness on your skin. You revel in slight breezes against your face. You smell damp earth and pine needle scents. 

The tableau of colorful wildflowers on a hillside can take your breath away. The sight of spring wildflowers poking through decayed leaves makes you forget a cold winter. You regain the wonder and newness of your early childhood years. “Life is good!”

If you come upon a ripe patch of blueberries or raspberries, the taste transports you to another world. Time is forgotten. It no longer exists. Domestic berries can’t compare. Hmm. Mmm. You don’t want the sensation to end. You revel in the rare find and thank Mother Earth for her bounty.

You hear a distant sound of cascading water. Is there a waterfall ahead? Your footsteps quicken. You pick up your pace. You anticipate another treat. And there it is. A delight to your eyes and ears.

What a special place to sit awhile. Eat your lunch. Immerse yourself in the refreshing image. The water within your own body instinctively responds. Needless to say, the scene is mesmerizing. You have to linger awhile. How often we forget that our earth is an amazing place after all.  

4. Adventure in the great outdoors 

 Physical exercise is not only beneficial for your body but also your mind. When it is practiced in a natural outdoor setting, it becomes even more meaningful. Cycling on a bike path beside a river restores your spirit. Kayaking on a lake invigorates your entire body. Running on a forest path feels more energetic than along a city sidewalk. Riding a horse in a natural environment is more fulfilling than in an arena. 

Rock climbing, mountaineering, and backpacking are pleasurable activities that stretch your muscles and minds. Endorphins released bury feelings of worry and sadness and depression. You feel in control of your life afterwards. “If I can do this. I can do anything.” There is a sense of accomplishment that stays with you. Self esteem soars.

  5. Limited access? Bring nature indoors

Not everyone has easy access to green or blue spaces. Inclement weather or cold winter months may inhibit outdoor activities also. What are some ways that you can bring nature inside?

  • Add plants to your rooms. They not only remove toxins, they change your mindset. People spending time around plants have more concern, empathy, and compassion toward others.
  • Decorate with paintings or nature photographs. Working around enlarged natural scenes  produces lower stress levels.
  • Use soundscapes or have a fish tank or water fountain. Listening to a waterfall or rain  enhances relaxation and a sense of chilling out. Attention span and cognitive performance increase.

Feel the positive effects of being in Nature for yourself. Put aside video games, TV, computers and cell phones. Get outside! Move that body! Let the natural world restore your spirit. Notice the calmness present in anyone who works or plays in nature. Put aside the mind numbing pills and booze. Use Mother Nature as your psychiatrist. The sessions are free. Your body will love you. 

Where Have All the Pollinators Gone?

I miss seeing monarch butterflies 

Pixabay photo

Monarch butterflies used to frequent my yard. Their presence let me know that all was right in my world. They pollinated my lettuce, carrots, beans and mints, so I could have a great harvest. Now I see that monarchs are on the endangered species list.

I haven’t seen many other butterflies either, despite planting their favorite flowers to entice them. 

The media attributes the decline to 

  • Urban sprawl
  • Pesticides and herbicides in farm fields
  • Loss of milkweed plants
  • Flagrant use of Roundup  
  • Changing climate

A. More land is being developed. New homes and condos are popping up everywhere. The countryside is shrinking. Human congestion is obliterating their habitat. How can these beautiful butterflies survive? Concrete, cement, and metal surfaces limit green habitats for ground nesting pollinators.

B. Farmers plant weed-killing seeds. To further control insect infestation they hire crop dusters. Planes spray Glyphosate pesticides onto their fields. The roadsides used to bloom with plenty of wildflowers and milkweeds. Then it became popular to mow along highways and crop dusting drift wiped them out.

C. It is common for homeowners to spray their dandelions with Roundup now for that perfect lawn. Even lawn care companies spray with chemicals to control weeds. The flags they put out caution against children and pets using the lawn for at least 24 hours afterwards. Ever wonder why that is?

We are such a chemical-oriented society. Those dandelions benefit bees and butterflies. They can provide a nutritious food source during hard times when food might be scarce.  

Pixabay photo

I haven’t seen a honey bee in four years. I have to rely on tiny bumblebees, flies, and wasps to pollinate my garden now. Thank God tomatoes, beans, and peppers are self-pollinators. But I’m a home gardener, farmers growing for profit can’t depend on this.

I even tried mason bees for a while. The drawback was I couldn’t predict when they would hatch. After they gleaned my flowers, they flew away to seek sustenance elsewhere.

Farmers growing crops that need pollination lease beehives for a period of time. Canadian farmers have rented hives for years. Colony hive disease will not ensure there are enough hives out there. 30% of bee colonies died in the last 8 years due to Colony Collapse.

D. Climate change is being blamed as another factor for the decline. Some believe the planet is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. The planet’s fauna has experienced a major collapse before. The rise of invasive pests and disease is another major issue. 

This is not surprising when you think about the Covid variants affecting us humans. Pollinator declines are occurring around the globe. China is particularly hard hit. The total decline of all insects on the planet is disturbing. It is occurring at the rate of 2.5% every year. That’s scary because they are a food source for bird, fish and mammal species. Insects are going extinct 8 times faster than mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Dragonflies, mayflies, and beetles are dying as well. Scientists are saying we are experiencing a “biological annihilation”. 50% of animals that once shared the earth are gone. In the past the ice age or asteroid collisions caused mass extinctions.

Human activities are causing this current extinction. Insects comprise two-thirds of terrestrial species. This event will have a profound impact on all life forms. Insects  function as crop pollinators, pest controllers, and nutrient recyclers in soil.

This can have a catastrophic effect on the survival of mankind. It could jeopardize 35% of our global food supply. European countries mandate protection and restoration of pollinator habitats. Insects are under-appreciated for their vital contribution to the health of our planet. 

Pesticides, fertilizers, and heavy land use for farming are the primary culprits. We have got to change our way of producing food! Current declines are due to manmade causes rather than changes in temperature fluctuations. 

We need better regulation of insecticides and fungicides. Europe has banned Glyphosate pesticide use. Our EPA and FDA are not convinced of the potential harm to humans. That’s why it is still sold in the United States. 

E. Electromagnetic waves from power lines and cellphone towers disorient birds and insects. This threat could increase as nations switch to 5G. It is hard to know what to believe?

I do know that high tension wires emit a persistent sizzling sound. The hair on my arms stands up when I scurry beneath them to access a hiking trail. 

Pixabay photo

Studies many years ago hinted at electromagnetic disruption to the ecosystem. Radio waves can disrupt the magnetic compass that migrating birds and insects use. Magnetic field fluctuations impair the homing ability of honey bees. Science backs this information up.

What Can The Average Citizen Do? 

I don’t know what the answer is to stop the worldwide decline of pollinators. I’ll leave that to the scientists and politicians. But each of us is free to make our own choices.

I refuse to use Roundup on my property. I maintain an organic yard and have a wildflower area set aside to attract pollinators. I prefer to eat food that is grown on my own property or an organic farm. 

Pixabay photo

I treasure the memory of a tree covered with monarchs on their migration to Mexico. I remember beaching a canoe on an Iowa River sandbar where a multitude of butterflies rested in the mud. I revel in the sight of a wide variety of butterflies feasting on wildflowers in a mountain meadow. 

Perhaps you have encountered magical butterfly moments yourself. I pray that future generations of children can enjoy such precious experiences. This is such a beautiful earth. Let’s preserve it!

Nine Lessons Gained On Mountaintop

      

I’m eight years old standing outside tent
When I was six years old, I remember sleeping on a cot under a sky illuminated with constellations in our galaxy. Shooting stars raced across the heavens above. I realized I was embarking on the start of a grand adventure.

My parents homesteaded on a mountaintop in New York State. We started our adventure in a surplus Army Hospital Tent. We placed household goods on a bare platform before it arrived. This exposed us to the whims of weather and forest inhabitants.                                       

We lived like pioneers long ago.  I can only imagine the hardship on my mother, raising three young children in such conditions. My father worked during the day. My mother worked at night. Day Care facilities didn’t exist.

household goods on tent platform
my little brothers at the time
our tent in a New York winter

Our family spent two years in that tent. An outhouse was nearby. “I dreaded using it in winter.” An icebox kept our food cold. Eight milk cans held our water supply before we drilled a well. We had stray cats and two mongrel dogs.

Afterwards, we moved into a cement block dwelling we built ourselves. Water flowed by gravity from a 250 gallon tank anchored outside. We filled it with pails of water from the pump. A coal stove barely warmed the interior. There was no heat upstairs. We were warmer in that tent. 

We were the only family living on our dirt road. Summer residents had cabins behind us. My brothers and I endured bullying at school. Our living situation and secondhand clothes didn’t affect them. I became feisty in order to cope. We had no friends. 

1. Everyone needs a safe friend and confidant.

My mother suffered from migraines, arthritis, and moodiness. We learned to leave the house when she was cranky. My favorite refuge was high up in the boughs of a dogwood tree. I would hunker down with a peanut and jelly sandwich, read a book and tell it my problems. It did not judge me.

2. It’s Important to remember special occasions & express gratitude.

Our car would create ruts as we drove to town & back. After a generous rain storm they would fill with water. Sometimes leopard frogs hid in the murky water and leap for safety at the sound of the motor.

One day after the water evaporated to mud, a geometric yellow and black pattern caught my eye. “What a pretty rock,” I thought and bent down to retrieve it. Using a stick I managed to pry it loose. I rejoiced to have unearthed a box turtle.  

My mother was driving to town for groceries. I had to put my treasure in the tent. Afterwards I moped all day because my turtle was gone.

The following spring, while sitting on a downed tree, I heard rustling. A box turtle made a slow advance. It stopped, cocked its head, and looked right at me. “Are you the turtle I saved?”  I felt it had come to thank me. After a while it reversed direction and ambled off. I was grateful for its gesture.

3.  Variety adds wonder and delight to our days.

Due to our isolation, my brothers and I explored our woods for entertainment. Each day revealed fascinating wonders. Every spring a wild array of wildflowers and blossoming trees greeted us. There were colorful birds to identify. Salamanders crawled around the base of cedar trees. Frogs laid eggs in green gelatinous masses which hatched into tadpoles. Elusive wildlife would reveal their presence. Abandoned stone walls were fun to climb on. Wild grape vines were perfect for playing Tarzan. A brook provided a perfect swimming hole. Nature was our playground.

4. Music uplifts your spirit and makes you sing.

My mountain broadcast music everywhere. As soon as the sun’s rays heralded a new day, the birds sang nonstop. Winds rustled leaves in passing. Tree trunks creaked and groaned upon contact. Tree squirrels chattered their warning. Geese flew in V-formation, honking on their way south. Rain snare drummed on the canvas tent. Thunder rumbled bass notes during a storm. Lightning cracked and sizzled as it rent the sky. Owls hooted at dusk. Nature presents its own symphony, free to anyone who will take the time to listen.

5. Creative art appears in surprising & unexpected places.

During a cold winter, frost created pictures on my window. They reminded me of prehistoric scenes of huge fern trees and jungle vegetation. Our homes  are so well insulated now that many don’t know what Jackfrost is. My mountain created beautiful impressions everywhere. 

A sunrise casts slanting rays through a forest or bathes an ocean in serene colors. A spectacular rainbow dominates a sky after a storm. Who can resist the pastel hues of a purplish sunset. Marvel at the designs of sand dollars and starfish. The markings on different animals boggles my mind. The infinite variety of flowers astounds me. 

6.  Water can soothe your tears and dispel sadness.

If the world upset me, I would flee to our brook, sit on the bank and cry my heart out.  The burbling sounds flowing around obstacles soothed my injured spirit and comforted me. I felt calmer, able to gain a new perspective of the situation. 

A thundering waterfall as it cascades down a mountainside has the same effect. The scene attracts you like a magnet. It is raw nature shouting its glory. You feel serene around a huge fountain as it casts water arches into a park pool.

7. Find a special place to vent your feelings before you act.

There was a huge boulder left by a retreating glacier, that was out of place in the midst of my forest. It beckoned me when I would entertain thoughts of running away from home. It accepted my rantings as I sat on the granite edifice. That outcrop gave me  perspective and prevented me from doing something rash.

Being practical, I would consider all aspects of taking off on my own. How would I survive? I was too young to get a job to support myself. I had a home and food and a place to sleep. No, better to stick it out until I finished school and got a marketable skill. The risks were too great for a lone female teenager on the road. 

8. Be sure to make time for play.

A huge white pine dominated our property. Dry needles carpeted the ground beneath spreading branches. I spent hours making up stories as I played with lifelike toys. We devised our own schemes with sticks and stones. Fallen limbs were a horse or gun. Our imagination ran wild with possibilities. 

We need to play as a buffer to our current negative worldview. That’s why we go on vacation. To get away from chaos and instability. To return refreshed to live another day.

9.  A pet comforts and gives unconditional love.

I enticed stray cats home that people abandoned and we had two dogs. They were so loving. The cats would purr in my arms. The dogs would follow me on my explorations. They protected our family, alerting us to any danger. Animals preserve our sanity and make us more human. They balance our energies and calm us in stressful circumstances. If we were more like them, this earth would be a better place.

I am grateful for that mountaintop. It sustained and nourished me. I suspect the lessons I absorbed have made me a better person. I am able to empathize with others for having survived my childhood. It has made me resilient and accepting of change. If I stay close to nature’s free offerings, I can stay positive in an insane world. 

How do I know if the tap water in my glass is safe to drink?

       Engin-akyurt ——unsplash

When I’m thirsty my first impulse is to search for something to drink. If I’m home I will open my refrigerator door in hopes of finding an enticing beverage there. Or turn on the cold water tap of my kitchen sink to fill a glass with refreshing water. If I’m out shopping I’ll buy bottled water or another favorite drink. A grocery store has such a wide variety of beverages to choose from. 

The choices are overwhelming. Can I trust that this water or bottled beverage is safe and healthy for me to drink? What safeguards exist in our society to protect me? There is so much misinformation out there that I went searching for answers. Are you concerned about what you drink also? Here is what I found . . . 

Staying hydrated is necessary for your health

Water composes 50% of your body. Proper internal temperature depends on it. Water lubricates joints and gets rid of waste thru urination, sweat, & bowel movements. Dehydration, muscle cramping, lack of coordination, heat stroke or heat exhaustion are warnings. “Your body is crying for more water!”

It is so important that you cannot last more than five days without it. You must replace fluid loss daily. During hot weather, after vigorous physical activity and bouts of illness, you need a lot more.

Do you feel energized and able to perform daily tasks? Then your individual water needs are being replaced. Besides water —- soups, sugar-free drinks, coffee, tea, sherbets, popsicles, fruits & vegetables also supply fluids.

You need to drink, but is your tap water safe?

The CDC stipulates that our tap water is safe if it comes from a public water treatment plant. The 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act ensures that Americans can trust their water supply. The EPA has the authority to track our water treatment facilities for compliance. 

Safe drinking water is clear, with no odor or funny taste.

Treated drinking water that leaves a designated facility must meet safety standards. Fluoride strengthens your teeth. Chlorine kills germs that can make you sick. Tap water has traces of minerals that bottled water does not. These are copper, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, & zinc. This doesn’t mean our water is free of all contaminants, but the levels present should not impose a health risk.

Accidents can happen. If the water supply becomes contaminated the water plant must warn you. They will issue alternative safety practices in the interim. Watch the news for alerts about broken water lines or equipment failure. 

If you have to boil your water, do so for one minute and let it cool before drinking. 

How can contaminants enter our water?

  • Bacteria & parasites from human or animal fecal matter, like E. Coli & Giardia, can leak from fissures in sewer pipes. 
  • Chemicals from industrial waste 
  • Nitrates used in fertilizers from farm field runoff.
  • Improper disposal of lead or mercury from underground deposits 
  • Leaching from old lead pipes.
  • Chemicals present in medications aren’t removed during wastewater or potable drinking water processes. Do not dump them down the toilet! (Best to take expired meds to local pharmacy)

The biggest contaminant is breaks in water lines causing lead seepage. To avoid lead in tap water use cold water for drinking, cooking or making baby formula. Hot water can pull lead out of household pipes. Let the water run for one minute before using.

The EPA sets periodic testing schedules for specific pollutants. Ask for a copy of the recent report from your water facility.

Vulnerable people are . . .  

  • CA patients undergoing chemotherapy
  • Those with HIV or Aids
  • Transplant recipients
  • Children & infants
  • Pregnant women & fetuses
  • Immunosuppressed people

What if you use well water?

For many Americans a private well is their primary source. Wells are not regulated by the EPA. Well water, full of minerals already, tends to taste better & is healthier.

Many factors influence the safety of this water source . . .  

  • How constructed
  • Where located
  • How maintained
  • Quality of aquifer
  • Human activities in the area

Test the water yearly to be safe and attend to problems immediately.

What about the safety of bottled water?

The FDA considers bottled water to be a food item and safe to drink. Tap water has traces of minerals that bottled water does not. The bottle must identify the source. 

There are allowable limits of contaminants. There exist proper manufacturing standards for bottling & labeling. Yet there is no guarantee in place to oversee mandatory testing. The FDA can order a recall if a problem occurs.

Fiji, Dasani, Mountain Valley, Evian, & Eternal Spring bottled water are the best quality. Spring water is a healthier option because it is rich in minerals. Aquafina comes from a municipal resource and is rated as one of the worst tasting, plus it’s acidic.  Other sources like mineral & alkaline water contain essential nutrients and are healthy to drink.

Why is Fiji bottled water at the top of the list?

Fiji water comes from a natural artesian site on Viti Levu Island. Artesian aquifer water is a free-flowing underground source beneath layers of rock. There are no artificial compounds. It is on the list of worldwide green companies.

It is delivered in PET plastic bottles, known to be strong & nonreactive with food content. Fiji has a lower environmental impact. Recycled bottles can be used in packaging, carpets, & construction materials.

Fiji has an alkaline ph and natural electrolytes of magnesium & potassium. These help  regulate better nerve & muscle function. Fiji has a higher silica content. Supporting data finds that the water reduces Alzheimers risk. It builds immunity, promotes better wound healing, longer & stronger hair and better nails. Even relief from headaches & migraines with regular use.

How does contaminated water affect your health?

Cryptosporidium pathogens cause gastrointestinal disease which can be fatal.

Nitrates in your intestines change into nitrites which can prevent blood from carrying O2. An enzyme present in older children restores the ability for blood to transport O2. Nitrates can pose a threat to infants for they don’t have this enzyme.

Lead can cause physical & developmental problems in infants & children. Adults drinking lead-tainted water for years can develop kidney & high blood pressure problems.

Boiling water can kill disease-causing germs, including viruses, bacteria, & parasites —- but not lead, nitrates & pesticides. Boiling reduces water volume so concentration of those contaminants can increase. Add a pinch of salt for each quart or liter.

If you decide to use water filters for peace of mind

 There are four main kinds: 

  1. Activated carbon filter units — remove some contaminants that affect taste & odor. Some brands cut chlorination byproducts, solvents & pesticides, copper & lead.
  1. Ion exchange units — can remove calcium & magnesium, responsible for hard water. Often used with another method like carbon absorption or reverse osmosis.
  1. Reverse osmosis units using carbon remove nitrates & sodium plus pesticides, fluoride, chloride & petrochemicals.
  1. Distillation units — boil water & condense steam, creating distilled water.

No system will remove all contaminants. You must maintain them on a regular basis. They can build up in the filter & make water quality worse. Filters won’t protect you from water declared unsafe.

Two reputable scientific sources report their findings . . . 

1. Disclosure by the US Water Alliance

There are multiple water resource challenges:

1. Water scarcity is widespread in California. More than one million people in the state lack safe and reliable drinking water. 

 2. Extreme floods have damaged communities in the Midwest, Northeast & Southeast.

 3. Rising sea levels seep into water pipes with corrosive salt water.

4. Recent reports of algae bloom in Lake Erie affect thousands of people in Toledo, Ohio.

5. The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan put many people at risk.

Our water infrastructure, built over a century ago, is in urgent need of repair. Water & wastewater systems have lived beyond their intended lifespan. We lose over a million gallons of water each year due to water main breaks & leaks. Upgrading will cost over one trillion dollars in the next 30 years. Climate change only adds to the stresses on our water systems. 

The Safe Drinking Water Act stipulated federal funding to support local communities. But there has been a steady decline of monies in the past few decades. Whereas federal funding of the transportation infrastructure has remained the same. Local taxpayers finance most water projects now. Decades of neglect & inadequate budgets create more challenges.

Other communities have never had centralized & waste water systems period. African Americans are twice as likely to live without modern plumbing. Rural unincorporated towns and tribal lands lack a basic water supply & needs. They have to rely on septic systems, bottled water & water tanks. Poor maintained septic systems can overflow & contaminate existing water sources. 

Other affected populations are: 

  • Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
  • The Central Valley of California
  • Appalachian rural communities,
  • The Deep South and the Mississippi Delta.

People flock to a city for better jobs. This puts stress on existing water supplies. Revenue needs for maintaining current systems decline. This affects lower income communities and those of color the most. Children and the elderly suffer. Inadequate water affects mental & physical health, child development and the economy. The result is more poverty & unemployment.

Water facilities charge their customers for day-to-day operations & projected improvements. Not all Americans can afford it. Many utilities provide some help but it’s often not enough. Shutting off water service enforces payment of rates owed. They can even place liens on homeowners. Sometimes there is placement of children in foster care if water service stops. Unpaid water bills can lead to foreclosure. Few policies  exist to protect vulnerable households with small children, and the disabled, pregnant or elderly.

Water quality is affected by its source

 Access is not enough. It must also be safe for human consumption. Unsafe drinking water has heavy metals, agricultural or industrial runoff, or untreated wastewater.

Lead is one of the most prevalent contaminants, primarily in Midwest & Northeast due to aging lead pipes. Flint, Michigan is a good example. Children are affected most by lead poisoning, which causes brain & nerve damage.

Groundwater contamination is another big problem. There is Uranium present in the water of the Navajo Nation.

Stormwater runoff in urban areas sweeps contaminants from gas stations, factories, & industrial facilities. 

Agricultural runoff — nitrates, pesticides, and nutrients pollute lakes, rivers & aquifers. Toxic algal blooms contaminate water sources in the Great Lakes, Gulf Coast and Northeast. 

When wastewater enters a drinking water source, there is bacterial contamination. Recreational beaches & low-income areas often have untreated wastewater discharges causing water-borne illnesses. Sewer overflows can cause problems too. 

The Impact of Climate on our water

Unpredictable snow & rainfall patterns raise higher sea levels. Extreme storms are more frequent. Changing temperatures cause destructive wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes, Coastal areas are receding from violent waves. Not all communities are planning for these risks. 

California is experiencing severe drought conditions. The future predicts more fluctuating extreme drought & flooding.

Underfunded utilities are not prepared to adapt. 

Flooding is a major problem. Coastal areas recede from rising sea levels. Saltwater infiltration affects drinking water supplies. Land becomes unsuitable for farming. Combined water & sewer systems overflow into parks and streets. Sludge even backs up into people’s homes. Paved parking lots around shopping centers make flooding worse. Vulnerable communities lack aid & relief with needed funds to recover from flooding. 

Drilling, mining, & fracking pose real threats to water supplies. There is coal mine runoff in West Virginia. Oil industry operations along the Gulf Coast affect low-income people & communities of color. This hinders their traditional livelihoods of fishing.

There is an underlying distrust of governmental agencies towards water issues. Take the Flint, Michigan debacle. Shrinking populations in the Great Lakes erode its fiscal base. This affects maintenance of existing facilities & systems. High poverty & unemployment rates make water unaffordable. Aging infrastructure causes lead & algal blooms. 

Wastewater treatments of lagoons & spray fields can overflow into neighboring streets & houses. Sometimes wastewater is discharged into creeks used for fishing, recreation and drinking water. Decades of mining has contaminated source water with lead, nickel & other heavy metals. Many families rely on bottled water which they can’t afford.

The Central Valley of California supplies our country with most of our vegetables. Tremendous farm runoff contaminates the water supply of millions of citizens living in the area. Most are low-income Latino & immigrant people. Many households lack drinking water & wastewater infrastructure. Water-borne disease is widespread. 

40% of the Navaho Nation lacks access to running water. They depend on water deliveries or wells contaminated by radioactive industrial waste. In Alaska, some villages lack any water infrastructure. Water contamination threatens traditional fisheries. Native lands are subject to dumping & pollution, hazardous sites & high-risk  mines & pipelines. 

2. National Academy of Sciences report  (2015 Journal )

 “The public water systems of 21 million people violate safe health quality standards.”

  • Many water violations found.
  • Improved compliance definitely needed.
  • State agencies lack a system for adequate inspections. 
  • Aging infrastructure throughout the US.
  • Impaired water sources.
  • Inadequate funding. 

Flint, Michigan water had unsafe levels of lead, E. coli & disinfection byproducts. The city was slow to respond to citizen complaints of foul smelling & discolored tap water. 

Flint is not the only city coping with disruptions to their potable water supply. An example is the Elk River chemical spill in West Virginia. Also unregulated toxins causing algal blooms in Toledo, Ohio. The Great Lakes are currently affected.

There is an urgent need to assess the drinking water quality throughout America. Violations are more prevalent in low-income & rural areas. Over 16 million cases of acute gastroenteritis surface every year in the US. 

Generally our water systems provide reliable & high quality drinking water. But 7 – 8% report at least one health based violation. Fecal coliform violations are rare. More apt to find higher heavy metal levels. The cleanest tap water is in Rhode Island, South Dakota, Minnesota, New Hampshire & California.

Hot spots for water quality are Texas, Idaho, Oklahoma & Southwest region of the United States. Privately owned water treatment plants in rural areas are less prone to violations. We need national safety standard data to identify & concentrate on known hotspots. And we must restore adequate funding to the states to help rectify weaknesses. 

Consumer reports 2015

Most water use in our homes are: outdoor watering @ 30%, toilets 19%, washing machines 15%, showers 12% & faucets 11%.

A two person household uses 60 gallons per person per day. One toilet flush uses 1.6 gallons. Biggest water waster in the home is your dishwasher (20 gallons one load.) 

What you can do

I hope this article presents new perspectives to make an intelligent choice on obtaining quality water and drinks for your family. You can also write your elected officials on the issues that still need to be addressed. And support the environmental groups working on your behalf to ensure safe water sources in the future.

Assisted therapy dogs

What is animal assisted therapy?

(6 awesome benefits for mankind)

Dogs serve people, helping them cope with and recover from physical and mental conditions. It builds on a concept known as the human – animal bond. 

Paws for People states that dogs and man have shared a close relationship for more than 15,000 years. It is one that is beneficial to both parties. Living with dogs slows blood pressure, reduces stress, and raises oxytocin levels. People feel safe and report less worry or fear with a companion beside them. The dog benefits by the love and nurturing of its owner. How does this happen? When a pet stares into your eyes, it activates the same hormone that bonds us to babies. 

An article in the December ’21 Journal of PLOS ONE states “. . .  a dog is man’s best friend”. (This was during the Covid-19 epidemic.) The study reaffirmed what pet therapy individuals knew all along. “Having a pet is good for you”. Dog owners are better able to overcome mental stress during difficult times. Loving canine companions give social structure, comfort, and boundless joy.

Most of us can relate to this. Go to a park. Notice the reaction of people when they see a dog. Young children get excited and can’t resist the urge to pet them. Most adults smile and long to engage with the owner and their dog also. A friendly dog will wag its tail and strain against the leash to connect in kind. 

Animal therapists use this bond under direction to achieve specific goals.

  • To reduce boredom
  • Increase movement and activity
  • Provide companionship when lonely
  • Increase social interactions
  • Improve mood and well-being

Assisted therapy animals may not be a perfect fit for everyone. Some people are allergic to dander from a shedding dog. Others may be uncomfortable or afraid of animals. 

It is important to emphasize that animal therapy is a complementary treatment. It is not a replacement for other forms of therapy such as psychotherapy or physical therapy.

1. Animal therapy improves mental health

Animal assisted therapy has a strong effect on the widest range of people. The presence of a dog decreases anxiety and depression, lifting one’s spirit. Patients seem to forget about the perception of pain. Petting a dog releases oxytocin which has a calming effect on an anxious individual. The therapy animal gives support and comfort. 

A dog motivates a person to focus on doing exercises to recover faster. Children react  well to dogs and overcome speech and emotional disorders quicker.

This type of therapy helps these conditions:

  • Dementia
  • Anxiety
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Drug use disorder during rehabilitation

2. Some forms of animal therapy used to promote physical health

Therapy dogs motivate one to continue healing treatment, boost their mood, and reduce signs of pain. They may help patients move more often with correct exercise. 

Utilized with the following conditions:

  • Epilepsy
  • Heart failure
  • Pain from cancer treatment
  • Postoperative recovery
  • After a major stroke or any condition where someone has lost motor skills

A major physical effect noted on patients is a lowering of blood pressure. This improves their cardiovascular health. Endorphins released make the person calmer, more relaxed. Petting a dog seems to diminish their pain, thus reducing the amount of medication needed.

3. Students enjoy animal assisted therapy

Children overcome speech and comprehension of words with a dog sitting beside them. This scenario provides a non-stressful, non-judgmental environment for them to learn. Their self-confidence soars. They become less self-consciousness. They soon learn the joy of being able to read.

Colleges students feel less stress and anxiety during exam week. Public schools often have a regular therapy dog available to pet and cuddle as needed. Dogs help them gain confidence to overcome challenges in an educational setting. 

Not every child comes from a home that has a pet. A dog’s trust and unconditional affection is the emotion that children need and crave. Children are still developing their minds and social skills. Therapy dogs give the extra boost that they need. Regular interaction can teach a child how to behave with dogs in a safe and fun way.

Autistic and special needs children struggle with their emotions in a social setting. Therapy dogs can help them face fluctuations in feelings without judgment. To have fun with a furry animal, students need to be calm, gentle and move slow. 

4. Animal assisted therapy used in long-term elderly care facilities

Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities have their own resident therapy dogs. They’ve noticed the difference in their patients. Dogs have a special capacity to empathize, offering sympathy when detecting emotional sadness. They have a unique style of healing through a lucid, calming presence. 

A natural brain stimulant results, improving mental and physical energy while decreasing brain-fog. This motivates residents to join in activities. Brushing a dog’s fur, throwing a ball or walking beside them improves motor skills and joint movement.

The simple presence of an animal takes a person’s mind off their worries. This allows them to relax and breathe slower, a welcome distraction from fear. Residents gain a sense of contentment and happiness. Dogs calm their agitation, lessening problematic behavior in dementia people. Heart rate slows and blood pressure drops to more normal levels. The risk for stroke or heart attack diminishes.

Seniors living alone

Seniors, living alone with a dog, benefit in ways that contribute to longevity. Pets offer emotional, physical, and mental benefits, especially for seniors who are at risk in their isolation.

Pet owners don’t feel lonely. They visit the doctor less often. They take fewer medications, recover from illness faster, and cope better with stress. They have more self-esteem, confidence and better social skills. They are able to show gentleness and caring to others. 

Their physical ability increases for a dog needs exercise. Caring for a pet provides mental stimulation and improved sense of purpose in life. 

5. Therapy animals reduce pain & anxiety in a medical setting

The Mayo Clinic hosts a Caring Canine program. They realize the benefit to patients who receive visits from therapy animals. This is a growing field because it helps people recover from or better cope with health problems. (Heart disease, cancer, mental health issues) 

With permission a therapy dog and its handler visits your hospital room. They stay for 10 to 15 minutes. You’re invited to pet the dog and ask any questions of the handler. This not only benefits the patient but family members in the room also. The dogs are a welcome distraction and reduce stress and anxiety in everyone.

Children in a medical facility for years become separated from both parents for a period of time. Sharing an experience with a therapy dog during visits can strengthen a parent and child bond. They will both have fond memories to reminisce about years later.

The biggest concern, particularly in hospitals, is safety and sanitation. Therapy animals have to be clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior. Even the staff feel better when therapy dogs visit. For a short period of time the interaction rejuvenates them.

Even some dental practices are using therapy animals. The dogs put children at ease while undergoing dental procedures. 

6. Specialty dogs trained to provide a unique service for man

Dogs have helped man since ancient times. Retrievers bring fowl back to hunters. Sled dogs have aided in long distance travel over snow and ice. Herd dogs help move sheep and cattle to fresher pastureland. Guard dogs protect business property. Search and rescue dogs help locate victims in disasters. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. (A disability is a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental condition.)

A service dog relates to a handler’s disability:

  • Guide dogs help blind people navigate their world
  • Hearing dogs alert deaf people to sounds ( a knock on a door or someone entering a room)
  • Psychiatric dogs detect and lessen the effect of an impending episode
  • They may open doors or cabinets, fetch things out of reach, or carry items for wheelchair users
  • Autism dogs distinguish sensory signals and alert caregivers to repetitive behavior and overstimulation
  • Some dogs can recognize potential seizure activity and stand over victims for protection

Service dogs can go into restaurants, libraries, stores, and all public places. Housing must admit them if pets aren’t generally allowed. They can board airplanes and public transport vehicles. They’re required to sit on a traveler’s lap or at their feet. They cannot block an emergency exit. They’re exempt from pet fees on airplanes.

Specific working dogs trained to aid humans in their jobs.

Dogs rely on an excellent sense of smell to help where humans fall short. Search and rescue dogs find missing persons under rubble in disaster situations. Police use K-9s to locate people reported missing. They’ll follow a scent from a personal object of the victim. Dogs can do cadaver searches and locate avalanche or drowning victims. Bloodhounds are adept at this.

There are dogs trained to detect explosives. Transportation agencies and the military use them to locate dangerous materials. German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are the usual breeds skillful at this.

Labrador retrievers can sniff cancer on a person’s breath. Alert dogs can detect an allergen in a school, at social events and everyday activities for its owner. Poodles and Portuguese Water Dogs are the best breeds for this work.

They are not subject to legal ramifications Do not approach or pet when they’re working. Their job requires a high level of focus without distractions.

Therapy dogs volunteer in clinical settings

Hospitals, mental health institutions, hospices, schools, and nursing homes use dogs more often. They provide comfort, affection and even love. They’re not allowed access in public spaces. They aren’t a service dog. They should be trained, insured and licensed by the non-profit offering their services.

The Alliance of Therapy Dogs tests an animal for its suitability. If accepted there are specific guidelines for their handlers.

Emotional dogs aren’t service animals.

They’re trained for a specific owner with a psychological disorder. These dogs are companion animals to ease anxiety, depression, or panic attacks. A mental health professional prescribes their use.

There is a constant need for assisted therapy dogs

Assisted therapy dogs have a special role to perform in our society. Honor and love them for their service. Their handlers need support also. So many deserving people benefit, allowing them to live more normal lives.

Do you have a dog that is even-tempered and behaved? Consider joining the ranks of therapy dog handlers. I promise, you will benefit more than the people you serve. Dogs thrive when they have a special work to do. They desire to serve us and have so much love to give.

Straw Bale Homes: Can They Provide Affordable & Safe Housing?

     finished plaster coated straw bale home   

Extreme weather is happening more than ever lately. (Picture yourself in this scenario that many are experiencing in America today. You’re relaxing in your home watching TV after dinner. All of a sudden a breathless weatherman interrupts your program. A map of your state is behind him. He points to a red swath enclosing your town. “Take shelter! Right now! An E4 tornado has been sighted heading your way!”

The sirens begin blaring their warning outside. At once you summon your family and run for the basement to take cover. Huddling together, gripped in fear, you feel a tremendous vibration shake the foundation. A sound like a locomotive penetrates your ears. The walls and roof collapse above you. “Are we going to survive this?”

A profound silence signals that the tornado has passed. Your family is alive. Giddy with thankfulness, you struggle to find a path through the debris to get outside. Your house is gone. The horrendous destruction of your neighbors’ homes stretch before you. )

Our current homes and buildings are no match against extreme wind velocity. In the aftermath, where does the waste end up? Our landfills are full of construction debris. Toxic breakdown over several years seeps into the ground and ends up in our water supply.

Is there an answer to building sturdier homes that can withstand the extremes of wind and fire? Homes that are nontoxic and promote the wellbeing of its inhabitants?   Andrew Morrison of strawbale.com and a number of architects believe there is. 

      Straw bale home under construction

             A history of how straw bale homes came into being

In the late 1890s settlers moving to Nebraska started to build homes with straw bales. The idea was born out of necessity. There were no trees on an endless prairie, but there was straw after harvesting grain.They began to layer bales to build one story dwellings with sloped roofs. The eventual application of plaster created cool conditions in summer and warmth in winter. The houses withstood the high winds of the prairie and were soundproof. 

Straw bale construction died out after WWII as cement became popular as a building material. Straw bale usage gained renewed attention by a British firm in 2001. They became aware that straw bale homes were being built around the world.

        Why build a straw bale house in the first place?

 Most of us remember the fairy tale about the three little pigs. They built a house of straw for a refuge against their enemy, the big bad wolf. But the wily wolf huffed and puffed and blew their house down. Many people still believe that tale about a house of straw being an unsafe dwelling.                                       

       Interior design of a straw bale home

The price of wood climbs higher every day. And the available resource is declining. This is an important factor in considering other building materials. Straw is available in most parts of our country since it is a byproduct of growing grains. Modern tractors pack bales tight, making them more fire resistant than other materials. It reduces global warming for farmers used to burn straw, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. 

Thick dense walls provide quietness from an already noise filled world. Construction is fast because the bales are large and easy to handle. Plus bales are flexible enough to resist collapse during an earthquake. 50% of greenhouse gases are caused by the construction industry. And the transportation needed to bring the materials to a site adds to this percentage.

       But is straw bale cheaper than traditional builds?

Construction costs are about the same. Once you factor in building a foundation and adding windows, doors, and a roof. The bales themselves cost about $9.00 apiece. You can reduce this expense by hosting  a straw bale raising party. Andrew Morrison conducts several hands-on workshops per year. You need little to no experience. One can apply at strawbale.com to host a party. 

Participants sign up to attend, paying tuition for valuable instruction. This includes camping space and food. The host usually has the framework erected and cement foundation in place. A shelter covers stacked straw bales to keep them dry. Wide lumber strips secured to the foundation serve as toe-ups. A pile of small stones awaits outside for the raising party to begin.

        Beauty of plaster covered walls

I joined a straw bale construction workshop near Little Rock, Arkansas in 2013. We gathered at a Presbyterian Camp to build one of the longest conference centers at the time. Andrew Morrison presided, teaching us the fundamentals of . . .

  • Bale stacking details
  • Retying & resizing bales
  • Framing considerations
  • Incorporating electrical wiring within the walls
  • Creating curves with a chain saw
  • Ventilation to keep house moisture & mold out
  • Creating niches
  • Installing cabinets & partition walls
  • Building strong foundations before plastering

We were there to learn how to construct a nontoxic straw bale home. Most of us planned to build our own houses from scratch in the future. Most of us had no construction experience. The process is that easy to learn. 

             Benefits of living in a straw bale home 

Straw bales are a natural material. They’re breathable and don’t contain pollens, which is good news for allergy sufferers. Modern building materials may contain formaldehyde and other chemicals. Plaster coats the walls giving them a high R-value. This is the measurement for insulation resistance. This style of house keeps heat in and cold out, saving up to 75% on heating and cooling costs. Thick walls have high soundproof ability, an advantage if living near a busy highway. The plaster seal prevents critters from getting into the walls. Conventional homes contain nooks and crannies which are attractive to rodents. The walls are pleasing to the eye. Visitors can’t seem to avoid touching them. 

Home owners feel secure. These houses can withstand tornado force winds and manage earthquake movement. They can also resist the extreme temperatures of wildfires. 

Most straw bale homes are in the USA, particularly the Southwest and California. There are some in the rainy Pacific NW and snowy New England. China and Australia build a lot of these also.

            Construction considerations

        Straw bale house under construction

Building officials, lenders and insurers will have to approve your plans. They like to see a post and beam frame supporting the roof, while the bales serve as insulation. That design is closer to our standard form of construction. You will need a straw bale contractor.  “The Last Straw” quarterly has a database of green builders.

Building a post and beam house? Pour the foundation first before the framing is constructed. Next comes the roof. Now you’re ready to stack the bales between the studs. Select 2-string and 3-string bales. Use hand held moisture meters to check the moisture content of each bale. A reading up to 20% is considered safe. A golden light color indicates less moisture. 

Bales need to be off the ground so they don’t soak up moisture. Toe-up platforms on a concrete foundation prevents this. Nails hammered into the toe-ups anchor the bales in place. Stack the bales like you would Lego blocks. Insert windows and doors in wooden frames. Secure lumber strips into the bales to hold future cabinets. Install electrical cables  encased in plastic sheathing into the walls. Keep plumbing  away from the bales in their own internal walls.

Wire mesh anchors the bales to the roofing frame and toe-ups. Plaster finishes the external and internal walls. Avoid using any waterproofing material. Straw will dissipate any moisture on its own. The plaster coating assists in this. Wall paints should be breathable also. Lime, silicate and latex paints are available.

     Compelling reasons to build straw bale homes             

Arkin Tilt Architects, based in Berkley, California, specialize in ecological planning and design. They’ve built many straw bale homes throughout the West. They know these homes are durable during climate change with catastrophic storms. Data supports their withstanding tornado and hurricane force winds as well as wildfires. All the homes they have constructed have survived the recent wildfires out west.

https://www.arkintilt.com

Architect Greg Rothers, owner of Design/Build, Kansas City, Kansas, states, 

           “Clients come to me for the following reasons:

  • Desire to use natural building materials for ecological concerns 
  • To save on energy costs
  • For the unique look of the walls “          

He believes the negative views on resale value are due to myths and preconceived notions. “As more people become aware of the benefits of straw bale home construction, that will change. “

https://rothersdesignbuild.com

Community Rebuilds, erects energy efficient straw bale homes for low-income wage earners near Moab, Utah. Future construction students join potential home owners for ongoing projects. They participate in a free five month program and receive a stipend plus housing. It operates similar to Habitat for Humanity. 

communityrebuilds.org educates interested parties in sustainability and affordable housing. They have a blog worth reading.

     Photo courtesy of  Strawbale Studio outside Oxford, Michigan

strawbalestudio.org conducts classes and workshops on Midwest natural building skills. This is another worthwhile website to peruse.

Now do you understand the potential for building energy efficient, healthy homes? We don’t have to suffer catastrophic losses to our neighborhoods. From an ecological sense the earth will benefit also. Spread the word and do your own research on straw bale homes. Consider building one of your own.

    Copywriting to bring about change

copywriters play similar role as wildflowers?

What is a copywriter? What possible relationship can there be with early blooming wildflowers that push through a layer of decayed leaves? Read on and I’ll explain.

Every Spring wildflowers change a dull forest into a glorious display of nature’s beauty. Hidden within the earth microscopic fungi surround the roots of potential flowers. They support the host’s ability to draw nutrients and water from the soil. Then the flowers return the favor by sending carbohydrates, creating during photosynthesis back to the fungi. This is an example of a symbiotic relationship.

Copywriters share the same role with their clients. We dig deep into researching every aspect of the product or service we’ve been asked to promote. Even exploring the competitive market to find the unique gem that will place our client in the forefront.

Proper nutrients bring about the development of a flower. Our copywriting performs the same function. We seek to understand our prospect’s emotional needs by stepping into his shoes. He came to your client’s website seeking a solution for a particular concern. 

We address his fear or anxiety with proof — he has found the fertile soil to solve his problem. The seed has been planted. As sun and rain promote growth, we present the specific benefits that will ease his worry.

Testimonies of success stories and scientific research support his decision to buy the product. We encourage his trust. The client will stand behind his claims by offering the guarantee of a refund if not satisfied.

Even Mother Nature doesn’t guarantee that. Ask any farmer who plants purely on faith. Not so with the product he’s paid for. This client has his back.

We present products that will benefit society — some that people haven’t even known existed. We’re not only helping our client but also future generations. Like the microscopic fungi, copywriters provide rich nuggets for changing our world. How great is that!

Eco-friendly lifestyle

a healthy regenerative landscape

 An eco-friendly lifestyle restores the health

of our planet

Today, more than ever, we must protect later generations from environmental pollution. The damage done by extreme weather has initiated a new urgency, and with it, opportunity. Together we can restore and regenerate a robust Earth.

Going green:  the use of eco-friendly products — from fashion to buildings to the movement as a whole.

Eco-friendly:  a product, practice or activity that won’t harm the environment.

Sustainability:  a lifestyle that doesn’t deplete resources for future generations.  

Restorative:  a project that improves the health and wellbeing of society and the 

                     environment.

Regenerative:  creates conditions conducive for all life to thrive.

We are more receptive to needed climate solutions. Floods, tornadoes, and wildfires are destroying our homes and properties. Hence, citizens are demanding change from policy makers. They want to rebuild in more environmentally sound ways. 

The eco-green movement has generated some great strides They’ve reduced greenhouse gases, increased resource efficiency and utilized more sustainable materials. It is an industry best practice today.

But, our greenest buildings and communities still need improvement. Significant negative outcomes continue to put ongoing pressure on Earth’s ecosystem.

We must move beyond sustainable development towards restorative and regenerative cities and communities. We have the ability to reverse climate change. We can create a new direction toward planetary stability. 

Humans are consuming the Earth’s resources faster than the Earth can replenish them. 

Regenerative development evolves and continually encourages new potential. 

We face many challenges today. We need to focus on improving the resiliency of societies, businesses and families. Without adding value to these systems daily, real sustainability is not possible.

I promise to showcase innovations that are up to date, benefiting society and our planet. I will strive to educate and inspire creative thinking outside the box. Together we can restore a vibrant living Earth. Join me in bringing into existence a lifestyle of wellbeing for all humanity.

Green practices that lead to a healthier lifestyle:

  • Use eco-friendly cleaning solutions
  • Shop to shorten your driving time 
  • Eat fresh local food
  • Reduce bottled beverage consumption
  • Plant a garden
  • Passive solar — Plan the placement of windows for natural sunlight
  • Create less waste

Benefits of changing your lifestyle:

  • Reduces environmental pollution
  • Reduces energy costs
  • Conserves natural resources
  • Cost effective
  • Promotes better health
  • Raises self-awareness in your children
  • Impact subtle change in your community