Thursday, February 26, 2009

African Treasures

I meant to do a blog post about this during the holidays. I even wrote myself a note about it, which I just found, which tells you how often I get through the pile on my desk.

Anyway, better late than never!

We discovered this wonderful company that imports handmade, natural fiber baskets from Africa. The owner of the company, Umoh Essiet, is from Ghana, but she now lives here in Helena, Montana (small world). She makes regular trips to Africa to get these baskets, which are made by women who receive an honest payment for their wares. Umoh has a room full of these baskets in her home, and we were overwhelmed when we went to see them (by awe, not by chemicals; the baskets are all natural with no chemical finish applied).

These baskets are BEAUTIFUL. What else can I say? Useful too!

Needless to say, we had to buy several to give as gifts, and, when we get our tax refund, I will be heading back to buy something for myself.

Before we left, Umoh insisted that we learn the name of the place where many of the baskets are made. It's called Bolgatanga (pronounced just like it looks) in the northern part of Ghana. So we not only came away with beautiful baskets, but received a culture lesson too.

The really good news is that you don't have to come to Helena, Montana to see these baskets (though it's a great place to visit, in the summertime). You can see (and purchase, of course) at .

[Shameless commercialism strikes again.]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cabin Fever

I haven’t posted for awhile because I’ve been buried in a family history project, writing the stories of my female pioneer ancestors. My great grandmother, for whom I am named, lived the first eighteen years of her marriage in a one-room (about 8’ X 12’) log cabin in northern Utah. She had seven children during this time period, and her sister’s children were often in and out of the cabin as well. Her experience gives new meaning to the term “cabin fever.”

Even as I was writing my grandmother’s story last week, I was suffering from the malady myself. Montana winters are long and cold. Even in the best of weather, it’s difficult for me to get out much, always trying to time my outings when few people will be on the roads and in the stores, hoping that I won’t have a chemical reaction and have to get myself home in a befuddled state of mind. And there are only a few stores in town that are safe for me anyway (Macy’s and Dillards are definite NO-NOs). But winter only adds more obstacles, like the cars running in the grocery store parking lot (happens a lot here) and those scented candles left over from the holidays. And this is all assuming that I feel up to going out in the first place. When all is said and done it’s just easier to stay home.

Hence the cabin fever.

I’m certainly not the first person to suffer from this ailment. It’s a common complaint of anyone who deals with chronic illness or disability. At least I can do something about it SOMETIMES.

Like today. I went out to drop off something to my daughter’s family and ended up at a local thrift store. With few people in the store and nothing really pressing at home, I whiled away more than an hour looking at old LPs and antique dishes (two of my weaknesses). Ahhh…the cure for cabin fever, for today at least.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Energy Smart, Air Smart

Almost twenty years ago we built what we thought was our dream home on an island in the Puget Sound. With a beautiful view out over the water and neighboring islands, it was a little bit of paradise. Early in the building process, our contractor didn’t have to twist our arms to convince us to build what was then called an “Energy Smart” home. With super insulation in attic and walls, energy-saver dual-paned windows and a room-by-room heat/thermostat system, we would not only save money on our electric bill, but we would pick up a tax credit as well. Smart, right? Not so much.

Shortly after moving into this beautiful new home, we realized that the house was TOO air-tight. I had had problems with chemical sensitivities previous to this time, and we had tried to be careful in selecting the products that would go into our home, but we discovered too late that we had made numerous mistakes, not the least of which was the decision to energy-seal our home. It was as if the whole house was inside a big plastic bag, with no way for fresh air to come in or stale air to go out (what people in the trade call “air exchange”). Thus we found ourselves opening those new energy efficient windows in the middle of a rainy Northwest winter and drilling three-inch holes in the outside walls to install air outlets in every room (they looked somewhat like small smoke detectors), which could be opened and closed with a long dangly cord. (So much for my decorating scheme.)

Four years later we built another home. It didn’t have the killer view, and it was a fraction of the size of the first house, but it did have a ventilation system built into it which could completely exchange the inside air with outside air in a matter of a couple of hours instead of several days. It also sat in the middle of the woods, where the trees and plants of the forest could generate clean air for exchange. And it was built with the simplest, most chemically-free products we could find (a topic for another post).

The moral to this story? Somewhere between trying to save the planet (one of my favorite causes) and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we have to find a way to build healthy homes for humans to live in. It IS possible, and it doesn’t take a lot of compromise or cost a lot of money (in fact it was cheaper). We just have to be smart.