Sunday, January 27, 2013

Preparing to love

I have started writing this post a few times, and I keep stopping, thinking that I'm not ready yet, and I can't do it justice yet. Probably if I do post this, I will still not have done it justice, but I will have come sufficiently closer that I can live with it as a placeholder until next time.

In the past few months, I have ended up connected to several young people through Twitter, and learning about their lives. In many cases it is heartbreaking, and I want to be helpful, and my powers are severely limited. It is really shaping me, and I feel like that is just starting. More of that will probably come out on the main blog.

For now, though, I want to focus on it from the preparedness side. First of all, regarding provident living, the whole point of this life is to acquire charity. I almost feel like I should say to become charity. So any goals that we have that don't line up with that may need to be re-examined. Maybe there won't appear to be a direct relation, but it better not detract. Also, if the point of provident living is to be able to get through hard times, then love is essential for that too.

So love is absolutely vital, but it can be tricky too. We don't pick it up all at once. With some people it comes much more easily then others. Nonetheless, there are a couple of things that may not be obvious that I may be able to shed some light on.

One is that other people's behavior does not have as much to do with you as you might think. Yes, there are people that we like more, and are more drawn to, and we probably treat them better, or we enjoy it more when we are being nice to them, but for the most part, the way I behave is because of the person I am.

What this means is that people may treat you absolutely horribly, and it doesn't mean that you are a bad person, or that you deserve it, and it doesn't even necessarily mean that they don't love you. People can love you but be selfish, or damaged, or unskilled in interpersonal communications, and so that love does not appear to be reflected in that behavior.

This can be depressing. In fact, it is this very concept that has often tipped me over into my bouts of depression as there are just some ways in which I do deserve better and it simply doesn't matter. At the same time, it is liberating once you accept it. They are them and you are you, and so you just be a good you - a kind and loving you.

Some people will respond and some won't, but that does not affect your actions. It's not that you're not doing it for them; in a way you are. But you are not doing it to win them over. You are not doing it for popularity or thanks or what you can get out of it, you are doing it because it is right.

The other way in which that is liberating, but this one is harder, is that you are accepting your own limitations. You can't fix someone else. You can help, if they are willing to be helped, but you are one voice out of many. I can only try and be a good voice, and I am thankful that I am not the only one.

There is a lot of balance to be found, and I am still learning and I have a lot to learn, but basically, you have to take the ego out of it. It just messes everything up anyway. And then we don't even understand what ego is, and we feel guilty feeling good about ourselves, and that's not right either, so what I will tell you is that the ego is the opposite of love. I may not be able to practice humility, but I can practice love.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Food safety

One thing that I was thinking about, but did not really explore last week, was that one possible issue with people looking down on flu shots is that we use the word "flu" a lot, for things that are not influenza, and maybe it dilutes the brand.

There are varieties of the influenza that cause digestive issues, but what we frequently refer to as flu, or stomach flu, is more likely to be some form of gastroenteritis. It can come from viruses like norovirus and rotavirus, bacteria like salmonella and e. coli, or parasites like Giardia.

Much like influenza, no one really needs gastroenteritis. It is lost time, lost money, and gained suffering. Also similar to influenza, there are reasonable things one can do for prevention.

I am going to focus on food safety, which I realize I have not written about in a while. It was hinted at in the post on using Thanksgiving leftovers, but not really covered, and this is as good a time as any.

First of all, let me say that one of the things I really appreciated from my Master Food Preserver training was that there are a lot of things that can kill us that don't. I am grateful for this. We have stomach acid and white blood cells and things that work together to protect us that are often successful.

There is still no need to push our luck, and it is almost impossible to push our own luck without pushing on the luck of others. So, out of concern for yourself, and others, these are reasonable steps to take for health.

It is essential to cook meat thoroughly. Follow recommended times and temperatures. The juice running clear is not a reliable sign. Most meat thermometers will not only measure the temperature but show you the recommended temperature for the item you are cooking.

Foods must also be stored at proper temperatures. Your refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and your freezer should be set at 0. Prepared food should not remain at room temperature longer than two hours. When moving to refrigeration, use shallow containers, as food in deep ones could take too long to cool throughout.

Beware of cross-contamination. Cooking will kill the bacteria in the meat, but that bacteria can be transmitted to other foods that will not be cooked (like breads or fruits). Wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards after handling raw meat, eggs, or un-pasteurized milk. Wipe or spray with diluted bleach (1 tsp bleach in 1 qt water).

Fruits and vegetables can pick up contamination in the fields, not just through cross-contamination. One of the recent salmonella outbreaks started with cantaloupe. Although only the outside was contaminated, when the knife sliced through the rind it brought the outside contaminants in. Cleaning and drying the fruit before cutting could have prevented infection.

Food poisoning will not usually kill a healthy adult (though they may briefly wish they were dead), but it is more dangerous for the elderly, children, pregnant women, or those who already have a compromised immune system through other medical conditions. Special care should be taken with them. Special areas of concern could be deli meats (including hot dogs), soft cheeses, and foods containing raw eggs, as they may not be cooked at a high enough heat.

It can also be helpful to know where your food is coming from. A package of ground beef from a factory farm has more opportunities for infection than a side of beef raised by a 4-H kid (though you will still want to properly cook it).

If in doubt, throw it out. Groceries can be replaced much more easily than your health.

For more information see

Regular hand washing is always going to be important, along with an awareness of what you are touching, and the order in which you are touching it.

I admit, I still eat raw cookie dough, and I guess I just hope that I do enough other things right that it works out. You can pick your battles when you know what they are.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Flu season

Just as a warning, I am starting this post feeling mad and a little smug. It's because of new stories on the unusually bad flu season and the shortage of flu shots. Why is there a shortage of flu shots? Because people wait until we are in the middle of an unusually bad season, and then they want it.

Obviously the reason for my smugness is that I had my shot months ago. The anger is because I can't help but wonder whether more people getting their shots early may have kept this from being an unusually bad flu season.

I am more sensitive on the issue right now because I recently read about a measles outbreak in Pakistan. There is no reason for there to be measles outbreaks in this day and age, and now there are hundreds of children dead because of it.

Now, in this particular case, a big part of the problem was government inefficiency in program administration. A common problem in the region is popular resistance to immunization programs because they are viewed as Western plots. It's unfortunate, but there are cultural and educational issues that are hard to get around. You would think that we should not have this kind of issue in the United States, leader of the free world, but there is strong anti-vaccination sentiment, and a lot of stupidity defending it.

I don't know if there were earlier issues - as far as I know, everyone was thrilled to have smallpox and polio out of the picture - but a lot of the concerns started with a 1998 study linking autism to the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine. This is the part that kills me; the study was a fraud:

The testing pool was not assembled well, it was not an exhaustive sample, data was changed and falsified, co-authors repudiated the study, and The Lancet formally retracted it. How did all this happen? Well, the person behind the study, Andrew Wakefield (who has lost his medical license!), was acting as a paid consultant to lawyer who was suing vaccine makers.

The result was a great deal of fear, and measles once again became endemic in the UK and other parts of Europe, because someone lied for money. I know, my issues with greed usually go in the main blog. Actually, so do my issues with ignorance. However, there seems to be a point about preparedness here.

So, what about the flu shot? Well, people have raised concerns about that, especially regarding links to Epstein Barr Virus. I remember a lot of noise about it during the big H1N1 year, and I read a lot, and the anit-vaccination crowd never had very good backup.

One case got a lot of publicity, and then she recovered, and even if her symptoms had been a close match to EBV, which they were not, her quick recovery (even before her blood was chelated) clearly indicated that was not it. And that should be great, except that at one point Jenny McCarthy and the "doctors" on that side were all being her friends, and suddenly they stopped, which I am sure was very hurtful.

Okay, yes, the flu shot is not the success story of polio, because the flu is an ever-changing diverse creature, and it is not even possible to provide a blanket immunity to all flu. At the same time, it saves lives. It saves time lost due to sickness. It saves heartache. That isn't just for those who get sick; it is also for those around them.

With the MMR vaccine, you have a 98% chance of becoming a immune. With the flu show, your odds go down to 68%. It is still worthwhile. It is worthwhile getting it early, before people start getting panicky and scared and supplies run out. People were scared with H1N1, and supplies were low, but nonetheless things were not as bad as they could have been, and that was due largely to efforts on the part of the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Let's not make their jobs harder.

And yes, by all means, wash your hands frequently, cough into your arm instead of your hands, and do things to prevent the transmission of germs. Live a healthy lifestyle with a good diet, and adequate rest, fluids, and exercise - that has benefits far beyond flu prevention.

But don't give in to ignorance that was started by greed and perpetuated by self-righteousness and magical thinking and distrust of science. Yes, modern medicine is not perfect, but it's done a lot of good things and the flu shot is one of them.

For more on influenza in general, I strongly recommend The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu by Mike Davis.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Emergency Planning for Pets

I've been seeing stories about this now, and it has me thinking again about pet preparedness. This is in no way intended to be a slam on the owners. In many cases, they have identified the owners, but the owners are still homeless, their neighbors are homeless, and the issue is not negligence.

I mention it because I hope that it is a reminder that things that affect you also affect your pets, and you need to be prepared. They depend on you. If you are preparing for yourself, and not for them, you do not deserve to have them. You owe your pets better than that.

If you are not preparing at all, for them or you, consider the things that can happen, and let it be an added inducement to you to take some preparedness steps. A lot of the programs that are in place that may end up saving you despite your lack of preparation will not cover your pets as well, so don't leave it to chance. Plan and prepare now.Fortunately, going through the steps of preparing for your pets is very similar to preparing for yourself, and the easiest place to start is with the 72-hour kit.

First you need to consider the needs for 72 hours. Let's start with dogs. They will need food, water, and warmth. I recommend measuring kibble into plastic baggies for each portion, based on their eating habits. If your dog eats twice a day, maintaining that pattern could help soothe a stressful situation. That is also a good reason to include treats with the kit, and maybe a favorite toy. Again, I like plastic bottles with screw on caps for water.

With our dogs, we feed them twice a day, but we leave water out, and so it may be harder to gauge how much water you should have, but a good rule of thumb (and this works for cats as well) is that they need 2.5 times the amount of food consumed. For example, for 4 ounces of dry food, 10 ounces of water. And yes, that is liquid ounces for one and not for the other, but that seems to be okay. Obviously your animals will not do well with drinking out of the bottle or bag, but there are collapsible bowls that transport well.

For warmth and shelter, I actually ended up getting some thermal pet pads, but I think they would do just as well with a blanket, which would still not be particularly heavy.

If your dog takes any medications regularly, obviously you either need to keep some in the kit, or have part of the plan be grabbing them on the way out. What I also strongly recommend is having instructions written down, not just for the medication but for food. That way, if there is a separate animal shelter set up, or a friend can take the dog, the information is written down. It will not hurt to include medical history, and vet and family numbers. Sandy may have routed entire communities, but not every disaster works that way so it might be possible to call the vet.

A small first aid kit geared towards their needs can also be good.

Obviously you will need leashes. I have seen some people travel with construction fencing (it's a kind of plastic mesh, usually orange), which could be good, but maybe less convenient. Perhaps how necessary that is will depend on your dog's leash behavior and movement needs. You should have waste bags as well.

There may be other things to think about, like coats or paw pads, where it will not be possible to predict, but if you ever find yourself thinking you should include something, you go with that.

I use a regular tote bag for the kit. I have seen dog packs where they can carry their own gear, and that is great, but do at least make sure that your kits, the pets' kits, and all family members including pets can move with everything getting transported as needed.

Let's say it's a cat. All of this is pretty similar, but you also need a carrier, and probably a harness. It may not be practical to carry a litterbox and litter, but if you can walk the cat on a harness, and give them a chance to dig a little, it can still work out. Your cat will probably be less cooperative than your dog (with ours for sure), but you still love them and need to be ready for them.

I don't know a lot about other types of pets, but there is some good information at OCEM that can get you started thinking:

The kit is a good start, but there are other aspects to preparedness. I don't feel it is practical to have a year's supply of pet food, partly because we have nowhere to put it, and partly because they will be happier sharing our food than we would be sharing theirs, even though the latter may be healthier. However, I also don't believe in letter the food supplies get really low for them, and it is certainly possible to include them in the two week water supply.

Also, have them as part of the plan. Creating the kit and writing down instructions is a good start, but think about who might be able to take them, and where you might go if you needed to evacuate, and potential problems and solutions.

No one likes doing this, but have a plan for if you die. Where will they go? Usually it's family, but maybe there are friends who love them too. If it is family, but the family is not local, have you arranged interim care.

Consider training as well. Yes, sometimes there are pet first aid classes, and that can be good, but sometimes you can train animals so they can respond to things better. Obedience training can help them be more secure, and pay off in unusual circumstances. Does your dog know how to swim? One of my favorite stories from my CERT training was that one woman trained her dog to exit via the pet door when the smoke alarm went off, and she drilled with her dog. I hope her house never catches fire, but if it does, the dog will get itself out, and that is wonderful.

They need you. Don't let them down.