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5K… Hurray!

5K

Running in a 5K is an awesome experience!

By Jen Ashenfelter

It’s really difficult to maintain healthy habits and an exercise program when there’s so much else to get done. Why is it that the first things we take out of our daily routine are the very things that keep us going? I’m guilty as charged.

I know I should get more exercise, but I don’t. I know I should drink more water, but I don’t. Carbs are bad, but just try to take away my bagel. I watch Biggest Loser. I see the Facebook posts and pictures from friends who are logging miles with Nike, checking in at the gym, eating vegan meals, participating in Tough Mudder events or biking a distance I wouldn’t dream of going without a car and scheduled rest stops, but I do nothing.

After a hectic week at work or a never-ending string of school events and evening activities for the boys, before you know it, I started substituting Coke Zero for my water and instead of taking 20-minute walks or jogs I began punching the snooze button for the same amount of time on my alarm.

In the long run, bad habits and the inability to put ourselves first catch up. Taking care of yourself and exercising doesn’t require hours at the gym. In fact, working out for a few minutes throughout the day is just as effective according to The Benefits of Physical Activity published by the Harvard School of Public Health. (Very helpful article!)

The lesson I learned? You don’t have to be a perfect runner. You don’t have to give up eating carbs. And you don’t necessarily have to go jogging at 4:30am—there’s something to be said for getting enough sleep—unless you want to do all those things. All you really need is motivation, the ability to start in small increments and build momentum, and the willingness to forgive yourself when the going gets rough so you can start again.

Getting into the 5K craze 

With all that said, my husband and I started walking early in the morning late in the summer. When cooler mornings moved in, we added jogging to our routine. So we set our sights on running a 5K together in late September. Setting a goal with a deadline is good motivation, but there’s a better chance of success with a solid plan. If you’re not a runner or have never participated in a 5K (3.1 miles), then you really should choose a Couch to 5K plan—there are a plethora of apps and you can usually find a class at the local Y or health club—which breaks training into a manageable daily schedule of walking, jogging, and cross-training options over four to eight weeks.

I have trained twice before as part of a program—the last one being with the Y running outside during February. (Nothing improves your run time at the end of eight weeks like shedding 20lbs of winter clothing!) In 20 – 60 minutes a day, you’ll be ready for the race.

It wasn’t easy training for the September race. Life got in the way, again, and our training was rather inconsistent…okay it was basically nonexistent, but that didn’t stop us. Knowing the race course was flat and being motivated to raise money for a planned veteran’s park, we showed up.

Three days before the race I jogged a hilly 1.7 miles in roughly 20 minutes. I’m not great at math, but to me, that calculated into a respectable finish time of less than 45 minutes. I was thinking about the picture I would post on Facebook!

Race day was beautiful—not too warm, not too cold. My new sneakers felt good. We walked, we stretched, and then we were off. I was off alright—off my rocker. During the first mile I couldn’t catch my breath. During the second mile, my bladder screamed at me. During the third mile, my head was pounding, my feet hurt and I almost quit…3 times. During that final stretch, however, I was breathing like a champ, I didn’t have to pee and my feet were light as feathers as I crossed the Veterans Park 5K finish line at 36:40. It felt great! I was ready for the next race…

On a runner's high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

On a runner’s high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

New habits die fast

With my goal of running a 5K for the first time in years accomplished, sadly, the high didn’t last long. This fall, exercise and “me time” were replaced with more hours at work and a busy family schedule. In a recent moment of mental disarray—okay, probably more like a hormonal imbalance with a lack of Starbucks and absence of downtime—I  realized it was time to take a step back and breathe deeply to regain some perspective and natural energy to keep moving forward.

A power walk or leisurely jog around the neighborhood and eating healthy really do make a difference! Since taking that step back and returning to a few minutes of fresh air and shocking the cardio system back to life, I feel more energized to tackle each day with less stress and a more positive outlook.

I’m motivated to keep exercising because it feels really good, the holiday party season is fast approaching, and I’m going to a family wedding in January where probably 99.9% of those under 30 are Cross Fit fabulous. Yeah, I’m really motivated to keep moving. But I’m not kidding myself. The first thing to go when the going gets tough will be exercising and eating well. No worries though, I’ll dust off my weights and running shoes to begin—again. Hey, the 5K season ramps up in March.

Do you exercise regularly or set aside time in your busy schedule just for yourself? What motivates you? Finish a race or reach a personal goal? Friend us on Facebook and share a photo of you doing something you enjoy just for yourself!

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Feverish Far From Home: When Your College Kid Gets Sick


Get well
By Chris Little

It wasn’t long after my son got to college that I felt that primal urge to speed halfway across the state to rescue him. He was at the first home football game with some friends when early in the first quarter he began seeing those weird visual disturbances that signal an oncoming migraine. Now, he gets one every month or so, so he knows the signs and he’s got medicine that helps—which sadly he didn’t have with him at the game—no backpacks allowed. Still, he got himself home and slept it off and basically managed things fine. But then, just a couple days later, he felt another one coming on—he’s never had them that frequently, so I was more concerned. What should I do? Should I drive out there? But what could I do once I got there? In the end I suggested he go to his school’s student health center, which he did. The doctor adjusted his medicine and made a few other suggestions, and things are going better.

But I know this isn’t the last time my kid will ever have health problems far from home. You know, college kids live crammed together in those dorms, not getting enough sleep and sharing all kinds of germs. What can I do to support my kid—and his independence—when he’s sick at school? I did some reading, and here’s what I found:

First aid kitPreparation

  • Teach them to keep themselves healthy. Before they move out, we need to make sure our kids know all about healthful eating, sufficient resting, frequent hand-washing, and scrupulous sneeze-covering. Now’s your chance to nag!
  • Arm them with antibodies. Send your student off to college thoroughly vaccinated—her school will tell you what shots she needs.
  • Equip them with a first aid kit. Keep it simple: a thermometer, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, some antibiotic cream and bandages. You might also toss in some liquid soap or hand sanitizer.
  • Encourage them to get a flu shot. If her school doesn’t offer them, suggest that your student check the nearest pharmacy. I took advantage of my son’s recent Fall Break visit to have him vaccinated. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s less of a hassle than having the flu over exam week!
  • In case of emergency. Suggest that your student program her school’s emergency numbers into her cell phone. It’s also wise to know the location of the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.

TylenolTriage

No matter how hard your kid tries to stay healthy, she’s likely to get sick at some point during her college years. What should she do? For the most part, she should do just what you’d tell her to do if she were home, of course!

  • Shelter in place. If she’s not too sick, your student can just rest in her room and treat her symptoms with plentiful liquids and acetaminophen or cold medicine. It’s also a good idea for her to let her resident assistant know how she’s doing.
  • Get some help. If she’s very sick or has diarrhea and/or vomiting that doesn’t resolve in a couple hours, suggest that your child head to her school’s student health center. But don’t rely on the school to tell you how she’s doing—privacy rules prohibit them from discussing your student’s health unless she gives express permission.
  • Send a bulletin. If your student is sick enough to miss classes, remind her to notify her professors.

StethoscopeIn the Waiting Room

But what about us parents hovering at a distance — is there anything we can do? Sure!

  • Be available. Let your student know you’re there for him if he needs you, but don’t rush in to rescue him (but see below).
  • Be attentive. You might check in a little more often than usual via text or phone. But be sensitive to signals that your “a little more” is perhaps “a little too much” for your kid.
  • Be thick-skinned. Taking care of our sick offspring is a strong instinct! It’s hard not to take it personally when said offspring wants to take care of herself. Still, try to take her cold (though perhaps feverish) shoulder for what it is—a sign of healthy independence.
  • Be generous. That is, when it comes to mailing a care package and/or get-well card. Now’s your chance to indulge your nurturing impulses by packing that box full of tea, soup mix, tissues, favorite snacks, the works.
  • Be wise. If you’re worried that your student is in real trouble, such as struggling with depression or other serious emotional or physical difficulties, it’s probably time to step in more directly. And of course, if you fear your student is in danger, call the school and/or the local police immediately.

More Than a Common Cold?

Recovering from a more serious or longer-term illness like mono in a dorm room can be rough. What then?

  • Move in-house? Some student health centers are equipped with an infirmary where your student can rest apart from the ruckus in the dorm. Ask your student if this sounds like a good option.
  • Come home? Some families live close enough to bring their student home for a short break to recuperate—sometimes a few days of home-grown TLC is all it takes.
  • Keep the school in the loop. If you and your student determine that it’s best for him to come home for more than one or two days, make sure he notifies his professors, resident assistant, and academic advisor. Most professors will work with a student to accommodate a medical absence—if they know it’s happening.

I hate to think of my college kid suffering from an illness while he’s away from home, but I know it’s part of letting him grow into independence. What are some other strategies for supporting a sick kid from a distance?

Oatmeal: It’s What’s for Breakfast

As the temperatures drop on fall mornings, we need warm breakfasts to help us get moving! The re-post below is one of our most popular articles of all time, thanks in great part to Pinterest. Originally published in March of 2013, if you haven’t experimented with Mary Ann’s recipe for crock pot oatmeal yet, maybe these cool, fall mornings will provide the perfect opportunity!

By Mary Ann Filler

My Breakfast This Morning!

My breakfast this morning! There’s nothing like the warmth of home-cooked oatmeal to start the day!

If you love oatmeal but for convenience sake find yourself grabbing the pre-made packets with the high amounts of salt, sugar and who knows what else, this post is for you!

If you want to lower your cholesterol, boost your immune system, protect your heart, stabilize your blood sugar, lower your risk of diabetes, prevent cancer, or want a gluten-friendly/free meal this post may also be for you!

One of my highest priorities as a mother of two teens and a tween is to provide them with healthy meals. For several months, my oldest son has been reporting to school daily by 6 a.m. for early morning workouts with the baseball team.  I really wanted him to have a healthy breakfast before heading out the door in the wee hours of the morning.  However, waking up at 5 a.m. to prepare him breakfast was not too appealing.  Oatmeal made the night before in the crock pot was a perfect solution.

Apparently, crock pot oatmeal recipes are quite popular these days, but my recipe is one that I have developed over time.  I just love waking to the aroma of baked apples and cinnamon and a hot, healthy breakfast that takes no time at all to scoop in to individual bowls.   Of course you can add the fruit, cinnamon and nuts or a splash of cold milk after the cooking cycle or not at all.  You may even allow the “kiddos” to top the oatmeal as they wish.

MA’s Crockpot Oatmeal

Place the following ingredients in a slow cooker, stir and cook on low 6-8 hours.  As long as you have enough liquid in the crock pot you may vary the cooking time.  Also, I’ve noticed other crock pot oatmeal recipes recommending that the crock pot be greased prior to adding the ingredients.  I personally have not done that, and have not had issues with clean up.  If you typically prepare the surface of your crock pot to avoid sticking use butter or coconut oil for a healthy “lube  job.”

  1. 2-2.5 Cups of Liquid such as Water, Cow’s Milk, Almond Milk or Coconut Milk (I use Almond Milk)
  2. 2-3 Tbsp. of a sweetener such as Sugar, Brown Sugar, Honey, Maple Sugar (I use either Raw Honey or Maple Sugar)
  3. 1 Tbsp. of Butter…the REAL stuff!
  4. Pinch of Salt
  5. .5 to 1 tsp. Cinnamon (or more)
  6. 1 Cup Oatmeal (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats)
  7. Fruit such as Apples (1-2), Bananas (1-2), Raisins or Dried Cranberries (a sprinkling to taste)
  8.  Chopped Nuts such as Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts (the amount here is a personal preference…1-2 Tbsp or more is a good start)

Other add-in/topping ideas may include but certainly are not limited to:  nut butters, cocoa powder, coconut, chia seeds, ground flax meal or seeds, blueberries, peaches and chocolate chips!  Isn’t this exciting, folks!  You can top your oatmeal just as you would your ice cream!

IMG_0213Or… Let Your Refrigerator Do the Work:

In the last couple of months I was introduced to a new “make the night before” oatmeal recipe.  Believe it or not, this oatmeal is made in the refrigerator!  The basic premise is to place all ingredients in a jar or bowl, stir and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, you may eat the oatmeal hot or cold.  If you find yourself unable to eat breakfast prior to leaving the house in the morning, this is a great take along meal idea.

Here is the link to help you begin discovering the world of refrigerator oatmeal!  Who knew?!?

Click here for “Smart Sweet:  Chia, Choco and Banana Overnight Oats.”   Ladies, if you love chocolate…try the recipe!!

For more info on the health benefits of oatmeal, check out this link to Mother Earth Living.

Have you experimented with any of these alternative ways of preparing oatmeal?  We would love feedback!

Answering the “What’s for Dinner?” Question

By Jen Ashenfelter

Mmmmm... spaghetti! (Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net)

Mmmmm… spaghetti! (Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net)

“What’s for dinner?”

When I was younger, this question was important to me, and waiting to hear the answer filled me with nervous anticipation. With dinner the most important meal (to me), I just needed to know which way my day would go. Spaghetti or meatloaf and mashed potatoes could make the day, and hot dogs or lima beans could break it. (There’s nothing worse than knowing the day was ending with a spoonful of evil.)

Apples don’t fall far from the tree: I have two boys and everything revolves around food. I totally understand their need to ask me what’s for dinner first thing in the morning (with apologies to my mother for constantly asking), but that doesn’t mean I have to actually answer them. And no, we never end the day with lima beans.

With that in mind, a little preparation every week goes a long way toward maintaining a lot of sanity—and it probably saves time and money too! I can’t remember exactly when I started planning meals for the week, but I can tell you it makes it big difference and whenever I fall out of the practice—chaos ensues.

There’s no silver bullet or divine secret to meal planning—just takes a little time and creativity. I’m happy to share what works for me, and I encourage discussion on what works for you. Regardless of your work/home balance, from grocery store to dinner table, we are usually responsible for feeding the family. Who really has the time; why not make it as easy on ourselves as possible?
Planner
• Collect recipes – Keep them in a notebook, envelope or box—doesn’t matter where, just as long as you can quickly scan through recipes of family favorites or easy one-pot dishes. Research the web and ask friends for great recipes.
• Find a planner – Go to AC Moore, Michaels, or your local arts-n-crafts or dollar store for a planner pad you can stick to the refrigerator. (My pink and black zebra print pad has seven columns so I can plug in the date.) You can use your computer or iPad, but I prefer old-fashioned paper because I can stick it on the frig where everyone has 24/7 access—which eliminates the “What’s for dinner?” Q&A…and, at times, the follow-up whining and complaining.
• Plan for the coming week – I start by noting which nights have soccer or karate or meetings—dinner should be quick and easy on these nights. Before I go grocery shopping, I look through my recipes and/or store flyers to help keep the menu interesting and inexpensive. Cook enough for two nights when you can—eat half now and freeze the other half for later, so next week’s menu is easy to create and the only requirement is reheating.
• Make the grocery list – Use the back of last week’s menu to write your shopping list. With recipes on hand, it’s easy to list everything you’ll need. Planning and shopping for the week saves time and money since I’m less likely to run to the store for a few items and return with a cart full…or resort to spending money on fast food. We definitely eat healthier when I take the time to plan for the week.

That’s it! I fell out of practice during the summer, and by Friday evenings I was so frustrated with the questions about what’s for dinner and last minute planning that I didn’t care if anyone got dinner. (Note the snippy tone.) Now that school is back in session and the activities and sports are in full swing, planning is essential. And I actually like Friday evening dinners again.

Here’s a delicious recipe for chicken that turns any dinner into a Sunday dinner without much effort. Add some rice or bread, microwave a bag of green beans and dinner is served. Please share your time/money-saving tips or a favorite recipe with everyone. Enjoy!

Orange chicken
Chicken A L’Orange
4-8 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise (quartered if large)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 3-3 ½-lb whole chicken (I use package of cut-up chicken w/extra package of thighs so there’s enough to create 2 dinners.)
½ cup orange marmalade
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

1) Heat oven to 425. In a large shallow roasting pan, toss the shallots with 1 tbsp oil and ¼ tsp each salt and pepper.

2) Cut the chicken into pieces. In a large bowl, whisk together the marmalade, vinegar, rosemary and remaining oil and ¼ tsp each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken; toss to coat.

3) Place the chicken mixture in the roasting pan, nestling the pieces among the shallots. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and browned and shallots are tender, 25 – 30 minutes.

How to Catch Your Breath and Recharge!

A beautiful butterfly showing off just for me!

A beautiful butterfly showing off just for me!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Many of us within our Off the Merry-Go-Round community have had a very busy, and trying, summer. Coincidentally, we have been trying to adjust to new work and school routines, say “goodbye” to our children (of all ages!), battle illness, handle personal stresses, and the list goes on …

As I recover from my third surgery in 2 ½ years and try to regain some semblance of my former self, I find I also need to get back to my writing work, catch up on household projects, and say goodbye to my “baby” as he begins preschool this fall. In the midst of all of this, my inner voice is shouting at myself to get going and I can’t seem to turn it off. It is certainly time to recharge!

In a few of my blogs I have an underlying theme of how “little things” really matter. So, I have decided to listen to my own advice and start making the time to plug into those little visions, little words, little moments, little happenings.

With sweet summertime coming to an end, and the fall getting underway, I encourage you to take a little time to do the same. All it really takes is about 10 minutes to let go of some of the stress you are dealing with, catch a breath of fresh air, and simply take in your environment – all while gaining a little more peace, sanity, and optimism.

Here’s what I suggest. Right now … yes, right now get up from wherever you are (and hopefully you’re not in the middle of a board meeting) and simply walk outside. And then? Keep walking! As you walk, take several deep breaths in and exhale them, rolling your shoulders back and down. Now that you have literally caught your breath and stood upright, just stroll around – your yard, your neighborhood, the sidewalk block or parking lot in front of your work building. For 10 minutes.

Keep in mind that this is not a workout and you should not be breathing hard when you finish. This is only meant to be a quiet, peaceful walk to silence your overcharged, busy mind and think on … the little things. They really are most important in this world!

I did this on a Sunday morning when my husband took my son to church and I continued trying to heal my body – and spirit! – while resting at home. Here is what I saw. (Click on any image to open a slide show.)

Please share how you are recharging your body, mind, and spirit as the fall season begins. What are some things you saw on a short, meditative walk? Or, did you find another way to bring sanity to your world? We look forward to hearing from you!

“Brain Strain: What We Can Unload to Upload”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

I’m on overload right now … although my son’s first year of preschool has come to an end, I am now shuffling him between summer camps, play dates, and various other community happenings. Since the latter part of this school year I have been coordinating the discernment, enrollment, and admission process for private preschool where my son will attend through 12th grade. Then there’s the organizing and packing for our summer travel and vacation plans…running our household…squeezing in a hair cut for myself…and on and on.

Something’s gotta give and soon – I simply need to unload! However, I have found this isn’t easily done. I can’t let go of any of these responsibilities, and I don’t have time to make any big changes in my life right now or incorporate “strategies” I read in magazines that are supposed to make things simpler and slow things down. So I need easy and fast ways to unload so I can upload with immediate results! How about you? It seems as though many of us speed along through our days with barely enough time to catch our breath. It is becoming more commonplace among my circle of friends for us to text each other to say – I’ll have to catch you later; I’m crazy-busy right now. Then, we don’t get back in touch for another week or two!

Rather than offer you suggestions for letting go of the things you do now that keep you so busy, I have something else in mind. Just check out the few simple ideas below that you can easily incorporate into your daily life and routine. They might just help you catch your breath – before going on to the next thing!

Battle That Brain Strain!

* Begin your day with a few simple stretches and a hot shower. Now, if I can do this with a busy 4 year old who is more than enthusiastic to start the day (and who seems to think he is my morning rooster), so can you. When I hear my son crawl out of bed and use the potty, I take that time to slowly awaken while he pads (okay – stomps) his way to my bedside. I have “trained” him to play next door in our master suite’s living area while I do a few simple, quick stretches – right from my bed! I concentrate on my upper and lower back so I can get mobile enough to find my way into the shower. There, I let the hot water and steam do its work with a few additional standing stretches so I don’t start off my day feeling stiff. It makes a big difference most days to be loosened up before jumping into all I have to accomplish!

* Stretch throughout the day. I call this “Stop, Drop, and Stretch!” As we go through our day, we tend to lose our posture and proper walking stance. We begin to hunch our shoulders forward and round our backs, and continue to stiffen up as the day goes on due to our often busy, stressed lives. Taking just a few moments to loosen your tightened muscles offers a quick break and is surprisingly refreshing after sitting at your computer too long or handling several tasks in a row.

* Take a break during the day to exercise if you can. My life has changed so much since having a child that I find I usually don’t have the time for an elaborate workout routine. However, research coming from the fitness world tells us that exercising in “spurts” can be just as effective at relieving stress; loosing weight; and keeping our bodies strong, minds sound, and emotions in check. And, any form of exercise counts, no matter how brief. Just 10 minutes 3 times a day can still make a difference. You don’t even need a structured or regimented exercise program. A simple stroll around your neighborhood or backyard, or a brief walk on your treadmill will do the trick!

* Eat well and drink plenty of water. I will spare a lecture on the health benefits of this one – especially since I find it difficult to do! However, it is so much better for our bodies and minds to eat nutritious foods and stay hydrated. And, a healthy body is a far happier and less stressed body!

* Set specific times to check email and return telephone calls. So many aspects of technology really can make things easier and us more productive when applied well to our lives. It is important to set boundaries for how you want to handle your technological devices before you begin using them for professional or personal use. Adhere to the times you set during the day to use those devices for checking email, voice or text messages, and returning telephone calls. It doesn’t take long for people to figure out that you are “glued” to your iphone, or to learn what times of day (or night!) you are likely “online.” Set precedence up front that your technological devices are turned off and put away during dinner, family time, and before bedtime. Keep them out of your bedroom or anywhere else that is designated for sleeping or resting. Many studies suggest that having electronics on continuously disrupts sleep patterns, and some experts recommend you dim lamps and avoid checking your e-mail or watching late-night TV at least an hour before bedtime.

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

* Choose not to answer the telephone sometimes. The “I’m on my deathbed” call is likely not the one coming in.

* Say ‘no’ sometimes. The world will not come to an end if you decline to lead a project for your child’s scout troop, make your homemade chili for the church cook-off fundraiser, serve as president of your home association, or anything else. Change the thought pattern that says the project, event, or meeting will fall apart without you! This is not to say that you don’t make valuable and worthy contributions to your workplace, home life, church, and community. It’s just that the show will go on. Choose your activities carefully and don’t allow them to overwhelm your life.

* Avoid stressful situations and toxic people as much as possible. These two things can be a real drain on your life. Instead, embrace positive energy and uplifting people! Set your emotional boundaries and stick with them.

* Make excuses. Look for periods throughout the day when you can snatch a moment of quiet time for yourself. Even if it means telling your family you simply must go to the laundry room for awhile to catch up. There’s your solitude and an item crossed off your to-do list in one!

* Take “me time” any way you can claim it. Whether you splurge on a spa service or hide in your closet to finish the next chapter in your book, time for you is important! You can’t help your colleagues, family, or community if you don’t take care of yourself first.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and fresh potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and freshly potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

Do you have another idea to help us regain our sanity? Let us know what you do to unload!

Living With Lyme (Part 2): Preventing Tick Bites

By Mary Ann Filler

Are there changes that you should make to live a healthier lifestyle? Perhaps you need to get more sleep, drink more water, or eat healthy and exercise to lose a few pounds. Information about healthy living can be overwhelming and confusing. But one fact is certain–prevention is the key to good health. And yet many of us do not take measures to ensure our health. In fact, sometimes it takes a major “wake-up” call for us to take action and make positive changes.

I’m going to address a subject that seemingly may not apply to you. If you or a loved one doesn’t have Lyme Disease, you may wonder why you would need to concern yourself with what I have to say. Of course, it is your choice to take heed or not. However, I hope that you will educate yourself and take precautions before you have no choice! “They Won’t Get It Until They Get It,” is a common saying in the Lyme community. May this saying NOT apply to you!

As mentioned in my first “Lyme” blog, Living With Lyme (Part 1), Lyme Disease is both difficult to diagnose and treat.  In his book, Lyme Disease Solution, Dr. Kenneth Singleton suggests that for every case of Lyme Disease that is currently detected, there are as many as ten or more cases of Lyme Disease that go undetected or undiagnosed.  These cases often result in chronic Lyme Disease, which causes debilitating and many times irreversible disease that is difficult to treat.  As a result, preventing Lyme Disease should be a high priority for everyone.

What are some measures you can take to prevent Lyme Disease?

 Be Aware that Ticks are Your Enemy

First, be aware that the primary vector for Lyme Disease is the bite of a tick.  The majority of information in the news perpetuates the belief that only the tiny deer tick, also known as the Blacklegged Tick, carries the Lyme bacteria.  In the interest of time, I’m not going to debate that belief; I’m just going to state that I don’t believe ANY tick is a good tick, and that all ticks have the capacity to carry and infect you with disease.  AVOID ticks if at all possible!

Note:  While not popularly held by “the mainstream,” it has also been suggested that fleas, flies, gnats, mites and mosquitoes may also transmit Lyme disease.  It is certain that these pests do transmit other diseases and it makes sense to avoid them as well.  In addition, humans have possibly passed Lyme and other tick borne diseases along in pregnancy and via blood donation or organ transplant. 

Know Your Enemy

A tick is a tiny parasite that feeds on the blood of animals and people.  They do not have wings and cannot fly or jump.  Ticks get around by walking or hitching a ride on an animal.  When the tick latches on to get a blood meal, it may transmit a bacteria “cocktail” that it obtained from a different host in an earlier feeding in the life cycle.

Life Cycle of a Tick

Life Cycle of a Tick

The length of time that a tick needs to be attached to transmit disease is somewhat debatable; most sources agree that it takes 24-48 hours.  Regardless, proper tick removal (how to remove an embedded tick properly) is critical to preventing the tick from infecting you with disease.

Tick Size Comparison

Know Where and When to Expect Ticks

Since a tick bite is the primary vector for Lyme Disease, you will want to know that tick bites may occur ANY time of the year, but most often during early spring to late summer.  As the weather gets warmer, ticks become more active and more likely to bite.  Ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas. You may come into contact with ticks during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through vegetation such as leaf litter or shrubs.  Small animals including birds, mice, rabbits, squirrels or chipmunks can carry ticks on to your property.  In addition, if you have a pet dog or cat that frequents your yard or walks in suspect areas, they may carry ticks in to your home.

Caution Tick Habitat

Take Precautions Before Going Into Potentially Tick Infested Areas

When frequenting areas that are potentially tick infested, wear light-colored clothing so that ticks can be seen.  In addition, pick clothing that is made of smooth or tightly woven fabrics making it more difficult for ticks to latch on to you.  Tuck your shirt in to your pants and your pants in to your socks.  Of course, long-sleeved shirts, pants and closed toed shoes are preferred.

 Choose a Tick Repellant that is Right For You

Applying a tick repellant helps to reduce the chances of getting bit by a tick, but you will have to decide which repellent is right for you.  Many sources will tell you to spray yourself with a bug repellant that contains DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).  While DEET is an effective agent for tick repulsion, caution must be used when applying it, as it can be toxic to the nervous system, and it’s not the most pleasant to use (not to mention the environmental impact).  Avon has a product line that repels ticks and is DEET free.  However, it still contains a chemical called Picardin.  There are natural alternatives including essential oils, but unfortunately little testing has been done to show that these alternatives actually work to repel ticks.

While many people are aware that they should spray their skin with tick repellent, they are unaware that treating their clothing may be one of the most preventative measures available. When sprayed on clothing and camping gear, Premethrin is highly effective in repelling and even killing ticks as well as other pests.  Premethrin treated items kill ticks on contact.  However, Premethrin cannot be applied directly to your skin.  Spray clothing (especially socks and shoes) and gear a day before you will be heading in to the woods.  Once clothing is treated, the Premethrin is still effective through 6 washings.  Premethrin can be purchased on-line or in stores that sell outdoor gear.  As with any chemical compound, follow the directions for use very carefully.

Tick-habitat-sign

Take Extra Precautions If you Spend Time in forested areas.

If you camp, hike, or hunt, you may want to consider purchasing clothing that is pretreated with Premethrin by checking out Insect Shield Clothing (www.insectshield.com).  Pretreated clothing can be washed up to 70 times and still be effective.  When hiking, stay on the path as much as possible.  Also, use a hiking stick to push any branches that may be across the path out of the way.  Spray all sleeping bags and tents with Premethrin.

 What Should You Do After Spending Time in Potentially Tick Infested Areas?

 After an activity in a potentially tick infested area, when arriving home, immediately place all clothing in the dryer (prior to washing) on high for 1 hour.  The high temperatures from the dryer will kill any ticks that may be hanging out waiting to latch on to you or your pet once inside your home.

If you are camping, remove your clothing and place in a plastic bag; close the bag with a plastic tie until you can get home.  Loose clothing lying around a tent or camper may provide an opportunity for ticks to latch on while you are walking around or even sleeping.

Shower as soon as you are able using a brush.  Do a through tick check.  Ticks can hide under armpits, behind knees, and in the hair.  Having another person check in difficult to see places would be the most advantageous.  Of course, an adult should inspect children closely.  Caution:  ticks may look like a small freckle and can be almost undetectable!

Tiny Tick!

Tiny Tick!

Apply a Tick Treatment to Your Pet

If you have a cat or dog that spends time outside, make sure to apply a tick prevention strategy to them as well.  As with treating yourself, you will have to decide which tick treatment is best for your dog.  Of course there are the once a month applications of flea and tick protection or the flea and tick collar.  However, if you’re looking for a more natural/chemical-free approach, you may want to consider, Natural Flea and Tick Defense.

If you prefer, you can make your own spray using essential oils.  One source for recipes and ordering essential oils is experience-essential-oils.  This source recommends using a dog shampoo that is infused with essential oils when you bathe your dog as an added precaution.

Again, the efficacy of many of these items is debatable.  Our family has chosen to use natural alternatives and to create a tick free zone in our back yard for our dog.  Unfortunately, I no longer walk my dog off of our property due to an increased risk of picking up ticks.

 Modify Your Landscaping to Create a Tick Free Zone

Harvard Health recommends doing a “tick drag” in your yard to determine whether or not you have ticks.  Attach a square yard of white flannel to a 3-foot stick and tie a rope to each end of the stick.  Drag the cloth over the lawn and leaves, and examine it for ticks that have latched on.  Do this several times.  Use a cloth mounted like a flag on a stick to determine whether you have a tick problem in your bushy or grassy vegetation.

Reduce your risk from getting a tick bite on your own property by clearing shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation away from patios, play areas and playground equipment. Clear leaf litter and mow regularly.  Place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to keep ticks away from areas where you and your family spend time.

If you think you have a tick problem on your property, University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center, suggests a dual action treatment plan for your property that includes host-targeted Tick Tubes and the habitat-targeted perimeter spray.  When used together in a program, they provide outstanding protection from tick encounter, especially for backyards.

To be honest, prior to being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, I thought very little of tick bite prevention.  Now, our family has taken action to reduce the likelihood of getting a tick bite.  We have hired Natural Lawn of America to spray our lawn.  The company has a more organic approach to lawn care and pest control.  In the upcoming months, we will also be placing Tick Tubes on our property.  We keep our lawn mowed and clear leaf debris.  In addition, our dog is no longer allowed to venture off of our property for walks, and he is treated with the shampoo mentioned above.  I personally believe that preventing your pet dog or cat from encountering ticks can be one of the biggest precautionary measures you can take.  I haven’t done any hardcore research, but I understand that veterinarians are encountering tick borne disease in dogs in record numbers.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late…

At this point, I would encourage you not to wait to incorporate the tick prevention strategies that apply to you.  If you will be spending time in the woods this summer, I cannot stress enough the need for you to protect yourself and your family members.  Please do not wait until it’s too late!

Web Sources:

http://www.rodale.com/natural-tick-repellants-protect-your-yard?page=0,0

http://labs.russell.wisc.edu/wisconsin-ticks/on-people/

www.ilads.org

http://www.tickencounter.org

http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/

http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/lyme/lyme-faq.shtml

http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme/fact_sheet.htm

http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/recognizing-and-avoiding-tick-borne-illness.shtml