Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Interview Chatting About Fragrance-Free Wellness and Personal Pollution

I recently chatted with Kyle Knappenberger at EnviroKlenz about "How To Find Non-Toxic Cleaning Products," travel, overall wellness, advertising, and personal pollution.

Listen to the 18-minute interview here

To live without scent, I walk a line between the synthetic and organic worlds. How do we understand what we're sold as consumers? Read labels, check Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), ask questions. Use your nose, pay attention to what you're smelling. Zero odor will be rare, but many unmasked ingredients have a benign smell. Not all odors are harmful. We're all different, so we have to figure out our own ingredient boundaries. Some smells indicate products that are unhealthy for all people, like the "new car smell." Fragrance and essential oils cross over my safe line into very harmful.

We're all human. Hygiene is a priority. If body odor is a problem, fragrance is not the solution because body odor is still noticeable while the sharp fragrance is offensive.

What is personal pollution? It's the fragrance cloud permeating from us and odor trail we leave behind.

Personal Pollution Checklist. Reduce or remove scent:

The American Lung Association's sample fragrance-free policy form. here

Here's a heads up. Avoid getting coated with room deodorizing sprays in public restrooms, diffusers at stores, and by scent marketing where fragrance spews from HVAC systems in mall shops. Is your gym a safe-breathing location or scent marketed? A hug from a fragranced person will linger on you all day.

For more reading:
"Road Tripping, Fragrance-Free Lessons Learned From the Passenger Seat."
"Fragrance-Free or Unscented?"
"How To Go Fragrance-Free, Part Four: Soap, Deodorant, Moisturizer"
"Advertising Sells Americans a Stinky Deal Part One: Personal Pollution and Hurting Others"

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Advertising Sells Americans a Stinky Deal Part Two: Safe Zones for Wellness

Part Two, Safe Zones for Wellness

During my formative years, advertising art and text was an exciting piece of the larger world delivered to my small-town life. Old Coca-Cola ads, new album covers, even a bumper sticker for Champion spark plugs—I cherished the lines, colors, images, and words. I grew up loving advertising images. I always sang the Sweet'N Low jingle as I poured a packet into my tea (yes, out loud--"Wherever you go..."). I bought what they were selling hook, line, and sinker.

We, particularly Americans, so readily consume everything put on the metaphorical plate before us. Our portion sizes are large, and our appetite for scent is programmed early and often. We are repeatedly pitched to cover up odor. In the wild, detecting odor is a survival tool. It causes fight or flight. As much of a problem as multiple-chemical sensitivities (MCS) create in my daily life, I do think they alert me to health dangers. I might not have to worry about a predator eating me, but these invisible threats to human wellness create a web of illnesses pushing our bodies into a broken state. The obvious results from a toxic run-in are allergies and asthma, disorientation, killer headaches, nausea, but toxic VOCs short circuit the brain and also create nervous system fatigue. Autistic-like reactions—that’s another. It’s fight or flight. So I remove myself from situations as soon as I realize warning signs. And hope at best I’ll only have a bad day, but frequently these run-ins require more time for recovery. The other day I saw a sea lion on the sand appearing disoriented, head bobbing up and down, then it lowered it's head and stopped moving. The suspect: domoic acid poisoning during red tide. This biotoxin, a neurotoxin, affects the brain and disrupts nerve transmission sometimes causing seizures, brain lesions, or death. Can you imagine being a sea lion who is unable to hunt or navigate? There is an unnerving parallel in MCS symptoms from man-made toxins and affects of this red tide neurotoxin. I wonder what kind of permanent damage fragrances and other toxins are doing to not only our lungs, but brains.

Part of my wellness plan includes staying away from other allergens because they are wellness depleters. As in they take away wellness or good health. Dogs have become a primary allergen despite eight years of allergy shots. And there’s no such thing as an allergy-free dog—that’s just marketing spin. If a dog or cat has saliva, skin, or urine, then the animal is a source of allergenic proteins and leaves a trail of them wherever it goes just like the Charlie Brown character Pig-Pen’s cloud. Wherever dogs go, I don’t. Loading up on drugs to deal with allergens weakens my health foundation—I try to take as few things as possible, but still do. It’s important to think of our body and mind as an ecosystem; we are not just an MCS label. Getting hung up on one obstacle like MCS puts blinders on so we overlook other health invaders.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)

That’s why keeping my home and car as safe zones are my number one priority. If I can control where I live, that’s even better. LA was just too polluted for daily life. I tracked pollution drift and tried out Florida’s west coast but as much as I loved it, ended up returning to California yet avoid city life.

I do what I call an allergy clean to any home I live in. An empty house is easiest to deal with and I start from the top down. Close windows and turn off any fans and the HVAC system so allergens and dust aren't being blow around. Put a new allergy-rated filter into the HVAC system before turning unit back on and vent filters can be applied temporarily to catch allergens that blow out (see product directions)--duct cleaning is also an option. Another option is to run the system with the new filter installed before and after cleaning. Wearing a mask, gloves, glasses, and clothing covering arms and legs, I vacuum or Swiffer ceilings, walls, then floors. My goal is to get dust and allergens to drop to the floor. The next step: I use a microfiber mop to wet clean ceilings, walls, then floors--rinsing the mop head often. (All windows and surfaces are wet cleaned with microfibers.) Running an air purifier can be helpful after the wet-mopped areas are dry. Both my parents were military, so I guess I’ve learned this kind of discipline from my mom. She used to wash the walls seasonally, but they were smokers back when I was a kid. Remember that yellow nicotine coating on everything?

I don’t actually consider the home “allergy safe” after one cleaning pass, it’s more of the first layer of defense because allergens still circulate in the air resticking to surfaces. (Allergens are not visible and can remain active for six months to a year.) Each item brought into the home is individually cleaned using wet microfibers; water with a little Allersearch Laundry soap and Borax. Non-washables get vacuumed. Currently, I have a central vac, so I don’t have to worry about the vacuum spewing allergens back into the room. I wouldn’t use a vacuum indoors unless it has an HEPA filter.

We find changing out of outdoor clothes into indoor clothes helps reduce allergen and sensitivity triggers indoors. Shoes off at the door, of course. If it’s pollen season or I’ve had exposure to fragrance, other toxins, or allergens—it’s right into the shower including washing my hair. Long hair does get to be a lot of work because hair is like a Swiffer we wear. Just think of everything clinging to your hair. I don’t use hair styling products because they act like a sticky layer perfect for allergens and fragrance to adhere to.

When my allergy and asthma doctor said avoidance was my primary tool for dealing with my chemical sensitivities, and to keep my home as free of irritants as possible, well, that’s what I’ve been working on for two decades. It’s been a lot to learn. So much time researching and being my own test subject, so I have become a wellness expert from the inside out.

Let’s spread awareness—reduce personal pollution, and keep “Pig-Pen” in the cartoon strips.

For Part One:
"Advertising Sells Americans a Stinky Deal Part One: Personal Pollution and Hurting Others"

For more on red tide and sea lions:
Discover's "Brain Damage in Sea Lions Linked to Toxic 'Red Tides'"
ScienceMag's "Sea Lions Exposed to Toxic Algae Fail Memory Tests"

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Advertising Sells Americans a Stinky Deal Part One: Personal Pollution and Hurting Others

Part One, Personal Pollution and Hurting Others

I’m a writer and artist who happens to be chemically sensitive. How I experience the world is prioritized by my need to avoid scent. Many fragrance ingredients are airborne toxins and not just a momentary inconvenience to be endured. Fragrance exposures cause sick days, sometimes only for a few hours, but frequently as part of a domino effect, throwing off my body’s ecosystem making me sick for weeks. Products many people think aren’t harmful are. Scent wearers unknowingly cause grief and harm to others—just by using these scented products.

Wellness begins with awareness. 

We can be responsible for our personal pollution--this is a big topic. One piece of it is fragrance layering. Think about how dryer vents spew strong laundry product odors. Most consumers leave a trail of scent like the dryer vent. A typical user is layered in scents before they apply their perfume or cologne. I go completely without fragrance, of course, but for someone who enjoys perfume, their scent of choice is being undermined by conflicting layers of other fragranced products. They are wearing the equivalent of perfume barf. (Yes, that word was uncomfortable to write.) 

Another misunderstood scent issue is organic essential oils. They, too, are a cause of injury. Just because something comes from nature or is organic in the case of aromatic distillates, this is still concentrated scent and harmful to many.

Like others with allergies, asthma, and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) I find being out in the world challenging. Whole Foods Markets, which offered a safe shopping haven for me, has jumped on the quick-buck fragrance wagon by running humidifiers with essential oils in their stores. As helpful as some of the employees in these stores can be when I contacted one store manager and let her know fragrances were problematic for those with asthma and allergies, she replied but “they’re essential oils.” In this eyebrow-raiser of a reply, she implied the oils couldn’t cause health problems because they were natural (not synthetic). Her response indicated a lack of understanding.

Wellness begins with awareness. Although I’ve been blogging about my fragrance-free journey, my background started with sales. When I was around ten, I covered my town selling greeting cards and newspapers on my pony Taffy. I learned how to knock on strangers’ doors and take orders for personalized cards. They paid me and trusted me to return in several weeks with their order. I took this responsibility seriously and fulfilled expectations with prompt delivery. As a teen, I repeated the pattern with Avon. As an adult, I worked at a luxury design store and was an art consultant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. We sold non-essential items people didn’t need but wanted.

Selling and "how selling functions" has been a thread through my life. My full-time jobs were as a model, then an actress. Those worlds prioritize selling a product or person’s brand, inspiring a lifestyle choice over repercussions of ingredients. When I worked in commercials biting into food glistening with glycerin, we didn’t swallow it. We spit what they were selling into a bucket. It’s the advertiser’s job to sell products. When it comes to scent, we’re sold a stinky deal. Many current scented products have time-release properties to keep consumers stinking longer.

Since I’m a writer, one thing I can do is get the word out that fragrance is more damaging than people think.

You can help, too, by spreading the word and try doing a personal pollution evaluation to see what you discover. Now that you’re informed, it’s your choice whether you’d like to be part of the solution or part of the problem.

For Part Two:

For more reading:
Here are my posts on fragrance-free living.
Here Debra Lynn Dadd writes about fragrance ingredients.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I Once Bought 100 Books in a Week

I once bought a hundred used books in a week. Books entice me like jewels sparkling in shadowy corners.

As a kid, I explored dilapidated abandoned houses and looked around but didn't take things. I wanted to feel those spaces uninterrupted for years, sometimes decades. My mind wandered among dust covered tidiness or within vacant buildings whose history etched the floorboards. One forgotten two-story was missing its middle from the ceiling into the basement like something had donut-holed it. Light filled a weather-spun core of leaves and webs.

Another nearby house set back from the street, overgrown with trees and bushes, lured me in many times. A shell of a place. Three rooms downstairs plus a big side porch and a toilet closet. The house remained as it was in past days--plumbing-free and without electricity. The upstairs had two open rooms. This place became my haunt. One day it went up for auction. My mom had the high bid. Sixty dollars. The land had no resale value because of a 99-year land lease, something to do with the defunct mining company. Now my brother, sister, and I officially possessed a playhouse. It was time to explore the attic. After climbing through the dark rafters, we carried down a traveling case containing a Catholic prayer altar and two old books. One was a volume of Shakespeare, the other a slightly charred-looking copy of Gone With The Wind. I've moved many times but have kept these books all of these years.

I prefer hardcovers. Packing and unpacking boxes of heavy books during my many moves led to finally giving in and donating most of them. My allergies don't miss that dusty book smell, but my internal librarian pines for each rehomed friend.

I keep my remaining paper books behind glass bookshelf doors. My e-reader goes everywhere when traveling and is much lighter than a stack of books. I'm on my third Kindle. My husband bought our first Kindle, which we shared, so all of our purchases were tied to his account. That was a mistake because now I have my own account and e-books are not transferable. At least there's a list of the books for reference. The paper books I donated are forgotten until little blips pop up reminding me--yes, I loved that book on Truman, Selznick, Marilyn, so many more, and all of those art books. A book can remind you not only of its story but your life when you read it. Now, I either need to use the shared Kindle Keyboard (which I clung to because its E-ink gave my eyes a break from illuminated screens) or rebuy all of my books so that I can read them on my current Kindle's account. Lesson learned.
Those hundred books and more, each one spoke to me and said I'd need it then or maybe sometime in the future as a piece of my personal puzzle.
Books have propelled my life and given me a home. The words flowing from someone's pen or keyboard flooded a page and carried me to places and adventures I needed to go out and experience for myself. Maybe that's why I'm always on the move. Home is where the words dwell.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Breaking My Whole Foods Market "Addiction"

I stomped my foot down on the twenty just as another wind gust bit at it. The woman who it belonged to rushed over and smiled as I handed it to her. The wind and the sun had created the foundation for a pleasant exchange at my local farmers market today. I felt like I was part of the community’s weekly gathering. Proprietors enthusiastically engaged in conversations at their booths about growing history and family history. I walked away with a bag full of crispy fresh veggies, a nice piece of fish, and an introduction to the community.

Ever watched the 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen? Clifton Webb plays an efficiency expert. Orderliness, organization, making things flow more smoothly—these things appeal to me. Normally I shop at Whole Foods Market with a computer-generated list, organized by aisle, so all I have to do is click the checkboxes for stuff I need then quickly go through the store. I want my mundane tasks to consume as little of my time and effort as possible.

Shopping at Whole Foods Market had become a habit of mine, ingrained over decades, starting in 1993 when they scooped up all of the Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets in Los Angeles. Mrs. Gooch’s in Sherman Oaks was my favorite because the store had the familiar “health food store” feel, was organized and tidy, and carried loads of fresh veggies. I didn’t have to worry about harmful chemicals, preservatives, or artificial colors in their packaged goods. The employees were engaged and informative; I felt part of a growing culture while choosing my weekly groceries.

As Whole Foods grew into a massive retail chain their positioning has changed. They now function less as a beacon for the health conscious shopper but instead are synonymous with an expensive, indulgent gourmet identity. My quest for routine lulled me into going with the flow over the years as Whole Foods changed. You are not the market I thought you were. It’s time for a change.

They’ve gradually refocused existing customers while gathering new ones, all becoming status shoppers who buy higher priced products under their roof when neighboring stores and online prices are often lower. I find myself questioning products and ingredients at Whole Foods now. What exactly am I buying? The quality of natural/organic labeling, in general, has blurred over the years, and I don’t have a blanket confidence in these stores any longer.

Whole Foods stores are predictable and do have their place in the shopping world. Their aim is to please. For me, though, it’s time for me to take my blinders off and look around. Maybe Whole Foods fits into my life better as a supplement to farmers markets where I can reconnect with the “health food culture” I used to value so much. If I’m looking for efficiency, then online stores can provide lower prices and home delivery. I don’t need a custom-designed list for digital aisles. And I can slow down and chat at the farmers markets or other local health food stores.

It’s time to break my Whole Foods Market “addiction.” My identity is more Mrs. Gooch’s than Whole Foods. Maybe it’s time for an Airbnb-style shake-up with my grocery routine. Prioritizing local over chains to feel at home with my preferred food culture.

I’ve decided that Whole Foods Market, for me, is okay in moderation but it won’t be my default routine anymore. Blinders off!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wellness Ingredient: Broth or Stock?

Spring brings thoughts of reorganizing from the ground up. Gut health is the body's foundation. Years ago I was being treated by a naturopath. She recommended homemade bone broth from grass-fed beef to improve my gut lining and general health. The amino acids it provided would help reduce inflammation. Canned soups weren't an acceptable short cut. Browned bones simmered for hours create and preserve these health benefits. The source was relevant because I needed to avoid grain-fed issues, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, etc. which can be part of the commercial beef and poultry industry.
"Real cows eat grass—not grains."—Dr. Mercola offers a quick overview.
Recipes vary like the people who make them. Stock or broth has always been a way to prevent waste and use everything. My take: Stock uses bones and supplies healthful gelatin, and is considered an ingredient in other things. But if you add a bit of salt, now stock crosses into the broth label because it becomes something enjoyable on its own. Sip a cup of broth instead of tea for an afternoon beverage. Broth is generally made from meat scraps, vegetables, and seasonings. My broth is a combo from roasted marrow and knuckle bones, short ribs, meat, and water with some sea salt.

Macrobiotic cooking classes taught me about having a calm heart when preparing food and since I'm right handed, to stir counterclockwise. Our energy goes into the food. If upset or stressed, it was suggested to take a short walk before cooking. Attitude and stress levels can have a negative effect on gut performance.
Broth, "It'll heal what ails you"--the souplady of Drake's Valley, CA
The souplady in my novel, Eleven Sundays, serves a restorative brew to those who need it. She starts with the same basic ingredients available to anyone, but adds attentive skimming never allowing the foamy scum to loiter at the surface of the broth. Richness of taste develops by removing this tainting layer. She adds shelled pea pods right at the end of the simmering time. She wouldn't waste anything, so in they go. Healing properties have been attributed to this magical pot of brew. 

I come from a long line of soup makers. Growing up my mom made the best pot of soup! She cooked up a bone-with-cabbage-carrot-onion broth for the base, then added veggies, barley, salt, and pepper. When I think of soup, this is the soup that warms me.

Broth is a handy base to store in the freezer. Homemade soup can be quickly prepared by chopping up some veggies, toss into thawed broth, and cook til tender. Add bits of leftover rotisserie chicken.

Tip: An organic rotisserie chicken can supply a variety of meals.
I remove the skin, save most of the meat for meals (with mashed potatoes, or in sandwiches, tacos, pasta, chopped salad, etc.), and put the bones in a pot for broth. I don't add anything but filtered water and a little sea salt. This way I have a plain base without garlic, onions, or any other strong flavor. I'm allergic to garlic, but there's a benefit to a simple base--it will work with more recipes. Ever notice how almost everything has garlic in it? You'd be surprised where you'll find garlic--it's sneaky and can be listed as spices.

Cool before transferring to single-serve, freezer-safe containers. If it jiggles when cold that's a good indicator of gelatin success.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Winter Road Tripping -- Photos on the Go!

We had just passed the Interstate 55 exit and were headed west on I-80. My throat felt odd like I was in rush hour traffic, but we were west of Chicago, and traffic was light. A thick wedge of smoke spiraled into the overcast sky in the distance. My first thought was fire, but no, it was some kind of energy plant spewing toxins into the air. The Minooka Combined Cycle Power Plant uses natural gas. Well, we do need energy. I clicked off some blurry shots. At the time, I didn't think this precedent would influence most of my photographic choices during the cross-country drive, but it did. We traveled across what seemed like empty land populated with lonely shipping centers and twisted metal giants in charge of manufacturing or refining something. (That's from an interstate highway perspective. Off the interstate, the Midwest is known for hospitality and home-style cooking.)

This unexpected dash of pollution caused me to wonder…what does it take to be us? What is the cost of our modern life to air, land, water, as well as human and animal welfare? We all need a way to contribute—to make a living—and in general, we the masses benefit from those products developed or shipped from these “barren” stretches. Kind of how you'd imagine a mining operation on the Moon most of us don't ponder manufacturing locations.

My trip expectations were of long stretches of picturesque countryside devoid of human constructions creating mental space for reflection. We encountered that too, but this post will only cover the metal giants rising out of the ground, and not all were what they seemed.

Winter road tripping can chill the toes even with the heater on full blast. Yes, many times during the drive we commented on how appreciative we were to live in the twenty-first century and have a well-maintained vehicle to ride in on the journey. For some reason, I compare trips to the Donner Party's covered wagons going from Springfield, Illinois to Sutter's Fort, California in1846-47. For us going across the country only took three days, two nights, with no detours or cannibalism.

Patriot Renewable Fuels ethanol plant in Annawan, IL

HollyFrontier's Cheyenne Refinery in Wyoming for crude oil

Foote Creek I Wind Project west of Arlington, Wyoming

"Turbines can generate power at wind speeds of 8 to 65 mph."--EWEB
Wyoming's winds can rip across the Foote Creek Rim at up to 125 mph gusts. These three-finned giants are equipped with an automatic shutdown feature.

Sunlight sets aglow Sinclair Oil Refinery, Sinclair, Wyoming
Late afternoon sunlight sets the metal aglow. The Sinclair refinery shimmered like a mirage but became a shining beacon. For a moment, I expected the great and powerful Oz to reside within this steampunk destination.

Kennecott Utah Copper's Garfield Smelter Stack
Kennecott Utah Copper has virtual tours on their website. The stack is 1,215 feet high. That's 120 stories! Also, it's the tallest structure in Utah. For more fun facts check their fact sheet.

Bulldozer in salt.
Morton Salt Plant, Grantsville, Utah
Notice the bulldozer in the left of the photo. The familiar Morton's logo of a girl holding an umbrella decorates the side of the building. The white mountains are made of salt, not snow.

North Valmy (Coal) Generation Station in Nevada
"...that's water vapor you see at North Valmy not smoke. From Interstate 80 on a brisk winter day some mistake it for smoke. The stacks on the other hand run clear."
Which of course makes me wonder what "run clear" means. Stack scrubbers filter unhealthy emissions.

Coal Canyon exit 112
EP Minerals in Lovelock, Nevada.
Fernley Plant in NV
EP Minerals mines Diatomaceous Earth (DE) and Perlite in Lovelock, Nevada. The many EP Minerals locations gives a tangible quality to that bag of white DE powder I buy for insect management. The Fernley location mines DE and has a rotary kiln for granular DE products.

Geothermal plant near Bradys Hot Springs, highway exit at Fallon, NV.
At first I thought all of these pipes were for fossil fuels, but to my surprise it's a geothermal plant! Wells tap into underground heat.

Nevada Cement Co., Fernley, NV
"Many people confuse the terms cement and concrete. Cement is a fine gray powder that's used to make concrete."--Nevada Cement Co.

Duraflex International, Sparks, NV
I was not expecting this to be a maker of diving boards!

Mars Petcare US Inc., Waltham Way, McCarran, NV
Kal Kan, a brand of dog and cat food, is manufactured at this location. 

Granite Construction Co, Lockwood Facility, quarry, Sparks, NV

Animal, grain, fossil fuel, or mineral. These plants make something into something else fueling our needs for modern conveniences. All of these photos were taken while in the car without stopping. The smoke and vapor haunt me. Maybe another post will require me to get out of the car and see these places up close. A change of perspective can widen one's foundation while the new information helps us better understand the world.