Why you shouldn’t wash wheat packs

Do you use wheat packs?  I got introduced to them a few years ago and I love them! I microwave them, they get warm, it’s a nice way to calm aching muscles or something to snuggle when I’m lonely. I also like using them to open up my pores to clean my face out before I use a face mask. In winter, I go for one of those before I’ll put the heating on because it’s cheaper when it’s just me in the house…

…Yeah, they’re great until you need to clean them.  This might be the funniest story of domestic ungodessitude that I’ve ever managed to experience.

Last year, when two of my indoor rabbits were outside for the summer I got them a snuggly dog bed (they don’t make them for rabbits – pet shops are so racist) and it had a removable wheat pack in the middle that you microwave for your bunnies (or dogs).

Can you wash a wheat bag how to wash wheat pack dangerous
The wheat bag from inside the snuggly pet bed.

When they moved back into the house, I brought the rabbit bed back in. The new bunny Timmy managed to confuse it with a litter tray, and I removed the wheat pack and put the rest of the bed through the washing machine. I sorta thought the wheat pack shouldn’t be washed but it *was* part of a pet bed and surely anyone designing a pet bed would know how messy pets are and how their stuff needs regularly cleaning.

That left me wondering what to do with the wheat pack.  Anyway, in true MsAdventure style, I managed to forget about it for 6 months, and I found it while cleaning this weekend. It was stained brown and I thought I was doing the right thing by cleaning it. I’d forgot it was a wheat pack, and I chucked it in the wash, thinking it was a bean bag (with those styrofoam beans). I found out after this whole misadventure that it had a care label but I hadn’t read it before I did this.

Oh God that didn’t go well.

I put it in the machine with a load of other pale things, setting the temperature at 40 to get rid of the heavy stains, and somehow the entire load of washing smelled SO BAD, so I put everything back through the washer again (including the wheat pack), with a cupful of vinegar as well as the usual detergent (I was out of my usual favorite, Listerine), and it all smelled WORSE. Like, after 10 minutes in the tumble dryer (and I’d removed the wheat pack by now), the kitchen was filled with the worst decomposing fish smell and nobody ever wanted to smell that. It was disgusting, but I couldn’t work out where the smell was coming from (it stank so bad, I wondered if there was a dead mouse in my tumble dryer, and I don’t have mice in my house as far as I know).

I put it on the radiator to dry (I knew enough to know not to tumble dry it) thinking that a pair of socks had caused the bad smell. Nope. I finally worked out it was the wheat bag. I cut it open to see what happened, and instead of neat little brown balls of wheat it looked like this:

Are wheat packs washable? How to clean a wheat bag pack
Don’t wash your wheat bag or wheat pack!
Are wheat packs washable? How to clean a wheat bag pack
I think some of it has sprouted???!!

 

It sorta looks like sprouted popcorn with all the residue from the bottom of the popcorn bag. The smell was so bad I had to brush my teeth after smelling the inside of the bag (it was so much worse after I opened it) because I couldn’t get the smell out of my nose.

So if you’re wondering whether that “do not wash” label on your wheat pack or wheat bag is ignorable, DON’T!! If your wheat pack is dirty, you have two options. Either cut it open, remove the wheat, and wash/dry the bag then replace the wheat and sew it back up, or just buy a new one. The warning on that label isn’t like the warning on cheap clothes that dares you to tumble dry them, that warning on your wheat pack is real.

I threw it in the garbage.

Don’t do what I did (unless you’re trying to attract stray cats, zombies, or you really want to scare social workers into investigating your home)!!

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How To Drive In Europe: The Basics

Ever wondered whether driving in Europe is different to driving at home? Are you planning a trip that will involve you driving in Europe? This article is an explanation of everything you need to know to drive safely in Europe (including the UK), broken down into key aspects so you can drive safely and confidently on your next European Road Trip.  This is very comprehensive but I’ve written it as concisely as possible from both my own experiences and research I’ve done to check current driving laws around Europe; I have this article saved to my computer to print out to take with me whenever I drive in Europe.  Feel free to do the same.

Contents:
Side of the Road,
Roundabouts,
Multi-Lane Roads,
Indicators and Overtaking,
Smoking in Vehicles,
Things You Need In Your Car,
Tolls and taxes,
Speed Limits,
Carrying Hazardous/Dangerous Items in Your Vehicle,
Further Reading.

 

Side of the road:

1. In Malta, Cyprus Ireland and the UK (excluding Gibraltar), you drive on the left.

2. Everywhere else you drive on the right.

Roundabouts:

Roundabouts are often used instead of traffic lights where roads intersect each other.

Where you drive on the left (in the UK etc):

Go around the roundabout in a clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the right hand side and ignore traffic on the left (unless it’s cutting you up in which case peep your horn at them to warn them of your presence). You can imagine most roundabouts as a complicated type of crossroads, and some of them have traffic lights on them as well. You indicate as you approach the roundabout to inform people that you are either not getting off the roundabout yet (indicate right, for right turns or straight ahead) or you indicate to inform people that you are getting off the roundabout at the very next exit (indicate left, for the very next left turn). If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane, people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout so always check mirrors and blind spot before changing direction unexpectedly and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Where you drive on the right (in France etc):

Go around the roundabout in an anti-clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the left hand side and ignore traffic on the right (unless they’re cutting you up in which case slow down). To indicate, do so whilst you are on the roundabout (or two or three cars away from joining it) and indicate left (staying on the roundabout) or right (getting off the roundabout), EXCEPT in Slovenia where you only indicate to show when you’re leaving the roundabout. If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane be aware people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout, so check your mirrors and blind spot before changing lane unexpectedly, and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Multi-Lane Roads:

Where you drive on the left (UK, Ireland etc):

Stay in the left hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on a motorway (3 lanes or more) you may see big blue signs showing that the road is going to split into two new roads. When this is happening, pick the lane that follows the correct blue sign to where you are going. If in doubt, keeping right at a fork is usually to stay on the road you’re currently on. As soon as you are on the new road or as soon as you have passed the fork or new road split, return to the left hand lane if it’s safe to do so.

When overtaking, it’s good practice to pull back over to the left after you’ve overtaken, however, because other people don’t always do this, and because people don’t leave a sensible amount of space between themselves and the cars in front, it can sometimes be more efficient to stay in the right hand lane if you know you need to overtake again soon, because it can be very difficult to rejoin overtaking traffic once you’ve had to slow down. If you see a police car, pull into the left hand lane because it is now illegal to just drive in an overtaking lane (which is every lane apart from the left lane), although nothing’s changed in terms of how people drive because UK police don’t appear to be enforcing this OR the new law against tailgating.
In Ireland, there are a lot of elderly drivers but people seem to be more mellow and courteous on the road, so I always pull back to the left after overtaking although not everyone does. Ireland doesn’t seem to have the same horrific traffic congestion as the UK does, probably because people drive with courtesy and are more tolerant of mistakes (such as being in the wrong lane).

Where you drive on the right (France, Germany etc):

Stay in the right hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on an Autoroute or Autobahn or Autostrada (freeway, motorway), the left hand lane is the overtaking lane. If you need to overtake someone, check your mirrors (especially in Germany where there’s no upper speed limits on some routes) and only pull out where there’s no-one approaching at speed – if someone’s passing you at 150 miles an hour and you’re pulling out at 60, it’s not going to end well for anyone. When you are done overtaking, pull back in, and remember to overtake EACH VEHICLE INDIVIDUALLY. In the UK people have a tendency to stay in the overtaking lane when they shouldn’t, because they can see another car ahead that they will want to overtake in a couple of minutes – in Europe, this can get you pulled over by the police, but not before a VW Kamper has tailgated you for a couple of miles flashing his lights at you to draw your attention to the fact that you’re in the wrong lane. Once you’re done overtaking, get out of the overtaking lane.

Near some European cities such as Florence (and Glasgow), there are now moments when you will either get corralled through the city on a motorway that avoids all the junctions, or you will be moved onto a motorway that HAS all the junctions. It is critically important here that you are aware a) how long you will be on a no-junction motorway and b) whether you will miss your exit. We didn’t understand the signs because the with-junctions motorway was signposted with suburbs of Florence (which should have been closer than our exit), and the without-junctions motorway was signposted with Milan, which was a VERY long way away compared to where our exit was. We were trying to get to Verona. We chose the Milan motorway, thinking the other was a ring road type system around Florence. Big mistake. We were shuttled 50km north of our starting point, all the time in slow moving traffic in 40 degree (Celsius) heat, with no air conditioning and a thick fog of petrol fumes surrounding us; we had realized as we passed the exit to the other motorway that we were on the wrong road. We then spent three hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling until we FINALLY reached the first exit off this road which was far, far beyond the exit we had needed. For the first forty minutes on the shuttle road, our road was directly alongside the road we should have taken, and there was no way to get to it. We had to turn around at the first exit 50km later, and then we had to sit through another two hours of traffic to get back to the place where we could turn around again to choose the correct road because it wasn’t reachable from the other side of the road. Many road signs in Italy make no sense and I would highly recommend you get a sat nav as well as a paper road map if you intend to drive in Italy (and don’t rely on the Google sat nav on your phone because a) you’ll wear your battery down by charging it and using it at the same time and b) it’s dependent on you getting a phone signal as well as a GPS one). The moral of the story here is to be aware of these shuttle roads (I don’t know if they have a fancy name) if you plan to drive anywhere in Europe.

Indicators and Overtaking:

In every European country, you must not overtake a school bus while it is stopped to let passengers on or off. In the former Eastern Bloc countries (such as Serbia) you may not overtake any buses that are stopped. Use your common sense – if the rest of the traffic has overtaken the bus, or if the bus is clearly stopped for a lunch break, it’s probably safe to overtake if you take care and do so slowly, so you don’t hit any pedestrians crossing in front of the bus.

On autoroutes/autobahns (motorways, freeways) some nationalities continue to indicate even after they’ve maneuvered, until they have pulled back into the right hand (non-overtaking) lane. This might seem strange to people who have driven in the UK where many high end cars (BMWs, Audis, Mercedes etc) don’t actually appear to be fitted with indicators since their drivers just pull out without warning. It is not compulsory to indicate with the expressive gusto of drivers from Luxembourg, but it is compulsory to use the correct indicators to inform other traffic that you are changing lane or turning.

On roundabouts in Slovenia, you do not indicate when entering a roundabout, you only indicate to show that you are leaving the roundabout.

Smoking in Vehicles:

It is now illegal to smoke in any vehicle where children are passengers in the UK.  It might be illegal to NOT smoke in any vehicle in Montenegro (joking; the UK one is true though).

Things you need in your car (by law):

Some things are needed everywhere in Europe, other things are needed only in one country. In general, the Eastern European countries require you to take more stuff than Western Europe. As far as enforcement goes, unless you get stopped by the police and your vehicle checked for some reason, you shouldn’t really have any problems, so if you’re a flexible good driver (as opposed to one who inflexibly follows every letter of the highway code regardless of situation) you will probably never need to prove these items are in your car.

The UK:

A spare wheel.

Most countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Scandinavia:

Warning triangle (always 2 in Spain, 2 in some other countries IF you’re towing a caravan)

Hi-Viz vest

First aid kit

Spare bulbs

A spare wheel

A bumper sticker showing which country you have driven from (eg. GB sticker) unless your registration plate states a country code on it.

Countries where it gets very cold and snowy, including Austria, Scandinavia and most of the former Eastern Bloc:

Your vehicle MUST be fitted with winter tyres, usually between October and March. Check each country’s requirement on the AA website before taking your vehicle.

Countries where it is very hot:

In Spain, most window tinting is illegal.

In most hot countries you are not allowed to carry spare petrol, but you are generally allowed to carry diesel.

Former Soviet-Bloc countries (Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Former Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, but not Greece):

These are the countries which will often check at the border whether your car has all the correct items, so if you’re travelling to or through any of the former USSR countries, you need to tick all the boxes because they still have a culture of bureaucracy at border checkpoints.

Spare bulbs,

Spare wheel (this must be the same size as the wheels fitted to the vehicle),

First Aid Kit,

Reflective Jacket,

Tow rope and tow bar (or loop e.g. on the Citroen Xsara Picasso),

Warning triangle (two if towing something),

Winter Tyres between November and April (with a minimum tread of 4mm, or 6mm in Ukraine),

Additionally, in all of the former Soviet Bloc countries, you must get the border control officer to certify in writing any damage to your car (dents and scrapes etc) before you enter the country, otherwise you may have serious problems when you try to leave. This is to prevent people from having accidents in these countries then fleeing without prosecution.

It is NOT compulsory to adjust your headlights from a left hand drive to right hand drive country (or vice versa) the laws all state that you must not DAZZLE oncoming traffic. Often this means a headlight adjustment but the law is clear it’s the dazzling that’s the problem, so dip your headlights enough and you will actually probably do a better job at not dazzling traffic than those people who incorrectly use the headlight adjustment stickers.

Tolls and Taxes:

Tolls:

Most freeway type roads (autostrada, autoroute etc) charge a toll.  The exceptions are Germany’s autobahns, which are currently free, and the countries which require you to pay road tax or a vignette.  Tolls in Italy are generally fairly reasonable (usually under E5 every 50-100 miles-ish) and tolls in France are utterly arbitrary (we paid E16 to drive 25 miles at one point and E3 to drive another 40 miles).  This is where buying a roadmap comes in handy – the one I had detailed which roads were toll and which were not, along with the location of the toll booths, so we knew which roads to avoid in France after getting robbed by a toll booth.  The map doesn’t tell you how much the tolls are, but most toll motorways have a non-toll smaller road running next to it which will take you longer, but won’t cost as much in tolls (whether this increases your fuel consumption is another matter).

On trying to enter Eastern European countries, I’ve heard of some drivers being charged a car washing fine for an official to throw a bucket of water over their car because it was too dirty to continue.  This was apparently in Slovenia, although it is definitely illegal to drive an unwashed car in Romania so budget for a car wash every so often.  Then you won’t get charged a E150 fee to enter any of these countries.

Car Tax or Vignettes:

The countries which charge longer term for you to use their roads are:

Austria (the road from Italy to Innsbruck still costs E9 on top of the vignette) which requires a relatively cheap vignette (pronounced vin-yet) which you can buy at petrol stations approaching the Austrian border (say: “eine vignette fur Osterreich bitte” to the clerk then how long you want it for.  “Funfzig tage” is fifteen days and “dreizig tage” gets you thirty days, sorry about my spelling for any native speakers).

Switzerland requires a vignette that in 2016 costs 40CHF (one Swiss Franc is usually worth roughly the same as the Canadian dollar on the exchange rate) and runs from 1st January to 31st December.  If you are travelling during January or December you might get ripped off.  They don’t do smaller units of tax in Switzerland.  According to the Swiss government website, non-EU citizens can buy Swiss road tax online here although I’d get it when approaching the Swiss border to be sure it arrives (and because that exchange rate on that website is very badly messed up).

The UK has a very complicated vehicle taxation and roadworthiness system that I’m not going to go into, because if you’re only there for less than 28 days you can ignore it completely and if you’re there for longer you can consult the British DVLA.

Speed Limits:

Speed limits are signposted very clearly everywhere in Europe, it’s really easy to follow the speed limit and we found there was a way to change the mileometer on the Picasso so it showed the speed in kph.  Germany has very clear speed limits except on the Autobahn, where there is no upper speed limit, only a suggested speed limit in adverse weather conditions.  This teaches you to look at the state of the road, the congestion, the road surface (e.g. is it icy, wet or dry) and use your own judgement.  If you lack this judgement, or if you’re a new driver, stick to 70-80 miles per hour and you’ll generally not be out of place amongst the traffic.  Remember, it’s illegal to take a slow moving vehicle on a motorway or freeway in most European countries so you MUST make an effort to keep up with the slowest moving flow of traffic on the road.

Carrying hazardous/dangerous items such as weapons in your vehicle:

Check the individual country’s requirement as it ranges from 100% legal to hold it whilst driving (swords in Poland) to 99.9% illegal to have it in the car (guns in Britain).  Each country has it’s own definition of what is hazardous or dangerous, just to complicate matters even more.

Further Reading

You may also want to check out these other articles I’ve written to help you drive in Europe and beyond:
Buying petrol in Europe
International Window Tinting Laws Around the World
Travel Money Guide a helpful article explaining how to access your money and what sort of money to take when travelling in Europe, including answering questions about working in Europe, using credit cards and ATM machines. Essential reading if you’re planning a European road trip or driving in Europe.

Coming soon:  Driving with your pets in Europe, and pet-transport laws.

No-One Wants To Know The Real Truth About Parabens

Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.

Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?

To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”

Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.

Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”

I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.

Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:

1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.

2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:

Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.

This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.

3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.

4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants.  All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.

5. Research is driven by funding.  Without funding, people don’t research things.  Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for.  Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields.  By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products.  Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational.  Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.”  For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other).  This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible.  This is how many people get a PhD these days!  It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are hints that this happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries.  If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall.  When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)?  It doesn’t sell products.

Cashing In

So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.

I think that in order to really get to the heart of the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.

The Role Of Fear

We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding.  Research is driven by funding – especially at universities.  Who funds research?  Companies who stand to gain from it!

Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.

Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.

By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.

Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens.  It’s a shame everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.

Keep Your Rabbit Cool In A Heatwave

Keeping rabbits cool in summer can be daunting.  This has been the hottest week of the year in the UK, and with temperatures pretty much soaring worldwide in the Northern Hemisphere (sorry, Oz), it’s important to keep bunnies safe from sun and heatstroke too!

rabbits die in hot hutches keep bunny cool

We all know that dogs die in hot cars, but rabbits regularly die in hot hutches as well, especially young rabbits (less than a year old). Lack of ventilation, hutches placed in direct sunlight, and the ammonia from a hutch that hasn’t been cleaned in a while all take their toll on rabbits. I’m not being OTT here, these are all things I’ve learned from having tons of buns for years. Here’s how to keep bunnies cool and safe and happy and snuggled in all this hot weather we’ve been having:

Don’t:
Leave rabbits in a hutch on hot days. They need to be able to move around and find shade (or a cool breeze) and additionally, they panic if they feel trapped, which will only make them hotter.

Assume their water bottles are sufficient. Rabbits have been not drowning in puddles for thousands of years, and a bowl of water that they can put their face in to cool down will really help them out. Be aware that they might knock it over, and refill as needed.

Put sunblock or other human sun protection products on rabbits:  It sounds good in theory, but please never do this.  Rabbits will lick it off and ingest it, and sunscreen’s not good for them, and it won’t reach their skin in any case.

Leave hutches in direct sunlight. Even when the rabbits aren’t in them, they will get hot and cause the ammonia from their urine to degrade. This can cause a potentially toxic vapour that can suffocate rabbits when you put them to bed.

Forget to clean the hutches out at least once a week in summer. The temperature and the amount of insects around means that it’s easy for a hutch to acquire maggots, which will lead to bunny fly strike, a deadly disease.

Ignore warning signs: If your bunny is visibly too hot, not really moving much, breathing heavily, and clearly uncomfortable, you need to take action (see how below).

Never, ever, ever touch a nest with newborns (younger than 8 weeks) baby rabbit kittens in it:  Even to move them somewhere cooler.  If the mother smells the babies have been interfered with by anyone who isn’t herself, she will reject them and they will die (yes, you can try to hand rear them, no, it often doesn’t work).  The mother will move them if she thinks they’ll have a better chance of survival, and she comes from a long line of rabbits who didn’t fail to care for their young (or she wouldn’t be alive herself), trust her to know what’s best for her babies, unless she’s got brain damage.  Rabbits have very good mothering instincts that are better than those of most human mothers.  Additionally, if you go near the nest while she’s around, she will attack you very viciously.  Put an ice block or a frozen bottle of water next to the nest, but not in it, and let the mother move it herself.  The only exception to this is if one of the babies needs a vet.

Do:
Get them a good sized enclosed rabbit run and put them out all day in hot weather (check they can’t dig out, or make sure your garden fence/wall will stop escapes if they do, if you’re at work all day). Leave the run in the shade and remember the shade changes direction as the sun changes position in the sky. An old doormat or cardboard box over one corner of the run will provide shade.  Don’t forget to give them water in the rabbit run!

Freeze some ice blocks for them and put these in the rabbit run so they have something cold to lie next to if they need it.

You could also put bricks in the freezer (if you remember from my article on keeping bunnies warm I mentioned putting a brick in the oven then put it in the rabbit hutch at night) and put these out in the hutch to cool the air in the hutch.

Get them a water bowl as well as their bottle (or a second water bowl) so that they always have some water, and check it every few hours if it’s a really hot day. Water is the most important thing for keeping bunnies alive in hot weather. If you do nothing else from my article, do this.

Keep topping their water up.  Water water water water water.  That’s what rabbits need in hot weather.

If bunny gets too hot: Emergency bunny first aid for heatstroke:
If your bunny is visibly uncomfortable from the heat, get a jug or bucket of water and get the bunny wet. Avoid the face and ears, you just want to get their body wet to increase heat loss. If the bunny doesn’t jump up and try to run away (they really don’t like getting wet), check the temperature of their ears.

If the bunny’s ears are hot and the bunny is not moving much, breathing heavily (or not breathing), and generally unresponsive, they probably have heat stroke. It is preceded by heat exhaustion, which stops them raising the alarm about their state (this is true of humans too, although in people, the face tends to go red and they can even stop sweating).  This is more deadly to small animals than it is to humans (and it’s pretty dangerous to humans). At this point, you need to make an emergency appointment with the vet and get your bunny the care he needs to survive.

Personally, I wouldn’t waste any time, and I’d get a sick bunny to the vet (any vet) as soon as possible because they are stuck with a fur coat and feel the temperature a lot more than we do, they don’t have a very good cooling system and they’re not designed to be above ground trapped in a hot environment in summer weather, usually they’d be in their underground burrow at this time of day in the summer, chilling out with their friends.  We have, over centuries, forced them to live in our environment for our own entertainment, the least we can do is try to make it comfortable for them.

Cluttered

I chose “cluttered” rather than “clutter” because it feels as if the objects are physically doing the cluttering, not just being inert clutter.  Clutter as a noun is inert, still, motionless, passive, benign (until stagnant).  Cluttered is an action word.  My objects have cluttered me.  The room feels cluttered.  The person’s life is cluttered with clutter that’s cluttering it up.

Have you ever noticed how the words “clutter” and “clatter” sound almost the same?  In some accents, they’re almost indistinguishable from one another.  I’m not an etymologist (someone who studies the origins of words; I’m also not an entymologist – they study bugs), so I don’t know whether the words ever began the same way.  I tried to find out, and discovered that the verb, “clutter” came from the word “clot” (like blood clot) in the 1400s.  And the noun “clutter” came from “litter” (like, trash) in the 1570s.  I enclose a screen shot because the definitions sound so perfectly descriptive.  We’ve become too desensitized to the word clutter, and accept it as part of our lives, but apparently we’ve been fighting it since the 1400s.  It’s particularly interesting that the verb developed before the noun, because I feel like the clutter is active, it is not passive, it is loud and noisy and it clatters along cluttering up the tiny amount of quiet space in my brain.  I feel verbally assaulted by clutter which is why I’m still on the journey towards a minimalist life.

The etymology of the word clutter.
The etymology of the word clutter.

My shower caught fire on Friday, it was the perfect end to a crap week, really.  I was just lathering up my violet toner to keep my hair shiny white, and I started smelling burning hair; I checked the box with all the wires, and it had started smoking.  It wasn’t a huge surprise since the shower unit melted in February, then when we gaffer taped it, it seemed to stabilize.  Apparently not.  To make matters worse, the DIY disaster idiots who put the thing in (before we bought the house) stupidly put the isolator switch directly behind the shower, on a wall in the bathroom, and since it wasn’t a pull switch, I was trying to get it to turn off with soapy wet hands for what seemed like ages before it finally went.  I can now say in all seriousness, with no sense of hyperbole, that having white hair has saved my life.  If I hadn’t had white hair, I would have just used normal shampoo, and I would have just splortched it onto my hair, back to the shower, and lathered it in, then stood under the water for several minutes while it came back out again.

An electrician friend of a friend came and made the unit safe.  When he opened it up, I was horrified by how close I’d come to serious harm.  The exposed electrical wires which had been on fire were less than a millimetre away from burning away the insulation that was touching the water outlet pipe that takes water out through the shower head.  If you know your basic electronics, you’ll know that water always takes the shortest path back to the Earth, so it would have come straight out of the shower head and down through me.  What’s more, the fuse was so high (45A, standard shower fuse) that it hadn’t shorted out throughout this ordeal.  The whole thing (as I’d been saying since February) was an accident waiting to happen, but it was only last week that we actually got together a few hundred quid to get the bathroom sorted out, because we can’t be without a shower, because my OH doesn’t fit in the tub.

We were already in the process of trying to get someone to come and plumb our bathroom, since the shower had started melting in February, but the first quote we had was £1800 (for labour only, and it wasn’t itemized so I couldn’t see how they’d arrived at that figure, I think they didn’t want to do the job so thought if they put it high enough they’d either make a lot of money from something they didn’t want to do, or get out of doing it.  That plumber seemed to lose interest when I said I was keeping our current bathroom suite) so, after I had finished laughing at the absurdity that anyone would pay £1800 to NOT get a new bathroom put in, I had phoned someone else to come and quote me, literally minutes before I went into the shower.  He will be round on Thursday.  So I had to clear the bathroom of all the functional bottles, sponges etc that we use.

That was how I found out how quiet our bathroom is when there’s no clattering clutter cluttering it up.  When there is not one single bottle of shampoo on the side of the bath or in the floor of the shower cubicle, it is so serene that I was disappointed at the idea of changing the room.  You see, we don’t want to waste money (to buy or to run) on a new electric shower when we have literally no water pressure issues in our bathroom and no hot water issues with our boiler, so the whole cubicle may as well come out, and have an over the bath shower.  When we were first thinking about this back in February, we wanted a new bath, and to move the bath, toilet and sink around to make better use of the space.

We actually bought the house because I loved the bathroom so much.  The idea of having to change it is heartbreaking.  But my husband doesn’t actually fit in the bath because it’s designed for men who are my height and women who are shorter, and children.  It’s not intended for six footers.  I wrestled with the wastefulness of discarding the bath compared to keeping it.  I watched him struggle in the bath last night and I finally understood that we weren’t being wasteful in getting rid of the bath, it sadly wasn’t fit for purpose.

We will have to get a new bath.  But it won’t be the same serenity when the bathroom has been changed, because the suite we have now is one of those coloured ones from the 1970s (not avocado, ours is sunshine yellow), and the happy warm friendly yellow will have to be replaced by a stark, clinical white bathtub, in full size rather than extra small, which will be all the more obvious since we’re keeping the yellow sink (basin) and toilet.  But at least my husband will finally fit into the tub.

For now, it is the one room that is completely without clutter.  Just having that one room in the house that has been silenced feels like a big minimalist victory over the advancing agents of clutter.  It has spurred me on to get rid of more things today, things that have been waiting for a week or two to be removed from the house, and I felt so much better when I came back from the tip and the charity shop (thrift store) with a lighter car.  It’s the one room where I can hear my own thoughts.