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TOXIC CANDLES

CandlesIn a previous post I wrote about how incense can be a carcinogenic. Now it’s time to think of candles too. Unfortunately, in the same lines.

Candles can be found everywhere in my house and I your house is probably full of them too. They offer us light, fragrance and comfort. We love them, but what we may not know is that candles can also hurt us.

Most candles are made of paraffin. This is a byproduct of petroleum, like almost everything else in our modern lives. Burning paraffin produces toxic smoke and soot that can be very dangerous for health, just like inhaling exhaust fumes from your car. (If you read about paraffin, go a little further and research the liquid paraffin, also called  “mineral oil”, which we are sometimes recommended to slather with on our newborns’ skin.)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done a number of studies regarding the use of candles and incense related to indoor air pollution. Soot produced by certain candles, the EPA articles show, can reach levels which are a health risk, as soot is inhaled deeply into the lungs from where it cannot be easily released. According to EPA, “soot is a product of incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels, usually petroleum based.”

The fragrance, that we buy most candles for, can increase the level of toxins, as they are mostly synthetic, product of the same petroleum. Also, apparently the fragrance softens the wax, causing it to not burn completely, as shown in this article from Care2. Candles sold in glass containers are less safe also, because they are deprived of the entire supply of oxygen needed for a clean burn.

Another source of worry in candles is represented by the lead-core wicks. The lead becomes airborne when the candle is burned. The EPA states in one of their papers that burning candles with lead-core wicks can lead to a concentration of lead in indoor air above safe levels.

According to the same source:

“Candles with the following characteristics have the potential to produce excessive soot:

• Candle with long, untrimmed wicks exceeding 1/8 inch

• Candles poured into glass jars or ceramic containers

• Candles with soft wax

• Aromatic (scented) wax

• Thick wick, or one with a wire core that keeps the wick upright

• Soot deposits on the mouth of the jar

• High, erratic flame when burned

• Visible soot emitted from an erratic flame

• Located in an air draft created by a fan or air conditioner duct

• Pillar candle with signs of uneven burning or thick, erect wick

•Multiple wick candles with thick, erect wick.

Candles with the following characteristics produce minimal soot and no vaporized lead:

• Hard wax

• Thin, braided wick that curls over when burned

• Low aromatic properties

• Tapered and votive candles with thin wicks

• Low, even flame when burned.”

I would add to this is beeswax  or vegetable-oil based candles, just because it makes more sense to me to use something that’s not derived from petroleum.

So again, I realize that I have to do more research, be more aware of every thing I use or bring into my home, into our lives. It is very frustrating to have to do browse the Internet for hours, researching every little thing, but it has one benefit: it makes me buy less, because most products are just not up to my new standards. I am not going to complain about that.

THE SUN OR THE SUNSCREEN, WHICH IS SCARIER?

I don’t know how I managed to delete the original article I wrote about sunscreen. It took me quite a while to research and write so I have been seriously upset by the incident. But now I am recovering from it and I am going to try to put it back together.

For the past few years the common sense and knowledge about spending time in the sun has been: lots of sunscreen, if possible applied thirty minutes before going out of the house, for the best protection. These are the recommendations of The Skin Cancer Foundation and we all tend to respect them the best we can. We walk around with the sunscreen in our bags, our children never make it out in the “wild” without complete coverage. However, if we prefer not to take the recommendation just as it is, but think about it some more, we realize that all is not that simple.

First of all, let’s consider what exactly we put on our skin and what other effects that can have. Most of the products widely available in supermarkets and basically everywhere you go, contain harmful chemicals. That is a concern. But it is not enough. Many of them protect the skin only from sunburn (UVB rays) but do not offer real UVA protection, UVA being the rays linked to skin cancer. More information about these aspects you can find on the Skin Deep, Cosmetic Database created by the Environmental Working Group. But the sunscreen companies don’t stop there. They keep increasing the SPF protection number shown on the bottle, knowing that appeals to customers. It has reached a point where that number doesn’t mean anything anymore.

Now, if you choose carefully, we can find sunscreens that are both safe and protective. We can happily slather ourselves in the natural goo and go outside with no worries. But things are still not as simple as that.

Due to the over-use of sunscreens in the late years, the scientists observed an increase of Vitamin D deficiency. You know, this is produced by our bodies through exposure to the sun. Lack of Vitamin D can cause serious health problems (among which a number of cancers, but also depression and mental illness) and now researchers are actually recommending mid-day sun exposure for at least fifteen minutes for all of us. How does that reconcile with applying sunscreen half an hour before leaving the house?

Another argument that makes a lot of sense to me is that all the sunscreen does is allow us to ignore the body’s natural signals that let us know when it’s time to get out of the sun. Following this reasoning, the sunscreens are the ones causing melanoma, instead of protecting us from it.

And if you don’t know which side to believe, to me the money aspect always makes sense: who has to profit from the use of sunscreen and is there any profit for anyone in people’s basic exposure to sun? Did you know that the sunscreens are just a re-named, differently marketed tanning lotions? Did you know that before the 1970s there were not common at all and the ’70s were the time when the tanning lotions began to be widely used, and allowed people longer exposure to the sun? Just read this article from Mother Jones called Sunscam.

With all the confusing information out there, it is very hard to take a decision for ourselves. Especially if we had skin cancer in the family, or children with very light skin who seem to burn before they get out of the house. But I think that as long as we are informed and take the best decision for ourselves, then we’re good.

I did buy a natural and effective sunscreen as recommended by the Skin Deep site. I also plan to use plain coconut oil (more info on coconut oil uses here) or olive oil at times, because it does seem to offer natural sun protection. But mostly I plan to use long sleeved clothing like I’ve seen people use in India, cover our heads and generally stay out of the sun when it burns. No sun bathing for us, but no sun fear either.

SUMMER SKIRTS AND REMI DOLL

My baby, who is a “shy princess-witch-giant-fairy” these days, will only wear skirts and dresses and legs (“no pants, mami, they’re ugaly”). Mami is happy, because this gives her a chance to do some more sewing and skirts represent the extent of her sewing abilities.

Two of the skirts are made from mami’s old clothes: a purple flowery blouse and a beautiful, long, violet skirt that never really fit mami. The other two (one of them is actually a dress) are made of new fabrics.

From skirt remnants, mami made a rag doll.

I am calling this doll pattern (you’ll see more of it soon) Remi doll, after the poor orphan from the novel Nobody’s Boy, by Hector Malot, a book that I once loved. The doll is made entirely of cotton with organic cotton filling. I like this doll because I get to practice many techniques like sewing, crochet and embroidery which fascinates me lately. Isn’t it sweet?

MY HANDS MADE … AMIGURUMI FRANKIES

FrankiesWhen writing is not going well for me, as it is sadly happening at the moment, I find solace in working with my hands. I stay away from the computer and clear my mind. Knitting is my favorite occupation for such times (the only one that allows me to both work and watch TV, in the same time, but that’s not to be said in a loud voice).

I am sure there have been many things said about how therapeutic knitting can be. I will only attest to that. It has been helping me break the little cycles that were getting my mind all dizzy. I’m starting to settle down now.

My latest project is Rudy the Rectangle. This is his name on the pattern I found in Michael’s, for free. It’s an amigurumi creation. Don’t you love the word amigurumi? In case it is new to you, this is the Japanese name for the art of creating crochet or knit toys.

I never followed the pattern (I’m never able to do that), especially that it was for crochet and I am more comfortable knitting. I basically looked at the image and created my little Amigurumi Frankie (it does look a little like Frankenstein’s creature, doesn’t it?).

My daughter loved him at first sight. Consider this as coming from a child who doesn’t care so much about soft toys. Remember that sweet cloth baby doll I had made for her and how she didn’t care for it? After all that work? Well, things were completely different with Frankie.

I had made the first one for a friend’s baby. It’s organic cotton yarn, filled with organic cotton. It can be chewed on, hugged and loved without worries. What better gift for a baby?

As soon as I finished it, though, my own baby didn’t want to let go. She ordered me to make another one for her right then and there. I did and since then it is slowly replacing Button, the doggie she used to sleep with. Both of them shared her hugs until last night when she made the invitation: “Mami, you can sleep with Button.” So there.

Anyway, I really love this pattern and I am trying to improve it, embellish it. Expect a colorful fabric version, too. It’s fun. I’m already thinking of opening a shop on Etsy to sell these things, because I don’t seem able to stop making them.

And then, my baby goes: “Mami, I want all a’them! Can I play now?”

MEDITATION/AROMATHERAPY GARDEN DELAYED

Sprouts big 2It hasn’t been a productive gardening season. Not yet. It has been raining a lot. And it has been cold. And digging the soil is really, really hard. My meditation / aromatherapy garden is still mostly in my head. The only thing I have to show are my growing seedlings, which are a real pleasure to look at and do make me have some sense accomplishment. I cannot believe I grew that, from seeds. These beautiful sunny plants.
But, although I didn’t get a chance to go out and transplant my garden from my head into the ground, I have been making all sorts of plans and dreams for it. Most of them involve perfumed lotions and fragrant herbal teas that will soon make my life a luxurious, scented heaven.

I have to admit that I am a veteran in this line of dreaming. As a child, I remember, one of my favorite games, on the summers spent in my grandparents’ village, was “the pharmacy”. My grandfather had made a small table and chair for me, which I had outside, near the flower garden, in the shade of the vine pergola. On the table I would have a large assortment of small bottles which I would zealously fill with rose petals and water, waiting patiently for the perfume to result. Big disappointments resulted always, let me assure you, which made me realize at the time that maybe I should look into other professions, because obviously I didn’t make a very gifted pharmacist.

I thought I would share with you the recipe for aromatic body oils (cold infused oils), which can be used for massage, for hair conditioning, as well as for moisturizing the skin.

  1. In a jar with an airtight lid put a handful of flowers or leaves from the aromatic plants that you prefer and add a table spoon of white vinegar.
  2. On top of this pour oil (I like almond oil, for example, but olive oil, sunflower or grape seed oils are just as good) to cover the plant matter.
  3. Cover the jar and keep it on a sunny window sill for at least a month and try to remember to shake it every day. You can test the oil on your skin and if the fragrance is not strong enough, or not lasting, you can add new plants and repeat the process for another couple of weeks. After that, you need to strain the plant and put the oil in a pretty bottle that you can keep on your bathroom counter.

There is a great number of concoctions that can be devised from the aromatherapy garden. For me the herbal teas are very important, but I also intend to try and make body butters, essential oils and flower waters, home perfumes and aromatic sachets for closets.

GET YOUR “FISH OILS” FROM ALGAE NOT FISH

I was driving to pick up my daughter from school one day when I heard an interesting talk on the radio. It was about the ability of our oceans to regenerate from all the destruction that we cause. Until recently, the scientific community believed that the oceans had immense resources to deal with all the garbage that we dump in them and with all the intensive fishing. That is no longer the case.

Just like little toddlers who push the limits to see how far they are allowed to go, we humans have pushed our oceans to the limit and now we need to start taking care of them. Only in the last 50 years, the number of large fish in the ocean has dropped by 90%, a study shows. We fished 90% of both open ocean species including tuna, swordfish, marlin and the large groundfish such as cod, halibut, skates and flounder.

One way we can all contribute to the well-being and restoration of the incredible resource that are our oceans is by using DHA and EPA supplements that come from algae instead of fish.

The natural living community is clear about one thing: we need DHA supplements. They are vital nutrients that our body cannot manufacture but which can help immensely our bodies’ neural function. All the crunchy mamas keep spoonfuls of fish oils close at hand. The problem it that we kill fish just for that oil. Much of the oil is being extracted from large fish which also carries the risk of high levels of mercury. Here, you can read about a study done to compare the risks and benefits of fish oils with mercury.

There are Omega-3 fatty acids in other plant sources, like flax seed, walnuts and others, but the quality of those is different from the DHA and EPA found in fish oil. A complex study about that difference you can read here.

What has been revealed in the past few years is that fish don’t produce these fatty acids themselves–they take it from the algae they eat. So the solution has become evident: DHA and EPA supplements taken directly from algae. Fish stay safe. It’s a great solution for vegans. The algae are farmed under controlled conditions so there is no risk of mercury exposure. It seems like the perfect idea to me.

THE SEEDS OF A MEDITATION GARDEN (AND OTHER SPRING BEAUTIES)

Buddha handsAs you probably know already, I am new to gardening. Never cared for it much before. But after moving into our new house a year and a half ago, it has become an important part of our life. We have a front yard and a backyard, many trees and a lot of lawn that I simply have to eradicate.

Last year we tried a vegetable garden in the back, and that didn’t really work out. This year we applied for a CSA share and I am suspecting that in the summer we’ll have more produce that we can handle. So this time I am concentrating on the front yard, where I am planning an aromatherapy/medicinal/meditation garden. Doesn’t that sound interesting? I thought so.

I did some research on the Internet and found very good ideas on what plants to bring into my garden and how to tend to them.

We already got a garden Buddha a few weeks ago, so that’s a good start. The next step was getting seeds for all the plants that I want and starting the indoor germination, because the snow is still a few inches high outside.

My seeds just came in the mail and I am ecstatic. I have a few aromatic and culinary herbs like basil, thyme, dill, chives, tarragon, parsley and cilantro. Then I have the aromatherapy/medicinal herbs like chamomile, sage, bergamot, fennel, mint, lavender, bee balm, St. John’s wort, lemongrass. I also bought mixed wild flower seeds and a few ornamental grasses. Can you imagine the beauty, the tranquility, the smells, the sounds?

Among the elements of a meditation garden are comfortable seating, some water feature, gravel/sand, minimalism of design, a sense of enclosure and an area of focus created by a sculpture or an interesting natural formation. You can read a detailed article about creating your own meditation garden here.

While I let the seeds germinate in the window, I have to think of a water feature. I find just brilliant the idea of a rock with a natural depression in it that collects rain water – check out this video from Growing Wisdom. I also found very useful another video on their web site about plants for a meditation garden.

That’s it for now about my dream garden. The dress/jumper you see in the photo is one I have just finished and I am very proud of it. It tuned out prettier that I imagined. Knitting joy! I made it for the cutest one-year-old girl who I’m sure will look adorable in it this spring.

NEUTRALIZE THE ELECTROMAGNETIC POLLUTION

My latest worry: we live our daly lives surrounded by machines and devices that use electricity  and radio waves and emit electromagnetic fields (EMF) and they are affecting us in ways we don’t yet understand.

Besides the TVs, CD players, sound systems, radio alarm clocks, computer screens, a friend made me aware of the wireless waves that float around in my house, because I want to use my laptop on the couch. What about the mobile phones that keep talking on all the time?

Somebody told me that when people moved in the first houses with electrical wiring in the walls, they experienced health problems that are no longer reported. Maybe we’ve become immune to it. Maybe the cancers are fighting the war for us. I don’t know, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I have to do something.

Recent studies show that electromagnetic radiation can be linked to many diseases like leukemia, brain cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and even Alzheimer’s.

The Agency for Reasearch on Cancer, cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies the ”extremely low electromagnetic fields” as ”possibly carcinogenic to humans”, along with coffee and gasoline engine exhaust (coffee???). To find out more, read this WHO article: Electromagnetic fields and public health: extremely low frequency fields and cancer. But now I wonder, which are the “extremely low” fields? I’m not sure.

The World Health Organization has great resources regarding this type of radiation, and labels it as “one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences, about which anxiety and speculation are spreading.” Also read this article where it is explained exactly what are the electromagnetic fields.

Another very interesting and disturbing article on EMF speaks the type of fields produced by different devices (microwave oven, computer, cell phone but also electric razor and hairdryer) and their effects on health and the development of children.

At first I only tried to remove the electrical devices from our bedrooms, like the radio alarm clocks. I replaced them with battery operated ones. But the lamps are still there. Plugged in, all the time. Aren’t those harmful too? And I need those. So I started to think that maybe instead of getting rid of the cause, I can somehow block the effects. How can we neutralize the electromagnetic fields?

From my research on the Internet I found out a few steps that we can take, besides decreasing exposure to the devices that create EMF, like avoid beds with metal parts (metal is a conductor of electromagnetic field radiation), avoid locations under power lines (I don’t even know how that would be possible: power lines are everywhere), too close to the TV or the computer.  Also, keep the mobile phone further away from the body (I use the loud speaker function) and use traditional phones with a cord for the landlines.

Salt lamps and crystals are also considered to help. At least this is what the companies who sell them say. Maybe they are only trying to take advantage of gullible people like me?

Solay Wellness Inc. sells crystal salt lamps and assures us that they neutralize the electromagnetic fields. I like salt lamps. They look natural and beautiful and provide a very pleasant light. I believe they help enriching the air with negative ions that promote a state of well-being. But as far as neutralizing the EMF? I don’t know. These lamps work with electricity, you know? I would trust more a salt crystal candle holder, because that I don’t have to plug in.

Healing Crystals recommends using crystals to block the electromagnetic pollution from computers, either by placing them on your desk or by wearing them in a pouch and around your neck. TerraStar is a company that manufactures a pretty pendant out of different crystals and natural raisin, and maintains that they can protect our health.

Block EMF is a web site that offers a multitude of products destined to “clear the waves”. One of the most interesting is a sort of gold coin thing, called The Wave Shield, that attaches to the mobile phone to make it less harmful. Biopro is another company that offers a cell chip for the same purpose.

EMF Health.com features a patented product, Q-Link, which worn around the neck, charges from the body’s energy and protects it from the harmful magnetic fields.

I don’t know what works and what doesn’t, but I am going to try a few things. I ordered two salt crystal candle holders and I bought some crystals to place around our computers too. Less use of cell phones for sure. I have given up on the hairdryer for some time now, anyway. More mechanical, hand operated machines and less electrical, sophisticated ones. That’s my final thought, I suppose. Instead of a snow blower, use the Wovel next year (just take a look at this clever tool) and instead of the gas lawnmower, take another look at the manual reel mower. Back to basics, to nature, to tradition. It always seems like a proper advice. (She said sitting on the sofa with the laptop in her arms, directly exposed to all types of radiation. But well, I’m choosing my battles, right? I cannot fight them all.)

SALT CRYSTAL BENEFITS: COMMERCIAL HOAX?

Salt Crystal candle holdersAccording to a research of the Institutes of Biophysical Research Germany, released in 1999 (and cited by all the companies that market salt crystal products, including Gama International to which I linked) salt crystal lamps are “natural ionizers” and its use can “adjust and neutralize electromagnetic wavelengths caused by electronic devices in natural way.”

I liked the explanation given for this effect: “As a result of this constant exposure to various frequencies, our own electromagnetic energy field becomes imprinted by the frequencies forced upon it, which upsets the natural development of our cells. Because of the atomic structure of the salt, which is already neutral, it is most likely that the artificial frequencies can be harmonized or balanced by the lit salt lamp as it works as a natural amplifier for the resonant frequency of 8-10 cycles per second, which is so necessary for our life.”

It all sounds beautiful and good, which made me go out and buy two Himalayan Salt Crystal candle holders, that you can see in the photo. The problem is that more in-depth research is starting to put doubt in my heart.

It all started after discovering the relationship between the above mentioned Institute, a book called Water and Salt: The Essence of Life, by Barbara Hendel and Peter Ferreira who is apparently the director of the Institute for Biophysical Research, and who is quoted by all and only by the companies that sell salt crystal products.

On the other hand, I also encountered information on the Internet (from a Fluoride Education Project) about how the whole “Himalayan salt crystal” thing is a scam, and if people really ingest this type of salt, they are at high risk of fluoride poisoning. But you know, even fluoride is a very controversial subject (maybe I’ll write about it more extensively) and there is discussion of the difference between naturally occurring fluoride and the one produced apparently from chemical waste (of the aluminum industry) and dumped into our drinking water.

Finally, I found a very compelling analysis (by a fellow blogger) about why the whole salt crystal lamp is just a hoax.

I was disheartened to notice that there is no online a web site for this Institutes of Biophysical Research Germany, that Peter Ferreira is supposed to lead, so maybe, like in many other cases, it is just a pseudo-scientific institute creation for the sole benefit of corporate gain.

Why is it that there is no impartial information about the salt crystal benefits from multiple sources? All information seems to lead back to the Himalayan Salt Crystal, the Water and Salt book and Peter Ferreira. There were no benefits to salt before 2006?

The Chamber of Commerce of Poland posts an article regarding studies attesting the production of negative ions by salt laps (European and Himalayan), although there are many factors (like size and polish of the surface) that come into play and might render most of these lamps completely useless.

But hey, I did buy into it. It’s easy to believe, right? Natural, unrefined, organic and pure salt (beautiful, beautiful looking) from the Himalayas, that works only with a little heat and gives off negative ions. Not hard to believe. The exposure to all the technology of our days does cause a lot of anxiety and many of us are looking for answers and are prepared to believe almost anything that has the slightest resemblance to a truth.

An article from 2007 in Daily Mail lists the salt crystal lamps among eleven products that make “false health claims”, as proven by a team of scientists from Sense About Science, an organization that claims to be “an independent charitable trust. We respond to the misrepresentation of science and scientific evidence on issues that matter to society, from scares about plastic bottles, fluoride and the MMR vaccine to controversies about genetic modification, stem cell research and radiation.” I couldn’t find the report about salt crystal on their website, as their archives go only back to 2008 at this time.

I am a bit sad right now mourning my 20 dollars worth of two useless lamps and delivery. I am also not very upset about it, because they are exquisitely beautiful and I’m going to use them as much as possible, while meditating, writing or just spending a quiet family evening and I will always appreciate them for the atmosphere they create. It cannot be demonstrated scientifically, but it feels good and for now that has to suffice.

VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY BY DUANE ELGIN

Yes, I am on a mission. I am going to read all the books on simplicity that I can find. That will be a delight. I remember that even as a child I had these reading marathons: I read all Balzac I could find, all Dostoievski, all Emile Zola (actually, this attempt didn’t last long because I couldn’t stand Zola’s writing), later all Paula Coelho. This reminds me that I am behind with the Coelho reading. I haven’t read The Witch of Portobello. After being incredibly disappointed by Zahir, a horrible, macho, non-coelhian novel, I am not really looking forward to see what he’s done next. But I believe that Coelho writes his best as a woman, and this might be one of those books. I’ll tell all about it after reading it (probably next week, because I have made myself curious now).

Voluntary Simplicity seemed to me too theoretical. The author discusses the evolution of developed societies from “high growth”, through “full blossoming” and “initial decline” to “breakdown”. The breakdown is inevitable, it has started already, we have to be prepared to face it and raise above it, and simplicity is the way to do it. This is the message. It is a sociological essay about the future of civilization.

The most interesting part for me was the voices of numerous people involved in this simplicity lifestyle who answered the author’s questionnaire in support of this book. That makes for an interesting read as people of so many backgrounds, so many ages and stages in life choose this path, which is one of self search and enlightenment as much as it is a vehicle of social change.

What will stay with me is his acknowledgement of the importance of women movements, or just women, in leading the environmental issues. Also, the idea that poverty is not equal to simplicity. Simplicity, in order to be fulfilling, to feed the soul, has to be chosen.