How Not to Go Stir-crazy

I’ve appreciated those who have shared how they are coping while we’re all socially isolating. With that in mind, I thought I’d share my own little list. Maybe it will help someone else get through the weeks ahead.

The calendar may say spring, but it’s still winter in Colorado. We had a lot of wind and several inches of snow yesterday, and today we’re still in the low 20’s at lunchtime. I’d love to do some gardening, go for a walk, or even better, go for a hike in the mountains, but I’m not that much of a masochist. Therefore, all these suggestions can apply indoors.

Continue reading

Baking Soda and Vinegar?

How many times have I seen statements or headlines like these?

Of course, we all want a cheap, non-toxic way to clean the house, but is baking soda and vinegar the answer? I put on my science hat and dug in.

Do you recall that unit on acids and bases in your high school chemistry class? If that was a long time ago, here’s a quick and simple refresher.

You know that water is made up of hydrogen (H) atoms and oxygen (O) atoms in a 2 to 1 ratio, hence it’s abbreviated as H2O. What you may have forgotten is that mixed up in this liquid are some loose hydrogen ions (H+). They hook up with water molecules, creating H3O molecules. There are also an equal number of extra OH ions—a pair of atoms missing their extra hydrogen. Because these H+ and OH ions are in balance, the solution is neither acid nor basic. The pH is 7.

How let’s introduce a substance that sheds H+ ions. Suddenly, there are more H+ ions than OH ions, and you have an acid. Acids are solutions with a pH less than 7. The more extra H+ ions there are, the lower the pH and the stronger the acid. One example of a strong acid is hydrochloric acid, which hangs around in your stomach to help digest your meals.

If, on the other hand, you add a substance that collects those extra H+ ions, grabbing them away from the H3O molecules, there will be now be an excess of OH- ions. Now you have a base. Bases are solutions with a pH greater than 7. The more extra OH- ions there are, the higher the pH and the stronger the base. Lye is a very strong base.

Now back to the vinegar and baking soda mixture. Distilled white vinegar is an acid, with a pH around 2.4. (Most brands are diluted until there is 5% acid and 95% water.) It has extra H+ ions. Because it’s an acid, vinegar on its own is handy for cleaning things, like getting rid of hard water scum in the bathroom.

Baking soda is actually sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3. When dissolved in water, it grabs the H+ ions, creating a surplus of OH ions, so it’s a base. The pH depends on how concentrated a solution you mix up, but it’s likely somewhere between 8 and 9. Because it’s a base, baking soda is also a good cleanser. I’ve used it in place of scouring powder with satisfactory results.

Now, what happens when you combine vinegar and baking soda? The H+ ions in the vinegar react with the sodium and bicarbonate ions in the baking soda. The end result is sodium acetate (C2H3NaO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and water (H20).

Sodium acetate has a number of uses—medically to replenish electrolytes, as a food additive, in anti-freeze, photographic supplies, and in the manufacturing of concrete, textiles, heating pads, and other industrial processes. However, it doesn’t make a good cleaning agent. In fact, it can irritate your skin, and you should avoid getting it in your eyes.

The carbon dioxide bubbles away, which looks pretty impressive, but, except for the slight scrubbing action of the bubbles, it isn’t likely to clean much of anything. (You may as well just exhale on the dirt!)

Water isn’t that bad at cleaning, even by itself, but why go to all the trouble and expense of combining vinegar and baking soda just to get water?

Mixing vinegar and baking powder may create some pretty impressive foaming action as the two solutions combine. You can use the combination in some exciting and educational home science experiments that the kiddos will love. You can even make a model volcano! (I liked the list of activities at Growing a Jeweled Rose.)

Just don’t expect the combination to be a super cleaning agent.

Toys for Boys AND Girls

Christmas is rapidly approaching, we have three granddaughters to spoil. They’re now ages 5, 6, and 7, and I’ve been spending my time checking out toys both online and in our local toy stores. What am I finding?

That the toy manufacturers have a long way to go.

When our first grandchild was born, we promised her parents that we would:

  1. not add to the already overwhelming pile of stuffed animals (difficult, but so far, so good)
  2. avoid toys requiring batteries (at least while the kiddos are young)
  3. avoid toys with trademarked ads promoting movies and TV shows—no Sesame Street characters, no Disney princesses (we’ve done fairly well on this one).

Continue reading

Polls, Damned Polls, and Statistics

Statistics have always been used to obscure the truth. There’s the famous quote by British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and popularized by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Sadly, nothing has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

The problem is that statistics isn’t a popular subject, and many people happily avoid taking any classes that cover the topic. (It was affectionately known as “Sadistics” when I was in college.) We’re easily led astray by official-sounding numbers, especially if the conclusion is one we already agree with. While we (thankfully) don’t need to worry about Chebychev’s Rules, Probability Distribution Functions, or Stem and Leaf Diagrams, we should know how statistics work, and how they can be used to fool us. There are numerous ways in which statistics can be misleading. I ran into one of them while reading the news this week.

Continue reading

My Take on Essential Oils

If it’s natural, it must be safe! Right? Not exactly. There’s a common misconception that chemical compounds made in a laboratory are always dangerous, while those assembled by Mother Nature are inherently safe. It would be nice if this were always the case, but it just isn’t so. It’s obvious, if we stop to consider that arsenic and cobra venom, seriously dangerous substances, are both quite natural.

Essential oils are also natural. But, being the skeptic that I am, after hearing from a number of people that essential oils will cure pretty much anything, I started asking two questions: are they effective—do they do what they claim to do—and, more importantly, are they safe? Continue reading

GMO Crops & Food Privilege

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16

Continue reading

Vegetable Sex

Girl eggplants? Boy eggplants? Peppers with three lobes—or four? Does one taste better than the other? Is one for cooking and the other for eating raw? And what does all this have to do with plant sex?

As I’ve been perusing Pinterest and adding things to my “Bad Advice” board, I discovered a bunch of discussion about “male” vs. “female” eggplants and peppers. We’re talking about the fruit—the eggplants or peppers that we eat—not the individual plants on which the veggies grew. I hate to burst their bubble, but eggplants and peppers don’t have gender. (Actually, the plants are’t male or female, either.)

Continue reading