Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dark hair

So a friend of mine who is a stylist offered to color my hair for free if I came in as model for a class. How could I pass that up? My hair has since lightened back up quite a bit, and now I'm wondering, should I get my hair re-done all darksy again? 

What it looked like when it was freshly colored: 
Hanging out in our backyard
Goofing off at Tiffany's wedding

Quilt, done and given away

I worked on this quilt off and on for what seemed like forever. But it is finally done. And the friend that I gave it to finally stopped moving around so I could hand it off to her and her baby.

I want to get faster at quilting so that I can make these things for more of my friends and still have some time and sanity left over to make a quilt or two for our house...

But enough about my sanity. Here are some photos:

For scale

Hiding the fact that I'm wearing sweats...

Crinkly goodness

Quilting patterns on backside

I can't get enough of how crinkly soft it was...

I learned so much while doing this quilt. It was the first I did with half-square triangles, the first with rounded corners, the first that I machine quilted, and the first time I tried my hand at free-motion quilting. Whew. A lot of firsts. Oh, and it was also the first quilt that I've given away. Like I said before, I hope to get better and faster at this quilt-making business so that I can start giving these away much more often, so I'd better get better at saying goodbye to these things...

The best thing about giving it away? Seeing the reactions. Little did I know that there was a long history of quilt-making in their family, on both sides. Both my friend and her husband were touched by the quilt, and they made me ridiculously happy when they noticed all of the random details in mine. There was talk of just using it as a wall quilt, but I say, put that sucker to use! That's what a baby blanket is for, right? For snuggling and crawling and drooling on. Am I right?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The bats and the bees

In my last post, I wrote about the cave symposium Jon and I attended recently and about the importance of bats, among other things.

Guess what? We need bees, too. For many of the same reasons that we need bats. They are pollinators and are a big part of our agricultural system, i.e.-- they are the main reason we get to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. They are another one of those big parts of the food web and are an indicator of the health of an environment. Right now, they are showing that something is not right in a big way.

I watched Vanishing of the Bees tonight on Netflix and was blown away. It discusses Colony Collapse Disorder, who first brought it to everyone's attention in America, and what is being done about it.

While I have seen the coverage in main-stream media on the bees disappearing, the underlying causes of their disappearance has been largely considered a mystery-- but it shouldn't be. Europe has it figured out. What is interesting is that in the mid-1990's, France went through a similar thing. Only guess what? They connected the dots and their government works on the side of caution, and now their bee populations are bouncing back. So what did they find out that the American government is so slow to understand? Systemic pesticides were introduced and a short time later, entire colonies of bees were collapsing-- dying out in a matter of weeks.The beekeepers figured it out, protested, and now France and many European countries have banned most of these pesticides, which do not wash off in the rain or when watered-- they become integrated into every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar. The very reason why its touted as being so great (it lasts forever in the plant, so you need to use less of it...) is the reason why it is so terrible and so dangerous (it lasts forever in the plants, and in the soil, and gets into the water supply, and into our food and probably builds up in the organisms that eat the treated plants--organisms like us.)

So why is it that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) considers systemic pesticides safe? Oh, because the reports of the pesticides' safety come from the chemical manufacturers themselves. Of course they are going to say that the stuff they are trying to sell is safe. They did experiments where they exposed bees to their pesticides and saw that they lived for a few days and considered it safe so the EPA gave the stuff a green flag. The EPA does not require these companies to do long-term studies that show what effect the pesticides may have a few months or a few generations down the road, and just allow the stuff to be turned loose, hoping for the best.

What France saw was this: bees went out pollinating in areas covered in systemic pesticides and they seemed okay for a few months, but then when winter came, they would turn to their pollen reserves, and then suddenly, poof, they'd disappear. The French caught on, they noted that bees pollinating organic sunflowers worked efficiently and in an orderly manner. Bees trying to pollinate sunflowers that were grown from seeds soaked in systemic pesticides acted erratically, struggled, and eventually fell off of the plant. Systemic pesticides are toxic and damage bees' ability to react, process, or navigate in the world. French researchers made the conclusion that there was a connection between the newly-introduced pesticides and their bee deaths, and disallowed the pesticides. Now things are returning to normal.

But in America, the EPA and the big money corporations that create these pesticides have decided to go ahead and release these chemicals on the public and the environment at large as some huge experiment. And now that these chemicals are out there, reacting with other pesticides, chemicals, and environmental and circumstantial factors, scientists are having a difficult time proving the direct correlation between systemic pesticides and the downfall of bees. There are other practices that have contributed to the weakening of the bees' immune systems, so now these pesticide companies can say that there is no way of knowing for sure that their chemicals have a direct link to bee deaths.

I don't understand why we don't follow Europe's example and at least get rid of this one big huge new "possible" culprit. What's the harm in it? It has been shown that the amount of crop loss has not been lessened with the introduction of these new pesticides, so clearly they aren't doing any good. And with the probability of all the harm they are causing, how can the EPA say that they pose an acceptable risk factor and allow these chemicals to continue to be used?

It is a fact that varying amounts of these pesticides (lots and lots of varieties of pesticides) are being found in the pollen in the bees' hives. If it is in the pollen, then it is in the honey, and people eat honey (as well as the plants that are systemically loaded with these pesticides, which you can't wash off). And people live longer than bees. So we have a lot more opportunity to let these chemical compounds build up in our bodies. Granted, the EPA and the pesticide companies say that people shouldn't be affected because most of the honey used for human consumption comes from hives far from pesticide-affected crops. And so far they think that it is safe to eat the pesticide-infused plants. So we should trust them, right? Because they always tell us the truth, right?

Anyway, Jon and I got to chatting during the movie, and we both concluded that there is likely also a connection between systemic pesticides and the bats suffering and dying from White Nose Syndrome (WNS). Why this wasn't brought up during the cave symposium was beyond us. Jon has learned a lot more about WNS than I have, and he has never heard of that connection being made in his circles. But if bats are pollinating plants in or near areas that have been affected by systemic pesticides, or if they are eating millions and millions of insects that have been eating up nectar and are covered in the pollen of affected plants, then it stands to reason that their immune systems have also been compromised. So is it any wonder that our bats are succumbing to a fungus that seems to coexist with the bats in Europe?

As it turns out, Jon and I are not the first to make the connection. In the movie, they show the headlines of news articles relating to amphibian, bat, and other epidemics, hinting that there is connection between what is happening in agriculture to what is happening to so many species in recent years. Then, when writing this blog post, I did a quick search and found this article published by Yale Environment 360. It says things in ways that I can't. For example, here is how Sonia Shah explains systemic pesticides:

Unlike older pesticides that evaporate or disperse shortly after application, neonicotinoids are systemic poisons. Applied to the soil or doused on seeds, neonicotinoid insecticides incorporate themselves into the plant’s tissues, turning the plant itself into a tiny poison factory emitting toxin from its roots, leaves, stems, pollen, and nectar. 
Who wants to eat poison factories? I like my fruits, grains, and veggies poison-free, thank you very much.

So what can we do? Well, as Michael Pollan has said so poetically, "Vote with your fork." Be a conscientious consumer. Choose food that is organic or grown locally through smaller farms that don't subscribe to pesticides or monocultures. Don't give your money to companies and industries that are poisoning the environment, plants, you, and your children. Try growing some of your own food. It can be really rewarding. Jon and I have been trying it out here in the desert and we're getting better each year. If we can do it in the poor soil and blinding heat of the desert, I think just about anyone can do it to some degree. More on that later.

Anyway, I'm finding that all of these things tie in together-- our food quality, our agricultural practices, our health (collectively as a society as well as individually), and the various environments that are being subjected to so many new chemicals and poor (politically-driven) farming habits. And the thing is, we don't have to stand idly by watching this happen. We can instigate change and demand a different way of doing things. I'm not saying we need to go back to an agrarian lifestyle, but we can choose to do less harm to the environment while also choosing healthier options for ourselves.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


A few weeks ago I was able to attend the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium with Jon in Midway, UT. My friend Cami put it together, and Jon helped with scheduling speakers. I was sick for a good part of it, but since the weather wasn't cooperating with my attempts to get out and do photography, I did end up hearing quite a few talks, my honey's included.

I was most interested in the talks that covered White Nose Syndrome. In case you haven't heard, bats have been dying off like mad all over the eastern United States, and the problem is spreading. The real kicker to me, however, is that the fungus that is overtaking the bats, Geomyces destructans, is the very same fungus that can be found in bats in Europe, but it isn't killing them. So what gives?

I listened to a representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife give his take on things. The USGS is also involved, as are the National Parks and many other organizations. I heard about a lot of precautions and protocols being implemented to try to keep WNS at bay. Caves are closed all over the east, and cave closures and spreading westward ahead of the disease. While Mammoth Cave, a very public cave, has stayed open, it now has systems in place to inform visitors of WNS and to keep the public from possibly spreading it.

I also heard truly fascinating and enlightening talks from cavers' point of view. Tom Aley gave probably the most controversial and yet frank talk about WNS and how it relates to cavers and land owners. He spoke about how the agencies are all for closing down the caves to block access, hoping for that action to be a preventative measure, to slow the spread of the epidemic. However, it has been noted that having responsible visitation to caves is also a protection. Cavers who responsibly enter caves do not damage the fragile ecosystems or formations within the caves, and they they have the knowledge of cave systems to be able to detect and report differences in cave conditions or bat populations. Since knowledgeable and concerned cavers are voluntarily following the cave bans, many caves have become vulnerable to irresponsible parties entering and vandalizing the very systems that the bans are trying to protect.

It is also becoming increasingly difficult for scientists not directly involved in WNS to enter caves, but who knows what connections we might be missing out on because there are fewer skilled scientists able to add their information to the overall discussion of cave health and management?

Anyway, like I said, there have been all kinds of interesting ideas and thoughts thrown around about what to do about WNS, but the fact remains that no one still truly understands WHY this is happening... So how do you prevent or stop an epidemic that you don't understand? The answer is that you can't. For now people are trying to fight this in experimental ways or they expect to just let things run their course and then hope for the bat populations to bounce back.

In case you have gotten this far and are wondering why I care so much about bats, and why I think that you should too-- well, here are a couple of things-- bats pollinate some plants, they produce great fertilizer (guano), and they eat billions of bugs. They are an integral part of the food web. If they go the way of the dinosaurs, who knows what the full extent of the repercussions might be for us, and for the environment. We need bats.

Night In

For those of you who don't know, Jon and I are both youth leaders in our ward (local church congregation). He was called as a secretary for the Young Men's organization, and I'm a first counselor in the Young Women's presidency. Last night the Young Men went off to play miniature golf and the Young Women (YW) were scheduled to work on their Personal Progress. Since our dear President has been away visiting family out east, it was up to me to find a place that was wi-fi so that they could work online. I figured our place was as good as any so I said that I'd host it. It was the most people we've ever had in our house all at once since Jon's family came to visit him when he first moved in (and before we were married). So its the most people that I've had over here, ever.

As the girls and leaders came trickling in, Luna would bark a little each time and then Misu would cower by me, so at first I wasn't sure that I'd have happy puppies or a very productive night. As it turns out, I have a hard time relaxing when my dogs are spazzing out. But then Heidi came at last. At first Luna wasn't so sure of her, either, but I repeated, "It's Heidi!" a couple of times to her and then when Heidi came and sat down next to me and Luna sniffed her, the other side of Luna came out. She started rolling around by Heidi's lap and then moved onto trying to jump all over her and lick her face. The Young Women, seeing Luna freaked out by all of these new people coming in, started laughing at her reaction to Heidi. Clearly Luna remembered the walks that we used to take with Heidi and her doggy. It was pretty awesome.

Then Misu tried to get in on the action and Heidi just laughed and said, "What? You don't even know me, you're just trying to lick me because that's what Luna's doing!" The spell was broken. Whatever reservations Luna had been holding onto left when Heidi came in, and then she started running around sniffing people and checking stuff out. Misu was still mostly a momma's boy, but he did venture out now and then, and he welcomed pets and scratches from the girls. And most important-- they were both quiet dogs from then on.

We didn't get a ton of work done on our Personal Progress, but I did get to teach two girls how to get on the site and showed them how to navigate around and how to keep track of their work. The remainder of the night was mostly about catching up, chatting, and giggling. Oh, and eating. Rebekah, Emilee, and Heidi each brought treats that I thought would surely last a good long while, but I was mistaken. There were only a few cookies left at the end of the night, but Jon and I took care of those.

I learned that even though my house is much, much smaller than Sandy's, I can still fit most of the Young Women in all at once. Thank goodness we now have a kitchen table! I also learned that I like a full house and hearing all that laughter was good for my soul. Plus it was great to catch up with my fellow YW leaders.

Next up: Inviting certain local friends over for a movie night. You know who you are.