Red hot chili peppers (or “Experiential learning”)

In seventh grade, my home economics class made pancakes and maple syrup.  I’m still not sure why we had to “make” the maple syrup, but apparently you can buy some sort of packaged “maple syrup” mix (which I’m sure consists of fun things like corn syrup solids, artificial flavors, and coloring), combine it with water, bring the mixture to a boil on the stove top, and voilà! maple syrup.

Skeptical about this “maple syrup,” I logically decided to taste it before adding it to my pancakes, rather than risk ruining all of the pancakes if the syrup was gross (which it probably was).  Not so logically, my sampling method involved STICKING MY FINGER into the pan of BOILING SYRUP.  The result?  A nice second-degree burn on my right index finger.  I do not recommend this method of taste testing hot liquids, especially hot, STICKY liquids.

I had "E.T. finger" for a number of weeks

Anyhow, last year we bought some locally-grown chipotle peppers.  (Chipotle peppers are just smoked jalapeño peppers.)  We have been slowly working our way through a rather large bag of them, enjoying the rich, smoky flavor they bring to recipes.  Like all chili peppers, they possess a good bit of heat.

Last night, I chopped one of the chipotles to add to a pot of chili.  A few minutes later, I felt an intense burning on the skin directly under my left eye — the skin that I had just rubbed with my unwashed chili pepper hands.  In an effort to alleviate the burning, I washed the area with soap and water, which only served to move the hot pepper INTO my eye.  The next few minutes involved me lying on the kitchen floor, worried that I might go blind in my left eye, with Matthew next to me, flushing my eye with a bottle of saline solution.

The good news?  My eye returned to normal in a relatively short time period.  Lesson learned?  It really is important to wash your hands (and cooking surfaces, such as knives and cutting boards) thoroughly after they come in contact with hot peppers.  And until you can do so, keep your hands away from your face!  Who would have guessed?

E.T. image credit to this site

Disrobed II

Fast forward almost three years to this past December — Christmas, to be more precise.  My special holiday present?  The return of “The Mysterious Torso Itch” (to be read in a deep and ominous tone).  I chalked my 2007 saga up to mostly winter dry skin, very severe winter dry skin, with perhaps some contribution from stress (studying for my MPH comprehensive exams, job hunting, housing hunting).  I blame the hotel whirlpool in Tulsa, OK for triggering my most recent/current bout, which the dry winter air, and yes, perhaps some stress again, perpetuated.

This time, I experimented with a non-petroleum based moisturizing regime, namely, coconut butter, with a bit of olive oil thrown into the mix after a couple months over which the coconut butter alone wasn’t doing the trick.  The Mysterious Torso Itch turned up it’s nose at all of the organic, extra virgin coconut oil and extra virgin, first cold-press olive oil that I threw its way.  The Mysterious Torso Itch was not to be deterred.

Given their utter uselessness three years ago, I skipped the doctors completely this round.

I appropriated my husband’s cozy bathrobe and spent evenings, mornings, and weekends wearing little more than that.  Abandoning the robe to put on real clothes and leave the apartment presented a serious challenge.  Pants were the worst!  What a terrible invention!

About a week ago, I gave up my futile attempts to fall asleep amid the thoughts in my head and the itchies.  I hopped out of bed, walked purposefully over to the lotion (the not organic, definitely petroleum-based lotion), and applied it liberally to my lower back.  “Okay, Back, fine!  For MONTHS I baby you with really nice, simple, all-natural products, but do you get better?  No!  You’re just as itchy as ever.  So here’s some special chemical- and petroleum-laden concoction for your greater pleasure.  Puppy take that!”  I returned to bed, feeling slightly better somehow, though no less itchy.

The good news?  Cold, dry winter air is abating, and “The Mysterious Torso Itch” seems to be slowly packing its bags.  I’m becoming a bit less reluctant to shed the robe and leave the apartment.  If I’m lucky, it will be gone for good, but I’m not holding my breath.

Disrobed I

Three years ago (starting in February 2007), I endured at least 12 weeks of some kind of mysterious skin problem that manifested in a severely itchy torso.  My back and stomach showed no visible indication of a problem (as long as I managed to keep my hands off of them), but nothing brought relief.  I tried the standard, “eliminate products with fragrances, scents, harsh ingredients, etc.” (not that I had used too many things in those categories to start with), along with an intense moisturizing (fragrance-free, for sensitive skin, of course) regime to no avail.

Finally, at my wits’ end and THIS CLOSE to going crazy, I gave in and went to the doctor, where I had to endure lots of questions about what products I used and my skincare routine.  And I was this close to being all, “Hello, I’m not an idiot; I already considered all of those things, why am I paying you to ask me these questions?”  In the end, the doctor had NO CLUE what was going on and suggested I try a 24-hour OTC antihistamine.  Ah, the old, “Let’s throw some drugs at it” solution.  Unfortunately, the OTC antihistamine left my skin problem completely unfazed.  Was it all in my head?

After suffering through a few more weeks, I visited the dermatologist.  You can just reread the above paragraph for a summary of the dermatologist visit, the one difference being that she prescribed a prescription antihistamine.  More drugs!  What a novel idea!  This new “solution” proved as ineffective as the first.  Skin: still itchy.  Me: this close to going over the edge.

During those however-many weeks, I learned how to be creative with the limited subset of my wardrobe that irritated my skin to a lesser extent.  This meant nothing tight (goodbye bra and undies) and mostly cotton.  Sometime in May (or was it June?), after what seemed an eternity of suffering, my mysterious skin problem just went away, and I breathed a great sigh of relief.  I had forgotten what it felt like to NOT have an extremely itchy torso.

Stay tuned for Disrobed II, coming soon to a theater near you.

Uplifting and depressing

Yes, it is possible to be both of those things at the same time.  Last week, I attended the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit.  I sat in on some great breakout sessions.  With over 700 attendees, all bicycling enthusiasts, from across the country, the summit filled the air in D.C. with energy and passion for all things bicycle.  On Thursday, we stormed Capitol Hill to get our representatives and senators on board with bills that support bicycling (and active transportation, livable communities, and all things beautiful and good).  And who wouldn’t want to cosponsor something named the ACT Act (H.R. 4722)?

The down side?  The constant reminder that I am not currently a bike commuter. At the moment, I’m a former bike commuter, a wannabe bike commuter.  As we look toward spring and really ideal bike commuting weather, this gets harder and harder to take.  I struggle more and more with the question of whether or not it was worth the trade-off — my beautiful bike commute for a job that better fit my interests.

Some kind of platitude seems appropriate here: “Live and learn,” or “This, too, shall pass.”  Or something . . . .

To end on a better note, People for Bikes makes my heart happy.  Go to the site, watch the video, and sign the pledge.