13 January 2010

Soda can robot

 After a recent excursion to the science museum, Savannah wanted to build a robot, and why not, her dad is an engineer? So I got a starter kit for her with the idea that this was something she and her dad could bond over during the weekend. One nice thing about homeschooling is that it can take place at any time.

But the weekend was filled with farm chores, family time, pond snow removal, and finally ice skating. So that meant Mommy had to be the assistant engineer. I placed the parts list in front of Savannah (who received the soda can from a neighbor since we never have any) and she had to locate and name all the parts and help assemble them. Little fingers sure come in handy when tightening nuts to bolts in tight places! Her robot can move forward and backwards on its "belly" or upright and most importantly, it has a survival feature, namely, it can outrun her little brother! At least it can this week.

Can you tell she's proud of her creation?

We learned about batteries and motors, axles and cams and had some fun in the process.

07 January 2010


Love has many faces, but you know it when you see it...

This evening while I was making dinner, William crawled out of the kitchen where I usually keep an eye on him. I was worried that I couldn't see William and worst of all, it had become quiet.

When I ran into the living room to check on him, I found big sister with an arm snuggled around her little brother. She had shared her apple with him and she propped her pillow up behind him so he didn't bang his head. And best of all, no one even asked her. Ahh, love...

06 January 2010

Tick bytes

Through necessity, we've had to learn a lot about ticks and Lyme disease since moving to upstate New York. Like many New Englanders and Pennsylvanians, we live in an area that the CDC considers to be high risk for Lyme disease. High risk means that a tick bite here is more likely to infect you with Lyme disease than a tick bite elsewhere, mainly because so many of the ticks are infected with the disease-causing organism, Borrelia burgdorferi. There is still much scientific debate about a variety of aspects concerning Lyme disease, so I feel it is important to be more conservative when dealing with bites. After our daughter's first tick bite, with an attachment time of just less than 24 hours, she became Lyme positive in the middle of winter even though she received prophylactic antibiotics. (She received a second course after her blood titer was positive.) Also while Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne illness in the US, there are others to be aware of, including babesiosis and ehrlichiosis, transmitted the same way.

Here are some of the things we have learned and implemented to help our family.

Preventing a tick bite is the most important thing you can do. Here are the prevention techniques we've found useful:

1. Keep deer off of the parts of your land that you use regularly. No matter how sweet and docile these creatures are and how useful their manure may be to your lawn, they are among the primary carriers of Deer ticks (aka Black-legged ticks). In every study where deer populations were decreased, the incidence of Lyme disease significantly decreased as well.

2. Deer can be deterred naturally through deer-proof landscaping. No matter where you live, there will be a garden or landscaping center in your gardening zone that carries or is knowledgeable about deer-resistant plants. The goal is to keep deer away from your house and front yard so replace any plants that deer usually eat with those they find less appetizing. Bird feeders and salting your driveway in winter can also attract deer.

3. Maintain a clear lawn area without long or tall grasses, piles of leaves, or suckers growing around the base of trees (mulch, mulch, mulch your trees!). This will both deter deer and leave less "habitat" for ticks to wait in while hoping for their next blood meal to brush against them.

4. If you have other rodents around your house, barn or garage, get rid of them too. Rodents can be carriers of ticks and keeping their populations down is just as important as keeping the deer away from your house. In many areas, the white-footed deer mouse is the primary carrier so do what you have to do to remove mice from your garage, shed and barn, and around your home.

5. If you have a cat or dog that goes inside and outside, the cat or dog can carry ticks in that can bite you. Do regular tick inspections on your animals and have a kit nearby to remove any ticks found on them. We are partial to the tick twister for removal from animals and humans alike. We keep a tick jar (a small glass canning jar) filled 1/4 with rubbing alcohol to place ticks in. It helps us to identify the ticks we find on our clothes, or embedded in our skin so we know when to call the doctor or be concerned.

6. When you're outside playing, hiking, doing yard work, or cutting trees, wear long sleeves and socks pulled up to your calf. Then remove your clothing for washing when entering the house. We keep a laundry basket hidden near the front door for this purpose.

7. If you live in or will be travelling to an area that is considered moderate to high risk for Lyme disease (or any other vector-borne disease including those carried by black flies, mosquitoes, chiggers, etc) try the line of clothing by Buzz-Off Insect Shield. We have been very pleased with the results of their long-sleeved shirts, hats, bandanas, and socks for keeping insects away for 70 washings. The clothing is treated with permethrin, a manmade chemical that mimics a chemical found in the chrysanthemum plant. You can order it through many outdoor clothing companies including LL Bean, REI and directly from the manufacturer. Even the very sensitive skins and noses in my house aren't bothered by this clothing and it prevents all sorts of bug bites while making me feel safe-r when sending my daughter out to play. But don't take my word for it, read other customer feedback.

8.  Learn to recognize a female and nymph deer tick. Humans are accidental hosts for ticks. They attach to us when they sense our heat and carbon dioxide as we brush by them. A blood meal helps them survive but they require the white-tailed deer to complete their lifecycle.

9. Inspect your body once a day. Remember to check your neck, under arms, groin, behind the knees and ankles and in between your toes. Also check your neck and in and around your ears. I check my children's hair but to check my own, I use a fine-tooth comb. Remember that you don't have to find a tick to get Lyme disease. Ticks will attach for varying amounts of time, feed, and then drop off, possibly without being seen.

10. For tick removal, follow the instructions from a reputable agency. Any method of removal that requires rubbing, agitating, heating or applying a substance to the tick may cause more saliva from the tick to enter your body, which is not good if the tick carries a disease-causing organism. We stick to the tick twister mentioned above or use forceps, fine tweezers. Here are three sources (of many) in agreement for the proper tick-removal process, CDC, Lyme Disease Foundation, and my personal favorite, the U.S. Army's Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (this one is a nice one-page PDF that you can tape inside a cabinet for easy reference). Swab the area with alcohol after tick removal to kill any possible bacteria on the skin.

11. If you're the farming or homesteading type, consider free-ranging chickens or guinea hens for tick control on your land. Our girls happily patrol the brush along the edge of our mowed land snapping up any insect morsel their keen eyes come across. We went from finding lots of ticks on our skin and clothing to none after letting our chickens free range during a year when local agencies studying the tick population found large increases in the tick population.

Life in the country (and suburbs) is filled with the joys and beauty that nature has to offer. Let's hope for many outdoor adventures that are free of tick bites.