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.