Thursday, August 29, 2013

Walk Your Dog in Natural Surroundings!

I elected to start taking my golden retriever mix on walks along the Gitchi Gami bike trail, which runs along the highway beside my grandmother's house.  He's awfully cramped up inside the room that we stay in, which is horribly unfair to him, and as you can imagine, the living situation has caused him to try to relieve his anxiety by chewing on...

Well, pretty much everything.

He's stressed, and that needs to stop.  So I started taking him for walks.  This, after all, is much more environmentally friendly than, say, collars that smell like lavender or coats that hug a dog's body in an attempt to calm them.

Yep, those things really do exist.

Walking on the bike trail, surrounded by nature, is much preferable.  Aside from being more environmentally friendly, it's also healthier for both you and your pet.  I mean, obviously, it's good exercise, but the benefits go beyond that:

Emotional Health - Spending time outside in a natural environment relieves stress. Indeed, as stated by Prevention magazine,

"Researchers found that people experienced the largest boosts to their mood and self-esteem after just spending five minutes outside doing some form of light exercise, like walking." (source)

Intellectual Health - Natural surroundings increase creativity in children, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, and the same applies to adults. Walking in natural surroundings frees your mind, allowing you to set it free.

Still not convinced?  You probably need to hear more about the benefits specifically related to walking your dog, right? 

No worries.  I would, too.

In the beginning, your dog will drive you nuts.  Dogs that aren't used to going out for long, those that are cramped up in a small space for too long, and those that are rarely on a leash can be a bit... unruly.

Aw, heck...  

They're just outright anger-inducing for their owners.  Anyone who says differently is a liar.  They pull at the leash, they bolt off toward every single movement along the path, and they jump in fear whenever anything even slightly removes them from their comfort zone.  This naturally causes the owner to feel as though it isn't worth it.

But it is.

Because after a while, your dog starts to fall into the rhythm of things.  You begin to reveal your capabilities with...

1.  Leadership.  
    Your dog begins to realize that it goes where you decide, and it begins to pull on the leash less and less until eventually, no pulling happens at all.  Your dog is finally happy.  This happiness begins to grow, and you begin to acquire a state of...

2.  Confidence.
     This confidence takes root during these walks with your dog in nature, true, but just like everything else that we find in nature, it grows.  It expands.  The confidence eventually becomes so strong that it expands out into other areas in your life, bringing you a greater sense of accomplishment in your life, overall. 

And it all happened because you forced yourself to get through the first steps, which took a lot of...

3.  Patience.
     That's an important aspect of this, perhaps the most important, and it's not easy.  My dog has an extraordinarily submissive personality.  He wants someone to lead him, and he's not happy unless that's happening.  It doesn't take a lot to get him to do what you want - pointing at him and saying "no" will cause him to stop whatever he's doing without a second thought.

Yet even with him, it took about a week to get him walking on a loose leash at all times.  Remember: He's highly submissive.  It would take most dogs much longer to achieve this state.

The trick is to focus on "your mission."  In my case, it was getting us both to the boat launch, which is about a mile away.  That took a few days, because he just couldn't handle the walk.  He was used to doing absolutely nothing, remember?

Every dog is different, just as every human is different.  

Don't stress about how long it takes to get to the 'loose leash' point.  My dog is not the norm.  Most dogs will take longer to reach this state.  My tiny, 15 pound dog still hasn't even come close to this state!

Give yourself - and your dog - a chance.  Go out onto a hiking trail or bike trail, like I did, and go walk your dog out in natural surroundings.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Blueberry Picking Madness!

Thursday I had a choice:

A) I could stay home and write my blog post, or
B) I could head off on a berry picking adventure.

As you can see, I chose B.  

See, first thing in the morning, as I was just finishing up my breakfast cereal, my cousin walked into the house and invited me off to go picking blueberries in some prime blueberry territory. 

Naturally, I raced off to grab my daughter so that we could go!

It was a very long drive.  

We headed even farther up North, up to the Tofte area, which is where Superior National Forest is located.  The soil is particularly acidic, so blueberry plants grow in abundance.

Evidently, the best indicator of proper acidity levels is pine tree growth, which means that we had to go off to an area loaded with pines... but not too loaded with them.  Blueberry plants also have a preference for full sun.  We therefore needed fields surrounded by pines.

So we drove for miles upon miles on the highway,

Highway through a dense forest

until we went off the paved road and onto the maintained dirt road,

Nicely oiled dirt road through the windshield

and then through the not-so-maintained dirt road.

Dust clouds through the windshield as we drove

At last, we made it into the great blueberry fields of yummy goodness, and you could literally see the blueberries poking through the grass and pine needles from the moment you opened the car door. 

Blueberry plants poking through pine needles and grass
 Naturally, we were there for hours.  In the end, we ended up with nearly a full gallon of blueberries, even though my daughter's idea of picking blueberries was to pick them... from my basket!

There are a few important things to consider whenever you run off to pick blueberries in the wild, however:

1)  Try to go with a group.  If you go alone, make sure people know exactly where you're going.  This part is extraordinarily important.  You have to realize that things can happen when you're in the wilderness... even in blueberry fields.  Having a clear plan so that people know what to do if you don't return on time is important.  

2)  Don't take it all!  While finding a large patch of blueberries is a wonderful thing, you have to remember that you're not the only one that wants those berries.  I'm not just talking people, either.  I'm talking bears.  And deer.  Those berries serve a purpose beyond our own desire for healthy sweets, so ensuring plenty are left behind is just good common sense.

3)  Drink lots of water.  This is where I tend to make my mistake: I bring water, and I drink it... I just don't drink enough.  The dehydration causes headaches, and the overall experience is made less amazing because of that.  Don't let that happen to you.  Drink your water!

When the trip is complete and you're back at home staring at your blue treasures, there's only one thing left to do:

Figure out what to do with it all!!!  

Homemade blueberry muffins a la wild blueberries!

(That's my great grandma's recipe, tweaked to make it my own.  I'm considering posting the recipe, but it's a very finicky recipe that hugely changes in different altitudes and humidity. Yikes!)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blueberry Picking Joy!

Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday... I got the chance to head off to pick blueberries at a prime location and didn't want to miss my chance!!! Unfortunately, the post I sent to let everybody know about this didn't get posted... I'll tell you all about the experience tomorrow, though.

(Don't worry. I was not the one driving. This photo was taken in safety from the passenger seat!)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Raspberry Delight!!!

It has been about a week since I last saw a wild strawberry.

::insert sympathetic noises here::

There's a bit of good news, however.  It turns out that strawberries aren't the only edible fruits that grow wild around here.  At some point in the past, raspberries elected to start taking root in wild areas, and they can now be found in abundance.  I found plenty just beginning to ripen along the Gitchi-Gami bike trail.

Raspberry perfection can be found in abundance along the Gitchi-Gami bike trail.

Some, like the one above, were perfect specimens of what a raspberry should look like.  Others, however, had as little as three or four perfectly ripened red seeds (seed pods?  I have no idea what those little juice bubbles that surround each seed are called.), with immature bits alongside them.

This berry looks odd, having only two juicy seed pods, but the pods are larger than on the average berry.

The one above, for example, only has two seed pods that have ripened on the entire berry.

The initial response, of course, is sadness.  You think it's terrible that the berry will never reach its full yumminess potential, right?

Well, interestingly, the ones that look like this are the best.  

All of the juice... all of the sweetness gets trapped within those few little bits that actually end up significantly larger than what you would normally expect to see.

The result?  Pure delight. 

Correction:  Pure delight that you don't have to work for, since it grows wild, free, and plentiful.


This area continually amazes me.  There's so much growing out here in "the boonies".  So much wildlife.  Beauty behind every tree stump, every bush, every rock.  Indeed, the rural North Shore area is a place that makes you feel as though anything is possible if you're willing to rough it just a little.

And perhaps I may.

But until that time comes, I'll be happily nibbling on raspberries plucked from the forest.

In all honesty, though, can you blame me?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Addicted to Junk, Rehabilitated By Water

Having just read an article entitled, Food Is the New Tobacco in E Magazine, I figure that now is probably a really good time to talk about junk food.

I know, I know... this is an environmental blog, not a food blog.

I get it. 

But the two can sometimes be merged, and now is one of those times.  You see, Jeffrey Hollender wrote about the New York Times article that appeared back in February, entitled The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.  This article focused on the science behind the food industry's success.  It mentioned bliss thresholds that needed to be met, and it focused on the three pillars of the food industry: Salt, Sugar, and Fat.

So, how exactly does this fit into the environment?

Well, we, as a nation, are addicted to processed foods.  We've gotten away from local foods, from fresh foods in general, in an effort to eat things that hit our bliss threshold.  We're doing exactly what those food companies want us to, and we're doing it without a second thought.

By harming our bodies, we're harming the environment.

But how to we break away from this addiction?

Well, I've been unintentionally doing that very thing for the past 2 weeks, so you can imagine just how apropos that article discovery was! 

The answer for me, at least partially, was water.

See, two weeks ago I decided that I wasn't getting enough water.  I elected to give myself a goal of seven 16 ounce containers of water per day.  No flavoring was allowed in the water: My goal was straight water.  I wanted to ensure proper hydration, and felt that my squeezie-bottles full of flavoring for my water was getting in the way.

It was something I had never done before, and I was nervous.  You see, I'm not a fan of tap water.  Most places have water that just tastes... bad.  

I was fortunate, though - my grandmother uses a well, rather than city water.  The taste is far superior. 

After only a week, I realized that for the majority of my life I've been dehydrated, to some extent.  

I had a difficult time adjusting to the large amount of saliva in my mouth.  My skin plumped out a bit more, causing fine lines in my face to fade. 

But mostly, I noticed a change in my eating habits.  You see, water flushes toxins from your system when consumed in its purest form.  As toxins were slowly removed, my habits changed -

Just like what would happen to an addict.

Holy crap!!!

The biggest change in my eating habits was in my sugar consumption.  While not prone to large amounts of sugar, I do enjoy a sweet treat here and there.  Since beginning my seven-a-day water routine, however, I've had very little interest in sweet products at all. 

I do, however, still crave salt and fat.  

The salt craving, though, probably has more to do with the fact that I have a tendency to have low sodium levels on blood tests than with any food addiction.  The last time I had crazy salt cravings, I had low sodium levels in my blood, so it stands to reason that the same thing is happening here.

There hasn't been a noticeable change in how much a love fat, however... fatty foods still press my happy button.  I'm clearly still addicted to that type of junk.

But water removed my desire to consume sugars. 

It has, in a sense, rehabilitated me.  The interesting side effect of this, though, is that I no longer enjoy sweetened beverages the way I used to - artificial sweeteners or sugars.  Indeed, upon drinking them my mouth begins to feel like it's drying out.  Psychological effect perhaps?

I don't know the answer to that.  I do, however, know that my little water experiment was a good one to try on myself.  My health has vastly improved simply by changing one small habit.

Are you addicted to junk, as well? 

Try water.  Even if it doesn't work for you, at least you know it won't hurt, right? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Homemade Mosquito Bite Relief Methods

Which method actually works???

That's the question I wanted answered.  There are several different mosquito bite relief methods, but I knew very well that not all of them worked.  In all reality, I'd be happy to find just one that would stop me from tearing apart my skin in a futile attempt to stop that itching.

"Scratching Doesn't work.  Don't ever scratch."

We've all heard that, but let's be serious... who actually listens?  Not me, that's for sure, and I'm betting you don't, either.  I mean, I'm sure you try to listen to what is so obviously good sense, but eventually... you give up.  In a great burst of adrenaline, you scratch that #%$$@@ mosquito bite with every last bit of strength you have. 

You get into a sort of scratching rhythm that may even closely resemble the beat of your favorite song.  The more you scratch, the more scratching you're compelled to accomplish.  You decide that you'd rather grind the entire lump of skin clear off your body, leaving huge trails of blood pouring down your leg than -


That's just me?

Well... how about we just go on then, shall we?

I tried several methods to relieve the itch of mosquito bites. In order to help you avoid the ones that don't work (at least for me), I'll let you know about a few, and how they worked (or didn't) for me:

Calamine Lotion 

This stuff does not relieve the itching of mosquito bites for me.  All it does is make me look like a Pepto Bismol bottle.  I know, I know... you're saying I'm wrong.  If I am, go ahead and use the stuff.  It's possible that I'm just an anomaly, here.

But it doesn't work on me, at all.  It never has.  Interestingly, for years I tried to convince myself otherwise.  I'd paint my bites with a few layers of the stuff and suffer.  A lot.

I'd refuse to itch, because it was clear that it was simply my mind telling me that I had a burning desire to claw away every last bit of that mosquito bite.  Calamine stops the itching, so clearly everything was psychosomatic in nature.  All in my head.


It didn't work on me.  At all.  I told myself it did because everyone else said it did.  I caused myself to go through a great deal of torture all because I was convinced they knew what they were talking about.

If, like me, you keep trying to convince yourself this works, yet you never feel any relief, you're probably one of the few that it doesn't work on.  Stop torturing yourself and try something different.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar works on everything, it seems.  It works on joint pain, it works to relieve indigestion, and it works on sore throats.  It's a great household cleaner.  Cucumbers that are placed in an apple cider vinegar solution make the best pickles ever.

So when I saw that apple cider vinegar was a great form of mosquito bite relief, I ran for the plastic jug of happiness.  I'd have yet another brilliant use for apple cider vinegar.  I soaked a paper towel in the vinegar and wrapped it around my agonized ankles that had no less than 5 bites on one and 7 on the other.  I then waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It was almost a total bust.  I say almost, because it did relieve the itch on one of my bites.  Unfortunately, it was the one that I had scratched so often and so hard that the skin was broken. 

Vinegar + Open Wound = AGONY

Don't try that at home.  Seriously, because... ouch.  Just don't.  It did work on that one bite, but the method only worked because it apparently burned the nastiness away, leaving me a miserable husk of my former self.  The mosquito bites that weren't scratched open were still as itchy as before.

Baking soda was a no-go.  It was time to move on. 

Fortunately, the next bite relief method I found did work:

Baking Soda Paste

Baking soda to the rescue!!!

The next morning, I woke up to find myself in the middle of another itching frenzy.  Yep, I had gotten to the point that I was sleep-scratching.  It had gotten that bad.

Fortunately, I was already good to start the next bite relief method.  I grabbed a bowl from the counter that already had about a tablespoon of baking soda in it.  I ran just a tiny amount of water into the bowl - just enough to create a paste.

I reached into the bowl with my fingers and spread the simple mixture onto my ankles - and one of my calves.  Evidently, there was a mosquito in the room with me that night.  Within a few moments (perhaps only 3 minutes) -

Total relief.

No itching.


I'm going to end this post here, since it's getting a wee bit long, but I'm sure I'll return with other methods that I'll have tried sometime in the near future. 

Which homemade bite relief method should I try next, I wonder?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Perfect Agate: A Life Lesson

Sometimes, life sees fit to throw uncertainties your way.  

These uncertainties can cause you to be unable to follow through with something at a set time.

In my case, that uncertainty was weather that caused the satellite here to lose signal, thereby causing a lack of internet at the house.  This caused a very interesting cascade of events ranging from lost post writings to wolf poop on the bottom of my favorite pair of Teva sandals.

Don't ask. There are some things that don't need explaining.

The point is that eventually I gave up, grabbed my daughter, and headed off to the beach.  While there, I laid myself down on my stomach and stared at the rocks that rolled in with each wave.

And I found agates.  Some nice, some not so much so.

For those of you that don't know what they are, agates are brightly colored pieces of chalcedony that are known for their beautiful and complex banding.

Pretty rocks with lines

I know that doesn't seem too exciting, but there are many people in "The Northland", as they call it, which will spend hours combing the rocky beaches of lake Superior looking for the perfect agate.  When a high quality, well lined agate is discovered, there is deep personal pride and a sense that all is right in the world.

So I went to the beach to find the perfect agate.

I ended up with many agates, and they weighed my pockets down.

I then proceeded to empty my pockets again, all along the same area of the beach
                                                ...and walk home without them.

Even The Big One.  (It's not just fishermen that have The Big One.)

Yes, that sounds crazy.  Those of you that have ever gone agate hunting are no doubt screaming at me through your monitor.  What kind of a crazy person leaves her treasure behind?!  I've just been stricken from the Great Agate Hunter Wall of Fame.

What made me do it?

Nature taught me a life lesson. 

Every time I found a beautiful new agate I was filled with absolute joy.  A smile would light up my face.  My heartbeat raised.  Colors all got just a little brighter, and the cool breeze caressed my cheeks tenderly as it whispered that everything was perfect in the world.  At least in that one special moment.

That one special moment...

That was what made me do this.  That tiny moment of discovery and the few short moments after it were what caused me to search for those small geological treasures.  Sure, there were a few moments after the initial discovery that brought happiness.  Showing off the day's find always brings great feelings of joy, and there are a few more special moments that can be found.

But there is nothing like that initial discovery. All other moments with that pretty little lined rock pale in comparison to the first.

So I scattered them all along the beach for someone else to find.

They gave me my joy, and it was good.  But now I had the ability to share that joy with someone else in the future: Some random stranger who may need that joy as much as I did when I arrived on the beach to begin my hunt.

The only thing better than experiencing pure and innocent joy is sharing that same bliss with others.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Moral Uncertainties and Synthetic Beef

Every now and then you come across something that you find yourself incapable of forming a solid response to.  You both love and hate it.  Maybe you want whatever it is, while at the same time fearing what would happen if you actually got it.  Emotional responses can be pretty complex. 

But then, synthetic beef is pretty complex, as well.

Yep.  That's what has placed my emotional responses on overload.  See, a friend alerted me to an article about synthetic beef, and as is expected, I read the whole thing, completely transfixed.  I then put it aside, because I couldn't seem to form a coherent response it it. 

I had a positive/negative reaction: I loved the idea from the standpoint of a person that knows full well that if I could only eat what I collected with my own two hands, I'd be a vegetarian... or perhaps an occasional pescatarian.  Basically, the very idea of killing something (except, of course, mosquitoes) is hard for me to deal with.  The knowledge of meat without the actual death of an animal, therefore, appeals to me.

I was also very worried, however. 

Would enough testing go into this before allowing it into the mainstream?  Would it end up with the same lack of oversight as genetically modified foods?  Would it one day cause cattle and chicken to become endangered and only found in containment, since humans aren't particularly well known for caring about the fate of animals that aren't deemed necessary?  Will we be able to keep ourselves in check, or will we end up cloning whole cows, then claiming they feel nothing when they're killed?

You'll notice that my worries are completely on a moral front.  

The technology doesn't worry me.  Rather, it's the morals of those behind the technology.  Will greed cause some of my worries about synthetic beef to come true?

Of course, I can also argue the positives on a moral front: No more killing to get meat is a huge plus.  The environment also benefits.  As explained in the article mentioned above,
"Different methods of growing meat in labs will have different impacts on the environment, and Post said early indications were that his lab meat reduced the need for land and water by 90% and cut overall energy use by 70%." (source)
This is huge!

Having been raised in the desert, I can tell you that 90% reduction of water use would be overwhelmingly awesome. The water level drop in the Puddle Grande... I mean... Rio Grande... in the past fifteen years has been significant, and a reduction that significant would be of extraordinary benefit. 

I'm just not quite sure what my response to synthetic beef will end up being.  

What do you think? Is synthetic beef a spectacular idea that should be praised and encouraged, or is it a frightening concept that needs to be tightly reined in?

Or is the answer something in the middle?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Latest From the House "Science" Committee

Politicians have found another way to strip our privacy from us.

This time the House Science Committee is the group at the forefront of this.  It appears that republicans on the committee feel that they need to go through the private medical information of thousands upon thousands of Americans...

...just so that they can attempt to refute data that says that pollution is bad for you.

Seriously.  That's no joke.  I can honestly come up with no other reason for their actions.

So, what are the actions, you ask?  Well, republicans within the committee drafted a subpoena demanding that the EPA turn over
 "...the research data that supports the health benefit claims that justify virtually every Clean Air Act regulation proposed and finalized by the Obama Administration." 

That quote came from the very first sentence of the subpoena, and is quite civil compared to other portions of the document, which is overtly hostile in its totality.  Indeed, on the surface that quote seems perfectly harmless.

That is, until you consider that it came from only republicans on the committee... two specific republicans who refer to this research as "secret science" in a press release.  Until you consider that firm science has been labeled as mere claims by politicians with no science background to speak of.

(Lamar Smith is a businessman who also, coincidentally sponsored that glorious piece of privacy invasion known as SOPA.  Chris Stewart, the other signature on the subpoena, is also a businessman, as well as an author, and is quite active within the church.)

Even with all of this information, however, you may be thinking that there's absolutely nothing wrong with this subpoena, and I can understand that.  Indeed, on the surface it sounds like something I'd be screaming alongside them for. 

"Freedom of information, YES!!!"

Except... I'm not.

Because the information they're asking for can lead to invasion of privacy, which is something that Smith has already shown a flagrant disregard for.  How can it lead to this, you ask? 

Well, they already have the ability to read the study itself.  What Smith and Stewart are asking for is the underlying information.  The underlying information would be things like specific people's medical histories

Personally, I don't want politicians reading things like that.  

Smith and Stewart have no right to know how old I was when I started to take birth control pills.  Sure, you can argue that they don't care about things like that, and that my information has nothing to do with this study, anyway, but that isn't the point.

The point is that they're demanding personal information that they don't need to have in order to decide if the science is valid or not, information that patients expected would remain confidential.

So where is this "secret science" that Smith and Stewart are writing about coming from?

It came from two well known institutions: Harvard and the American Cancer Society.  They're both highly suspect, after all, right?  We all know Harvard research is bunk, and always has been.

And if you believe that, you're totally on the anti-EPA bandwagon...

It has been a very long time since the EPA has done anything that I can admire, but they were once a fantastic agency of the government that made a very big difference in people's lives, changing things for the better. 

With Gina McCarthy is its new head, I've been excited that this may once again happen.  The world is ready for increased environmental action - Protection - and McCarthy inspires confidence in me.  I believe she has the ability to accomplish at least some of that goal.

Perhaps that's why this subpoena was written so early in her new position.  

Perhaps the right wing is attempting to discredit her, unhinge her.  Perhaps they feel that doing so will enable them to reallocate federal funding away from the environment and into something else.  McCarthy is the first thing that has excited me about the EPA in a very long time, which leads me to believe others may feel the same.

Perhaps they fear her.

Or perhaps not.  The bottom line, though, is that the House Science Committee is demanding personal information in direct violation of privacy, and they're doing it in the name of "science".  Are we going to sit idly by and watch, or are we going to say something about it?

If we allow rights to be taken from others, eventually they'll be taken from us, as well.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writer's block? Or Necessary Break Time?

I had a bad case of writer's block.  

It was one of those days in which ideas just wouldn't surface.  I read several different articles, and thoroughly enjoyed them, yet couldn't come up with a plan to bring them to others via this blog. 

I was stuck.


Then it hit me:  I was trying too hard.

The problem, I discovered, was that I was trying to do everything within a very short period.  I woke up and began to skim environmental articles.  I got up to make breakfast and continued to skim while walking from spot to spot with my netbook in hand.  I ate, and, you guessed it - I read some more. 

I was determined to continue.  

I'd find something.  I'd write something!  I'd just post later than usual.  That's just the way it is sometimes, right? 

I continued this obsessive train of thought until I finally became so stressed out that I took a gigantic gulp of way too hot coffee, and nearly propelled a spray of the steaming liquid onto my netbook.

I had taken my need to write too far.

And I hadn't even managed to type anything.

I walked outside to get some air... without the netbook.

The seagulls cried out with glee as they flew over the fish house, excited that soon they'd get fed.  The chipmunks chased each other around before heading back underground, cheeks full of seeds.  The waves of lake superior roared as they were blown onto the shore.


        ...there was plenty to write about.  I was just too focused on the external, avoiding the internal.  I was ignoring my own life, my own transformation, in favor of other subjects.

I was being dopey.

We've all been there.  Sometimes it's writer's block, but it could be a job issue.  It could be an issue with home.  Whatever it is, we focus on the problem so intently that we neglect to notice other things that could push us in the right direction.  Ideas that could help us solve it.

Everybody has a spot outside that rejuvenates them.  It doesn't have to be the idyllic lakeside setting that I mentioned above.  A park in the center of a busy city can work just as well. 

You just have to let go for a few moments. 

Just breathe.