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