Allergies, Asthma & Your Immune System

Farm Shot
My brother, his daughter, and The Farm. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was the year 2000. I was chatting with my favorite professor (or soon to be) after the MSU class. We did this occasionally. Since, I love idea swapping and learning all that I can, and my friend enjoyed sharing all the various things he knows, it was a good combination. We’d go to Crunchy’s. He’d have 2 or 3 beers. I’d struggle with one and a half. We’d talk all sorts of ponderings and meanderings in modern philosophy. Utah Phillips, Politics, the length of a cold, extra education from the class I took. The recurring themes: religion, environment, and how it all meshes with politics.

These conversations had a large influence on what I believe or choose to believe of religion and how I justify my understanding of it and especially the words within. These conversations also helped shape or give ideas and momentum to my environmental passions.

One of these conversations centered, albeit briefly, on the difference between allergy and asthma in city kids compared to kids who live in the country. Six or seven years later, I wrote about it for one of my final Sustainable Urban Development classes. The idea that we are building up our immune system by subjecting ourselves to “untidy” animals was and is fascinating to me.

My mother grew up with nine other siblings. They lived on a 160 acre farm (80 acres on one side of the highway, 80 on another) with their parents, my grandparents. My grandfather worked at the Munising Paper Mill (until he retired), planted and sold potatoes “on the side”, and my grandmother tended the garden (although she hated it) all the while my grandfather was at work. Their garden preserved the family through winter with most essentials. My grandmother made 16 loaves of bread weekly. They milked their own cows and pasteurized the milk on the counter. They’d make their own butter, slaughter their own meat, preserve their own food. They farmed. One year, they shelled so many beans not only was the kitchen sink full but so was the claw-foot bathtub. There was always an assortment of cows, dogs, cats, and pigs. Less common in my growing up years were horses, poultry, and rabbits. All said, this is The Farm. The Farm is what I consider home.

When I was in fifth grade, I started to itch and loose my breath around cats. I had been 3 years away from my constant Home. Although we didn’t live with my grandparents, we were there nearly every weekend until we moved downstate when I was in 2nd grade. Someone told me along the way that body chemistry can change (dramatically) every 7 years. So, the question, always on my brain, was how can my limited farm experience lend itself to moderate to severe cat allergies. Now, this past summer (of 2010), I was tested for allergies. The doctor did a scratch test of over 40 common allergens to the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. I scored a significant reaction on more than half. I have year-round allergies.

So, again, the question begs: what’s the connection? How much of an affect to our sanitized cities have on our reaction to the environment? Am I just an allergic person, written into my DNA? I always thought I came from stout, healthy people – but now I’m not so sure. I have two considerable immune issues that require constant handling. I think that’s fairly significant, even if I’m not overtly bothered on a daily basis.

I think I need a couple of more beers at Crunchy’s washed down with one of their burgers and my friend to ponder this one out.

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ICF v. Cob

Dogon cob houses in Mali.
Image via Wikipedia

This will be a sort of series describing the differences between ICF construction and Cob(b) construction. When I started my new job, I quipped the basic difference between my husband and me is that he’s ICF and I’m Cob housing. My husband likes to insist that when we build our dream house it should be ICF, especially if it lines up next to some State Game Area somewhere. I have many sustainable desires, and I want our dream house to be formed from the (local) ground in a thoughtful, heat tolerant (slow to cool and slow to heat) manner.

One of the gal’s I now work with, a gal on our Sustainability Team, is building an ICF house as her dream house.

Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought.

November 23, 2001, Tulsa , OK (Disaster Ally i...
November 23, 2001, Tulsa , OK (Disaster Ally in the Eastland Mall) -- A safe room wall section is shown here. The insulated concrete form is cut away to show reinforcing steel. The cavity is filled with concrete. Photo by Kent Baxter/ FEMA News Photo. Image via Wikipedia

So, I’m going to explore it in this series. The goal is to examine differences in a post at some regularity, weekly or monthly, the difference between ICF and Cob(b) to come up with at least guidelines I’m comfortable with or arguments why ICF won’t work. That is, I’m either going to convince myself it’s sustainable or have a list of cons why we shouldn’t pursue this form of building when we get to the time build our dream house.

You’ll be able to find these posts in the menu under “ICF v. Cob” and through the many sustainability tags.

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Sad Dinner Demise

Sometimes I goof on dinner. It makes me sad. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. I know it can’t be awesome all the time. My husband is a great testament to that, he eats everything I put before him, but he certainly doesn’t rave about certain combinations I may concoct like others with differing palates have. Previous roommates suffered through bread-makinglearning and soup explorations, so I know I have learned some things and have a lot to learn in others. But, quiche, I thought I had down.

Not tonight.

Tonight, I think they look beautiful, but the flavor was lacking. My broccoli quiche could have benefited from a little more cheese, or having the cheese more incorporated into the egg. I have dubbed the 2nd quiche a “Breakfast Quiche”, but it was supposed to be a corn-bacon quiche with leftover sausage links. It can’t be perfect all the time! And, these mistakes do help me remember the importance of something as simple as stirring and corn.

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”alexis22578″ id=”72157625365463825″]

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Computers

Tux, the Linux penguin
Image via Wikipedia

One of my first jobs was at Michigan State University in the computer labs. Working as a Lab Monitor Service Provider. I was eventually promoted to a Lead Lab Service tech-person. I have many years experience in a multi-platform computer lab. Yea. I have Windows, Mac, Unix, and now Linux experience. Yippee. (Snood was made for Macs, originally, and free, and lots of fun.)

Now, we live in a Linux household. This is my doing. This is my choice and my direction. One which my husband acquiesces too with the disclaimer that he wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t for his “Tech Tweety Beans (that’s me).”

A friend recently asked me to help her put Windows XP back on her 5 year old laptop. She didn’t like Ubuntu 10.4, Lucid Lynx, too much of a learning curve from MS Office 2007 down to Open Office 3.2, I presume. Granted, it is different, but I prefer it because of the Windows headaches, and I find the learning curve easy and made easier with the benefits of Linux (integrated note system, the icons, the Gnome panels, the true plug and play nature of it all).

So, she wants to go back to Windows, creature of habit, I get it. I don’t have time right now for Ubuntu lessons (teaching), so let’s get her up and running. We took Duke and Nuked her machine, wiping it clean. Did the Windows install, and she left to finish up on her own.

The Drivers. This was Reason #1 why I switched. She couldn’t get all the drivers to load. She got some, she found some Internet connection somehow, but her wireless wasn’t working, so she asked for more help. I was reminded, full force, why I switched. Neither of us enjoy the “you must buy new to get it working” mentality our computer society operates under. The motherboard we are currently using was built in 2001. We have our own hardware mistakes, but at least our computer runs.

So, my friend brings over her laptop, and we plug it in. We were able to upgrade the various drivers, and it recognized her wireless, finally. So, we tried it out. For some reason, when it came to her wireless connection (my friend is two doors down), it wouldn’t let any alpha entering of a password, only numeric. My wireless connection worked, so we weren’t really sure what the problem was. So, I asked if she didn’t mind if I started over. She agreed.

So, I took Duke’s Boot & Nuke and erased her hard-drive again (the original erasure to Ubuntu was to attempt to correct a virus on the her hard-drive). Installed Windows, and went to do a few updates before I updated the drivers. Windows circumvented: the first drive that needed to be updated was for the Ethernet. So, I go to my Ubuntu PC to Dell’s page to download her drivers manually. (She doesn’t have the recovery CD.)

Dell said I needed to be on a Windows machine. No joke. I could add things to the queue, but I could not even download individually.

So, I logged in remotely to work. And, I began the process.

While on lunch at work, when I finally got there, there were still problems with Dell’s queue and the Windows XP machine! I was able to get most of her drivers, hoping they were the correct ones since – of course – the names didn’t even match! I couldn’t load the ISO, and I couldn’t get the ISO to save correctly on my Dropbox, so I opted for loading it all on my jump drive.

I get home, I plug my jump drive into her laptop, and do you know how many times it asked me to restart her computer? No less than 10. I am not even kidding.

I go through all that, get the Ethernet working, etc, and then have a brainstorm. Maybe the Wireless software only wants a numeric passcode (as it is written), so this alpha-numeric thing really won’t work. We try it through the phone, two doors down. It works to a point and quits. I attribute it to the distance. But, when she tries it at home: still no go.

So, Ubuntu worked, but Netflix did not. She can’t get into OpenOffice (and how can I really encourage it when they have their own problems with Sun and the split to LibreOffice?).

What’s a girl to do? I suggest she call Qwest since it is a Qwest modem. That will likely have to wait until Monday. But if that doesn’t work? My friend will likely find herself trying to buy a Mac. That’s right, no more Windows. Why? Because of problems like these.

  • I broke the drink holder.
  • It won’t give back my credit card.
  • It won’t turn on (monitor, printer, computer).
  • It erased my document (replaced by new Doc2).
  • Some favorites from the “Top Ten Things a Tech Person Hears.”

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Fiction: Future

Front page of The New York Times July 29, 1914...
Image via Wikipedia

Note: The second writing tip in this top ten suggests writing different styles. I’ve got a pretty good groove with my daily ponderings, but I always get fiction bits floating through my head. So, why not start something? Nothing says I have to finish, but starting is something. (I have started various fictions in various forms over the years (none really finished), but let’s let this start be a part of the challenge.)

The alarm went off. Billy rubbed his eyes. Morning wake up, always difficult. What happened to the days when he was a morning person? Where did they go? He could see the sun peeking through the break in the curtain. He sat up, half way, propped on his elbows, taking the daily-morning assessment of the room. The cat, Henry, had slept on the bed again. His glasses were still by the night stand. He reached over, plucked them on his face, and took a sip of water. Looking up, the alarm screen showed it was forecasted for 68 and sunny with a light breeze, 5-10mph. A nice day. Some old-school Classic Rock (Cheap Trick), was getting louder, reminding him he needed to wake.

Rolling off the covers, he threw his feet over the edge of the bed, stretching out the last remnants of sleep. Tucking his feet into his red, corduroy slippers, he started to plan his day. There was an early coffee with the volunteer captain, a mid-morning meeting with Councilman Skinner, lunch with the Dean of Environmental Education, and an afternoon in the office. Given the forecast, the office might have to be by the waterfront today.

One last stretch, and Billy waved off the alarm screen. He could hear the coffee peculating, on schedule. Stepping into the bathroom, he set his shower for 101 degrees, pondering how far water-on-demand, or InstaH2O, has come. At 4 minutes, 30 seconds, the pressure started to wane, warning Billy his time is about up.

Over breakfast, Billy caught up on the days’ news, browsing through various news-sources. The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Globe & Mail, and various Asian reports. He still preferred his news screen to be embedded in the glass of his dining table, whereas many he knew simply opted for the standing kinetic screens. The markets were down, again. The Dow hit another record low, this time 15,000. He couldn’t believe it was 35,000 just five years ago. Although there hasn’t been another housing crash like the one in ’08 (banking regulations continue to get more stringent), the encroaching desert in much of the world has put markets in a tail spin.

Billy was excited to chat with Mark, his top volunteer-captain. Mark had great ideas on steering the education-stewardship piece of policy. This would serve as a good primer for his meeting with Councilman Skinner who, despite all the things Billy’s group has done, still has resistance to volunteer-driven stewardship. Billy was looking for more secure funding in the Pre-K-to-clean-rivers programs where groups hosted 5  year olds to do litter clean up and native plantings. After all these years, even though stewardship was a common goal and no longer argued about, he was surprised it was still a struggle for policy makers to make the link. They were able to keep the desert back in so many areas with the stewardship approach, he often forgot it’s not a “no-brainer” to those saying how the money should be spent.

On the mag-train into the city center, Billy glanced over his next week’s appointments. Next week marked the 50th anniversary of the Amazon Burn. Sarah’s NGO had been a part of the organizing effort for his neighborhood. 20 years ago, A Swiss gentleman, founded the first world-wide event to summarize these world-wide atrocities in a day of education, so we could continue to learn from history instead of pretending it didn’t happen. Even though they haven’t been able to turn around the encroaching desert, there hadn’t been oil spill in 13 years. Coal mines closed down 17 years ago. And most countries had a variety of natural power sources.

Billy was glad he found his place in plants and volunteers. It was that ground-up fixing that motivated him, literally building strong roots. But he never ceased to be surprised at how far humanity had come in such a short amount of time.

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Music Appreciation

Cheap Trick
Cover of Cheap Trick

The Bear. Cheap Trick. “I want you to want me.” I have it turned up. Loud. Right? ‘Cause it’s Cheap Trick and a great sing-along-80s-car song even if I have a cold!

Levi says, “I don’t like it!”

I listen anyway.

The song is over, a new 80s song rolls in.

Levi says, “I don’t like it!”

So, I turn the station to 98.7 (one of a few new Country stations in PDX). He says, “I like this!”

My son loves country. My son hates 80s music. My son loves “Disco Duck.” My son hates 80s music.

What a sad day.

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My Understanding of Benefits

Getting ready for bed
Levi wearing luxuries we appreciate: pajamas, robe, hat. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

July 21, 2010 – Contemplating Benefits

Growing up, my parents were either in a family business or working retail/food service. The benefits we had were minuscule, as in vacation time, bonuses for work, medical. We never had prescription benefits, for example. This was a little trouble as I got strep A a lot in 6th & 7th grade. Being that I’m not a creator by nature (I have to work really hard to produce and get over many mental blocks to earn money on production), getting a job with benefits has always been a milestone. It was a very important milestone when my husband and I brought our little son into the world.

When Levi was two months old, my husband lost his job as a bike mechanic. The benefits had barely kicked in. We could only afford the “benefits” for him as the family plan would have taken $700/month of his salary of $1400. I brought in about $900/month and we struggled to make sure our living expenses were under $2500.

January 15, 2011 – What Benefits Mean Today

I began this post almost 6 months ago, when TriMet‘s talks of changing employee benefits was a little more than rumor. The day Peter got the job offer for TriMet (July 19, 2007) we were overjoyed. We found out that a month after his start date, the benefits would kick in. What did that mean for us?

  • I would be able to visit a chiropractor. The last visit I had was in 2005. Since then I had been pregnant, had a child, and then of course every-day-running arounds that make an adjustment helpful.
  • We would be able to find a new doctor for Levi. His pediatrician (Family Doctor) at the time, didn’t seem to think that Levi being born in the 90th percentile with a then current weight in the 3rd percentile was cause for concern.
  • We would have enough money and wouldn’t need to rely on food stamps.
  • WIC wouldn’t go away.

So, the benefits and salary where what really helped.

January 18, 2011 – Entitlements

Lots of people argue about benefits in a way that suggests they are entitlements. FDR proposed an extended “Bill of Rights” during his tenure that described health care as one of our inalienable rights, as humans. I think, though, we get caught up in want vs. need vs. what we can do as a society.

Benefits are not something we are entitled.

Benefits help defray health costs.

Benefits in such a rich society, as a concept, are laughable that they are argued so much and divided between the haves and have nots.

Needs. What are needs? What do we need as humans? We need air to breath and some nourishment to sustain the 1500 kilo-Calories our body needs for basic functions. Beyond that, everything is a luxury. Seasoned meat, beans, rice, food diet varieties, shelter, clothing, family to ease our pain and share our enjoyment: all luxuries. Going to the doctor, enabling our children to go to the doctor, fixing wounds with band-aids, getting our Grave’s Disease properly diagnosed. All luxuries.

These are all luxuries I’ve grown quite dependent. Luxuries I don’t want to see disappear. Luxuries that are common sense luxuries when we have collective means. Luxuries that should be no-brainers when considering the least amongst us.

Who gets the work done? The idealogical person on top with the ideas or the man on the bottom pushing the broom? Answer: both. Without both, it’d be hard to get anything done. The bum on the plush cannot exist without the bum on the log. It’s time we started paying more attention to the bum on the log.

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Thankful

Little Levi Sunshine
Peter reading Little Miss Sunshine to Levi on Mommy's Night Off. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

He said, “Mommy gets a night off.”

He said what?

My husband continued, “Nope. No more mommy tonight, she gets the night off. You get Daddy tonight.”

What?!

Daddy then preceded to complete the bath, put the pajamas on, and read the book. I still put the bug in bed, because that’s what I do.

What did 6:45pm bedtime and Daddy helping out allow me to do?

Clean my kitchen. Put the food away. Empty the dishwasher. Start coffee for tomorrow. Set lunches aside for tomorrow. Clean all counters and tables, and load the dishwasher for a new load.

Caught up on kitchen duty.

The power of teamwork. I hope it can last.

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Created Equal

Jefferson adams
Image via Wikipedia

Religions and governments are based on values that shape our thoughts and form, ultimately, the laws with which we agree to obey: our social contract. They might have divine inspiration, but they are all written by humans and subject to human error and error in interpretation.

In a previous post, I expressed contempt with parts of the Bible that suggest and/or state that women are lessor than their husbands. This particular part of the bible is a letter written to convert and educate non-Christians and early Christians on how they deemed Jesus‘ teachings. Sure, I’ll buy divinely inspired – but the Bible, no matter how many Men may have blessed it, is up for interpretation pending the history and context of the time. There are many contradictions within, and if one suggests that you must take the whole bible at face value without heartfelt interpretation, they are either ignorant or trying to sell you a bridge you can’t afford.

Our government was formed by shaping some vision and stating some initial values. When we first ceded from British Rule, you may recall we began with a document: The Declaration of Independence, lovingly written by Thomas Jefferson. In the first few lines it is stated that

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,[72] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Wiki on the Declaration of Independence)

What did that mean at the time? White, property owning, Protestant, Men. That’s what that meant. It was time, war, and paradigm shifts that changed that meaning to include all Men of any color any property status, and Women. Some today would still argue that Women are not a part of this ideal.

People still think women should be in the home tending to home things, a definition that has been denigrated, especially, over the last 50-70 years. An idea that the only important work people can do is outside the home, making money – not necessarily taking care of those we love.

In some manner, though, I feel we have come a long way from those first changes of thought. Women can vote. We can choose (although it’s a tough, not very equitable choice) to work or stay at home. We can choose how many children we want. We can choose. We have become more accepting of all sorts expressing their love for each other (I’m talking about homosexuality and interracial relationships). We have simply become more understanding, more inclusive, more in line with “All men (people) are created equal.”

Then someone reminds me the bible says, women are to be subordinate to their husbands as their husbands are to God. And, then I think of the line in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner where Sydney Poitier’s character states to his father that nothing will change until the older generations die out.

I don’t want to discredit what our elders give us, for they are the giants with which we build and rebuild our society, evolving it for a better society tomorrow. But, sometimes, it feels like there are these chains of oppression simply holding us back – preventing us from valuing all walks of life equally and it feels like that won’t change until the older generations pass on to another life.

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Portlandia

The Portlandia statue on the Portland Building...
Image via Wikipedia

I am very thankful for Hulu right now. I love this city. I do. But, with all the transplants (yes, like me) and our ideals and our fantasies and our 300 steps away from reality, this is good fun. Thank you Fred & Carrie.

I moved here in 2003. In 2004, I believe, a native Portlander wrote into the Oregonian as a guest columinist, asking Portlanders to get over htemselves. she argued that in this green archiplego, Portlanders forgot that there is a wider world out there. She claimed with exmaple after example of how Portlanders don’t realize not everyone in the country wants to go green, eat organic, or boycott Wal-Mart. As sad as it might have been to read, it was refreshing because it’s true!

So, this is the first Portlandia episode, the show that lovingly makes fun of Portland, the place where we want to know the name of our chicken but might be afraid to see the farm.

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