Wednesday, October 29, 2008

waking up to turning leaves

No, really - I'm here.

Good things are happening here, but also there were a bunch of holy things, and we just got chagged*. Deeply chagged, and we're emerging in to the light and blinking and looking at our astonishing lists of things that got put off, and oh boy but did we get chagged.

As I wake up from a haze of shul and family and wonderful allergy-friendly food (a significant proportion of which I did NOT cook), I realize that it's autumn, and the leaves have turned. I'm an autumn baby, and I've always loved the crispness and colors of the season. Summer is gloriously, showily generous with it's produce and flowers, but autumn asks me to be patient, and then smacks me with color. Bless Julia, whose eye and camera caught some wonders of autumn, and I'll let her show them to you. For me, I'm catching those wonders at about 40 mph. It's a daily pleasure to see the fire and the light in the leaves on our daily commutes to school, to the other school, home from the second, back to the first and then back home. On leg 3 of the daily schlep, there - there! - is a tree lit with yellow and orange. It lifts the heart, and onwards we go.

(hey Julia, does that let me off the hook?)

We've had a wonderful haze here, filled with grandpaternal liturgical music ("hi, Grandpa!" says the Toddles, as the FIL sings to us from the High Holy Days' liturgy), a birthday (and I couldn't spend it anywhere better than at camp), a rock climbing wall for 3 out of 4 Imperfects - but then again, possibly for all 4. And thoughts and stories about the first two months of school, for both the smaller and the larger of the Imperfect Jrs. I'm hoping to resist the urge to write about the election, but, well, have we met? Yep.

And gluten-free, vegan, nut/seed/etc-free pumpkin muffins, made the lazy way. Hang in there - it's on the way.

* chag means "holiday," the plural is chagim.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

reading materials

I just read a new book, I told my mum. Oh? she said, politely. And then considered.

Is it anything like that Pollan book you gave me? I haven't been able to think about my meat the same ever since, she said accusingly. Is this new book anything like that? I blinked. My mum, the warrior for the neglected (and occasionally lactating) woman, has been regaling me with green tips for a few months now. Pollan seemed right up her alley.

So, wherefore the oh-so casual (telephonic) inching towards the safety of the other room? The hiding behind old Save Darfur signs?

Um, no, I said. It's different. This one's about the cosmetics industry. On the other end of the line, mum started to relax. Really? she said, trying for mild encouragement. Yep, I said - and launched.

It's about the regulation of the chemicals used in the cosmetics industry, and how America and Europe regulate them differently. Mum made a noncommittal sound. Europe, I explained, makes companies prove that a chemical is safe before use. America, allows companies to use whatever they like until it's proven to be unsafe.

Ah. said the slightly worried voice on the phone.

I grinned. And of course, the industry is largely self-regulated, doing their own research, and the inevitable outcome for such a situation. I could feel the phone's shoulders tensing up. Which is how you end up with two different formulations for products, one that's deemed safe in Europe, and one that's accepted in the USA. Endocrine disruptors and all.

Um, said my mother. I have to go now.

In truth, I think she got off lightly. Tonight, a solid three weeks after finishing the book, I finally muttered, grabbed an armful of our household health and beauty items and looked them up. The database run by the EWG ranks individual products on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the most toxic, or damaging. The information for these chemicals comes from lists made by the FDA, the EPA, National Toxicology Program, European Chemical Bureau, the US health and beauty industry's own standards for use, and peer-reviewed academic journals. No crazy blog ranting or rumormongering allowed.

The database shows you the rank of individual chemicals, and explains why they are a problem. It is, explained Stacey Malkan, the only one of its kind outside of the industry. And the folks who run it, says Malkan, really think someone, um, official should be taking charge. You know, someone who can actually do something about the problems that the database highlights? Yeh. Them.

The boys' food allergies have made me a skeptic in the face of apparent corporate good will and transparency. And if the food industry is hard to get information from, try the health and beauty folks, who have no obligations to tell me diddly about what's in their products, whether it's giving my kid hives or not. So our soaps have had steadily shorter ingredient lists, as have the boys' moisturizers and toothpastes. Shorter = interpretable, I figured. Interpretable = safe.

Shorter, plus avoiding chemicals that I can't pronounce (hey, everyone has a line, and this is where I've drawn it), with a dash of innate crunchiness would combine with poor reading skills...and get us a good score. But, points out Stacey Malkan, the health and beauty industry is not required to give a full listing of ingredients. Oh.

Here's how we did:
kids' toothpaste: 4
kids' shampoo/soap: 2 (and a shout-out to the allergy team, here, for recommending it..)
kids' moisturizer: 4

the Man's shampoo: 5 (so much for the 'pure and natural' bit on the label)
the Man's deoderant: 5 (this was fun: they rank the items against each other, and his was 525th. Yeesh)
the Man's toothpaste: 6 (oh, dear. He's not going to like this one.)

my shampoo: 5 (and another lousy ranking, sigh)
my face washes: 2 (yay!) and 4 (huh?)
my lovely mineral moisturizer: 5 (so much for natural Dead Sea whatevers)
my deoderant: 4 (but, said the database, did I know that it has wheat protein? crud.)
my hydrating toner spray (and my daily burst of ooh la la): 6 (holy fucking hell)

oh, dear.

I've filled a few post-its with scribbles, noting the evils of parabens, biotin, BHT, triclosan, coumarin and more. And used the rankings on the database to find safer toothpastes, shampoo and deoderant options. But can this database come up with the little zing of glamour that is my hydrating spray?

I now understand my mum's tone a bit better. Given the grumpy numbers I'm looking at, the damned thing had better come through. Because mama wants her oooh, la la, and she wants it first thing in the morning when everything else looks like sludge.

Shortly after she apologizes to her mum for the terrible things that this Pollan guy did.
Note: As part of the newly neural hurrah, the Man and I watched the VP debate the other night. Well, okay, so we don't have a working TV. But there were lots of nice live clips online, and we gritted our bandwidth and went for it. Intriguing - and worrying. Biden just didn't have Palin's down home tone, and he was less appealing (less smiling and mugging for the viewer, less inviting the viewer to nod and feel like he got the average Joe. Also bigger words - a double-edged tactic). It worries me.

What fascinated me, though, was the clip on gay rights. Palin said a lot of "tolerant"s in her response to the question of gay marriage. Or, rather, single-sex partnerships. (ahem) Oh, dearie me. Okay, so can we run through this? If you are "tolerant," then you are a bridge-building moment or thirty-seven away from "supportive." I'm not comforted by "tolerant," because it usually comes with a hefty list of exceptions and loopholes. To me, a tolerant person is the same person who parks in the handicapped spots, on those days when she's (um) late getting her kid to school. The parking lot's full, and so, oh, well, just this once. Exceptions and loopholes. And matters of convenience.
(Explanatory Note: yes, I am always late getting the kids to school. But no, unless the Eldest has a bleed, we do the walk of shame, from the not-quite-legal parking spots outside of the school parking lot, all the slow, long way to the office for our ritual pink slip. And, no it's not that I'm that virtuous, it's that someday, I could legitimately need that spot, and I'd hate me if I was one of the people blocking it off for momentary convenience. Sort of preemptive guilt, but it works.)
It's a slippery, worrying word, is "tolerance," for all that it wears a boy scout-ish earnestness. But then again, as before Palin wasn't actually talking to me, as one of those deviants who'd happily call a marriage between two individuals a marriage, regardless of gender. Or sex, for that matter.
(again, noting the distinction)

But what else would you expect from a gimp mama, on the hunt for insincerities? Oh, no - hang on there - she is cultivating my group. How silly of me to forget: she's going to support us, and let the others dangle. Well, phew.
I'll just go grab that nice parking spot, then, shall I?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

understanding joy - and viruses

We interrupt our rhapsodizing for a pleasant viral interlude. And Yom Kippur.

(somehow, it strikes me that the two of them go together well)

Hoping to return with slightly fewer stars in me eyes and a relaxing white cell count, I wish all of you a thoughtful season of self-examination, and much forgiveness, whether human or otherwise.

May we all, as joy wrote, be written down for a year in which we allow ourselves both to fly and to fall.

Somewhere in a haze of tissues and very hot tea, I did notice that Paul Newman died last week, at the end of a long battle with cancer. I sat down and read the long, generous obituaries in the Boston Globe, the NY Times and Time magazine, and want to tell you that they totally missed the point. Yes, he was a big movie star, and yes, he had fantastic blue eyes. And yes, it's kind of funny that he was colorblind.

Movies are great, but what made Newman fascinating is that he didn't stop at the edge of fantasyland. He was also the guy who created this place. People need joy and silliness, and Newman got that to a rare degree. And then, of course, he made it happen.

He used to visit the camp every year, during the big, boisterous general sessions, and quietly hang out. (It was, after all, just on the other side of the lake from his house.) One day, he was sitting in the dining hall, when a little girl realized that this old guy's face looked a lot like the face on her lemonade bottle. She looked at the lemonade bottle. Hm. Looked at Newman. Back at the lemonade bottle. Back to Newman. Finally, she asked, Mister, are you lost?

Newman laughed his ass off. Because, after all, no, he wasn't lost. In fact, if his camp is anything to go by, this was a man who very, very much knew exactly where he was. Baruch dayan ha'emet (blessed be the true Judge).

Next weekend, we Imperfects will follow Newman's map up to the Hole in the Wall camp, and we will drink a lot of lemonade, and remember a man who understood joy. And fish.