Show me your boobs

breast-pe2Show me your boobs.

I don’t mean in a “flash your titties and I’ll toss you some Mardi Gras beads” way. Or “just for fun” or “let’s be naughty.” This is serious. Post some photos of your breasts, right here on this thread. Not pretty tittie photos. Photos of the miserable rashes, welts and bruising caused by your bra.

When I first started writing about the horrific rash caused by my Victoria’s Secret bras, information was very scarce online or anywhere else about this condition. It took me a long while to recognize the pattern of unbearable itching connected to two specific VS bras I’d just purchased. I started searching for information, and discovered the story of a women who believed it was formaldehyde in the bras that caused her allergic reaction — which looked just like mine: ugly, angry red welts, with an itch worse than poison oak, so bad that scratching until I bruised and broke the skin was less painful than trying to tolerate the itch.

I started writing about bra rashes, and rashes caused by Victoria’s Secret bras, and women began pouring from the woodwork, reporting similar conditions. The vast majority were associated with wearing VS bras. Since that time, other brands have popped up, creating similar reactions, but VS is still the largest offender — likely because they’re the largest manufacturer.

People have asked about suing VS, but I think that’s a dead end. It’s been tried, and it failed. For one thing, their position is that they don’t add chemicals to their bras. True enough — the chemicals are already in the fabric and they purchase that fabric after the fact.  So, they can legally claim innocence. For another, no one seems to have died from “contact allergic dermatitis” caused by whatever is in the bra fabric. That said, who knows who might have died from absorbing those chemicals over long periods of time? Those of us who react to the chemicals are the lucky ones — we stop wearing the bras. Those who don’t continue to expose themselves to toxins. Who knows how much they have absorbed through the skin, and what those chemicals do once they reach a toxic load? Could there be a connection to breast cancer?

VS will not acknowledge this problem, let alone take responsibility. I’ve talked to their reps on the phone, and they carefully choose their words so as not to even hint of culpability. But they KNOW there’s a problem. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have reached out to me. Yes, you read that right: VS contacted ME, not vice versa. They KNOW. Many, many women have returned their bras to the stores, and get their money back, no questions asked. Of course they do. If VS has the bras, they can destroy the evidence.

The most egregious facet of this story is that VS is aware of the problem, and they just don’t care. Despite customer loyalty, despite the fact that all of us with the allergy would flock to buy the products we want (and sadly, no one has found an acceptable substitute product), they just don’t care about us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve easily spent thousands at Victoria’s Secret over my life. Add us all up, all the money we’ve collectively spent… it’s substantial. Amazingly, VS doesn’t care. Which reveals just how much money they’re making. Easily enough money to deal with this issue. They don’t even have to acknowledge it. They could just quietly make it go away.

I suppose, legally speaking, it really isn’t VS’s problem that some of their customers react so violently to whatever is in that fabric. It ultimately isn’t their fault that some of their customers have allergies. We are like people with any other allergy — peanuts, eggs, fish. It is up to us to recognize our symptoms and carefully avoid products that contain that allergen. That said, food products are labeled with their contents. Clothing is not, other than basic fabric, like cotton, linen, etc. It’s time that allergens and chemical content are listed on labels so those of us with the allergy can safely buy products, rather than suffer the “trial and error” method of excruciating itching, bruising and welts.

It would also be wonderful if VS and other garment manufacturers could produce hypoallergenic lines of clothing. Make them just as cute and sexy as the others — but without the poison. They’re capable of doing this… they just don’t want to.

However, maybe if there was a collection of visible evidence of what this chemical allergy does, it would not only be taken more seriously, but maybe some intrepid clothing/lingerie manufacturer would strike out and make hypoallergenic bras and panties that don’t cause pain and misery. So… show me your boobs.

If you have that bra rash, take a selfie or ask your partner, a friend, or family member to take one for you. If possible, to protect from being labeled as porn and banned from social media sites, cover your nipples with your hands. Just get a picture of the rash caused by your bra. When I’ve collected enough, I’ll launch a Facebook page for this. VS, and all the other clothing manufacturers may be ignoring this issue and hoping it will disappear, but actual photographic evidence is much harder to ignore than words.

Let’s get the evidence IN THEIR FACE.

One more reason to post photos: It will help the many, many women out there who are frantic because they believe they have some sort of exotic breast disease or cancer discover that they aren’t sick after all. It’s their bras that are making them sick.

We are only a few weeks away from Breast Cancer Awareness Month — October. I’m hoping we will have enough photos and testimonies to have a Facebook page by October 1. If all the women who have responded over the years to my Boob Blog posts participate, it will be MORE than enough.

So, show me your boobs. Because pictures speak a thousand words. Let’s start yelling.

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Banning fireworks would be ‘safe and sane’

Setting: In the background, the blue-green coastal hills just west of Winters are obliterated with dull, gray, choking smoke, that just gets thicker as the hours tick away and firefighters try desperately, and ineffectively, to get hold of the latest wildfire scorching the land. In the foreground, “safe and sane” fireworks stands are doing healthy business.

What’s wrong with this picture?

No, not the obvious irony  — it’s that fireworks sales are allowed at all in California, which is nothing but a vast sea of kindling from June through October. The rationale: these are great fundraisers for local youth sports teams.

No. Just NO. This is dumbshittery at its pathetic worst.

First off, sports teams – sell cookies. Wrapping paper. Offer community services. Raise the prices at your snack shacks. Do a boot drive, a swim fin drive, or just start a GoFundMe. There is absolutely no rationale for risking the property and lives of people statewide, of destroying vast acres of natural lands and endangering and even killing animals both wild and domestic, just so ya’ll can play Little League or be on the swim team for $10 less. Enough’s enough. The pyrotechnics party must end.

Hey, here’s an idea: How about if the sports teams and other non-profits that raise money through fireworks sales be required to donate their proceeds to a California fire-fighting fund, and only collect the money that’s leftover?

Short scenario: Ain’t nobody collecting a dime, because it will all go to fighting fires, and it will amount to less than 1% of the millions upon millions, and even billions, in damages that happen due to fires in California every single year.

Unlike states that enjoy four seasons, California only has two: Fire Season and Not Fire Season. Why on earth should anyone be encouraged to light sparking fires in the heart of Fire Season?

Here in Winters, with the County Fire blazing on and at this moment, 44,500 acres scorched and only 3% containment after fire crews have battled this blaze all of yesterday, last night and today, to even entertain the idea of hundreds of happy idiots blithely lighting miniature explosive devices on fire on every block is jaw-droppingly stupid.

At least our City Manager had the good sense to cancel the annual July 3 (yes, July 3) fireworks display, for a variety of reasons, including very poor air quality right now, as well as the fact that with an active fire burning in the hills, and lives and property on the line, if emergency crews need to get through on the one and only highway that leads to that area, the last thing they need is to attempt to navigate through streets choked with cars and people from the thousands that descend upon our town to see free fireworks every year.

And why do all these people come to Winters? Because the cities where they live don’t allow them! Surrounding areas have wised up — no fireworks displays, no fireworks sales. Why? Because they’re smarter than we are! What does Winters get out of this gig? NOTHING! They ask people to donate to the fireworks, but the vast majority park themselves outside the school grounds so they don’t have to drop a buck or two in the donation can. It’s lunacy!

In addition to clogging the town with people and cars, these folks buy their fireworks here and then settle in on any random corner or parking lot and set off their Block Party packs. When all the fun is over, they pack up and leave the charred trash right there for our city crews to clean up. Our city doesn’t make a dime from these folks, but it spends quite a few.

Oh, but meanwhile, the sports teams are cheering because they’ve made money. The city and community would be better off to donate funds to the teams in exchange for banning fireworks sales. Adding in fire crews running to this and that lawn or roof fire started by fireworks, and the city might come out ahead by banning fireworks and giving the teams money.

This is the fifth July in a row that rural Winters and the hills to the west suffered wildfires that turned the sky gray and the sun into a red, glowing ball, and the air became acrid with smoke. Our cars and sidewalks are covered with a film of ash, and our lungs and sinuses probably are as well. And we have four more months of Fire Season to go, and plenty of kindling-covered hills and fields primed to go up in smoke with one spark.

For me, this was the third year in a row that I stood guard along with my stable pals near Lake Solano where we board our horses, but this year was different. Whereas the last two years, we merely stood guard and fretted, this year, mid-afternoon, a sheriff’s posse officer pulled onto the property and said we needed to get the horses out NOW.

There are about 40 horses on that property. Some of the owners were out of town. There were not enough horse trailers for all of the horses, even if everyone was there. We asked if we could go and drop horses off and come back. The answer was “no.” We were told that once we left, we would not be allowed back in.

In the case of me and my stable sisters, all together, we were two trailer spaces short. So, what do you do? Flip a coin to see whose horse stays back and maybe burns to death? Luckily for us, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Posse brought in a trailer and rescued the odd-man-out horses, one of which was my own beloved Pendragon. Thankfully, the horses were all safely rescued, and all the other horses were eventually evacuated as well. No small feat when you consider that in addition to the emergency situation, horses aren’t exactly the most cooperative animals when they are terrified and smell smoke. And, they weigh about 1,500 pounds each.

Thankfully, they all made it out alive, and the stable is still standing. This time. For now. The fire, as I said, is only 3% contained at this moment, and the wind could kick back up any time.

But what if the wind had shifted yesterday in a moment? What if our only choice was to leave our horses or die? Only those who’ve never loved a horse with all their hearts would say, “Just leave.”

Now true, the County Fire likely wasn’t started by fireworks. However, the Cold Fire (I think that was the name — there’ve been so many that I’ve lost track) was started by campers out near Monticello Dam setting off fireworks under dry, windy conditions. That particular fire turned the beautiful Stebbins Cold Canyon into ash. It was heartbreaking. Was losing that pristine nature preserve worth setting off a few Piccolo Petes or Sparkling Showers or Flaming Dollar Bills (what they all should really be called)? Let’s give that a collective “HAYULL NO.”

There are those who object to the notion of a long-overdue fireworks ban and say, “Well, this fire wasn’t started by fireworks.” Fair enough. But will the next one be? Why the hell would you even take that risk? How stupid are you? Do you put on your own pants in the morning or do you require assistance?

Is it fair to have fire crews go running around after little front lawn fires while acres of dry brush are being gulped by flames and racing toward someone’s home and livestock herd? I’d say the only fair thing in that situation would be to tell the fireworks-lovin’ homeowners to bust out the garden hose because they created their own problem through nothing but sheer, grotesque stupidity.

Add to all that the massive air pollution from all the sidewalk fireworks displays and the impact on local creeks and streams after all the ash and debris is washed into city drains, as well as all the trips to emergency rooms from “safe and sane” fireworks accidents, and there is just not a single valid reason to allow fireworks in California, and maybe anywhere else either.

Safe and Sane? What a JOKE. The ONLY “safe and sane” solution is to ban all fireworks sales in California. Period. We have enough trouble fighting fires caused by other things than to risk igniting another one just for the sake of simple entertainment or to save $10 on the registration fee for our kids to play sports.

This was the view of the sky over the stable where I board my horse. It was about 3:30 p.m., the height of a sunny day. Yet, the sky, and the whole area was as dark as dust from smoke from the County Fire yesterday.

Trump holds gun to the heads of immigrant children

Were I a cartoonist, I’d draw this: Trump holding a gun to the head of a weeping immigrant child, harkening to the chilling 1968 photo of the Saigon execution, with the caption “Give me my wall or else.”

This is the ugly underbelly of one of the ugliest situations in American history — Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border.

If you peer through the smoke and bullshit of Trump’s mind-numbingly inane assertion that the policy of separating children from parents is the fault of the Democrats (entirely untrue — just Google or Snopes it; this policy can be cancelled in one moment if Trump wished it, without even a vote from Congress) you can see what he is alluding to: It’s the wall.

What he’s really saying in between the lines of his brain vomit is that if the Democrats would just give him his southern border wall, he’d stop pursuing this crime against humanity. Since they will not (because they’re sane), sadly, children must continue to be ripped from their parents and detained weeping and terrified in dog kennels until King Baby gets what he wants.

Trump and his toadie Jeff Sessions are quite literally holding more than 2,000 children hostage as a vehicle for getting what they want.

The wall.

These detained children are the poster children for what happens when a tyrant is willing to do anything to get what he wants. No wonder Trump licks the feet of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. They are his role models. He lusts for the sort of mass obedience both of these dictators command. Trump recently said he wished Americans would sit up straight and listen whenever he spoke. Well, guess what pal… we ARE listening. And not in the way you wanted.

People! If you aren’t thoroughly disgusted by the state of our country right about now, I ask you: What the hell will it take?

According to the June 19 Morning Joe opening segment, 55 percent of Republicans SUPPORT Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. To support holding innocent children hostage in order to advance your personal and political desires is the very definition of deplorable. That 55 percent? There’s your “Deplorables.”

The text of the poem (also known as “New Colossus”) honoring our Statue of Liberty reads as follows:

New Colossus

 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What is happening right now in our country is a disgrace to the very foundations of this country of immigrants. Unless you are Native American, we were ALL huddled masses yearning to breathe free when our ancestors arrived on our shores. Trump is shitting on everything we stand for. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans stand there, trying not to wrinkle their noses in disgust, and declare that Trump’s dump smells like roses.

You too, Congressional Republicans, are Deplorables.

Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border in order to propel his desire to get that wall built is worse than the potential Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential campaign. Why? Because unlike the Russians, who laced social media with inflammatory false stories and memes to successfully persuade voters to support Trump, we are committing this crime against humanity ourselves. This time We the People are willfully and wantonly destroying our country and everything it stands for.

Yes, it is now OUR fault, if we do nothing to stop it immediately.

Ageism, nepotism, and getting over the bitters

Yes, it’s been awhile.

Sorry about that. I was preoccupied with gathering up the pieces of my life after the jigsaw puzzle was abruptly thrown into the air. Oh yeah, it was me who chucked the whole neatly arranged picture skyward, and honestly — it wasn’t all that abrupt. I could see this coming for awhile.

It began in January, when a new, young, and very inexperienced publisher took ownership of the Winters Express, of which I’d been the managing editor for 26 years. The day he took charge, I’d already had more experience managing a community newspaper since breakfast than he’d had in his whole life.

Rather than sit back and learn from my experience, he resented it and resisted it. The feeling was mutual. In my mind, he was dismantling everything I’d invested nearly half of my life in. I assume that in his, I was hindering him from making all his grand plans come true. “Because this is the correct way to do it” locked horns with “Because I’m the owner and I say so.”

Irresistible force meets immovable object.

Boom.

One of us had to go, and given that the irresistible force was now the owner, well, I exited stage left in May. I guess the notion of “immovable” has its caveats.

Rather than belabor a point I’ve already made elsewhere, you can read my exit column for the Express, as well as my exit column for the Davis Enterprise, for which I wrote a column for 23 years. Sadly, because the new Express publisher is also the son-in-law of the Enterprise publisher, family ties forced me out of the Enterprise as well.

Am I bitter? Oh yeah. I’ve got a bad case of the bitters. It’s surreal to be marginalized when you’ve accumulated as much experience — and success — as I have, and then suddenly be shoved into the “too old and too expensive” column, but it is what it is.

What it is, by the way, is a noxious cocktail of ageism and nepotism, and if you’d been forced to gulp it down, you’d be bitter too.

Yeah, yeah — I know this sounds bitchy and petty, but here’s the thing about being bitter: It’s like pus — the only way to relieve the pain is to lance it. And yes, it is a big, oogey mess, but ya gotta get all that poison out before you can heal. This is me, doing that. And yes, little by little, it’s getting better. Healing takes time. But it happens. You get up, you move on.

So, here it is, my side of a sad, ugly story, now you’re all up to speed, and this is the last you’ll hear about it. But I had to write something, because it would be really strange and weird to just keep on keepin’ on as if nothing had happened, as if nothing was different. That wouldn’t be the truth, and it wouldn’t be genuine. In 27 years of writing opinion, I’ve never hidden from the truth, or the truth about myself, and I’m not starting now.

Ah well… a new chapter can’t start until the old one is finished. And the old one is definitely finished. As for the new one? Well, I’m beginning it now. I’ll be blogging, I’ll still be a contributing columnist for iPinion Syndicate and finally — finally — I’ll have time to finish the unfinished books, novels and screenplays languishing on my iMac and taking up disc space. I’m a great starter… not such a great finisher. That deadline was my Mistress, whipping me along and making sure I’d produce something printable each week. Without any deadlines staring me down anymore, I guess I’ll have to be my own Mistress now. And let’s all take a moment to be thankful that you can only see me in print and not in that black leather corset.

Anyway, here we are — cut loose, cut free and running wild. Where will we go? I guess you’ll have to stick around and find out.

 

East Area Rapist — part of the montage of carnage

Well, this is unfortunate.

I mean, the larger story is astounding and relieving and huge, but for me and my husband, there’s a little asterisk to it. Let’s just get over this little speed bump before moving on: Joseph DeAngelo, identified and arrested this week as the elusive and terrifying East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, is not — I repeat, NOT — the same person as Joseph DeAngelo, my husband.

Ouch, right?

When the story broke, I was simply stunned. The East Area Rapist was part of my adolescence. I lived in the “East Area” back then, Carmichael, to be exact, and news of his capture instantly made me recall the fear that permeated our daily lives because of him. I was even further stunned, however, when I read his name.

Ouch.

I texted my husband to inform him that he may experience some collateral damage over the next few weeks, sharing the name of one of the most notorious serial killers/rapists in California history. He grew up in Pennsylvania, you see, and stories of the East Area Rapist’s ongoing monstrosities weren’t as in-your-face as they were here. Our lives, our thoughts, our behavior patterns — everything was colored by continually emerging horror. (Anyone else stack empty coffee cans behind the front door of your apartment in the ’70s so they’d crash and wake you up if someone broke in during the night?)

When Joe and I watched the evening news together the day the story broke, the shock of hearing his own name attached to these unspeakable crimes brought it painfully into focus. I’m sure all the other Ted Bundys out there can relate.

(Programming note: If you’re tempted to rib Joe about murders or rapes… Just don’t. It’s not funny. Additionally, this monster has NO relation to us whatsoever. So, don’t “go there,” okay? Don’t be “that” guy/gal. Joking about anything that has to do with those times is about as funny as a dead baby.)

The late ’60s and the ’70s weren’t all peace, love and flower power. They were a boiling pot of human cruelty and misery; a spray of carnage and chaos. Against the ongoing backdrop of the Vietnam War, little drops of horror fell into our collective experiential pool, making huge, stunning ripples: Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated; the Kent State shootings; the evening news littered with images of coffins returning from Vietnam; and then… the granddaddies of serial murderers: Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer entered our lives.

The late ’60s and early ’70s were when I first became aware of the news and the larger world, and it scared me senseless. I was pre-loaded to fret, fear and worry in 1974, when the East Area Rapist began terrorizing our neighborhood. I was a freshman in high school then, and everyone in the “east area” of Sacramento was psychologically held hostage. We feared being the next victim. Every single day. Fear permeated everything.

Mix into this gruesome cocktail the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the emergence of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Hearst’s brainwashing at the hands of her captors and reemergence as a machinegun-toting bank robber in 1975 — right there in Carmichael. The SLA robbed the same Crocker Bank we went to, and gunned down an innocent woman right where we’d stand in line.

That same year, Manson Family member “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, also in Sacramento. In the midst of all this, Ted Bundy emerged on the serial killer scene, challenging the East Area Rapist as the bogeyman monster of the time, simultaneously raping and killing multiple women concurrently with the East Area Rapist’s attacks.

We were all riveted to the evening news and front pages of newspapers in screaming-sized fonts, informing us of the latest slaughter. No wonder my perception of the world was that it’s endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous.

When I moved to Davis to go to college, the carnage train rumbled onward. In 1980, my heart was broken when John Lennon was assassinated. The same month, I learned that one of my high school friends was amongst the victims of serial killers Gerald and Charlene Gallego, who kidnapped young women to use as sex slaves and then murder when they tired of them. My friend, Craig Miller, was dating one of those girls. At least he wasn’t used as a sex slave… just marched into a field near Bass Lake and assassinated face down in the weeds.

Just after this, Davis residents Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins were murdered. They were last seen buying ice cream on their way to a party — at the same grocery store I was in, on the very same night, at the very same time. It’s not much of a leap to “it could have been me.” It wasn’t long after these murders that Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) and Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) vied for the serial killer spotlight.

As I look back on those years, it seems like a montage of horror; a serial of serial murders. But then came the ’90s, and it seems that serial murder fell out of favor with white sociopathic males. Maybe mass shootings are serial murders, 2.0? You can slaughter scores of innocent people in mere moments with the pull of one semi-automatic weapon trigger and be home in time for lunch. Even our psychopathic killers are lazy and impatient now. Why do all that homicidal planning when mass shooting provide a one-stop-shop for killing many, many people?

Honestly, I’m unable to even make sense of the scope of human cruelty and carnage. Why, when we are capable of immense kindness, are we such horrible creatures? At least one horrible creature was captured this week, never to harm again. I suppose it’s some small consolation. However, his capture is a bitter reminder of my teenage conclusion: Life is endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous. Why? Because humans seem incapable of being better than they are.

Five years later and our breasts are still angry as hell

One year ago, I wrote about the fact that I wrote about this topic four years prior to that, and was surprised that not only was the issue unresolved, it’s ongoing: horrific breast rashes triggered by Victoria’s Secret bras.

Rinse and repeat.

Women continue to contact me each week on this blog, reporting that they’re suffering with itching and rashes on their breasts, which means that manufacturers continue to churn out products made from fabrics infused with irritating chemicals. And the garment manufacturers know it. They just don’t care. Why? Because the percentage of customers that react to these chemicals with allergic contact dermatitis is relatively miniscule. It’s cheaper to ignore them than to do anything about it.

Note that I said “manufacturers” because the problem has spread beyond Victoria’s Secret. While most women commenting on my blog report issues with Victoria’s Secret bras, more and more are reporting the same thing from bras made by other manufacturers.

This makes sense because Victoria’s Secret is the largest and most popular bra manufacturer, therefore, by the numbers, their customer base is larger, and within that base, the number of women with an allergic reaction is larger. It makes further sense other bras are triggering the reaction because the issue isn’t Victoria’s Secret bras per se. The issue is the fabric itself, available to any garment manufacturer. In fact, this is how Victoria’s Secret handily crushed a lawsuit filed in 2008 by a women claiming her rash was so severe that she was disfigured from the formaldehyde that Victoria’s Secret was putting in their bras.

Victoria’s Secret responded that never added any chemicals to their bras. Technically, this was true. They didn’t add chemicals to their products — the chemicals were already in the fabric, from which their products are made. The plaintiff lost her case. And yet… the rashes continue.

Despite claims of innocence, I know for a fact that Victoria’s Secret is aware of the issue because I was contacted by two of their representatives, who gave me very carefully worded responses to my concerns, and also because Victoria’s Secret follows me on Twitter and I doubt it’s because they’re my corporate fangirls.

I think Victoria’s Secret’s motive in contacting me was to see if my plan was to lawyer up. This sentiment is very common amongst women visiting my blog. They’re furious about being mistreated and betrayed by a company to which they’ve been loyal, and their reaction is “take ’em to court.” Over the years, however, and also because Victoria’s Secret’s pockets are deeper than all us disgruntled customers combined, I’ve come to realize that the courtroom isn’t the place to address the problem. The place to address the problem is our wallets.

Even though I’m unable to find a product I like as much as Victoria’s Secret’s, I’ll never buy anything from them again: bras, panties, sleepwear, lotion or perfume. And, their “Heavenly” perfume was my favorite. But I’ll never buy it again. I don’t reward people or companies for disloyalty.

When women come to me seeking advice, this is what I tell them: See your doctor and have your condition documented, and if your doctor doesn’t know about bra-related contact allergic dermatitis, direct her/him to my blog; rather than get your money back for the bras (which Victoria’s Secret will happily do without quarrel because they’d love to destroy your “evidence”), store them in a zip-lock — you never know when (under a more caring administration) the federal government may step in and take a look at harmful chemicals in fabric, and they may want sample evidence; to determine if the bra is really causing the problem, don’t wear it until the rash is healed — about three weeks — and if you’re brave, put it back on and see if the rash comes roaring back. If it does, that will confirm your suspicions.

What does the rash look like? In my experience, it began as rough, dry, tissue-paper like skin on the areola, that didn’t get any better with moisturizer or lotion. Over time, it began to itch. Over more time, it began to itch more and welts appeared all over the breast. Over even more time, the itching became excruciating and irresistible, like poison oak, and I scratched myself raw and bruised. Even then, I couldn’t stop scratching. And then I got some new bras and started to notice the itching subsiding with the new ones and exploding if I wore the old ones. Little by little… I narrowed it down to two specific bras, and — bingo — I figured it out: it’s the bras.

As consumers who have this allergic sensitivity, we must take responsibility for recognizing the symptoms and avoiding the triggers. We have the ability to protect our own health. And here’s something to consider: Those of us with the allergy are the lucky ones. Our bodies alert us when we’re coming in contact with a toxin. Those who don’t react to the chemicals are continuing to saturate their skin with toxins, which build up in your bloodstream and tissues.

Our skin isn’t merely a covering. It’s an organ, and it absorbs chemicals. That’s why nicotine or hormone patches work: the skin slowly, constantly, absorbs the chemicals, just as it will in a lesser but more pernicious way from chemically laden fabric.

The real concern is “toxic load.” How much cumulative chemical exposure can our bodies handle before our own genetic triggers go off and react with cancer or immune disorders? That’s still a medical a mystery. Until the mystery is solved, here’s the takeaway about toxic load: the less, the better. There are chemicals in our air, our water, our food (yes, even organic food, unless it’s not exposed to natural air or water), and most of this is unavoidable. But we can avoid the products that our bodies tell us are harmful. Once you’ve experienced the allergic reaction, you’ll recognize it immediately. Your body is telling you “stop!” Your body is right.

(For more information about breast rashes caused by bras and fabrics, search “boob blog” right here on this blog.)

 

 

Teens start talking about their mental health struggles

I was asked by the Friday Night Live club mentor at Winters High School recently to do a story on their upcoming Mental Health Awareness Week event, and while normally I might be inclined to pass this story on to one of the reporters, this one grabbed me.

While I’m no fan of guns or the NRA, even in light of the epidemic of school/mass shootings, I don’t think gun control is the complete answer. The mental health issue still must be addressed, because there are all sorts of ways for a deranged person to kill lots of people, from cars to pressure cookers, and the fact is undeniable: It’s the person pulling the trigger that actually causes the carnage.

It’s that person we need to work on. We must teach kindness, empathy and anger management beginning in kindergarten and onward through high school. Prevention may be more difficult than cure, but the results are infinitely richer.

In my day, school was the only safe place from my tumultuous home life. Nowadays, going to school seems ominous. Who will snap next? Much of the “cure” talk has included gun control, arming teachers, fortifying classrooms and having armed guards on campus. Even with all that, I’m skeptical that a deranged person dedicated to creating horror will not find a way around all those things. Sociopaths are very creative.

So, when FNL mentor Olivia Rodriguez asked me if I wanted to write about their prevention event, I immediately said “Yes.”

At the interview, I sat at a table with Olivia and some FNL members and we started clicking through the basic information and schedule. As I asked more questions about the mental health issues themselves, the students began opening up about what their worlds are like, and depression and isolation are front and center.

Several said they feel like there’s is no one they can trust to turn to and, worse yet, they fear that if they do reach out, that person might not care.

Wow.

I asked Olivia, who has taught for 12 years, if she’s seen an escalation in mental health issues amongst teens and, if so, what has changed. Her response was “yes” and “social media.” By contrast, she said that in her own high school days, back-stabbing was limited mainly to passing nasty notes and doing the whole “mean girls” thing; only a handful of people involved.

Today, it’s no longer backstabbing. It’s front-stabbing. It’s right in their faces. Victimization, bullying, harassing and humiliation is played out on social media, and the reach is exponentially farther and faster than the nasty notes of days past. A single humiliating or hurtful post not only singles someone out for a thread of vicious comments, the “shares” start to fly, and in moments, a teen is in a very painful and unavoidable spotlight… with no way to escape.

And here I viewed the impact of social media on teens mainly as a colossal waste of time, a distraction from real life, a huge danger if texting and driving or walking and, worst of all, an activity that is retarding them developmentally and socially. They aren’t learning how to read body language and facial expressions (beyond emojis) because rather than interacting with each other, their faces are buried in their cell phones with their thumbs a-flyin’. The world doesn’t exist around them anymore. It exists in their cell phones.

But I learned it’s so much worse than that. Because social media is embedded in teens’ lives, it’s their source of approval and validation. It’s where they get attention. Should that attention spin in the wrong direction and become a source of pain, stress and sadness from which they can’t break free — from a teen’s perspective, it ruins their lives. They’re teenagers, for heaven’s sake! They have no defenses, no coping strategies, and in the case of social media bullying, they’re wildly outnumbered.

Think back, all of us who haven’t been in high school since the 80s or before: Weren’t our teen years not painful, awkward and drama-laden enough, without the added magnification of social media bullying? Teens have never been well-equipped for dealing with drama. Every heartbreak or insult is the end of the world, and now, the social media stress is omnipresent in their lives, 24-7.

But there’s another angle, said one student: Sometimes lack of attention is just as painful, like when you post a picture of yourself where you think you look pretty and… nothing. No one “likes” it or comments. You become publicly invisible. And it hurts.

As these students shared their experiences, I wanted to throw my arms around them and say, ” In 10 years, none of this will matter! All this high school drama and conflict will disappear! You MUST trust that this too shall pass!” But, I kept quiet because I know that I might as well just walk around quacking like a duck. That much about teens hasn’t changed: old people are lame, and that goes double for everything we say.

All this said, these students were opening up a little, and that’s the beginning of hope. They’re learning to talk about their feelings and encourage others to seek out support; they’re creating activities to bolster self-esteem, and talking kindness and empathy. Better that all this begins in kindergarten, but hey — late to the party is better than not showing up at all.

Speaking of showing up… could we show up for these students who are getting to the heart of the matter regarding school shootings, violence, bullying and mental health? There are three ways: reach out to Olivia at the high school and offer financial support, sponsor a table at their lunchtime event on Friday, May 18, and offer information about local mental health services, and/or volunteer to help. We need to show up and set an example about the value of kindness.

It’s all about the kindness, man. It’s the flower we can stick in the gun barrel.

Feline existentialism and the strategy of the settler and the searcher

Minnie and Maxx… Yin and Yang

Everything you need to know about satisfaction (or lack thereof) can be learned from my cats, Minnie and Maxx, the Yin and Yang of feline existentialism.

Minnie, jet black from head to tail, was clearly traumatized before I adopted her. She wanted nothing to do with people whatsoever and communicated that quite clearly. When I’d pick her up, she’d clench her entire body and then suddenly twist into the air and take off like a rocket at the first opportunity, leaving tracks of red slices on my arm or chest after using them as a launching pad for her back feet.

Consequently, I didn’t pick Minnie up much in the early days. I just left her alone and didn’t put any pressure on her. Four months later, she popped up on the footrest of my recliner, stared at me intently with her huge green eyes, and then delicately walked up my body, curled up on my chest, began purring and fell asleep. She’s been my Velcro kitty ever since, and has claimed me as her personal human. We’re each other’s familiar.

I like to describe Minnie as reclusive or sensitive or shy. My husband describes her as “psycho” and insists that she’d eat my face if she had to. Let’s not be judgmental, now. Who’s to say whose face we might eat if we had to survive? One can never truly be sure.

So, why on earth did I adopt a cat like Minnie, given that on that Petco Black Cat Adoption Day, there were scores of other choices, peering miserably from their cages and sliding their silken ebony paws through the grating as if beckoning and begging, “Please, pick me!!” As opposed to Minnie, curled in a ball in the back of her cage, trying to block out the world.

Well, the reason is that curled around that curled up black ball was a big, boisterous pure-white lovebug, licking Minnie furiously as if trying to comfort her. I called to get his attention and he came straight to me, rubbing his body back and forth on the grating, nibbling my finger affectionately, oozing love.

“I’d like to hold this one,” I told the rescue mom.

Once he was in my arms, there was just no way I was going home without that big purry squirmy ball of adorableness. I named him Maxx, (Cattus Maximus, of course) in contrast to Minnie (Cattus Minimus, and yes, I know that’s not a real word), because he overflows with personality. He makes facial expressions like a person, and is doing his best to speak English. He often calls “hello,” (it sounds like “herro”) when looking for someone, usually my hard-to-impress daughter, who he’s completely charmed.

One recent lazy “couch, coffee and cats” Sunday morning with my husband, Minnie was curled up in “her” lap (it used to be mine) and Maxx was perching on the back of the recliner, jumping onto the sofa arm, walking across the back, squirming around apparently unable to get comfortable, and then jumping down to go scratch at my daughter’s bedroom door and yowl “Herro” because he was displeased with the amount of time it was taking her to wake up, and I started analyzing the existential difference between Maxx and Minnie.

Yes. I’m about to anthropomorphize shamelessly.

Here is Minnie, never imagining she could be happy at all, let alone in the company of a human. Humans meant fear and pain. Except for one. Me. She is perfectly content to be bonded only to me, and makes zero attempt to interact with anyone else. She’s satisfied and grateful to have just this much. However, if she’d take the risk to interact with more humans, she’d reap an abundance of cuddles and strokes. But no. That’s just too risky for her. The luck of finding one loving human exceeds her wildest dreams and to seek more might ruin everything.

In other words, Minnie is content with “enough” — just enough, and not one bit more, whether it’s human attention or food. She’s a dainty little thing, all of about nine pounds and never overeats, satisfied with whatever food I give her.

And then there’s Maxx.

There’s NEVER enough for Maxx — food, water, attention, toys, playtime or even soft horizontal surfaces. He wants them all, and he wants them now. He’ll walk all the way across the house just to harass Minnie out of her warm, peaceful little spot, simply because he can’t stand for her to have something he doesn’t. And that goes for food too. If she starts to eat, he butts in and pushes her aside. Just because he can.

At the risk of cat-fat-shaming — Maxx is rotund. Joe calls him “Maxxie the Hut.”

At more than twice Minnie’s size, Maxx is immense both in bulk and personality. Everyone who comes to visit is drawn to him, perching on his cat tree and serving as the official welcoming committee. He chats them up, rolls around and flirts, and is simply irresistible. Minnie, on the other hand, greets visitors by streaking away to hide.

So, here’s that feline existential irony: Minnie seeks, and receives, relatively little in life, and is content. Maxx demands everything there is and usually gets it, but is restless and always wanting more. Even though he actually gets more than Minnie, he’s never content.

Some might call Minnie’s behavior “settling” — a dirty word in my book, one tick away from “giving up.” But maybe there’s happiness in settling? Is there satisfaction in not yearning for what might be beyond the horizon? Conversely, by perpetually chasing the horizon, we fail to realize that we can never really reach it. There’s always more.

Hmmm.

If you settle, you give up the search. You “get there.”

If you search, you give up settling. You never “get there.”

Which is the better strategy? I’m not quite sure. I’ve been both a settler and a searcher. I’ll let you know when I “get there.”

 

 

Facebook privacy is a steaming pile of unicorn poop

Wait, what? Facebook compromised our privacy? That’s outrageous! What’s next? Santa Claus isn’t real? Unicorns don’t poop glitter?

OK, I can’t actually verify the validity of unicorn poop, having not yet seen one with my own eyes, and I can’t personally attest that they don’t excrete a sparkling rainbow-colored swirl. But I’ve known since I was 10 that the fat man in the red suit is a total hoax.

I mean, really. Even a child with the IQ of a radish can consider the logistics of flying reindeer (that have no wings, mind you) pulling one roly-poly dude in a sleigh filled with ONE — count ’em — ONE bag that holds enough toys for all the children in the world, and they will all be delivered in one evening.

Utter B.S.

Just like the notion of Facebook privacy.

Come on, people. If you’re shocked to discover that Facebook not only compromised but sold your privacy and personal information, just exactly how naive are you, and B), maybe you shouldn’t trundle out into the world without a chaperone. Also, FYI, C) Santa isn’t real.

It’s not just Facebook, my friends… it’s Google, it’s Safari, it’s Amazon… it’s all of it. They’re all watching what sites we visit, what we search, what we click on, and gathering that information to parlay it into profit. Or power.

Did you think it was merely a bizarre coincidence that you just searched for backyard chicken coops on your browser or on Amazon, and suddenly your Facebook sidebar is littered with ads for chicken-related things? The internet giants… they talk. They share our information. And, they’ve been doing it for years.

This became glaringly obvious to me when we got a new computer at the Express office. Because I’m mostly the only one using that computer and mainly just for office work as opposed to searching for column information (and man, does that result in some wacky stuff popping up in my Facebook sidebar), its browser history was pretty much pristine.

Until that one slow afternoon awhile back, when my work was caught up and things were really slow, so I decided to search for the one thing that would make my life complete: red cowboy boots.

Not only must they be red, they must also come in a women’s size 10EE, which apparently doesn’t actually exist in the cowboy boot world. Ergo, my search was fruitless and I must resign myself to plain old brown boots. Men’s. Wah. However, my browser hasn’t give up so easily. I can’t go online on that computer without being bombarded by ads for red cowboy boots. My homepage, SFGate.com, has two rows of cowboy boot teasers above where the news stories begin.

Hey — ya gotta have priorities.

So, if you’ve ever searched for anything online, Google and Amazon and Facebook and Safari have already logged and categorized that information. Besides your searches being monitored, if you’ve ever done one of those fun, dumb little Facebook personality quizzes, you pretty much handed your information to whatever entity was behind it.

Back in the early days of Facebook, these quizzes seemed harmless, and who amongst us doesn’t need to know “Which Character on ‘The Office’ Are You?” (Pam) or “What is Your True Spirit Animal” (owl). Just good fun, right along with Farmville, the most grotesque waste of time since watching paint dry, and yes, I did it too.

As for the quizzes, when they started notifying me that by participating, I’d be granting access to all my personal information, contacts, photos and posts on Facebook, I’d give them a big fat “nope.” But many of my Facebook friends didn’t, took the quizzes, and thereby handed my information over as well. But, at least they know which Game of Thrones character they are now. So worth it.

But, there’s no point being bitter or angry. What’s done is done, even though I’m surprised that anyone would grant that sort of personal access to an unknown entity. But also, it’s pretty silly to get all high and mighty about other people giving my information away when the notion of “online privacy” is simply delusional. It’s right up there with glitter poop.

There’s no privacy online. Everything you share, post or say can be forwarded to 7,000 people with one mouse-click. Posting on social media is akin to walking around naked in public. Anyone and everyone can see what you’ve got, and many will exploit it however they can.

Wait, what? There are people online who are insufferable pricks?

I’m aghast!

Where is my unicorn! I must saddle up and fly away!

Oh wait. That’s Pegasus.

(Maybe I think about horses too much.)

As for Facebook, should we abandon it? What’s the answer? That’s exactly my point: There’s no answer. Your personal information is gone, gone, gone, baby, like a bird set loose from a cage. That bird has flown, and it ain’t ever coming back. Abandoning Facebook to protect personal information that’s already been compromised is like closing the proverbial barn door after the horses are loose: pointless.

That said, getting off social media has its merits. For one thing, think of all the things you could be doing besides staring at a computer screen. Facebook is a vortex: it siphons your time and, therefore, your life. Life isn’t anything but time… why waste it on Facebook?

But I get it, and I’m as guilty as anyone — sometime Facebook’s just good fun. But not when you’re embroiled in a whirlpool of drama and nasty comments because someone you used to respect posted something so outrageously asinine that you’re psychologically incapable of letting it go by.

Been there, done that, have the long list of “un-friends” to show for it.

Little by little, Facebook has become more aggravation than fun. Since it’s too late to save our information, let’s go back to only posting cat videos and photos of our food. Let the Russkies try and figure out how to throw our next election from that.

 

 

The mystery of the incredible balding horse: soy allergy

Most of you won’t make it to the end of this column. You’ll get a few sentences in and think, “Meh,” and move on to something else. Those who stick with me may leap up and cheer in joy and relief.

Why write about something with such narrow appeal? Well, for one really fantastic reason, we have a world-class veterinary school in our area, and this may be new material for them. If you know a veterinarian or vet student, show them this column, particularly if their focus is horses. Whether or not this topic applies to other animals, I’m not sure. But I suspect it does: inexplicable hair loss.

It began innocently enough last summer. My horse started scratching his rump against the fence. A lot. Enough that he’d torn chunks of hair from his tail. Simultaneously, a weird crusty patch began forming on his flank, and I scratched it with my fingernail and shrugged, and figured it would probably go away.

It didn’t.

Not only didn’t it go away, but the hair began to fall out, creating a quarter-sized bald patch. I bathed him with Dr. Bronner’s soap (because ordinary horse soap is not good enough for my Pendragon) and put tea tree oil on it. The bald patch continued spreading. I tried mild Betadine wash. More spreading.

Next I tried old-school M-T-G lotion, which smells like the residue in a barbecue… it was stinky, but the spreading stalled for a bit.

But only for a bit.

Meanwhile, Penn’s tail-rubbing was out of control. He’d rubbed his dock (where the tail meets the backbone) bare, and rubbed red, oozing sores on both sides underneath his tail, where there’s only skin, and developed what looked like seborrhea all over his tailbone. No matter how much I brushed it out, it would be back the next day.

The bald patch was now a couple inches in diameter, so I called the vet. She took skin scrapings and pulled some hairs to examine for parasites or fungus. The test results came back clean as a whistle. No mange, no ringworm, no parasites, no fungus. It wasn’t rain rot or sweet itch. It was a mystery.

My vet prescribed some special shampoo containing chlorhexadine and some skin-soothing ingredients. Every other day, despite that we were now heading into winter and the mornings were becoming very cold, I washed Penn’s flank and tailbone in icy water, overflowing with apologies as he cringed, but tolerated all this nonsense.

Once again, the balding stalled, then came roaring back with a vengeance, approaching about a foot in diameter, and still creeping. Penn and I were starting to be shunned at the barn. Whatever my horse had, nobody else wanted their horses to catch it. And, I couldn’t blame them. The bald patch was really ugly, and the skin there was angry and curdled and flaky. Oddly enough, it didn’t seem to be contagious, because I was cleaning his tail and bald patch with my bare hands every day, and never caught it.

I next tried chorhexadine wipes, which worked on my cat when he had a bald patch. No improvement. Then Equiderma lotion, which treats a variety of equine skin problems. The bald patch continued spreading and the sores on his tail were now big, red and raw. I started bolting awake in the middle of the night, imagining my horse completely bald, wondering where I could purchase sunscreen by the gallon.

My stable pals showed Penn’s bald patch to their own vets, farriers and trainers, but none had seen anything like it. I sent photos of Penn’s side to another vet for a second opinion, and he also had no immediate ideas about the cause.

In a fit of desperation, I threw sanity to the wind and consulted Dr. Facebook, posting about my situation along with photos of Penn’s side and tail. I got all sorts of responses, but one in particular stood out. A gal named Trish said she’d heard of this sort of reaction from soy allergies.

That seemed pretty wild, however, right about the time the balding problem started, I started supplementing Penn’s feed with AniMed flaxseed oil blend, ironically, to make his coat shinier. The label indicates that soybean oil is actually the first ingredient, but doesn’t list percentages, maybe this “flaxseed oil blend” is really 99 percent soybean oil.

Having consulted Dr. Facebook, I asked Dr. Google for a second opinion, and discovered one lone blog post from a woman whose horse was frantically itching his hair and tail off, and had developed seborrhea in his tail. Just like Penn! The culprit? Soy allergy.

So, I stopped giving Penn the AniMed oil. Within one week, the spreading stopped. By two weeks, the skin was smooth and hair started growing back. The tail-rubbing slowed down, and the seborrhea diminished. Now, a month later, the hair is growing back nicely, the seborrhea is mostly gone and the sores are healed.

I reported my success back on Facebook, thanking Trish profusely for saving me thousands of dollars in vet bills, and a couple folks commented that their child or relative has a soy allergy that caused extreme hair loss. I have to wonder how many people or animals are being treated for strange hair loss that maybe gets called “alopecia” or an immune disorder, when in fact, it’s a soy allergy. Turns out, there’s plenty to be allergic to. Google the harmful effects of soybean oil, and prepare to be alarmed. Even more alarming, soybean oil is ubiquitous in our food supply, for both people and animals, and much of it is “Franken-food” — made from GMO soybeans. (Thank you, Monsanto.)

So there it is… equine skin mystery solved. If you, your child, your pet or your horse also has a chronic baldness problem, I suggest you experiment by eliminating soybean oil from your/their diets, and see if the skin problems clear up.

And, by the way… you’re welcome.

This was Penn’s bald patch in January, while still on a soybean oil supplement.

 

This was Penn’s bald patch, the first day off of soybean oil supplement.

 

This was Penn’s bald patch two weeks after stopping soybean oil supplement.

 

This is Penn’s bald patch one month after stopping soybean oil supplement.