Thursday, January 20, 2005

There's a lot of fluff to these relationships


Thursday January 20, 2005

There's a lot of fluff to these relationships
* Pillows can serve as generic teddy bears for many adults. Experts say that the behavior is common -- and healthy.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

What treasure would you save if a natural disaster strikes?

The key to a lifetime of sound sleep, says one Atlanta attorney. "If there's a fire, what am I going in there for? I've thought about that," says Asim Raza. "Kids and wife. And then -- my pillow. If you're 35 and you've been sleeping on the same pillow for 31 years, you don't take that lightly."

This isn't a joke to Raza, or to the many other adults who are deeply attached to the cushions that lull them to sleep each night. Before getting married, Raza told his fiancee, "My pillow is really important to me." She laughed, so Raza reiterated: "No, I'm not kidding. This is really important." Despite the occasional joke about security blankets, "she has actually been very respectful of it," he says. "She knows what I'm like without it."

Like most people interviewed for this story, Raza isn't anxious to discuss his pillow on the record -- "Don't make me look like a fool," he pleads -- but pillow attachment isn't anything to feel sheepish about, says Carmel Valley psychologist Lee Jampolsky.

"Ironically, people aren't embarrassed about carrying 12 cellphones, but are embarrassed if they have some kind of relationship with their pillow," she says. "It's very common, and at the core it's very healthy. Mine happens to have a name: Pillow."

While Raza refuses to reveal its name, he will chat about his pillow's history. His parents gave him the thin cotton pillow when he was 4 1/2, and it has remained nearby ever since. It hasn't been easy: "As a kid, my brother would steal the pillow and then say, 'Either you do the vacuuming today or you're not getting the pillow back,' " Raza says. You can guess who did the vacuuming.

While attending American University in Washington, D.C., Raza enlisted his roommate to help protect his pillow. Both his mother and his grandmother have made covers for it. "I've got to get buried with this thing," he says. "But I'm a Muslim, and you're not supposed to take anything with you. I'll probably leave it as a family heirloom."

These generic teddy bears provide comfort and company much the way a special blanket may have soothed many of these same adults when they were young. It's a dependent and healthy relationship, experts say, that stretches beyond the human world. A beloved pillow can stand in for, or even come to represent, the feeling of connectedness that all primates require, says USC anthropology professor Craig Stanford.

"Even chimps in the L.A. Zoo ... are very fond of the bedding they're given," he says. "They don't drag around pillows, but they do drag around their sleeping materials sometimes."

"Pilly" goes with Debra Kent wherever the 46-year-old publicist from Bloomington, Ind., travels. "I've never felt this way about anything," says Kent of her 6-year-old feather pillow. "I didn't have any attachment objects when I was a kid. No pacifier or anything. But this pillow, it just means home to me." On road trips, Kent keeps it in the car. "My kids bring their pillow and blankets," she says. "Why shouldn't I bring mine too?"

Kent's friend, animal control officer Vicki Minder, can't make fun of her -- after all, Minder sleeps with her own 24-year-old pillow, named "Pink."

Adults who still sleep on their childhood pillows say they imbue bedtime with the same kind of warmth and safety they felt when Mom and Dad used to kiss them goodnight and tuck them in. As Raza puts it, "Harmony, music and warm milk all combine into a pillow.... The smell of my pillow just immediately relaxes me ... the same smell since I was 4 1/2 years old."

Chicago philanthropist Kathy Posner can't sleep or watch TV without cradling her 44-year-old "Happy Pillow." She cried into the pillow when she was 16 and her father died, and she embraced it six years later when her mother passed away. She carried it to college and to wherever she moved since. She totes it on trips when she can fit it in her luggage.

Posner has a recurring nightmare: She's a teenager, sitting in her family's living room, when the phone rings and her mother screams -- and Posner learns for the umpteenth time that her father is dead of a heart attack. After she is startled awake, she hugs Happy Pillow. It is her salve. When she was a girl, it was "something I could hold onto," she says. "That's still the case."

Pillow attachment "is something I encounter quite a bit with my clients," says Los Angeles therapist Yvonne Thomas -- and it's a healthy alternative to addictions and vices, she says.

"There are so many ways a person can comfort themselves. They can smoke, gamble, have sex indiscriminately," Thomas says. "Let this be the way a person copes. Instead of drinking, instead of overeating, let them reach for their pillow when they're sad and stressed."

Chiropractors and allergists tend to disagree.

A pillow should be a tool to keep yourself in correct alignment as you sleep, says Jerome F. McAndrews, spokesman for the American Chiropractic Assn. -- and broken-down cushions don't provide the level of support that your head and neck require. "If you get in the habit of sleeping.... with an old pillow that gives no support, you're going to encourage disk and joint degeneration," he says.

Then there's the ick factor.

An old pillow may well be "one of the dirtiest places in the home," says Jonathan Corren, medical research director of the Allergy Research Foundation in Los Angeles. Pillows that aren't regularly cleaned and protected, he says, can become a repository for dust mites, dirt, volatile organic compounds such as wood finishes, pet dander, even mold.

If you have allergies or asthma, Corren recommends that you either toss the ancient pillow or use one of the many hypoallergenic casings available. Or leave it in the freezer overnight to rid it of dust mites, says Glen Needham, associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University.

Many of the pillow-obsessed say they sheathe their sleeping aids in miteproof covers. But Raza says he would never trade his pancake-thin pillow for an orthopedic one, even if it meant assuaging the back pain that has long pestered him. "What I would gain in lack of back pain, I would lose walking around with bags under my eyes," he says.

Kim Garretson's pillow became "an anchor" when he faced down illness and made life changes. The 54-year-old marketing director from Minneapolis says he was "consumed with work" for much of his adulthood. Then in 2001 a diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer shook him. After undergoing surgery -- with a "surprisingly good outcome" -- Garretson retreated to a cabin in northern Minnesota for a long November weekend, taking with him his dog and his then 6-year-old pillow.

When he emerged, he abandoned his career as an entrepreneur and opted for a corporate gig that allows him to spend more time with his family. His foam pillow, now 10 years old and going strong, remains with him.



A guide to pillow talk

How do you know when it's time to trade in that old pillow? Some tips on when to let go and what to look for in something new:

Test it out

To find out if it's time to replace your pillow, try this:

Lay pillow on a flat, hard surface, fold it in half and squeeze out the air. Then release it. If the pillow unfolds and springs back into its original shape, it has some life left in it. If it remains folded, it's time to throw it out.

Use your head

When choosing a new pillow, put as much time and thought into it as you would a mattress.

"Take the time to lie down with it in the store," says Jerome F. McAndrews, spokesman for the American Chiropractic Assn. "Your head should not be propped up, and it should not be slumped. You want to keep your spine and neck straight."

There are three basic types:

* Firm pillows are best for side sleepers because they're strong enough to fill the gap between the top of the mattress and your shoulders.

* Medium-density pillows provide the best support when sleeping on your back because they cradle your head while supporting your neck.

* Soft pillows are best for people who sleep on their stomachs or change positions frequently.

When in doubt, err on the side of softness, says McAndrews. "You can always get a floppy pillow and crunch it up to where you are comfortable."

Thursday, January 6, 2005

A natural, inside and out


Thursday January 06, 2005

A natural, inside and out
* Once considered the terrain of hippie holdouts, ecologically sensitive thinking has entered the mainstream of home design, building and decorating. In a special issue, we meet a couple who turned a conventional house into a thoroughly green space, and offer tips, terminology and tools to make your own world greener.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

"Feel my windows," Al Rosen tells you. Feel his windows?

But you do, and the floor-to-ceiling glass enclosing Rosen's den and living room is cool to the touch, despite the blazing weather outside. This is triple-glazed glass filled with argon gas, and it lets in sunlight (which saves electricity and lightbulbs) and insulates against heat in the summer and cold in the winter.

When Al and Myra Rosen bought this house in 1997 -- it then had a darker interior filled with heavy marble slabs -- they began an eco-remodeling effort that continues to this day.

Try a glass of the Rosens' chlorine-free purified water from the low-flow kitchen faucet. Have a seat on the curved blue couch in the sunny living room, built from wheat board and formaldehyde-free foam and upholstered with untreated cotton fabric. Its pillows are filled with kapok, a natural seed fiber.

One glance through the house will tell you that green building isn't the same thing it was a decade ago, when eco-consciousness first began to drift into the corners of the mainstream. There is nothing plain, stark or utilitarian about this 4,000-square-foot house resting on the edge of Mandeville Canyon; instead, sunlight drifting through windows and skylights illuminates an interior landscape constructed of clean, modern lines and infused with vibrant color. It isn't palatial, but neither is it ascetic, not by a long shot.

As the Rosens testify, living green is no longer a kind of countercultural penance in which you must forgo comfort, personal style and your retirement savings in order to give back to the environment. In the last five years, green architecture firms, publications and building materials have leapt from relative niche obscurity to the forefront of culture and design. Even the big home improvement chains such as Home Depot and Lowe's now stock green materials -- say, certified wood harvested from renewable sources -- and independent green building stores are opening throughout the country.

Five years ago "you would mention green building and get a lot of blank stares," says Alex Wilson, executive editor of the monthly newsletter Environmental Building News, a veritable bible for anybody leaning toward green. "Today it's a known term for an increasingly large portion of the population."

That "known term" is relative, of course. What "green" means to one person is rarely what it means to another. By most estimates, green living mixes varying amounts of ecological sensitivity, social responsibility and concern for your health. These days builders and remodelers can easily put together a diverse palette of materials and techniques that fulfill all three requirements.

A clue to green's newfound popularity lies here with the Rosens. This is their second stab at eco-renovation; their first project, redoing a Santa Monica condominium in 1992, began as a purely aesthetic endeavor. They had heard talk of "sick buildings," Rosen says, "of people who lived in mobile homes which were made out of plywood and were very tightly sealed, and these people were getting sick." So in the spirit of caution they decided to avoid oil-based paints and materials that contained formaldehyde.

Rosen pulls out an article about a 2004 decision by the World Health Organization to upgrade formaldehyde -- a chemical found in many household products, such as glues, plywood and furniture foam -- from a probable carcinogen to a known one. Once considered junk science, the theory that chemicals in building products tend to "off-gas," or seep into the indoor environment, and thus into our lungs has by now gained significant scientific credence.

"It's that new-car smell," says Monica Gilchrist of the Green Building Resource Center in Santa Monica. "It's the smell of a new carpet. It's that new-desk smell -- you bring in a new desk, and the panels are put together with a glue that contains formaldehyde. Off-gassing is the continual emission of the chemicals from the product. And these chemicals are found in blood levels over time."

The Rosens say that finding nontoxic alternatives wasn't easy in the early '90s, but the difficulty only galvanized their intent. They pored over what literature was available and plugged into the fledgling green building community centered at Eco Home, a modest Los Feliz bungalow that since 1977 has been the home and laboratory of self-taught green renegade Julia Russell. And then they met Rick Graham, a Studio City-based designer with an interest in sustainable design. Graham has remained a friend and trusted advisor ever since. When the Rosens wanted their own house, Graham walked with them through the Mandeville Canyon property and began planning its greening.

The health component of green building is intertwined with energy efficiency, with trying to live within our environmental means -- after all, a dilapidated planet is perhaps the largest health risk imaginable. Like a growing number of folks, the Rosens believe that our indulgent lifestyle is hardly sustainable. As "ozone depletion" and "global warming" enter the mainstream vocabulary, as hybrid cars begin to frequent our freeways, what was once perceived as a leftist rant is becoming a societal priority.

Buildings, it turns out, use twice as much energy as cars do -- and roughly 70% of all electricity in the United States goes to power buildings, says Robert Watson, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City. And much of that electricity comes from the consumption of nonrenewable fossil fuels.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has set a goal of 1 million buildings producing solar energy by 2018, with half of all new homes powered by the sun. The Rosens have joined the effort: About a third of their electricity comes from photovoltaic cells installed on the roof, while a separate solar panel heats their hot water.

Systems like these are expensive, but as Rosen sees it, you have to look at the entire equation rather than simply the start-up cost. When the photovoltaic cells produce more electricity than is currently being used, the excess energy feeds back into the grid and the calibrated power meter actually runs backward, reducing the couple's utility bill. By Al Rosen's calculation, he and Myra should recoup their investment in about 10 years -- and then start saving money.

Working closely with Graham, "we have done almost everything you can do on the list of environmental and nontoxic construction," Rosen says.

Just look around the living room. The hardwood flooring is certified cherry, protected with a sealer made from vegetable oil and natural waxes. The blue-and-gray throw rug is woven from natural fibers and dyed with plant pigments. The coffee table, designed by Graham, replaces formaldehyde-laden plywood with wheat board -- literally boards made from wheat straw, held together with formaldehyde-free adhesive -- and it's veneered with cork and painted with nontoxic paint. Graham also designed the couch.

The walls beyond are coated with paint that emits no volatile organic compounds, and if the walls were opened you would see that much of the plywood has been replaced with wheat board and other natural alternatives. The typical fiberglass insulation has been replaced with recycled cotton insulation -- and cotton is also embedded beneath floors and above ceilings to increase energy efficiency.

Nearly all of the materials in the house are of natural origin instead of petrochemical alternatives -- wood, granite, slate and other stone, copper, steel, glass and ceramic, cork, linoleum. Virtually all of the paints, sealers, adhesives and coatings are low in toxicity and are environmentally sensitive. As with many green projects, each new material had to go through a "life cycle analysis" before being used:

* Where does the product come from?

* How much energy did it take to create it?

* What does it do during its lifetime -- does it off-gas?

* How does it end its life, at the dump or by being recycled?

The Rosens can trace the life of many products in their house from birth to death, and the renovation won't have ended until they've constructed an environment that they're happy living in. Why look for an ending when you're enjoying the process?

"I just got the permits pulled yesterday for our next project," Rosen enthuses. "It's an advanced water treatment system that uses no chemicals -- it uses aerobic bacteria. If you pour the output into a glass, it would look and smell like tap water. You can use the water for irrigation. This is the first one approved for a residence in the city of Los Angeles."

Most indications suggest that building is going to get greener, and quickly. Industry has already begun to react to the demand for green products at cheaper prices.

"Mainstream building products have become greener in the last decade," says newsletter editor Wilson. "The paints, across the board, have much less off-gassing than had been the case. All fiberglass is 20% recycled content." At the same time, he says, small start-up companies have begun producing innovative products "ranging from shingles made with recycled plastic, to decking materials made from a composite of recycled plastic and wood fiber, to more efficient ventilation systems."

Green values are infiltrating the commercial building landscape too, and for good reason: A slew of recent studies suggest that people learn faster, work harder, purchase more freely and are generally happier in well-ventilated, sunlit environments.

The nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council instituted a green certification program in 2000; called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), it certifies building projects using a four-tier rating system. Since its debut, 167 commercial building projects have been LEED certified, which is about 5% of the U.S. new construction market, says Rick Fedrizzi, president of the organization. Schwarzenegger has mandated that all new California government buildings be LEED certified, and other states are considering doing the same. The council plans to unveil a residential LEED certification in mid-2005, which should help the rest of us agree on a definition for "green."

If Fedrizzi is custodian of the green movement, then Charlottesville-based architect William McDonough is its prophet. McDonough might be considered a hopeless idealist -- except that his uncompromising vision for a sustainable society is being embraced not just by green-for-lifers, but by politicians and industry alike. McDonough pairs his own stringent interpretation of green philosophy with a stream of new prototype projects demonstrating their practical applicability in the world of today.

Who would have thought that when Ford built a massive new plant in Dearborn, Mich., the company would hire McDonough to top it with the world's largest green roof? "It's 10 1/2 acres of roofing that's also a habitat for animals," says McDonough, who also convinced Ford to install "parking lots that absorb water, which then goes into a giant water filter and gets run through constructed wetlands. By the time the water gets to a river three days later, it's pure."

Other projects include a building at Oberlin College that's designed to eventually make more energy than it needs to operate; an eco-sensitive shoe (Nike), chair (Herman Miller), corporate campus (Gap), line of carpets (Shaw) and concept car (the Ford Model U); and a fabric called Climatex Lifecycle, made from wool and ramie fiber, that is fast becoming a material of choice for airplane seating -- "if you find yourself at 40,000 feet with a fiber deficiency, you could eat your chair," McDonough quips.

As science begins to validate the underpinnings of green philosophy, and as trailblazers lead the way toward sustainable engineering that's aesthetically pleasing and affordable, greenies are no longer just the Birkenstock-clad, granola-munching contingent. They are also real estate investors (Al) and retired business owners (Myra). They green their homes and their lives not out of a desire to climb a soapbox but rather because, as Al Rosen puts it, "you have a choice, and one way is responsible. Why not do the responsible thing?"

Before you leave, come outside -- there's something Rosen wants you to see. He's proud of his worms. There are something like 15,000 of them, digesting food leftovers and bits of newspaper, wriggling around in a brown plastic compost bin. He pulls up the top of the bin and points to the layer of soft, fine black soil that will fertilize his herb and vegetable garden and the California native, drought-tolerant flowers and foliage beyond.

"Anything that can be composted, we put in here," he says. Recyclables wind their way to the other side of the house, into their corresponding containers. "For a whole week, we only have about 6 inches of trash," says Rosen, grinning. "Over here. I'll show you."



Step by step to a healthier home

So you want to live in a more ecologically sensitive environment, but you don't have the wherewithal for a complete remodel? Don't fret, says Alex Wilson, president of BuildingGreen Inc. ( -- there's a lot you can do short of opening up the walls. Here are six easy steps you can take to "green" your house without breaking the bank:

Lighten up: Replace incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents. We used to think of fluorescent lights as being cold and flickery -- like cheap grocery store lighting -- but advances in the technology mean that you likely won't be able to tell the difference. And you'll be saving energy.

Fill in the gaps: Address the leakiness of your home. Very often, more than half of winter heat loss and summer heat gain comes from leaks that can easily be sealed. Bring in a weatherization specialist who pressurizes or depressurizes your house and can plug leaks with caulk and gasketing materials.

Be water wise: Install water-efficient shower heads and faucet aerators in bathrooms. This saves both water and energy. Most showers have screw-on fixtures, so you can buy and easily install a high-quality low-flow shower head (about $20) that provides a satisfying aerated stream while using much less water than before. If you want to test the efficiency of your current shower head, position a large bucket to catch the flow, turn on the shower and time it for a minute. If it produces more than three gallons of water, a two- or two-and-a-half-gallon shower head would be a good investment -- with the savings on your water bill, it'll usually pay for itself in a matter of months.

Lose the fumes: The next time you paint anything, choose paints that produce no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Most major paint manufacturers now offer lines that are zero VOC. If a zero-VOC paint doesn't fit your design scheme, look for one with extremely low levels -- less than 20 or 30 grams of VOC per liter.

Don't waste heat: Tune up your heating and cooling equipment. Replace filters on air conditioners and heat pumps on gas furnaces. If you heat with oil or natural gas, bring in a technician to check the burner efficiency. You can often boost the efficiency of the heating system by 5% or 10% if it hasn't been tuned up and cleaned recently.

-- Steven Barrie-Anthony

Going Green: Mixed media


Thursday January 06, 2005

The indoor solution
* Homes That Heal -- And Those That Don't Athena Thompson New Society, $26.95

By Steven Barrie-Anthony

Sure, you've heard of "sick building syndrome" -- the idea that the buildings we live in can make us ill. Tenants have alleged just that in a slew of recent public lawsuits. But you obsessively clean your house, so this can't happen to you, right?

Wrong, writes Athena Thompson. Even the cleanest home is filled with toxic chemicals and materials, she says, and even the most conscientious homeowners can make themselves and their loved ones sick if they don't try to detoxify their home. Some scientists and green theorists suggest a link between the rising rates of various childhood diseases and children spending so much time in polluted indoor environments.

It's surprising to find that all this bad news makes for kind of fun reading. Explanatory passages are interspersed with fictionalized scenarios that may evoke some giggles. In the end, this is less a doomsday analysis than a fun, practical -- and inspiring -- guidebook.

Going Green: Cheat sheet to the lexicon


Thursday January 06, 2005

Cheat sheet to the lexicon

By Steven Barrie-Anthony

Eco-terms aren't really as complicated and obscure as they seem, says Monica Gilchrist of the Green Building Resource Center in Santa Monica. Here's a primer:

Dual-flush toilet -- A type of water-conserving toilet that is relatively common in the commercial sphere but is only now becoming available for the home. After each use you have a choice of low flush (using as little as 0.8 gallon) or a more powerful flush (about 1.8 gallons).

Energy Star ( -- An energy-efficiency rating system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. A high Energy Star rating means that the product -- from small household appliances to entire homes -- is designed to minimize its energy consumption. Using as little energy as possible helps protect the environment, conserves fossil fuels and saves you money on the electric bill.

Forest Stewardship Council ( -- A third-party certification for wood, wood products and forests. The FSC tracks the wood from its forest of origin all the way through the chain of custody to where the product is sold. If a product is FSC certified, you can count on its having been harvested and produced in a stringently eco-sensitive manner.

Formaldehyde -- A toxin found in many adhesives, such as those in plywood and panel board; it also can be found in paints, caulks and other building materials. The World Health Organization recently upgraded it from a possible carcinogen to a known one. When present in the home, it tends to "off-gas" and pollute the indoor environment. These days there are plenty of formaldehyde-free alternatives, such as nontoxic paint and the plywood alternative wheat board.

Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (www -- Developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED rating is the most widely known and accepted green certification program. LEED for commercial projects was unveiled in 2000, and since then more than 167 building products have been certified. A LEED certification for residential projects is scheduled to be available in mid-2005.

Life cycle analysis -- The process of tracing a product, material or practice from its origin through its final disposal or reuse, from factory to landfill or

recycling plant. Ask yourself questions like: Where does it come from? How much energy was used to create it? What will it do to your home environment? Does it off-gas? What happens to it when you can no longer use it? Looking at the whole picture is a tenet of green philosophy.

Linoleum -- A natural and eco-sensitive alternative to petrochemical-based vinyl. Linoleum is typically made from the renewable materials jute (used for backing), linseed oil, pine resin and sawdust. Eclipsed by vinyl in the 1960s and '70s, it's now experiencing a revival; it comes in both sheets and tiles, in a wide variety of colors.

Low-flow faucets and shower heads -- Installing low-flow fixtures is a simple and cheap way to conserve water. If you're in love with your current faucets and shower heads, you can instead choose to amend them by installing aerators, which slow the flow and disperse water. These simple steps can reduce water use by about 10%.

Off-gassing -- Also known as outgassing, this is the emission of chemicals from building materials, furniture, textiles, bedding or other products in the home. Many of those "new house" smells that we've come to enjoy are actually hazardous to our health -- they accumulate in the bloodstream and have been linked by some scientists to the increasing rates of asthma and some cancers, particularly in children. The best way to avoid off-gassing is to look for natural products that don't contain toxins such as formaldehyde.

Recycled content -- Refers to the amount of recycled (reused) material in a given product. There is post-industrial recycled content, which refers to the use of scraps from industrial manufacturing, and post-consumer content, which is the reuse of products that consumers have used and thrown away.

Solar -- Simply put, solar processes harness energy from the sun. The solar panels that most of us associate with solar energy are called photovoltaic panels; they transform the sun's rays into usable electricity. Solar thermal processes can be used to heat our hot water. Technological advances in recent years have made both photovoltaic and solar thermal systems amazingly effective. And prices are more affordable nowadays, in part because many utility companies and local governments offer rebate programs that lower the initial costs of purchase and installation.

Volatile organic compounds -- The toxic or noxious chemicals that are found in or released from paints, stains, adhesives and sealants. Whenever possible, look for products labeled as having low, no or zero VOCs.