Tag Archives: Health

Pure Water

People are always attracted to water. We hiked up the mountain to this cascade in Le Tigre National Park, Honduras.

(This post has been sitting in my drafts for a couple of years.  Now, that we’re on a “boil” order in my county in northeast Kansas in July 2011, I thought again of how we take our clean water for granted.  I wrote this about a visit to Honduras, where you can’t drink the water from the tap.)

It’s early on a February morning in 2007, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and already hot.  I don’t mind.  Back home in Kansas City it’s freezing.

Behind the courtyard wall, I wait at the gate, listening.  I’m an early riser so I volunteered to make the water bottle exchange.

“You’ll know when they’re coming,” my friend Michael told me the night before.  “They call out “Agua Azul, Agua Azul.”  He likes the sound of it.  “It’s like a call to prayer.”

Most societies and religions find spiritual and cleansing properties in water, so Michael is right about that.

Three large empty bottles sit on the driveway near the gate.  I hear the faint call, and I lean out to look.

I see a truck slowly rumbling down the steep incline of street in this affluent neighborhood in the capital city of Honduras.  The back of the truck is stacked with large water bottles.

“Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.

I wave my hand at the truck. A man darts to the gate, grabs the empty bottles and replaces them with full ones.  He hops back on the truck and continues his call.  “Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.”

Now we’ll have purified water for the next couple of days.  We go through it quickly, using it for everything that passes our lips. The water truck comes three mornings a week.  It saves the trouble of taking the bottles to the store. The house has running water, but it’s not purified.  We have to be careful not to drink it or even use it for brushing our teeth.  I keep a small bottle of purified water in the bathroom during my visit.

You can’t be careful everywhere, and on a trip to see the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, some of us come down with horrible gastrointestinal distress.  I’ll spare you the details (worst diarrhea of my life!), but it was touch and go on the drive home.  Michael and Anita knew the roads and the rest stops, and thankfully, my husband is an Eagle Scout, prepared with supplies at all times, including a roll of toilet paper.

At home, we take pure water for granted.  But civilization has long been plagued, literally, with contaminated water.  Cholera is one disease spread by water fouled by bacteria.  People would often drink alcoholic beverages, rather than water, because they were less likely to get sick. Steven Johnson writes about a cholera epidemic in “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.”

Hacienda San Lucas overlooks the Copan River Valley, where the early Mayans settled more than a thousand years ago. Maintaining pure water is always a problem wherever people gather in cities.

In Copan, we visited Flavia Cueva, who owns the Hacienda San Lucas.  Anita, who is with the U.S. State Department, had met with Flavia before on an official visit.  Local people and members of the International Rotary were working to improve the water quality. International Rotary is providing water distribution and health education to six remote villages in the area.

My water district at home, WaterOne, sends out an annual water quality report, summarizing what’s in the water and provides lots of facts, which are also available on the website.  WaterOne was one of seven utilities worldwide selected as a finalist for a global water award for its Wolcott Treatment Plant. We’re very lucky we don’t need to buy bottled water, regularly, although there is a run on bottled water now because of the boil order.

Here’s a copy of the story in the Kansas City Star about our boil order:


Raccoon Believed Culprit in John County Boil Order

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

Posted on Fri, Jul. 01, 2011 03:57 PM

A raccoon appears be to the culprit in a water pipe rupture that led to a boil advisory for more than 400,000 water customers in Johnson County.
Officials of Water District No. 1 found the animal dead inside an electrical unit at the Hansen treatment plant on Holiday Drive in Kansas City, Kan.
Eric Arner, a spokesman for WaterOne, said the animal may have chewed into wires or just brushed by the equipment, triggering an event that will affect customers at least until 5 p.m. Saturday during one of the hottest spells of the year so far.
People in the WaterOne service area — which includes most of Johnson County but excludes most of Olathe — are advised to use bottled water or to boil their tap water at least two minutes before consuming it. Unboiled water is safe for washing and bathing.
Retail stores in Johnson County are reporting brisk sales of bottled water. People are buying shopping baskets full of it at the Lenexa Sam’s Club, 12200 W. 95th St.
“We’ve got plenty for today and two more semis were dispatched when we heard about this,” said club manager Eric Rector. “We should have more in stock tonight.”
The Price Chopper at 8686 Antioch Road in Overland Park was sold out by mid-afternoon. A new shipment was expected over the weekend but store management did not know when it would arrive.
The boil precaution is necessary because the pipe rupture led to a drop in water pressure, which may have drawn contaminants into the system. Officials are testing tap samples from across the 275-square-mile water district for safety. That process, and flushing any contaminants out of the system, takes at least 18 hours.
Arner said water officials noticed a sudden drop in system pressure at 7:20 a.m., which they later attributed to a raccoon that got inside the housing of one of the huge electrical switches that run the pumps. The animal apparently shorted out the switch.
“The pumps themselves are designed to trip off when there is any fluctuation in power so they don’t fry their circuits,” Arner said. “So when the power was restored in a matter of seconds or even milliseconds the pumps turned back on and created a water surge.”
Officials believe that surge caused a 54-inch pipe near the Hansen plant to rupture at a joint. Arner said the pipe should not have failed even with a surge and WaterOne is investigating whether there were any other factors involved.
Water officials were able to restore pressure throughout the system shortly after the pipe break but some areas may have less pressure than normal.
While most of Olathe is outside WaterOne, between 6,000 and 7,000 people in northwestern and southwestern areas of the city are affected, said city spokesman Tim Danneberg.

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Filed under Biology, Drink, Health, Life, Personal, Random, Travel

Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt

Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Postcard postcard

Late May and early June bring strawberries in the Kansas City area. After the long, cold, dreary miserable winter we had, I was thrilled when the first ripe strawberries appeared in my little patch every day. This year I’ve made some changes in my diet, avoiding refined sugar in everything, so I’m satisfying my sweet tooth with more fruit.  I’m very grateful for my abundant strawberry crop, even if I have to squat and stretch  every day for half an hour picking through the leaves to find these tiny red jewels. It’s kind of like yoga, except my back aches when I stand up.  (Ok, maybe it’s only 15 minutes a day, it just seems longer.)

Every spring, my maternal grandmother made strawberry rhubarb pies and sauces. She grew the plants in her huge garden, and my cousins and I would also find it among the grass and weeds in the old abandoned garden plot, where rhubarb and asparagus plants were all that remained. The rhubarb plants seemed eternal to me then, although I’ve never had any luck keeping any alive in my own gardens. When I saw some rhubarb for sale at a country market, I bought about ten stalks. Rhubarb isn’t palatable without sugar, though, so I’ve added some no-calorie sugar substitute, which is also a no-no, but I’m not giving that up fake sugar entirely. What is life without rhubarb?

I chopped the rhubarb, cooked it in about two cups water, cooled it and then added a cup of fresh strawberries. Then I added some fake sugar to taste. I added some of the sauce to nonfat Greek yogurt. Yummy!
Here’s what I’ve written in the past about my strawberry passion.  Third Annual Strawberry Photograph

Of course, I have to link to a downer article from the New York Times about how sugar is very, very, very bad for you.  Is Sugar Toxic?  Below is a related video that will cause you to weep.   I’ve been hearing this for years, but chose to ignore it, but now I’m trying to avoid sugar completely except in fruits and vegetables.   After watching this video, it sounds as if I need to cut back on fruit, too…

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Filed under Diet, Food, Health

Radiation Dose Chart

Radiation Dose Chart

This is a chart of the ionizing dose of radiation that a person can absorb from various sources, including the amount we receive from sleeping next to someone, eating a banana, getting a chest x-ray, sitting in front of a computer screen for a year, an airplane trip from New York to California and the radiation from the destroyed Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, after the earthquake and tsunami.   Click on the chart twice to get a larger view.

Here’s a post explaining the chart and its origins from its designer. It also includes information on how to help people in Japan, who suffering from the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami as well as those who had to be evacuated from the area around the damaged nuclear reactors.

Here’s a British Environmentalist explaining “Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power”

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Filed under Environment, Life, Natural History, Nature, Technology

Skin Cancer

National Cancer Institute Chart. Check yourself and your loved ones for signs of cancer.

It’s Valentine’s Day as I write this. What better time to check your loved one for skin cancer? One in five Americans will get some form of skin cancer in their lifetime, and this is probably true for many other countries, as well.  Even more Australians will get skin cancer than in the U.S.  Although lighter-skinned people are more at risk, people with dark skin also get skin cancer and should also take precautions and check themselves and others.

In recent years, several of my family members have gotten skin cancer, including basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma.

Although there is a genetic component, overexposure to the sun and repeated sunburns greatly add to the risk.  Even in winter, avoid overexposure to the sun and wear sunblock. Stay away from tanning beds.

From Wikipedia:  There are a variety of different skin cancer symptoms. These include changes in the skin that do not heal, ulcering in the skin, discolored skin, and changes in existing moles, such as jagged edges to the mole and enlargement of the mole.

  • Basal cell carcinoma usually looks like a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin of the head, neck or shoulders. Sometimes small blood vessels can be seen within the tumor. Crusting and bleeding in the center of the tumor frequently develops. It is often mistaken for a sore that does not heal. This form of skin cancer is the least deadly and with proper treatment can be completely eliminated, often without scarring.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is commonly a red, scaling, thickened patch on sun-exposed skin. Ulceration and bleeding may occur. When SCC is not treated, it may develop into a large mass. Squamous cell is the second most common skin cancer. It is dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as a melanoma.
  • Most melanomas are brown to black looking lesions. Warning signs that might indicate a malignant melanoma include change in size, shape, color or elevation of a mole. Other signs are the appearance of a new mole during adulthood or new pain, itching, ulceration or bleeding.
  • Merkel cell carcinomas are most often rapidly growing, non-tender red, purple or skin colored bumps that are not painful or itchy. They may be mistaken for a cyst or other type of cancer.  About skin cancer.

A related post I wrote after I was diagnosed with basal cell cancer.   Vitamin D — The Sunshine Vitamin.

Two important websites:

National Cancer Institute Information on Skin Cancer.

The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Here’s a blog post by my friend Jan describing our spring break trip in college to Padre Island, where we got horribly sunburned within hours of our arrival!  Done With The Sun.

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Filed under Health, Life, Medicine

Research Update in the Fight Against ALS

alsalogo

 
    New Gene Mutation Discovery By ALS Association Consortium
 is Major Breakthrough in Lou Gehrig’s Disease Research, a report from The ALS Association’s National Office  Feb. 26, 2009 
In one of the most significant breakthroughs in the recent history of ALS research, a consortium of scientists organized and funded by The ALS Association has discovered a new gene, ALS6 (Fused in Sarcoma), responsible for about 5 percent of the cases of inherited ALS.The discovery will provide important clues to the causes of inherited ALS, which accounts for 10 percent of all cases, and sporadic ALS, which occurs in individuals with no family history of the disease and accounts for the other 90 percent of cases diagnosed.

“This is a momentous discovery in furthering our understanding of ALS,” said Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., senior vice president of Research and Development at The ALS Association. “A new gene provides a new piece of the puzzle we can use to shed light on why ALS develops, and where to focus our efforts on creating new treatments and finding a cure.”The results of this groundbreaking research are published in the Friday, February 27 issue of the prestigious journal Science. The project was led by Tom Kwiatkowski M.D., Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Robert Brown, M.D., of the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, and ALS Association-funded researchers Caroline Vance, Ph.D., and Christopher Shaw, M.D., of Kings College in London.The project was supported by a consortium of leading ALS researchers from around the world, formed as part of The Association’s Gene Identification Project. Their success reflects an unprecedented effort to accelerate the search for genetic mutations linked to all forms of ALS.

Dr. Brown noted, “We are particularly delighted because our trans-Atlantic consortium has pursued the chromosome 16 gene for more than six years. The ALS Association has been an all-important partner in this search. This discovery should lead to new cell and animal models of ALS, which will accelerate drug development.” “Global partnerships between investigators and funding agencies, such as the Motor Neuron Disease Association in the United Kingdom, are crucial to making these kinds of breakthroughs,” Dr. Bruijn commented. “This finding has opened up a whole new avenue of research and has the potential to uncover a common mechanism for most forms of ALS.”

The gene mutations were first identified by Dr. Kwiatkowski and were immediately confirmed by Dr. Vance, who also demonstrated abnormal accumulations of the mutant protein in cells cultured in the laboratory and the motor neurons of people carrying FUS mutations.

The gene, called FUS (“fused in sarcoma”), normally carries out multiple functions within motor neurons. These include regulating how gene messages (called messenger RNAs) are created, modified, and transported in order to build proteins. Some of these same functions also are performed by another gene called TARDPB encoding the protein TDP43, and mutations in the TDP-43 gene were recently linked to ALS as well.

“The fact that these two genes help perform the same function suggests that problems in this function may be critical in the development of ALS,” Dr. Bruijn said. “More research into exactly how these two genes work could ultimately lead to new treatments that are effective in slowing or stopping the progression of ALS and extending the lives of people with the disease.”

The mutations in the ALS6 gene were identified by detailed genetic sequencing in several families with an inherited form of ALS (familial ALS). Normally, the ALS6 protein works in the cell’s nucleus, but the mutations caused it to instead cluster outside the nucleus. Further work will be needed to determine precisely how this leads to ALS. With the gene in hand, scientists will be able to create cell and animal models containing the mutated gene, to examine in detail how the mutation operates and how it causes ALS.

“This suggests there may be a common mechanism underlying motor neuron degeneration,” according to Dr. Shaw. Motor neurons are nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles. Motor neurons degenerate in ALS.

This is the second ALS-causing gene to be discovered in the past 12 months. SOD1, discovered in 1993, accounts for 20 percent of inherited cases of the disease. Mutations in the TARDP gene account for another four to five percent. The only well-defined causes of ALS are genetic. In both inherited and sporadic ALS, the disease symptoms and pathology are the same.

The possibility that ALS may be caused by several factors is the rationale for The Association’s policy of funding multiple genetic projects around the world and encouraging these leading geneticists to work together and share information to help locate disease-linked genes for faster, more accurate scientific results. By funding research on a global level, The Association helps put together “genetic pieces” of the ALS puzzle.

“Through our support of research such as this study, The ALS Association is committed to finding the causes of ALS, and using that knowledge to develop a cure as rapidly as possible,” Dr. Bruijn said. “We will build on the discovery of this new gene to carry that effort forward.”

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Filed under Health, Life, Medicine, Personal, Science

Vitamin D — the Sunshine Vitamin

The Sun.  It fuels our world.  It's essential to life. The challenge is find the right balance of sun exposure and sun protection.

The Sun. It fuels our world. It's essential to life. We need sunlight to make Vitamin D in our bodies, but the sun's radiation can also cause skin cancer. The challenge is find the right balance of sun exposure and sun protection.

Avoid the sun.  Wear sunblock.  That’s my summer mantra.  Now that I’ve had some skin cancer removed, I’m even more paranoid about sun exposure. 

The darkest time of the year is here, so you’d think I could relax about sun exposure as I enter my annual winter hermit state, covered up and shivering by the hearth.  But no, I have a new worry:  I actually have to get outside to get some sunshine to make Vitamin D.  

Ten to 15 minutes of sunshine (ultraviolet B radiation) three times a week is supposed to be enough for most people, but this is tough in the winter when we’re swathed in fleece. I don’t even like to walk to the mailbox at the end of my driveway when it’s cold.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium to form strong bones and teeth and has many other important functions in keeping us healthy.   My dermatologist says that Vitamin D is the hot topic at dermatology conferences these days. Yes, I know, we’ve all heard and read about the wonders and miracles of this vitamin and that vitamin, only to find out later that taking extra this or that doesn’t help and can even hurt. I still have a huge jar of Vitamin E capsules that I thought was supposed to be good for me. Then studies reported Vitamin E as a supplement could be harmful.   Now I’m just hanging onto the almost-full bottle in case it comes back into favor. (By then, of course, if will be expired.)

 Researchers are continually finding out more about the importance of Vitamin D, including that we probably need more than previously thought and that it’s even more essential to maintaining good health than we’ve realized.

Vitamin D could play a role in the prevention of colon, prostate and breast cancers, for example.  The amounts in our bodies might affect our mood and our weight.  Vitamin D really could be essential to a sunny disposition and important in keeping us from piling on the pounds. 

Bottom line: Find out how much Vitamin D you need and get a little sunshine at least every other day.

The following information can get a little tedious, but it’s important, so pay attention.

You need sunshine, but not as much as the people in the posters are getting.  This woman is probably getting enough as she walks past posters on a tanning salon while walking from her home in the Seattle area to the grocery store on Dec. 22, 2008.  (AP Photo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  Andy Rogers)

You need sunshine, but not as much as the people in the posters are getting. This woman is probably getting enough as she walks past posters on a tanning salon while walking from her home in the Seattle area to the grocery store on Dec. 22, 2008. (AP Photo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Andy Rogers)

A multi-vitamin with Vitamin D is probably enough for most people, but one size doesn’t fit all.  As you get older, your body isn’t as efficient at making Vitamin D, so you’ll need more Vitamin D in your diet, usually as an additive or a supplement.  My dermatologist told me to get 1,000 units of Vitamin D and a little sunlight (UV-B) every day, but you need to check with your own physician for the right amount for you. (See link below to article about children’s need for Vitamin D.)

Vitamin D isn’t naturally present in most foods, although it’s added to milk and cereal.  It’s in fish, such as salmon and tuna, in egg yolks and in cheese.  It’s also in cod liver oil, which is why we heard stories of a spoonful of it being forced on children in the past.

There’s also a danger of getting too much, which can cause increased kidney stones, nausea and mental confusion.  Vitamin D is stored in the fat, so if you take excessive amounts it’s difficult to get rid of.

We have to find a balance in protecting our skin from sun damage with the need for sunlight to synthesize Vitamin D.  The darker your skin, the more sunlight you need to make Vitamin D.  One of my biology professors suggested that Vitamin D is so important that it’s probably the main reason for differences in skin color.  The closer you to to the poles, the more difficult it is to get enough sunlight to make Vitamin D.  Conversely, darker skin protects against sun damage.

People with higher skin melanin (pigment) content require more time in sunlight to produce the same amount of vitamin D as do people with lower melanin content. As noted below, the amount of time a person requires to produce a given amount of Vitamin D may also depend upon the person’s distance from the equator and on the season of the year.

These people have the right idea.  Get outside in the winter, even if it's cloudy and snowy.  Just don't get frostbite or sunburned.

These people have the right idea. Get outside in the winter, even if it's cloudy and snowy. Just don't get frostbitten or sunburned. I need to take my own advice, because I don't even like to go to the mailbox when it's cold.

Latitude and altitude determine the intensity of UV light. UV-B is stronger at higher altitudes. Latitudes higher than 30° (both north and south) have insufficient UV-B sunlight two to six months of the year, even at midday, according to researchers.  Latitudes higher than 40° have insufficient sunlight to achieve optimum levels of D during six to eight months of the year. In much of the United States, which is between 30° and 45° latitude, six months or more during each year have insufficient UV-B sunlight to produce optimal D levels. In far northern or southern locations, latitudes 45° and higher, even summer sun is too weak to provide optimum levels of vitamin D.  A simple meter is available to determine UV-B levels where you live.

It’s a complicated, but important, subject.  To read more, here are some websites and articles:

NEW: What do you lack? Probably Vitamin D. (New York Times article)

Vitamin D Deficiency May Lurk in Babies

The Vitamin D Miracle.

What is Vitamin D?

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Filed under Biology, Diet, Family, Health, Life, Medicine, Nature, Personal

Coffee, the Miracle Drink

Coffee is good for you! At least that jolt you feel won’t harm you too much, if you don’t overdo it. So don’t feel guilty sharing a cup with your friends.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit by saying coffee is a miracle drink, but it sure feels that way in the morning when I brew my first batch.  I have a cheap cappuccino maker, which barely sputters the milk into foam. But who cares about foam?  The important thing is that the coffee elixir is saturated with caffeine.  All of my muscles come alive as I sip.  I feel the energy flowing through my veins.

One of the best things about making coffee is the empty can.  lthough. I order my coffee in bags now, I've saved plenty of cans to use to store my brushes.

One of the best things about making coffee is the empty can. I order my coffee in bags now, but I’ve saved plenty of cans to use to store my brushes.

We’ve had a lot of scares about coffee and caffeine throughout the years.  Doctors have warned me to stop drinking coffee because the caffeine worsened fibrocystic disease, for example.   Sometimes I’ve sworn it off, because I get caffeine withdrawal headaches.  But I always come right back to my old lover, warts and all.

I didn’t drink coffee until I was out of college (back in the 1970s, if you must know.)  I also rarely drank tea or colas.  Diet colas in those days were awful.  I rarely even ate chocolate, if you can believe that. So I wasn’t getting much, if any, caffeine.  I didn’t know what I was missing.

Some friends recognized the value of caffeine much earlier than I did.  Jan stayed up late into the night, fueled on Coke and sugar cookie dough, to finish art and sewing projects.  Some people took their caffeine in pill form.  No-Doze was popular right before finals.

Finally, coffee just clicked with me.  People had tried to get me interested before.  “Hey, little girl, want some coffee?”  But I always resisted.  We all have our breaking point. On a nonstop drive from Lawrence, Kansas, to visit Jan in Berkeley, California, my friend Kathy and I (click here to jump to a previous adventure with Kathy) made a pit stop in Salt Lake City. That city is NOT a mecca of caffeine consumption, but I needed some artificial energy to keep driving. I grabbed a cup of coffee at a diner.  Even I, the coffee virgin, knew it was swill, but I was hooked.   Perhaps, it was inevitable.  Most Americans drink coffee. My father used to joke that his father liked his coffee so thick you could float a spoon in it, and my father had a pot brewing all day long.  My son Matt mastered the fine art of brewing espresso.  Still, there are coffee abstainers even in my own family.

Jane E. Brody of the The New York Times discusses the health issues of coffee and caffeine in a recent article in a link here:  Sorting Out Coffee’s Contradictions

If you want to read all about coffee, go to www.answers.com and ask the right questions.  And don’t leave this post until you check out my photograph below of a chicken under a coffee tree.

This chicken scratches for dinner under coffee and banana trees near Le Tigre National Park in Honduras.  The red cherry covering the coffee bean is edible.  I tried one.  It was slightly sweet.  Tropical highlands are ideal for growing coffee. Perhaps, the land would find a better use if we all weren't so addicted to coffee.

This chicken scratches for dinner under coffee and banana trees near Le Tigre National Park in Honduras. The red cherry covering the coffee bean is edible. I tried one. It was slightly sweet. Tropical highlands are ideal for growing coffee. Perhaps, the land would find a better use if we all weren’t so addicted to coffee.

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Filed under Coffee, Drink, Health, Humor, Life, Personal, Random

Cutting Edge — How to Use a Straight Razor

This is my son Matt's straight razor and shaving cup, soap, brush and strop.  He says that using a straight razor produces a cheaper and better shave, although it takes three times longer than with an electric razor.

This is my son Matt's straight razor and shaving cup, soap, brush and strop. He says that using a straight razor produces a cheaper and better shave, although it takes three times longer than with a cartridge blade or an electric razor. Link to Straight Edge Razor Father's Day card at the bottom of this post.

                                                                                                                                                                                           My son Matt and his friends love metal — and I’m not talking about music.

They love steel, silver, iron — anything they can forge, hammer, bend and weld. They use words like anneal, temper, ductile, malleable, hone, forge.

They’re fascinated with bladesmithing, such as the labor-intensive process of forging the katana, the long sword the samurai carry.  Matt bought a couple of replica katanas when we visited Japan, but it’s just not the same as the real thing.  They had no cutting edge — all show and no go.  (But they were so much cheaper!)

Matt and two of his friends have brought their appreciation of a sharp edge to their daily routine by using a straight edge razor to shave.  Matt ordered his online, while one friend got his at a pawn shop. 

“I think of my razor as a really high quality knife,” Matt says.  “It’s generally about as sharp as a knife can get.”

Japanese Katana Sword.

Japanese Katana Sword.

Matt bought a DOVO Black Star with a pakkawood handle, made of high carbon tempered steel with a blade that’s five-eighths of an inch wide. It’s full hollow ground, which means that the faces of the blade are ground to make it as thin as possible.

“I wanted a better, cheaper alternative to normal shaving,” Matt says.  “The choice was between a straight razor and a safety razor.”

Matt likes to learn new, unusual skills, so that was another factor.

“How long did it take you to get the hang of it?” I ask.  The thing looks dangerous.  I’ve seen what a straight edge razor can do in “Sweeney Todd”.  (Matt says that a true fan of a straight razor would never ruin a blade by using it like that.)

“It took about three weeks to stop cutting myself at least once every shave,” Matt says.

This is from an advertisement for a DOVO razor.  The guy looks pretty calm, considering someone else is holding a razor to his neck.

This is from an advertisement for a DOVO razor. The guy looks pretty calm, considering someone else is holding a razor to his neck.

Matt describes the basic procedure:  “Strop your razor a dozen times, first on the canvas side and then on the leather side.  I usually skip the canvas side unless my razor isn’t honed enough. 

Shaving is best after a shower. You want your face to be as wet as possible, so don’t use a towel.  Soak your brush (more on brushes below) in hot water and then swirl it on your bar of soap for ten or so seconds.  Now whip your brush in a bowl that contains a small amount of water.  Whip for 30 to 90 seconds to create a lather.  Apply lather to your face. 

Always shave first in a downward motion with the hair growth.  The chin and upper lip are the hardest parts.  After one pass downward, you can re-lather and shave perpendicular to the hair growth, or shave against the hair growth.  Two or three passes are generally required to get a close shave.  One with the grain, one perpendicular and one against.  I generally only do two passes, one with the grain, one against.

After shaving, splash warm water on your face to remove all of the soap residue, then splash cold water on your face to close your pores.  Then pat dry.  Never wipe dry, or you’ll dry out your skin too much.  You can then apply a facial lotion, if you want.”

What does this Samurai have to do with shaving with a straight razor? Not too much, except that he's cool and used a really sharp sword. This samurai is on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas CIty. Pardon my reflection.

What does this Samurai have to do with shaving with a straight razor? Not too much, except that he's cool and used a really sharp sword. This samurai is on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Pardon my reflection.

In the long run, shaving with a straight razor is cheaper than disposable razors and blades and shaving cream in a can, and there’s a lot less waste.

“My bar of shaving soap, which cost ninety-nine cents at Wal-Mart, will probably last for dozens and dozens of shaves.”

Do the guys still shave as often?  One friend still uses the straight razor — when he shaves.  “He tends to grow beards for a while,” Matt says.

“I still shave about as much as I used to, but if I go for several days, and my facial hair gets long, the razor has no problems cutting through it,” Matt says.  “It doesn’t clog like a normal razor does.”

He admits to using a disposable cartridge if he’s pressed for time.  He may get a safety razor for those times when he’s in a hurry. (Which is probably every time he’s heading to class.)

“But if I have an extra fifteen minutes, it’s certainly more fun to use a straight razor,” he says.

Am I a convert?  Considering  I have more area to mangle and mutilate, I don’t think so……..

There are three grades of badger brushes — pure, best and the top grade of silvertip, Matt says.  Matt has the best badger, which is the middle level.  Badger brushes are softer and hold more water than the cheaper boar hair or synthetic brushes.   

Clean the brush thoroughly after each shave and shake it dry.

“Badger smells like wet dog for the first ten times,” he warns. 

For more information,  go to www.classicshaving.com  and www.shavemyface.com  There’s a whole culture of shaving out there!   For a straight edge razor shaving greeting card using this photograph, go to Straight edge razor Father’s Day card.

 

 

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Chiggers!

 
This is a chigger, enlarged about 1,500 times. Chiggers are red until they are engorged, when they turn yellow. They feed on our dissolved skin cells, not blood. (Photo — Dr. W. Calvin Webourn, the Ohio State Acarology Laboratory.)

Since I’m still scratching like crazy, I decided to get serious about avoiding more chigger bites.  (See my post, “Berry Picking by Moonlight” for an impractical approach.) If you’re wondering whether there are chiggers in your area, there probably aren’t. If you’ve been in nature, you’d already know! 

HOW TO AVOID GETTING CHIGGER BITES:
Wear Insect Repellent.
Wear long pants and long sleeves (which is so much fun when it’s 95 degrees!)
Wipe off your skin with a rough towel when you come inside.
Take a warm shower or bath with soap after coming indoors.
Wash your clothes and used towels in hot water and detergent to kill any chiggers hanging out there.
                                                                                                                                                               Chiggers are the almost microscopically small six-legged larval (juvenile) form of an eight-legged mite (Trombiculidae), related to ticks.  How can something so small cause such torment? You can’t see them to pick them off.  By the time you feel their bite, it’s too late.  Your body has already started its allergic reaction.
                                                                                                                                                         Chiggers are constantly on the move, running onto your body from grass and plants, heading for areas of thin skin such as your ankles or groin area. Their mouth parts are weak, so if they can’t find a delicate area, they need a fold of skin or a tight piece of clothing to help them pierce the skin.
                                                                                                                                                                          In North America, humans aren’t a chigger’s preferred host.  Chiggers would rather bite reptiles or birds, which don’t get an allergic reaction.  We’re just accidental prey. (There are chiggers in Asia and the Pacific Islands that do prefer humans, and their bites cause no itching.)
                                                                                                                                                                       The chigger injects saliva to dissolve our tissue, which the chigger then sucks.  Our bodies react by walling off the corrosive saliva, forming a sort of feeding tube in the center of a welt that itches like crazy.  The tiny chigger then sits on the tube, alternately injecting saliva and then sucking up the liquid tissue.   Most chiggers are scratched off before they complete their one and only feed.  If they don’t get enough to eat, which may take three days of feeding, they won’t mature into an adult mite. Too bad! 
                                                                                                                                                                       The good news is that chiggers don’t carry any diseases.  However, if you scratch too much, you might get an infection.
 
Now, enjoy your summer outdoors!
 

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ALS: Courage, Hope

Golf legend Tom Watson, left, with Beckie Cooper, center, talks with attendees at the ALS Association\'s 19th annual Night of Hope dinner on May 3, 2008, in Overland Park, Kan. Watson presented the first Tom Watson Award for Courage to Cyndi Starke, who has ALS.  Watson\'s long-time friend and caddie Bruce Edwards was stricken with ALS.  Cooper is the executive director of the ALS Association Keith Worthington Chapter.

 

A Latter-Day Gehrig Survives, and He Demands to Be Heard,” link to a story about ALS from the New York Times

 

A few people you meet will have a huge impact on your life, even when you don’t realize it at the time.  Keith Worthington was such a person.  I met Worthington in 1982.  His courage and dedication greatly affected me, but I had no idea then how his mission would later be so important to my family. 

I was assigned to write a news release about a new center for a disease I knew little about: ALS. Frankly, at the time I was glad that meeting him was just part of my job.  I was grateful not to have any personal acquaintance with the disease he was fighting.     I’d heard the story about Lou Gehrig retiring from baseball years ago because of a paralyzing disease that was later named after him, but when I met Worthington I saw the full expression of that disease. Worthington was totally paralyzed and on a ventilator. ALS is a terrible, progressive neurodegenerative disease, and there isn’t a cure. Yet, he radiated cheerfulness.

Worthington was at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where I worked, to help open a new ALS Research Center.  When he was diagnosed, he found little help or information anywhere, and he created, with his wife Sue’s help, an organization to help people with ALS and to raise money for research.  That organization, which later joined the national ALS Association, is 30 years old this year and is named the Keith Worthington chapter.  It’s one of more than 40 ALS Association chapters nationwide.

Worthington died two years after I met him, but I didn’t forget him or his courage to help people even when he knew he would never benefit himself.  When my father was diagnosed with ALS in 1995,  I felt punched in the gut, shocked, in denial.  I immediately thought of Worthington and knew the fate that awaited my father.  But I also knew that because of Worthington, there were care, support and equipment resources available to my father.

The Keith Worthington chapter has many devoted supporters, including baseball legend George Brett, who was Worthington’s friend, and golf legend Tom Watson, whose long-time friend and caddie Bruce Edwards died from ALS.

 

 

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