You Are At The Archives for 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 in , , , ,

Easing In... A short summer report


I'm betting many of us still don't believe that summer is really ending.
I think about the first days back at school when
I was in the elementary grades... One of those time-honored traditions was to write your first essay of the year on what you did during the summer. It made an easy transition for teachers and students alike.

I'm going to continue that tradition with a few photos taken during my summer. It was by no means a summer of vacations. But it had a few memorable moments.
Here in the Midwest one of the biggest things that happened to our entire region was a massive amount of rain that fell during the early summer months, causing flooding all up and down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. My house is exactly 2 minutes from the Mississippi riverfront in St. Louis - I can practically see it from our house. The McKinley bridge was revamped and reopened just this last year. One of the nicest additions to the bridge was the conversion of an old train trestle to a pedestrian and bicycle trail.

One evening we decide
d to have some free, easy fun and walk across the river. These are the quick pictures I snapped from our phone. It was a gorgeous sunset and
we had the entire bridge to ourselves.


Monday, June 23, 2008 in , , , ,

Pro-Active Natural Sun Protection (or else!)

Ah, summer!
Swimming pools, barbecues, and sunbathing.... oh, wait that last part is maybe a little outdated. Try 1989 outdated.

What I won't do for my readers.... The lovely photo you are gazing upon is me at age 12, enjoying my new, trendy 2 piece suit and a book - likely a fantasy novel from the used book store down the hill. The scrunchy, the sunglasses, the stripes, the sunbathing.... so eighties!

I have seriously pale skin. I really don't tan but at the time of this photo I was still discovering that fact. All the pre-teens in my school were going to tanning salons by the ripe old age of 11 . My family being the budget type I had to use the free tanning salon - the sun. I spent hours laying out, feeling hot and sweaty. My prize? Some very faint swimsuit lines and some likely skin damage. Fortunately it didn't take too long before I decided that laying out was real pain and not very productive for me. I resigned myself to the fact that I am just pale.

Fortunately for me I was way ahead of the real trend - skipping the suntan. As we embark upon the coming holiday week I just wanted to take a moment to offer a few suggestions that are totally 2008.

1. Sun exposure is dangerous. Not only can you end up with a really uncomfortable burn but that burn could someday give you cancer. Sunscreen should be your very first thought if you are going to be spending any more than 15 minutes in the sun. When really desperate even I would choose a Franken-chemical sunscreen from Walgreens over a sunburn. But if you have the option check out your local health food store for their natural sunscreens. California Baby has a great, water resistant sunscreen that works for kids and adults and smells really good. It uses micronized titanium dioxide, which is a physical sunscreen rather than chemical like oxybenzone. It reflects the suns rays like a million tiny mirrors.

2. Did you know that citrus essential oils can be photo-toxic? That means that if you use a product with any significant concentration of orange, lemon, grapefruit or other citrus essential oil before heading out to sun exposure your skin can be discolored and can burn much worse than normally. Skip citrus body oils and don't dribble any of these in your bath water. Bergamot FCF is one of the only citrus oils that is safe to use. FCF means that the components of the essential oil that would otherwise be phototoxic have been removed.

3. Your face will be with you forever. Invest in a hat. It will help save you thousands in cosmetic surgery later on.

4. Your face also receives more exposure than any other body part besides your hands. Wear daily sunscreen. No ifs, ands, or buts.  When I'm going to be out and about I use Lavera's facial sun protection. I have yet to find a product in the Lavera line that doesn't meet my requirements for purity and quality. The texture of their products is amazing, scent great, and they are all approved by the BDIH standard in Germany, the strictest standard for natural personal care products.

(update!)
5. Since this article was first written Blissoma has added 2 incredible antioxidant products that can help fortify your skin naturally to better defend itself.  Amend Antioxidant Soothing Lotion is incredible for your body and you can read up on it on another blog entry here. 
As of December 2012 to complement our Amend for the body we have now added an Amend specifically designed for your face packed with 3 times as much Pomella pomegranate extract, Coenzyme Q10, and more Acai and Cranberry seed oils.  Amend Facial Solar Repair Anti-aging Serum is a daily use serum with long term benefits and your new BFF for damage prevention.  Let's just say you'll thank us in 10 years when you're still looking firm, fresh, and with less buildup of those fine lines.

So do yourself a favor and protect! Otherwise people will soon be able to see you were alive for the eighties. I know that's a secret you'd rather keep to yourself (along with all the photos of you with your mall bangs and Z. Cavaricci pants). Don't worry, I'll never tell. 
 

Monday, June 9, 2008 in , ,

Our Little Helpers

No, we don't have elves that help us here.
But I thought you might enjoy seeing some pics of the folks that help make the products you get to enjoy at home. I've picked up one new helper this summer. She loves to organize, count things, sing and dance.

Yup, that's my now 4 year old, Tru. So I guess we can't say we don't use child labor. Cause she's been in the studio a lot lately. Today she helped our part-time production assistant Kim organize Energize tin candles.

She is also the only studio helper that comes to work with no pants on. Today the outfit was tights and dress-up shoes with stripey green shirt. She loves her tights. 

The order of the day for Frank, our Production Manager, was Stress Serum packaging. Meet the man who makes just about everything except our soap and perfume (my jobs ). And he does darn good for us, braving sleet, snow, rain and blazing heat to make it to our studio every day using only public transit. Believe me, in St. Louis this is not a small feat.

That is our summer Monday at Blissoma. Hope you are nice and cool wherever you are.

Thursday, May 29, 2008 in , , , , , ,

Healthy Eating with a Healthy Mindset - Being kind to all while pursuing alternative food lifestyles


Eat Healthy.
This is a directive that, despite how simple it appears, seems to baffle most people. Take a random poll in the supermarket and the answers you get would be a wide range of opinions, thoughts, and misinformation.

Some mothers may be pleased with themselves if their child eats their canned green beans. Some people might tell you that they avoid corn syrup in their juices. And some hapless individuals might actually tell you that the HungryMan, Hot Pocket, or Stauffers freezer meal that they plan to consume upon arrival home is the epitomy of a healthy meal.  I have to say I would only eat a Hot Pocket under the most desperate circumstances. Like if aliens invade, using all fresh vegetables as pods for their offspring leaving processed cheese as the only source of nourishment. (ok maybe that is a bit extreme, but you get the picture)

The American public generally all eats 3 times a day. So how can we all be so confused about an activity that sustains and even defines a good portion of our lives? Perhaps it is the fact that the Today show and other semi-journalistic TV shows feature no less than 2 food segments every morning with varying advice on what is healthy. Some of this information is sponsored by food companies and press agents - dubious sources for dietary advice, as it is all focused around getting you to purchase a specific kind of food product. Specifically I'm thinking about when I recently saw a guest food expert promoting 100 calorie snack packs as a "good" choice when looking to cut calories.  The immediate thought in my mind was "good" compared to what? Compared to Oreos - yes. Compared to Carrots - no!

I and many of my clients pursue what can be considered alternative food lifestyles.  I left fast food and most soda behind at age 15 and have zero regrets about this decision.  However, it has taken me until 20 years later to reduce my intake of dairy and caffeine and make other tweaks like boosting my greens consumption.  It has been a long road.  I wasn't an "unhealthy" eater to begin with, but the typical American diet has strayed so far from real food that reintroducing it can take some time and major adjustments to your daily life. 

If you're just starting the goals of eliminating animal products, caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and potentially grains too for some individuals from your diet are big ones. These are noble aspirations and will positively impact your overall health.  Despite all the benefits it may be a longer process than a breezy blog article or wellness expert will make it sound.  It's easy to talk about. Implementation can be a good deal trickier.  The good news is that change is possible if you approach it with a flexible, yet determined mindset.

I have tremendous respect for vegan lifestyle and follow numerous vegan and raw food blogs.  There is a lot of exciting thought and adventurous eating to be had when you make your first batch of raw brownies or try a new juice recipe.  Once you get beyond boxed food the world really opens up to a whole new level of creativity, flavor, and connection to what you eat each day.  However, many people may experience unexpected barriers and have to delve deeply into their emotional eating patterns.  This is work worth doing but you need to be ready.  You may find many of your comfort foods have emotional significance due to family relationships and positive memories as well as the simple physiological pleasure.  I tend to find change is most stable when you work into it gradually rather than turning everything on its head all at once.  Start slow and try new things one at a time.

While dietary preferences such as veganism and raw foodism are gaining momentum in areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and even Chicago, the social support for lifestyles like this here in St. Louis, MO is more minimal.  You'll need to be prepared to talk about your new dietary habits a lot to help others feel comfortable.  As a vegetarian teen I went through a good bit of ribbing and ignorant remarks from relatives.  It gets old sometimes, and you have to be spiritually ready to handle the hassling with grace.

In major cities you can find restaurants and markets that specifically cater to vegan and raw food eating styles. Here in the Midwest it is considerably tougher. Vegan foods are served at a few local eateries, notably SweetArt, Everest Cafe, Foundation Grounds, Whisk Sustainable Bakery, the recently opened PuraVegan, Frida's Vegetarian Deli, and a few others. Other than that your dining choices may be limited to staying home or just having the salad offered at more conventional restaurants.  Home prepared food is awesome and this is how I eat most of the time, but many other people would experience a pretty jarring culture shock as they realize that accepting a dinner date with a friend means considering if the restaurant will have anything they wish to eat. 

My best suggestion would be that in making a lifestyle choice like this you'd do well to reach out to other local alternative eaters so you don't feel alone. At least you can cook together (or in the case of raw food, not cook). You may wish to plan to be the host for dinner parties. Your lifestyle choice will likely take some time for friends and family to adjust to and can cause some negative or hurt feelings initially when you can't participate in food rituals that are important.  

It may seem easy to you to replace ground beef with soy crumbles in Lasagna, but other people may initially think this sounds like a lot of work, or that it tastes funny. From personal experience it caused a great deal of trauma in my own family.  Suddenly my mom couldn't prepare family meals the way she used to and all her culinary knowledge related to meat was null and void. As someone that nurtured through food, this was a significant blow to her.  Mom has adjusted somewhat, and will now provide a meatless tomato sauce for the pasta as well as a meat version. That way the vegetarians present are not excluded. But I can tell you if I suddenly chose to go completely Vegan or Raw Foodist we'd go through much the same upset all over again.

The adage "It is more important to be Kind than Right" comes to mind.  In social situations I will often eat something that I would not choose to eat at home because I don't want to hurt the feelings of the host.  If they have been informed ahead of time that I prefer veggie meals and somehow made a mistake in their preparation I don't throw a hissy fit about if they slipped up and used chicken stock, if their sugar is officially vegan, or if their dairy is local and organic.  That, IMHO, is just bad form and makes your host feel yucky.  Unless you have a life threatening allergy to something on the table my personal feeling is that you should attempt to be gracious and respect that they tried.  People are prone to get irritated with you instead of educated if they see you as picky, problematic, and negative about what they offered to you with good intent.  If something offered really crosses your personal line then politely excuse yourself from that item without a fuss.  

I've spoken to many other reformed food-focused individuals who have pursued more stringent dietary habits and then relaxed back to a more flexible eating style.  Food obsession can be quite real and at a certain point the mental preoccupation with whether something is raw, organic, or vegan can start to take up an unhealthy amount of space in your mind.  In my opinion it is important to be kind with yourself and with others.  Don't beat yourself up if you have a piece of cheese, a cup of coffee, or a single sugary caramel.  It's fine to strive for purity but your entire life doesn't hinge on one meal.  Life is imperfect and so are we.  The point is to try, and in doing so you'll generate better results than if you didn't.

The overall goal is to feel GOOD not GUILTY about what you're eating.  Mental wellness is every bit as important as physical wellness.  If you beat yourself up every time you eat something "wrong" you're just generating more of the same bad juju you came from.  Instead of apathy you'll be drowning in negativity.  To reverse it try to be compassionate with yourself.  Don't hate on your hangups, explore them.  There's healing to be done as you investigate the whys and wherefores of the food based decisions you make.

I do think a more conscious eating lifestyle is something we should all respect and aspire to.  But there are places inbetween the SAD (Standard American Diet) and Raw Veganism where we can exist that won't cause tremendous strife with friends and family while they learn to understand and respect your new choices even while eating their Whopper.  Take it easy and be kind to yourself and others.  There is no final destination, no absolute perfection to be had - only a journey of expansion as you try new foods, new habits, and new philosophies to see what fits you.



Tuesday, May 6, 2008 in , , , , , ,

Good Energy - daily direction and what is worthwhile


Energy. 
It is one of our most finite resources. And it is in the news a lot lately. From fuel for trucks that carry our goods from coast to coast, to the electricity that keeps a child's nightlight on to scare away the monsters, it runs our daily lives more than we even realize. But I'm not going to be talking today about that type of energy. Nope, I'm talking about *your* energy as one single human being.

You, too, have finite energy. Though we all awake each day with seemingly limitless possibilities we must be careful how we allocate this most precious resource. As a small business owner I am very aware that there is only so much I can accomplish in any given day. So I must be attentive to how I spend my time, and therefore energy. I want to spend my energy on things that will best benefit myself, my employees, and my family. Anything less is an injustice to myself and them.

Sometimes this makes decisions about what to do a little difficult. Every day I ask myself, "What is most important today?". Whether it is calling clients that are late on payments, working on a new label or brochure design, or simply caring for my daughter when she has a cold, there is always something that rises to the top of the pile. There are some activities that are just not worth my energy anymore, as well. I have to try and spend my energy on tasks that only I can do for the business. Anything that can be handed off to employees must be.


In some cases this is actually harder than it seems. After all, I started a business because I like to create. Sometimes it is difficult for me to spend my time on the finances instead of experimenting on a new soap or scent recipe. But we will never reach our collective goals if I can't manage my energy and time well. So for the sake of the company it is sometimes best if I keep myself on the computer instead of in the studio. (sad but true!)


Another factor of energy is the studio's collective energy. I am the steward to everyone here. Each employee brings their own energy to the studio and, potentially, conflicts if not managed properly. I am responsible for choosing the right employees, training them well, and communicating our business goals and methods to them so that they can embody those goals in everything they do here. Effective communication is key, and I have to try to maintain those open avenues so that our workplace remains positive instead of toxic.

Toxic work environments is one of the main reasons I felt inspired to create my own business in the first place. When there is discord in the workplace it diminishes the energy of the whole team. After all, energy spent complaining or bickering is that much less energy that can be spent towards actually accomplishing something. It is the job of each employer/employee team to make sure that a job fit is good.

Not everyone will be suitable to work for Blissoma. Some people (oddly enough) gain pleasure out of conflict and seem to want to foster it for their own excitement. Some people just aren't *really* interested in doing anything. Sure they might need a job, but don't care about the work. None of these would be individuals I would want on my team. I want our business to benefit as many people as possible, but allowing a negative or stagnant individual to be present on our team would damage that goal. I also spend 80 or more hours a week on my business, and as such couldn't stand to be around anyone nonproductive for that much time.


Some people are energy vampires - you've probly heard that phrase before. They take and take, without giving anything back. I can't be around people like that. I also can't be around people that gain joy from energy sabotage - saying belittling things and spending a lot of time trying to seem superior. Something I've found over time is that my energy to contribute to a job is very sensitive to my surroundings. When others around me are excited and active, that excites me! I can give twice as much when surrounded by good people. In that way the collective energy of a business can be exponentially more when a team is constructed of positive people, all feeding each other.


I also definitely believe that every person has a right to employment that really feeds their spirit. No one on earth should have to do work that beats them down inside. Your working hours make up a huge percentage of your life. I was never one that could think of a job as "just a job". If it wasn't really what I wanted to do I spent the entire time dreaming of the other things I wished I was doing. Very dissatisfying. Each person has their own calling, which is what is truly marvelous! Together we can all function as a society if people really find their calling. Whether that calling is communications, construction, agriculture, or research there should be places for all of us to thrive.


Here is hoping that anyone reading this finds the tasks that are truly worth your energy. It is our most important and lifelong pursuit.
 


Monday, April 21, 2008 in , , , , ,

Green Birthday Party - DIY for less waste and healthier treats


Birthday parties are almost synonymous with piles of plastic toy swag from the cheap favor aisles at Target or other discount stores. Bouncy balls, plastic rings, and other toys that get played with for about 30 minutes, and then end up in a pile of mixed up plastic junk that no kid really needs that badly. We have whole drawers full of it that has accumulated from other events. 

We needed to throw a little bash for our beautiful little girl, but what to do?  My heart just couldn't bear giving out bags full of cheap plastic favors that would end up in a landfill.

I decided that an affordable and fun solution for favors was to make a few giant batches of Homemade Play Dough. You can make it with flour, water, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and oil. Completely biodegradable, completely natural, and tons of fun. Yes it was messy to make and took about 40 minutes per batch to mix and cook, but Tru has already played with it twice, making it at least doubly as useful as the plastic junk, and it is still plenty squishy for many more hours of fun.

See the recipe I used and make some yourself.

I recommend mixing any colorants in BEFORE cooking, and use a handheld mixer to whip up the flour and water mixture, otherwise you'll have trouble getting rid of all the lumps.  Use beets or turmeric for color if you want something natural, or check out this site for more ideas.  It's pretty fun even without color though.

We also picked up biodegradable disposable cutlery. It only came in mixed boxes of forks, spoons, and knives so we've got lots of leftover knives, but I still feel way better about this than the ubiquitous plastic utensils that appear at most events. The memories of the party will last forever, but the utensils shouldn't.

I checked the cups at the store while shopping. Only 1 type of plastic cup was made of #1 plastic. Others were all #5 or #6, which is not recyclable in many or most places. Something to think about when buying cups.

It has become a tradition that I always - always - make the birthday dessert.  Hooray for no wasted cake trays, and no mystery ingredients and funny food colors!  My desserts frequently look a little lumpy and not picture perfect, but they always taste great and have always featured organic and natural ingredients.  

Is dessert an absolute healthfest?  No, I still use sugar and real butter but it's a lot better for you and better tasting than the shortening and preservative filled Frankencakes from the grocery store.  Most people have never even tasted a REAL homemade cake or dessert these days.  Their eyes get big when they take their first bite.  It's worth the reaction, and since it's just an every once in a while treat we don't sweat about the sugar.  The birthday person always gets to pick their treat and past selections have included fruit tarts, creme brulee, strawberry and cream cakes, berry pies, and giant chocolate chip cookie cakes.
 
Tru and I enjoyed the party prep together and I think she'll remember that we put the time in on something just for her. And time and the memories are way more important than all the loot in the world. 

Monday, March 24, 2008 in , , , , , ,

How post-war American life contributed to today's suffering cities

I'm here to finish this thing. Let's get it done folks! This is the point where things all start to tie together, where we really begin to see how federal policy, prejudice, and the "Dream" of 2 kids, a car, and a house with a yard contributed to the very sad decline of what once were fine cities in our American landscape.

According to a striking passage in Buzz Bissinger's book A Prayer for the City the Home Owner's Loan Corporation, a program started by President Roosevelt in the New Deal era, created color-coded maps that determined lending practices for home purchases. Starting in 1933 HOLC refinanced mortgages that were in Danger of default because of the Depression. (By the way, sound familiar to today at all? Federal aid to help mortgages from going into default? hmmm... ) According to Bissinger, in the 1920s a mortgage had a life of 5 to 10 years and was then subject to renewal. HOLC extended mortgages to 20 years, much more similar to today's 15 and 30 year mortgages. "But as a precaution, the federal agency established exhaustive appraisal procedures to determine which areas of a city or suburb were more suitable for lending than others." The color-coded maps they created marked areas First, Second, Third, and Fourth grade. First grade areas were virtually free of blacks and foreign-born whites and were well planned parts of a city. These areas received the most funding. Second grade was deemed OK for lending, but at a slightly decreased rate. Third grade areas "were characterized, according to HOLC literature, by 'age, obsolescence, and change of style; expiring restrictions or lack of them; infiltration of a lower grade population...' "  Fourth grade areas were qualified as infiltrated by a large degree of undesirable population and unsuitable for lending.

Bissinger goes on to analyze that based on the HOLC's assesments Philadelphia was at a considerable disadvantage (and we can transfer this thinking to St. Louis as well, as it has many similar characteristics to Philadelphia). Older housing stock and mixed black and immigrant populations were deemed undesirable. Bissinger states that of the 13 neighborhoods in Philadelphia that received the first grade designation, none had any black population. Less than 5 % of Philadelphia as a whole received the desirable Green first-grade color. The vast majority of the remainder of the city was deemed Fourth Grade. Buildings were deemed as deteriorating and Negros, Jews and other foreign working-class Americans were classified as unsuitable to receive lending.

Conversely the Suburban areas were deemed as first and second grade because of undeveloped land for expansion and ethnic and racial purity.

The Federal Government in the 1930's had adopted a new model of government intervention and stabilization of the private sector. Previous the the Depression the economy was primarily treated as Laissez-Faire, but as that model was suffering and banks were failing there was room and need for the government to step in and stabilize the economy. According to Kristin Crossney and David Bartelt in their paper The Legacy of the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the HOLC's primary function at the time of its inception was refinance of troubled mortages, not new purchase loans. Construction was also stalled due to the Depression, and was further inhibited in the early 40's by the concentration on the war effort. Crossney and Bartelt assert that the access of private individuals to these HOLC maps was limited, and that investment behavior in practice did not always match up directly with these maps. But the climate of the lending and social environment is pretty clear from the negative, divisive language that was simply a part of the American landscape at that time.

It should surprise no one that our country has had racial integration problems. Anyone that has seen Gangs of New York has a pretty clear picture of how immigrants were treated in the middle 19th century. Surprise!  By the 1930s much of that bias against immigrants had still not disappeared, and, Surprise! we seem to still be having some problems with immigration today. Otherwise I don't think we'd be hearing discussions of a fence to mark the Texas/Mexico border.

Back to the 1940s.... by the end of WWII a lot of population of the USA was squeezed into aging city housing that hadn't received proper maintenance in years. With the completion of the war and return of the troops from abroad, families began to grow, there was a housing shortage, and the economy shifted to bring in a new prosperity. The GI Bill was signed into effect in 1944 and allowed veterans to access housing and provided education benefits. Instead of redevelopment and investment in the city landscape, the lending was slanted towards new construction in the suburbs. According to Barbara Kelly in her paper The Houses of Levittown in the Context of Postwar American Culture , the federal government deemed rewarding veterans for their service through housing and economic advantage essential to a transition to the peacetime economy. Otherwise veterans would become discontent and cause political problems. About the decisions the federal government made in relation to this issue, Kelly writes "When the debate was over, the directions of the housing programs was clear. Veterans housing regulated by the FHA and funded through the Veterans Administration, would be built in the form of the American Dream; a vine-covered cottage set on a small plot in a suburban setting." Home ownership was equated with strong social structure and a cornerstone remedy of societal ills.

The traditional city model had kept workers close to their places of employment. Without a car, ease of transportation to work meant long distance commutes were just not possible for most working and middle class families. The new prosperity and growth of the middle class also meant the purchase and use of automobiles, creating a new mobility. Living in the suburbs and driving further to work was no longer a problem.

Who did the GI Bill benefit? Well, largely white males and their spouses. As I discussed before, if my numbers are correct and only 6.25% of the entire military service was black, lending through the VA went mostly to whites. The access to education and housing helped the white working class step up and move out of their crowded urban surroundings. So that left less-educated, lower income blacks and "undesirable" immigrant populations in the cities in housing stock that already needed work. It also caused the tax base to shift elsewhere. Sound like a recipe for urban success??

Indeed, the status provided by the suburban cottage and the life it created was reinforced by the government, builders, and companies producing consumer goods. It was the very hallmark of social stability, and was even thought of as a cure for Communism! Certainly a real estate owner would have too much to do to keep his property tidy to be joining radical political parties. Suburban life kept citizens busy, gave them a source of pride, and was basically used as a form of social control.

From my family I hear that the neighborhood here in North St. Louis "began to change" and that many of the families living here didn't really want to move, but couldn't stand to be the only good families left in a deteriorating neighborhood. While they were simply cogs in the machinery of an entire society of skewed values it doesn't change the fact that White Flight basically demolished city revenue bases and became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cities were seen as dirty, run-down, and full of undesirable populations. That is exactly what they have become and remain in the eyes of suburbia. Lack of reinvestment from the federal government and private individuals caused the beginning of a downward spiral that is still in progress in many places. In the St. Louis area the proliferation of suburban housing in outward areas such as St. Charles and Wentzville (as much as 1 1/2 hours from downtown by highway) has only been slowed recently by the collapse of the housing market. This is now one of the first times in the past several decades that bulldozed, construction-ready areas are just sitting idle.

We are on the verge of seeing just how far this American Dream and suburban expansion can be pushed. With gas prices projected to rise to $4 and $5 a gallon by summer this may be the first time the automobile culture generated in the 1940s may just be about to change direction. According to the national news from just the other day use of public transit is back up to levels it hasn't seen since the 1950s. Suburbia is about to see just how much it is willing to pay to retain the house and yard it prizes so highly. I'm sure we are all anxiously awaiting to see how the economy fares over the next year. Best of luck to us all.

Personally I'm excited to be part of the movement to revitalize my local urban neighborhood. I hope more people will do the same and contribute to theirs. It is not really about being charitable. It is about looking at the health of our entire communities and realizing that our society is only as good as its weakest members. While just one person can't change an entire city or an entire country, we each have a say. I intend to be proud of the interactions I have with members of my community that are different from myself. It only makes all of us better. 

Until next time as our local KDHX DJ Papa Ray says, "Do good in your neighborhood."



Monday, March 3, 2008 in , , , ,

WWII Sets the Stage

WWII, the legendary juggernaut of a war that set the stage for America life as we know it. What would the American dream be without this in our past? How many movies, books, and personal stories can there be? Well, if one counted just the Americans that served in the military, approximately 16 million stories would emerge, less the 400,000 people that were killed in combat.

WWII drove the American economy into the boom of the 1950s, where the good life was possible and a piece could be had by all (theoretically). But the beneficiaries of this boom were largely white, and the structure of the economy skewed development in ways that would prove to exaggerate class distinctions and continue the great divide between black and white in our society.

Approximately 2.5 million black Americans registered for the service during WWII but only about 1 million actually served in combat. Even those that did serve were confined to fully segregated units. Many were relegated to service and support missions rather than actual combat. The Marine Corps initially refused to accept any black servicepeople at all. In 1942 based on mounting casualties in the Pacific and pressure from civil rights groups, they relented but mostly kept black recruits in non-combat jobs as well. The combat battalions did distinguish themselves well in battle, and fought as bravely and well as any white counterparts.

At home the war economy and civil situation was a unique time in American history. Small towns boomed under the influence of wartime industry, the country was drawn together by collective sacrifice and spirit, and yet these collective energies were denied to many minorities. Japanese Americans were sent to camps, giving up posessions, businesses, and homes. African Americans were still beset by Jim Crow laws, and were even denied employment in war industries despite laws that made that discrimination illegal.

In 1941 President Roosevelt signed into law Executive order 8802 which outlawed discrimination in war industries and provided recourse and a Fair Employment Practic es Commission to investigate complaints. But companies such as the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company in Mobile even went so far as to discontinue its mechanics apprenticeship program when blacks were prepared to enroll. According to the Ken Burns movie "The War" and their website, major fighting broke out at ADDSCO in Mobile in 1943 when a group of black workers was promoted to welding positions. Thousands of white workers turned on the black men who had been promoted, after rumors flew that many more black workers were on the way and that they would be working alongside the women employees. After the riot the black workers did return, and more were brought on to skilled positions, but they were forced to work in 4 separate shipways, and were never promoted to the position of foreman. In the remainder of the business blacks were kept to the unskilled positions they had held before the 8802 was issued.

So looking at the above factors, the benefits of the war economy were denied to most minorities. Good paying war industry jobs and benefits to service people were disproportionately awarded to the white population. Certainly it was great news for white women, who were finally allowed industry positions they would have never gotten if the men had been there to fill them. But blacks and other minorities were systematically shut out, maintaining the status quo and keeping blacks in menial labor jobs. If we look at just the blacks drafted into the army we have 1,000,000 out of 16,000,000 total. The US Census Bureau reports a total population of 131,669,275 for the entire country in 1940. 12,865,518 of these were black people. These numbers indicate that 11.3% of the white and other populations served in the military, while only 7% of the black population served. Only 6.25% of the entire military service was black.

According to "The War" website based on the Ken Burns documentary, "By the end of the war more than half of all industrial production in the world would take place in the United States." The economy was booming, the Depression was effectively disposed of, and once the war ended the stage was set for tremendous growth. But that growth would benefit only certain groups, and certain areas.

Next week I'll be delving a bit into the GI Bill, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the automobile culture, and postwar government policies in relationship to housing. Complicated stuff, and I'm betting I won't post until Monday afternoon again. This sort of writing just doesn't take place so well at 11 pm on a Sunday night. ;) I'm a lot more likely to get my facts straight and write intelligibly if I'm not falling asleep at the laptop. 

Monday, February 25, 2008 in , , ,

Some History of St. Louis in the 19th Century

I've come back to tackle some of the stories of St. Louis in the early 19th century.  This is a huge topic.  Scholars write their thesis papers on issues I'll just begin to confront.  I've investigated numerous sources for substantiation.  The problem of urban decay is complex, and certainly not something that anyone can attribute to any one group or action.  But one does begin to wonder how the cities of Europe have remained vibrant in their centers, while American cities have fallen apart.  What differences in policies and attitudes have created this reality?



In 1910 the population of St. Louis was 687,029 and it was the 4th largest city in the United States.  The early period of the 20th century was characterized by substantial growth, construction, and business innovation.  Our city was home to a diverse range of industries and according to the River Web's site documenting the history of Missisippi towns, we were the largest producers of beer, shoes, stoves and wagons.  We also had a substantial textile industry as the "garment district" along Washington Avenue denotes.  Anheuser Busch is one of the beer businesses that remains in the St. Louis area and is a substantial contributor to the industry of the southern riverfront.  Next to the AB brewery is the old Lemp Brewery, now largely vacant and deteriorated, which around 1870 was even larger than AB. 
By 1920 St. Louis had slipped to 6th place in city size by population.  The city had gained an additional  ~100,000 residents, but had not annexed any additional area, sticking instead to the already defined city borders as voters defeated a 1926 proposition that would have included all of St. Louis County.  Building and growth continued within the city borders, with new apartment and hotels being constructed in the Central West End, grand homes along Lindell Blvd (bordering Forest Park where the 1904 World's Fair was held), and theaters like the Fox, which still stands in Grand Center. 

With the onset of the Depression St. Louis faced a situation of relative economic stagnation, large scale unemployment, and a halt to most building activity much like the rest of the nation.  Diversified industries helped the city weather these difficult times.
  
The aviation industry did well here, with Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" plane representing enthusiasm for flight in this area.  WWII brought wartime and aviation industry to St. Louis in a big way with the establishment of McDonnell Douglas, one of the area's largest employers.

Hyde Park was established as previously mentioned in other posts as the city of Bremen.  German natives migrated to the area in the 1840s, and the city of Bremen was made official in 1850.  In 1856 the city was annexed by the city of St. Louis, ending its independent existence.  It had substantial industry and commercial activity at the time.  Cattle were driven along Bremen street up from the river to the Union Stockyard slaughterhouse, one of the larger businesses in the neighborhood.


Most of the housing stock in Hyde Park was built prior to 1900.  This area is characterized by 2 and 3 story brick buildings with a mix of single family, row houses, and two family buildings.  The residents of this area were middle class folk with larger families.  Artisans, merchants, and industrial employees all called this area home.  The German mason/artisan influence on the building and stonework is very evident in the surviving buildings, which have beautiful decorative details.  Limestone rock foundations characterize most of the buildings as well, laid tightly and withstanding the following century well.


So that brings us at least up to World War II.....  up til that time St. Louis was still a healthy, thriving metropolis.  Though its standing nationally had slipped from 4th largest to 8th largest, the city was going strong.  The variety of factors that would coalesce in the late 1930s and 1940s would help set the stage for the 60 years of problem and decline that would follow.  
St. Louis is far from alone in its struggle.  Philadelphia is another city that was in dire circumstances due to urban decay that culminated in the 80s and 90s.  This is the very interesting fodder for a book by Buzz Bissinger called "A Prayer for the City", published in 1997.  I'm just a portion of a way through this book, but am finding it fascinating and well-written.  It is a nearly 400 page work of journalism where Bissinger shadowed mayor Ed Rendell through his entire term in office as mayor of Philadelphia.  I highly recommend it if you wish to get more in depth with the subject of urban decay and those who are just crazy and passionate enough to try and do something about it.

Next week I'll write a bit more about the happenings in post WWII St. Louis and America as a whole.  Basically I just hope to shed some light on this tangled issue, and provide information that might spark you to learn more.  I certainly don't have all the answers, but as I drive by rotting buildings that still contain an elegance that surpasses the best of surburban development, I can't help but wonder WHY?  So as I learn more, I am sharing it with you.

Sunday, February 10, 2008 in , , , , , ,

Living with Racial Difference - thoughts from a suburban transplant living in an urban environment

A thoughtful, probing program aired tonight on our local PBS station. Entitled "Legacy: Being Black in America", it featured a dinner with prominent African-American individuals where they explored and discussed their personal experiences and their thoughts about American society as a whole in relation to race.  The attendees ranged from TV reporters to scholars to dancers.  I have heard many thoughts on racial difference, and seen many documentaries, historical films, and had my own personal experiences to draw from.  This program did bring me some new ideas about racial difference, and I was glad to hear them.  It also got me thinking about this very important issue, and I decided it was indeed time to bring some thoughts on this to my blog. 

I have known for a while now that I would want to write about race.  The question was when and how to begin?  The very first weekend I began writing for this blog I watched a documentary by Spike Lee entitled "Four Little Girls".  It covers the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, AL that killed four young black girls during the midst of the civil rights struggle.  I was moved by hearing the stories of the families of these four girls.  I had many thoughts that day, but such a serious issue was not something to bring up in my first few entries.

Being Black History Month, now seems like a very good time to open this issue and begin to lay out its relationship to my current life.  This is much too large a subject for one entry, so today I just hope to lay a foundation.

As many of you may know, we moved to a century old house in the northern part of St. Louis.  We are close enough to downtown that you can actually see the Arch from our rooftop.  The issue of race in our society was unavoidable with this move.  One could say that it came to our doorstep, but really we came to its doorstep instead.  

St. Louis is an extremely racially divided town.  With the exception of a very few areas, almost all the black population of St. Louis lives in the Northern half of the city.  Delmar Blvd is considered to be the unofficial dividing line between the 2 halves.  Aside from college I have lived here almost my entire life, and before the last few years I had never even ventured into many of the northern neighborhoods that are now our home.  

I grew up in West County, the heart of white suburban St. Louis, and as a youngster would have had no reason to even think of venturing this direction.  My experience of the city was in trips to the occasional ballgame, science center, art museum, and other cultural attractions boasted by St. Louis.  I also grew up in the 80s, which was not a kind time for this metropolitan area.  It was the tail end of a terrible decline that left much of downtown and surrounding areas vacant, crumbling, and just plain desolate.  There would have been no reason for my family to venture beyond the corridor of culture along Highway 40.  There were no attractions, no restaurants worth wandering for, and no people that we knew.

Some of my own, and most formative experiences with racial difference occurred in high school.  My suburban school was part of a desegregation program that sprang from the roots of the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954.  St Louis adopted an interdistrict bussing program that allowed inner city students in failing school districts to choose to attend county schools.  According to William H Freivogel in his paper "St. Louis: Desegregation and School Choice in the Land of Dred Scott", there are 13,000 to 15,000 students participating in these programs each year.  

Though the (almost 100% black) city students were bussed to our school there was still a marked difference between that group of students and the general (and majority white) suburban student body.  I never had any problems with anyone, but remember the distinct feeling of just feeling separate.  The slang was different, the clothing style was different, and our ways of relating socially were different.  High school can be a very tough time trying to find a group of individuals to fit with, and being an introvert I was probably not as adventurous as I could have been.  My few interracial friendships came through organizations like my choir and theater programs, where we all shared a common activity.  Likewise many of my best same-race relationships came from these programs.  It wasn't so much a question of race as it was of shared experience.  

I remember it was harder for the city students to participate in rigorous after-school programs.  They faced a long ride home anyway, and the stay until 4  or 5 pm at school for a rehearsal usually meant they were gone from home from 6 am in the morning until 6 pm at night.  There was not really any way to have a city friend over for dinner, or to hang out after school since usually there was no way home but the bus.  This naturally creates some separations between people.  You just can't connect as well when you can't be together easily.

Fast Forward to 2007 and our move to Hyde Park...  
You may have seen our house, and here is an image of the rest of our street.  
And then the rest of the neighborhood...

  

 As you can probably see from these pictures,  there are a whole lot of houses in Hyde Park that are literally falling apart.  These houses are the silent witnesses of the economic depression of the inner city of St. Louis, and its largely black inhabitants.  Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods are well over 90% black if I had to wager a guess.  Maybe over 95%.  When these first neighborhoods were built 100 years ago this was a German township by the name of Bremen.  My mother's side of the family has lived here essentially since these houses were built, and her family spent her childhood living in the North St. Louis neighborhoods that are now collapsing from neglect.

So, what happened?  Well, that is a topic for another blog post.  But the result is that this has been one of the most economically deprived and socially crippled areas of this city.  And considering what poor shape downtown was in 15 or even 10 years ago, that is saying a lot.  Approximately half the houses in Hyde Park are abandoned.  Some blocks only have 1 or 2 habitable houses.  Our neighbor Marie has lived on our street for her entire life, and says this area really hit rock bottom about 25 years ago.  There was a heavy amount of gang activity, gunfire, and general urban warfare here at that point.  Other areas of St. Louis like Lafayette Square were much the same.  Gradually things quieted down - in part because residents left for quieter, greener pastures and the gangs left to find other victims that were more worth their crime time.    

This neighborhood is like the doppelganger of where I grew up.  Urban vs Suburban.  Black instead of White.  Impoverished instead of privileged.  Empty instead of bursting.  It is a ghostly reverse - the negative space in the wake of suburban growth.  My life has kicked into a weirdly ironic mirror image of my childhood.  I now live in one of the areas where students are bussed from every day to attend county schools.  My daughter is the only white child in her preschool class and 1 of only 3 white children in the entire school period.  When I visit the grocery store I am generally the only white person in the entire market - perhaps 1 of just 2 or 3, and generally those others are just employees.  I have not seen another white shopper there in any of the times I've been there so far.  I had never been able to consider just how dramatically segregated this city is until I experienced being the minority.  I now appreciate just how blind I was to this sensation.  I can only imagine having lived my entire life feeling that way, and I am very conscious that this separateness will embody the childhood experience of my daughter.  Her school years will be vastly different from my own.  I am OK with that.  We all must handle feelings of difference as we grow up, and learn to truly be at home with who we are. 

And so ends my introduction to our current place and position in our new community.  If I'm feeling up to it next weekend I'll tackle a bit more about how this neighborhood fell apart, and how it applies to our nation as a whole.  


Monday, February 4, 2008 in , , , ,

Quiet Time


Quiet is the sort of thing that goes largely unappreciated in childhood, much like afternoon naps.  I value my quiet moments in much the same way, and it seems as rare as naps that things fall back and it is just me and stillness.

It is a certain trait of my creative process that I need some amount of controlled chaos around me usually in order to work on some tasks. When working on graphic design or even a writing task I can frequently be found in front of the TV with my computer on my lap, taking in 2 things at once and loving every minute. I must at least have music on to function. Without this extra "noise" I start running around in my own head too much. But then there are the moments when everything stops, and I hear what I’ve been missing all day….the quiet.

I love to just sit and listen to the night. From our house we can hear the nearby trains passing. We live just close enough that it is a lovely, romantic, lonely sound. (doesn’t shake the house thank goodness) During the day the trains are masked by the sound of the highway, which is also close by. But at night the sound carries beautifully. I love to think about the trains traveling through the night, part of the pulse of the city that continues on while we sleep.

We had another sort of quiet the other day in the form of a snow day. 6" got dumped on us overnight, and though St. Louis does get snow periodically, we aren’t too practiced at it. Schools and work were cancelled for the day and the normal hum and bustle of a weekday morning is transformed into powdery white silence. That same snow has also brought us fog tonight (cold snow, warm air), which has made it impossible to see past our own street.  As much as I love city living I also adore the feeling of being alone.

I think too often we forget to notice these little things and reflect. Some days I just want to collapse into bed without thinking at all. But then there are these lovely moments that make me feel whole, connected, alive. It renews me just as much as sleep, and prepares me for the new day ahead. And right now I think tomorrow should be a lovely day.

Monday, January 28, 2008 in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Scents that Destress - Aromatherapy Winter Wellness #3


It's not just superstition that essential oils can help reduce your stress level. Scientific studies have shown that oils such as lavender can create a relaxed state in your body that can combat anxiety and help you achieve that glowing state of wellness to which we all aspire.  

We'd all love to look like we just meandered back from a week at a spa - beatific, mellow, and free from cares.  It shows in your face when you feel like this.  To arrive at this state even in the midst of everyday stress takes a little help, namely aromatherapy.

Lavender has been used traditionally for relaxation for centuries. Lavandula Angustifolia is the species of plant that you will most commonly see associated with aromatherapy. The essential oil of L. Angustifolia has been found to contain at least 30 different chemical constituents. (1) This is just a sample of why essential oils are a much more sophisticated and complex aroma material than synthetic fragrances, which are only composed of 1 or just a few chemicals.
 

Two of the most prominent chemical consituents of L. Angustifolia are linalyl acetate and linalool. These are both responsible for the sedative effects of the oil. Following topical application of the essential oil these consituents can be detected in the blood within 5 minutes, peak at 19 minutes, and are passed through the body within 90 minutes. Traces can even be detected in the breath following massage. (2) This means that the activity of this essential oil is very mobile through the body, and can be taken in through inhalation as well as touch. This mobility of essential oils through skin was the inspiration for our own Stress Relief Serum, which contains a host of calming and anti-inflammatory oils.

The multitude of other aroma chemicals found in
L. Angustifolia and other species of Lavender have antispasmodic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal effects. Mice who have inhaled L. Angustifolia showed a marked decrease in caffeine induced hyperactivity.(3) In humans the effects of lavender are often tempered by the individuals psychological memories, cultural upbringing, and thoughts about the scent of lavender, but there have still been marked benefits. Some studies have shown that demented patients with sleep and behavior disturbances can be helped by aromatherapy treatment with Lavender. See this article for more on that. Lavender has also been shown to maintain work performance levels in those with afternoon fatigue. View the study abstract. Math computation skills have also been improved in study groups exposed to Lavender.(4)

I have personally experienced the benefits of Lavender as a calming aid when caring for my child. When Tru was about 10 months old she got one of her first fevers. The day afterward her little body must have been feeling really rotton - the fever had broken, but she was as cranky and ornery as we have ever seen her. The screaming went on for hours and she was inconsolable. There was no respite until I put a pot of water on the stove and dripped a generous amount of some of my best lavender in. I was needing it as much as she was by that point. We stood near the stove as the vapors began to rise. Within 10 minutes Tru's screaming had ceased. It didn't resume for the rest of the night. All I can say is that I loved essential oils before this incident, but this sealed the deal on my love affair with natural scent.

By applying essential oils to your regular work and home environment you can reap a number of benefits. Here are some great ways to use Lavender.

1. Diffuse the oils. This can be as simple as a pot of water on the stove (stainless preferrably) or an electric diffuser that would work constantly in your home. For the stovetop version just drip 10 to 20 drops in a small amount of water and heat gently. Make sure not to have the pot run dry.


2. Use a mist. I don't mean your average Walmart air freshener either - despite the "aromatherapy" marketing claims they make these are completely lacking in r
eal essential oils. Look for something from your local natural food market. Don't accept anything that says "Fragrance" or "Parfum" in the ingredients section, these mean synthetics. Look for a label that specifies essential oils.

3. Make a compress. Apply 5 drops of Lavender essential oil onto a damp cool or warm cloth and apply to your neck or forehead.


4. If you don't have any sensitivities to Lavender this is one of the few oils that can also be applied "neat" or full strength to small areas. Keep clear of your eyes. Or you can dilute in a base oil such as jojoba or even olive oil that you may have hanging around your house. 5 to 10% dilution would be appropriate for pulse point and limited application. For all-over application 2% is an acceptable level.


Should you wish to purchase straight essential oils a lovely retail line is
Oshadhi . I have smelled their Lavender, and know many natural health professionals that hold their products in high regard. Make sure you choose a variety of Lavender that is not the "commercial grade" or 40/42 variety. A high altitude, or "fine" variety will be best, as these exhibit the highest concentrations of relaxing components.

Reducing your stress level will benefit your level of wellness, and aromatherapy is one of the best ways to do this. Not only will applications of Lavender help you create a beneficial mental state, but the antibacterial properties can help deter the growth and spread of unwanted pathogens in your home. At the very least your home will smell amazing, so what do you have to lose except your stress?


(please note that information provided here is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness and we encourage you to seek advice from your physician or other healthcare professional) 




 




1. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 52. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 63. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001;10
4. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 14

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