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.