How to Hold a Fragrance Free Birthday Party (Part II)

How to Hold a Fragrance Free Birthday Party (Part I)

Whew! Am I glad that’s out of the way (by 11 months now!). And I can’t believe it’s nearly time for the next one; I sure hope it’s a quiet one. Kid’s 18th and 21st are ritualistically on the larger, noisier side; and, for my daughter’s 18th, I wasn’t about to let my health dull the event for her.

This post has been half-ready, sitting in my drafts folder for a while now but there’s this thing about teenage offspring and their first ever long-term relationship that means that if they break up, all speaking, blogging, showing photos, or anything to do with that person is absolutely forbidden. For some time. That time is now over, so here’s what happened… at the fragrance free 18th birthday party, that is. But first:

In brief (click here for the long version) here’s what happened, leading up to it:

  • Outdoor balcony at restaurant was fully booked out by us (this meant we had to invite 30 people, at least)
  • Catering staff were asked not to wear sprays or fragrance (this helped us decide on the actual restaurant, itself. The first restaurant owner who agreed to this, we booked with; which just happened to be the first place we tried: Miyako Japanese Cuisine & Teriyaki. Usually, Japanese restaurants have a lot more gluten-free, healthy-type food choices, anyway)
  • We asked for them to keep the door leading into the restaurant  (from the balcony) closed at all times, due to fumes from high-temperature cooking of Teriyaki (indoor Japanese BBQ)
  • Menu was decided on in advance (this saves money. Can’t have people going: “Oh, I’ll have the Gently-Baked Lobster and that bottle of Dom Perignon.” And, more importantly, we needed to take many people’s dietary requirements and particular tastes into consideration: children, old people and those on a special diet. I think we pleased our guests… and no one got sick)
  • A gluten-free (GF), dairy-free, artificial flavour free chocolate mud cake was ordered from delightful cake making people at Wooden Spoon Cakes (they specialise in GF cakes–and as usual, this one was delicious. Often people complain about GF food; but every year, people always want more of this particular mud cake.)
  • Invitations were sent out (very clear message about the fragrance issue, why that is, and what happens–people need to know that it’s not about the smell, yah? It’s the chemicals!)
  • Phone calls were made to remind people about the fragrance issues (People forget. They do! It’s like brushing their teeth (or something that they do automatically each day) as they get ready to rush out the door.), we did this the day before the event
  • Lovely cousins took the birthday girl shopping for a new outfit so I didn’t have to get sick by going into Myers (our department store, here in Melbourne, Australia)
  • Daughter’s slimy ex-boyfreind finally saw they he was NOT the only one who gets asked NOT to wear fragrance chemicals

So here’s how our fragrance free event actually went down:

Yes, it was fragrance free (FF), practically: if you don’t count the fumes from the fabric softeners, washing powders, and soaps, floating around the air; however, when with a group of people who normally wear fragrances, I count this outcome as good. Real good. And the ‘old’ fragrance coming from some people’s clothes? You know the sort: the stuff that some people smell of permanently, even when they’re not wearing it? That was still there. So, even with these mildly impacting on my health, yes, I was still marvellously impressed, coping really well, and totally humbled by all thirty-three people’s effort to go fragrance free. I really feel that the reminder phone calls helped–even though, I felt like a total nuisance getting someone else to make these calls, they were necessary. And perhaps, the rumour that they couldn’t come if they were not FF, I’m sure that was a huge incentive, too.

But, it wasn’t a rumour, and I was all keyed up, ready to do the deed. And I didn’t read the comments on this blog until the night after the party. But I’m not sure that there is someone in my life who can “play the bad guy”; well, there is, but it’s mostly that person’s friends/relatives who wear it, and going by previous functions, I’m often left out in the cold—literally [think sitting outside at events in winter while people who are wearing fragrance are inside]. As years have gone by, the smaller gatherings have become more socially inclusive of my immune system’s fragrance intolerance. However, this was our event and the boundaries were clear. (Most people knew that I’d been awfully sick for the previous year, so I had that on my side.) My daughter was nervous because the last two birthdays were disasters as far as fragrance went–and that it happened in our own home.

The Melbourne skyline was amazing. The weather was overcast but it was a hot day of 33 degrees celsius; however, the north wind (our notoriously harsh, hot and dry, densely polluted wind, which blows up from the north) decided to stay away. Apart from the boat taxis on the river, the restaurant was perfect. I can’t recommend this place highly enough for anyone who needs an outdoor eating area away from main roads, and that can be closed off from the public.

The time went quickly and it was just like an ordinary party where there is a large group of people, gathering around for a celebration. It felt surreal. I had not yet had success at Uni with fragrance free classes; and I’d been so sick throughout the previous year, that just organising the party was exhausting. (As was anticipating what could go wrong.) So when we were actually there, it passed like a dream come true.

However, it wasn’t all unscented roses and gluten-free chocolate cake…

I couldn’t invite many people with chemical sensitivities, you see, at gatherings where everyone is already fragrance free, these often include people who are chemically sensitive; *such is the nature of chemical sensitivities, people simply don’t use chemical-based products*. (Just so you know, they don’t end up with bad BO (cause they wear fresh clothing), smelly bum cracks (umm–they shower, daily), or turn ugly from lack of Estea Lauder applications (cause they know they are already beautiful).) At these type of events, people who are wearers of fragrance chemicals are easily filtered out–unless, or until they have been well trained in the fine art of going fragrance free. This segregation of events is stupid (and guess which ones would have to sit up the back of the bus? Well, that depends on whose in the minority and if the bus has the windows open) and it’s freaking impossible to invite most of my chemically sensitive friends because I don’t want them to get sick. It’s rude to even ask them to risk it. This was my daughter’s event so I only invited one chemically sensitive person who is close to us; but she couldn’t make it down from Queensland. I wish she could have cause then I wouldn’t have been the only one there (She’s not as chemically sensitive–some fragrances, and mould–and has a job where she deals with people all the time, so I felt I could invite her without risking her health or wellbeing).

Anyway, I’m sure just a couple of people who were there think that I’m mentally ill, and maybe, on some creative level, I am, but that’s a totally separate issue from getting chemically ill; however, certain people can, and do, get confused. I gathered this from the ‘enquiries’ about my ‘mental health’ and ‘stress levels’ in the weeks leading up to it. *Well meaning, of course.*  *And, from the usual suspects.* My answer was: “I just need to move out of the city, away from the pollution and that mould-ridden house.” (I was about 30 days away from moving to the beach house that I’m in now.) I said this knowing that fresh air fixes it every time. I know this. So do my doctors. Who wouldn’t end up with crazy-screaming-woman issues when they spend their whole time trying to control others who they have no control over? Or, trying to avoid chemicals in a world where chemicals are almost everywhere? Actually, the idea that we can control anything is sure to turn into an anomaly, anyway:

After all that organising, one hour into the party my upper respiratory system was suffering symptoms from diesel fumes, of all things.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate (oh, the bloody stress of tying to anticipate things in advance) was a boat taxi pulling up, parking on the edge of the river, outside our building’s balcony, a few floors down. This happened for ten minutes, every half hour of so. The diesel fumes floated up into our dining area. I told our darling waitress, Cony (thanks, darling x), and she raised the plastic side wall, and that helped. Because the diesel was mixed with fresh air, it wasn’t so bad–as opposed to being in a closed space such as a car or room with it.

It just goes to show that no matter how much planning there is, not everything will go to plan; but without the plan, it would be a complete and utter disaster. End result: My daughter was happy; I was happy.

Anyway, here are some photos:

If you have a situation where you or someone you know is excluded from family events, try printing out this Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign, and sending it to relatives. It’s visually explicit.

Have you ever attended a fragrance free event? If you have any tips or suggestions, please share…

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Scent-free Canada

Choose Friendships Over Fragrances

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Choose Friendships Over Fragrances

Often, asking someone to forgo using his or her fragrance products (such as perfume, aftershave, washing powder, or hairspray) can be awkward. You just don’t know how that person will react. I’ve had all sorts of responses, from kind acceptance of my request, to utter outrage—stemming from their perception of ‘my’ breaching of ‘their’ human rights. (Like breathing air unhindered is not a basic human right? And it—the outrage—just goes to prove that breathing is something that people take for granted… that is until they have problems doing it!) Asking a friend to skip using fragrance (so you can access the friendship, so to speak) and asking a professional such as a doctor, dentist or lawyer (so that you can access a service, and/or building) to go without fragrance are completely different challenges. One is required (by law) to help you, but the other one (the friend) has to have your best interests at heart to be able to help you. It’s easier to find a new dentist than it is to find a new friend. I’ve found that it helps to set the bar high, I don’t have a lot of friends but the ones I do have would never wear fragrance around me. It’s about education really!

Just because, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has included reference to MCS in their revised Guideline, Access to Buildings and Services (Guidelines and information (HEREOC 2007) does not mean that knowledge about MCS, chemical sensitivity, and Environmental Illness is common among the general public—yet.

This, taken from HEROC’s website, states:

“The Use of Chemicals and Materials section of the Guidelines state: A growing number of people report being affected by sensitivity to chemicals used in the building, maintenance and operation of premises. This can mean that premises are effectively inaccessible to people with chemical sensitivity. People who own, lease, operate and manage premises should consider the following issues to eliminate chemical sensitivity reactions in users:

  • the selection of building, cleaning and maintenance chemicals and materials;
  • the provision of adequate ventilation and ensuring all fresh air intakes are clear of possible sources of pollution such as exhaust fumes from garages;
  • minimising use of air fresheners and pesticides;
  • the provision of early notification of events such as painting, pesticides applications or carpet shampooing by way of signs, memos or email.”

Now, why can’t we get the general public to do this? Am I kidding? No, I’m not. It’s all about creating a balance. And education (did I say that already?). And it’s about repeating yourself. And repeating yourself. And… you get the idea. People are bombarded with adds to scent things: their washing; their hair; their armpits; their houses; their cars; their dogs even. If manufacturers used only non-toxic ingredients (whether they be natural or not) that have been proven safe for asthmatics, the chemically sensitive, the allergic, and the immune compromised then life would be easier for all us. But it’s not, and unless the people who can’t breathe comfortably around these products, pack up and move to Halifax (a city where council/government have passed regulations to make the place fragrance free so that people affected by fragrance chemicals can access the city without getting sick) then we had better get our education hats on.

Asking a medical professional (especially now that we have the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Guide for Victorian hospitals) or other type of professional is one thing. Often this goes down well, and in the event of not making someone sick, they are happy to comply; however, asking a friend or extended family member is another box of tricks entirely. I’ve perfected the art of convincing people in the professional domain, but when it comes to family and friends, I still struggle, even after nine years. Because of the lack of education in this area, I’ve had to be the educator, and I can tell you, it is frustrating at times and sometimes easier—especially when I’ve had a severe exposure and everything is making me ill—to just recover in isolation. Friends and family can be bias against you, or use excuses like, “Well, she was fine around me the other day [Read: she didn’t say anything about my shampoo/hairspray/deodorant.].” Or, “She’s just having a bad day,” or even (from the people who can’t conceptualise the idea of someone being made ill by chemicals), “She doesn’t like the way I smell.”.

My tips for helping others to help you?

Give them a list of all the products that you are okay with. Products that are safe for you to breathe around; products that don’t make you ill; products you know they use (just find a different brand without the nasty ingrediants). Or my personal favourite? Buy them two or three of each of these products and give them to them at Christmas (and on birthdays). Every. Single. Year. For some reason, this really works…

In this video, from the Invisible Disabilities website Cherri and Karen have a great attitude and some helpful tips to go along with it. Check it out!

And this from the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC) website:

Research done in 2004, 2005 and 2009 by Stanley M.Caress and Anne C. Steinemann “… found that nearly 38% of Americans report adverse effects when exposed to some kind of fragranced product.” With approximately 310 million people in America in 2010, that is almost 117 million Americans who report adverse effects to normal, everyday products.

As we can imagine, people living with Environmental Illness (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Chemical Injury, Toxic Encephalopathy) often experience limited access into public places, issues at work and inability to attend functions with friends and family. Regrettably, these barriers can lead to loneliness, isolation and feeling abandoned when loved ones choose not forgo the fragrances that cause these problems.

Therefore, if our loved one is telling us they are getting debilitating migraines, dizziness or fatigue from our laundry detergent, maybe we should consider simply switching it out so that they may remain a part of our lives.

For more information on the Choose Friendships Over Fragrances project, visit the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC) and look under “Campaigns.”

Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC):

CIAC is a Campaign of the Invisible Disabilities Association – A 501(c)3 non-profit organization that encourages, educates and connects people and organizations touched by illness, pain and injury around the globe.

Invisible Disabilities Association:

Resource: Caress and Steinemann.

They further state:

The people in this video are not employees of IDA. We are simply sharing their story in order to help others living with Environmental Illness (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chemical Injury, Toxic Encephalopathy). The opinions expressed within are not necessarily those of IDA. IDA is not a legal or medical authority nor are we scientists. Please seek the advice of a physician.

You can visit Karen’s website here

Information on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Advisory Notes Access to buildings can be found here.

And a suggestive list of fragrance free and unscented products available in the US can be found here

And an Australian list, from AESSRA can be found here

And here is one from The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out.

And here are some fragrance free products that are available in Germany

Update December 2012: You can read another post about friendship and fragrance, here

Here is an extract from it:

Do you know someone who says fragrances bother or disable them? Chances are pretty good that you do.

Fragrances used to be made from pure plant extracts. Not so anymore, in fact they have become increasingly toxic over the last decades. And they are virtually everywhere now, even outside emitted from dryer vents everywhere.

When your friend, family member or colleague informs you that something you use has an adverse effect on them, how do you respond?

Do you choose the friendship?

Or the product?

Are you willing to stop using your perfume or cologne and other scented products to be “safe” near your friend? Are you willing to stop using fabric softeners, dryer sheets and fragranced laundry products? What about your favorite moisturizer or lipstick if they are causing the adverse symptoms? Are you willing to shop around for new ones that don’t have toxic fragrance chemicals and other harmful ingredients? How willing are you to do these things for your friend, family member or colleague?

When you choose the friendship, you also choose health; your health, your friend’s health, and eco-system health! And when you do, we are able to enjoy your company, your self, your gifts and your services, your experiences, your sorrows and your joys. We can enjoy being WITH YOU!

When you choose the products, we can’t!

Why not?

(Hint: it’s usually not because we don’t like you anymore)

That is from Linda Sepp’s Life with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: The importance of safe housing blog. You can read more here

Do you have any tips on getting friends and family to NOT use products that make you ill? Have you ever been asked to not wear a product that’s been making someone else ill?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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