Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

It's a beautiful sunny winter day in Helena, Montana. The air is crisp and clean and I don't have to go out into any stores, so I'm breathing easy. I hope you are too.
Happy Holidays to everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Is it Christmas already?

I have been so remiss in blogging for months now. One of my New Year's resolutions is to be more consistent. There is much going on in the MCS world, so there is much to post about--I've just been a little busy. In the past six months I've spent a lot of time helping my children. One daughter moved from the east coast to the west coast and just in the months of October and November, I had three new grandchildren born. I've done a lot of traveling, thankfully in pretty good health.

Most of my travel has been in my (long-ago-outgassed) Toyota, but two trips, one to Virginia and one to San Diego, had to be in the air. Between chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia and celiac disease, there have been some challenges. Here are a few things that made it easier:

When driving, I pack all my food with me so I don't have to spend much time inside stores and restaurants. I use cotton cloth bags to carry the food and have lots of bottled water with me too. I carry my own soap for public restrooms.

I try to stay with (safe) relatives whenever possible, but when I do have to stay at a motel, I call several days in advance and ask for a room that hasn't been cleaned for several days. Best Western and La Quinta have been good chains to work with. I also have a small carbon filter air purifier that I turn on as soon as I get into a room. It sits right next to my face when I sleep.

Perhaps it goes without saying that I always travel with my own personal care items, including soap and laundry detergent.

At home I sleep on a Cuddle Ewe mattress topper, and I have a travel Cuddle Ewe that goes everywhere with me. I made a washable removable cover for it and also carry my own blanket and pillow.

Flying presents other problems. I always sit by a window and wear an I Can Breathe honeycomb mask. I also use an air filter that fits on the overhead airflow. (I think I got these from Achoo Allergy, but I can't seem to find them on their website right now.) I carry my own travel blanket and pillow, drink lots of water and carry my own food.

I have found that the airlines will change seats if there is a problem with fragrance nearby. This is an ADA issue in the U.S., so I'm not afraid to ask for accommodation.

My biggest problem on my last trip (in November to San Diego) was with the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) on the return flight. The new security measures require you to go through one of their machines or have a thorough pat down, either of which I consider unacceptable. The safety of the machines (San Diego uses the back scatter x-rays) is highly questionable and a pat down is not only a violation of personal space, but is also very painful for a person with fibromyalgia. I submitted to the machine, very grudgingly, and wrote a lengthy email to Delta Airlines when I got home, urging them to put pressure on the TSA to better accommodate persons with disabilities. I received a very understanding email in return from a customer service rep. who has asthma herself. She credited my Skymiles account with an extra 7000 miles to compensate for the trouble I went through and expressed Delta's obvious dislike for current TSA practices, but said there was nothing they could do at present to change things. There are so many horror stories out there about people with disabilities and the new screening procedures. TSA has essentially grounded much of the disabled community.

Anyway, I'm home again (for awhile at least) and trying to stay warm in Montana. Wishing everyone in the blog world a very happy Christmas week with lots of clean air to breath.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Power Point Presentation on Fragrances

I've been taking a bit of a vacation from blogging this summer, but I just had to post a link to this very good Power Point presentation on the dangers of fragrances. It's short, yet covers several different points that should help people understand and relate to the issue of chemical poisoning and sensitivity.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The Badlands of North Dakota

Afton Mountain B&B (Virginia)

Chimney Rock, Nebraska

Little Bighorn Battlefield (Montana)

I haven't posted on this blog for over a month because I've been on an extended road trip. From Montana to Virginia to Kansas City and through Wyoming, I've attended a son-in-law's law school graduation, stayed with good friends in Missouri and visited historic sites everywhere I've been. It's been quite the adventure.

I started planning this trip months ago. My biggest worry, of course, was how I would find chemically safe places to stay overnight and gluten-free places to eat. To my amazement and relief, I had very positive experiences on both accounts. It took hours and hours of advanced planning and much vigilance while traveling, but I am now safely at home, none the worse for wear.

To find lodging, I used several different resources, including The Chemically Safer Travel Directory ( and Internet searches for chemically safe (and "green") lodging. Wherever possible, I stayed with family and friends who understand the issue and were more than happy to accommodate my needs. Without exception, I called every place I was to stay the day before and reminded them that I needed a room that hadn't been cleaned the day of my arrival and, if I was to stay more than one day, that I didn't want housekeeping services while there. I also traveled with a small, room-sized air purifier, which I turned on as soon as I arrived at a new place. I have long traveled with my own bedding and towel and I always stay where I can open a window (not on a busy street, if possible). Though I had some less than positive conversations with hotel managers while searching for accommodations before the trip, every place I ended up staying turned out to be positive, with hotel staff bending over backwards to make sure I was safe and comfortable.

As for eating, I started the trip with a list of restaurants and health food stores in every location where I thought I would be safe. Because there was so much I wanted to see, I didn't have time to eat out as much as I would like to have, but that was probably better for me chemically anyway (and definitely better on my purse). I ate a lot of peanut butter and corn/rice cake sandwiches, raisins and fruit. It was a real treat to find gluten-free crackers at the Trader Joe's in Cleveland and muffins at the Whole Foods in Virginia and Omaha. One of the best investments I made before the trip was in a nice portable cooler bag from LLBean. Most of the places I stayed had at least small refrigerators, so I was able to refreeze my ice pretty regularly.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the trip was the attitude of most of the people I met when I discussed my chemical sensitivities. Without exception, everyone I spoke with knew someone else with chemical sensitivities (a family member, friend or co-worker), and many people told me that they had quit using fragranced products already. There were a few instances when I had to leave someplace because of fragrance, but if I mentioned it, the people were at least apologetic. My own attitude helped too. I went into this adventure knowing full well that there would be some places I would just have to walk out of, and I did, without making a big deal about it and without becoming too disappointed. Most of the historic sites I visited (and the graduation) were outside and not in big cities, so that was also to my advantage. I also planned the trip so that I would be visiting places on weekday mornings and during a time of year when most places are not yet busy with tourists. And I stopped at a lot of off-the-beaten-path (obscure) kind of places.

I guess one of the things I've learned about traveling with MCS and celiac disease is that I may not be able to go to some places or eat what everyone else is eating, but there is so much to see and do, so much history to learn, and so many interesting people to meet that I can have a great vacation in spite of (or maybe because of) my disabilities. I am glad to be home though. A month was perhaps a little long to be traveling. My energy really wained the last few days. So I'm trying to take it easy for awhile. Until the next adventure...

Monday, May 3, 2010

More Uses for Vinegar

I've written about vinegar before, but I found an article on the website that discusses even more uses for this old household standby. Turns out, white vinegar (which contains acetic acid) is more useful than I'd thought. Though I haven't tried all of these suggestions myself, I'll pass them along and you can try them for yourself.

--Add a few tablespoons of white vinegar to the water when poaching eggs to help the whites stay formed. Add a few tablespoons to the water when boiling eggs, and if any shells crack, the whites won't leak out.
--Soaking leafy veggies that are wilted in cold water with a little vinegar will perk them up.
--Rub your hands with white vinegar after chopping onions to get rid of the smell. [The smell of the vinegar with dissipate very quickly.]
--When cooking vegetables from the cabbage family (i.e. broccoli or cauliflower), add a little vinegar to the water to perk up the taste and reduce the gassiness they can induce. This also works when cooking beans.

--Clean and deodorize the garbage disposal by mixing equal parts vinegar and baking soda and putting id down the drain. After letting this fizzing mixture sit for a few minutes, flush out the drain with warm water.
--The steam from a boiling bowl of vinegar and water can loosen caked-on food and get rid of odors in the microwave. [This is for my children who don't clean out their microwaves regularly--you know who you are;^)]
--To make a trap for fruit flies, set out a small dish of white vinegar and some smashed fruit covered with plastic wrap with some holes in it. The flies crawl into the trap, but can't get out.
--If your glassware gets spotted in the dishwasher, wrap it in paper towels soaked in vinegar, let them sit, and the cloudy deposits will rinse right off.
--Instead of bleach on tile grouting, let vinegar soak on it and then scrub with a toothbrush.
--Clean scuffed or dirty DVDs by wiping them down with some vinegar on a soft cloth.
--To remove water marks on your wood furniture [if you forgot to use coasters, as your mother probably taught you], rub the furniture (always with the grain) with equal parts vinegar and vegetable oil.

--To clean urine out of a mattress [because children and pets do have accidents], clean it with a solution of vinegar and water and then sprinkle some baking soda onto the mattress and brush or vacuum the residue once it's dry.
--Spray vinegar onto deodorant-stained shirts before washing to remove discoloration. [Of course, if you use natural deodorants you shouldn't have this problem in the first place.] Vinegar also works to remove mustard, tomato sauce or ketchup stains.
--Add a cupful of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your wash to freshen up bright colors. Acetic acid won't harm fabrics, but it dissolves the soap residue that can dull dark clothing. It also acts as a fabric softener, a static reducer and a mildew-inhibitor.
--Vinegar will loosen chewing gum stuck to car upholstery, rugs and carpeting.

--Remove old bumper stickers from your car by spraying with vinegar, waiting a couple of hours and then pealing off.
--Wipe down your car windows and windshield with a 3-1 vinegar-water mixture to keep them frost-free in the winter.
--Kill weeds and crabgrass growing in sidewalks and driveways by pouring vinegar onto them. A half-and-half solution of vinegar and water can kill garden slugs if sprayed directly on them.
--To extend the life of cut flowers, add a few tablespoons of vinegar to the water in the vase, along with a teaspoon of sugar.

--Wipe out itchy ears with undiluted vinegar to keep dogs and cats from scratching at them.
--Cats don't like vinegar, so to keep them from scratching at furniture or sitting in certain areas, spray a vinegar solution onto the spot.
--For outdoor areas, soak a sponge in vinegar and place it in the forbidden place to keep cats away. If a cat likes to mark his territory, spray the area with vinegar to help eliminate the smell and deter recurrences.
--Vinegar gets rid of skunk odor on pets. Soak the animal with a half-and-half vinegar and water solution and then rinse with water.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to everyone and especially to dear Mother Earth!

Forty years ago, on the first Earth Day, I was a freshman in college. Though I was pretty much unaware of what was going on across the nation that day, I was painfully aware of the environmental problems in my own backyard. I had dealt with some minor allergies as a child, but that first year away from home had put my health into a tailspin, as I grappled with reactions to cleaning products, air pollution and my roommate's shampoo. By April of 1970, my dorm mates had dubbed me "Puff the Magic Hive" for my chronic hives and facial swelling, and just breathing had become a daily challenge. My roommates were concerned and sympathetic, to a point. The university officials were not. Had I dropped out of school and gone home (as my doctor and parents urged me to do), I would have lost a semester's tuition and rent. (There was no clause in my housing contract allowing me to leave because of health problems.)

Those who know me know that I can be pretty stubborn, and at eighteen, education was the most important thing in my life. After all, how was I ever going to write the Great America Novel if I couldn't even make it through my freshman year in college? I did, however, drop a couple of classes (keeping only my favorites, of course) and stayed with a friend off-campus during cleaning week (the annual spring cleaning in the dorms--very, very toxic). But I have to say that by the end of April and that first Earth Day, I was actually starting to feel a little better. Spring in Utah can be beautiful, and warmer temperatures meant open windows in the dorms and in classrooms (pretty common in those pre-air-conditioned days). I took to doing most of my daytime studying on the lawn outside the dorm or sitting on a bench in the student quad, and I had long since found a quiet corner on the top floor of the library for evening study sessions.

So, even though I didn't know about that first Earth Day at the time, I had learned a lot in the previous months about chemicals and pollutants and how they affect the human immune system. I may not have been part of any environmental sit-ins or "teach-ins" (as they were called at the time), but that was the beginning of my own environmental consciousness. Sown in a time of personal peril, those seeds of eco-activism have grown to maturity for me and for the world in a way that gives me hope for the next generation. I can't bring major corporations to their knees (though I do try) or have much influence on corrupt foreign governments, but I can change the environment in which I, and the people I care for, live. And, I can teach others and help change attitudes, one person at a time. That's why I celebrate today, because Earth and the people who live here are worth it. I hope you all have reason to celebrate too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Healthy Transportation on a Budget

In my continuing series for Earth Week on staying healthy on a budget, I have just a few ideas about transportation. It seems obvious that a major part of reducing chemicals in the air we breath involves reducing the exhaust we produce from our vehicles. Luckily, most of what we can do individually to reduce vehicle pollution also saves us money. There are many news articles and blogs this week talking about this, so I'm just going to throw out a few ideas that work for me.

1) Use public transportation whenever possible. Alas, the only public transit system where I live is by appointment only and extremely limited even then, so I generally only use public transportation when I'm visiting someone else's home town.

2) Ride a bicycle or walk. This is great exercise and we do have good bike paths here. It's just a little far between destinations and there's that problem with sub-zero weather in January, but don't let me stop you if this is what floats your boat.

3) Drive an energy-efficient car. I drive a 2002 Toyota Camry (which we bought used) that still gets between 30-35 miles to a gallon of gas with 180,000 miles on the engine.

4) Carpool to work, school and church activities. I work at home and MCS keeps me from going to most activities, so this isn't an issue for me, but I remember the days with teenagers who always had to be ferried from one place to another.

5) Plan your errands and shopping to use the least amount of gas. Try to consolidate your outings into a couple of trips a week instead of every day. Sometimes I have to go to the post office to send an urgent order to a customer, so I'll try to add another errand onto it. Also, if I'm going downtown (it's called the Gulch here) or to a large shopping center with several different stores, I park my car in one place and walk. Besides saving fuel and money, I figure that's my exercise for the day.

6) Don't make left turns. This is an idea I borrowed from UPS (the big brown trucks). They have a company policy of planning their deliveries so that they go in a big circle, only making right turns. They have found that they save millions of dollars a year by doing this. When you make a left turn you have to wait for oncoming traffic and inevitably sit and idle your engine (thus wasting precious fuel). I find that in our town there are times when I just have to make a left turn, but I try to avoid them as much as possible and it does make a difference.

7)Vacation close to home or in your own backyard. Find out what there is to see and do in your home state, city or neighborhood. One of our favorite activities is an afternoon at the state historical museum or Saturday morning at the farmer's market (where you can get those cheap local organic vegetables I talked about a couple of days ago).

Saving fuel (and thus keeping the air cleaner) is really a mindset more than anything. We don't have to deprive ourselves of fun activities; we just have to think and plan a little. And just think of what you can do with the money you save.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heathy Housecleaning on a Budget

This is the second instalment of my earth week series on staying healthy on a budget. Like with organic foods, I forever hear the argument from people that chemically safe cleaning products are just too expensive. All I have to say to that is hogwash.

First of all, if you really want to do this right, get into your broom closet and under your kitchen and bathroom sinks and take out all those cleaning products you use. I'm guessing, if you're like I used to be, you have quite a number of items, which may include: spray glass cleaner, countertop spray, anti-bacterial wipes, toilet bowl cleaner, furniture polish, powdered cleanser, liquid cleanser, tile cleaner, shower scrub, carpet spot cleaner, oven cleaner, lime remover, chlorine mold spray, etc., etc. There are so many products on the market (and they have such cute advertisements--oh, those funny scrubbing bubbles!). Well, I'm about to make your life a lot simpler, not to mention less expensive, if you just follow some simple suggestions.

1) Go for multi-function and cut out all the unnecessary items. For the perfect (and cheap) all-purpose spray cleaner, mix vinegar with water (1 part vinegar to 2 parts water for most applications; 1 to 1 for tougher jobs) in a good spray bottle (available for $4.95 at Target). Label the bottle and use on windows, mirrors, countertops, and any other smooth waterproof surface, including your stove top.

2)For tub and tile surfaces and your toilet bowl that may need a little bit of abrasion, mix a little baking soda with water and scrub with a sponge. Or, try the following recipe:

2 cups baking soda
1/2 cup castile soap (Dr. Bronners works well)
4 teaspoons vegetable glycerin (works as a preservative)
5 or more drops essential oil (optional), like tea tree,, rosemary or lavender
Mix together and store in sealed glass jar for up to two years. Add more of the liquid soap or a little water to get the consistency of most store bought softscrubs.

Or, if you don't want to mix your own, Ecover makes a good softscrub cleanser and Bon Ami is an effective (and not very expensive) natural dry cleanser.

3) Buy a couple of microfiber dust cloths (available at K-Mart, WalMart, Target, etc.) and dust weekly. Wood furniture does not need regular waxing and most furniture sprays only make the wood attract more dust. If your fine wood is drying out and needs a little help, try using plain beeswax or beeswax mixed with a little olive oil rubbed in with a soft cloth.

4) To battle mold and germs, replace all those anti-bacterial products with one of the following sprays (mixed in good spray bottles and well-labeled):

A. 2 ounces tea tree oil mixed with 32 ounces water
Use on hard surfaces in kitchen and bathroom or around windows.

B. 50 drops GSE (grapefruit seed extract) mixed with 32 ounces water
This can be sprayed directly into the air (but not at people, please) as an air cleaner.

Yes, tea tree oil and GSE are expensive, but you don't need very much and these spray bottle mixtures will last you up to a year, because you don't need to use them very often if you're using the other products I suggested on a regular basis. Which leads me to the last suggestion:

5) Clean regularly and teach other household members to clean up after themselves. The beauty of using safe cleaning products is that they are safe for everyone to use. Even a four-year-old can clean a window with vinegar spray, and by seven he can be scrubbing the bathtub. Keep a pile of rags (a good way to use up old t-shirts and pajamas) under every sink to be used for spills and muddy footprints. Just plain water works fine in many cases.

Though Proctor and Gamble and the Johnsons would like us to believe that we NEED all their cleaning products, the truth is that we don't. Life can be so much simpler and healthier without them and every bit as clean.

[Note: if you have a particularly tough cleaning problem that I haven't addressed above, please feel free to email me and I'll help you find a safe solution.]

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eating Organic Foods on a Budget

Happy Earth Week to everyone! As this is the week (and Thursday, the day) we celebrate our beautiful earth, I'm going to use this blog to propose some things we can do to make the earth a healthier place for everyone.
One of the arguments I get from people all the time is that all the things we can do to protect the earth and ourselves--eating organic foods, using safe cleaning products, using less fossil fuels, etc.--are too expensive. Who can afford to live this way? Well, I'm going to give you all some ideas that I hope will motivate you to at least try some of these things. Because, as I have learned from my own and others' experiences, it really is cheaper in the long run to go earth-friendly.

To start off with, let's talk about eating organic foods, which protect the earth and our health by not using poisonous chemicals in the growing process. I will admit that if you walk into your local Safeway store you will find that a pound of organic bananas costs more than a pound of the inorganic ones (about 30 to 40 cents more sometimes), but there are some things you can do to save money and still eat healthy. Here are some suggestions I found on

1) Buy food items in their raw, unprocessed form and cook from scratch. Processed organic foods (like crackers and bread) are really expensive, but buying the ingredients (organic, of course) and making your own from scratch is often cheaper than buying the same item in processed inorganic form. And, believe me, once you've made the same recipe a half dozen times, you'll be able to do it so quickly, you'll hardly notice the difference in the convenience. I always make a full batch of muffins, biscuits, etc. and freeze them individually for eating on the run (not a good way to eat, but inevitable sometimes).

2) Buy in bulk. Every health food store and many chain stores (like Safeway) have organic food in bulk bins. And don't forget Costco and other discount stores, which sell organic rice, beans and even raisins in bulk packages at prices equivalent to the non-organic.

3) Buy in season. Apples are harvested in the fall, oranges in the winter months and summer squash by mid-July, so it makes sense that these items are going to be at their least expensive when they are at their most plentiful. They are even more inexpensive at the end of the growing season. I bought organic oranges last week for 79 cents a pound and in December I was buying organic apples for even less than that.

4) Buy locally. Some of the cheapest organic produce I buy is at our local farmer's market every Saturday from May through October, and most health food stores sell local produce and meats as well. Local is almost always cheaper when it comes to organic.

5) Befriend an organic gardener or farmer. Come to my house in August and you can have all the zucchini you want.

6) Choose the foods that it is advisable to only ever eat organically, which include the following:
beef, chicken and pork
dairy products
strawberries, raspberries & cherries
apples & pears
spinach & salad greens
peaches, nectarines & apricots
peppers, green & red

7) Grow your own. If you have the time and space, this can be the best way for you to have organic vegetables. If you plant a large garden, this can require a significant outlay of cash at the beginning of the season for seeds, organic fertilizer and gardening equipment, but the payoff at harvest time can be phenomenal. You will also have to have some way to preserve the food if you want to save some for the winter months, but a good freezer or several dozen quart jars and a pressure canner will provide food storage for many years.

8) Remember that Rome was not built in a day. Most of us come to healthy eating one step at a time. The important thing is to make that step. Maybe this year you start with shopping at your farmer's market or growing some herbs in pots on the back porch. Every healthy food you eat is one less unhealthy food you eat, maybe more, because, at least for me, healthy food tastes better and makes me feel better, so I'm not as inclined to overeat. Plus, I have less desire for the really expensive snack foods, like chips and ice cream (well, maybe ice cream sometimes).

Happy organic eating!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Random Thoughts

The US Census Bureau has had a major computer glitch, so I haven't had much census work to do this week. Some interesting things have come through my email that I thought I would share.

There's a great checklist for a safe and healthy home over at the Environmental Working Group (one of my favorite websites).

May is MCS Awareness Month and MCS America has some great information you can pass on to family and friends, including some one-page handouts, which I intend to mail to all of my family members.

The buzz on the internet is that Congress is poised to reform the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), an antiquated law passed in 1976 which does little to control the use of toxic chemicals in products we use every day. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE contact your senators and representatives and tell them how important it is to you personally that they reform this law.

This week's "well duh" headline: "Exposure to air-polluted environment impacts children's health..." Actually the ensuing article (a news release from the University of Southern California dated April 6, 2010) was very interesting, especially this statement: "In a study that looked at statistics on children's health in Southern California communities, researchers found that those who attend schools near high-traffic areas are 45 percent more likely to develop asthma..." No surprise there, but it's nice to have scientific backing. The study was reported in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

And finally, I hope everyone reading this is enjoying spring, because here in Montana it is definitely still winter--cold and snowing today.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Working for the Census

I've been working for the Census Bureau for the past couple of weeks. I worked on the 1990 and 2000 Census taking, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into and didn't expect to have any major problems with the work. My biggest concern was with the three full days of training. Something about sitting in an enclosed space with twenty-some-odd other people for eight hours a day was enough to make me question the wisdom of it all. As it turned out, it really wasn't too bad.

Census workers (enumerators) are divided up into crews with a crew leader who helps with the training and to whom we have to report every day or two. When the crew leader called me a couple of weeks ago to remind me of the training days, I told him about my MCS. I suggested that I would sit at the back of the room near a door and I would need to not be too close to other people. He said he had three people in the last training session who were also sensitive so he would do what he could to make the environment safe for me.

When I got to the first day of training, the room was pretty packed with twenty-four of us and no windows. However, the room did have an outside door, which the crew leader was willing to have slightly ajar for most of the session. I initially sat at the back, but there was a man nearby with some aftershave on that was causing a problem so I moved closer to the door. The crew leader had everyone introduce themselves, so when it was my turn I briefly explained the problem of my chemical sensitivity and what they could all do to help. The crew leader expressed his support and told me to move anywhere in the room that would feel safe for me or tell him what else could be done to accommodate my needs.

During the breaks that first day I had several people ask me about chemical sensitivity. Almost everyone knew someone else with MCS, and everyone who spoke to me was sympathetic and supportive. On the second day, I could detect no fragrance on anyone. So all in all, it turned out to be a good experience and I think I was able to educate some people. What was most surprising to me was that no one questioned the validity of my illness or complained about coming fragrance free. The Census crew leader and office staff who came asked me several times if I was alright and if there was anything else they could do to help. I have since learned that the U.S. Census Bureau has a fragrance-free policy in place for their permanent offices, so perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. That kind of good surprise I'll take any day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Today is World Water Day (who knew?). For most of my life I didn't really think much about water. You just turn on the tap and get a drink, right? That's how it is if you live here the good old US of A, but in much of the world, drinking water is not taken for granted. According to a little news snippet I ran across today, more people in the world die every year from water-born illnesses (drinking unsafe water) than from violence. And those of us with chemical sensitivities know that even in the US, not all water is safe for us.

For example, chlorinated water is really a problem for me. I avoid it whenever possible. That pretty much precludes living on a public water system. But even with our own well, I know that our water is full of antibiotics, other prescription drugs and pesticides, because that's what other people flush down their toilets and what settles into the ground water from the farm fields around us. So we have our own filtering system, first, where the water comes into the house (who wants to take a shower in someone else's drugs?) and second, at the kitchen sink, where we get all of our drinking water. And, though the environmentalist in me balks at the thought of it, I drink only bottled water when I am travelling (and not the cheap stuff that was obtained from a municipal water source).

So, do you know what's in your water?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Lazy Blogger

There are about a half dozen blogs that I visit regularly. These are the blogs that I know will have new and interesting posts almost every day of the week, sometimes more than once a day. These blogs vary in their content but they all have one thing in common--they're group blogs. That is, they have several people who take turns posting (permabloggers) and they often add others (guest bloggers). Alas, Breathez is not a group blog. It's just me, trying to change the world, one blog post at a time. And, frankly, some days I just don't feel like changing the world. Some days I just want to crawl into my own little hole and pretend the world doesn't exist. And then there are those days (many of them) when I'm just plain lazy.

So this is my (hopefully) one and only apology to the blogging universe for not posting on a more regular basis. I AM passionate about social justice, especially for people with disabilities in general and MCS in particular. And if there are children involved, well, you'd better get out of my way. But that kind of passion is hard to maintain 24/7. My heart wouldn't be able to stand it, and, if I get riled about every little thing, how are people to know what's REALLY important to me?

So I'm still going to continue blogging, but maybe less often, because I'm tired and need to reserve my energy for some things coming up in my life--like working for the Census Bureau (because I really do believe that every one deserves to be represented in this great country and it's something I can do mostly outdoors) and taking a month-long trip across the country in May to visit family and see where my foremothers trod, not to mention helping a daughter and family move during the summer and playing with my grandchildren (including the three more due in the fall). There's just so much I want to do.

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day to everyone. Today people throughout the world are celebrating women. In the United States, the entire month of March is celebrated as National Women's History Month. As an amateur historian who specializes in women's history, this is truly right up my alley. Traditionally, women have been left out of much of written history, so finding their stories can be a challenge, but the rewards for searching are amazing. We have so much to learn from the women of the past. Their stories are an essential part of our own and of those of future generations.

For more information on women's history, go to the website of the National Women's History Project. I especially like the following quote, found on this website:

Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.
Myra Pollack Sadker

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Church Update

As many of you know, our local church leaders decided some time ago to establish a "fragrance-free goal" for all of the LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) buildings in the Helena, Montana area (including Townsend, Boulder, Lincoln and White Sulphur Springs). In this area the Church owns four buildings and rents two smaller ones. I blogged about this as it was happening but several people have asked me for an update. So here's where we are now.

Each building now has permanent signs on every entrance door asking people who enter to please be fragrance-free. These signs were made with the plastic lettering that adheres directly to the glass and sit right at eye-level, so they are easy to read and quite obvious to any adult entering the buildings.

LDS buildings typically have what is referred to as an overflow area at the back of the chapel which is a buffer zone between the chapel and the cultural hall (gym) behind. Large folding (accordion style) doors separate this area from the chapel and can be opened when seating in the chapel is full. This area has separate entrance doors from the foyers on either side of the chapel. It was decided that though the goal is for the entire building to be fragrance-free, the overflow area would be particularly designated as fragrance-free. It was assumed that there would always be some people who either forget or don't know to come fragrance-free, so these people would be asked to sit well away from the overflow area. We now have permanent signs (made and sent to us by the Church building department in Salt Lake City) on the walls next to the doors to the overflow areas in all of our buildings. These signs ask that no one who is wearing any type of fragrance sit in the overflow areas.

"So how is all this working out?" some have asked. Actually, it is working pretty well. One thing that has helped is to have the large accordion doors to the overflow areas stay closed until just a minute before the meeting is to start. For the most part, that keeps people out of the overflow area unless they want to sit in the fragrance-free area. Of course, there are always stragglers (latecomers) who end up sitting in the back, but I have been able to sit in the overflow area (albeit in a chair off to the side in the very back corner) without any difficulty since the beginning of this year. It is SO much nicer than last year, when I was sitting alone in a classroom listening to the audio transmission of the service. There was one Sunday when the meeting started and no one had opened the big door, so I had to get up and opened it myself. It was very noisy and everyone stared at me as I did it, but I haven't had to do it myself since then.

We certainly have made progress, and I am appreciative of all the people who have worked to make it possible for those of us with chemical sensitivities to attend church meetings (we have identified at least 30 LDS Church members in this area). After our Sacrament service, we have auxiliary meetings for children and adults. I have not been able to attend these meetings safely, though I have tried a couple of times. The classrooms are just too small and there are still a few people who don't seem to really understand what fragrance-free means. However, I am not complaining. I may try to attend these other meetings again during the summer, when I can sit by an open window, but for now, I am very happy to be able to sit in Sacrament Meeting with the rest of the congregation. Education is an ongoing process. Leaders continue to remind people to come fragrance-free, and I take every opportunity to define that term in discussions I have with people. So we're getting there, and that's a good thing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chemicals in Fragrances

Lisa Frank at Enviroblog reported last week that the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has published a list of ingredients that its members use to make consumer products. Of the 3,163 chemicals listed, 1 in 21 earned a "high" hazard score in the EWG's (Environmental Working Group) cosmetics database, 1 in 6 rated at least a "moderate" hazard score and 26 of them scored a perfect 10 (the highest score). Here's a list of those 26:

Dibutyl phthalate
Diethylhexyl phthalate
Musk ambrette
Nano titanium dioxide
Nano zinc oxide (20-60nm)
PEG-3 Sorbitan oleate
PEG-6 Sorbitan oleate

Now, these names mean nothing to me, but I do trust the EWG. Lisa Frank pointed out in her blog post that phthalates are "potent hormone distruptors linked to reproductive system birth defects in baby boys," and octoxynols and nonoxynols also "break down into persistent hormone disruptors." Musk ambrette, which is toxic to the skin, brain and testes, has been banned from body care products by the European Union, but is apparently still in use in some fragranced products.

These chemicals may be present in any personal care and household products that contain added fragrance, and manufacturers don't have to list them as ingredients in these products. Usually, if ingredients are listed at all, these chemicals are grouped under the general heading of "fragrance." Scary, very scary.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I will apologize in advance for this rant, but there are just some things that need to be called out. The first is my ongoing battle with manufacturers who change the ingredients in their products, products I've been using (or eating) for a long time, but which I can no longer use with the new ingredients. This happens often with foods, which is why I read ingredient lists even on the products I have been using for years. It seems to happen less often with personal care items, but that's where I'm having issues this week.

Soon after I was diagnosed with celiac disease and MCS in 1998, I discovered the line of personal care products produced by Aubrey Organics. I have always had very sensitive skin and I need a good moisturizing lotion, no easy task to find when it has to be free of petro-chemicals, fragrance, almonds, sesame, wheat and lavender (all things to which I have been know to react). So I was thrilled to find Aubrey's Unscented Ultimate Moisturizing hand and body lotion. Not only was this lotion free of all the above-mentioned ingredients, but it actually kept me from looking like a dried up old prune. For the past couple of years I have been ordering this lotion by the case through my local natural foods store. When I went to reorder last month, I found that that the packaging had changed so I thought I'd better look at the ingredients. Sure enough, the ingredient list was very different.

When I called the customer service number at Aubrey Organics a couple of weeks ago, I was told that that the labeling had changed to meet new European labeling standards and that there was actually only one change to the ingredients, the addition of soy oil. To make this long story a little shorter, I ordered a couple of bottles to try and was REALLY disappointed. Not only is the lotion much less effective, but I seemed to be having a slight reaction to it. So I emailed the company to complain. The reply I received was very patronizing, but gave me the added information that they are now using lavender in the product, though it is listed as something else. So I grit my teeth (grrrrrr) and go on the search for another lotion. Meanwhile I'll just have to be a prune face.

My other rant topic is the mail. I came home from an afternoon with my grandsons yesterday to a pile of mail which my husband had picked up at the post office. (We have a PO box for our business.) As soon as I picked it up my head started to swoon (in not a good way). It smelled like someone had sprayed cheap cologne all over it. YUCK! I can only guess that either someone who handled the mail was wearing heavy scent or there was a piece of scented mail to which my mail was exposed in transit. Needless to say, it all got taken out to the garbage, except for the check from a customer which will have to go to the bank in a scent-proof bag.

So those are my rants for the week. Anyone else have a similar rant you want to add?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some interesting links...

Today is a busy day for me. I really have to get some work done and dig out the piles in my office, but I want to pass on some links to what other people are doing and saying about chemical sensitivity and the environment.

At The Canary Report Susie has generously posted an article I wrote about our recent house restoration project. While you're there, be sure to watch the short video on The People's Market in Oakland, CA. It's truly inspiring.

If you're a facebook fan, there's a new group to join, "I made a sustainable choice today." You can do a search for it or link through my page (if you're my friend, that is, which I hope you all are). The group was started by one of my favorite bloggers, green mormon architect. The idea is that you will make (at least) one conscious choice each day to do something that is environmentally sustainable. Some examples would be using reusable grocery bags, planning all your weekly errands for one trip, reusing something you have instead of buying new, etc. We probably do these kinds of things every day, but being part of this group has made me more thoughtful about it, causing me to do even more.

My grandson is working on a school project this weekend around the theme of "the power of one." He's making a collage of environmentally-friendly things we can all do (using recycled magazine pictures, of course). He's learning that even a seven-year-old can have a positive impact on the world. Just imagine what we can all do together.

Monday, January 25, 2010


"Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the [home] I love..."*

I have always placed great value on personal independence, and my propensity for wandering often got me in trouble as a child. I remember laying in the cool damp grass of our front yard on a summer's evening and watching the trail of a jet plane streak across the amber sky, yearning to be on that plane, headed to some far-off place where no one knew my name and I would be free to roam to my heart's desire.

Yet, here I am on a chilly winter's morning, sitting in my "cave," bound to this eleven-by-twelve-foot room, like I am every morning, drinking my soymilk-banana smoothie and talking to myself on a computer screen. Like most (all?) people with MCS, I am mostly homebound, fettered by the disease that isolates me physically from the rest of the world, a canary in a not-so-gilded cage.

Some might think it a miserable life, but a closer examination of this room reveals a different picture. A large bookshelf next to my desk is filled with favorite stories and travel guides, tomes of knowledge from the past and present. On the wall to the right of my desk hang three small silk embroideries from the Mascarene Islands halfway around the world. A television and DVD player sit on another small desk across the room and a radio tuned to NPR (oh, what would I do without NPR?) rests on the floor at my feet. Then there is the computer (actually there are two), which magically links me to more people and information than my feeble mind can possibly comprehend. Like secret conduits, I am surrounded by escape hatches, vehicles for my wanderings, albeit mentally and emotionally, not physically.

Like all wanderers, sometimes I go too far. Lost in a website or 900-page novel, the ringing of the phone or a glance at the clock reminds me that I've forgotten to sleep or eat or, heaven forbid, pick up a grandchild from school. It is my family that keeps me grounded after all. Like the tethers on a gigantic Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon, they hold me (loosely) to reality, obligation and responsibility. They are gentle and patient and I need them. Otherwise, I fear I would just float away into oblivion, never realizing I was even lost.

[*misappropriated from one of my favorite hymns, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing")

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Recent attacks made against MCS America

Anyone who is familiar with MCS America knows the good work of this organization and Lourdes Salvador. This is always the first organization and website I direct people to when I am asked questions about MCS. I just really can't say enough to express my appreciation and admiration for MCS America. All of us with MCS have experienced negative reactions from people who somehow feel threatened by us and our disability. Yet, I was dismayed to receive the following statement in my email this morning. For now, I am just putting it on here so people know what is happening. Within the next couple of days I will post some ideas for what we can do to positively react to this.

A personal attack was recently launched against me and MCS America, in which many inaccuracies were published on Facebook for the sole purpose of stirring up controversy and tarnishing my reputation. This “controversy” is nothing more than the continuance of a longstanding, unsubstantiated smear campaign based on falsehoods and innuendo about me and MCS America.

The person or persons who launched this attack contacted the National Health Information Center (NHIC) to demand that the annual MCS Awareness and Education Month be removed from the National Health Observance Calendar due to MCS America, which was the contact organization for the event, being “a fake organization.” NHIC complied with the demand. The listing allowed schools, hospitals, employers, and other members of the public seeking information for awareness events on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness to contact MCS America for brochures, studies, posters, and other informational materials. The loss of this listing is a tragedy for our entire MCS/EI community.

The MCS/EI community is defined by empathy, support, sharing, and working together to find healing and to stop pervasive chemical pollution. We are not about personally attacking others within our community even if we disagree on an issue. That type of activity does not foster our cause, but rather promotes division and strife. Many members of our community work tirelessly to have MCS/EI officially recognized and to educate the public-at-large. The listing in the national calendar was another important step toward educating the public about MCS/EI and bringing us closer to having our illness fully recognized. It is astonishing that anyone would actively pursue the removal of MCS information in a national publication.

MCS America stands behind its mission to gain medical, legal, and social recognition of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as a disorder of organic biological origin induced by toxic environmental insults; to provide support and referral services to individuals with MCS, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other environmental illnesses; and to ensure that environmental toxicants are identified, reduced, regulated, and enforced through lobbying for effective legislation. MCS America will continue to work toward these goals through whatever means available.

Informational materials about MCS Awareness and Education Month, which is scheduled for May 2010, are available through our website at

Thank you for your support!