Thursday, June 9, 2011

Church Update

I thought about titling this post "Weariness" or "Concession" or even "I Give Up." I haven't posted for such a long time because, in truth, I am weary of the battle that comes with chemical sensitivity. I haven't abandoned the cause entirely. I still read the MCS-America daily updates (or at least scan the headlines) and put my two cents worth in whenever there is an applicable discussion on Facebook. However, I've quit talking about the issue at church and I've (mostly) quit whining about it to my family (much to their relief, I'm sure). Because, frankly, I think it's a lost cause, at least in the LDS Church here in Helena, Montana. And who wants to fight a losing battle?

I've settled into a Sunday routine that works most of the time. I attend Sacrament Meeting (worship service) with my daughter and her husband. I often wear my mask and sometimes sit in the foyer, but it is worth it just to sit with family, the youngest boy often snuggling up to me during the meeting. It's not my own ward (congregation), but I have come to know several of the families there and don't feel like a total stranger. We sit on the back row of the overflow area of the chapel, and most people just leave us alone back there. It is never what I would call "fragrance free" but it is tolerable most weeks. I leave immediately after the meeting so as not to catch the fragrance of people walking by.

My only other involvement with church people is through the Visiting Teaching program of my ward Relief Society (the women's organization). I had asked to not have anyone come to our home, but the Relief Society president recently assigned a good friend who also has some chemical sensitivity to come visit me once a month. She is really the only person in my own ward (other than my husband) with whom I have any regular personal contact. I also mail the Relief Society newsletter with a short personal note to four other women in the ward each month. One of those women is an old friend and calls me occasionally.

There are two things I miss most with this arrangement: the sense of community and being part of the music. Every once in awhile I think, 'Maybe I should try again, to ask people to accommodate my needs so I can be more involved.' Then someone says something like I heard a couple of weeks ago from a family group that was looking for a place to sit before the meeting. One of the men, glancing over at me, said something to the effect of, "Well, we can't sit at the back because I'm wearing cologne." He looked at me and smiled as he said it, figuratively patting himself on the back that he was willing to find another place to sit to keep me safe, but I couldn't help but feel that he really didn't understand. Did he not see the signs, on every outside entrance to every LDS Church building in the area that ask everyone to please come to church meetings fragrance-free? Apparently, that doesn't apply to him. He's special. I'm not.

So, I give up. It is what it is and it isn't going to change. It's comfortable enough. I'm not sure what I'll do if my daughter and her family leave the area (a very likely possibility in the next few months). Perhaps I will try going to Sacrament Meeting in my own ward, sitting by myself at the back or in the foyer, mainly to keep up appearances and maybe, in some small way, to feel like I'm still part of the organization that my ancestors helped to found and to which I've given so much of my life.

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.