Archive for the ‘Health and Beauty’ Category

I was told by, ahem, a psychic recently to change my drinking water, which is primarily Portland tap water. I know that city water is probably mildly bad for me, like duh, but then so are a lot of things from the air I breathe, to food I consume, to the electromagnetic fields I’m bathed in. As an environmentalist first and later one of those chronically ill Americans with what I have referred to as a “nebulous, intransigent allergy to civilization”. I went through a phase of toxin nazi-ism utilizing air and water filters, writing my schoolwork with pencil and paper, and shaking my fist at automobiles, and found, not only did it not noticeably improve my health, it actually made life suck harder and that being friends with people like that just isn’t very fun. So I gave it up for a life of moderate toxic hedonism. I’ll eat cane sugar and swim in a chlorinated pool and sometimes wear aluminum based antiperspirant, especially if it means I have to wash my clothes less often. I HATE doing laundry.

But after getting an off-the-charts lead reading in a recent heavy metals test, I’m slightly more open to suggestion. First though, I want to know what exactly is in this Portland water. According to the front page of the Portland Water Bureau website, they deliver “The best drinking water in the world”. I highly doubt it, but given the state of the world that  is probably nothing to brag about.

Bull Run Watershed

Portland’s primary source of water is rainwater from the protected Bull Run Watershed, located in the Mt. Hood National Forest in the vicinity of Sandy, Oregon. On rare occasions this is supplemented from an underground aquifer system. This water is tested regularly  for 200 contaminants including pesticides and radioactive particles. It is naturally soft water, does not have added fluoride, and is not filtered.

At its source the water is contaminated namely by Beaver Fever (giardia) and other expected surface water organisms. So the water has to be disinfected somehow and that is done using chlorine, and then ammonia is added to form chloramine, which maintains even distribution throughout the system because as we all know from the smell, chlorine evaporates.

The Water Bureau claims this also cuts down on the formation of potentially harmful disinfection byproducts such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids from the reaction of chlorine with organic substances. One example of a trihalomethane is chloroform, the old-timey anesthetic. (Not saying that chloroform is or isn’t in our water, just giving an example of a relatable trihalomethane).  Sodium hydroxide (lye) is also added to give it a higher ph 7.2-8.2. No, this is not because so many Portlanders are on a detoxifying alkaline diet, but because it reduces corrosion of lead and copper pipes. Water samples from the reservoir and aquifer at entry into the distribution system include small amounts of lead, fluoride, arsenic, barium, cyanide, radon  and ibuprofen. Eww. The Portland Water Bureau claims most of these pollutants are from “natural sources” in the ground aquifer, but if ibuprofen can get into there, why is it not possible that the others are also a result of or increased by agriculture, sprawl, and industrial development?

If you believe this  “government propaganda”, and I kind of do believe that this is an accurate description of what is in the water, the Portland tap water doesn’t sound that bad. It appears that most of those contaminants, except cyanide which is attributed to algae in the Bull Run,  come from the aquifer, which isn’t used that often. Household piping adds more lead and copper, but I doubt that is the source of my lead poisoning since I’ve been ill for a long time and don’t believe I live in high-risk housing with lead pipes (if I may so boldly assume that feeling bad has anything at all to do with the lead). So what gives?

Well, the folks at Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC) a group based in the San Francisco Bay area where water is also treated with chloramine claim it’s pretty bad stuff. They point to research done at the University of Illinois by Michael Plewa indicating some of the disinfection byproducts of chloramine known as iodoacids are more toxic than those of chlorine (abstract here). Note that this research was done on hamster ovaries. Stupidly, no real studies have ever been done on the safety of chloramine tap water, but anecdotal evidence suggests adverse reactions in individuals after municipalities have switched to chloramine, including respiratory, skin, and digestive issues.

CCAC also links to an article about a spill of chlorimine containing drinking water killing steelhead in San Mateo, CA. It reads, “Chloramines have come to replace chlorine as the principal disinfectant in drinking water. It is harmless to humans but not to aquatic life, and it was discharged into the creek at concentrations well above the amount known to be lethal to fish in a scientific study, according to the water board.” Ok, I don’t know how the amount of chloramine in San Mateo water compares to that in Portland water,  nor am I convinced that it is harmless to humans, but do we really think it is okay that our drinking water kills fish!? I am NOT okay with that. Keep in mind that tap water is not just used for drinking, but also bathing, irrigating plants, washing cars, and a variety of other things.

Further Google-vestigations reveal that in 2009 Portland was ranked only 59th out of 100 by the Environmental Working Group in a survey of our nation’s best drinking water, due primarily to the amount of haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes. I’m guessing there is no measure yet for iodoacids. Portland water also contained 15 measured pollutants total, while the national average was only 8.

angry beavers

Given what I have learned, I think I’d prefer the water come out of the tap complete with animal feces, or you know, ideally, not come out of a tap at all, but since that may not presently be a realistic option for some people, my next installment will be considering alternatives for city dwellers including filtration and the delightful (as in sucks the light right out of your soul) task of sorting fact from fiction when people are trying to sell you stuff…on the internet… STAY TUNED.


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Pine pitch

Awhile ago I wrote about leg waxing with sugar. But since I’m always interested in going even more “primy”, I wanted to try a more free and bio-regionally available body hair remover. So when my friend Brian gave me a full can of pine pitch I knew just what I was going to do with it. Sometimes pitch is hard and crystally, but this stuff was naturally soft like taffy. I warmed it up inside a pot of boiling water, double boiler style, and tried it out. Lo and behold it worked just like the sugar, maybe even better.

From what I can see, one advantage is the pitch is liquid at a lower temperature so its less easy to burn yourself, and also you don’t have to boil it, and either use a thermometer or test it repeatedly to get it to the right consistency. The disadvantage is sugar dissolves in hot water, pitch doesn’t so its harder to clean up. I would recommend doing it outside or on newspaper, using a dedicated container like the aluminum can for melting and a dedicated pitch utensil like a flat stick or butter knife for stirring and spreading.

Then be careful not to get it all over. You’ll get some of it stuck to you anyway. As my friends in Northern California know, alcohol or oil helps dissolve resin. I found a rancid glob of butter in my fridge and used that to get off the remaining sticky. It worked like a charm. Then I rinsed my legs because I didn’t want them to smell like rancid butter, even though they were very smooth and shiny and a great photo op at this point…next up, bikini line! ouch.

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Some people fear that rewilding necessarily means allowing a thick luxurious forest of hair to grow upon their bodies. I am here to say that is not the case. There are tales of singeing, shaving with obsidian, and plucking with clam shells,  but my favored method for post-civilized hair removal, and the one I currently use, would have to be sugaring. Now, I understand that under collapse conditions sugar and all of its various forms: honey, maple syrup, cane juice, etc. would most likely be a valuable caloric resource not to be squandered on something as superficial as hair removal, but you never know. Indigenous people around the world are notable for putting a great deal of effort and resources into their appearance:

Heavily Adorned Indigenous Woman

Fancy Clothes on Indigenous Women

Tribal Women with Funny Nose Piercings

Perhaps the ability of a neo-tribal woman (or man) to remove body hair would be a sign of prosperity and abundance, and that’s super hot no matter where you are from. Maybe that’s why we do it in the first place.

You can start preparing for our razor-free future by getting a beehive. My original thought was that one could take the honey for eating and use the wax for waxing, but I have not experimented with pure wax for waxing. It seems like it would require an additive because when the stuff is liquid it burns the skin and by the time it is cool, it’s too hard. A quick Google search reveals that most homemade “wax” recipes are actually sugar recipes. So I’m sticking with sugar products for now, until I learn more.

Sidenote: In a modern context white sugar is so maligned, having been replaced by agave, stevia, and other new-age sweetners, that you should have no problem getting all that you need from the cupboards or friends who have kicked the habit, if they haven’t already thrown the vile stuff in the dumpster.

Sugaring is a form of hair removal that is very much like waxing. Sometimes it is done by cooking the sugar to a taffy-like consistency that can be smoothed onto a patch of hair, with the hands, peeled off, and the ball of hair-taffy folded in half and pressed onto a new area. This is repeated until the ball is too sticky or hairy to use. This method seems to require more careful cooking to get just the right consistency and I have not tried it successfully. I go with the technique that most closely resembles waxing, whereby the still -warm sugar mixture is spread onto the skin in the direction of hair growth, a strip of cloth is smoothed over top of it and then ripped off in the opposing direction.

Sugaring Solution For Hair Removal

Sugaring Solution For Hair Removal

I have tried this with both honey and white sugar. Most sugar recipes call for the addition of lemon juice to the mixture. I am not sure what chemical action this plays in the mix. I assumed it had something to do with the acidity and I have usually been able to scrounge up some lemon juice, or vinegar (something that can be  made post-apocalyptically via apple cider) to splash in there, but am not convinced it was necessary.

I believe what is most important is to understand the process of candy-making. There are several terms in candy-making that correlate the temperature of  the sugar with the consistency that it will be if you allow it to cool after heating it to that temperature. These terms were developed before candy thermometers existed and are very useful for us today because as you are heating a sugar solution you can drop a bit of the syrup into cold water, or on snow, ice, or a cold plate and see almost instantly what consistency it will be. They are :

Thread 230-235 degrees Farenheit

Soft Ball -235-240 degrees Farenheit

Firmball 245-250 degrees Farenheit

Hardball 250-265 degrees Farenheit

Soft Crack 270-270 degrees Farenheit

Hard-Crack 300-310 degrees Farenheit

Read more about the science of candy making.

The optimal stage for hair removal is somewhere around firm-ball  This means that when you drop a bit of the solution into cold water it will form a ball that is firm but malleable. A simple sugaring recipe found all over the web is:

  • 2 cups white cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water

Simmer this on a low temperature until it is a rich golden brown color and reacts as described above when chilled. Then let the solution cool before applying it to the skin. If it cools too much, it will be too thick to apply. Try re-warming the container in a bowl of hot water. I apply the sugar with a butter knife. Any old scrap of cloth will do to remove the hair. Smooth it down in the direction of growth while the applied sugar is still warm, then take a deep breath and yank! I cut up old shirts or towels. You can wash and reuse strips, but if fabric is not at a premium it is much easier to throw them away. (p.s. buckskin does work.)


  • This is messy. Before you begin, spread out newspaper or a cloth to sit on.
  • Hot water will work to dissolve the sugar encrusted on your pots and utensils
  • For a fun feral femme experience, try this outdoors over a campfire. Placing it near the fire will keep your sugar solution warm, and friends can help you reach the difficult areas!
  • If you use honey or a different kind of sweetener, simply start with a liquid and follow the same candy stages as you would for white sugar.
  • Be patient when waiting for your sugar to cool. Don’t burn yourself.
  • Cook a big batch, and then store it in a plastic container for subsequent sugarings.

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