Archive for April, 2011

Deer Tick Time

April 30, 2011

 Warm, sunny days are here again, the wildflower parade has started, and we humans have switched to spring mode, glad to leave heavy boots and jackets behind as we make fresh starts into the woods. Ticks are also strutting their finest in this parade and they need to bite friendly hosts to survive. Hopefully they will not bring us a new round of Lyme Disease.

  If you get a bite, here’s an easy way to remove ticks: apply a glob of liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover the tick with the cotton ball for 15-20 seconds and it will fall off on its own and stick to the cotton ball.

 To know what we’re dealing with and how to prevent bites, it helps to understand the life cycle of the Deer tick and what it needs to survive. The tick gets its name because the preferred host is a deer. Adult ticks feed on the deer’s blood, mate and, once the female eggs are fertilized, both the male and female die and drop to the ground where the eggs hatch to larva. The larva seeks a new host, a mouse or whoever is handy. The larvae molt to nymphs and continue to feed on mouse blood and other small mammals. Ticks are usually found on grasses, waiting for other victims, like us and deer, to pass. 

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control recommends DEET, Picaridin, and Permethrin for insect repellants. All are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, readers responded that DEET had not served as a protection from tick bites for them. Permethrin is the insecticide that people are finding effective against tick bites. Pyrethrum is a natural insecticide made from the flowers of a species of the Chrysanthemum plant. Permethrin is a synthetic insecticide whose chemical structure is based on natural pyrethrum. As an insecticide, it is currently sold as a 0.5% Permethrin Pump Spray.

 When used as directed, Permethrin appears to have no harmful effect on the environment.

It is not used on the skin. It is sprayed on your clothes (shirt, pants, socks, everything but your underwear) and one treatment will last up to six launderings or six weeks before clothing has to be treated again. You need to wash the sprayed clothes between wearings or check the product label for specific instructions.

 Other readers have found Permethrin Tick Tubes to be effective, especially if you live in a wooded/grassy area, have pets, and need protection right in your own yard. Tick Tubes are designed for the little critters. The tubes are biodegradable cardboard tubes filled with permethrin-treated cotton balls. Mice gather the cotton for their nests. Deer ticks intending to feed on the mice are then killed when the mice return to their nests.

However, the mice and other mammals are not harmed. Put these tubes around your yard and the mice will love you for it. Caution needs to be taken that children do not take them apart out of curiosity and handle the cotton.

 If you are interested in purchasing either of these products, check your local camping or hunting supply store. Otherwise, both products are available on line.

 IMPORTANT CAUTIONS: DEET comes in varying strengths and preparations, in roll-ons, sprays and liquid. If applied to the skin (which hikers and gardeners often do,) it needs to be thoroughly washed off with soap and water when home safely. DEET is potentially toxic. Body checking, especially the head and hairline, remains a must. Our heads have a rich supply of blood just under the surface. Check and re-check each other after time spent in tick-infested areas, especially if near grasses; get out of your clothes, do a complete body check, and shower well.  Wash clothes to avoid spreading ticks to your home. Check pets routinely. Walk on the center of trails and save bushwhacking for winter.

 Permethrin is ONLY applied to clothing, NEVER to the skin. It is highly toxic to humans but safe when applied to clothing and not when clothing is being worn. For safety, clothing is sprayed according to specific directions on the bottle and left to dry for 2 hrs. before wearing. One reader has a separate bag he stores Pymethrin sprayed clothes in between wearings.

 A Deer Tick may only be the size of a sesame seed but if it has been sucking your blood, it will swell up much larger. If you are bitten and the tick has been on you for more than 24 hrs, or if you develop a fever, chills, headache, muscle & joint pain, fatigue, rash or any other symptom that seems odd for you, bring yourself and the tick to your health provider.

 Time to spread the word and send in suggestions for what works for you. Thanks!

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The Magic of Singing

April 30, 2011

“…And the magic of their singing casts a spell.” So goes the line in the Whiffenpoof Song at the heart of Pemi Choral Society’s Spring Concert.

 The song’s theme is as relevant today as it was when the song was written in 1936, on the tail end of the Great Depression, during a time when Community Sings were part of every gathering. Perhaps the appeal of this song that has survived has to do with the message the song carries.

 “Yes, the magic of their singing of the songs we knew so well…” Those songs were all about growing up, falling in love, trying to make good life choices and leave the world a better place than we found it, laments for our failures, and confidence in our dreams.

 The same script prevails today with one exception: the Community Sings happen mostly at special festivals. As Pemi choristers, we have a singing workout for two hours every week with the dynamic and gifted Bob and Margot Swift team. It’s a lot like a runner’s high. Sometimes, we seem to be floating in space on the waves of sound. Every cell feels like it has been flushed out; equilibrium has been established. Unlike a solitary runner’s high, group singing depends on all voices joining together in one grand singer’s high.

 The chorus draws people from all walks of life, all spiritual persuasions, all political and social preferences, all singing abilities, and all ages. Perhaps this rich diversity is what makes singing together such a high. When we can come together, still figuring out what growing up and getting along together with all our differences is all about, we can go out with a confidence that, “Yes, life is good! We have many voices but we are one voice when we sing together.”

 One of the ways we can keep each other well is to sing together at every opportunity. Some people shy away, saying, “Oh, I can’t sing.” Having directed children’s choirs, I quickly learned that, given encouragement and support, every child who came in saying, “I can’t sing,” went out singing.

 Here’s to encouraging everyone’s song because it takes everyone singing together to make that singer’s high that keeps us all healthy!

The Secret to Licking Addiction

April 17, 2011

Most of us develop habits that eventually begin to get in our way and sometimes even alienate us from others. One such habit for me was an addiction to coffee.

 At the time, I was working as a clinician in a mental health clinic. Because some of our clients were taking psychotropic medication, we checked them regularly for side effects, such as tremors and irregular muscular movements. Additional meds, like Cogentin, were used to counteract those side effects.

 At about 5 o’clock one night, I said to a client, “Bill, time to stretch out your arms and hands to be sure everything’s OK,” and I demonstrated by stretching out my own arms and hands. Bill exclaimed, “Hey,Elizabeth, I think you need some Cogentin!”

 I was shocked to see that I could not stop my hand tremors, and I knew the cause was my coffee consumption (7-8 cups a day.) This incident served as my wake up call and I determined that I would get off coffee. However, my training had been that addictions were extremely hard to lick, if ever, and required extensive therapy and perhaps drugs to control. 

I began to look at the extent of my addiction. I chose my friends by whether they drank coffee, had no tea drinking friends. I chose the meetings I went to by whether coffee was served. I gave travel directions to people by Duncan Donuts landmarks and knew exactly where they were located throughout the northeast so that I could take a break every two hours on trips. 

I even kept a 16 oz. coffee cup on a small table next to my desk so I could take a discreet slug of coffee between the 50 min. sessions with my clients. At home, I had a cup of coffee next to me when reading a book or any other activity.

 All of a sudden, I began to resent the hold coffee had on my life and the people and events I was missing because of my habit. That was my true Aha! Moment. I began to resent coffee, and gradually stopped drinking it altogether because I was sure it was an addiction and one cup would put me right back on it again. For several years, I avoided coffee.

 Then I found that I could have an occasional cup and enjoy it, without worrying about becoming addicted because I now have a stronger base. I enjoy a wider circle of friends and activities and have no desire to let anything get in the way of this lifestyle!

 –And the secret?  Nothing new here: Eastern philosophers long ago taught that the secret to an intentional life is the ability to remain alert to each moment. Meditation became popular in this country when people sought to gain control over wandering, troubled minds. Training included sitting still for increasingly longer periods, repeating mantras in a relaxed state, scanning the body continually, or just watching thoughts come and go like so many fish in a stream.

 When I applied this philosophy to drinking coffee, I began to see coffee as less of a friend than a nagging nuisance. My reliance on a fix left me feeling wired or wiped out by attempts to maintain a steady state. When I decided to cut back, the intense craving was right up there in front of me, whether I distracted myself with running or other active movement. The minute I sat down, I needed that fix. It wasn’t until I began to see and resent coffee, as a merciless taskmaster in my life that I was able to fight back and claim my right to be in charge of my life.

 It doesn’t matter what the addiction is. The secret is to watch it. Notice how it directs your life, the friends you choose, your emotional state, your ability to shift when necessary, your freedom to travel anywhere, the quality of food you eat. Do you crave it? Does it take up more of your attention? Have you had a history of quitting, withdrawal and relapsing that reinforces a pattern? If you’re a student, do you end up late for class because you needed a cigarette between classes? Do you miss assignments because you came into the middle of a session? If you’re a parent transporting children, are you splotching car seats and carpets and clothing with spilled coffee?

 Spring is a great time to take a good look at our habits. It’s time to put away the heavy stuff of winter and travel lighter, time to plug in to fresh energy  from all the life springing up around us, time to slough off excess baggage of whatever is out of line in our life. It’s also a time to cheer each other on for all efforts as a means to keeping each other well!

Living Wills for the Well

April 10, 2011

The debate over end-of-life care weaves in and out of the news and recent book releases, no doubt spurred on by the struggle over the cost for health care. The time to draw up a living will is when we are well, thinking clearly, and before we have trouble making decisions. It can always be updated, but it does need to be put in place.

 Those of us who value quality of life over simply existing in a deteriorating state, have likely had to watch a loved one depart after having their life unnecessarily prolonged in a state they never would have chosen for themselves. However, each one of us has the authority to decide how our end-of-life care will be administered, if we put our wishes in place when we are well.

 My mother did not choose to make a living will, despite encouragement from us, her children, to do so. She was sure we were out for her money, despite the fact that we had been urging her for years to travel and consider us her insurance if her money ran out.

She ended up living her last several years literally physically deteriorating to a shell while continually being “saved” by antibiotics. None of us dared make the choice for her to do otherwise.

 Not wanting my children or myself to ever have to be in that agonizing position, I drew up my living will in my 50s. Each of them has a copy, as do health care providers I see. It is a relief to me, and I hope to them, that should I be unable to make decisions: do not resuscitate, no antibiotics, no ventilators, no tube feedings, etc. are all in place. I found a good and reasonable lawyer to draw it up so that I could be sure everything was covered, including appointment of my Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney designees.

 Here it is spring, or at least the bulbs are trying to poke their way out of the snow and brighten things up for us. Spring is a time when we think about new life, fresh starts, and increased physical energy to be turning over new leaves. It’s a good time to put all of life in perspective so we don’t have to worry about it later. This is a vital part of keeping each other well and enjoying life.

We Shall Not Hate

April 3, 2011

Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian medical doctor raised in a refugee camp on the Gaza Strip, whose 3 daughters were killed by Israelis, has a message for all of us in his book, I Shall Not Hate. As a medical doctor, his main focus is on healing people, caring for and educating all children as a means to a peaceful world.

 He urges us to “stop the killing” and stop trying to justify what harm is done by calling people militants in order to justify actions shelling homes. It doesn’t matter what side we’re on, the game continues. Currently, we can see the health effects of returning service people who cannot justify what they have been asked to do in other countries. We label the problem PTSD and expect them to “resolve their issues” with therapy. Yet, how many of us would just be able to pick up and get on with our lives, had we been on the killing fields, doing the opposite of whatever religious training has been instilled in us?

 The same pattern is being used in the struggle to Stop the Northern Pass. Proponents minimize the miserable costs of health dues our children and adults would have to pay, to say nothing of the financial problems the Pass would bring to families. Now, citizens from the whole state have to speak up because so few of our 400 representatives can be depended upon to do their homework and protect our health. Pass people justify their greed by minimizing health effects, calling opponents “not-in-my-backyard” people, drumming up myths and painting a rosy picture that will never happen if the Pass goes through.

 The opposite of “We Shall Not Hate” is “We Shall Care”. We shall care about what happens to our children, our wildlife, and this refuge that even the tourists refer to as, “God’s Country.”

 I recently drove from Newton, MA to my home in Thornton during the rush hour, a long, slow drive amidst wall to wall houses and businesses. While I am thankful that I don’t have to make that trip regularly, I also realize that it is more important than ever to keep our state the refuge that it is for the people who head north for R&R.

 The question is, “How much do we care about our families and fellow citizens of the earth?”