Thursday, December 24, 2009


I have no profound words of wisdom or sentimental stories to share this Christmas Eve, only a very sincere wish to all of my cyber-friends for a very warm and cozy holiday season. May love be close and fear be far. Peace to all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given..." The strains of Handel's Messiah fill my office/sewing room as I wrap gifts, make doll clothes for a granddaughter and finish up my year-end bookkeeping. Music has always been an integral part of my Christmas celebration, synonymous with the joy of shepherds "watching over their flocks by night" and my younger self leaning over a balcony railing to see the Nutcracker prince defeat the evil mouse king. There are many things lost with chronic illness, but music, whether on a frosty Christmas morning or in the middle of a painful summer night, has the power to calm the troubled heart and sooth the hungry soul.

My friend Celia with MCS knows firsthand the balm of music. No longer able to lead the music in her church congregation because of recently laid (glued down) carpet, her home is nevertheless filled with many a "joyful noise." Her son, now with a family of his own, plays the piano and her daughter Cati is a harpist. Cati gets no complaint from her mother when her regular evening job and additional church performances this time of year require her to put in longer hours of practice. Celia's younger daughter Carrie came to their family from Romania nine years ago, a five-year-old unable to speak English. Yet, within her was the musical heritage of her ancestors, the universal language through which she so beautifully expresses herself on her violin. At a recent "Christmas Around the World" church activity, Carrie, somewhat unsure of herself in other realms, was able to speak the thoughts and feelings that she finds more difficult to express with words. And when Cati and Carrie weave their music together in duets, Heaven is truly in that home.

Music has changed for me over the years. Like Celia, I once directed the music in church meetings and, for many years, sat at the organ. Throughout the year, but especially at Christmas time, my cello was part of a piano trio performing for church gatherings, wedding receptions and business parties. When arthritis, fibromyalgia and chemical sensitivities put an end to my performance days, I mourned the loss. However, the art of listening has replaced the hours of practice and more than filled the void. My ears have learned new rhythms and the subtle nuances of counterpoint in a Beethoven symphony inspire me to notice the details in other aspects of my life. And, despite my limitations, the piano in my living room does not sit idle all the time. My own daughter often sits down to play when she is here to visit, and these old hands of mine can still pound out a pretty fair rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Up on the Housetop" when five-year-old Morgan calls out, "Grandma, Grandma, play me some music!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another "Well, duh!" Moment

According to H. Josef Hebert and Dina Cappiello of the Associated Press, "The Obama administration took a major step Monday [Dec. 7] toward imposing the first federal limits on climate-changing pollution from cars, power plants and factories, declaring there was compelling scientific evidence that global warming from man made greenhouse gases endangers Americans' health." [emphasis added]

Really? What a surprise. The effects of pollution endanger our health? Who would have thought?

I read this statement in the Tuesday morning Helena Independent Record and all I could say was, "Well, duh!"

I know there's a lot of controversy (at least among non-scientists) about the efficacy and ramifications of global warming. As far as I'm concerned, they can argue until they're blue in the face. Whether or not they believe that global warming is taking place, or question whether or not it is man made, is not as important to me as the fact that pollution sickens and kills living things. I am interested in these other arguments only to the extent that the constant bickering prevents real progress in cleaning up the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil in which we grow our food.

My message to the powers that be (lawmakers and corporations) is simply, "Clean up your act by cleaning up the world." Get a clue, people.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Merry (Non-toxic & Eco-friendly) Holidays

As I sit at my desk in Helena, Montana, the scene outside my office window is right off of a Currier and Ives Christmas card. The prevalent color is white, from sky to trees to roofs to road and everything in between. A pile of wrapped gifts sits on the floor next to me, waiting for just a few more things to arrive in the mail before they are sent off to children and grandchildren next week.

Planning for, shopping for and creating gifts are a big part of my December celebration, but holiday shopping can be particularly problematic for people with chemical sensitivities. Though I'm a strong advocate of shopping locally, much of this years gifts have been purchased online. When I have ventured into a local store, it's been first thing in the morning on a week day, and many stores I avoid all together due to those evil scented pine cones that so many of them carry this time of year.

Needless to say, none of the gifts I've purchased this year have any scent. However, I have tried to go beyond just "unscented," looking for items that are useful, needed and as non-toxic as possible. I've not been 100% successful, and I'm certainly not pointing to myself as the best example, but here are some of the gifts I'm giving this year (without being too specific so as to maintain an element of surprise).

Piggy Paint "Natural as Mud" non-toxic nail polish & remover, for the five-year-old granddaughter who just has to have her toenails painted.

Glass mixing & storage bowls for a new homeowner (she's already received them--just couldn't wait).

Organic cotton pajamas for the little ones.

Natural nuts in interesting bottles I've gathered, for the neighbors.

Organic free-trade chocolate, for the chocoholics in the family.

Cotton towels.

Several hand-crocheted hats, scarves and a pink sweater.

Doll clothes made from leftover cotton scraps.

Olive oil lamps (from Lehmans )

Homemade certificates for childcare services. (I got the templates from Microsoft online.)

Pottery from a local studio.

A sewing kit and embroidery kit (for two grandchildren) made up of several things from my own sewing basket.

Items purchased from the Great Old Broads for Wilderness fall auction.

And last, but definitely not least, books.

Books are a problem, because most of them really aren't non-toxic or very eco-friendly. However, I just can't NOT give books. So I compromise (somewhat). Several books I'm giving this year were purchased used, and most of the new ones are paper bound. [Unless they're hand-bound, hardbound books take more natural resources to produce and use more glue (nasty-nasty) than paper bound.] And all of the books are ones that I believe will be kept and treasured for years, not just looked at and left to gather dust.

Though I'm pretty much finished with shopping for this year, I'd love to have more ideas to add to my file for next year.

Happy gifting!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Accepting MCS and other Chronic Illness

Carefully folded into each of the almost-100 cards sitting on my desk and waiting to be mailed is our annual family Christmas letter. It's no secret that I like to write, and what could be better than writing about my own family? This year I've also mentioned the success we've had in working toward fragrance-free church buildings. MCS is so much a part of my life it makes sense to mention it in this letter. However, I did hesitate, because bringing up the subject will likely solicit the response of some well-meaning friend or family member who has heard of some miracle cure for all my ills. I understand the love and concern that comes with these recommendations, but I still don't appreciate them.

Those who know me know that I am no fan of medical doctors, and I am always open to new ideas for improved health and well-being. However, I will be forever indebted to the doctor who, eleven years ago, gave an honest reply to my question, "When will I be completely better?" Looking me directly in the eyes, but with a note of sadness in his voice, he explained that I would never be "completely better," that I had incurred permanent damage to organs and body systems (particularly my adrenal glands). Anyone with chronic illness knows the sobering feelings and thoughts that were mine that day and in the days to come. Yet, there came a time, not long afterwards, that I decided to accept what I couldn't change and work on what I could. That was a turning point for me.

Some make the accusation that accepting illness is giving up hope, but I would contend that it is quite to the contrary. By focusing on the things I can change (like diet, exercise and daily schedule) and accepting the things I cannot, I open myself up to hope for a life that can be full and sustaining, albeit different from the norm. By appreciating the things I do have (like supporting family members, a safe home and productive work I can do at my own pace) and putting aside what I have lost, I can move forward and enjoy my new life one day at a time.
There is a wonderful article on The Canary Report today about "The false promise of miracle cures for MCS," including ten characteristics of false cures for any illness. I wholeheartedly agree with the authors that such "cures" are a waste of our precious time and energy. I prefer to use what little residual energy I have on education and activism to lower the amount of chemicals in the environment and make the world, even if it's just my little corner of it, safer for everyone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I received a phone call yesterday from a person in the circulation department of our local newspaper, informing me that the Macy's advertising insert for Thanksgiving Day would be scented. She had already spoken with our paper carrier and they had tried to figure out a way to get a paper to us sans Macy's insert. However, there was some concern that they would either forget or the other papers would contaminate ours, so we decided to just cancel our paper delivery for that day.

Believe it or not, I used to shop at Macy's occasionally (holding my breath as I ran past the cosmetic counter). They have some great sales. However, I quit going in there and had my name removed from their mailing list some time ago, after receiving a scented ad in the mail. Now I can say that I am really done with Macy's, and I sent them an email to that effect. I also gave them a few statistics about the prevalence of chemical sensitivity in the general population (an estimated 1 in 16) and the danger to the asthmatic population that perfumes and other scented products present.

If anyone else has an interest in writing to Macy's, they can be reached at the following addresses (not found on their website):


phone: 1-800-289-6229

snail mail: Macy's Customer Service
PO Box 8215
Mason, OH 45040

Their corporate offices are located at:
685 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Enjoy the turkey, but skip the newspaper ads.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Signs (an update)

Some time ago I mentioned in a post that we had been given permission to put up permanent signs in our church buildings. Well, happy day! The signs are up!

On each entry (glass door) to every building (a total of twenty doors in five buildings) are posted the following words:

Our goal is to provide a fragrance-free environment
for everyone. In love and respect for others, please
refrain from using scented products on days you
come to Church.
"Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it
unto one of the least of have done it unto
me." [Matthew 25:40]

These door signs are made of vinyl lettering attached directly to the glass.

In addition, the larger four buildings have interior signs at the doors to the back of the chapel areas. These signs read as follows:

To enable those who are chemically sensitive to attend church, the overflow area of the chapel has been designated as a fragrance-free zone. If you are wearing a scented product of any kind, please be sure to sit in another part of the chapel.

The outside door signs (vinyl lettering) were purchased locally from a vinyl sign business. The interior signs were ordered and sent to us from LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were made to match the other interior signs in specific buildings, and they look official. The goal is to have all of our buildings entirely fragrance-free, but we don't want to turn anyone away. Thus the wording of the interior signs.

I have been asked what we had to do to get these signs. The first step was to get the local church leaders (stake presidency and bishops, the lay clergy) on board. Then we needed the okay of the Facilities Management (FM) people (Church employees) , who were not initially in favor of permanent signs. It was only after I wrote a letter to the FM office in Salt Lake City, outlining the need for these signs and the support of local leaders, that we received permission to put them up. If you have local leaders who are willing to have signs in your buildings, I would recommend having these leaders contact your regional FM director or your regional DTA (Director of Temporal Affairs). Please feel free to site the Helena Montana Stake as an example of how this has been done. My husband (who is a member of our stake presidency) and I would be happy to give anyone more detailed information about the ongoing goal of the Helena Montana Stake to make all our buildings fragrance free. We can be reached by email at wheelpub (at) mt (dot) net.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Home Again

Well, it's done. My house has been torn apart and put back together again, and I can finally say that overall, it was a successful project. The main objective was to rid the house of the mold in the walls and the sub-flooring. This was accomplished, and my worst fear (that I wouldn't be able to live in the house once it was done) has NOT been realized.

That doesn't mean it's been an easy month and a half. Like all projects, it took a little longer than anticipated. I am fortunate to have a daughter and her husband (and two adorable grandsons) who tolerated me sleeping on their couch for several weeks. They kept me busy and distracted me when construction frustrations reached a breaking point, which was often. And thank goodness for a phone that made it possible for me to be in constant contact with the project manager and my husband Randl (who was trying to live and work in the house through it all).

So here are some of the things we learned in the process (listed in no particular order):
--When you're the one paying the bills, you get to call the shots (regardless of what the "expert" builders think).
--A contractor is only as good as his sub-contractors.
--There are MANY chemically safe or safer building products available. You just have to go looking for them.
--Sub-contractors don't like to go looking for building materials or use materials with which they are unfamiliar.
--Don't assume someone understands your point of view. Explain, explain, explain!
--The best project manager in the U.S. (possibly in the world) is right here in Helena, Montana. His name is Mark.
--Painters march to the beat of their own drummers (and they're in a different parade than mine).
--Ceramic tile is relatively inexpensive but very practical, not to mention beautiful (especially when installed well).
--Glass tile is VERY expensive, but one little row of it can turn an otherwise blah room into a private spa (well, almost).
--A second shower in the house is a good thing.
--Covering the bathroom window with only a half-curtain lets the sunshine in and, combined with yellow walls, cheers the soul, even on a cold Montana morning.

There was still some odor from the building products when I came home, so we ran the air purifier and the three new fans around the clock for a week or so. But all I can smell today is the pumpkin from our garden cooking in the steamers on the stove. As soon as I get my new hall closet doors up, the whole project will really be finished. It's time to move on.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Keeping House

Today marks fourteen days and counting before we begin our bathroom/laundry room remodeling project. This is one of those projects which started with just replacing the shower faucet and snowballed into a major house renovation that could give nightmares to even the calmest soul (which I am not). Between researching safe building products, choosing paint colors and arranging financing, I have spent untold hours on this project already, and we haven't even begun to tear out walls. Ironically, the strain of trying to make the project as chemically-free and healthy as possible is starting to take a toll on my health and I find myself right on the edge, physically and emotionally. Perhaps my biggest obstacle right now is my own fear.

But then, this is nothing new. I have a long history of taking on projects that seem like a good idea initially but ultimately scare me half to death. Just such another project culminated three weeks ago when I received the final printed copies of the book about my pioneer grandmothers which I started researching more than ten years ago. It's title, Not Just Keeping House, refers to the old census records in which the occupation most often listed for women is "keeping house." Such a description conjures up women in long skirts and aprons sweeping and scrubbing and fixing meals. While my ancestral mothers certainly did these things, that's hardly a description of ALL that they did.

When I woke up this morning, after yet another night of fretful dreams about bathroom sinks and painters that couldn't seem to get the color right, I realized that "keeping house" is exactly what I'm trying to do, but maybe not in the same sense that my grandmothers did. I'm trying to keep my house safe and healthy for me and my family. At the same time, I'm trying to keep it attractive and comfortable (even a bathroom should make you feel welcome). Perhaps most importantly, I'm trying to keep it all together as a whole--a place to live and love and just be. Sounds simple, right? Not so much, unfortunately.

But, like most other projects I've started with trepidation, it will come together and I will get my house (and my life) back, such as it is. In the meantime, nothing will be normal, and some regular activities (like blogging) may get pushed aside. But, never fear, I'll be back, and I'll have a LOT to say.

[BTW, if anyone is interested in the new book, you can see it and other great works :^) at]

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Not-so-far-away friends

I've been feeling pretty down the past few days. It was nice to be at my sister's cabin for a few days last week, enjoying the fresh mountain air, but on the drive back all I could think about was the mountain of work I have to do to get ready to leave again in a few weeks when our remodel project starts. Then, I'd only been home a few days when I found mold on one of the bathroom walls we weren't planning to take out. Ughhh! I hate that stuff! Black, slimy, gooey, yucky. . .

So here I was tonight, sitting at my computer, trying to get some work done before our weekend company arrives, feeling sorry for myself and more than a little overwhelmed, when up pops an email from my friend Celia in Wisconsin. Now, I've never actually met Celia, only through email, but I feel like I've known her forever. Accompanying her email were pictures of a family wedding--happy smiling faces of people she loves. It was just what I needed to pull me out of my blue funk.

MCS is such a lonely, isolating disease. It's easy to get depressed and believe that no one cares. But this magical mysterious thing called the internet connects us through cyberspace with people in all parts of the world. I may not have many friends right here in Helena, Montana, but I do have friends in far-away places like Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Hawaii, Canada and even India. They are as close as my desk or my laptop computer (which goes everywhere with me).

Thanks and (cyber)hugs to all of you, my not-so-far-away friends.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I love bumper stickers. You know, those pithy comments we would never have the nerve to say to someone's face, which, when plastered to the rear bumper of a car, suddenly become socially acceptable. They tell the rest of the world (mostly complete strangers) which organizations we belong to, which candidates we voted for in the last election (or the last three, if we've had the car for awhile) and which social causes we subscribe to. Then there are the entertaining tidbits of dry humor and twisted irony.

I believe that the words on your bumper say a lot about who you really are. Sometimes, when I see a particularly interesting rear end statement, I'll speed up and pass the vehicle to see the driver, just so I can see what kind of person would say such a thing. I know, it's not fair to judge. Maybe the driver just borrowed the car from her brother-in-law, right? And she has no idea what propaganda she is spreading as she mosies on down the freeway.

Although I have enjoyed reading others' bumper stickers for as long as I have been driving, it's only been in the last five or six years that I've put them on my own car. It all started when someone backed into me in the church parking lot and put a nasty little dent in my rear bumper. Not a big enough dent to warrant a costly repair, but noticeable enough that I wanted to cover it up. And what better cover-up that a bumper sticker?

So, here's an inventory of what is on my rear bumper:

Great Old Broads for Wilderness [with the logo in the round]

Let children play! [purchased in protest of all-day kindergarten in our local schools]

There is no Planet B [a gift from my son-in-law, but a sentiment I share]

Protect Wild Utah [in support of the red rock wilderness I love]

Environmentalists do it for the next generations. [This is a very small sticker. My youngest daughter recently informed me it has a double meaning, but I claim ignorance of such.]

Sierra Club [This is actually a small window sticker.]

I'm running out of room on my bumper, but I've purposely saved a center space for the perfect MCS awareness sticker, something I have yet to find. I did see one the other day at the local health food store that said simply, "Breathe." If only I could, breathe that is. I think I want something a little more direct, but not too in-your-face, blunt, but in a kindly way.

So, what's on your bumper?

Monday, August 24, 2009

How safe is your car?

Anyone with MCS knows that cars (and all other forms of transportation) can be a problem. The air inside a car can be contaminated with exhaust fumes, formaldehyde, fire retardants and phthalates. Just this week I was driving down the road and the driver in front of me gunned his engine and let out a cloud of black exhaust that threatened to asphyxiate me and the four children I had with me. I set a new record for how fast I can hit the button to close the outside air intake.

The heat of the summer sun can compound the problem, causing upholstery and vinyl components in the car to volatilize and become even more toxic. Parked in the sun on a warm day, the interior of a car can get up to 190 degrees F. When heat is combined with humidity, mold can become a problem as well.

So what's a person to do? Many people use those car air fresheners, but, needless to say, they only add to the already toxic chemical soup.

An article in the Hawaiian newspaper, Big Island Weekly, had some good advice for keeping your car safe, especially in a hot climate. Author Diane Koerner offered the following steps to a cleaner, healthier travel experience.

1) Park in the shade or in a garage whenever possible.
2) Place a sun reflector on the dashboard to reduce interior temperature.
3) Before getting into your car on a hot day, open all the windows and let it ventilate for a few minutes.
4) Use only natural, non-chemical cleaners in your car, just as you would in your home.
5) Keep the mold down in your air conditioner by turning it off a few minutes before you reach your destination, letting the fan run to dry the condenser.
6) Drive with some windows open (unless there has been spraying in your area or you are on a busy highway with lots of other cars).
7) If you have severe MCS or asthma, consider buying a car air purifier designed to remove gas and airborne particles. ( is one source.)

I feel so isolated anyway with MCS. Having a safe car is a top priority for me, even if it's just take a ride in the country once in a while.

Happy Trails!

Friday, August 21, 2009


Sometimes, in the midst of all my struggles with chemical sensitivities, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and celiac disease, I forget that underneath it all I am really just me. I was reminded of this, and of what is most important in my life, last week when our youngest daughter Becca and her husband and one-year-old son came to visit.

The weather was cooperative for most of the week and we were able to spend copious amounts of time outside--playing at the park, walking Helena's Last Chance Gulch, splashing in the water at the lake and just sitting in our own backyard. Becca and Mike even went on an overnight getaway and left young Jack in our care. We took him to the Saturday market to watch all the people and their dogs and buy fresh corn and gluten free cookies.

Becca is our baby, the youngest of four, the last to leave home, the last to marry, the last to have children. When our oldest turned eighteen some years ago I had the (very mistaken) notion that my parenting years with him were over, that, like a NASA rocket, we would launch him out into the world and he would find his place in orbit with the rest of humanity, somehow independent of us, his parents. But I have come to learn that launching is a process, not a single event. Though each of our children has left home after high school to go away to college, and each has subsequently graduated from college, started a career, married and had children, these things have not all happened smoothly and on the timeline we would have expected.

Becca, like her siblings, had some difficult years in there. After initial launch (and even in the midst of that), there were some glitches. She left, came home again and left again a couple of times. She changed colleges, majors, friends, jobs and automobiles. Now she is very far away in Virginia, where Mike is poised to begin his last year of law school, and there is a promise of a job that awaits him upon graduating.

Watching three of my children, along with their collective five children, play at the beach last week, I realized that the launching process is, perhaps, coming to a close. Our oldest, with his family, just bought his first home. The next two are set to follow suit very soon. And Becca, my baby, the one who has perhaps traveled the most far a field in the process, seems to have landed.

I love my children immensely, passionately even. Like most parents, I spent many sleepless nights and long days caring for them and worrying about them. Much of my concern was motivated by my own ill health. I know my illness affected them. How could it not? Yet, sitting there at the lake last week, hearing them laugh together and watching them play with their own, and each other's, children, I had to think that maybe, just maybe, growing up with a slightly disabled mother wasn't too damaging after all. Maybe it even helped them become more compassionate, more interested in the welfare of others, more understanding of the differences that make us human.

Regardless of my influence, because of it or in spite of it, they have all grown up to be very good people, and now they are much more than just my children. They are my friends.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Remodeling Adventure

We have a problem with our bathrooms, a moisture problem, and it's going to get worse if we don't fix it now. The bad news is that it will require tearing up the floor and part of a wall and replacing the plumbing fixtures. The good news is that when we are done, we will have two beautiful new bathrooms, which won't make me sick, with a new ventilation system that will prevent any further problems. That's the goal.

More good news--we've found a contractor who is very familiar with chemical sensitivity and is willing to do everything to my specifications. More bad news--I will have to leave the house for a few weeks while the work is being done. (Sounds like a good excuse to go visit grandchildren, right?) Before I leave, however, I have to okay all the materials to be used, from tile grout to wall board to doorknobs. I'm really open to suggestions if anyone out there in cyberspace has been down this road recently, especially if you know specific products that have worked for you. (This is a thinly-veiled cry for HELP.)

We went through this experience on a much larger scale sixteen years ago, when we had a home built for us in Washington. We had a great contractor then too, and we learned a lot in the process. Then, when we moved to Montana, this house needed some serious work done to it. At that time, I purchased the book, The Healthy House, by John Bower (The Healthy House Institute, 2001, 4th edition). I still have this book, and it's a great resource.

I recently found another book too, Prescriptions for a Healthy House: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders & Homeowners, by Paula Baker-Laporte, Erica Elliott and John Banta (New Society Publishers, 2008, third revised edition). The authors of this book are a physician (an environmental medicine specialist), an architect and a building consultant. All three of the authors have chemical sensitivities themselves and all have built safe houses for themselves. This book is really amazing. It has so much detail and takes into account the fact that people have differing sensitivities, so what works for one person may not work for another. The authors try to point out all the possible problems and how to solve them, but recognize that each person has to figure out what is going to be the best individual solution.

Frankly, I'm more than a little overwhelmed by all of this. But it has to be done. As my dad would have said, "It's an adventure."

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

When I was a child, my friends and I would often make decisions with the flip of a coin--heads you win, tails you lose. With MCS it seems that we're always looking at the negative aspects, but yesterday it occurred to me that there is a flip side of the coin, even with MCS, a heads-you-win aspect.

I was looking at the newspaper ads (something I don't usually do, for several reasons) and realized that MCS and celiac disease really simplify my life. There are SO many things that I don't even consider buying. Here's a short list (from the coupon section of yesterday's newspaper):

Old Spice body wash
Old Spice deodorant
Tide stain release
Olay wrinkle cream
Head & Shoulders shampoo
Bounce dryer bar
Cover Girl makeup
Downy fabric softener
Dawn dishwashing liquid
Glade spray air freshener
Raid spray pesticide
Scrubbing Bubbles shower foamer
Shout stain remover
fantastik spray cleaner
Windex spray window cleaner

Each of these items represents a whole category of products, some of which I never purchase at all, or, in the case of others, my options are very limited. So, at least when it comes to shopping, my disabilities really do make my life easier.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More on pesticides...

My chemically sensitive friend Celia would like to add that eating garlic is a great mosquito repellent for her and her family. Of course, it can be a people repellent too, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing. I have found that taking (and/or eating) plenty of B vitamins also helps.

Also, here's a website for information about pesticides on the food we eat: (a searchable database)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pesticides, or not?

I've waited almost a week to write this post to give myself time to calm down. One evening last week, I was sitting in my living room watching television at about 9:30 pm when I started coughing and gagging and generally having trouble breathing. As I stood up to get some help, I saw a truck coming down the street spraying something all over the neighborhood. A quick call to the sheriff's office confirmed my suspicion that it was a pesticide coming out of the back of that truck. Twenty-four hours later, after several emails and phone calls, I had a promise from the county and the private contractor that our street would never be sprayed again and that I would be notified if neighboring streets were to be sprayed.

This was a very scary experience. Never, in the eight years we have lived in this house, has this happened. Nor has anyone ever intimated that it COULD happen. Apparently, back in 1976, a mosquito abatement district was established in our area. However, according to the contractor, this is the first time our particular neighborhood has been sprayed, and it was done only because someone called the county and complained about the mosquitoes. I have written a letter to the county commissioners urging them to find better methods of mosquito control than the use of toxic chemicals (malathion, in this case). If they still deem it necessary to spray occasionally, I have urged them to adopt a written policy for notifying residents in advance and for informing them of the content and dangers of the chemical being used.

There are alternative ways to control pesky insects. The most important is to eliminate all standing water (a necessity for mosquito promulgation). There are several plants, such as marigolds and Thai lemon grass, which, when planted in a yard or garden, serve as natural mosquito repellents. Along the same line, there are a number of natural repellent sprays and creams available which are safe and effective for personal use. Staying inside when the bugs are at their worst, usually in the evening, is also a good strategy. And, above all, don't wear anything with a fragrance (which, of course, no one reading this would do anyway, right?).

I know that mosquito-born illnesses are nothing to laugh about. We do have West Nile Virus here in Montana (though the season hasn't started yet this year) and I have a son-in-law who contracted malaria while in Mexico. In some parts of the world, these diseases kill large numbers of people, so mosquito control is essential. However, I see no need to apply a tourniquet when a simple Band Aid will do, or, better yet, an ounce of prevention. In the case of our neighborhood, it all comes back to residents taking personal responsibility for themselves and their own property. Here and now, the dangers presented by the use of chemical sprays are much greater than any potential danger from mosquitoes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Proposed Labeling Legislation

Last Monday, Representative Steve Israel (D-Long Island) introduced new legislation that would require manufacturers of household products to list all ingredients on the product container or packaging. Representative Israel, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, has entitled this proposed legislation "The Household Product Labeling Act of 2009" (H.R. 3057).

The very day that this legislation was introduced, I went to Costco with a coupon in hand for their new Kirkland Signature Environmentally Friendly Liquid Dish Soap. I was dismayed, when I looked at the soap bottle, that the ingredients were NOT listed. Instead, there was a statement that it contained "natural" surfactants and a clean "natural" fragrance. Since I have no idea how they define "natural," I didn't buy the soap. Instead, I came right home and emailed Costco Customer Service requesting an ingredient list for the product. As of today (a week later), I have not received an answer.

I'm not really hopeful that Rep. Israel's legislation will make it into law, but I do have hope that it will bring added attention to the problem of toxic ingredients in products we use every day. This bill has the financial backing of the Citizens' Campaign for the Environment and the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition. They may be small potatoes next to the chemical industry giants, but I applaud them and Rep. Israel for their gumption. We have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back in the Groove

It was good to come home after almost three weeks away. As I walked to the front door I was greeted with the intense aroma of mock orange blossoms. The bushes were just starting to get buds when I left, and I was happy I hadn't missed the full bloom. It's one of the few fragrant flowers I can tolerate, so we planted them outside our bedroom window. Never mind that it's been almost too cool to sleep with the window open the past few nights. I'm happy to add an extra blanket so I can drift off to sleep with a scent that doesn't make me ill.

Exhausted from my trip, I spent the first few days home just trying to catch up on sleep, reading the mail (the snail kind) and enjoying some down time. Finally, today, I awoke with some semblance of energy and desire to get back into the groove of things, back into a routine. But I soon realized that coming home also means climbing back into my hole of social isolation. When I'm in an area with a larger population (which is almost anywhere away from Helena, Montana), there are so many more places to go (like a big farmers' market, an outdoor arts fair, large parks) where I can be with people, yet keep my distance, and be (more or less) safe chemically. These places are interesting and new, unlike the few places I go here (the health food store and Target), which, granted, give me some social interaction, but get pretty boring by the upteenth time I've been there. And granted, all those people in those public outdoor places are strangers. But at least they're people, real live people, not the pretend ones I watch on television or the ones I read about in books.

Then, as I was really feeling sorry for myself this morning, I started going through my other mail (the electronic kind) and catching up on all the blogs I've barely skimmed in the past month. That's when I realized that I do have a social circle, one that goes far beyond the borders of the fourth largest state in the Union. I can't see your faces, but I imagine what you look like, and I can hear your voices in the words that you write. Community is not just a matter of geography, but one of caring and giving and listening and sharing common ground in more ways that the dirt we stand on. So, I'm back. It's good to be home. Thanks for waiting up for me and for leaving the (electronic) light on for me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I had a great two weeks with my daughter and her family and the new baby. The day before the baby was born, my mother-in-law fell and broke her femur. It was healing well and she was receiving rehabilitation therapy until a few days ago, when she started having severe pain in that leg. She is back in the hospital now, going through a myriad of tests to determine the source of the pain. And here I am with her, watching her, listening to her, talking to her, helping her navigate the electronic bed, communicating with medical personnel and giving my sister-in-law (her daughter) some badly needed personal time to catch up with her family and her business.

Generally speaking, I go to great lengths to avoid hospitals, both as a patient and as a visitor. Between my chemical sensitivities and my dietary concerns, hospitals just aren’t very hospitable to me. But I have to say, as hospitals go, this mega-medical-complex in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley is not too bad. (Sorry, that’s the closest I can come to an actual complement.)

For one thing, all of the almost 1200 patient rooms are private rooms with views of the mountains. The floors are a light wood-grain laminate and the cabinetry is pine and oak. Artfully framed color photographs of Southern Utah’s redrock country adorn the walls of rooms and hallways, and with the door closed, it’s almost silent (except for the rhythmic hum of medical equipment, of course).

Being a hospital, cleanliness is of utmost importance, yet the typical antiseptic aroma I had come to expect is strangely absent. When the housekeeping person came in yesterday to mop the floor and clean the bathroom, I asked her what kind of cleaning products were used. She was happy to show me that they are environmentally-friendly and fragrance-free. Then, last night, when I helped my MIL change gowns and get fresh bedding, I was pleased to see that the laundry was also fragrance-free and the bedding is all made of cotton.

All day yesterday a parade of people—nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains—came in and out of the room, and not one of them carried any fragrance along with them. By evening I had forgotten to even be concerned about a chemical reaction, which allowed me to focus on my MIL’s needs, rather than my own.

Then, at 7:30 pm, the night shift nurse walked in to introduce herself. The waft of strong perfume that came with her left me feeling like I had run into a brick wall. All I could do was back away as I gasped for breath. As she gave me a questioning look, I very bluntly told her that I have chemical sensitivities and I could not be in the same room with her because of her strong perfume. I then expressed my surprise that she, a registered nurse, would wear a heavy scent, especially in a facility that I had deemed to be fragrance-free and working with people whose immune systems have already been compromised by injury and illness.

The nurse did not give me a verbal response, but the look on her face was not one I would describe as friendly. My MIL was oblivious, fortunately, and, since I was just preparing to leave for the night anyway, I made a quick and convenient exit. I only hope that if I am still here this evening, the same nurse will not be on duty.

Most hospitals have a public relations person, patient advocate or ombudsman. So one of my goals for today is to find that person’s name so I can send a written letter of concern after we are done here. Of course, I will also register the many positive aspects of our experience, which surely outweigh this one negative. I hope I can be more tactful than I was last night, but still find a way to drive my point home, that this one nurse’s behavior poses a danger to patients (and their visitors) and is so incongruous with the rest of the institution.

Since my experience with hospitals is very limited, I would love any suggestions of how to approach this one.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A New Grandson

I haven't posted for several days because I've been in another state welcoming a new grandson into the family (and helping his family adjust to being four, instead of three). This baby is adopted, but his birth mom and his adopted mom (my daughter) have known each other for years. Both of them love this little boy and want what is best for him. Both have worked hard already to protect him from toxic substances and dangerous environmental influences.

This healthy little boy lives in a home where natural, unscented laundry and cleaning products are used. For however long he needs them, his soft little bottom will be cradled in cushioned cloth diapers. He sleeps wrapped in 100% cotton flannel swaddling blankets (made by Yours Truly), and, though he does get his nourishment from baby bottles, they are, of course, BPA-free. His parents can't put him in a bubble where nothing dangerous will ever reach him, but they will do whatever they can to ensure that he has the best chemical-free life possible.

Of course, it goes without saying, that no child will be more loved.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Data on the Prevalence of Fragrance Sensitivity

An article in the March 2009 edition of the Journal of Environmental Health summarizes the results of a study done over several years' time concerning the number of people adversely affected by the chemicals in fragrances. Authors Stanley M. Caress and Anne C. Steinemann (an environmental engineer at the University of Washington) concluded that 30.5% of the general population report scented products on others to be irritating. That's nearly one in three people. So much for those claims by the fragrance producers that we will be more attractive to others if we use their products.

Anne C. Steinemann is the same scientist who conducted extensive research into the chemicals found in air fresheners and their effect on people who use them (see "Fragranced consumer products and undisclosed ingredients" in the January 2009 issue of Environmental Impact Assessment Review, pp 32-38). In that research she found that the largest contributors of VOCs to human exposure come from sources closest to us, particularly consumer products, most of which are unregulated and untested for human safety.

In their combined research, Caress and Steinemann found that 19% of people have adverse health effects from air fresheners, and 10.9% of people report irritation from scented laundry products which vent outside in residential areas. Symptoms reported include headaches, breathing difficulties and neurological ailments. These percentages reflect the general population. Among people with diagnosed asthma and/or chemical sensitivity, the percentages are much higher for "adverse health effects or irritation from fragranced products."

None of this comes as any surprise to those of us who struggle with chemical sensitivity, but it's nice to have some scientific research to back up what many consider only anecdotal evidence.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Black Thumb

Some people are said to have green thumbs; plants thrive in their care and they can grow anything. But I have a black thumb. If the care of our household plants (both inside and outside) were left up to me, they would all wither and die before I even noticed. (This has actually happened; it's not just speculation.) However, now that I've moved my home office to a warmer, sunnier room, I'm going to try adding plants again. An article that came through my email last week convinced me that it's worth the effort.

According to this article in The West Australian, new research indicates that even very small plants can improve the quality of indoor air by absorbing almost 100% of VOCs (those nasty volatile organic compounds derived from fossil fuels) found in the average home or office. In addition, it was found that "any plant will perform as well as others," according to Professor Margaret Burchett of University of Technology Sydney. She went on to say that plants' "role in removing CO2 from the air and adding oxygen means that they are the greenest way of improving indoor air quality."

So I found a pot in the garage (undoubtedly left over from some gift plant which met its demise under my hand), and I'm going to find a plant variety that doesn't need much care. An honored place in my new office is awaiting its arrival.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Au Naturelle

Yesterday one of my daughters, whose diet is even more restrictive than mine, exclaimed in frustration, "Sometimes I think it would be easier to just NOT eat!" I understand her sentiments exactly and often feel that way myself, not only about eating, but about other activities as well, including dressing. On days when my back injury is bothering me or I'm having an arthritic flare-up, clothing can be so uncomfortable. Add to that the challenge of buying clothes that aren't laced with chemicals or someone else's perfume, and one is almost persuaded to just go, as the the French would say, au naturelle.

Fortunately (not just for me, but for all my friends and family), I have been able to find other options than running off to join the Naturists. My most recent discovery is a small company in Seattle called Decent Exposures, which sells apparel for women and children (sorry, guys, you're out of luck) made from organic cotton or a cotton/polyester/Lycra blend. They are most well-known for their uniquely designed "unbra." All of their clothing is made-to-order, so they can accommodate odd shapes (like mine). Check them out at

For years, I have purchased most of my clothing second-hand, but my last couple of experiences with that have been less than positive, as one of our local thrift stores has started running all used clothing through a dryer with scented dryer sheets. We've quit shopping there, but we still run into the problem of smelly clothes, even if we buy them new. This brings me to my next great discovery, grapefruit seed extract. A small bottle of this concentrated liquid seems a little pricey, but just a few drops in the wash water with a batch of clothes is sufficient. I have found that if I use this in the wash, with or without baking soda, and then hang the suspect piece of clothing out in the sunshine to dry, I can eliminate all but the worst chemical/perfume odors.

The truth is that though I have a closet full of clothes, I really only wear about a half dozen outfits all the time--cotton knit pants with cotton sweatshirts in the winter and t-shirts in the summer. After all, comfort is the ultimate luxury.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


It seems like everyone is on a constant quest for information that will make life easier/more comfortable/longer/richer/anything-you-want-to-add. I'm no different. I'm on numerous email lists, and I spend part of almost every day reading online news, magazines and blogs. My life is better because of much of the information I have gleaned from these and other sources; however, sometimes all that information becomes overwhelming and what I really need is Distraction (yes, with a capital D).

Distraction is the reason why we have satellite television, shelves full of books and a subscription to Netflix. I appreciated all of these this past week, when my old back injury flared up again and I spent many hours curled up with alternating ice and heat packs. TNT, USA and Sleuth channels came to the rescue with all of my favorite crime-solving series (NCIS, JAG, Law and Order, Bones, etc.), but I can only watch so much of that stuff before my brain becomes as mushy as the tissue on the autopsy tables. So I started looking further afield, and I have a couple of recommendations for anyone else looking for similar Distraction.

I am three chapters away from finishing the book, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I really can't recommend this book highly enough. The story of a mountain climber turned humanitarian, it helped me get out of my own little world and see the suffering that goes on in others' worlds. More importantly, the authors demonstrate that even little efforts can change people's lives. To top it all off, the story is so compelling, I've been able to read for hours at a time (a key requirement for Distraction reading) and it is beautifully told. A good story well told--it doesn't get any better than that.

On Monday night, DH (who had been working very hard to take care of me and also get some needed house and garden work done) sat down with me to watch our latest Netflix movie, Last Chance Harvey, a quirky story about two seeming misfits, one American and one British, whose chance meeting in London proves that life does sometimes give us second chances. Short, well-written and well-cast (Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson), it really fits the bill for quality Distraction.

I'm back at my desk today, trying to dig out through the piles, but come the weekend, I will again be looking for more Distraction. Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Carpet Issues

Sitting on my desk for several days has been Green America's most recent newsletter with its feature article entitled, "Detoxing Carpeted Floors." Immediately I thought I should post about this. Yet, I hesitated, because the whole subject of carpeting brings up some less than happy feelings for me. It was the installation of new carpet, along with other remodeling, in our church building last year which still prohibits me from attending meetings with my own congregation. I had a lot of bad feelings toward the "people in charge" at the time, and talking about it only brings those feelings back to the surface.

However, my bad feelings have done nothing to change the situation, so I need to do something positive and help other people understand what CAN be done to lessen the impact of new flooring. So here are some suggestions from Green America:

1) If possible, don't use carpet at all. Alternative flooring includes hardwood, cork, bamboo or natural linoleum. Just make sure than any finishes you use on these floors are non-VOC. (We put hardwood flooring in part of our last house and used a non-VOC finish with no problem.)

2) Use safer carpeting. Look for natural fibers like wool, sisal, jute or seagrass. There are also companies making low-VOC carpets out of recycled nylon. Other low-VOC carpets are available from several different major manufacturers. Be sure to check the content of the carpet backing (which holds the carpet together). Natural latex or jute are good choices (unless you are allergic to latex, of course).

3) When the carpet is installed, make sure it is tacked down, not glued. Glues are the main source of VOCs in carpet. If glue must be used, there are low-VOC options.

4) Look for carpets that are not treated with toxic coatings. The Green Label from the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) prohibits the use of some VOCs (but not all).

5) Look for carpets that are undyed or vegetable-dyed.

6) Use padding made from recycled nylon or recycled wool.

No matter what kind of carpet you install, there are things you can do to facilitate outgassing. Here are some recommendations from Green America:

1) Coat new carpets with an eco-friendly carpet finish like American Formulating & Manufacturing/s (AFM) CarpetSeal. This seems counter intuitive, like adding more chemicals, but I am told it works to contain the VOCs in the carpet for up to a year or through five shampoos.

2) Use a HEPA vacuum and vacuum often.

3) Shampoo carpets carefully with non-toxic products. Green America recommends companies that use carbonated water, such as Zero Residue and ChemDry.

4) Before carpet is installed, have the company roll it out in their warehouse for at least 72 hours before installation.

5) Have windows open while carpet is being installed and for at least 72 hours afterward. It is also effective during this time period to turn up the heat and have fans going. Heat and air circulation will greatly speed up the outgassing process.

6) Insist that family and all guests remove their shoes as soon as they walk in the door. Shoes track in pesticides and other chemicals, which stick to and build up on the carpet.

According to the nonprofit Healthy Child, Healthy World, "Although offgassing from carpets decreases significantly several months after installation, carpets can emit these fumes for as long as five years." However, there are things that can be done to make carpeting a healthier floor covering option. It takes a little more effort, but the results can be lifesaving.

And for the record, I personally prefer carpeting to hard floor surfaces, especially with Montana's long cold winters. We have followed all of the above suggestions, and I don't have a problem with the carpets in our home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

Today, May 12th, has been declared Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Led by the National Fibromyalgia Association, groups all over the United States are hosting activities in their communities to educate people about this chronic pain disorder which directly affects an estimated 10 million men, women and children in the U.S. and indirectly affects millions more of their family, friends and health care providers.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic immunological disease with symptoms which include chronic widespread pain, abnormal pain processing, multiple tender points, fatigue and sleep disturbances. It is one of a group of closely related immunological and neurological diseases, which also includes MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity). Many people with MCS also suffer from fibromyalgia.

I know the effects of this debilitating disease firsthand. I watched my mother suffer the pain of fibromyalgia for several years near the end of her life, and I myself have struggled with it to a lesser degree. Mom really expressed how she was feeling a few years before her death at a family reunion. One of her grandchildren mentioned the possibility of another reunion in another five years, and her reply was, "Oh, I hope I don't live that long. I can't imagine being in this much pain for five more years." The grandchild, to say the least, was a little shocked and dismayed, but I have since had some days when I have truly understood Mom's feelings.

I'm one of the lucky ones, however. Though I have days when I hurt so badly that I just want to crawl into a hole and disappear, those days are the exceptions. Most days, especially when I haven't had any recent chemical exposures, the pain is just a dull ache to which I have become accustomed. But I know people for whom the pain of fibromyalgia is completely disabling. They are unable to perform the most simple of daily tasks.

When Mom was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it was relatively unknown. Many doctors didn't even believe it really existed. Some still don't want to acknowledge it as a true disease because, like other similar maladies, it doesn't fit into their narrow definition of "disease." That doesn't make it any less real for those for whom it is a constant companion. Perhaps the best thing the rest of us can do is speak up about it when we can, support education and research and show compassion (and validation) for those who suffer.

For more information, visit the NFA website at

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dryer Sheets

I know I've blogged about this before, but until there are no more of these evil things in use, I will just keep harping on it. Dryer sheets (you all know what I'm talking about) may contain any or all of the following: alpha-terpineol, linalol benzyl acetate, camphor, benzyl alcohol, limonene, ethyl acetate, pentane and chloroform. These chemicals are approved for this use by the FDA because you wear but don't eat them. However, you do absorb them through your skin and breathe them into your respiratory tract. If you go looking, you will find ample warnings about human exposure to these chemicals. Yet, these seemingly innocent little dryer sheets are used by even the most intelligent of people, because they either don't understand or don't believe the dangers, and they don't know that there are some very good alternatives for preventing wrinkles and static cling in your laundry.

Personally, I use the dryer balls which you can now buy at almost any grocery store or at Bed, Bath and Beyond. But if they just don't work for you, or your dog thinks they're chew toys, here are some other alternatives:

Wash and dry synthetic clothes separately from your other laundry, and/or remove them from the dryer before they are completely dry and hang them up.

If you forget to take your clothes out out before they are really dry, try running the garment over the edge of a metal hanger. (I haven't actually tried this one, but I'm told it works.)

Add half a cup of clear vinegar to your wash water.

If it's the smell you can't live without, go for the real thing. Put a little essential oil on a rag or put herbs or flowers into a drawstring tea bag and throw into the drier with your clothes.

There is a new product, which I haven't tried, that is a piece of fabric which naturally prevents static in your dryer--available at natural food stores.

If protecting yourself and your own family aren't good enough reasons to stop using dryer sheets, do it for me, and people like me, who can't walk outside in our own neighborhoods because we become deathly ill from our neighbor's dryer exhaust. We're the canaries in the coal mine in which we all live.

[Much of the information for this post came from Jeanne McCartin's article, "The Dangers of Dryer Sheets" at, April 30, 2009.]

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Good News! Fragrance-free Signs

There was some very good news on the home front this week in the efforts to create fragrance-free church buildings (or at least fragrance-free areas) in Helena, Montana. For months my DH (Dear Hubby) has been traveling between church buildings on Saturday afternoons to put up and take down fragrance-free signs, because we were told by the local Church Facilities Management (FM) person that we couldn't put up permanent signs. With two buildings here in Helena and two more in outlying areas, this has become a time consuming task, but he has done it willingly and without complaint.

I, on the other hand, have become impatient with the whole sign issue. There seems to me to be a significant difference in people's behavior when the signs are up as opposed to when there are no signs in sight. So, in my frustration, I wrote a letter to the Physical Facilities Department of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City.

Last Friday, I received an email from the FM person over our area informing me that they had received my letter and they were working on a solution to provide us with permanent signs, both on the outside doors and beside the doors to the chapels of our buildings. Of course, DH has been given the job of arranging for those signs and getting them posted, but he is happy to do it, and I know it will be done in the best way possible. That's the only way he does anything.

Monday, May 4, 2009

May is MCS Awareness Month

Twenty-five governors and mayors (including the governor of Montana) have issued proclamations to raise awareness about multiple chemical sensitivity and toxic injury during the month of May. Of course, we should be pushing for education and awareness every month and day of the year, but an awareness month helps us focus public attention on our very important message.

Here are some interesting facts you might want to share with family and friends:

At least 45 million people in the U.S. report sensitivity to various chemicals.
About 3 million Americans are diagnosed with MCS.
MCS affects people of all ages, economic status, race and both genders.
Chemicals that people with MCS react to are toxic and affect everyone to some extent.
Annual expenditures for healthcare and lost productivity due to MCS are estimated at $71.8 billion dollars (that's per year).

Of course, facts don't really tell the human story of the many individuals whose lives and livelihoods are limited by this debilitating condition. We need to try hard to NOT be invisible. That doesn't mean we need to be obnoxious, but we can speak up for ourselves.

For more information on MCS awareness and facts to back up our claims, visit

Thursday, April 30, 2009


We have been back from Utah for four days now, and I am just feeling like I'm catching up with life. (Or is it catching up with me?) Why does any change in the daily schedule exhaust me so? I must be getting old.

The graduation was everything we wanted it to be and more. Our daughter glowed as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma, lifting a fist in a triumphal wave to the crowd. It was a moment to warm the heart and wet the cheeks of any parent. Oh, how I appreciated being there to see it!

There were actually two graduation ceremonies for us to attend, the commencement for the entire university on Thursday afternoon and the separate college convocation on Friday morning. With over six thousand graduates, you can imagine how crowded the commencement was. We had good seats, however, albeit behind the podium. And I thought I was safe from fragrance until two boys sat down behind us. PHEW! But we had a whole row for our family, so I was able to move to the other end, and, with the help of my "I Can Breathe!" mask, I made it through most of the program. Near the end, when two little grandsons were getting restless, I offered to take them outside for a badly needed breath of fresh air.

At the convocation on Friday morning, there were less than half as many people, and no one sitting near us with heavy scents, so I survived without the mask. A couple of trips out with the same two grandsons helped too, of course. The weather was beautiful for taking pictures, the trees all in bloom and tulips and daffodils everywhere. And oh, the warmth. I wanted to just wrap it up and bring it home. It has snowed here every day this week, but the memories of this experience will keep up warm for many days to come.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Perseverance--anyone with a disability understands the meaning of this word and how vital a commodity it is when life presents us with chronic challenges. So often we feel that we take two big steps backward for every baby step forward, but perseverance keeps us going. As it says in Ecclesiastes 9:11, "...the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...but time and chance happeneth to them all."

This week we will attend the college graduation of our oldest daughter. Her diploma will be a testament to her perseverance. Her quest for this degree began in the fall of 1994, when, at the age of seventeen, she entered a prestigious university on an academic scholarship with the dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. By the end of her first week of classes, she realized that where she really belonged was in the art department and so switched to a major that demanded many extra hours of time in studio.

Then, two and a half years later, she married the boy next door, whose college major was not available at the same university. Not to be deterred, only delayed, this daughter-of-mine took what classes were available at his college and, when he finished and they moved on, kept going with correspondence courses, necessitating yet another change in major to an emphasis in history. Now, these fifteen years after she began, she is receiving the long-sought-after diploma, and we are going to give her all the celebration she deserves. In those fifteen years, she has had five pregnancies, three live births (including an emergency C-section), a husband with cancer, a child with chronic health problems, another child with severe allergies and severe ongoing health problems of her own. She currently homeschools three boys and volunteers in several church and community organizations.

My daughter's grandmother (my own mother) started college at the age of sixteen and finally received a bachelor's degree at the age of sixty-three. And a great-grandmother, a Danish immigrant, received her college degree at almost that same age. So this daughter comes from a long line of determined women who understood what it means to persevere toward a personal goal, even if it takes many years to accomplish. Though she certainly has had much encouragement and support along the way, my daughter would not be standing there at the podium this week in navy blue cap and gown were it not for her own strong will, her own perseverance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Housekeeping Matters

Okay, so this post isn't exactly about housekeeping, more like desk-keeping. I've been buried with work the past couple of weeks and the pile on my desk for possible blog posts has become quite obnoxious. I want it to go away. So I'm going do it all in one fell swoop. What follows are notes from the most important papers in my pile.

A great new website (, created by Dr. Martin L. Pall, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at Washington State University, gives new scientific validation to MCS and other similar diseases. Even if you don't have a scientific background and can't understand all the information on the site, you will find much that will encourage you and may improve your life. He includes the protocol he has developed for the treatment of these diseases, much of which can be done with over-the-counter food supplements (which he lists in detail).

CNN reported this week that the Atlanta airport is in the process of implementing a new keep-the-airport-clean project that uses music and scent to encourage everyone to keep the airport "opening day fresh." Quoting from the article, "...the airport recently launched the initial phases of a program that uses a scent called 'Breeze' to help enhance visitors' mood. [The scent] uses a variety of different notes, including vanilla and a little lavender." Needless to say, I find this just apalling and more than a little scary. Please, please, send an email to the Atlanta airport authority protesting this action ( -contact-customer service). There's no guarantee that emails from us will change this program, but they need to understand that this is not acceptable and could be a liability problem for them.

In my ongoing campaign to make the world safer for children, I site a new study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics which documents the "widespread presence of both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane in bath products for children, including baby shampoos, bubble baths and baby lotions." Some of the most contaminated products they found included: Johnson's Baby Shampoo, Sesame Street Bubble Bath, Grins & Giggles Milk & Honey Baby Wash (Gerber), Huggies Baby Wash, L'Oreal Kids, Mustela, Suave Kids, Baby Magic Baby Lotion and American Girl shower products. For more information go to

And last, but certainly not least, go check out the new Canary Report website at It will educate, inspire and entertain you. Kudos to Susie. You are my MCS hero.

Happy Spring to everyone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Disability Myths

In a recent post I talked about the LDS Church website for and about members with disabilities. One page of that site discusses myths about members with disabilities. Some of these myths definitely apply to people with chemical sensitivities. For this post, I'll start with the first one:

There are very few people with disabilities in the average ward [congregation].

This myth can be dispelled by a few statistics relating the incidence of disability in the general U.S. population. According to government agency statisticians (see the website for references), 22% of adults in the U.S. report having a disability. Unfortunately, there have not been very many studies done on the incidence of MCS in the general population, but I found two. A 1997 study done in New Mexico found that 16% of the respondents were "unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals" and 2% had been diagnosed with MCS. In a study done in Australia in 2002, 24.6% of the respondents said that they or their children regularly feel unwell when exposed to certain chemical odors or smells, and 2.9% have been medically diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity.

If you take these statistics and apply they to an average LDS ward with 400 members, you would expect to find 88 members with some type of disability. You could also find eight to twelve members with diagnosable MCS and anywhere from 64 to 98 others who become ill in the presences of some chemicals. This is not an insignificant number of people.

So why are we so unaware of all these people with disabilities? The Church website gives two reasons. First, "most people who have disabilities cannot be identified by their appearance." Second, we don't see many members with disabilities because they simply aren't attending church meetings. Both of these reasons hold true for members with MCS.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


We spent this past weekend in Washington visiting family and a new baby (she's beautiful!). It was a quick trip, which always aggravates my fibromyalgia, but I am feeling much better today, after a good night's sleep in my own bed. I am so glad to have my travel version of the Cuddle Ewe, but it doesn't take the place of my full size one at home, which, of course, tops a luscious foam mattress.

If you have fibromyalgia or arthritis and are unfamiliar with the Cuddle Ewe wool mattress topper, you really should take a look at it (just google Cuddle Ewe). It's expensive, but I can't tell you what a difference it makes. The travel version comes in it's own carrying case, and I made a washable cover for mine out of a sheet. (The Cuddle Ewe itself is not washable.)

Beyond the problem of finding a comfortable bed, the chemical sensitivities are always an issue when traveling, particularly when it comes to lodging. I have great family members, who keep their homes safe enough for me to come stay, but motels are another matter. We knew we would have to stay in a motel at least one night on this trip, so I got on the phone well in advance to see what could be done to accommodate my needs.

Ideally, I like to stay in a place that advertises itself as fragrance-free or chemical-free. There are really quite a number of bed and breakfast inns that fit this description, but mostly in Canada or on the east coast of the U.S.

We were lucky this trip. We spent Friday night at the Post Falls, Idaho Sleep Inn. It is entirely non-smoking. The manager was familiar with chemical sensitivity and went out of his way to be accommodating. I called almost a week before our stay and made a reservation for a room which would not be used in the interim time period. The best part about the room was that it had a window, which I opened as soon as we arrived and left open a crack through the night. I ran into only two problems at this motel. They have an indoor swimming pool just down the hallway from the main lobby, so the lobby smelled slightly of chlorine. However, they had the lobby doors open to the outside, so that helped. The other problem I encountered was when I got out of the shower the next morning and grabbed a towel, which had a slight scent. (It goes without saying that I never use soap or any other personal care products supplied by a motel.) I will remember to bring my own towel next time.

On our way home Sunday night we got stuck in a snow storm and couldn't make it over the last pass to get home. So we stayed in the Best Western at exit 101 in Missoula, Montana. I had not called ahead on this one, so I was a little apprehensive, but it turned out to be a very positive experience. This motel is all non-smoking, and I couldn't smell anything at all when I walked into the lobby. Again, I asked for a room that had not been used for a few days, and then I went and looked at the room before paying for it. I sniffed the sheets and the towels and could smell, ahhh, nothing at all. This was the best motel room I have stayed in for a long time.

Of course, there's nothing quite like home sweet home, but it's nice to know that I can get away once in awhile.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Disabilities Web Site

This week I spent some time searching the new disabilities web site published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Designed to provide help for people with disabilities and people who serve them (families, teachers, friends, church leaders), the site is a treasure trove of information on disabilities in general and on some specifically. Included are scriptural passages about caring for each other, as well as specific ways that others can meet the needs of those with disabilities, enabling them to serve and fully participate in the church community.

Unfortunately, chemical/fragrance sensitivities are not addressed specifically on this site. However, much of the information given is applicable. There is a place for feedback that enables you to send an email (a short message) to the site managers. After looking through the site, I took the opportunity to send a message about chemical sensitivity and the unique problems it presents to church members (both those with it and those who should accommodate it). I may never hear back from anyone at the site, but it does feel good to know that I have said something.

For anyone who cares about people with disabilities (which I hope is all of us), this is an excellent site. You can take a look at .

Monday, March 16, 2009

Random Thoughts

I have been caught up in a writing project and haven't kept up with the blog world. Coming up for air, I have just some random thoughts.

  • I have been making some connections with other chemically sensitive people, through this and other blogs and through the MCS-America email list. In so doing, I am continually amazed at the difficulties so many people face and the grace with which they do so. My heart aches for young mothers who can't attend their children's school programs, for talents that go unshared because of the isolation of MCS and for devout church members who can't even attend a regular sacrament service, let alone a potluck dinner or family funeral. Yet they carry on with courage worthy of any arctic explorer or war hero. I will be forever thankful for the miracle of cyberspace that allows me to reach beyond my caged existence and enter into their worlds.
  • Yesterday (or the day before; I have lost all track of time this week), I read of a study which concluded that people who wear face masks in heavily polluted areas have a lower risk of heart attacks. In some big cities, like Shanghai, air-filtering face masks are common, but until this study, no one was sure if they were really doing any good. I have to admit that I have been sceptical, but after the experience I had today of traveling a mile or more behind a big pickup truck and breathing in its exhaust (Montanans and their big trucks--it's a culture thing), I'm ready to try the mask. The article suggested that the best masks are those that are designed to filter out dust, like construction workers wear. However, I haven't a clue where to buy such a thing--Home Depot? Lowe's? Anyone out there ever use one of these?
  • We had yet ANOTHER storm blow in here last night. It is not as cold as the -17 F we woke up to one day last week, but it came with plenty of snow. I was not a happy camper as I ventured out into it to the health food store. There I ran into an old friend, and as we were talking she glanced out the window and exclaimed with delight, "Oh, look how beautiful it is, all that snow coming down!" The flakes were those big chunky ones that float, rather than fall and cover everything so completely that even dirty Montana cars look like giant marshmallows. Even I, so VERY tired of winter, had to admit that it had its own kind of beauty... sort of. T.S. Eliot wrote: "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" Ahh...words to live by (this time of year anyway).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

International Women's Day

Today, March 8th, is International Women's Day, celebrated worldwide. (In some countries it's actually a national holiday!) So Happy Day to all of you wonderful women out there!

The whole month of March is Women's History Month here in the United States. The theme for this year is "Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet." The National Women's History Project has a great website at , with resources for use in homes, schools and communities.

Women's history and a healthier environment are two subjects near and dear to my heart. Combining them into one month of activities and celebration? Wow, that's cool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Little Miss Perfect

I was flipping through the channels on Directv last night (chilling out after a long day), and I came across a show called "Little Miss Perfect." This reality TV show chronicles the week before a little girl beauty pageant (Little Miss Perfect) in the lives of two of the contestants. In this particular episode, the two featured children were about six years old.

Now, I have objections to all beauty pageants (regardless of the age of the participants) on many levels, but I'll leave most of that discussion to a different place and a different time. The thing that was most striking as I watched what these girls go through was the use of make-up and hair styling products. Little girls as young as three years of age not only had their faces covered with everything from eye shadow to blusher to thick foundation, but they also had their entire bodies (or at least everything that wasn't covered by the scanty bikinis they wore in the competition) sprayed with a false tanning solution. Then, after all that, their hair was teased and sprayed repeatedly to produce bigger-than-life hairdos.

As I watched this purposeful poisoning of innocent little girls, I wanted to reach through the television and strangle a few necks. I am aware that the whole child beauty pageant business has been under attack recently (and rightly so, I believe), but I haven't heard any of those attacks address the very real physical danger to these children from toxic chemical exposure. Yet there it was, right before my eyes, plain as day. I'm willing to grant that much of this is due to just plain ignorance on the part of many of the adults, and I know that I have a different perspective on chemical exposure as I look at it through MCS eyes, but that does not excuse what I see as blatant child abuse with the potential of causing irreparable physical (not to mention psychological) damage.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I have mixed feelings about just how much government (i.e. legislation) should be involved in my life, but I ran across these two quotes this past week, and they gave me something to think about.

The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
Hubert Humphrey

...human rights exist independent of governments--they are not granted or taken away by those in power--only pretected or violated.
Christine Kaufman, Montana State legislator

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.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Well, Duh

"BYU-Harvard Study Finds Cleaner Air Extends Lifespan" This is the title of the lead article in the most recent BYU online newsletter. Researchers at Brigham Young University and the Harvard School of Public Health have come to this conclusion after an extensive long-range study of 51 U.S. cities. Specifically, the study cites that on average, the life expectancy of people in these cities has increased by five months in recent decades. In the (previously) most polluted of these cities, cleaner air added about ten months to the average lifespan.

Now I'm not a scientist, and I don't need extensive scientific studies to convince me that air pollution is bad for all forms of life. So all I can say to a study like this is "well, duh." However, I do understand that backing up our claims with sound scientific research only furthers our cause, and for some people, this is the only way they will be convinced.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at our state capitol listening to legislators debate various bills and resolutions, some of which directly apply to this argument for clean air. There is currently a bill being reviewed by a Montana State Senate committee, which would set the same emission standards for automobiles sold in Montana as those in California and about 14 other states. [These laws are not in force in these states because the EPA, under the direction of the Bush administration, stopped them, but they are currently under review by the EPA under the new administration and will likely go into effect soon.] This legislation is seen as the most cost-efficient way for the state to clean up its air. As an added bonus, the vehicles sold under this law would be more fuel-efficient and thus less expensive to use, saving the consumer money in the long run. And for those who just have to have their big rigs, there are exemptions for trucks and some SUVs.

The prospect of cleaner air is reason enough for me to support these types of laws. And, as science has now proven, cleaner air is good for us. Who wouldn't want to add five more months to her/his life?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Amputated Lives

Alison Johnson graduated summa cum laude from Carleton College and went on to receive a master's degree in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. She also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris on a National Science Foundation Fellowship. Alison was thirty-five years old when she developed chemical sensitivities. When her three daughters began showing signs of chemical sensitivity in their early teens, she became an outspoken advocate for the chemically sensitive through documentary films, books and articles and lobbying members of Congress.

In her most recent book, Amputated Lives: Coping with Chemical Sensitivity, Alison Johnson discusses the causes and consequences of chemical sensitivity in the twenty-first century. In the preface to the book, Ms Johnson states, "All my books and documentaries have had a central goal in mind--to convince readers and viewers that chemical sensitivity is real and is devastating far too many lives."

About the first third of Amputated Lives describes the causes and symptoms of chemical sensitivity, with whole chapters devoted to veterans of the Gulf War, survivors of the World Trade Center disaster and "Katrina's Toxic Aftermath." The rest of the book is a compilation of individual stories of people with chemical sensitivity.

Warning: this book will make you angry and it will break your heart. I would not call Johnson an emotional writer, but she is obviously passionate about her subject, and she doesn't pull any punches. Particularly in the personal story section, she lets the stories speak for themselves, and that they do very well.

Order information, along with more information about the author and her other works, can be found at The book can be ordered for $15.00 plus $3.00 s/h. If you want a single copy, you can send a check for $18.00 to MCS Information Exchange, 4 Wren Drive, Topsham, ME 04086. The order information also includes, "If you are facing severe financial difficulties, you may inquire about a discount." Clearly, Alison Johnson's only motive in writing and publishing this book is to educate people. As a publisher myself, I can tell you that she isn't even covering her expenses with what she is charging.

I am hoping in the near future to purchase an entire box of these books and distribute them to family and friends. In the meantime, I just have to tell people about this valuable contribution to the MCS community and the voice of warning it presents to people who are not yet chemically sensitive.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sewing and Crafts

I've been buried in a sewing project this week (piles of red satin for a Valentine wedding). Just as I was wondering if there were more chemically and environmentally friendly sewing products, I received my daily email from The Canary Report ( ), which contained a post with links to online sources for organic sewing and craft products.

After this Christmas shopping season, I am more determined than ever to put my money where my mouth is and restrict my shopping (as much as possible) to organic/chemical-free products. So I want to pass on some information to the rest of you who don't want to give up your sewing and craft projects to stay chemical-free.

NearSea Naturals
Surf on over to and shop to your heart's content. This is a great retail site with lots to offer. If you're like me, you already have a closet full of sewing and craft notions, but probably not like the things you'll find on this site. And they're reasonably priced too. From batting to thread to fabric, you'll find it here.

I have to confess to a love for lace that borders on obsession. It started with the tatted lace my mother gave me after my Danish grandmother died and has been encouraged by hours spent at flea markets and estate sales. When I went onto the site at I was almost frothing at the mouth at the sight of beautiful handmade European laces which, according to the company are "...100% certified organic...made from start to finish chemically free, and without toxins in the production." This site doesn't provide online ordering. You have to call or email (they prefer email so they have your order in writing). So I called. Their lace prices range from $.90 to $3.85 per yard--extremely inexpensive for quality lace.

I know I sound like a sales rep for these companies, but I'm really just a sucker for all things textile in nature. I've had to give up a lot of things because of chemical sensitivity, including many craft activities, but I can still sew. And it's good to know that there are products out there that are safe for me to use. Now I just have to come up with a good project.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yesterday, as part of the Presidential Inauguration, a cello/violin/clarinet/piano quartet played a piece composed by John Williams and based on the old Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts." NPR replayed the performance on their morning radio program today. The Marine Corp Band also played an arrangement of this hymn in their prelude to the Inauguration yesterday. Is there a theme here?

A couple of years ago, on a trip to New England, we stopped at the Canterbury Shaker Village, and I was so enthralled with the simple life style of these quiet people. The words of the hymn are as follows:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come'round right.

I think the "turning" metaphor is in reference to the woodworker shaping the legs of a chair (for which the Shakers are famous). It brings to mind a vision of the simple Shaker furniture, beautiful in its absolute balance.

Whenever I come home from being away (as I was for two weeks of this month), I always have a desire to clear away the clutter of my home and my life, to get back to simple basics in eating, dressing and just everyday living. It seems to me that the chemical poisoning of our world is a result of our complicated lives. And in turn, our lives are complicated by the chemicals. If we were to simplify our eating (natural foods, grown locally as much as possible), if we were to simplify our clothing (wearing less, using natural fibers and dyes), if we were to simply our homes (less adornment, less space to heat and cool, less pretension), if we were to simply our activities (less running from place to place), would we not use less chemicals? Would we not all be healthier?

Something to think about.